THIS annual occasion on which cars from the Edwardian period compete on (theoretically) equal terms with the latest offerings straight from the production lines (and just about everything else in between) in a handicapped attempt to discover the best in touring cars, took place on the first Saturday in March at a thoroughly wet and miserable Silverstone. The rain started an hour before the first test and continued unabated until well after the results had been announced.
The VSCC had received 70 entries for the event, ranging in age from less than two months to over 75 years and in capacity from 11/2 to 7-litres, but by the time the event started, ‘flu, mechanical hiccups, weather and, in one case, lack of a valid tax disc (for all cars had to be currently taxed for road use) reduced the entry to 60 starters. Oldest of these was Dudley John’s 1907 Mercedes Simplex, a massive chain-driven car fitted with a racing style two-seater body and driven on this occasion by Roger Collings. Competing with the Mercedes for the largest capacity engine was Frank Gourlay’s 411 Bristol, the only other car over 6-litres. The two 1982 cars were David Black’s 2.5 GTV6 Alfa Romeo, sounding just as crisp and exciting as we remember from our test last year, and David Bowles’ 244 GLT Volvo.
There were two other Edwardians, Adrian Liddell’s familiar dazzle painted Straker Squire and Tom Threlfall with the ex-John Rowley Th. Schneider. The Vintage period (the only section in which under 2-litre cars are permitted) was represented by eleven cars, a Frazer Nash Super Sports, four Bugattis, five Bentleys and an Alfa Romeo. There were ten cars from the thirties, eleven from the forties and fifties, and ten from the sixties, giving a fair and even spread across the decades. The first test, designed to measure the steering, handling and road-holding of the cars, is a quarter mile sprint on a broad slalom course which utilises the full width of the Club Straight, including the concrete run-off areas on which the turns have to be made. The fastest time was set by eventual winner, Robin Rew, who took his Reliant Sabre Six through the course in 18.85 sec. (Rew either spins or sets up fastest time in this test!) but best on handicap was Ivan Dutton’s BMW 2002 (not the turbocharged version he ran last year) which recorded 19.90 sec.
Other sub-20 sec. times were recorded by Keith Maddox with his 240 GT Dino Ferrari and David Duffy with his D-type Jaguar. Dick Smith’s time of 21.65 sec. with his 11/2-litre Meadows engined Frazer Nash was particularly credit worthy, beating all the other vintage competitors, apart from Hugh Conway Jnr. ‘s time of 21.13 sec, with a Type 35T Bugatti, as well as many of the latest cars. Despite the lousy weather (or perhaps because of the caution induced by the conditions), no-one spun, although one or two were very sideways at times, John Harris going very wide in his big Lagonda Rapide and Michael Billingham deliberately inducing nicely controlled slides from his Bristol engined AC. Burrows seemed to have too much power for the suspension of his Alvis special and obviously found it far to easy to spin the wheels, a problem shared by the front-engined Ferrari brigade, Robert Wills twitching towards a full spin with his 250 GTE and even the experienced Simon Phillips having to take the first bollard wide with his delectable Le Mans lightweight SWB 250. Colin Crabbe was noticeably cautious with another ex-Le Mans car, a Daytona a dozen years younger at 1972, while Tim Llewellyn, in what was dubbed the Ferrari 7, rapidly caught a tail slide after the first turn and made a neat run thereafter. His car, bearing a passing resemblance to a Lotus 7, is a special in the best traditions, made up from the remains of an accident damaged 365 GTC Ferrari, a GTB4 engine and other spares, the whole is clothed in a rudimentary open two seater body. With an all up weight of some 24 cwt., the straight line performance can be expected to be staggering, and it is to Llewellyn’s credit that the handling seems to match the urge.
The braking test followed the slalom, and despite attempts a few years ago to ease the test by designating a zone within which the front wheels must stop (instead of simply using an astride line), this test invariably catches out a number of competitors although, this year, only five succumbed to the temptation of leaving the braking beyond the last moment. Sadly, Duffy with the D-type was amongst them — his performances in the other tests were so good that he would have been competing for the lead if he had completed the braking test correctly. Four competitors shared the best time of 4.6 secs., Pom-master Row being joined by Ian Bentall with his very effective post-war Bentley special. Leo in his 308 GTB Ferrari and Browning with his AC 3000 ME Turbo. No less than seven scored 4.7 sec., notable amongst them being Smith with the vintage Frazer Nash, whose performance turned out to be best on handicap. Consecutive standing and flying quarters the wrong way up the Club straight completed the pre-lunch part of the competition.
With the track swilling with rain, the more powerful cars were at a big disadvantage, for the handicap formula makes no provision for poor weather and they were set to do dry weather times: with 100 b.h.p. per ton it is difficult enough making a good rapid getaway in the wet, with upwards of 250 the problems are that much exaggerated. Nonetheless, there were four who achieved sub-15 sec, times in the standing quarter, quickest being Paul Channon with his delectable AC Cobra with 14.36 sec., followed by Llewellyn at 14.79 sec., Duffy with 14.87 sec. and Rew with his amazingly fast Reliant Sabre Sin on 14.96. Best vintage time was set by Hugh Conway Stu, driving his Type 43 Bugatti with 17.68 sec., and it was good to see both of “Rusty” Russ-Turner’s blown Bentleys in action — he recorded 19.14 sec. with the ex-Birkin single-seater while Victor Gauntlett managed 19.46 sec with the two-seater, Smith’s diminutive Frazer Nash was nearly a second quicker with 18.60 sec. Fastest pre-war time (16.16 sec.) was set by Rodney Felton’s supercharged 2.6-litre, 8-cylinder Alfa Romeo. Rew’s performance was best on handicap. Quickest on the flying quarter in 7.75 sec. was Duffy, followed by Channon with the only other sub-8 sec. time of 7.83 sec. Despite a very gentle start in consideration of his intermediate-dry racing tyres, Crabble flew through the flying quarter, recording 8.19 sec.: it is frightening to think what his time might have been had it been dry. Phillips, on 8.33 sec., was not far behind, but his standing quarter start had been a classic demonstration, emulated by Llewellyn who went through the flying quarter in 8.47 sec., poor aerodynamics notwithstanding. Nick Mason (250 GTO Ferrari 8.82 sec.), Row (8.93 sec.) and Leo (8.99 sec.) were the only others under nine seconds. Predictably, Felton wan quickest of the pre-war brigade with 9.95 sec. and fastest vintage car was Conway Snr. on 11.11 sec. This time, it was Duffy who came out on top on handicap.)Following the lunch break, during which clear sky appeared tantalisingly on the horizon, competitors were split into two groups and set to circulate on the club circuit for 40 minutes, aiming at a number of laps pre-determined by handicap. As in the previous tests, no allowances were made for the conditions and the more powerful cars were again at a big disadvantage. The first session passed without incident, although Gauntlett retired after two laps and Smith lost a certain second place when he had to stop to dry a waterlogged magneto. Luckily, his stay in the pits was short-lived and he returned to the fray to entertain spectators with his sideways progress round the corners. The first session, for the earlier cars, saw some two-thirds of the competitors achieving their target.
If Smith had provided the entertainment in the first period, it was Gourlay’s handling of the large 411 Bristol that had officials catching their breath every time he rounded Woodcote — leaning well over on its comparatively soft suspension, the Bristol invariably required an armful of left lock to straighten it out for the pit straight. Three competitors all managed 29 laps, all driving extremely neatly – Duffy, Gray (Triumph TR5) and Collard (Porsche 911). The front engined Ferrari group diced gently with each other, swapping the lead from time to time, and all recorded 28 laps, as did Rew, Bentall and Leo.
Biggins spun his 924 Turbo Porsche on the apex of Woodcote, but was clear before anyone was embarrassed by his stationary presence, but Newman, who spun and ended up going backwards on to the grass on the outside of the corner, needed manual assistance to drive off the soaking grass. Channon, who had been circulating in company with the big Ferraris, suffered one of those bizarre incidents which occur from time to time — he had neatly avoided a sideways Gourlay on the exit from Woodcote, straightened out for the run past the pits and was accelerating hard as he had done for the past 20 laps when he went into an uncontrollable spin, going off on the outside of the circuit and bouncing along the sleepers. He was unhurt and the car not badly damaged, but a neat and tidy performance ended abruptly.
The results, computed by Colin Avre and announced some 30 minutes after the last high speed session, gave Rew the Trophy. A glance at the variety of cars which gained awards shows that the handicap formula must mean something. . . .
— P. H. J . W.
Pomeroy Memorial Trophy: A Liddell 1918 Straker Squire
First CIass Awards: S. Phillips 1960 Ferrari SWB Lightweight , P. Jackson 1948 Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica. T Roberts 1927 Bugatti Type 4, R. Joice 1953 Frazer Nash Le Mans Coupé.
Second Class Awards: R. Kettel (1977 Porsche 924), H. Conway Sen. (1928 Bugatti Type), 419, R. Smith (1926 9 Frazer Nash Super Sports), J. Mal (1939 BMW 328); M. Lindsay (1953 Morgan); J.J. Dutton (1973 BMW 2002); D. Morris (1951 Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica).
Third Class Awards: N. Mason (1964 Ferrari GTO); R. Walls (1960 Ferrari 250 GTE); C. Lees (1976 BMW 320i); M. Barker (1938 BMW 328).