Sir Arthur Conan Doyle should be forever praised for having written what were intended as simple magazine stories which, having created the greatest fictional detective (sorry, consultingdetective) are famous the world over, with Holmes quoted almost daily when crime detection is the subject. Quite remarkable, and an incredible accomplishment! His sons, Denis and Adrian, are also remembered in our world, for their motor racing, which involved a wide variety of cars and, to put it kindly, was conducted in a decidedly carefree style. . . It seems to have commenced around 1928, first with a GN, after which they acquitted a racing Fronty-Ford. They wrote of this car in MOTOR SPORT in 1928, describing it as similar to the type of modified Model-T with which loe Murphy had won the 1921 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race at 87 mph. (In fact, driven by Tommy Milton, that Ford had averaged 89.62 mph.) The Doyles’ Ford was, in fact, a sister car to the Fronty-Ford raced at Indy by Alfred Moss, Stirling’s father. It was about as wide as it was long with a track of five feet and a seven-foot wheelbase. This was thought to make it suitable for the dirt-track racing, which Denis and Adrian saw as coming to
British cinder tracks. The engine had the full Chevrolet treatment of special balanced crank, lightened con-rods, pressure lubrication, 10in flywheel, alloy pistons, and pump cooling. The transverse suspension had been modified, the tyre size was 28in x 4in, and the Conan-Doyle brothers wrote of “colossal acceleration” which had given Alfred Moss a course-record at Heeley Park of 23 sec, from a standing start for the 600 yards, and of getting 0-75 mph in 25 sec, with a maximum of just over 100 mph. This stark racing 1-Ford (Reg No VB 943) had just two bucket seats and a 25-gallon fuel tank as a body; an enormous “3” had been painted on the scuttle and repeated on the radiator. Unfortunately, it proved frightfully difficult to start. The boys wrote of how five or six of them would assail the garage with no result after two hours, possibly with a damaged knuckle for their pains. Next, four or five pushes down a nearby hill. Still nothing. Then a ‘phone call to the local garage, for a tow behind their lorry. As they waited, oily and impatient, the passing locals would pass remarks like: “Look, large, that be ‘is steering,” pointing to the speedo-cable, “1 see “im go by at threemile-a-minute yestemight” and “Ole Jenkins
‘II ‘av “im. E’s an ‘ot ‘un, ‘e is!” A mile tow, engine fires, rope cut, silence. Another half-mile, it runs, and “they hop away”. . .
But, said the Doyle brothers, living in a popular Sussex golfing resort, where anything up-to-date was unpopular, their cars were heartily disliked by local elders quite unable to distinguish between safe fast driving and road-hogging. (The breed is still with us — WB.) But on the whole the police were very good. . .
The Ford does not appear to have fulfilled its owners’ cinder-track dreams and it was the subject of a sensational article in a S African paper, described as a 120 mph Frazer Nash! Reprimands followed from SCH Davis and Capt Frazer Nash, etc. Adrian explained it away, saying that he couldn’t read the shorthand of the girl who interviewed him. In 1930 the brothers joined the BARC and remained members until the closure of Brooklands in 1939. But only Adrian competed there and on one occasion only. That was in the 1929 BARC Six-Hour Race, for which he entered a supercharged Anzani Frazer Nash, with R G I (Dick) Nash as his co-driver. They had all sorts of troubles — a broken oil-pipe, a blocked fuel-pipe, etc — but kept going until three-quarters-of-an
hour from the end, the reason for retirement being given as “ignition”. They then acquired the fast Cozette-blown overheadcamshaft Anzani-powered ex-works Frazer Nash “Slug”, and took on the aged aeroengined Mercedes-Maybach “Chitty!”. Both were taken to the Inter-Varsity speed-trials at Branches Park in 1931. Adrian was not fully extending the “Slug”, in spite of a large number 9 emblazoned on its tail, but he took third place in the 11/2-litre class, in 22.3sec, Dick Nash doing 20.5sec in “Terror”. A S Llewellyn made FTD in the ex-Davenport GN, after a new clutch pedal had been hastily fabricated for it, clocking 20.4sec for the 550 yards of private drive. But our reporter did not see eye-to-eye with the Conan Doyles, saying “This equipage brought “Chitty I”, but although this seemed quite a good joke at first, the time wasted in playing with it, coupled with its disappointing performance, soon failed to amuse. And the hangers-on of this particular crowd would do well to remember that when someone has been good enough to lend their grounds for such an event, a little common politeness to the regular inhabitants is about the least that can be expected in return.” Oh dear. . ! High spirits were sometimes part of the scene in those days.
At the I 931 Lewes speed-trials “Slug”, in a new coat of white paint, was in fine fettle and made FTD in 22.4sec, on the %3rd-mile, slightly uphill course. That summer the brothers appeared at Skegness, in the sand races they were to specialise in. Adrian drove “Slug”, Denis a 19/100 TT AustroDaimler. The long haul from the family home in Crowborough proved profitable; in the race for cars of up to 21/2-litres Adrian was second to Neville Carr’s 2-litre supercharged Bugatti, a car fast enough to outpace even Raymond Mays’s Villiers Supercharge. At a previous Lewes meting, A C D finished a mere 3/5th-of-a-second behind this Bugatti and held off Spotteswoode’s 2-litre Bugatti by as much as 2.6sec. Nor did Denis let the side down. He was second to Sisted’s big Mercedes in the four-lap scratch race for unlimited sports cars and third to Mays’s 41/2-litre lnvicta and Munday’s fast 30/98 Vauxhall in the preceding heat. Unfortunately this good record was marred when the Inter-Varsity speed-trials of 1932 took place. The course was at Hexton Hall near Hitchin. by courtesy of Sir James Hill, the stipulation being that his very long-standing box-hedge beyond the finish-line be respected. And what happened? The Conan Doyles failed to shut off after a mediocre run in the Austro-Daimler, continuing until they broadsided at a bend and stopped across the drive. Rothschild had already been dispatched in his 38/250 Mercedes and was screaming down the course at high speed, to establish FTD, in 19.1 sec (this was 2.2 sec quicker than the second fastest car, Thomas Fotheringham’s 2-litre Bugatti). The Mercedes shot over the line and through a gateway, to encounter the other car blocking the road. Rothschild
skilfully managed to avoid hitting the Austro-Daimler but not the box hedge. (Years later, when I was shown it by one of the gardeners, he said sadly that there was one part that never seemed to grow properly. I wonder. . .?) Afterwards the Stewards decided that never again would the volatile C D brothers be eligible for CUAC events. To which someone added: “The only thing wrong with the decision is that it was not arrived at long before. . .” The ban did not apply to the Oxford UMC’s hill-climb, which was held in 1932 along an unopened part of the Eynsham By-Pass on the Oxford Road, a policeman holding up those wanting to cross it, for the racing cars to roar by! The gradient was about I in 80! There was a 40-yard rolling start, into the straight timed kilometre. The C D’s Austro-Daimler competed but did not figure in the awards. Among the competitors were Scott-Moncrieff (Hispano Suiza), MOTOR SPORT’S T G Moore (Bentley), Mavro’s Scott, and the newly rebodied “Terror”. Cars ran in pairs, a lhd Ford V8 beating one of the small sports-cars. FTD was achieved by Earl Howe (TT MercedesBenz. 29.7sec, 75.1 mph), and best motorcycle was Eric Fernihough’s Excelsior-IAP in 24.9sec, 89.9 mph). The vintage element was beginning, an old Vauxhall and Buick appearing, the latter full of bottle-imbibing passengers. At Lewes for the speed trials up the race-course road, always a pleasant affair, run by the Kent & Sussex LCC. Denis drove a 36/220 Mercedes-Benz, described as “garishly decorated”, and won the class for unlimited super-sporting cars, being 0.7sec faster than Arthur Baron in his Austro-Daimler, which tied with Dennis Evans’s 143 Bugatti. Adrian was still running the Frazer Nash “Slug” but Dick Nash, having rebuilt “Terror’s” engine overnight, after a gudgeon-pin had seized at the BOC event, was going splendidly, to a 20.2sec
FTD, just down on his previous best time here, but nicely ahead of Lancaster’s Bugatti, which was a second quicker than “Slug”.
By 1933 the brothers had acquired one of the legendary 1924 2-litre VI 2 Delage Grand Prix cars from W B Scott, and there was some excitement when Adrian entered it for the 1933 100-Mile Race on Southport sands that August, with Denis in his Mercedes-Benz. The interest tended to evaporate when the Conan Doyles arrived late and joined in after half a lap had been completed by those who had lined up in time. (This long race over a course at Birkdale consisted of two narrow mile-long straights joined by acute hairpin bends.) Even more so when the Delage, which had to give the field a handicap lap, spat back and retired after three laps, or six miles. Denis carried on but after a fast drive, a back tyre burst at just beyond half-distance and, having no spare wheel, he, too retired. For the record, TT rider Simister’s blown MG Midget won, at 75.72 mph for the 44 laps it was required to cover, from Selby’s 2-litre Bugatti and Pat Stephenson’s A7.
However, Lewes had been a happier stamping-ground for the Conan Doyles; at the 1933 summer speed-trials when they ran the two Mercedes, Denis beat Adrian by 3/5ths of a second, to win the Rootes Challenge Trophy, and in September Denis was second in the unlimited super sports class, the big Mercedes beaten by Robin Jackson’s MG Magnette. The far smaller car was 4.2sec faster, which must have pleased supporters of the Abingdon marque. A youthful R J B (Dick) Seaman was third in class, his Bugatti clocking 28.2sec — a far cry from his future as a top Mercedes-Benz GP driver. . . The C D brothers now turned their attention to dirt-track car racing, having met the colourful character “Spike” Alvin Rhiando, who discussed with them, in his American drawl, racing at Greenford trotting-track, with talk of the Miller he would bring over from the USA! As aforesaid, they had also acquired “Chitty I” in 1930 after Howey had tired of it, and they had left it at a Lambeth garage, from which I persuaded them to remove it for a small exhibition of historic racing-cars which I had thought up for the 1934 BARC Easter Meeting. The old monster was towed down from London behind
Nash’s Ford V8 but at the Track it refused to run, its Mercedes scroll clutch slipping and the engine not starting. We left it out in the open, the brothers hoping that someone might offer £50 for the 23-litre Maybach engine for use in a boat. No-one did, so later they came down again, to try to get the famous ex-Zborowski car to function. Again, to no avail. I had been disappointed on their first visit that they did not appear in one of their Mercedes-Benz, Adrian now reputed to have an SSK 38/250. Instead they used an A7 Chummy, which I have been told was the runabout of their mother, Lady Conan Doyle. Apart from “Chitty”, whose bonnet they blazoned “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang No 1 Maybach Zeppelin Mercedes Special”(!), the boys had run a Nazzaro at one Lewes meeting; it was a sports version, not one of the 1914 GP cars. On the second visit to the derelict “Chitty” at Brooklands, the Conan Doyles were accompanied by an SSK-like short-chassis 38/250 Mercedes-Benz owned by a Mr Wrotham, in which I was given a few exciting laps of the Track with the speedometer needle flickering around 110 mph, actual lap speed 90.56 mph.
ADC used a 38/250 Mercedes-Benz when he took to participating in the Irish road races, such well-organised but nottoo-serious events no doubt being well suited to the Conan Doyles’ happy-go-lucky nature. The big Mercedes was on scratch in the 1934 Leinster Trophy race, a considerable handful on the sinuous Skerries circuit. Fay Taylour’s Adler won this rather curious handicap event with several “no-passing” areas. A C D came home in 16th place, beating only a Terraplane and the small Tate Special. At Lewes the two-seater Mercedes (YX7730) clocked 29 sec, both brothers “up”, not quick enough for a place. In 1935 the favourite Southport venue saw both the Mercedes running badly in the 100-mile race, but at the Championship Meeting Adrian’s made FTD, at 100.76 mph, in the timed tests. By 1936 Adrian had a fast 11/2-litre twincam Type 39 Bugatti, painted gold, Denis the 38/250 Mercedes-Benz. Alas, disaster struck in the Leinster Trophy Race. The Bugatti and Barrington’s Frazer Nash raced together at high speed, gaining on the Mercedes. Then Denis lost it on the wet road going into Tallaght S-bend and over
turned in the ditch. For a time he was trapped and Adrian gave up racing to assist in releasing him. He escaped with a bruised chest from contact with the steering-wheel and torn muscles. He wrote to MOTOR SPORT explaining that a floorboard had come adrift, jamming the brake pedal, so he had to spin the car. Another crashed car was hit and the Mercedes mounted the bank and went into the ditch, the lh driving position protecting the driver from being crushed.
Prior to that there had been better things. At Southport both the 38/250 Mercs had run, entered by Princess Mdivani, to whom Adrian was engaged (and whom he married that August). Denis won the over1 1/2-litres mile sprint, and Adrian finished fifth in the 50-mile handicap, won by Sydney Allard’s Ford V8 Special, at 61.69 mph. In the Irish County Down race the Type 39 Bugatti averaged 74.34 mph, fourth fastest, to be placed seventh on handicap. The last time I saw the Conan Doyles racing was at the August 1936 Southport Meeting, remembered because with youthful enthusiasm I went up through one night from London in a friend’s Morris 8 saloon and we returned the next night. The “gold” Bugatti was misfiring and was outclassed by Charles Brackenbury’s 2.3 Bugatti.
Then in the IMRC’s Ulster Trophy race in 1937 Adrian drove the 139 Bugatti really well, on the kind of road course he favoured, making quickest time, 2hr 12m 8sec, an average of 65.83 mph, which brought him home in fourth place, beaten on handicap by a Morgan 4/4 and two MG Magnettes.
In 1937 the 2-litre GP Delage, thought to have been the ex-Albert Divo car that had done over 134 mph at Arpajon in 1925, was being rebuilt at Croydon by LMB Motor Products Ltd, with Ballamy’s if s, which incorporated a transverse spring in place of the original half-elliptics, the mechanical brake servo being removed and the old car tidied up generally (and painted gilt!), with Continental races at Avus and Picardie in view. Nothing came of this, but Adrian continued to compete in those Irish roadraces. In the 1937 Ulster Trophy with his T39 Bugatti, he made fastest average speed and finished fourth on handicap, having driven for 2hr 12min 8sec, beaten by a Morgan 4/4 and two MG Magnettes. He then returned to Leinster when he battled with Tony Rolt’s straight-eight Triumph Dolomite, the Bugatti lapping at 72 mph. He narrowly missed the stone parapet of the bridge at Teyleague corner when the brakes locked up. A C D won the 11/2-litre class, the overall winner on handicap being another Morgan 4/4. And that about ends this story. I do not claim to have included all the racing activities of these enthusiastic and somewhat flamboyant brothers (they used to frighten Kay Petre with their python when visiting Papworth’s in their Bugatti, I am told, and after his motor-racing Adrian took up another risky pursuit, jousting, dressed in mediaeval knights’ armour). But it does, I hope, give an insight into how things were conducted, in the carefree days before the war. W B
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