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76

Vintage Day at Oulton Park

Last year the Vintage Sports Car CIub took another step forward  in its commendable career by holding a race meeting at Oulton Park road circuit, thereby forging a post-war link with those excellent race meetings it held pre-war at that other true road circuit at Donington Park.

Alas, on that occasion I had to be elsewhere, but from time to time I cast my thoughts Cheshire-wards, wondering how the old cars were faring and who had won the Seaman Trophies Race.

This year the position was reversed for I spent an enjoyable day at Oulton Park watching the meteoric Jimmy Stuart win this year’s Seaman Trophies Race in the ex-Gerard ERA, while casting my mind occasionally Aintree-wards, wondering if the two BRMs entered for the BARC Meeting would go as far as the historic racing cars were required to do in the VSCC race. (In fact they were once again non-starters on that occasion).

Originally I had hoped to drive up to the VSCC Meeting in the pleasant county of Cheshire in an appropriate car, but the sands of time ran out before I had got round to getting my 8/18 Talbot-Darracq assembled or to buying or borrowing something else. However, being in a mood to drive sedately I felt in a good position to accept the offer of Citroen Cars to try the latest 2 cv Citroen … the one with the 425 cc engine and automatic clutch—that week-end. So in a 2 cv we went to Oulton Park and back. I have a warm affection for this so essentially sensible air-cooled, front-drive peasant’s car, but it really isn’t as fast as a quite sober vintage carriage—of this I had proof when hurrying homewards on the Saturday evening, when V Rawlings’ 1928 Type AD 14/15 Talbot saloon left the Citroen comfortably behind along the road from Whitchurch to Newport.

On the other hand, it was enormous fun to re-experience the fascination that belongs exclusively to the 2 cv. The exceedingly supple suspension irons out the worst surfaces and enables the car to corner without easing back from its cruising speed. The pull-push gear-change is simplicity itself, the brakes enable an ambitious driver to make up downhill what he loses going up and there is a multitude of ingenious features to add to the charm of this “ugly duckling,” such as the very comfortable lightweight seats, so easily detachable for use on picnics or to give a flat floor in the back compartment, the easily-detachable doors and wings (respectively, for ventilation and ease of repair), simple windows (held up by grommets), ingenious and equally simple petrol-level dipper, interior light, ‘screen-wipers, cable-driven in conjunction with the Jaeger speedometer, sunshine roof, knob-operated gauze-protected scuttle ventilator. Butler’s headlamps adjustable for angle, the simple boot and bonnet props, foolproof ducted heater, and so on. Moreover, if the Citroen slow by vintage standards it is interesting to note how few moderns pass it and how, as it goes-round corners with its wheels securely on the ground and rushes downhill under the security of those generous-sized inboard ribbed front brakes, those trying to sit on its tail fall many yards behind. The cruising speed of the 425 cc version proved to be an adequate 51 mph, and the pick-up is an improvement on the former model, aided, as before, by the rapidity with which the speeds, from bottom to overdrive-top, can be changed.

So on the Friday, we came steadily rather than swiftly to the circuit, did a spot of marshaling, then took our wives off to the Queen Hotel in Chester, where for once, our trust in Trust Houses proved a trifle misplaced. Incidently, on the way up, near Ascot, we had been startled by a notice “Cars 5s” until we realised that it applied to one of the racecourse car parks! Another notice typical of the times in which we live, appealed to us the words GO SLOW in big letters some distance from a road obstruction on which men were working .. 

The race meeting which the VSCC put on the next day was certainly well worth attending, for the races proved exciting, mercifully we were spared accidents, and vintage cars have the added attraction of individuality. Moreover, a grand parade of vintage and veteran cars was promised that afternoon and duly took place, which, to anyone who was so fortunate as to be at Goodwood last year on the occasion of the club’s 21st Birthday Celebrations, was a spectacle not to be missed.

As we drove into Oulton Park over the bridge which crosses the circuit the 2 cv was preceded by GP Begley”s Kingsbury Junior, a truly delightful vintage small car which, as its axles danced and dithered over the bridge’s undulations in comparison with the smooth ride of the Citroen, emphasised in no uncertain fashion the progress which has been made in 35 years in this department of chassis design.

Arrived in the Paddock, VSCC personalities were met on all sides—Sam Patton in his 30/98 Vauxhall, Laurence Pomeroy in a modern saloon, listening to the cricket commentary (his Prince Henry Vauxhall being in need of a new spindle for its water-pump), Terence Breen, well satisfied with his smart Lancia Aurelia, the Carsons, Tim and Margery, calmly in control of a meeting with 77 entries for the races and 49 for the parade-cum-concours d’elegance.

Practice had passed off without any dire calamity, except that Stuart’s ERA was shedding oil, and the 1921 chains of Grice’s GN Special proved stronger than the dogs which held them, one disintegrating onto the road.

First race on the Saturday was a five-lap handicap for vintage and pvt cars, only Terry Carson’s ERA, which had sheared its supercharger drive, and Miller’s 30/98 Vauxhall non-starting. Hollis in his two-seater 1923 3-litre Bentley worked hard to lead all the way, while McClure came through the field in excellent fashion to bring his 1930 41/2-litre Bentley, also a two-seater, home in second place and so install this illustrious name early in the list of results. Chaffey was going well in a 1926/9 3-litre Bentley, but third place was taken by Hopton’s 1930 1,750 cc Alfa-Romeo with abbreviated wings. An interesting car was Howell’s Sunbeam, a 1928 twin-cam 3-litre with lowered radiator, behind which reposed a belt-driven cabin blower pulling at some 8 lb/sq in and sucking from a large SU carburettor. The chassis has been shortened, the rear cantelevered springs converted to 1/4 eliptics and a massive central gear-gate graces the cockpit, while the two-seater racing body looks bogus Indianapolis, while 6.50-19 racing Dunlops were worn on the back wheels. The car got into a series of alarming tail slides at Old Hall Corner, skilfully stifled by the enthusiastic young driver. Unfortunately, in a later race, this Sunbeam developed “noises” possibly expensive.

Another five-lap handicap followed, this one again for mixed old and not quite-so-old cars and again the scratch chaps were handicapped out of it. For three gallant laps Halkyard’s1929 Austinl Chummy led Haig’s nicely-preserved fabric-bodied Riley 9 tourer, the spectators chortling with delight as this Riley overtook Bottomley’s 1928 Riley 9 Monaco saloon, original to its twin roof-windows, but with cycle front mudguards. Lap four saw Noble’s well-driven 1930 Alvis Silver Eagle take the lead which it kept from Ashley’s fast-arriving 1930 Frazer-Nash, while Lownds startled us by spinning round at Lodge Corner. Haig, sliding his corners, was placed third, ahead of Beecroft’s de-crab-tracked 1929 Frazer-Nash. Morten’s 1928 41/2-litre Bentley tourer was one of those cars with oval back wheels. Unhappily Morin Scott’s big Hispano-Suiza was suffering from fuel starvation and wasn’t seen again.

The third five-lap race was a scratch event for vintage cars and we were treated to a fine battle between Burton’s 1927 41/2-litre and McDonald’s 1927/30 Bentleys, both special cars, which were never more than about two lengths apart for the entire 131/4 miles! Burton won at a rousing 71.83 mph, but McDonald claimed to have put on small back tyres “to give George a chance,” yet he it was who made fastest lap, at 73.46 mph ! Melville’s 1924 30/98 Vauxhall kept a discreet distance behind in third place but outpaced Haworth’s 1928 blown 2-litre GP Bugatti, which emitted classic sounds and had a starting handle which swung back and forth in the traditional manner. Apart from the spirited racing there was another diversion when Chalfey’s Bentley left the line on fire and paused at Old Hall Corner to be extinguished ! And when Elwell-Smith spun at Lodge Corner in his well-known Aston Martin.

Another mixed five-lap handicap saw Lockhart’s Peugeot-JAP, a car vintage in material if not in conception, make the most of its big start, to the accompaniment of delightful “two-cylinder”noises, until it was passed after two laps by Thirlby’s 1927 Anzani-engined Boulogne-Frazer-Nash, whereupon the JAP engine tightened-up in disgust. Thirlby drove steadily without wasting any time, but was pipped right at the end by the forceful Hollis’ Bentley, perhaps on account of the shock received when his entire exhaust arrangements fell off. Skirrow’s 1930 Fraser-Nash was third, followed by Mulholland’s fast-driven 1931 Frazer-Nash and St John’s 1934 ‘Nash, so the “Chain-Gang” were well pleased. Another nicely kept Riley 9 tourer ran in this race, in the form of Batho’s 1929 model, with drilled outside handbrake.

So time moved on to the big race of the day, the 100 kilometre Richard Seaman Memorial Trophies Race for vintage and historic racing cars. The field was a throw-back to the mid-nineteen-thirties comprising Gibson-Jarvie’s Brooklands-model Riley 9 driven by Robertson, various Bentleys and Bugattis, the two Amilcar Sixes from the Ecurie TNC, Dunham’s ex-Brooklands 12/70 Alvis, now with Speed 20 engine, Howell’s Sunbeam, Mudd’s 1933 Alfa-Romeo, which Chiron drove in that year’s Mille Miglia, afterwards raced by Austin Dobson and Peter Whitehead. Stuart’s ex-Gerard ERA with C-type engine and de Hamm shock-absorbers, Williarnson’s ex-Shawe Taylor ERA, Crowther’s ex-Powys-Lybbe monoposto 2.9 Alfa-Romeo and Spero in the ex-Whitney Straight/Bira 3-litre Maserati. Brooke’s Vauxhall-Villiers unfortunately being an-absentee. (Of this illustrious field, only Morin Scott’s Hispano-Suiza (a non-starter), and Howell’s Sunbeam were “imitation” racing cars.

Stuart created a great impression for a “new boy,” accelerating into the lead at flag-fall and driving fast all the way, to win at 72.13 mph. Spero started slowly, having spun off at a corner, being 13th after the first lap, sixth on lap three, fifth on lap four, third on lap seven, then closing up on Williamson’s ERA, until he went into second place on lap 11. It seemed just possible he might catch the leading ERA but on lap 19, thinking the race was over and suffering from a burnt foot, Spero came into his pit. Hastily he was shooed-off and he continued, to finish second. He also made fastest lap, at 76.11 mph. A lap earlier Williamson had stopped at his pit and although he went on it was only as far as Old Hall Corner, where he stopped for good with fuel starvation. That let Douglas Hull in Eminson’s GP Bugatti, who had been driving with his usual skill to keep ahead of McDonald’s Bentley, which was now on large back wheels in the interests of reliability, into third place. The Sunbeam had succumbed, Dunham’s Alvis, as expected, had to stop for water and later ran into the bank at Druid’s Corner and Hull finished just in time, for the. Bugatti had sheared its water-pump casing. It was a good race with an exciting finish, Hull winning the vintage category from McDonald and McClure in their Bentleys, which caused the commentator to recall Birkin’s drive at Pau— only he was chasing a larger Bugatti on that historic occasion! Hull also won the handicap.

Next, Waine won a 5-lap handicap in his 7.3-litre, short-chassis, four-carburetter Isotta-Fraschini at 64.07 mph from Spence’s neat 1930 Lea-Francis and Brown’s 1930 Frazer-Nash, Neve coping with rear brakes which locked the wheels of the 1914 TT Humber into the corners, Harris cornering Mallock-fashion in his 1929 Austin 7 and Mulholland sliding his Fraser-Nash beautifully round Old Hall Corner. Now came the Grand Parade, led by Kent Karslake and his daughter, with Mrs Breen, in the familiar yellow 37.2 hp Hispano-Suiza, which is such an appropriate car for Karslake to have. This parade was the highlight of the afternoon, the cars coming by slowly in one-make groups in the lovely setting of Oulton Park, pursued after a discreet interval of time and space by Hughes’ 1913 Dennis fire-engine, a 51/4-litre monster complete with bell and ladder. (I foresee a special fire-engine cult within the VSCC because the bell is such an obvious attraction !)

Alvis, Rolls-Royce, one of the Twenties with a sporting open body, bull-nose Morris, etc, were well represented and there were comparatively “new” cars, like Taylor’s 1913 Adler, Brooking’s 1913 3-litre Darracq two-seater, the Kingsbury Junior with tall hood, leathercloth valences, and two separate exhaust pipes terminating in silencers having “pepper-box” holes as the final escape for the spent gases, and the dignified and magnificent 1910 Standard, accompanied by a 1923 Standard tourer, both belonging to Hemmings. Two of the Austin Sevens were delightful, the third didn’t look a bit vintage. Thomson’s 3-litre Austro-Daimler was the more exciting for flaired wings, very imposing were the two big Mercedes-Benz of Harrison and Reddecliffe, which Bunty Scott-Monerieff, who was present with Avril, probably confirmed as 33/180s. If Lanchester and HE were absent; a sturdy Diatto and a GP Salmson were there instead and Garside’s lone Hyper Lea-Francis was appreciated. Kemp drove a Sunbeam-like 20/60 Star, while sun-glasses were required to look at oldroyd’s 1926 14/40 Sunbeam coupe, in bright yellow with wheels to match ! (There was a smaller Star in the paddock and when you looked inside it wasn’t a bit like a Sunbeam, having central levers and a central accelerator.) Also yellow was Collings’ Excelsior, with very erect dickey-seat windscreen. As these fine old cars faded from sight we thought “God bless ‘ern—and may they all pass their Govermnent inspections.” We say this with no intention of irreverence, for it is right and proper that the more individual of God’s humans should enjoy exploring His pleasant countryside in beautiful and dignified motor cars ? It was fitting that a 1929 41/2-litre Bentley, so typical of the best amongst vintage sports cars, won the concours d’elegance, and that a lady’s 1927 Austin Seven Chummy was awarded the first prize tor the best-kept car, more especially as these days, the 750 MC seems to scorn the famous Chummy Austin in favour of “boy’s racers” and Specials with Ford Ten power units.

As if the day had not already been a success, the last race, the 10-lap, 11/2-litre Championship, with all starters on scratch, was immensely exciting, thuswise. Stuart, arriving too fast behind Carson at Old Hall Corner on the first lap, spun round, was skilfully avoided by the entire field, and set off, after leaping out to crank his engine, to rectify his error. It took him nine laps to do this, every one a breath-stopper, and even then, if Carson in the ERA (Wilkinson’s that Williamson drove earlier) had not been deficiant in brakes, or so it seemed, the finish could have been closer still. As it was, Stuart, loudly applauded, won from Carson at 72.13 mph, lapping at 76.46 mph and in third place, a deserving winner of the vintage section, came Tozer’s little Amilcar, followed by Clutton’s Amilcar (a leaking tank repaired just as the meeting commenced), Brown’s sports Frazer-Nash, and Attwood’s Razor Blade 16-valve Aston Martin, which cornered sufficiently fast to lift one of its very crab-tracked back wheels. Tozer averaged 69.72 mph. A grand finale!

At 6 pm we left, driving south via that shocking, not to say startling, exhibition of subtopia that connects Wolverhampton with Birmingham, to the beauty of Oxford in the dusk. We reached home before 12.30 am in spite of several pauses on the way, having accomplished 415 miles in the 2 cv in two days. Thereafter we used the willing little car for local excursions, totalling 666 miles before returning it. It floated and rolled on its supple springs, coughing occasionally into its Solex carburetter (which is a habit of these machines, portending no ill), making noises at times reminiscent of a traction engine and at others reminding us of a light aeroplane coming in to land. All the time it displayed the greatest reliability and stability and attracted much attention. Its ignition is by Ducellier coil, expensive but of proved reliability for the unusual firing arrangement of the flat-twin engine, in conjunction with Lodge HSN 14 plugs and Exide battery ; the Soler carburetter wears a big Miofiltre air-cleaner. Mr Lucas contributes ignition-lead suppressors a fog-lamp and the ammeter—sole instrument on the dash.

I do not think the larger engine, in spite of its three extra bhp, has worsened by so very much the excellent fuel economy. At all events, on two test gallons I drove 107 miles and this was Esso at 4s 11/2d a gallon, while the journey involved crossing London and back (very bad for petrol consumption, dropping the VW, for instance, from over 41 to around 36 m.p.g.), doing much stopping and starting, including two cold starts with choke, and load-carrying. On a long run, using better-grade petrol, even better than this 531/2 mpg should be realised. No oil was required-and there ain’t no water ! Under traffic conditions the centrifugal clutch action was appreciated to the full, the clutch pedal being left alone when stopping or starting ; clutchless changes are possible and with the simple gear-lever movements this is obviously the car for Madame. The metal steering wheel (21/2 turns lock-to-lock) is hard on ungloved hands and the petrol-warning light rather difficult to see on a sunny day. Otherwise, the Citroen 2 cv is the near-perfect economy car and were it not heavily-penalised by our Government in respect of PT and Import Duty until it cost  £598 7s I would certainly own one. Life would be the poorer were there no individual cars like this one and anyone who has been to France this summer will not need to be reminded of its popularity in its own country, where it sells for the equivalent of £350. Long may it continue in unchanged form.- WB.

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