Cyril Paul puts the clock back

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The Editor talks to a popular pre-war racing driver

Cyril Paul had a long and eventful motor racing career which extended over 16 seasons and embraced more than a dozen different makes of car. Space precludes full coverage of his racing life; what follows are random recollections which this popular and versatile driver, a tough and cheerful character in those days, imparted to me during a pleasant luncheon date.

Cyril Paul’s parents lived at FinchIey and as his father was a keen driver the boy was brought up in a motoring atmosphere. He was taken to pre-war Brooklands meetings and recalls riding a 1911 single-speed clutch-in-hub belt-drive Triumph motorcycle to watch the first looping-of-the-loop from his favourite vantage point overlooking the near-by Hendon aerodrome, from which the later Air Pageants were also seen. After the war young Cyril Paul had his first taste of competitive motoring, in the public-road speed events of those days, riding a 16H Norton which for some time was able to see-off the o.h.v. opposition. He still remembers the strain of being towed at considerable speed on this machine, with its unstable narrow-track Middleton sidecar, behind his father’s 30/98 Vauxhall.

All manner of motorcycles passed through Paul’s hands at this time, Zenith Gradua, Harley-Davidson, spring-heel ABC, etc., and he also sampled most of the contemporary small cars, such as the AV Monocar, Bleriot-Whippet, Rover Eight, ABC, etc. and had a GN Legére which he converted from i.o.e. to inclined-o.h.v. valve gear.

A piece of good fortune came Paul’s way when he was taken on the staff of the London Beardmore and Austro-Daimler agency by Mr. Luther, with whose son he was to travel by train to Lyon in 1924 to watch Divo win the French GP. When this company decided to enter their cars for competitions Cyril Paul drove for them. One of his earliest appearances was at the Southend Speed Trials and from 1922 onwards he gained many class wins and several times made f.t.d. in such events all over the country, driving overhead-camshaft Beardmores and 1,100-cc. and 1,500-c.c. twin-cam Sacha Austro-Daimlers. He took one of the latter to Holme Moss for Malcolm Campbell to drive but on this occasion the great man pulled the gear lever clean out of the box, although on the long road journey Paul had had no trouble with it.

In 1924 Beardmore’s built a special hill-climb car for Paul, designed by A. Francis, at their Anniesland, Glasgow, factory. The chassis was very liberally drilled and, to get what weight remained over the back axle, the overhead-camshaft 2-litre engine was set back 14 inches in the frame. This rendered the starting handle inaccessible and Paul still has a lump on his right wrist, souvenir of a Beardmore back-fire and resultant violent contact of his hand against the protruding dumb-iron.

There was no dynamometer at the Beardmore works, so the power developed was not known. But the car would reach 90 m.p.h. in about 1/4-of-a-mile; it did not stop with anything like the same alacrity. This two-seater was given a big bulb horn as some concession to being equipped for the road and was often driven to speed venues, the small Zenith carburetter being changed on arrival for a big barrel-throttle Solex. Later the car was transported on a Beardmore lorry, causing frequent searches for suitable unloading ramps.

Cyril Paul’s best show in this special Beardmore was undoubtedly at Shelsley Walsh in 1924, when he made f.t.d. in 50.5 sec., a record for the hill. This must have been very disconcerting to the entrants of costly and complicated “works” cars and to Raymond Mays, whose Brescia Bugatti “Cordon Rouge” was outpaced by the Scottish car. Paul says modestly that he thinks the comparative lack of power helped, as he was able to go through the corners without wild slides. For ordinary road journeys he had a less-exciting Beardmore, in which, nevertheless, he could beat the train from Glasgow to London, doing this run in nine hours, although the A1 was not much of a road in those days and the car had only rear-wheel brakes. When the Beardmore agency decided to concentrate on taxis he bought the hill-climb car and drove it once at Brooklands before selling it to the Hepworth brothers, who ran it, in company with their Jowett, in Northern sand-races. Paul towed the Beardmore to them in Yorkshire behind a Morris-Cowley, in order not to take the edge off the tune he had given it.

For the memorable 1928 Ulster TT Paul had a 19/100 Austro-Daimler four-seater, “a magnificent car, very strong, solid and unburstable, providing you humoured the 76 x 110-mm. six-cylinder engine by keeping the revs. down”. The tax in this country was £22, so these fine cars were at a fiscal disadvantage to the 3-litre Bentley, which paid only £16 a year, but they otherwise had many similarities. Had Paul not overdone things near the end of the race and nearly hit the notorious butcher’s shop in Comber, owing to a local shower of rain, he might have finished ahead of the 1 1/2-litre Lea-Francis and Alvis cars and team-mate Mason’s Austro-Daimler, these occupying the first three places. However, with one of these Austro-Daimlers he won his class in the Essex MC Six-Hour Race, although Le Mans, where he shared an Aston Martin with George Eyston, was not a success. At Brooklands in 1928 he drove the Wellsteed (lap-speed, 78.43 m.p.h.), this being a disguised bull-nose Morris-Oxford cobbled up by a Cardiff Morris agent, whom Paul had met while staying there when competing at Caerphilly with the Beardmore.

Like several other beginners, Paul was helped on his way at Brooklands by Sir Alastair Miller, Bt. Miller had discovered the ancient 21 1/2-litre Benz four-seater, which had been raced in 1920 by Bruno Roberts, abandoned behind a country pub. Six years before it had appeared at a Used Car Show bearing a price-tag of £1,200 but rumour says Miller got it for £50. Overlooking its porous radiator and cylinder blocks, he stripped it down and repainted it fire-engine red. The compression-ratio was raised by installing new aluminium pistons (one of which, the size of a child’s chamber-pot—bore 185 mm.—Paul uses these days as a door-stop), the blocks were strapped down as ‘a wise precaution, a small fuel tank fitted, and the front axle faired-in, as was customary in those days. Paul put king-posts on the chassis and braced it after the fashion of a Bentley and the old car achieved considerable success at the Track.

Paul shared most of its wins and places and, indeed, lapped faster than any other driver in it, which was at well over 115 m.p.h. But “it was a real monster and you worried a bit about metal fatigue. You also kept your head well inside, away from the driving chains, remembering Parry Thomas’ accident”. In fact, thanks to Renolds’ generosity, the chains were always in good order and never gave any trouble.

That year, 1929, Paul’s sports-car racing was done on behalf of Alvis Ltd., in their blown straight-eight f.w.d. cars, one of which he got home in the TT. Front drive was easy to manage but “you had to drive them through the corners; there was no tuck-in if you lifted off as with some modern f.w.d. cars, perhaps because, in comparison, the things were almost uncontrollable, anyway.”

At the end of the 1929 season the BRDC ran the first of those gruelling 500 Mile Races, which lasted for nine years, although reduced to 500 kilometres in 1937. These were very much Cyril Paul’s sphere, for he won one of them and finished second in another, third in two others. I asked him whether these long-duration, high-speed outer-circuit drives tired him. “When you are young, and strong as an ox, nothing tires you”, he replied. There was, he admits, the hazard of a tyre bursting or part of the car breaking up. But, once you had experienced tyre trouble and found you could hold the car, confidence returned.

In this first “500” Paul shared one of the 4-litre V12 Sunbeams with John Cobb and they finished third behind the winning 4 1/2-litre Bentley and the Speed Six, in spite of a broken chassis. “The Sunbeam”, said Paul, “had an awful lot of power. It gave you a kick in the back from 115 m.p.h. when you opened up and in it I attained the highest speed at which I have ever driven in it, 149 m.p.h., which entailed going over the Fork at something like 130”. Asked about the difficulty of lapping Brooklands in a fast car Paul said the most difficult part was going into the Home banking. If you were too low the car tried to climb and dive over the top. If you came onto it too high the tail tried to slide downwards. It was also essential to come off the Byfleet banking early. In a race like the “500” other cars might be occupying the required line, and then you could be in trouble.

At Brooklands in 1930, under Miller’s influence, Cyril Paul continued to drive the old Benz and got his 120 m.p.h. badge in the 6-litre twin-cam Delage 1, “a tricky old thing, naughty on bearings, but a car with no bad habits”. He helped Cobb in a record attack with the big V12 Delage, the hard ride of which bruised his thighs on the steering wheel, for, although by no means a slim man, the seat which suited Cobb was too big for Paul. He prefers to forget the “Double-Twelve” in which, driving with “Poor Popping Purdy”, a very nice chap, they had to change the head of their Silver Eagle Alvis. Paul did far better in the 1930 TT, being first home behind the victorious 1750 Alfa Romeo trio, in Alvis Ltd.’s straight-eight-f.w.d. Alvis. Only the three Italian cars and Howe’s 38/250 Mercedes bettered Paul’s speed of 69.61 m.p.h.

Apart from racing, Paul was running a tuning shop in the Finchley Road, “although in those days not so many people wanted souped-up engines”. Miller had found one of the Wolseley Moth single-seaters which he had evolved nine years earlier and thought it would be amusing to win the Brooklands Gold Cup with what was at that time regarded as a veteran racing car. On the eve of attaining this ambition disaster struck but Paul stuffed the damaged engine into the hack of his Morris-Cowley, drove to London, and put its special head onto a scrap Wolseley Ten engine that was lying in his workshop. Next day the Moth won its race, beating Sammy Davis’ blown Riley Nine and lapping at better than 83 m.p.h.

During the 1931 season, “when passengers were still carried”, Paul drove E. L. Bouts’ 2-litre GP Sunbeam at Brooklands, “a wonderful car”, one of which had given him his first taste of four-wheel-brakes up Shelsley Walsh some years earlier. That was a year in which he drove one of his finest races over the outer-circuit. Signed-up to drive for Woolf Barnato, Paul shared the long-tailed Speed Six Bentley with Jack Dunfee in the 500 Mile Race. They won from the single-seater Talbot and Hall’s MG, averaging 118.39 m.p.h. inclusive of pit-stops. Paul remembers the Bentley as a “real motor-car” and the drive as “the safest, most comfortable, I ever had”. He concedes that passing slower cars near the top of the bankings was “interesting” because there was no means of stopping the big car, and that it was necessary to watch for breaker-strips on the tyres. He normally swaddled the dotted black line, deciding that this was about as high as it was prudent to go; he scorned any form of head protection on this long and very fast drive….

There was a sharp contrast when Paul drove an MG Midget in the 1932 Ulster TT, “its owner, Jeffress, bravely coming as passenger”. He had no difficulty in adjusting from the 21,504 c.c. of the Benz to 746 c.c., but they did not finish owing to engine failure. Soon after this Paul’s long allegiance to Rileys began. In that year’s 500-Mile Race he shared a Brooklands Nine with “Philips”, a driver whose relatives were so savagely anti-racing that he was careful to conceal his face with mask, crash-hat and vizor and never look a camera in the lens; later all was apparently forgiven because he emerged as Phillip Turner. The Riley finished a creditable second in the “500”, behind the winning MG, being the first non-supercharged car home, at a speed of 99.61 m.p.h. It was a “works” Brooklands model, with a faired headrest on the body.

Paul scarcely remembers a brief drive in Cummings’ Maserati, perhaps because in 1933 he teamed-up with the one-and-only Freddie Dixon, going to live in lodgings in Middlesborough to be near Dixon’s workshops.

Paul regarded Dixon as the “atmospherics king”, referring to his uncanny ability to tune non-supercharged engines. He was able to extract 77 b.h.p. from an unblown Riley Nine, for instance and when preparing one of his six-cylinder Riley racing engines would work late into the night before remarking that he thought it would about flaming well do. This meant that Dixon had determined a needle-and-choke combination for the multiple SUs which would not require to be altered for the rest of the season. With the mechanic Walter Maidens, Cyril Paul made the bodies for the Dixon Rileys. The tails were quickly removeable, being secured by bolts which screwed into nuts welded to the chassis, and were wired-up. Access to the engine was via the top panel of the bonnet, through which the Scintilla Vertex magneto might protrude slightly, protected by a sheet of rubber. These aluminium bodies were pretty tough, surviving even crashes, “which were not infrequent”. The same ones were used in both Mannin Moar and Mannin Beg, only the engines and axles being changed between races.

The ploy was for Dixon to try to win, Paul coming along more carefully in an endeavour to at least pick up some lolly should Dixon, who was apt to be brutal to the machinery he had created, have to retire. This worked well enough. For instance, in the 1933 “500”, after Dixon’s “Red Mongrel” Nine had devoured a piston, Paul and Turner finished third behind the MGs of Hall and Martin, in Dixon’s Mannin Beg modified-Brooklands Riley. In 1934 the theme continued. After Dixon’s 1,808-c.c. six-cylinder Riley had retired in the Mannin Moar, Paul’s sister car came in third, and after Dixon had dropped out of the Mannin Beg, Paul got home in sixth place. Dixon won the “500” that year in his 2-litre Riley, Paul driving the “Red Mongrel” but retiring before Hess got a run. Dixon and Paul drove a “works” 12/6 Riley at Le Mans, taking third place behind the winning Alfa Romeo and a French-entered Riley after having caught fire.

Twice in 1934 Paul went to Montlhéry as one of Cobb’s team to attack long-duration records with the Napier-Railton, “that very wonderful car”. He can still hear the tap-tap, getting rapidly louder, as a tread came off one of the tyres, so that it was wise to keep one’s head well inside the cockpit. Paul also recalls that you had to look at least 1/4-of-a-mile ahead, as the tiny rear-wheel brakes were inadequate for the considerable weight of the monster.

The Dixon/Paul combination continued to notch up successes, including many Donington wins. In the 1935 Empire Trophy Paul finished third, after Dixon had won in the larger of his two Riley sixes. Dixon then won the TT in a 12/4 Riley and Paul only dropped second place when both float chambers punctured; he came in sixth. The “500” that year saw Riley win the Team Prize, Paul sharing a car with his close friend Charles Brackenbury. Later Paul helped to prepare an ERA for Pat Fairfield, which led to some excursions abroad. There was the time when Fairfield, Brackenbury and Paul went to France in an aged Bedford van, space so cramped that they had to take it in turns to sit in the ERA! After victory at Donington they stripped the engine for the scrutineers, reassembled it, and were beyond Paris, en route for Monaco, 11 hours later.

Paul around this time had brief experience of one of Lindsay Eccles’ twin-cam Bugattis, “another wonderful car, you could put it on a sixpence” (see last month’s issue!) and he drove an ERA in the 1936 International Trophy Race, and in the IoM, where he was third. He also drove Wilkins’ Monza Alfa Romeo, “a snaky ride”, and was second in the Donington 12-Hour Race in a sports Riley. with Brackenbury as co-driver. He is one of the few surviving drivers who competed in the pre-war S. African GP when his Riley, doing over 100 m.p.h., was passed in a flash by Rosemeyer’s Auto-Union, going nearly twice as fast. This reminded Paul of watching practice at Monaco from a balcony of the Hotel de Paris and seeing Rosemeyer demolish much of the balustrading; such was the German’s presence of mind that he had time to pick up a piece and pose with it before the camera-men closed in…. One of his last drives was in a “works” Riley in the 1937 500-kilo. Race when plug trouble intervened when Paul was running in second place.

After this long racing career in cars Cyril Paul turned to ocean-yacht racing and served during the war as a Lieut.-commander in the RNVR. He still retains a close interest in racing, reads the road-test reports and generally keeps in touch. “I see that Shelsley Walsh has now been climbed in under 30 sec,” he remarked, while we were discussing the Beardmore.—W. B.