Matters of Moment, August 1972

All quiet at the Palace

Although Britain is well-provided with race circuits, if they are not further threatened by bans on account of noise, which airports escape, it is sad that the Crystal Palace circuit in London is to close, because this is the last of the pre-war circuits and the oldest of our surviving race courses, motorcycles having been unleashed over the Palace paths in the 1920s. The first car-race was held at London’s own track in 1937, when the lap-distance was two miles and racing was organised by the Road Racing Club. The circuit was reformed, with a lap of 1.39 miles, in 1953. Now the Greater London Council has decreed that it must be closed at the end of the year.

Apparently a local survey indicated that 65% of near-by residents (and some of them were very near to the circuit) did not object to the track being used on ten days a year. This has not prevented the Crystal Palace course from being abandoned, although as it encircles our National Sports Centre a more enlightened country might well have had second thoughts.

As it is, we shall have to put the Palace alongside Brooklands and Donington and remember it in our thoughts. It was regarded as a difficult circuit before the war, with retaining walls flanking the road and a lake into which cars sometimes slid. It saw some important pre-war races, such as the Coronation Trophy, won by the ERAs of Fairfield and Bird, the Crystal Palace Cup won by Hadley’s Austin, Abecassis’ Alta and May’s ERA, the CP Plate, awarded in 1938 and 1939 to A. C. Dobson’s Riley, and the London GP, both times won by Prince Bira’s ERA, and many more racing and sports-car contests. There were confrontations of Edwardian cars, too, causing the 200 h.p. Benz to roll on its back.

For the present Editor of Motor Sport the little twisting circuit at Anerley brings memories of going there by No. 49 bus and returning home for a (late) tea, which never seemed quite right, because part of the fun of race going, then as now, is to motor to the Course, of holding up those wanting to leave the Paddock because his Austin 7 simply hadn’t the power to climb the ramp over the track (until it had been fitted with a four-speed gearbox), and of being chased by Esson-Scott’s immaculate long-tailed black Bugatti when it crashed in practise.

Famous Continental drivers sometimes came to the London circuit and once, when Dick Seaman’s saloon Mercedes-Benz was seen parked outside, we hoped to find GP Mercedes competing, but it never happened . . .

After the war racing there was just as intense. Do you remember those victories by Clark, Moss, Collins, Hulme, Hawthorn, Scott-Brown, Salvadori, Brabharn, Parnell, Rolt, Ireland, Chapman, Leston, Gerard, and the rest, in races organised by the BARG and the BRSCC? Now the last big fixture has taken place and soon all will be quiet at the Palace.

F3 to F1

Last January our front cover picture featured a portrait of Dave Walker. as you may remember—some of those accustomed to seeing racing cars in this place of honour said they would never forget ! Walker was top of the F3 Motor Sport/Shell competition in 1971, as a result of which Colin Chapman picked him to be No. 2 driver to Fittipaldi in the F1 Lotus team. How has this driver fared in F1 racing to date, writing before the British GP? The outcome has been as follows:—

Argentine GP .. 20th fastest on starting-grid, out of 22. Disqualified in race.

S. African GP .. 19th fastest on starting-grid, out of 26. 10th out of 17 finishers in race.

Spanish GP .. 24th fastest on starting-grid, out of 25. 9th out of 11 finishers in race.

Monaco GP .. 14th fastest on starting-grid, out of 25. 14th out of 18 finishers in race.

Belgian GP .. 12th fastest on starting-grid, out of 25. 14th out of 14 finishers in race.

French GP .. 22nd fastest on starting-grid.out of 24. 18th out of 20 finishers in race.

This is not an auspicious Grand Prix debut for the driver who coped so well with the cut-and-thrust of F3. We make the point, not to disparage Walker, but to give food for thought to other F3 competitors who may feel bitter disappointment that they, too, have not been up-graded. Even with GP racing at its present low ebb, the difference between it and the lower echelons of motoring sport in terms of driver prowess, is obviously considerable, for the Lotus 72 which Walker drives can hardly be called non-competitive. . .

The National Motor Museum

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu’s well-known drive and flair for organisation enabled his National Motor Museum to open on time last month, a ceremony performed by HRH The Duke of Kent. The idea has advanced a long way since Lord Montagu opened his original five-car show at Beaulieu in 1952, in the hall of Palace House. In 1959 Lord Brabazon of Tara declared open Lord Montagu’s improved Museum—very much improved, housed in a special building amid the other attractions in this pleasant corner of Hampshire, so that soon Beaulieu was to head the Stately Home stakes and, by 1971, was the foremost tourist-attraction in Britain, second only to the Tower of London. This will mean nothing to motoring enthusiasts, who are concerned not with the place as a money-making lure for the public but as a motoring centre where historic and exciting vehicles are displayed, sometimes even exercised, and where valuable photographic and paper records are housed.

For this reason the Motor Industry is to be commended for supporting this new £3/4-million scheme, involving entirely new buildings, the Alcan Hall of Fame, the Brabazon restaurant, car parks for 1,250 of our cars and 35 of “their” coaches, acres of ground for Club rallies and driving tests etc and a Pleasurerail to come. The National Motor Museum, which has nothing to do with the Government, was opened in unseasonal weather, but this will probably elevate the attendance figures, because the museum-trade welcomes dullness, the sun sending potential visitors to the beaches. In our opinion, Beaulieu—sorry, the NMM—is particularly attractive on account of its racing cars—until, that is, Mr. Wheatcroft goes into business! At the NMM you can see 30 veterans from the 1895 Knight to a 1914 Sizaire-Berwick, ten vintage cars ranging from 1920 Opel to 1927 Jowett, 14 post-vintage cars, from 1934 Roesch Talbot to the glass Reliant, 17 sports cars, going from a 1903 Sixty Mercedes to a GT40 Ford, and various commercial vehicles, etc. But by far the most significant are the racing cars. There are 19 of these, including the record-breakers. They include the ex-Campbell 350 h.p. V12 Sunbeam (alas, still with podgy tyres and the too-gaping radiator cowl), the 200 m.p.h. Sunbeam which went so incredibly fast on slim tyres, chain-drive and two even-then-antiquated engines 45 years ago (it has been tidied up recently, but more for display purposes than a repeat of Segrave’s brave performance), the even faster 1929 Napier-powered Golden Arrow, the 1961 Bluebird, the GP Austin, the Sunbeam “Cub”, the ERA “Romulus”, a works Austin 7, a Mercedes-Benz W196 and more recent Cooper-Climax, Vanwall, Aston Martin, Porsche and Lotus cars. Of 105 exhibits, 39 belong to the Montagu Collection, the Beaulieu Museum Trust.