Capt. George Eyston, O.B.E.

Author

Bill Boddy

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An Appreciation

I find it very hard, and sad, to believe that Capt. G. E. T. Eyston has died. He was 82, and active to the last, as befitted this powerfully built, athletic engineer who made high-speed motoring his profession. Eyston was the record-breaker extraordinary, from long-duration runs in improbable cars such as Singer and Riley Nine saloons, to being the first driver to exceed 100 m.p.h. and do 100 miles in the hour in a 750 c.c. MG to taking the Land Speed Record on three occasions, the last at 375.5 m.p.h. in 1938 with his 73-litre, seven-ton, 4,500 h.p. Rolls-Royce-powered Thunderbolt. He tamed the difficult 8-litre sleeve-valve Panhard-Lavassor single-seater to capture the World’s one-hour record with it at over 130 m.p.h. and with this and other cars held that coveted record four times, the World’s 12-hour record three times, and the 24- and 48-hour records twice each.

I once asked George whether he felt sour that a knighthood had escaped him, when Sir Malcolm Campbell and Sir Henry Segrave had been so rewarded. He smiled and said quietly, “No, I regard my Legion d’Honneur as the equal . . .” Eyston was essentially a gentleman, immersed in motor racing when this was a gentleman’s pursuit. He dabbled early on with aeroplanes and racing motorcycles, returning to the air later in life, to take his seaplane “ticket” on a float-equipped DH Moth and retain his pilot’s licence to the age of 70. His family had been established in Berkshire for hundreds of years. Enlisting in the Public Schools and University Battalion when war broke out in 1914, Eyston was commissioned in the Dorsets, transferred to the Royal Field Artillery, and became ADC to General Wellesley. Mentioned in Dispatches and gaining the MC, Eyston was wounded in 1917 but returned to France to serve on the Staff. After the Armistice he resumed his education, at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he read engineering and was Captain of the First Trinity Boat Club, etc.

Deciding on a life of motor racing and record-breaking, Eyston became also a Director of many leading companies, including Burmah and Castrol. The practical side of his work was looked to by his friend and partner Ernest Eldridge. Eyston was later responsible for the Powerplus supercharger.

He had driven a GN out to watch the French GP in 1921 and he soon took up motor-racing with Aston-Martin and Bugatti cars, also racing Aston-Martin-powered boats on the Thames. That was the start of a long and remarkably full career, during which records innumerable were broken, at Brooklands, Montlhery, Pendine and Utah. Sunbeam, Bentley, Hotchkiss, Alfa Romeo, Lea-Francis, Maserati, OM, Halford Special and Chrysler, etc., figured in George’s curriculum, apart from those makes already referred to. He was a good racing driver as well as a highly experienced and tough record-breaker, winning a British Empire Trophy race with the MG Magnette “Humbug”, winning at Boulogne and at La Baule, in his Bugatti, and finishing first in several Brooklands short-handicap races, etc., as well as being highly placed in some of the leading Continental road-races. This took him to South Africa and Czechoslovakia. The Brooklands 120 and 130 m.p.h. badges, the AIACR Gold Medal, and the Segrave Trophy were among the more important awards to be won by “G.E.T.” and he also got The Light Car Cup for the 1 1/2-litre hour-record in a Bugatti.

Eyston’s long career defies the space I have at my disposal, but an interview with him was published in Motor Sport for October, 1974. He will be remembered as among the most versatile and successful racing men of them all. In spite of a very busy life, George Eyston was the perfect gentleman, well-dressed, softly spoken and modest, courteous but firm in dealing with fools. For relaxation, he was a sailor (of Olympic class), an accomplished deep-sea angler, a distinguished oarsman, and a pilot. He was not only a Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur but he was awarded the OBE in 1948 and he was a Knight of the Sovereign Order of Malta. After giving up active high-speed work Eyston master-minded record bids for MG at Utah until 1959. His last drive in anger had been in 1952, when he averaged nearly 121 m.p.h. for 12 hours in the unblown 1 1/2-litre MG EX179 – at the age of 57. Not only was Eyston responsible for much of the engineering that went into MG and other record-cars, including his own creations, but before that he had been Engineering Consultant to Chrysler, in the evolution of the “Super-Power” streamlined sports saloon, for instance. He had been a pioneer in the diesel-engine record-car field, first with the ‘bus-engined AEC, with Chrysler chassis, from which stemmed his special “Speed of the Wind” and “Flying Spray” exploits, using Ricardo-diesel and Rolls-Royce aero-engines. In many of his record bids little Bert Denly was Eyston’s co-driver and off-duty they would go fishing together, until quite recent times. On the road Eyston ran MG and Bentley cars, etc. A great man in every way, the picture I like best of Eyston is of him smartly dressed with his wife and two daughters, every inch the dutiful family-man and gentleman, even in the midst of a worrying near-400 m.p.h. piece of motoring. No one in the least like him can ever again enrich friendships or enhance the motor-racing scene. – W.B.

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