TT Arrol-Asters

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The other day I came across a throw-back of motor-sporting history that, in an infinitessimal degree if you like, proved the old adage that if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again. It centres around a team of 2,356 cc six-cylinder Arrol-Aster competition cars. According to Kevin Desmond, writing in his book about Richard Shuttleworth, their single-sleeve-valve engines revved at under 3,400 rpm, and they must have been about the only sleeve-valve car engines that anyone had dared to supercharge, apart from the earlier Guyet Special that had the same sort of Burt McCollum engine. This did not prevent that very good racing driver, “Eddie” Hall, from running one of these Arrol-Asters in the 1929 Ulster TT. Another was driven by Norman Garrad, the cars being entered by a Mr C Clench, about whom I know nothing — he could have been a clerk at the Tim Birkin “tunery” or an employee of the Scottish manufacturer of these improbable competition cars. Perhaps their road-holding was as suspect as their power units, because both were eliminated from that 1929 TT due to accidents. . . .

It seems that a friend of Dick Shuttleworth’s, 2nd-Lt Hope-Johnson, had bought one of these Arrol-Aster sports cars, Perhaps because he had been posted with his Regiment to Edinburgh, not far from the Arrol-Johnston factory. He had, according to Kevin Desmond, taken this to Birkin & Cooper Ltd., of Welwyn Garden City, to have it prepared for the 1931 Le Mans race but their bill of some £800 had alarmed him and he had asked Dick Shuttleworth to join the scheme. Having commenced racing with a blown Ulster Austin, Shuttleworth was enthusiastic and, buying another Arrol-Aster in London for £142, this was likewise given to Birkin & Cooper Ltd with instructions to spare no expense in getting both cars ready for Le Mans.

The Le Mans venture was not a success. Hope Johnson, entered as “Lockwood”, presumably for parental or trustee reasons, paired with Bartlett, but their car retired. It was entered for the 1931 TT, partnered by Shuttleworth’s Arrol-Aster, Dick disguised as “T Ormonde”, and his friend again as “WP Lockwood.” The faster of the two cars broke its crownwheel in practice, but Shuttleworth sportingly withdrew from the race so that the one from his car could be substituted. (A third car, entrusted to Garrad, was also a non-starter.) It was of no avail, because after only two laps the engine began to overheat and, on restarting, the Arrol-Aster crashed at Comber, bending its back axle.

At Brooklands in 1931 Shuttleworth and his friend had had no better success with their Arrol-Asters, although Dick’s had lapped officially at 88.15 mph and “gone round the Mountain” at 56.77 mph. However, glancing at some speed-trial results, I chanced on a happier situation. At the CUAC Kimbolton event in October 1931 an Arrol-Aster won the unlimited sports-car class, being a second faster than George Hartwell’s 11/2-litre Aston Martin and 1.7 seconds quicker than third-place car Cholmondley-Tapper’s 11/2-litre GP Bugatti, in a class of 14 runners, in which, incidentally, Oliver Bertam’s 30/98 Vauxhall tied with a blown 2-litre Lagonda. If at first you don’t succeed.. . .

Sequel: Jack Bartlett sold one of the Shuttleworth Arrol-Asters (registration number: SM 7835) to someone in Pinner in 1934 for £125: by 1935 it was back in the Motor Trade, valued at £35. — WB.

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