Letter to readers, August 1989

A Busy Month

Dear Reader,

It’s a good thing that the months of June provides us with the longest day of the year, though personally I could use a whole month of “longest days”.

Apart from following the fortunes of Honda and McLaren and Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in Grand Prix racing, there was a great deal happening at the other end of my motoring scale, in the old car world.

The trip to Canada to see the Grand Prix on the island in the St Lawrence river is always a pleasant one, even though this year the weather tried its best to ruin everything, but between Grand Prix times over there I found myself involved in the world of Bugatti. My motoring and motor racing interests cover everything from the peak of today and tomorrow, to “say back when”. . .

Among my many one-make interests is the world of Frazer Nash cars, from the pre-war chain-driven ones to the post war more orthodox sports-cars powered by Bristol engines. This year is the centenary of the birth of Archibald Goodman Frazer-Nash who died in 1965.

Archie Nash was the founder of the Frazer Nash car, and though he left the world of car building in 1929, to turn his talents to more serious inventive things in engineering, the car firm continued under the name AFN Ltd, run by the Aldington brothers. Archie Nash created the engineering firm of Frazer-Nash, which has grown into a very high-tech research facility under the heading of The Frazer-Nash Group. AFN Limited continued to manufacture Frazer Nash cars until 1957 when it went wholeheartedly to selling Porsche cars, until subsequently taken over by the German firm.

The spirit of Archie Nash has been kept alive by the members of the Fraser Nash Section of the Vintage Sports-Car Club, and every ten years they organise themselves a marathon motoring trip to the Southern Tyrol, in order to re-live the days of 1932, 1933 and 1934, when Frazer Nash cars made history in the Alpine Trials.

Last winter the Frazer-Nash Group and AFN Limited joined forces in the support of the creation of a permanent exhibition of Fraser-Nash activities, from primitive sports-cars to aerospace equipment: in other words, all the things that Archie Frazer-Nash set in motion during his life. This project, which it is hoped will be completed in about two years, is to be within the Brooklands Museum complex for a number of reasons. Both Archie Nash and the Aldington brothers were regular competitors at the Brooklands Track and the cars were built first at Kingston-upon-Thames and later at Isleworth, which are about equidistant from Weybridge.

In this hundredth anniversary year of the birth of Archie Nash many things gelled, and they all came to a climax during the month of June.

The “Raid” to the Alps was from June 9-23, and on June 30 a commemorative plaque was unveiled in the Boardroom of the Frazer-Nash Group at Leatherhead. On the evening of June 30 a Centenary Dinner was held by the Frazer Nash Section of the VSCC, close to Shelsley Walsh hill-climb in Worcestershire.

Not surprisingly I became quite involved with the activities, starting the month with helping to “fettle-up” a 1934 Frazer Nash, with 6-cylinder Blackburne engine, in readiness for the trip to Bolzano in the Dolomites. Then came a lot of behind-the-scenes organising and display presentations preparatory to the start of the “Raid”, and finally attending the unveiling of the plaque at Leatherhead.

In the middle of the month I was already committed to a week in Canada, so once I had waved everyone goodbye on their trip to Bolzano I had to take off in the opposite direction. The start was arranged to take place from the Brooklands Museum complex, as part of introduction to Frazer Nash people of the future plans.

The entry for the “Raid” totalled nearly seventy cars, of which all but two were pre-war and chain-driven, and nearly sixty of them assembled at Brooklands in readiness for the start. The Frazer-Nash Group had given the financial support to the organisation of the journey out and back, a total of some 2500 miles, and AFN Limited hosted the Brooklands gathering, which saw a happy, milling throng enjoying a buffet lunch in splendid sunny weather.

Many one-make clubs celebrate the hundredth anniversary of their founder, all in different ways. Bugatti owners gather to worship at the shrine of “Ettore, the great artiest”; Bentley owners straighten their sports-jackets and caps and remember with reverence “WO the great engineer”; but Frazer Nash people just say “Jolly good chap, Archie”, and let in the clutch and spin their wheels, or find some loose gravel and do a “handbrake” spin-turn through 180°.

Thanks to Gallaher’s, arrival at Brooklands was by way of its private entrance and part of the old Campbell Circuit, and Trafalgar Brookmount allowed competitors to leave the Museum complex by way of the old Vickers runway and the Booklands industrial area roads, through the gap in the old Byfleet Banking, where an arrow pointed left a sign read “Bolzano”.

The “Raid” was a huge success, the Tourist Board of the South Tyrol looking after the pleasures of the vast concourse of Frazer Nashes which had all driven to Italy, while any mechanical problems that arose among the cars were swiftly dealt with by the practical and knowledgeable members of the Section. They had amongst them enough expertise to have built a new car while in Bolzano, so the odd breakage or run big-end present no problems.

By the time many of the members assembled at Leatherhead for the Frazer-Nash Group party on June 30, all but two of the total of cars that went on the “Raid” had got safely home. One was due back with the help of the RAC, while the owner of the other was organising his own rescue of this car with a broken rear axle, by means of a trailer.

Archie Frazer-Nash’s daughter, Mrs Watts-Farmer, graciously unveiled the commemorative plaque, and a very sincere letter from Mrs Blair, his other daughter, was read out, regretting that she was unable to join the gathering.

In amongst all these happenings I was able to take part in a VSCC sprint meeting over a measured standing kilometre, riding my pre-war 490cc Norton, and I also spent two very fine days at Silverstone for the VSCC race meeting. There I was able to see the culmination of a monumental rebuild of a 1936 Maserati V8 Grand Prix car, which has taken the owner eleven years, during which time I have followed it closely. It ran for the first time on the practice afternoon and took part in its first race ever on English soil on Saturday June 24. The story of the four Maserati V8 Grand Prix cars that were built, and rebuilding of this one, will have to wait for a while, until we can find a lot of spare space in Motor Sport.

June was certainly a busy month, and as I’ve already said, I would have done with thirty “longest days”.

Yours, DSJ