MOT RING SPORTSMEN
(NEW SERIES). VI. G. E. T. EYSTON
MOST of our English racing drivers seem to have derived their knowledge of the game from practical experience, haying taken it up in the firs1 place merely as a hobby. Not so Mr. George’ Eyston. He began his education at Stonyhurst College and then took a eourse of engineering at the Seafield College in Hampshire. In 1914 he had decided to further these studies by going up to Cambridge, but the outbreak of war altered all his plans, and he joined up with the Public School and University Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. His mechanical aptitude caused him to be made machine gun instructor, but thirsting for a more active share in the War he succeeded in getting transferred to the Royal Artillery. He then saw plenty of active service, acquiring in the course of this the .M.C., two ” Mentions” and a bullet wound in the leg.
All these excitements occupied him until the Armistice, but on demobilisation he determined to go on with his studies at Cambridge. He entered Trinity and in the intervals of hard work kept himself fit on the river, being instrumental in the revival of college rowing. In 1919 he was Spare man in a Varsity Eight which met various international crews on the Seine, and in 1921 as Captain of Trinity Boat Club stroked his boat into first place in the Lent Races, and second in the Mays. On going down from the Varsity, he entered a firm of railway and marine engineers, but his interest soon turned to fast motoring. He bought two Aston Martins, one of them “Bunny,” the o.h.v. car which Kensington Moir drove in the Isle of Man and in the first 200 mile race, the oth.er being a Grand Prix car fitted with a streamlined body. :tidying one of these cars in the 1923 200 mile race, he was leading at half-distance, but
was delayed by mysterious plug trouble and finished a close fourth. In the Brooklands Whitsun Meeting the same year he gained two firsts and a second, the car lapping at over 101 m.p.h.
Boulogne Race Week was at that time the Mecca of British racing motorists. and George li’,yston’s exploits there are almost classical. Practising on the difficult course, he overshot a corner and crashed his car, apparently beyond repair. Some onlookers helped him to drag the car into a farm shed, and on further examination he decided that provided new parts were forthcoming, he could repair the damage in time for the event. To get the parts it was imperative to catch the steamer to England and Boulogne lay five miles away. Whether there was a bandit scare in the North of France at that time he does not state, but certain it is that no one would give the Englishman a lift, so that he was forced to run all the way to the port still wearing his racing overalls. He caught the steamer, returned to London for the replacements and was ofE back to France without a stop, a vile return crossing not improving matters, However he managed to replace the front axle and other damaged bits, finishing in the dark, and had the satisfaction of winning his class in the Speed Trials, and two days later finished third in the Light Car Grand Prix. In next year’s races his motoring career nearly came to an abrupt end, for after making fastest lap and holding first place, he was confronted by another competitor broadside across the road, and in attempting to avoid him hit a telegraph post at
full speed, completely demolishing the post and the front of his car. Marvellous to relate, nyston escaped with a shaking.
The true enthusiast cannot be downed by such misfortunes and the following year he was back again at Boulogne, this time driving the straight eight Bugatti which had just gained second place in the 1926 Monza Grand Prix, driven by Viscaya. G.K T. looked it over, tried it out, and took it straight away to Boulogne, winning the Grand Prix and also making fastest lap. The purchase of this car marked the beginning of his recordbreaking career, for with it he took the Three and Six Hour records, also the 500 km. and miles and 1,000 miles in Class F.
1927 was a busy year. To begin with Eyston, who had been experimentnig with forced induction for some time, had at last settled upon a satisfactory lay-out, and the Powerplus Company was formed to produce superchargers embodying his designs. The way of the pioneer is hard, but the successes of the M.G. cars so fitted, both at Ulster during the last two years, not to mention the last 500 Miles Race and various other events, bear witness to the success of this British blower. Eyston’s first appearance in 1927 was in the Halford Special, a racing car which utilised the chassis of the Aston which had met with the accident two years before. Fitted with a supercharged engine designed by Major Halford, this car delighted Brooklands enthusiasts by the high-pitched scream from the timing pinions, which was generally thought due to the supercharger. The car had tremen dous acceleration, but the chassis was hardly strong enough to stand the power applied to it. It came fourth in the Junior Grand Prix and was entered for the French Grand Prix. It was doing 115 at Brook lands, no mean speed for those days, as Eyston said, but at Mont1h6ry he was forced to use some German fuel which was
continually fouling the plugs, and in the intervals of changing them he had to drive on the hand brake, using his foot for ” blipping up” on corners.
Another famous car he drove that year was a 2.3 Bugatti. Starting with a second at a Surbiton Club Meeting, Eyston made fastest time at Skegness, won the La Baule 50 Mile Race against the official Delages with a speed of 74.5 m.p.h., and was third at Boulogne. Many records fell to this car, the first being a flying mile at 113, also the standing mile at 81, besides the 1, 10 and 50 kilometres and miles. These records were made in very unpleasant and rainy weather, and were afterwards raised several times by the same car, the flying mile speed being finally raised to 124 m.p.h. This car afterwards passed into the hands of C. Penn Hughes, who did very well with it on the Mountain Circuit, but damaged it very considerably at Monaco this year owing to a brake link failure. Eyston certainly had a ” way ” with
Bugattis, and at the August Meeting that year, driving a 1,500 c.c. motor cleaned up the Long and Short Handicaps. His finest performance on that car was winning the Light Car Cup for the Brooklands Under 1,500 c.c. Record, which was raised from 112, set up by Parry Thomas in a Thomas Special, to 115. This record still stands. 1928 was again a ” Bug ” year, the 1,500 gaining second place in the Junior Grand Prix, while driving in the 200 Miles Race with his brother Basil, G.E.T. came home second at a speed of 72.61 m.p.h. On. its first appearance next year it carried off 1929 was the first year of the Alfa ascendency, and driving with Ivanovski in a 1,500 c.c. machine, Eyston came
second in the Belgian 24 Hour Race, which was run that year without handicap. The winners Benoist and Marinoni had one of the latest 2 litre cars, but in the torrential rain and dark hours of the
night the smaller car led the field. In daylight the 2 litre caught up and passed them, but it only finished 20 miles ahead. Space does not allow details of
Eyston’s successes on Alfa Romeos, to be given. In the 1929 T.T. he came fifth, beating two members of the official team, fifth next year in the Double Twelve, second in the Junior Grand Prix at Dublin, while in 1931 he was fourth in the French’ Grand Prix with Sir Henry Birkin, and was leading in the 24 Hour race at Spa, putting up the fastest lap of 77.9 m.p.h. Suddenly in the middle of the night there was a ” woof ” and all was silent. No reason could be found for the failure till
the morning, when it was found that a connecting rod had gone. G.E.T. was at a loss to account for this, but careful measurement showed that the block had been bored off centre. The other cars in the team had been treated in the same way, but their rods survived the race—just the fortune of war ! The same sort of thing happened in the Irish Grand Prix where he was running second, but was continually oiling plugs owing to being slowed by the wet. He diagnosed the trouble, and was working his way back to his old place when he ran out of petrol, which lost him two minutes and two places. During the present year he
devoted a great deal of time to recordbreaking, but drove in the British Empire Trophy where he had the spectacular duel with the Delage, and in the 1,000 Miles race, which saw the first appearance of the 1,500 c.c. Riley. His magnificent run into second place in the Ulster T.T. on the smaller Riley is too recent to require comment here.
Record-breaking has become almost a habit with Eyston. A fine performance in 1930 was made on a 2 litre Alfa brought straight from Italy and run in over here, then fitted with a streamlined body. Without further ado he collected the 500 Mile and 1,000 Miles records, also the Six and Twelve Hours, all at about 95 m.p.h, Other long distant records were 8,000 miles in under 8,000 minutes on a Singer Light Six, also 48 hours driving a Riley Monaco Saloon at 64.36 m.p.h.
Best known of all his achievements are those made with the 750 c.c. M.G. On the last day of 1930 an unsupercharged car collected the 50 miles and kilos, also. the 100 kilos at over 87 m.p.h. That waa about the car’s limit of speed as it stood.
so a supercharger was then fitted, and on February 15th, 1931, the car became the first 750 c.c. to exceed 100 m.p.h., taking the 5 kilos at 103.13 m.p.h.. The mile and kilo could not be taken at 1VIontlhery, since only one way records were possible there, but a month later these were taken at Brooklands with a speed of 96 m.p.h. Further runs with the car in September resulted in a bag of 5 records, most important of which was the Hour (101.1 miles). Just as Eyston was crossing the line for the last time the car caught fire. It was still travelling at over 80 m.p.h., flames entered the cockpit and scorched the driver’s legs, “so there was nothing to do except to jump off, which I did at about 70, the car going on for some distance before crashing.” In this matter of fact way does Mr. Eyston dispose of the incident, and actually he was little hurt by his jump. His burns proved serious however, and the next record attempt had to be carried out by his colleague, E. A. D. Eldridge, who got the 5 kilos at 110 m.p.h., but in December Eyston, who had only partly recovered from his injuries, took out the car again and took this and other records at 114.
For the last series of records the car had been made into a single-seater with an extended nose and a tail with a fairing behind the driver’s head. This alteration was a great improvement, and in February 1932, the mile record was on Pendi ne Sands raised to 119 m.p.h. “The timing apparatus was giving a good deal of trouble,” he said, “so that I did not put my foot right down in case something went before our times were recorded. We actually reached two miles a minute.”
Eyston’s successes on big cars has been equally great. He captured eight records at the beginning of this year at 117 m.p.h. driving a straight-eight pelage, while on the sleeve valve Panhard, the distance of 130.7 miles in the hour represents a World’s Record. His latest exploits have been a series of records on the 1,500 c.c. Riley, averaging 82 m.p.h. for 24 hours.
Discussing with Eyston the business of record-breaking, we realised that it was a more strenuous task than many people imagine. ” For short distances the speeds are appallingly high, while the longer ones need very careful preparation, apart from the trouble of going abroad for them.” Most of his records were made under unfavourable weather conditions, and unlike a road race, schedule speed has to be maintained whatever happens.
“As regards the preparation of the cars, I generally leave that to the makers, merely supplying the suggestion as to the best method of getting the required speed,” and when one thinks for instance of the improvement in speed in the 750 class, evidently the suggestions are sound. Some of the work is carried out by Eld.ridge, who with Kaye Don also forms a member of the long-distance record crew.
Eyston’s plans for the ensuing year include long-distance attempts on Hotchkiss cars, and various distances on a Panhard with re-designed body. He is convinced that small cars are still capable of further improvement, so we may also expect some activity in that direction. From the sandbank races of 1923 to the road races of the present day is a far cry. ” Racing then was a very chancy business, and odd things happened even to
the most carefully prepared cars. Nowadays the amateur can buy a car, with the exception of a few special racing machines, which has substantially the same performance as those raced by the makers, who are also willing to help with advice for getting the best results. On the other hand the pace in road-races has become so hot that only the very best drivers can hope to get placed, but the sporting amateur can at least be sure of a run for his money, and enjoy a good blind at speeds which a few years ago were impossible except on a few true racing cars.”
There are two schools of racing drivers, those who train and those who do not. As one would expect from his athletic successes at Cambridge, George Eyston is one of the former. He still sculls occasionally, but more usually goes out in the early morning and trots round in shorts and sweater when most of us are still in bed. We have even seen him walking round the Ulster course, but this was done to get a closer view of the surface on corners, and not with any idea of keeping slim!
What with racing in the summer and record-breaking in the winter, not to speak of visits to see some new installation of a Powerplus blower, few people have a more strenuous life. “Yes, I was at Abingdon on Friday and Coventry on Saturday. I’m afraid I must go now as I’ve got to be at Buxton in the morning.” With these words Mr. Eyston left, and we fell to wondering how soon it would be before some fresh record would go by the board. Some hustler !