Rumblings, December 1944

Road Racing 1944

Elsewhere in this issue is an account of sprint motoring as it was in 1924, the last year of unrestricted racing on the roads. Even at that time such racing was illegal, but local police chiefs shut their eyes to the Act in this respect. Then came the accident at Kop in March 1925, when a spectator had both his legs broken, and the RAC wisely stopped all speed events on public roads in this country. Consequently, it is surprising to learn that the police recently closed certain sections of public road in Surrey in order that Bugatti racing cars could race over them. Not only surprising, but encouraging, because if this can happen in time of war, how can authority, refuse to listen to the clamour for such a thing in peace-time, from thousands of enthusiasts, many of them straight back from Service life ? Let us examine this astonishing and stimulating event in greater detail. Why did these racing cars receive assistance from the police and the military, not only to do something which only an Act of Parliament could make legal, but also be allowed to run about freely between their garage and the “course” sans wings, silencers and number plates ? Because a film company wished to obtain motor-racing “shots” for a film to be known as “The Rake’s Progress”—we rather fear that, in the minds of film producers, the down-grade progress of a rake must inevitably include a spot of motor-racing, or shall we find that it helped towards his reform ? Apparently the Ministry of Information was able to extract the necessary petrol from the Ministry of Fuel and Power—let us hope all who see the film will appreciate the doubtless-momentary views of a few racing cars that this generous gesture has made possible. A Continental GP is presumably to be featured, and the piece of twisty road used runs from Frimley Green through Deepcut Barracks to Brookwood Station. It was closed by policemen and later by armoured cars. Rodney Clarke and Leonard Potter, of Continental Cars, provided most of the “cast,” comprising a Type 39 GP Bugatti, a Type 35 GP Bugatti, a Type 57 Bugatti saloon, a Type 55 Bugatti 2-seater, a Riley “Sprite,” a Fiat “Balilla” and a Morgan 4/4. Potter and Birkett drove the GPs—alas, for some unknown reason they had to be disguised with dummy cowls, etc. Further “colour” was lent by one of the orange TT Austin Sevens laying on its side in the road with a smoke-bomb inside it— a sad predicament for a famous little car. All the cars were garaged at North Camp and were driven to and fro in a highly illegal state with hardly any police interference. The cars made numerous runs up the rather Shelsley-like course, reaching about 60 or, perhaps, 65 mph, taking a nasty bend at about 40 mph, which is described by a knowledgeable onlooker as “middling fast.” The “racing drivers” apparently received 45 a day and an extra 5 to go off-the-road to order. The great moment came when Potter misjudged the corner unintentionally and got out of control in the Type 39 while passing the “burning” Austin. Birkett, in the Type 33 had all his work cut out to avoid Potter, who left the road and hit a tank  trap, pretty well writing off the Bugatti. This pleased the film people immensely, and the plot of the film is to be altered to include what will probably be one of the best “shots” ever of a racing-car crash. Leonard merely cut his nose, but he was not pleased, and is believed to have blamed the skid on to unequal tyre-pressures. He was following Clarke’s stripped Riley “Sprite” when it happened, and the cameras got the accident from two positions. There should also be some good action shots in the film, a camera car —sometimes a Morgan 4/4—following and preceding the “racers.” Some of the “shots” were shown privately at the “Scala,” North Camp, shortly afterwards. So much for the British GP of 1941. We do not begrudge the petrol used, for it will be nice to see motor-racing in a film and it is all good publicity, unless the story spoils it. But do not forget that two Ministries, the military and the police all connived to allow a film company to over-ride the law. When we want racing on British roads after this mechanised war has been won, let us remember this fact. Incidentally. we do not suppose that the sometimes-maligned RAC Competitions Committee will refuse Competitions Licences to Clarke, Potter, Birkett and Co for this little lapse into the realm of permit-less and lawless racing.

Manchester mission

Anyone who has business in or around Manchester and a fancy for fast cars is likely to know the Higher Road Garage Ltd, at Urmston; run by AC Molyneux and his partner West. Recently we turned the Editorial Alvis in that direction to see what we should see. Although war work precludes any interesting activities at this garage these days, relics of a happier age provided the hoped-for eyeful. For instance, there was Molyneux’s own 2-litre Lagonda open tourer, which he intends to rebuild to the last nut and bolt—almost literally. Already he has arranged things so that removal of four bolts leaves the body ready to be lifted off, the instrument panel being cunningly supported on a separate mounting, which is actually the rear end of a huge vacuum reservoir. This reservoir sits under the scuttle and supplies a vacuum servo which applies the front brakes only, via the normal, massive Lagonda linkage. This will be one of the nicest 2-litre Lagondas on the road, we imagine, when it can be finished. West, chiding Molyneux on his vintage tastes and “lorry” complex. will proudly show you a 1937 Singer Nine saloon that he hopes one day to excuse on the grounds that it is his wife’s car. The engineer in him has installed a Rapier pre-selector gearbox in place of the Singer crashbox, to provide reasonable ratios. To get this in, the propeller shaft had to be shortened and a cross-member moved backwards. The engine of this car embodies a partial “Le Mans” specification and 5.000 rpm is hoped for. Some family fug box ! Other pleasing exhibits included a 61/2-litre Bentley. the ex-Beaver “30/98” Vauxhall now owned by Tony Brooke, Rayner’s “30/98”, and bits of the ex-Kaye Don “4.9” which Birkett hopes one day to salvage, putting in another Bugatti engine ; also Brooke’s Vauxhall-Villiers engine, last fitted into this very “4.9” Bugatti and destined for a new chassis, believed once to have formed the basis of the Carson-Special. Laurence Pomeroy is including this engine in his “Milestones of Speed” series in The Motor, and is also helping to redesign it, when another 50 bhp is expected. At present the bits, including the impressive built-up cast crankshaft, occupy many boxes, but one day . . .

From Urniston we went over to have tea with Kenneth Neve, and the 1914 TT Humber was brought out for us to drive— an embarrassment until the “round-the-corner” change from 2nd to 3rd has been mastered, although this beautiful veteran handles really well, is surprisingly tractable, and has unexpectedly effective brakes. Beside Neve’s hack Austin Seven saloon stood his very fine open 41/2-litre Bentley with short 3-litre chassis, and fixed cycle wings, a car he still uses occasionally on business journeys. Neve also has a Frazer-Nash in his garage and still toys with the idea of a 500-cc sprint car, using a wooden chassis and ‘Nash transmission. The pedal-car he constructed for his small daughter has, incidentally, a decidedly ‘Nash front-end ! The afternoon was further en livened by Crowley-Milling’s electric bicycle, once Francis-Barnett, which accelerates impressively from rest up to maximum velocity, and can scorn all the police persons. Its motor is simply a starter-motor from a Rolls-Royce driving the rear wheel through a series of chains and the car-type batteries are tricklecharged nightly. Finally Neve took us to visit his neighbour, Mr. Gardner, with whom he is sharing the restoration of a 1903 3-cylinder Duryea. This remarkable veteran has an amidships, horizontal watercooled engine, with oh inlet valves which are prodded by push rods for starting, but which afterwards function automatically. The gearbox is of epicyelic type, steering is by tiller, and the car, which is being painstakingly restored, runs on solid tyres. We have been offered a seat on this car in the first postwar Brighton Run, and we mean to hold Neve and Gardner to it ! Mr. Gardner’s other cars are a very nice 1929 41/2-litre Bentley fabric saloon with Zeiss headlamps, and a Rover Ten saloon, while he has a most intriguing indoor model railway with 25 locomotives and several hundred pieces of rolling stock, some dating back 40 years. His wife’s car is a very roomy Austin Eighteen 7-seater.

Capt Wylie

The sudden death of Capt JH Wylie, secretary of the Veteran Car Club, is a very sad blow to the veteran motoring movement and to the Sport in general. The VCC was one of those organisations which achieved a reputation that could do only good to the motoring movement as a whole. Its events were extremely well run and it achieved a remarkably sane balance between the need to preserve with dignity veterans of “museum” value and the need to provide sporting contests for owners of veteran machinery. Capt Wylie was in a very large measure responsible for the club’s excellent constitution, and he was also personally responsible for painstaking research into the dating of such veterans as claimed membership to the club. That over 180 pre-1905 cars were on the books is, at once, both a tribute to the value of the club and a measure of the immense amount of voluntary sparetime work Wylie did, and continued to do, in spite of war-time calls on his leisure. He spoke quietly, and ran things almost from the background, certainly without apparent effort. Yet he achieved so much. He personally appeared in club events, when he was not indispensable elsewhere, in his famous 1903 Wolseley or 1897 Hurtu. He belonged to the old school and, extending courtesy, was disappointed at times at the uncouthness of the age. We well remember one “Brighton” when he sent jean Batten down in his Rolls-Royce and drove through himself on the Hurtu. A young lady friend of his passenger was able to render a few small aids throughout the day, such as fetching aviation spirit and having cups of tea ready when a stop was needed to replace lost valve cotters or persuade slipping belts to grip. Wylie very deeply appreciated these things, remarking that usually modern young people forget such kindnesses. Not only his passenger, but this fair helper, her friend and her sister were all invited to the celebration dinner on the spot. That was typical of Wylie’s nature, for he was a gentleman and a sportsman, apart from being one of the greatest supporters of the Veteran car movement any country has ever had.

Aston Martin Ltd, have announced that their post-war models will retain the famous valves-inclined-in-one-plane Bertelli cylinder head and will have a shorter stroke, larger bore, a high-set camshaft. driven from the rear by silent chain, and the valves operated by short push-rods. A maximum of 90 mph is spoken of.