MY 1948 SEASON
by JOHN BOLSTER
THE Vintage Sports Car Club are an enterprising body of men, and it was just like them to have the courage to run a speed trial during the ” no-petrol ” period. It was just like them, too, to make the competitors circle a pylon at the end and go back the way they had come, thus making double use of the course (I hope Leslie Wilson doesn’t do that at Shelsley). Anyway, we set out bright and early in a hired lorry, ” we ” being “Bloody Mary,” Betty and John Bolster, Ken Waller, and James Tilling, and reached Luton Hoo without incident.
The course proved, to have a pleasant series of reasonably fast corners and uphill and downhill stretches, though from our point of view the downhill start rather nullified the advantage that ” Bloody ” usually gains on the getaway. As usual, old ” B.M.” went up to form, and finished third in the 2-litre class, winning a nice lot of money for being fastest vintage car.
The next event was the International Jersey Road Race, where I was to drive Peter Bell’s ii-litre E.R.A. George Boyle had worked with incredible frenzy all through the winter, completely rebuilding the car, and it was only run for the first time the day before it had to set sail for the island. It speaks volumes for George that throughout the practice period and the race, no work or tuning of any kind had to be done on that engine. The race, in which we ran non-stop, was rather marred for me by failure of the front shock absorbers, whose makers were supposed to have overhauled them. One couldn’t let oneself go at all in cornering or braking, and after finishing .sixth I could hardly get out of the car as I had had such a tough ride. Peter did. the lap scoring, Mary Bell and Betty clicked watches and George Boyle and Ted Pope waited for the pit stop that never came.
Although I ran through the race nonstop that does not mean it was without incident. The first part of the race was easy, when one merely had to chase the leaders, who were all men of great skill, and a pleasure to race against. When it fame to lapping the tail-enders though, there were one or two hair-raising moments, probably partly due to the universal habit of flag marshals of waving an apologetic blue flag several seconds too late. There was the problem of passing that big car that one identified as “the moving chicane,” and there was that other day-dreaming motorist who suddenly crossed over to the wrong side of the straight just as I was about to pass him at full chat (he’ll never know how nearly he and Bolster shared a communal grave !). Then there was that hilarious incident when the car in front was seen to enter a corner at an improbable speed from an impossible angle. One braked as hard as one dared, having regard to the undamped front end, and on rounding the turn one found the intrepid automobilist sitting in the road, and his riderless steed having several accidents all by itself. Jersey is a lovely place, and the whole visit was a grand holiday, quite apart from the racing. Among our activities
John Bolster needs no introduction to readers of MOTOR SPORT. In this article, at our request, he gives an account of his competition motoring this season with ” Bloody Mary,” Peter Bell’s I !-Iitre and 2-litre E.R.A.s and his veteran and Edwardian cars.
was an afternoon at a Jersey bull show, and a lecture I gave at Victoria College to a highly intelligent .audience. We flew with the Bells “to and from,” and this was by no means the least enjoyable feature of the trip.
The next ” holiday ” for Bells and Bolsters was to be the British Empire Trophy in the Isle of Man, on May 25th. The little E.R.A. now had Rolls-Royce front shock absorbers, and we -were quietly confident of doing fairly well, for when George puts an engine together, it stays together ! The course is plagued by having a series of very slow corners approached fast downhill—absolute murder on brakes —and even during practice we had trouble with those essential components. In the race, the engine sounded as wonderful as usual, but a violent self-servo effect developed in the rear brakes, causing the back axle to bounce and judder, and the car to face all ways on the approach to corners. I know I ought to have retired at once, and I will always blame myself for not doing so, but I was working through the field in spi 1 of my troubles, and I foolishly continue(1. The inevitable happened just after le 11)’ distance, when the overworked differett t i al disintegrated and the pieces went if) rough the crownwheel and pinion. ‘t this precise moment we were at peak revs in third, and in that fraction of time before I could get my foot off, the willing little engine had soared to unprintable revs, and valves and pistons had become intermingled. I had certainly proved myself a champion car-breaker
Came June, and that tatty old queen was hooked on to the back of the Jeep, and down we went to Brighton for the hill-climb. One doesn’t want to be unkind, and merely destructive criticism doesn’t help anybody, but a worse-run meeting woald be difficult to imagine, and how the R.A.C. passed. the course I cannot think. It is probable that somebody inspected the course who had not done any sprint work in a really fast racing car recently, and, with the best will in the world, it is impossible to keep “in the picture” unless one is a constant competitor. As a result Beitain’s finest driver, Bob Gerard, was involved in as nasty a crash as I have seen, damaging several cars, including mine, and wrapping his so-beautiful 2-litre E.R.A. round a tree. While we were sorting out the wreckage, the starter cheerfully sent off another car, which came skidding in amongst us without actually killing anybody. Oh, by the way, ” B.M.” went as usual, being third in the 8-litre class, and sixth in the general classification.
The roadholding of my little car had not been all it should have been at Brighton, and the slight damage to the front end occasioned by Bob’s crash was a good excuse for a rebuild before Shelsley. As Ken and I only had a few days in which to do the work, and we both had jobs to hold down as well, we realised that midnight oil would have to be burned, but we managed to make a new track rod and king-pins in the time, and build everything up to a proper “racing fit.”
Our trouble was abundantly worth while, because old ” Bloody ” held the road as never before, and won the cup for the fastest Special,” breaking the record for unblown ” Specials ” in doing it and coming sixth in the general classification. The trip was rather marred, however, by a drunken soldier who stole my towing Jeep and smashed it to atoms, thus leaving my party stranded some 150 miles from home. The extreme generosity of the friends who helped me out of my difficulty proved, if it needed proving, what grand people the motoring types are.
I can’t take Prescott as seriously as I should. I have never run there without winning a prize, and yet I cannot get any thrill out of it, because the corners are so slow. I agree straight away that it is a grand hill for sports cars, which Shelsley is not, but with a quickish racer one goes about feeling exalted for days after a real dice up Shelsley, whereas at Prescott one is merely exasperated at one’s embarrassingly slow progress round those stop-and-restart corners. It just depends what sort of a car one happens to have, I suppose.
Nevertheless, the Vintage boys always run their shows so beautifully and with such a free-and-easy atmosphere, that I couldn’t resist having a go, Ken and James being my mates on this occasion. It had often occurred to me that if one could have a direct chain drive for Prescott, with no gears to waste power or waste the driver’s time, one would gain more than one would lose from being overor under-geared on certain parts of the course. Accordingly, I guessed that a ratio of 9 to 1 would do the trick, and guessed wrong ! On my first run, I was terribly under-geared, a climb in 49.1 sec. involving such over-revving that the valve gear was damaged. Ken and James worked like beavers to fit an 8 to 1 sprocket, and the second run took only 46.8 sec., in spite of misfiring due to one valve not doing its stuff. This was fastest time of the day, and I must admit that I had to try pretty hard to do it.
Unfortunately the imminence of Zandvoort made an immediate drive home through the night essential, and as even a Jeep won’t work when its owner forgets to put water in it, we were delayed by having to fit a new gasket, which Gordon Wilkins miraculously conjured up from the Gloucestershire hills. We drove home through torrential rain, taking it in turns to sleep in the back among the tools and spares, and towards the end of the journey I had to slap my own face to keep myself awake at the wheel, while hearty snores mocked me from the sternsheets. Next, the long-suffering Jeep found
itself in Holland, with E.R.A. tyres lashed to the bonnet, and Mary, Betty, and Peter lolling luxuriously among the luggage, George having gone on ahead with the E.R.A. ZandvoOrt can be described in a few words. It was the best-run event of the year, on the best and most interesting course, combined with the best hospitality we have ever received.
Each day the cars were driven in procession through Haarlem to the course amidst scenes of intense enthusiasm, and for us the practice period went off without a hitch. The race was in two heats and a final, and in my heat I had the pleasure of a wonderful dice with Tony Rolt. Tony is such a good driver that one feels perfectly safe in taking any sort of risk to try to get past him, knowing that he will never do anything silly. I didn’t manage to get past him, though I broke the lap record trying to, and Reg Parnell just had the legs of the two of us, a very close 1, 2, 3 result that brought the spectators cheering to their feet. I can still hardly bear to remember the final. The E.R.A., going as well as ever, was just settling into third place behind ” Bira ” and Tony, when something ghastly happened to the tail when I touched the brakes. A series of wild slides showed that something was seriously wrong, and on looking round I saw a plume of smoke pouring from the near-side rear brake drum. I thought the brake had seized, and drew into the pits to rectify it, but the filler cap of the oil tank had opened, and spilt its contents all over the near-side rear brake and tyre. Worrying about the brake, I had not noticed the wavering oil pressure, and when we refilled the oil tank, it was soon apparent that I had damaged the bearings, and that was that. Peter took it all very philosophically, but once again I felt that I had proved myself a champion car
breaker, and suffered several sleepless nights in self-condemnation.
The next job was Brighton Speed Trials, and ” Bloody ” went down behind the Jeep, with Ken at the wheel, and I took my family in the “Silver Ghost” Rolls (1911). On her first run, ” B.NI.” broke a chain for the first time in her long life. The secret, it must be admitted, was that this was her first appearance with four carburetters instead of two, and the very old chain didn’t like the extra power. On my other run I had to use a piece of secondhand chain, and therefore took more care over getaway andgear changes, which netted me 28.8 sec., not quite up to ” B.M.’s ” best for this course. Peter Bell appeared with a new purchase, the ex-Parnell 2-litre E.R.A. He drove the car himself, and clocked 26.57 see. This good time is not quite up to the MaysGerard standard, but the 2-litre is in pretty rough tune, as George has had his work cut out keeping the 1 flitre fit for the big races, and the 2-litre has very rightly had to take second place. Brighton over, I turned the wheels of the “Silver Ghost” towards GOodwood, where I was to drive the ” 1i in the five-lap Goodwood Trophy and the 2-litre in the three-lap unlimited race. I like the Goodwood course very well, as it has plenty of fast corners, but I did not approve of the arrangement whereby starting positions were by ballot instead of by practice times, as in a short race it is almost impossible to break through a dense field of slow cars from the back
TOW. In practice, the litre went as
magnificently as it always does, but afterwards it was found that one of the new bearings had started to tighten up, and so we had to make the tragic decision to withdraw from the Trophy rather than blow up just before Silverstone. I had never even sat in the 2-litre, so approaclied my work with great interest. We never got her going at all properly in practice, but John Morgan sportingly gave us permission to do a bit of carburetter tuning up and down the short straight early the next morning, and that enabled George to find all the cylinders. The 2-litre is an absolute dream-car. I cannot imagine anything more light and responsive to drive, and the astonishingly greater stepaway at the bottom end gives an entirely different sensation from the rather ” rev-conscious ” 1i-litre E.R.A. One has enough urge to power-slide
100-m.p.h. corners, and I am that way over the 2-litre E.R.A. that one might be over a favourite blonde. In the race, I was placed in the back row of a densely packed grid, but my colossal acceleration soon flung me into third place. Unfortunately the first and second men were having such a dog-fight that I couldn’t get through on the narrow course, though I tried both sides, in between, and even on the grass. In any case, three laps is too short a distance to sort things out, and at least I had the honour of making fastest lap. If the “
straights” could be slightly widened and straightened, but the corners left exactly as they are, this little circuit would lose nothing in excitement, and the passing problem would be overcome. I hasten to add that it is only with very fast cars that this criticism applies, the course being already more than adequate for sports cars and “livehundreds,” and in any case this meeting was held to find out exactly this sort of thing—” Experimental dicing,” as the Duke of Richmond and Gordon christened it. There is something about Shelsley that ” gets ” one, and it was with considerable anticipation that we set out on the long tow to Worcester with ” B.M.” behind the Jeep, though after all these years I expect she could almost find her own way there ! For the same reason, I never practise with her, because she must know her way up that old hill by now. However, we had to go to the practising, because I was also driving the 2-litre E.R.A., and that temperamental lady always needs plenty of coaxing before she will consent to display her charms. Peter and George couldn’t get along until the Saturday, because the
was having that doubtful front main bearing investigated before Silverstone, so I was instructed that the 2-litre would arrive in a six-wheeled “crew coach,” after which it was my job to seduce her into a good mood. As it happened, the lorry put a fan blade through the radiator, and the morning was spent dragging it Up Worcestershire’s worst hills with the invaluable Jeep. This left only the afternoon for tuning, and as the lady turned bitchy in a big way, I missed the expert George more than somewhat. Towards the end of the day, Leslie Kesterton of S.U.s got the engine firing on quite a lot of cylinders, and we cruised up the hill in 38.3 sec.,
which was fastest practice time. A broken stud had us worried, though, as a vertical jet of water shot up when the engine was revved, but we dared not disturb the head at this late hour, especially in the absence of George.
On the Saturday, old ” Bloody ” was got ready by Ken and James, and Peter and George mercifully arrived to pander to the 2-litre. The old queen unfortunately broke a fuel pipe on her first run, but on her second she made no mistake, and broke her own ” Specials ” record in 40.3 sec. The four carburetters gave. more power than ever before, but this. caused over-revving on my 6.2 top gear, and if I had had both runs I could have used my 5.5 sprocket for the second dart.
I took the E.R.A. up to the start expecting a good dice, because the hill had dried right out in the beautiful sunshine, and was in superb condition. Alas! Both half-shafts broke on the line !
Followed the most frenzied piece or work I have ever seen. Like magic a team of experts materialised, including the mechanics of Mays and Gerard, my greatest rivals, and worked shoulder to shoulder with George to tear the rear end to pieces. I have not room to describe their magnificent achievement, but sufficeit to say that by the time my second run was due, a job had been done that normally takes two full days, and BobGerard’s spare half-shafts were now inside my axle. Wot ! No split pins ?
After all that, it Was with great diffidence that I took the wheel, for I felt that if I let the mechanics down I would. never be able to forgive myself. Onecannot nurse a car at Shelsley, though, and I decided to risk everything. On theline, the car sounded shocking, but I managed to get her on to six cylinders, and shot off before she could change hermind. She handled as magnificently asalways, and gave rue the finest ride up, Shelsley I have ever had, though I clumsily carved a piece of bank off the second bend of the S.” Faster than Ray’s first run, but not as fast as his second, wewere very pleased indeed with our second place, and with the congratulations Ray so charmingly offered us. Hotel booking having gone astray, I borrowed Peter Clark’s caravan, and Jeeped off to Silverstone. Both practice days produced their worries, and Georgesubsisted on a diet of day and night Continued on page 511
work, but Cuth. Harrison produced a brand new oil pump, and that completely cured our lubrication difficulties. The course was marred by several tooslow corners, and somehow it didn’t seem like a real road circuit. Peter’s ii-litre E.R.A. has a smaller blower than any of the other B-types, so slow corners penalise its slight lack of stepaway, though at the top end it has a very fine performance indeed. He had decided to finish at all costs, and told me to nurse the brakes and keep the revs down, but to go like blazes on the corners. That, he figured, would eventually put us ahead of all the other E.R.A.s except Gerard’s, and that is precisely what happened. Never has a race gone so completely as planned, though I had my excitement with a pool of blazing fuel out of Johnson’s burst tank, and later Ascari threw his exhaust pipe at me. The little old E.R.A. was going better on the last lap than on the first, and our one pit stop went quite expeditiously, though a most unexpected thirst for water in the radiator put the drill slightly off schedule. Though the course could have been better, it was a very great race indeed, and I never had a moment’s worry, or even an unintentional skid. [We apologise to the author for saying, in our Silverstone report, that heted. We were misled. by a race bulrtli.—En.] And so we finished sixth in the race, and second British
driver. Peter knew I had enough revs in hand to have got up to fourth place if he had given me the ” faster ” signal, but he knew, too, that there is no prize for non-finishers, and he decided that I would probably blow the car up if I used those extra revs. Too many B-types have failed to finish races because people try to make them go as fast as the latest Continental jobs, and it is by knowing the right speed and sticking to it that one gets the best out of these very fine old cars. The exception that proves the rule is Bob Gerard, but I always think he must have some secret pedals in his cockpit, and do a powerful bit of treadling down the straights !
The season of speed ended with a nice friendly little speed trial at Weston-super-‘ Mare. Old ” B.M.” went as well as she has ever gone and, revving hard on a 4 to 1 gear, got second in her class to Peter on the 2-litre E.R.A. I thought I had the ” unblown ” cup in my pocket, but Butterworth wiped the smile off my face very effectively, and his car will want watching next season. Old” B.M.” has run in seven events and won 153 in prize money this season. She has cost less than 110 to run, including fuel, and my expenses have included hotel accommodation at three distant meetings, petrol for the towing Jeep to six meetings, and a lorry to Luton Moo. Obviously, the picture would be very different if I didn’t have the run of Ken’s engineering works, but the figures for
1946 and 1947 were about the same, and the old J.A.P. engines haven’t been taken down for two years.
On the E.R.A. front, we had a wonderful 11-litre engine all through the year, and what had been an awkward car to drive was developed until it would corner as fast as anything I know. No words of mine can do justiceto the 2-litre, but I must pay tribute to the ArmstrongSiddeley gearbox and the Z.F. differential, which latter I used for the first time at Zandvoort and would never again willingly be without.
I cannot conclude without mentioning an event which has for many years been a favourite of mine—the Brighton Run for veteran cars.
Came the dawn of November 14th, and the little 1903 two-cylinder Panhard was already humming happily through the wilds of Kent on its way to the start in Hyde Park, the weather being mercifully fine. The Run was the grand show it always is, and we sat down to lunch in Brighton after a thoroughly enjoyable drive. After the ceremonial procession, we set off on the long cross-country drive home, tea being taken, and the oil lamps lit, in Tunbridge Wells. The steep hills of Kent presented no difficulty, our engine pulling strongly at its governed speed of 800 r.p.m., and by the time we were home again, some 150 very delightful miles had been covered. What a grand ending to a very happy season !