Scottish Journey

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I suppose it was the Vanwall book that caused it, for we were discussing the battles of the racing cars of those two great industrial giants, Sir Alfred Owen and Tony Vandervell, the l½-litre supercharged V16 BRM and the 4½-litre unsupercharged Ferrari “Thinwall Special” and how they raced against each other all over the British Isles. The younger member of the group expressed surprise that these two cars went to Scotland to race, and we recalled meetings held on the airfields of Charterhall and Turnberry, with drivers such as Farina, Hawthorn, Moss, Bira, Parnell, Rosier and Gerard, all famous names of the early days of post-war racing in Britain. This was some twenty-five years ago, not history to the likes of W.B. and D.S.J., but history to a lot of readers and some of our present staff who were then just seeing the light of day. Enlarging on this subject we realised that Scotland now has two permanent circuits replacing those old airfield circuits, one in the suburbs of Edinburgh at Ingliston and the other up in the wild county of Knockhill on the other side of the Firth of Forth. It did not take long to draw up a five-day itinerary with the object of exploring motor racing history north of the Border, as well as looking at the motor racing scene as it is today. It was an interesting thought that it was farther in time and distance from London to the Scottish border than to the shores of France and Belgium, where one instinctively searches out old racing circuits, monuments and memories, but with our complete Motorway system Scotland was a lot easier to get to. In order to avoid being deflected off our route before we got into Scotland we contemplated putting the car and ourselves on a Motorail overnight sleeper, but the time and cost for three people and a Vanden Plas Daimler Double-Six a (badge-engineered Jaguar XJ12 to you and me) was uneconomical even with the fuel-injected 5.3litre V12 engine guzzling petrol at 15 m.p.g. so we latched it on to the M1 Motorway with our ace Motorway driver at the wheel, and sat back and relaxed as we were wafted up the M1 and M6 after lunch, arriving in Carlisle in time for a leisurely bath before dinner. Our Motorway ace has to be forced onto normal motoring roads so we were sure of not being deflected between London and Carlisle even though we expressed a wish to see Willy Eckerslyke’s clog factory in Barnoldswick! As we intended to cover most of South and Central Scotland in the few days available we aimed to reserve the maximum amount of time for happenings over the border.

On the way we had regretted that the Editor had been unable to join the party but he insisted there was something more important taking place at the same time, like the AGM of the Bean Owners Club, or the Bonfire Night Rally of the Calcott Owners’ Club, so it was with some surprise that we entered the Crest Hotel (I refuse to call it a Motel) just off the M6, to he confronted with is Bean radiator affixed to the wall of the foyer. We enquired if the AGM was being held in the hotel, but the girl receptionist was too young to remember the Bean!

Enjoying the open roads of Scotland and the low density of traffic, we accomplished a gigantic 1,000-mile circle from Carlisle in an anti-clockwise direction, taking in twenty-two pre-determined objectives, as well as some un-premeditated ones, all of which would figure high on any motor racing Tour Itinerary run by Page Tours. Heading across the Dales of Dumfries and Roxburgh we visited the old Charterhall airfield, now completely turned over to farming, though many of the old hangars and admin. buildings are still intact. Our map had the circuit marked quite clearly, except that it was about two miles out, in the wrong set of fields, but a local postman put us right, knowing the old airfield well as he frequently went to the race meetings. We wondered at drivers from France, Belgium and Italy journeying all the way to a rather desolate Scottish airfield to race, but such was the business acumen of “Jock” McBain and his race committee, that some of the Charterhall meetings had very good entries and starting money was high compared to some British airfield meetings in the South. Later we visited the old Turnberry airfield on the west coast of Ayrshire, an equally uninspiring runway circuit that nevertheless saw some interesting racing during the formative years of Scottish motor racing. It had the slight attraction for visitors of being on the edge of the sea, with seaside hotels and atmosphere not far away. Here we were directed clearly by a man in a petrol station who went to the Turnberry races as a young man, and knew it all well. With no purpose-built circuits immediately after the war, Scotland like England had to make-do with disused airfields, while other European countries raced on the public roads out in the country or around the streets of a town as well as on permanent tracks like Nurburgring or Monza. Enthusiasm was very high in Scotland and in spite of being a long way from Southern civilisation, for there were no motorways to bomb along in a few hours, motor racing in Scotland seemed to happen all over the south and centre, on airfields at Crimmond and Edzell as well as the two we visited. Scottish racing drivers have long been a force to be reckoned with, and apart from the three most famous from north of the border, Clark, Stewart and Ireland, there have been countless more like Flockhart, Sanderson and Jimmy Stewart and there are still many Scottish racing drivers in action today like Walkinshaw. Naturally we visited Chirnside to pay homage to the greatest Scots driver of all time, Jimmy Clark, buried in the beautifully-cared-for graveyard in the centre of the village, and would have liked to have visited the Jim Clark Memorial Trophy Room in Duns, but winter was with us and it was closed until the spring. During our tour we passed through the homelands of Clark, Stewart and Ireland and it was easy to see why Jim Clark always returned home after races, why Stewart went to live in Switzerland and why Innes Ireland returned to his native land after retiring from motor racing and motoring journalism.

From the flat and spacious areas of airfield racing, activity in Scotland has now been channelled into two tiny circuits which must surely breed a cut-and-thrust type of driving, rather than any consumate skill. From the inspiration of Ian Scott-Watson, who was the man who set Clark on the road to the top, Scotcircuits Ltd. brought about the building of a three-quarter-mile track around the grounds of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society at Ingliston, on the west-side of Edinburgh Airport. Airfield racing had died because the affluent society of the sixties demanded so much in the way of amenities and safety that officialdom would no longer sanction racing on a course marked out with straw bales or rubber cones and the spectators held back by a rope. A whole new generation had grown up and moved into racing on all counts, organisers, competitors and spectators, and the care-free and irresponsible attitude of those who raced before the war and those who grew up in the fraught and perilous years of the war, in the RAF, the Navy or the Army, were now over. Whereas nobody used to give a thought to accidents or hurting themselves, the new generation were very conscious of the worth of staying alive, whether competing or watching and this together with accelerated progress in racing car design and racing car potential brought about the demise of the slap-happy airfield racing and everything had to be well organised and controlled.

At the Ingliston Showground half the battles were won before the circuit was built; there was a fine permanent grandstand giving excellent viewing, permanent facilities such as restaurants, bars, toilets and telephones, and covered paddock areas. After a time the three-quarter-mile circuit was lengthened to 1.03 miles by the addition of a length of straight, a hairpin bend and another straight. On such a tight circuit overtaking is the big problem, but nevertheless it is clearly a circuit which is fun to scratch around, providing entertainment for the spectators, but whether it is real motor racing is a matter of opinion. While Ingliston has all the advantages of being on the edge of a city and flourishes in its own self-contained way with six meetings a year, the newly built circuit at Knockhill is completely different. Built on a barren area of moorland which must be delightful on a hot sunny day, but diabolical on a wet and windy day, it presents a small but challenging drive to the budding racer, with blind brows, adverse cambers, steep descents and medium fast bends. As Ingliston is homely and friendly. Knockhill is wild and barren and the only complaints about noise are likely to come from the black-faced sheep standing forlornly about on the hillsides. Everything has had to be built from scratch and with the first meetings only held this year it is early days to say exactly how Knockhill will develop.

Just as the growth of control and responsibility put paid to airfield racing so it did to Scotland’s famous hill-climb Rest-and-be-Thankful, up the old military road through Glen Croe, to the west of Loch Lomond. This must have been the best hill-climb ever used in the British Isles, the climb up the Glen being as spectacular as anyone could wish for, unless like me you had been weaned on Mountain Hillclimbs such as Mont Ventoux, Schavinsland, Bolzano-Mendola, Susa-Mont Cenis and so on. What there was of Rest-and-be-Thankful was first class—it just needed to be ten times as long by European standards. By the British standards of Shelsley Walsh, Prescott, Wiscombe, Loton Park and so on, it was majestic, but its days were numbered as officialdom demanded resurfacing, safety measures and security. Even now it is fascinating to look down the Glen from the top hairpin and imagine the exhaust note of a 2-litre ERA or an Alfa-Romeo or Bugatti echoing off the hillsides. The thought of a Cosworth V8-powered Formula One car or a highly-tuned Hart-engined March hurtling up the narrow road brought tears of emotion to our eyes. During the days of the Royal Scottish Automobile Club meetings at Rest-and-be-Thankful there was another hill-climb over in the east, at Bo’ness on the Firth of Forth. It was much more in the English idiom of a “Sprint” hillclimb, on the Kinneil Estate but, alas, that succumbed to housing development and a change of interest by the land-owner. Replacing these two hills is the one on the estate of Lord Moray at Doune, where the Earl has laid out an extremely sporting “Sprint” hill-climb of which the centre portion, across open grassland, is so steep that it is more frightening coming down than going up. A short while ago officialdom nearly put paid to the Doune hill-climb by demanding a sea of Armco barrier to which his Lordship refused to acquiesce, not wanting to disfigure his elegant estate. Fortunately for the world of hill-climbing a compromise was reached, and even though the course has been shortened, cutting out the starting straight and the first climbing left-hand bend, there is still more than enough to leave competitors breathless by the time they arrive in the top paddock.

For those who prefer their motoring static there is the Doune Motor Museum, open during the summer months, standing alongside the main paddock of the hill-climb. The theme of the Doune Museum is quite simple, and very refreshing, the cars are merely those that Lord Moray has owned and used, or those that he personally likes. After a walk round the pleasant halls it is easy to see that Lord Moray is a connoisseur of nice cars and has a selection that every enthusiast will enjoy. Among the cars is the most famous of all Maserati 8CM Grand Prix cars, number 3012, from the Whitney Straight team of 1934. It later passed to Prince Chula and was raced extensively by B. Bira, and led an active life in various hands until the mid-fifties, when it was “put out to grass” in Vintage Sports Car Club racing. It ended its active days carrying lots of “modern” modifications like telescopic shock-absorbers, rear axle radius rods, wide rim wheels and podgy tyres, but is now back to its original trim and wearing twin-rear tyres as used by Straight on the Brooklands Mountain circuit and at Shelsley Walsh. During its long career it was painted various colours, Straight had it black and also white and blue, the American International colours, Chula painted it blue, and later blue and yellow, Thailand’s International colours, and McAlpine painted it black. When restoring such a car, what colour do you paint it? Lord Moray avoided any discussion or argument by painting it Maserati racing red, and it looks splendid.

This restoration work was carried out by Ray Fielding and his staff at Pedigree Cars Ltd. in Forres, way up beyond Inverness and we called in on our way by to talk Maserati and look at the many projects under way in the care of Dick Watson. The 1953/54 Maserati A6GMC that Fielding has been racing in Vintage and Historic events this season was about to be put under wraps so that they could concentrate on their two pre-war 6C Maseratis, one being a complete and original car, the other a resurrection from a destroyed car that has necessitated a new chassis frame. On the long-term list is a Maserati-Milan, in a sorry state, but all complete, having been rescued from South America. This started life as a normal Maserati 4CLT/48 and in 1950/57 was developed by Ruggieri and his Scuderia Milan, with larger superchargers and larger brakes. For a l½-litre engine the size of the primary supercharger is truly impressive. Amidst this array of red Italian racing cars was a glistening D-type Jaguar, XKD 501, registered MWS 301. It was fully trimmed and ready for the road for the enjoyment of its new owner, and in itself is a whole book of Scottish motor racing history for it won the Le Mans 24-Hour race in 1956. Driven by Ron Flockhart and Ninian Sanderson, it was part of the Ecurie Ecosse team that carried the flag of St. Andrew all over the world in the nineteen-fifties, run by the genial David Murray from Merchiston Mews in Edinburgh. A sedate Bugatti Type 57 saloon looked almost embarrassed among this galaxy of racing cars. In addition to this historic activity Fielding sells modern Maserati cars like the Merak, Bora and Indy and is also managing director of P. S. Nicholson Ltd, selling such things as Lancia and Peugeot cars.

On the way south from Inverness we paused on the side of Loch Ness to pay tribute to John Cobb at the memorial erected by the people of Glen Urquhart in 1952 after he lost his life on the waters of the Loch when travelling at 206 m.p.h. in his speed boat, attempting to gain the World’s Water Speed Record. A gallant gentleman indeed. After viewing the march of time in the shape of the fine steel bridge across Loch Leven, soon to be opened and to replace the Ballachulish ferry boat, we headed for Glen Coe and its splendid long straights. As the Daimler Double-Six wound itself up to its maximum and showed that it really is a Jaguar, the more erudite member of the party, who is able to read and understand articles by L.J.K. Setright, mentioned that the worthy scribe had recently expressed a longing to once more drive his old Bristol 401 through Glen Coe, and recalling that MOTOR SPORT drove a Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gull-Wing coupe at its maximum through the Glen in 1956 the passengers sat mutely in their air-conditioned luxury of the Daimler as its terminal velocity was reached.

All too soon we were back in the border county and into England, where we joined the Motorway to return to London in the shortest possible time having more than made most of our time in Scotland.—D.S.J.

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