Memories of Derek Buckler

I knew Derek Buckler quite well. A rather serious chap, and why not, when you are selling kit-car parts and complete small-production sportscars in a competitive marketplace?

His works were at Crowthome, not far from Fleet, where we then lived, so I would call in to see what was going on in a workshop lined with obsolete fruit machines. Derek was nothing if not optimistic, and thorough in promoting his products. He took an inside-front cover ad in Motor Sport, giving very complete details of a Buckler’s selling points and a set of acceleration and gradient times for his Ford Ten-engined cars. He even noted the difference that 70 or 80 octane fuel or petrol-benzole made, 0-60 mph being claimed, respectively, at 22, 20 and 18.4sec. He started in 1947 and by ’49 the Airflow model was available, except for export; the normal two-seater was priced at £695.

The basis was a multi-tubular spaceframe, plus four cut-down Ford cross-members and the Ford rear cross-member, which was slightly heavier than the Ford frame but more rigid, wheelbase 7ft 6in, track 3ft 9in. Front suspension was by an LMB type divided axle and transverse spring. The engine was the side-valve 1172 cc Ford Ten, with Ford transmission and 5.5-to-1 back axle. Tyre size could be suited to events, from 5.75×16 to 4.00×17. To aid weight distribution the radiator was behind the engine. The rear petrol tank held 6.5gal, with the battery beside it. Later Bucklers had Servais silencers and the brakes were Ford-Girling. Derek told me sadly that if he sent potential customers drawings of his spaceframe they made their own frames from them, and if he didn’t, he heard no more!

Up to 1948, Derek had competed in 12 trials or hillclimbs, gaining top awards in two MCC events, and did the Brighton 1 km at 58.8mph. But the most daring was driving in the Manx Cup, with a normal front axle, some leaves removed from the front springs, Newton shock-absorbers, a high top gear and 7.6:1 compression-ratio, and with the weight, minus strip wings, screen and lamps, down to 10cwt. The Buckler was last, but this did not deter Derek from using it crossing the line for his Christmas card. But it did get a fifth at Goodwood.

Although I was a lazy `bouncer’ and an impossible navigator, Derek took me on the first post-war MCC Trial. We drove down to Exeter on the Friday to find that the New Year celebrations were in full swing at the Rougemount Hotel. The Buckler had an adequate windscreen, appreciated as we left in hail and a gale at 6.30am the next morning. Clean climbs were accomplished up all the observed sections: Windout, Fingle Bridge with restart, the coast-downhill brake test, Knowle, Waterworks, with another restart, and the nasty Green Lanes where part of the little car’s tail was torn away — so a ‘gold’ award was ours. The Oxborough retreaded tyres were reinflated and we were free to go back to the hotel and wash, strip wings giving little protection so that we were covered in mud and even swallowed some of it, to the delight of spectators at the finish.

In the 273 miles, fuel consumption was 34.5mpg, trial included, cruising at 60-70mph on main roads, to average just over 50mph. After lunch at Coombe Lodge, Shaftesbury, on the way home I took over, approving of the good road holding, good brakes and the remote-control gear lever.

I went again on the next Exeter, the Buckler now with a belt-driven Shorrocks supercharger, giving about 4lbs boost, 6.00×16 rear tyres and a more civilised body. It cleared everything except Simms, failing at the 1-in-3.5 slate outcrop. The marshal said he had waited 16 years to see Scrogg’s famous Trojan stop, as it had also done. Next day Derek insisted on going out to Simms again, but try as he did, it refused to be climbed. On the run home, following Charles Bulmer’s TT Replica Frazer Nash, he hit a wall at a bend — but ‘Nashes do corner very fast. The Buckler’s directional apparatus was deranged, so we had to continue crammed into the back of the ‘Nash, intended only for tools and cans or one badly undernourished child.

I recall another Buckler encounter: I was driving a 2CV Citroen in an Economy Trial. Bonnets were sealed and we were tying for a win with Derek when his Ford engine lost water. The officials said that we agreed they would allow him to open his car’s bonnet and refill its behind-engine radiator. I and my co-driver Holland Birkett could not decently refuse. The Buckler went on and beat us…