The Editor has asked me to provide some notes on what he is graciously pleased to call “my versatile 1947 season.” I fear it would be more accurate to say that I dabbled in a number of things and did none of them particularly well. It is also easy, when asked to write about oneself, to provide what sounds like a personal publicity boost-up instead of providing something which may be of interest or even assistance to other people. The latter is at any rate my earnest intention.
I see, on consulting my diary, that my first event in 1947 was the Hants and Berks Night Trial (Jan. 4th and 5th). This excellent event was described in detail at the time, the premium — as readers will remember — being upon good navigation, and fast, safe driving to make good the delays occasioned by navigating errors. We made two errors and a bloomer, which cost us ten minutes each, and nearly an hour, respectively, and our driving in between, if safe, was not spectacular enough to redeem any of this lost time. This was also the first of the only two competitive events in which I have ever run my blown “Nordec” Ford Ten, by which I imply no criticism of that hard-worked car, none of the “Nordec” parts of which have proved other than 100 per cent. reliable. The shortcomings of the car are really all my fault, in that I mistakenly thought I could just buy “any old” Ford Ten and recondition it as new. In point of fact I have never been able to obtain all the spare parts needed to make a real job of anything, and the gearbox and axle units have never been other than a re-shuffle of someone else’s slightly less worn-out parts.
The following week-end I delivered the 1914 Mercedes to Mike Couper’s showrooms in St. Albans, for his Racing Car Exhibition. I only remember that it was very cold and that the traffic lights in St. Albans must have been frozen up or something, for they kept me waiting so long that we boiled and then lost a plug or two. The cold at this time played many evil tricks. Returning one night in the “old” H.R.G. from a conference about the new one, I was so numbed and miserable that I failed to notice my own right arm was getting soaked with oil until, too late, there was no more oil within. Almost next day my wife charged headlong, in her powerful and aged 8-h.p. Ford, into a black and shiny gentleman in a — I mean a gentleman in a black and shiny Wolseley. Transport was really getting very low, and we almost had to use the Public Inconvenience.
At the end of January I was much cheered to receive, from Stuttgart, the camshaft drawings for the 1914 Mercedes, and almost immediately afterwards dismayed to receive a wire from Le Mans saying the 24-hour race was off again. The camshaft drawings settled and scrapped yet another of the myths by which that car has always been surrounded, namely that at some period a touring cam was fitted to improve the tractability, at considerable loss of top-end urge. Yet another alibi gone west!
In the middle of February, still amid heavy snow, I went north with Pierre Maréchal, greatly admiring his sensitive handling of a vast Buick saloon, to collect my “Speed Six” Bentley van. This monstrous elephant, originally a short Park Ward saloon, had been owned before the war by my mother-in-law in the Isle of Man, and after a nasty crash in 1939 had been left to rot in a field because nobody locally would undertake the necessary repairs. On my demob. leave in 1946 I went to pay homage to the old wreck, chickens and all, and regret to say that enthusiasm altogether overcame discretion. I most unfortunately convinced myself that for a couple of hundred quid or so I could create the most wonderful Utility, which I could then sell for seven or eight hundred. I therefore had the thing swept up, almost literally with a dustpan and brush, and dumped on the mainland. I won’t go into the eventual conversion cost, but nobody has so far offered me fourpence for it, so if not a wiser, certainly a poorer man am I.
Whilst these things were going on, three other things were taking shape. First, work was approaching completion on my “Aerodynamic” H.R.G., which I had decided, after taking it to the Paris Motor Show of 1946 and running it on the road for three months at home, to use only for sports-car racing and other suitable events. Secondly, I had sold my “old” H.R.G. and, wanting a vintage sports-car, obtained the ex-Bear “3.3” Bugatti “UV 28.” Thirdly, the 1914 G.P. Mercedes was almost ready for a trial run after winter overhaul.
I drove the Bugatti to Eastbourne for the Vintage S.C.C. Rally and found it, as I have never ceased to do, most fascinating. It is a much shortened Type 44 chassis with Type 49 (full-pressure lubrication) engine and a delightful little 2-seater body — also four Solex carburetters and a tremendous urge to go backwards on wet roads. I think this is because the rear springs, originally intended for a much heavier body, make it extremely stiff in roll, and I intend one day removing a leaf from each. I also noticed, at Gransden, that the tendency is not unique among Bugattis. Be that as it may, this particular specimen is quite outclassed, on wet English secondary roads, by a good H.R.G., as I discovered to my discomfiture when I convoyed John Wyer to the Prescott Members’ Meeting.
Easter saw me “running-in ” the 1914 Mercedes, with a merry little journey to St. Ives for the West Cornwall Motor Club’s hill-climb event, Trengwainton. It rained almost the whole way down, we stopped only once for fuel and fodder, and I have rarely enjoyed a journey more. Somewhere near Okehampton (I think) we passed the Editor of MOTOR SPORT returning from the Land’s End. His car, and a handful of others obviously from the same event, were almost the only vehicles we saw in the whole journey, and we put up a remarkable time without ever exceeding 80 m.p.h. On arrival at Trengwainton, the car went temperamental for the first time since I have known her, and on one occasion I held up the entire proceedings whilst the promoters towed me round Cornwall with their f.w.d. truck to get her started. It was, as I remarked earlier, the car’s first run of the year, and rather an excessive lot of oil was coming off the valve gear. Some of this found its way into the near-side magneto, and so we lost a whole bank of plugs. Furthermore, as was discovered later, water was getting into No. 4 cylinder. It is small wonder then that the good lady went all temperamental, but at the time I must confess to feeling somewhat harassed and only hope I didn’t “take it out” on the promoters, who were most helpful and charming.
Needless to say I drove abominably, the car seeming enormous and the hill minute. I seemed at all times to have at least three wheels overlapping the road, and from the photographs Jim Brymer took the car certainly was sprawling all over the place. It could scarcely have been worse placed for the corners, and as a consequence my times were appropriately disappointing. The journey home was as unpleasant as the run down had been enjoyable ; the traffic got thicker and thicker, the difficulty of keeping four cylinders firing at low speeds became increasingly acute, and eventually of course I took a wrong turning trying to avoid the traffic and stalled the engine in attempting to turn round. It is always one’s innocent wife who suffers on these occasions.
In the fullness of time the oil-soaked magneto returned from overhaul, and after the usual four hours’ work getting it synchronised with the other one (you have a go), the equally usual ten-yard tow brought the machine immediately to life. Within 100 yards, however, we lost a cylinder, and so a return was made to the garage, thinking it was those * † * electrical people again. Whilst the experts were reading the instruction manual and wheeling out the sort of radar set that experts use for what you and I do with a screw-driver, the humble owner observed a fair stream of liquid issuing from the carburetter. Fearing it was his precious basic petrol (remember the days?), he dashed to investigate and found it was only water. But his merry laugh soon faded as it dawned on him (a) that here was the cause of the missing cylinder and (b) that there must be a ‘ole in a vital part. Removal of the induction manifold and carburetter soon confirmed the worst, and a remarkable feat of “soldering upside-down” was then performed by Charles Gale.
For all these reasons, I am particularly glad that the West Country journey was made. Without it the car could not possibly have been in proper fettle for the Open Prescott Meeting on May 11th, when we were successful, by a very narrow margin, in wresting the class record from Anthony Heal and the Fiat. This, and the subsequent run at Brighton when a similar improvement over 1946 times was obtained, justified all the extensive (and expensive) work (lone on the car meanwhile. But I don’t know what to do next, for a sort of “equity ” has been created whereby, all things. being equal, the Mercedes gets up Prescott in about 55 seconds in the dry. I have no doubt a more inspired sprint driver than I am could knock at least a second off this, but where do we go from there? I am equally convinced that there is more to come both from the Fiat and the Itala, so that some lively competition can be expected amongst the Edwardians when next they are allowed to meet.
The next milestone of 1947, for me, was Chimay, where the “new” H.R.G. made its debut. “Very nice but not enough of it” would be a brief summary of my reactions, and contrary to some of the gloomier forecasts no lumps fell off the new body. It was still nice and still insufficient in the Isle of Man where I obtained my first, and very valuable, experience of team management. The difficulties, be it said, rise not as to the square but the progression of the number of cars involved. Ask Walter Norton for his experiences with the “Jabberwork” trials and rally team, for his confirmation. After Chimay I went to Germany on business, taking the H.R.G., and still nothing fell off.
Shelsley, June 21st, provided the Bugatti UV 28 with her real outing of the year, and I was somewhat on my mettle because of the good times put up by Kenneth Bear with her before the war. My practice time of 46.13 sec. was, therefore, a disappointment, proving yet once again that I am no sprint driver, but on the day, in pouring rain, I was quite happy with 49.15 sec., if only because I expected to have an accident and didn’t. My respect for the gentlemen who go up really quickly was enhanced on this occasion very much, for with a very modest b.h.p. available I seemed to be having wheelspin everywhere and all the time, so that obviously great delicacy of touch is called for with greater b.h.p. and lighter cars. Unfortunately. I couldn’t run at Shelsley again this year, as by the time of the next meeting the Bugatti was de-crankshafted. I was also unable to run at Prescott, July 20th, as no other Edwardian entries were received and the class, therefore, had to be called off.
I did, however, run at Gransden, July 13th, and made there the fatal error of bringing too many cars. I had been particularly anxious for a try-out with the H.R.G. before the Isle of Man, but hearing the Bugatti race might not be fully supported I agreed to run in that also. Unfortunately this well-meaning effort led to the H.R.G. being scrubbed from its appropriate race and I only hope I was not excessively abusive to Tim Carson in my anxiety to have it reinstated. Even more unhappily the Bugatti broke its crankshaft in practice — entirely my own fault for persevering after the vibration damper flew apart — and at the eleventh hour I got, or thought I did, permission to run the H.R.G. in the first open race of the day. Apart from the fact that I was eventually disqualified, for which I bear no hard feelings whatever, the manoeuvre was a stupid one, because it meant that I had to transfer myself from the H.R.G. to the Mercedes (could two cars be more different?) literally on the starting line. As a result, lap 1 of the Edwardian race felt ham-fisted and far from happy, and if I say nothing else of any value in these notes I do say very strongly “never take more than one car to run in any meeting.”
Was it perhaps poetic justice, for my wrangling with Tim Carson over the entry lists, that his son upset my trailer in the ditch near Royston on the sad journey home? At all events everything did at last reach home, Mercedes towing Bugatti and making light of’ it, Nordec towing flattened trailer, and a harassed M. Chambers in the H.R.G. dashing to and fro to shepherd his weary flock.
Next came the Manx race with the H.R.G.s, and on this occasion, having set ourselves strictly limited objectives, we had a reasonably satisfactory result. Scott’s car ran at Ulster, mine at Chimay, but otherwise neither of them had raced before, and the difficulties we encountered were a direct reflection of the lack of events in which a new sports-car can be tried.
And so, after a Vintage Prescott-Brighton week-end with the Mercedes, and Prescott again just for the hell of it with the unsuitable new H.R.G., to bed — for longer than who can tell. I suppose many of us will remember 1947 as a season in which we felt a certain urgency, almost hysteria, to run in every possible event. In my own case I used three motor-cars to do so and had really a very limited amount of motoring none the less. I suppose one rushed to gorge oneself, after seven years’ starvation in the war, and had indigestion as a result. Also one isn’t getting any younger and there is the urge to do as much motoring as possible before one is too old. Also perhaps it didn’t seem quite real to be virtually free of restrictions once again, and in one’s heart of hearts one knew it was bound to be stopped too soon.
Anyway, let us hope that when motoring is again resumed in England it will be in an atmosphere of settled peace so that we can all devote ourselves quietly, each in our own way, to our particular aspects of the Sport. Meanwhile, despite every difficulty, British competitors will, I am sure, appear in some 1948 events. I hope they win.