The Racing Cars of Jack Field



The Racing Cars of Jack Field

THE other day I had the pleasure of talking to Jack Field about his motor racing days at Southport, Brooklands and Phoenix Park, etc. It started when he had a garage business in Southport and in 1928 decided to try his hand at motor racing on the famous Ainsdale beach, where sand-racing dated back to 1920 (as distinct from promenade speed trials in 1903) and was by then very popular, a full season of some seven meetings commencing as early as January and attracting up to 80,000 spectators in the summer.

At first Jack raced a little Amilcar but finding it useless, he bought a 2-litre Bugatti. With this car Field was notably successful in the traditional straight-mile and longer races over the famous sands, starting with the Novices’ events but soon mixing it with the experienced drivers. One of the cars that beat him, however, was Dan Higgins’ old yellow Talbot, one of the team of 1924 supercharged 1 I/2-litre “Invincible” Talbots which, among other achievements, had finished 1, 2 and 3 before the Brooklands’ crowd in that year’s JCC 200 Mile Race, driven by Lee Guinness, Duller and Segrave. Later Field added the single-seater Talbot of this type to his stable, a car with Y4-elliptic front springs, tubular front axle and a narrower radiator, with which Segrave had taken Class-F records at Brooklands in 1925 at nearly 115 mph. By the time Field obtained it, the body was of more “1 I/2seater” form.

With these two Talbots he won more than 100 trophies at Southport alone, in races not only for 1 ‘z-litre cars but against those of up to 3-litres. These highly successful Talbots had typical Southport nicknames — “Hell’s Angel” and “Golden Barrow” — painted on them and were very popular with the Lancashire racegoers. They were maintained by a garage in Liverpool, and by Field’s own excellent mechanic, Jimmy Vass.

The purchase of the yellow Talbot from Dan Higgin had been a good investment — Higgin had a chain of some 23 shops and when he needed more finance to support his racing, he would sell one of them, or in this case, one of his cars. . . Lots of spares came with the 200 Mile Race Talbot and Field was able to buy a spare engine from Malcolm Campbell. The ex-single seater had no differential, and was apt to destroy its final drive pinion in the rapid starts necessary at Southport and in the 1930 100 Mile Race Field retired with a broken half-shaft. But the older Talbot was timed at over 100 mph over the flying start kilometre that year. For a time Field competed with both Bugafti and Talbot and the 2-litre Bugafti was beaten in the 1929 Southport 100 Mile Race only by Thistlethwayte’s 38/250 hp Mercedes-Benz. He then decided to have a crack at racing at Brooklands. A special trailer was made to take the 1924 car on the long trail to Weybridge and back. Jack would drive there in his Stutz Black Hawk, although it had rather poor brakes. Later a

self-steering tow-bar was used for the racing cars but this resulted in an unfortunate accident to another one of Field’s great mechanics, Bill Spencer, whose assistant was badly injured when a car emerged from a side-turning near Leamington Spa and its driver, not seeing the bar, ran into the Talbot in which the man was riding, on a journey back from Brooklands. Field had commenced his Brooklands’

racing at the 1930 Whitsun Meeting with the “200 Mile” Talbot, still painted yellow. He won his first race, the Devon Junior Short Handicap, at 99.6 mph, with a best lap of 111.92 mph. He had set his sights on the Gold Plate race but had not allowed for the typical re-handicapping of successful drivers. He was re-penalised 34 seconds in the second of his four races, the Mountain Racing Handicap, and was penalised an additional 16 seconds in the

Prince of Wales Gold Plate, but finished third. He was finally re-handicapped again, in his last race. It had been a satisfactory start, however. Field stayed at the “Blue Anchor” in Byfleet, where he was, of course, shown the infamous murderer’s chair. . . “Ebby” never forgot new performances of this calibre, but Field and the Talbot did gain some more places later in the season. The old Talbot, now silver and red, was still going well at Weybridge in 1931 but the green (later black) ex-record breaker was less successful. Jack Field then bought from Malcolm Campbell the 2.3

litre supercharged single-seater Bugatti. Always a tricky car, although it had been altered in various ways, including highergeared steering, it was not really suitable for track racing , although it lapped Brooklands at nearly 109 mph. It did very well on the sands back home, however, winning no fewer than 44 races and taking second and fourth places in the prestigious Southport 100 Mile Race in 1932 and 1933, each time setting fastest laps and the highest average speed. It was also run at Bellevue Speedway, where the tail could really be “hung out” on the cinders; indeed, Jack had it chopped off behind the

seat in case of damage against the retaining walls. Another venue to which Jack Field took the monoposto Bugatti was Phoenix Park, in 1932. Finding that he was required to carry a passenger, Field proposed to fit hand-grips and have his companion straddling the car’s tail. The officials disallowed this, but he was allowed to start, having come all the way to Dublin to race, providing he was excluded from the prize list. He had the satisfaction of lapping at 82 mph. Incidentally, Field was no stranger to Phoenix Park, having driven a Type 43 Bugatti there in 1929; unfortunately it

caught fire, a habit of these cars, and retired after ten laps. Jack adapted just as happily to the Ards circuit at Belfast, driving his Type 43 Bugatti in the 1929 TT until gearbox trouble intervened. Space precludes a detailed reference to all Field’s races, particularly those at Southport, but it should be mentioned that he became very friendly with Kaye Don, with whom he shared the 4.9-litre Type 54 Bugatti “Tiger Two” in the 1933 BRDC 500 Mile Race. He found the big car quite fast to handle and forgiving when

it skidded at the Fork on the oil from the MG involved in a fatal accident — Jack’s feeling as this happened being “What will Don say if I crash it . . . ?”. It was in this race that Field gained his covetted BARC 120 mph badge, although the Bug was doing around 130 mph for much of the time, until the back axle gave out. Back to Southport, it was in 1934 that Field took the ill-fated Sunbeam “Silver Bullet” there, to try for the British absolute speed-record, held by Campbell at 217 mph. After Kaye Don’s ill-fated attempt

with it at Daytona in 1930, the monster had been taking up too much space in his Epsom garage and he was glad for Jack to buy it for a modest sum. It was taken North by rail, on a special truck, and then towed through Southport, along Lord Street and other famous thoroughfares, to Jack’s premises, the police keeping the crowds back — this interest in the car was not surprising, when it is remembered that it had two V12 engines in tandem, totalling more than 47-litres and 4000 hp, weighed some three tons and was 31 feet long! Unfortunately, although Charles Cooper, father of John Cooper, who had worked on the Wolseley Viper for Kaye Don, and Carlo Querico, W B Scott’s keen little mechanic, came up and worked on the car for three months, the problems that had defeated Don, of blowbacks caused by the abnormally long and large diameter induction pipes that shattered the 17,000 rpm centrifugal supercharger feeding both engines, were never overcome. In fact, among the many tons of spares which Field had had with the “Silver Bullet” were the eight 8,000 rpm Rootes superchargers, from the original concept. “When the centrifugal blower went it was like shrapnel bursting,” recalls Field, and as the blower was almost in the cockpit this was alarming and dangerous for the driver. Jack was himself scorched when once again the “Silver Bullet” caught fire. Moreover, several hundredweights of ice had to be ready before each run, as this form of cooling had been retained, and if the engines failed to respond to compressedair starting, the plugs, all two dozen of them, had to be changed before the next

attempt . . . Not surprisingly, Jack was glad when Freddie Dixon bought the monster, saying “It won’t beat me!”. He intended to put one carburettor for each cylinder on it, 24 in all, but even Dixon was defeated . . . Another Southport adventure followed a couple of years later, when Field acquired from Ralph Aspden the old Malcolm Campbell 350 hp V12 Sunbeam (now on view in the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu), with the idea of breaking the local flying-mile record. Like Aspden, he found the old giant quite docile on the road but it did not come up to expectations, so he sold

it to band-leader Billy Cotton — who once drove one of Jack’s Bugattis at Southport and came in saying he thought something was wrong — and a con-rod was hanging out! Eventually Cotton achieved his ambition, the ancient Sunbeam doing 121.5 mph, which gained him a Southport 100 Gold Badge — but this was 29.26 mph down on what had been possible in the car’s hey-day. In 1941, after his London premises had been bombed, Kaye Don moved to Ascot and started his Ambassador motorcycle project, Field joining him as works manager. In spite of a large consignment of

machines being bought by the Australian Post Office, and scooters being added to the range, when Don saw the coming Japanese domination of the market, he sold out to D M W Motorcycles in 1962.

His next venture was importing Pontiac cars, shipped uncrated from the USA, with a repair depot off the King’s Road. “They were nice cars”, remembers Jack Field, who was a director of the business, which was profitable when sales reached some 1000 cars a year, until Don decided to retire. Today, Jack Field keeps fit by playing golf, as does his wife, and he still drives a Talbot, in the form of a Horizon SL. WB