As a regular reader you will be aware of one of my favourite “hobby-horses” and I make no excuses for returning to the subject. It is the matter of “continuity” in our all-absorbing activity we call “the sport”, whether we are talking about Formula One Grand Prix racing, club racing, rallies, trials, hillclimbs or speed trials. All activity that involves the internal combustion engine and some formation of wheels comes under our umbrella called “motor sport” and an important ingredient is that the vehicle carries a competition number. Somehow vehicles without competition numbers look unfinished as far as I am concerned and do not excite my interest, but put a competition number on a vehicle and I sit up and take notice. It suggests that the vehicle is going to show what it can do, rather than just sitting there looking pretty, attractive, interesting or exciting, depending on your viewpoint. But I have wandered away from my starting point, which was continuity.
When I go to the Italian Grand Prix I am always aware that I am going to an event that was first held in 1922, and has been held annually ever since, with a few exceptions such as the war years. At Le Mans you are conscious of the annual 24-hour race having been held since 1923, always for a period of 24 hours. In America the great track race at Indianapolis had been held continously since 1911 and always over a distance of 500 miles. A Grand Prix is synonymous with France, the first one being held in 1906, though it has had a few hiccoughs along the way. Even the popular and overrated Monaco Grand Prix was first held in 1929, so all around us are examples of “continuity” and on our home front we have various national events that have a long and continuous history, but none as long and continuous as the speed hillclimb in Worcestershire at the venue known as Shelsley Walsh. This famous event started in 1905 and has been held continuously ever since, apart from two wars which stopped competition temporarily. The hill was 1000 yards in length when the first event was held, and it has never been changed; it is still 1000 yards in length, making it famous in the annals of the sport on numerous counts. The road climbs up a steep escarpment and started life as a farm track, with a gradient of 1 in 6 in a couple of places. Today speeds of over 130mph are recorded over the finish line, and power is all-important, but the driver needs to know how to used the power for there are only a few inches on each side of the road to allow for errors.
GN and Frazer Nash cars have always been part of Shelsley Walsh, especially up to 1939 when the last chain-driven Frazer Nash was made by AFN Limited, the makers of the Frazer Nash cars since 1927. At the VSCC meetings today Frazer Nash cars as active as ever and members of the Frazer Nash Section within the Vintage Sports Car Club still have enormous enthusiasm for Shelsley Walsh. A great day in Fazer Nash history was in September 1937, when A F P Fane set a new record for the Shelsley Walsh hill in the works twin-supercharged single-seater ‘Nash. Raymond Mays was the hill record holder and invariably made fastest time of the day at Shelsley Walsh, regardless of the weather. For a number of meetings Fane was getting closer and closer to Mays’ ERA times, even the factory 2-litre ERA, with his 1.5-litre Frazer Nash. There was great rejoicing among the Frazer Nash people that day in 1937 when Fane not only made Fastest Time of the Day, but set up a new record as well.
Sadly Fane died during the war, in a crash in a Spitfire in 1942 while flying for Photographic Reconaissance. The RAF lost a skilled and tenacious pilot and the world of motor sport lost a talented driver. His widow had an impressive stone memorial erected in memory of Alfred Fane Peers Face, in the grounds of their home. The house changed hands, but the memorial seat remained in private memory. When Evelyn Fane died a member of the Frazer Nash Section of the VSCC, who owns the last car that Fane raced, took it upon himself to care for the memorial. The present owner of the house, to whom the Fane history had little meaning, was quite agreeable to the idea that it might be the time to find a new and more appropriate home for the memorial seat. By the kind co-operation of the Midland Automobile Club who started the Shelsley Walsh hill-climb in 1905, and still run it today, it was agreed that the memorial, which is in the form of a semi-circular seat with a commemorative plaque in the centre, should be erected on the banks of the Shelsley Walsh hill-climb road, overlooking The Crossing Bend, which was one of Fane’s favourite corners.
By the end of last year the enormous task of dismantling the memorial, brick by brick and stone by stone, marking each one and carefully loading them onto pallets and transporting the whole lot from Berkshire to Worcesterhsire, and then rebuilding it exactly as it was, was completed. The local builder who tackled the job exhibited wonderful sympathy for the whole project, he and his family being Shelsley Walsh enthusiasts, and viewed it as being an honour to tackle the job, not just a job of work.
In December 1992 a small gathering of Frazer Nash and MAC people inaugurated the official dedication of the new setting for the Fane Memorial Seat. In attendance, among numerous Farzer Nash cars, pride of place went to MV 2303, the “Nurburg” model ‘Nash owned today by Dick Smith, for it was this very car that Fane owned and drove up the hill on his first appearance at Shelsley Mash in 1932. The new setting for the memorial is just by the spectator path leading up to the Esses, so any of you who may wish to use that seat to rest weary legs, spare a thought for the “continuity” that is Shelsley Walsh (pictured below). What could be more continuous than you, the reader, and the flow of Three Memorable Moments that are still arriving. It is planned to start another series of readers’ memories of their first sight and sound of a racing car “live”, but Memorable Moments will continue as ever. This month they are from Michael Potter in Buckinghamshire:-
1. As a small boy I saw the start, at midnight, of the 1956 Rheims 12-Hour race for sports cars. Absolute madness, but what a sight and sound. When dawn broke the D-Type Jaguars were in full command. Father was driving a Jaguar MkVII on our family holiday! (Those Rheims 12 Hour races starting at midnight were something else, especially as the field appeared down the hill to Thillois on the opening lap, headlights ablaze, and having no idea of the order until the cars appeared in the floodlit pits at 150-160mph. They then went over the blind brow at the end of the pits, into total darkness! Absolute madness indeed, but wonderful – DSJ).
2. Later, seeing a handicap race at Goodwood where a Talbot-Lago was on scratch and caught the limit car as they crossed the start/finish line. Fantastic.
3. Seeing dear old Graham Hill in the V8 BRM catch Jim Clark’s Lotus as they came out of the rain and gloom on the last lap of the 1962 International Trophy at Silverstone, to win by mere inches and very nearly spun the car as he did so. DSJ