Vintage Postbag, February 1995

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The Cedar Tree

Sir,

Reference your “Out of the past” on “The Cedar Tree”, I confirm that the building you mention does survive, but not as a tea-shop. Fairly recently it was refitted as a gallery. Outside there is little if any change, partly because the Ripley village is largely a conservation area.

The garage opposite? Well, it must have been the ugliest building-front in Surrey, before the “uplift” about 25 years ago. It is just as bad as it ever was, except it is the end of a long barn. How much better, if this were reinstated; but regrettably it was all done over 40 or more years ago. Before planning, anyway.

The “Talbot” is still a popular meeting place for the motorist, including the MG, VSCC, Alvis, 750 and NC clubs on various nights through the winter months.

One important thing, Connaught’s old building is on the market. This is the place where the first British racing car to win a Post War Grand Prix was designed, as you know. It would seem there is a possibility for something to be done about saving this relatively small site and workshop. However if all the drawings are lost and the Connaught site rebuilt out of recognition, perhaps it is better left quietly to pass away? I just hope not and I wonder if your good offices could spread the word.

John Butler
Ripley, Surrey.

Routes Pavees

Sir,

Following Bill Boddy’s reflections on the “Circuit des Routes Payees, I can supply some additional information about this extraordinary event.

This race was first held on 29th September 1922, the year before the inaugural 24 Hours at Le Mans. Ironically it was Andre Lagache, driving a 3-litre Chenard-Walcker, who achieved the highest average speed (42.47 mph) for his race distance. The following year he would win at Le Mans co-driving with Rene Leonard, Maurice Bequet in a 18CV Peugeot was second fastest, with a 1.5-litre Voisin (Arthur Duray) next in front of two more “works” Peugeots. The team prize went to the Peugeots.

As Bill Boddy states the circuit was exceptionally hard on the cars. There was a 10in high ridge of pave across the road, banked with dirt, that caused the cars to leap into the air and thus test their suspensions to the full. Not many racing circuits have embraced a “sleeping policeman”!

This race was held until 1931, by which time the race had, to some extent, changed its character. In 1928 classes for racing cars were included and it was Auguste Lefranc or “Lorthiois” in a racing 135C Bugatti who led for a while, but Boris Ivanowski’s 1500 6C Alfa Romeo, in sport guise, eventually won. In 1930 the race was won by a “voiture de course”; Louis Joly in a T37A Bugatti, averaging 55.79 mph, just beating Charles Montier in one of his own Ford specials.

In 1931, although the circuit by now had been improved and many of its earlier features removed, the accident that was waiting to happen, involving spectators, happened. In this final race, over the usual six-hour period, the cars were breaking all records, Jean Roca in a Bugatti T35C lapping at 73.44 mph. However, there were two serious accidents. Domenico Corsini in a 1750 Alfa ploughed into the crowd in the village of Capelle. Thirteen people were injured, and one, a 12-year-old boy, died next day. The race had just five minutes to run. Earlier Emile Cornil (Georges Irat) and Eduardo Brisson (Stutz) collided. Cornil’s car crashed heavily and burst into flames. Dreadfully injured, Cornil died the following Monday morning. Understandably there were calls through the press for the race never to be held again and it never was. The Prefet du Nord banned racing on the roads around Lille, until the 1946 “Circuit de Trois Villes”.

The 10th “Circuit des Routes Payees”, with its Le Mans start and sports/racing car classes differed from the first 1922 springing trials. However, the ACF du Nord tried to get closer to the roots (!) of the original race by organising a four-hour race for standard touring cars, involving a regularity element, on the Saturday before the main event. This “Criterium International de Voitures de Series” was won in 1929 by Michel Dore (Chenard-Walcker 9CV), in 1930 by Robert Senechal (Delage 23CV) and in 1931 by Jean de Bremond (Mathis 17CV).

The triangular circuit, south of Lille, linking the villages of Capelle-en-Melantois, Bersee and Pont-A-Marque is still there, but apparently virtually unrecognisable owing to the urban sprawl. When next in those parts I must try to do a lap!

For many years I have been gathering and collating information on the “minor classics”, no matter how minor, held anywhere in the world. I would be pleased to hear from any of your readers who have information on such local races or hill-climbs. It is my intention, hopefully, to publish these histories.

John Humphries,
Stafford.

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