A long time ago I was told that, but for a pit-stop, Capt Frazer Nash, with one of Lord Austin’s team of supercharged Austin Sevens, could have won the 1929 Ulster U. The victory, which went to Caracciola after a magnificent drive in a works LHD 38/250hp Mercedes-Benz, would have been a great prize for the British Company, for the race attracted even more interest than in 1928, some 500,000 spectators coming out from Belfast and the surrounding countryside to watch it.
The regulations were virtually the same as in 1928 except that for the Le Mans-type start hoods were already raised and simply had to be furled before the cars were energised on the starters, instead of being up for the first two laps. The handicapping was also as before, on the class system, and made no allowance for non-supercharged engines, which is presumably why the six runners in the 750cc division all had supercharged engines; they comprised the three works A7s, the Barnes’s A7 and two Triumph Super Sevens. The change in the hood-ruling was a last minute decision; Alvis had made ingenious arrangements for quickly furling the canvas but the typical thoroughness of Mercedes-Benz in having wire-gauze rear hood windows to reduce drag, was wasted. . .
The little Cozette-blown A7s made a very good impression, those of Sid Holbrook and Frazer Nash leading after four hours, a lap ahead of Campari’s s/c 1500cc Alfa Romeo. But the bigger cars were creeping up on handicap and Caracciola, on a magnificent drive over a mostly wet course, was chasing the Alfa Romeo hard and after five hours went by, to win at 72.82mph. Mercedes ingenuity showed up again when the rain first began to fall; their two works cars, the other driven by Otto Merz, came in to have Special screens with wipers plugged into the scuttles, which delayed Caracciola just over 14 seconds. . . He drove virtually flat-out for the entire 410-mile race, accompanied by his riding mechanic Kiihnle, and almost continual use of the supercharger had no ill-effects on the engine. Conditions were awful and on one occasion the great German car spun round several times, but Rudi kept it on the road. In 1928 Thistlethwdayte’s Mercedes-Benz had gone into a ditch: this time it was the Bentleys that exhibited poor road-holding, Rubin’s Blower-4 1/2 hitting a bank and overturning, and Lt Comdr Glen Kidston finding a ditch with the Speed Six. . .
Merz, accompanied by Albert Sailer, was disqualified in the second works Mercedes for having torn off a damaged mudguard, so the honours were all Caracciola’s. But until Merz was brought in and made to replace the offending mudguard, he was ahead of Birkin’s Bentley after five hours of racing. (These Mercedes had been entered respectively by E J Knight and M M Lund, the local agents). Campari finished second, the A7s of Nash and Holbrook third and fourth. But would Frazer Nash have won, had the Austin pit stop not been muddled, that is the question? As the photograph seems to show, there was considerable confusion when all three works A7s arrived at their pit at the same time. Frazer Nash finished the TT 6min 9sec behind Caracciola, 4min 1sec after the Alfa Romeo. Could his difficult pit stop have lost him the race? Pit stops were not recorded in the results, but Caracciola took 1min 52sec on his only refuelling stop, when the Mercedes’s wheels were changed, compared to a very quick pause by Leon Cushman’s Alvis, which took only 59sec when 16 gallons of fuel, three of oil, and some water were put in and the numbers cleaned. Apparently no fresh wheels were needed, proof may be that front-wheel-drive was not all that hard on tyres. Remembering the congestion in the Austin pit and the fact that afterwards the A7 would not have accelerated away as quickly as the bigger cars, could Nash have lost over six minutes because of it? It seems unlikely. Except that the A7s needed two stops — would 11-gallon tanks and 15 mpg make sense? It is one of those intriguing motor racing suppositions to which there will never be an answer. . .
I have been told that Eric Gordon England had charge of the A7 pits, and remembering how meticulous he was before the 1925 200 Mile Race at Brooklands, when he issued 12 1/2 foolscap sheets of instructions to his drivers and pit staff, the fiasco in the 1929 TT may not have been as bad as it appears.
Anyway, Caracciola won, by 2min 9sec (and made the fastest lap at 77.81mph) from the Alfa Romeo, and the third place A7 averaged 59.60mph, the s/c versions able to lap at over 60mph, compared to the best lap by Donald Barnes’s non-s/c A7 in the 1928 TT of 47.88mph. Holbrook’s A7 was fourth at 59.49mph, 36sec behind its fellow “Blood Orange”, team orders perhaps? The Austins had deservedly earned the right to be called “Ulster” for this model, from then on. . . As for the big cars, Thistlethwayte’s 38/250hp Mercedes-Benz was 15th, the Stutz caught fire but was running when flagged off, but of the five Bentleys one was flagged off and two left the road. Wood’s normal 4 1/2 retired with engine trouble, but Tim Birkin’s blower-4 1/2 with W riding in it made the fastest race average (69.01mph) after Caracciola’s Mercedes-Benz, to finish 11th. It had been an extremely exciting and dramatic race, so much so that the usually accurate artist F Gordon Crosby, in drawing a picture of the winning Mercedes for The Autocar, showed this LHD car to have right-hand steering. . . The Motor’s artist, Bryan de Grineau, got it right. Caracciola won £100 but was presumably on the Daimler-Benz pay-roll. His entrant received £1000 from the Daily Mail, and both were given trophies. Sir Herbert Austin was no doubt quite pleased to be given the Vacuum Oils Trophy, even if he did not need the Daily Mail’s £200.
One final thought: dear old A V Ebblewhite was again appointed the TT Timekeeper-in-Chief, which surely he would not have been had the alleged monumental cock-up marred the 1928 race? W B (Photos courtesy Terence Barnes.)