That 1928 TT

A number of further thoughts herewith on the article about the 1928 TT in the December 1995 MOTOR SPORT, about which some new information has been received. The question was whether Kaye Don’s Lea-Francis had won this prestigious sports car race in Ulster or whether there is any truth in the rumour that an error had been made and that Leon Cushman’s FWD Alvis, both cars in the 1 1/2-litre class, was half a lap ahead of Don when he was (inadvertently) shown the chequered flag.

When I was investigating the matter, of little consequence perhaps after 68 years, but fascinating nevertheless, the RACMSA was able to provide a copy of their official results but not a lap chart for this 30-lap 410-mile race in which the two cars in question had a two-credit-lap handicap advantage. Tom Delaney, who was closely associated with Lea-Francis at the time, has since kindly provided a copy of this full lap chart. He says that he is sure that if there had been any doubt about the Lea-Francis victory he would have heard of it, as he was there at the time. Both he and Peter Hull agree, as I do, that the aggregate times shown by this official RAC chart show that Kaye Don won by the very narrow margin of 13 seconds from the Alvis. Would the RAC have published such a chart if there had been a subsequent dispute over the accuracy of the timing or lap counting?

There isn’t space in which to publish the chart but it shows Don as faster than Cushman on 16 of the 28 laps both had to complete, and that he made his fastest lap, in exactly 12 minutes, on his 10th circuit, compared to Cushman’s quickest lap, in 12min 3sec, made on his final round when he was chasing the Lea-Francis hard. Two of the other FWD Alvis drivers lapped faster than Cushman. W Urquhart-Dykes, a private owner, and Major Harvey, the works driver, both being timed at the equivalent of 70.55 mph. But Kaye Don’s more circumspect driving paid off, as these faster Alvis drivers both crashed, Harvey being caught out by an unexpected shower of rain. The chart does not show pit-stops, but Cushman appears to have made only one major stop, on his 15th lap (16min 55sec) although one cannot be certain. Don seems to have stopped on his 13th lap (17min 9sec) and it was reported by The Autocar that he stopped again, which may have been on his 11th lap, when he took 13min 49sec to Cushman’s 12min 39sec. Maybe a short pause before coming in for his proper stop, or a racing incident? Although unless the latter caused the car to come to a standstill, I would not have thought so much time would have been lost. Cushman made a poor start, his aggregate time for the first two circuits, which included the Le Mans type hoods-to-be-raised getaway, being 27min 9sec, whereas Don took 26min 57sec. However, when they came into furl hoods on their third lap Cushman was away 3min 05sec quicker than Don — could Don have taken on some fuel, although there would seem no reason to do so just 27 miles after the start. . . Anyway, the RAC chart shows that Don won at 64.06 mph to Cushman’s 64.02 mph an astonishingly close finish -13 seconds, in a race, lasting not far short of six hours. (I have looked at a picture of Don crossing the finishing line with the longest stretch of road behind it that I can find, but not long enough to show any trace of the Alvis; but 13 seconds is a long time, or distance, in motor racing. . .

Mr K R Day has sent me a letter which sheds light on another possible reason why the Alvis failed to catch the Lea-Francis, although it was closing on it fast in the final laps of this historic TT. He writes: “W B’s interesting article and conclusion that Kaye Don won the 1928 Tourist Trophy race for Lea-Francis is correct. There was no miscounting the laps at the TT or, as it has been mentioned, in the 1924 200 Mile Race at Brooklands. In my account of the 1928 Tr in my book, Alvis — the story of the Red Triangle I wrote that Cushman, driving a FWD Alvis, and certainly faster than the Lea-Francis of Kaye Don, looked all set to win. In fact, I have a letter from Alvis Ltd written in 1962 returning my racing history of the company, which was approved by those involved, with one exception.

“Trevor Roberts, who was Cushman’s mechanic in the 1928 TT, stated that they were leading Kaye Don but ran off the road at Dundonald only about a mile from the finish and could not catch Don in such a short distance.” (The only press reference I can find is in The Light Car & Cyclecar which reported that Cushman spun right round, but when he was chasing Don – W B.)

Now, to provide a change from LeaF versus Alvis, the RAC chart I now have reveals some interesting items. For example, how well “Scrap” Thistlethwayte’s 36/220S Mercedes-Benz performed. Sometimes at something of a disadvantage when a Mercedes was up against the Bentleys, in this TT Henry Birkin’s 4 1/2-litre Bentley was a lap behind the Mercedes-Benz, although the German car had twice to be given fresh sparking-plugs early in the race. Moreover, Thistlewayte did his best lap in 11 min 1sec, whereas the fastest by Birkin was in 11 min 16sec, and Humphrey Cook’s Bentley did not better 11 min 59sec. All had the four-seater bodies the regulations called for and the same ballast, and they were all on scratch, with 30 laps to run, as was the Splendid Stutz.

However, after Frank Kendell had taken over from Thistlethwayte he put the Mercedes in the ditch at Quarry Corner. On this lap, the time dropped to 50min 19sec. which, as it was said that after the unditching “repairs were necessary”, does not seem too bad. But this let Birkin through and he finished in fifth place overall, at the fastest race-average, of 65.59 mph. Cook was seventh, the Bentleys a sandwich for George Eyston’s Lea-Francis, in this handicap contest. The Mercedes, which had been brought over from the mainland in its owner’s private yacht, anchored in Bangor Bay, retired two laps from the finish with a reported blown gasket, perhaps brought about by more continuous use of its supercharger than Dr Porsche had intended. The Splendid Stutz’s best lap took 12min 27s and it was the last car to be flagged as a finisher. W B