Bill Boddy remembers some of the racing drivers and motoring personalities he has met
One of the first personalities I went to see was Felix Scriven, because during the war I was posted to Harrogate and he lived in Bradford. He had successfully raced his 95mph Austin 20 ‘Sergeant Murphy’ and the Scriven Special ‘No No Nanette’ or ‘Mother Goose’, the latter because it was stuffed with sage (a Sage engine). It was later given a Hooker engine, which handicapper `Ebby’ apparently heard was designed by Parry Thomas and duly adjusted the car’s penalty. After his first win in the improbable Austin, a fellow competitor complained that it must have an oversize engine, and before the long haul back to Bradford, Scriven suffered the timewasting process of stripping the head for the officials and refitting it
I had interviewed John Bolster, of ‘Bloody Mary’ fame, long before he wrote for Autosport and raced an ERA. Wartime found him with a Delage DS/100, an Isotta-Fraschini, his mother’s D6/70 Delage, the Brighton Run 1900 Panhard and a Rolls-Royce 20 mitgas producer, and the four-engined, 4-litre ‘Mary’, now laid up. From Harrogate, my wife and I went to see Kenneth Neve, whose 1914 TT Humber had been discovered by MOTOR SPORT in a shed together with a 1914 Zust, which Roger Collings bought after reading my test of it, and which he still owns; Judy Neve now races the Humber. We had with us in the two-stroke Scott-engined Morgan 4/4, Ray Griffin, an all-round knowledgeable friend, an Alicence pilot and Bentley owner pre-war, who rode Neve’s electric motorcycle, while I looked at his vintage cars, all described in his irresistible book, A Bit Behind The Times (Grenville, 1988).
In 1939 I interviewed, not a racing driver, but Claude Hill, who had designed the revolutionary post-war Aston Martin, which by winning at Spa in 1948 seemed to have proved itself. He was definitely an AM man, having begun with Renwick & Bertelli around 1924, and had started the engine of the R&B prototype. He went with AC Bertelli to Feltham and worked there, with two brief lapses, at Morris and Vauxhall. His Atom AM had a 2-litre pushrod ohv engine, begun in 1944 while dodging flying-bombs. I talked with the confident Claude in the disused fire station on Hanworth aerodrome, and plenty of technical ‘meat’ was disclosed to me by this Technical Director of Aston Martin.
Racing drivers soon followed. Cyril Paul was into marine matters when! found him but remembered his days with Dixon and the Rileys, the old 200hp Benz, and his Shelsley record in the Beardmore.
I recall going down to the Marina at Hove to renew acquaintance with Aubrey Esson-Scott. I had often seen him racing his immaculate black Type 51 Bugatti single-seater, in overalls to match. I was seen in full flight from it when he lost the car in practice at the Crystal Palace and left the course. I had also met E-S in London, when his mother brought him a special energy drink in preparation for his sport of punt-racing, on the Thames. Given a Brescia Bugatti when the Bugatti Owners’ Club was formed, he graduated via a T35 to the special-bodied T51. His third hobby was Savile Row clothes, his collection later being donated to the V&A.
Next it was off to Kensington to see C E C (Charlie) Martin, who remembered his boyhood in the family mansion at Abergavenny, now a college. He had a motorcycle while at Eton and graduated to an ohc GN, a Brescia Bugatti and a £25 Lancia Lambda. Apprenticed to Austin’s, he got a s/c Ulster A7 which gave him a second place in his first-ever race, at Southport Sands. After Austin’s he had a rear-braked three-speed Frazer Nash but preferred the T37 Bugatti that replaced it. His competition career really commenced after an aunt had given him an L-type MG on his 21st birthday. And his love of racing, abroad as well as at Brooldands and Donington, is well known.
A great character, cheerful, carefree, Martin told me wonderful tales, such as being on his father-inlaw’s boat in the Baltic, then suddenly remembering the Deauville GP, so he had to hasten to it by train, and how on their honeymoon, his wife, reluctant to watch him competing, had to wait a long time before he walked back after overturning the Alfa Romeo at the Eifelring. We talked of how he had been flown out to Molsheim by Shutdeworth to collect his 3.3 Type 59 Bugatti and, borrowing a mac, set off in the rain with the car in racing trim. It proved to have an unreliable transmission system and his P3 Alfa was the better proposition.
CE C’s interest in Brooldands had been prompted in 1931 by seeing the versatile prankster Charles Brackenbury win a race. I regret I never interviewed this other great character, who once tried to set Jenks’ beard on fire with a lighter when we were flying — to a race, of course.
Martin’s cars were looked after by Symes and Brackenbury at Byfleet Motors, even the ex-Scudetia Ferrari P3 Alfa Romeo he bought from Luis Fontes for £1800, with 3.2-litre spare blocks. He also had the ex-Norman Black ERA, and his T59 Bugatti was No!, with engine No3, costing £2000 after a works overhaul.
On starting money, Martin told me, “At Budapest we got a handsome £25. Sometimes we only got a fiver, when you would go out and get rotten on it. There had been none at Nurburgring, but with prize money, the occasional meagre starting money, and the ackers we got from Esso, Dunlop and Ferodo, you might make £1000 a year.”
An even greater character than Charles Martin was WB ‘Bummer’ Scott, an all-round sportsman almost too large to get into his ‘flatiron’ Thomas Special. I went to visit him near Cambridge, long after his racing was over. He told me of the two greatest days in his life, when he scored the lone try for Cambridge in the Varsity rugby match at Twickenham, and when he beat Malcolm Campbell at Brooldands, both starting from the same mark in 1.5-litre GP Delages. It was then up to Yorkshire to visit a former 30/98 racing driver, Col L Ropner, who had been notably successful, as the trophies he had had brought from the bank to show us confirmed. But when! enquired how he had made his Vauxhalls go quicker and quicker, he said he just sent them back to the Luton factory.
So no technical titbits. Michael Tee and I had gone up to this majestic estate in Yorkshire in a road-test R-R Shadow. Our host, who was running a well-used R-R Cloud with a Police lamp on its roof, asked to try this latest Royce. We could hardly refuse, any more than, when a halt was called in our conversation to watch the Grand National, in which he had a horse running, we could tell him that it had fallen at the first fence when he asked if we had heard the commentator mention it. The Duke of Richmond & Gordon granted us an interview at his London address, saying I could park in his private space adjacent I found it occupied by two other cars, but I locked mine, trapping them. The Duke was delighted, saying they had no right to be there; but I wondered whether I would find the Rover in the road with a broken window when I left. The Duchess was helping a maid to hang curtains and it was all very informal. We spoke of the Duke’s racing, as the Earl of March, of his Bentley apprenticeship, and of his motor trade period, with Keville Davis and March, and with the Horden-Richmond aeroplane.
Jack Bartlett, whose first car was a Bleriot Whippet, then a Brooldands-type A7 and an ABC, gave me an excellent insight into his racing exploits at Le Mans with Arrol-Aster and a Healey, and with a Monza Alfa and the Alta which was so successful in the Southport 100-mile races, and how he began at Brooklands in a supercharged Salmson, although I had declined to write a book about his motor-trading days.
On a trip to Canvey Island I met George Chaplin, who began with a 15 ABC before racing A7s. Prior to his s/c Ulster,he had competed at the Track with two A7 Chummies, ‘Mr and Mrs Flea’. Querying their names I was told the latter had (crankshaft) periods. `Mr Flea’ (1924) did 70mph. True; I have checked from an MCC one-hour High Speed Trial. ‘Mrs Flea’ (1926) was not so fast. We had gone to collect Chaplin ‘s genuine ex-works orange TT Ulster A7, which Tom Lush was acquiring, in exchange for a Ruby A7 and some cash. I left meeting Archie Frazer Nash rather late, as so much was known about the cars he had weaned, but we met in the end and cranes as well as GNs and ‘Nashes figured.
There was a weekend, too, with the great Basil Davenport, discussing GNs and the invincible ‘Spider’, and a run in his normal 1922 GN. Maurice Fallcner, who had forgotten I had been invited to dinner, turned up in the end, and if the food was overcooked, his reminiscences fully made up for this, starting with his Amilcar Six and going on to his Aston Martin period and Le Mans.
Vernon Balls was naturally all Amilcars, but his albums were also devoted to four-in-hands, of which family members had been expert drivers.
I tracked Jack Dunfee down to his farm in the delightful tract of open country between Stow-onthe-Wold and Burford and was interested when he said driving at Le Mans was less exacting and exciting than lapping quickly round Brooklands.
A 390-mile haul in an MG Metro from Wales to Wimbledon Common drew out Violet Corderey (Mrs Hindmarsh). She had forgotten having broken records in Silver Hawk and Eric-Campbell cars, but I was regaled about her long-distance Invicta runs, here and at Monza.
The enthusiastic G P Harvey Noble was very willing to discourse long and technically about his racing days, as the `Mr Brooklands’ of his era, having tested and raced such a range of fast cars, from his lap-record 132mph single-seater 750cc MG to the Bimotore Alfa Romeo. So long, in fact, that I had forgotten the address of the friend my wife had gone to visit when it was time to collect her.
In 19811 talked with Tom Delaney, at his Maida Vale works where some of G E T Eyston’s record-breaking cars were built, about how he taught himself to drive, aged 10, in a Ruston-Homsby, the exotic cars his father had dealt in, notably Delatmay-Bellevilles, and his own Lea-Francis racing, which Tom continues to this day. From the advent of the Traction Avant Citroen he became an enthusiast, but George Roesch told him they were rubbish. Later, discovering that Ron Horton lived near us in Herefordshire, I obtained a full account of his racing days, fast Morgans in speed-events and a ‘softer’ one for the Scottish Six-days Trial. Shelsley Walsh was tried in the Avon-JAP, leading to Robin Jackson building Ron the Horton Special with new Frazer Nash chassis and hot JAP vee-twin engine, and later an Alta power unit, class records falling to it. After which came the offsetsingle-seater MG Midget and Magnate, with some significant results, including a win, with Bartlett, in the 1932 ‘500’, and records. The Mannin Beg and other long races were also tackled, with T&Ts and faithful mechanic Fred Clarke working on the cars, so that the MGs were, by 1934, the fastest at the Track, with lap records of 116.64 and 123.58mph. RH then bought, for 1990, a Maserati from Whitney Straight But business was now the priority, and he gave up racing.