Riddle of the Mystery Fiat

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

In the stupendously readable autobiography (Adventure with Fate, Airlife, 1984, ISBN 906393 36 I) of the late Harald Penrose, OBE, C.Eng, RAFO, MRINA, who was the Westland test pilot among other aeronautical accomplishments, there is reference to ‘a dashing green Grand Prix Fiat racing car’.

It was owned by Major Laurence P Openshaw, who also had a ‘glittering twin-cylinder Brough Superior motorcycle’. Openshaw had taken a postwar MA degree at Cambridge, and had managed a marble factory in Italy. He had been the chief test pilot of the Admiralty’s Eastchurch Testing Establishment, and was later an RAF Reserve officer.

He took Penrose, then a student at Westland’s Yeovil factory, in various aeroplanes, one flight almost ending in disaster when the engine of the Widgeon 1 monoplane gave out. It was in the Fiat that they went from Yeovil to Andover in 1925 for Openshaw to collect the Westland Limousine biplane.

“We drove there in his big racing Fiat at what, to me, was an unbelievable 70mph, gales of wind thudding at my head and the big engine roaring.” In those 60 miles, they met only two other cars.

So what was this racing Fiat, which Openshaw worked on and drove?

I do not think it could have been one of the Fiats that contested the French GPs of 1906 (2nd), ’07 (1st) or ’12 (2nd), or we would have heard of it, although it does seem to have been driven sans windscreen and silencer. It could not have been the 10-litre overhead-camshaft Tipo S61 Fiat which was so well-known at Brooldands, because John Cobb was driving it there at the time.

I suspect it was a production touring car, of similar size and performance, perhaps a 9-litre Tipo 5 or a Tipo S61.

In May 1926, Lord Cunliffe’s Fiat S61 was delivering the Government newspaper during the General Strike, and afterwards its engine went into the Brooldands S61. It might, or might not, have been the ex-Openshaw car.

Kent Karslake, who at the time was contributing his evocative Sideslips and Veteran Types articles to Motor Sport, always thought that the Fiat which was doing so well at Weybridge was not a GP car but a touring Fiat made into a racing car, winning not the French GP but the lesser 1911 GP of the AC de France.

Major Openshaw continued as Westland’s test pilot and raced the company’s products until his Widgeon and Flt. Lt. Longton’s Blackburn Bluebird collided at the 1927 Boumemouth Whitsun Flying Display. Openshaw burned to death, and Longton was also killed.

I have been unable to establish whether the Etonian Laurence Openshaw, who raced a 986cc Zenith GraduaJAP motorcycle at Brooklands in 1913, and also in 1914 when, as Flt.Sub.Lt RN, he won his race was the same man as the famous test pilot. But the dates do tie up.

Penrose wrote many other readable books, including his painstaking and invaluable five-volume History of British Aviation. In Volume Three, he says of Major Openshaw: “In Italy, he participated in the Grand Prix with a Fiat racing car painted in the official British racing green, and which is now garaged in the aerodrome hangar (at Yeovil).”

What, Fiat folk, are we to make of that?

Related articles

Related products