MOTORING SPORTSMEN (NEW *FRI ES).
1. EARL HOWE.
/T is a matter of great satisfaction to begin this series by an inter • view with Lord Howe, for apart from his position as President of the B.R.D.C., and the succesies which he has achieved on road and track, the sporting motorist of Great Britain owes him a great debt of gratitude for the work he has done in attempting to overcome the prejudice with which the “official person” regards the owner of a sports car, and for his efforts to reduce the difficulties of holding a road-race in England.
Lord Howe has always had an affection for fast motors, and before the War covered large mileages at home and on the Continent on RollsRoyce, Napier and Sunbeam cars, to name a few. Experience gained in this way is of immense value, for the emergencies of racing require an immediate and instinctive reaction if disaster is to be avoided. The outbreak of War brought these pleasant excursions to an end, and 1914 saw him in France again on a different mission, for he was mobilised on the outbreak of hostilities, and proceeded at once overseas with the Naval Division. After service there he spent the remainder of the War period at sea. After the War he returned to his favourite hobby of motoring, and began to take an interest in the competitive side of the pastime. To accustom himself to the atmosphere of the sport, he took part in various small events, mostly on B
Bugattis, his first big race being the Essex “Six Hours” in 1928. This race gave promise of being interesting, for an AlfaRomeo team, Campbell and Viscount Curzon, as he was then, on Bugattis, an. AustroDaimler, and a Mercedes combined to give the event quite an international flavour. The Mercedes after a late start put in a meteoric lap after which it gave up, and Viscount Curzon took the lead. Unfortunately ignition trouble set in and he gradually dropped back, and was forced to retire in the 16th
He also took part in the R.A.C. Tourist Trophy, which was revived that year. He and Campbell had entered Bugattis, and after some trouble with faulty petrol tanks, special ones were made. Unfortunately, these proved to be unsatisfactory also, so that on the eve of the race they had to put back the old ones, with the result that had been feared. After two laps Campbell came in with sheets of flame pouring from the back of his car, and Lord Curzon was later forced to retire from the same cause. In the 1929 T.T. he again drove a Bugatti and completed the course vvithout trouble.
In the following year Lord Howe enlarged his racing programme, and driving the Mercedes with which Caracciola had won the Tourist Trophy of the previous year, came third at Dublin, while his piloting of a six-cylinder Alfa-Romeo with Campbell at Le Mans brought him a fifth place. This entitled him to compete in the final of the RudgeWhitworth Cup in 1931. He also entered the Mercedes at Ards, and finished after a most unpleasant run in the rain. During the past season he really came into his own, and achieved the success which his keenness and persistence deserved. His first race of
the year was the Monaco Grand Prix, and though he did not finish, the experience was one to be remembered. The race is unique in that all the drivers are picked men, and only enter by invitation. The competitors all know to an inch the capabilities of their cars, which makes the event a little safer than it looks, but passing is “a great adventure” to quote Lord Howe, for there is only just room in many of the streets, and if the following driver is not very agile in overtaking, he finds himself on top of a corner, and has to brake skilfully to avoid disaster. The constant changing up and down in an atmosphere of petrol and oil fumes makes strong men wilt, and wonder why they ever entered for those seventy laps of purgatory. Lord Howe trained rather thoroughly for it, and finished up by a course of driving on the Bugatti practice track at Molsheim in Chiron.’s wake, but in the race his car was put out of action after a few laps by a stud coming out of an oil pipe, which caused one of the camshafts to seize.
Returning to England, Lord Howe next appeared at the Whitsun Meeting at Brookla,nds, driving the 11litre Grand Prix Delage which used to belong to Sir Malcolm Campbell. Car and driver surpassed themselves, for the car won the Gold Star and the Long Handicap races, the first at a speed of 120.8 m.p.h., with a lap at 126.4, 5 m.p.h. better than its previous best and the fastest 1,500 c.c. lap ever done on the track. Turning then to road-racing, the Mercedes was once more brought out, and at Dublin, Lord Howe put up the fastest lap with it, and finished fifth. He might well have secured a higher position had not a stone broken the superchargercasing. Crossing then to Le Mans he drove an eight cylinder Alfa-Romeo with Sir Henry Birkin to win the Grand Prix d’Endurance. This was a fine performance, for the English
drivers had against them the official entries of the Bugatti and Alf aRomeo factories, not to mention the Mercedes and other opponents who were ready to slip into their place at any sign of weakness. They advanced steadily through the field to win at a record speed.
Later, Lord Howe took the ” Mere ” down to Shelsley and annexed a brace of cups, and then when back again in France, with the five year old Del age at Dieppe, he won the 1,500 class and came third in the open classification, only three kilometres behind the second man, Czaikowski, on a Bugatti. Intentional damage on the part of some ” sportsman ” to one of his tyres cost him three laps, otherwise he might have brought off the double event.
The Ulster race is still fresh in everyone’s memory, in which Sir Henry Birkin and Lord Howe on their Alfas strove valiantly to keep ahead of the Italian drivers. A skid when descending Bradshaw’s Brae involved Lord Howe in an extraordinary accident, for his car charged the hedge and dropped several feet into the field below, almost decapitating some spectators who had been standing there. Fortunately, driver and mechanic both escaped unhurt, but the brake mechanism was damaged, and the car had to be withdrawn. Great things were expected of the double-camshaft Bugatti in the 500 Miles Race, but the breakage of a valve, a most unusual thing on these
cars, put it out of action before it really got going.
To this catalogue of events we must add finishes in the French and the German Grands Prix, completing a racing season as varied as anyone in England could hope to experience. All Lord Howe’s racing cars are of foreign make, not from a desire to add variety to British racing, as has been stated sometimes, but because he considers they are the only cars suitable for the work. In sports car races he drives either a straight eight Alfa-Romeo or the famous Mercedes on which Caracciola won the Ulster T.T. in 1929. The Mercedes is seen at its best in comparitively straightforward circuits such as the Dublin Grand Prix, but it is a delightful car to handle, and cannot be too unwieldy, for it was very successful at Shelsle-y Walsh this year when much smaller cars,found
the road not nearly wide enough.
For racing, Bugatti cars have long been his choice, but he also had one of the 1925 G.P. Delages. Last year he acquired a second one which had formerly belonged to Sir Malcolm Campbell, and which went at unprecedented speeds at the Whitsun Meeting. Here again the circuit dictates which car is to be run, so that for tortuous courses like the Monaco Grand Prix, the Bugatti is more suitable, while the Delage is given more scope by a normal roadrace circuit.
The tuning and preparation of Lord Howe’s racers is carried out by his own staff of highly-qualified mechanics, and in our interview he emphasised the vital importance of their work, and the keenness and efficiency with which it is carried out—a fact which is too often passed by in the glamour of success of the car and driver. Incidentally, all his men are English, although on various occasions during his Continental racing, his cars have been tended by French and German mechanics. But, as Lord Howe pointed out, in such circumstances complications are liable to ensue when one does not always understand exactly what is being said !
Knowing that Lord Howe’s attention has in the past few seasons turned more and more to racing on the Continent, we broached the subject with him as to the reasons which prevent British makes from figuring conspicuously in these events. “The first thing,” he said, ” is that except at le Mans, there is no
system of handicapping which gives the smaller cars a fair chance, consequently, to achieve success they must be phenomenally good. Nobody can deny that the 750 c.c. cars of this country have a wonderfully high degree of efficiency, but it is too much to expect these little fellows to compete with the Bugatti and the Alta on equal terms.”
The Riley, he thought, was on a better footing, and did very well to win its class in the German Grand Prix, and on its form near the end of the last season it could be expected to do even better this year. All our larger cars, he continued, come into the sports car category, and with the exception of the Talbot, are not raced seriously. The utilisation of blowers on these motors,
he thought, might boost them. up sufficiently to make them comparable in perfonnance with the Continental 100 per cent. racing thoroughbreds, and it will be interesting to see if the manufacturers will do this in the near future. Lord Howe considers that the majority of English manufacturers are most apathetic in the business of real racing, and he deplores the fact that the amateur gets no real support from the factory, without which he cannot hope to prevail against the perfectly organised foreign camps.
Another obvious factor which retards the development of the sports car in this country is the dearth of races, and especially of racing-car events. On the Continent, if a manufacturer thinks of a good idea, he can embody it in a racing car and try it out in one of the races which occur practically every week-end all over Europe. In Great Britain such things are unknown, so that any new feature has either to be tried out at Brooklands, which cannot provide the violent stressing which takes place in fast driving on a natural course, or it appears in a team of sports cars, of which a certain minimum number have to be made before the new type may be raced. “This procedure,” Earl Howe said, “is a perfect example of ‘putting the cart before the horse,’ for one always regards the sports car as a more-or-less finished product, of which the racing machine is the experimental type. Consequently, if a racing car blows up, nobody, except possibly the designer, worries very much, while if a new series of sports cars appears and experiences
trouble, this may have a nasty reaction on the firm’s sales. Apart from that, the production of the minimum number of sports cars may inflict a considerable financial burden on the smaller firms. Our manufacturers are thus heavily handicapped, and their originality is stifled for want of scope.”
English drivers, he considers, as opposed to English cars, have shown themselves capable of competing on equal terms with those on the Continent, but it must not be forgotten, that without abundant practise they could not hope to compete with foreigners who are taking part in racing continuously throughout the season.
The moral of all this seems to be, “More (or rather some) races for England.” To have these it would be necessary to close public roads, which requires an Act of Parliament, and on this procedure Lord Howe can speak with authority, for in conjunction with Colonel Moore-Brabazon he has made several attempts to get a Bill passed. The heavy pressure of public business makes it unlikely that the party in power would ever sponsor such a measure, so that it must be left to the efforts of private members. When once introduced the next stage is to get “Permission to Print,” but if even one Member makes a protest, the Bill has to be dropped. Knowing the prejudice that exists against racing in this country, it would be a miracle if nobody did protest, but even if the measure did get so far, it would probably be so hedged around by restrictions put in at Committee stage that it would be impossible to make practical use of it.
Royal Park Possibilities.
This state of affairs seems to bring matters to a deadlock, but fortunately, as Lord Howe pointed out, not all the country is under the control of Parliament. The
Royal Parks form an important exception, for they are administered by the Office of Works. “If it should be possible to obtain the approval of that body, with the permission of His Majesty the King,” he said, “a race could be run in Richmond Park at any time. The course suggested is from Robin Hood Gate, straight across, down to Kingston and round back to the starting point.”
Practising could be carried out in the early morning, and the riding and other activities which are carried out at the Roehampton end would not be interfered with. Situated within easy reach of a vast population, and run on roads which are in no sense through routes, a race held in these surroundings would, obviously, be a tremendous success.”
The Wash Project.
The other hope for British racing he mentioned, is the Wash Speedway and T.T. course. The Automobile Racing Association (of which Lord Howe is a vice-president) has been making continued progress towards their goal, and though it will obviously be some time before the scheme is carried through, the facilities that will be available will be of immense value and importance to motorists, racing or otherwise.
The beginning of a new year brings with it questionings as to the prospects of the corning season. Lord Howe feels that with an improvement of trade we may look forward to an outlook at least as good as that of 1931. He is especially impressed with the progress of Grand Prix racing on the Continent, which has returned to a favour even greater than before the War, and hopes that English manufacturers will be stirred out of their lethargy to take part in these most important demonstrations of national efficiency. He admitted to an extensive racing programme himself, but is keeping quiet about the details. We put a tentative question about the 12-cylinder Alfa, which Lord Howe described as “a very going concern,” but we can only possess ourselves in patience to see what surprises he has in store. Whatever forms these may take, we may rest assured that the new ventures will not fail to go quickly.