Real Racing for the Impecunious
THERE is no possi hie doubt whatsoever that there existed in this country
before the war a significant number of impecunious enthusiasts whose great aim was to do some real motor-racing. After the war we can expect the number to be, if anything, greater than before. Whether anything can actually be done for these folk remains to be seen, but at least some of the problems involved should be faced up to. Under the regime which prevailed up to 1939 the really impecunious driver was forced to concentrate on trials and the lesser sprint events, simply because he could not afford the entry fees, incidental expenses, and the sort of car required, for serious longdistance or even short-distance racing. ‘ And in sprint events he was obliged to run in classes which were usually very hotly contested, and in which inexpensive cars handled by beginners merely made a background.
Certainly club meetings at the Crystal Palace and Donington offered a break, but these events presented such an admirable opportunity Of getting in some real high-speed racing for a modest outlay, that the impecunious, again, not only merely made the background, but were rather dangerously in the Way. True, the II.C.C. offered its annual one-hour Outer Circuit event and the J.C.C. its excellent one-hour Brooklands run, replete with corners and as, in these events, you had merely to ” beat the Club ” to gain an award, everyone should have been happy. The fact was that these events still came out fairly expensive and did not compensate those who earnestly sought to ” road race.”
It must be remembered of the novice that he or she is desperately keen to see whether or not he or she has the ability to handle a racing car competitively, and is apt to regard the thing as a personal call ; the More expert drivers, on the other hand, having proved themselves, can take a greater interest in proving their cake performances over courses not calling for especial driving Skill, or else you can argue that they habitually drive really rapid cars which remain intriguing to conduct on courses where the impecunious entrants’ cars seem just too dull. That, then, is a brief picture of things as they were.
What is the solution ? HollandBirkett, captain of the 750 Club, has hit on a really good idea, which he outlined in a letter published in MOTOR SPORT in June, 1943. His suggestion was that the 750 Club should run events, road races if possible, confined to side-valve, unsupercharged, road-equipped ears.
. That is a very sound suggestion Indeed, if one bears in mind the original aim behind the formation of the 750 Club. This club was suggested by the Editor of MOTOR SPORT as likely to do good work by promoting mud trials and, perhaps, speed events, open only to Austin Sevens and similar small, inexpensive -amateurmodified cars, so that drivers thereof could feel their way, as it were, in events in which competition would be really keen, instead of entirely out of proportion. It was felt that things like M-type 1I,G.
Midgets, Singer ” Porlocks,” Triumph Super Sevens, perhaps Fiat 500s, etc., should be let in to keep the Austin owners on their toes, so associate membership was introduced for this purpose. Phil Hunter came along willing to do all the hard work, and the thing came into being. One trial, on just these lines, was held before the war, and a speed trial would have been run if hostilities hadn’t intervened. So Birkett’s suggestion for unblown 750-c.c. racing is a logical outcome.
But it is very necessary, if it is to be made a success, that the wrong impression is not created. The idea of 500-c.c. racing has been discussed, but against the desirable facts of low first-cost, a new field of interest, and a class in which competitors, at all events for a time, should be well-matched, has come to be set the feeling that very soon moneyed entrants would be spending as much on these 500-c.c. racing cars as on higgerengined jobs. That is where Birkett’s limit Of an unblown s.v. engine and roadequipment is so sane, although he emphasised that he is not against 500-c.c. sprint classes, as such. It does not entirely rule Out the “expensive racing car in disgui.40,” but it should go a whole long way towards it. You can drop a 2-seater body on to a racing chassis, but not so easily in the smaller classes and as only very small prizes would presumably be offered for these races, people would not be encouraged to unsupercharge and re-body fast 750-c.c. cars for this purpose. Indeed, the beauty of the thing is becoming evident. The unblown 750-c.c. car has been seriously outclassed for some time, and apart from the impecunious owner who cannot afford to run in classic events, no one is likely to foster it-the blown single-seater is essential for satisfactory participation in ordinary 750-c.c. class events, and it. doesn’t easily detune to Birkett’s specification.
I think the thing might be rendered even more watertight by making pump fuel and ordinary-grade plugs compulsory, which should not try the scrutineer to far, and certainly the competing cars should be taxed for a quarter at least and driven to the course. Doubtless the R.A.C. would insist that wings be removed and no passengers carried, which is merely common sense. The foregoing is Holland-Birkett’s scheme. The Atidland Motoring Enthusiasts’ Club has rather diflerent ideas, and these are set out by Kenneth Wharton (who used to race an Austin Seven At Doxtington, where he crashed badly about 10 years ago) as follows :—
” The possibility of racing unblown 750-c.c, cars for the impecunious amateur has been discussed in MOTOR SPORT from time to time, but, unfortunately, little progress has been made towards practical post-war plans for carrying out the suggestions. Recently I had the pleasure of meeting the Editor of 11.10TOR SPORT who feels that possibilities do exist, providing sufficient support is forthcoin i ng.
” I would suggest some definite formula for the cars, and for the type of event which would appeal most to the competitors and to the public.
” My opinion is that touring cars, Stich as •I ister ‘ Austins and J2 M.G. Midgets would prove unpopular, first, because many of them, particularly the former, are now in a state of antiquity ; and it must he remembered that 10 years have elapsed since • Ulsters ‘ were built, and that few of them at the present time are safe to participate in open con-wet:Mon, unless kept solely for the purpose. Secondly, I can assure you, from personal experience, that for these reasons they are not at all popular with race organisers. Lastly, the pill lic must be considered ; it may he thought that this is not of very great importanec, I nut, after all, they cid make race meetings possilde, and I cannot imagine for one moment their showing a my great. ent husittsm for ears of the above I ype.
“Therefore I would like to put forward the following suggestions : Cars to be of 750 c.c. maximum capacity, unsupercharged, single-seater bodies only, to be fitted with ellicient four-wheel brakes. In order to prevent any serious troubles with specials, I would suggest a minimum weight of 5 cwt., as competitors might be tempted to construct cars below this figure. Should they do so, and the result not be a first-class engineering job, the consequences might prove disastrous. Fuel of any type may be used ; a reverse gear must be fitted and the cars may carry any type of engine, e.g., 500 c.c., or a pair of 350 dirt-track J.A.P.s—in short, anything provided that it does not exceed 750 c.c.
I am confident that these ears would prove very popular and, provided that they are constructed on engineering lines, would be looked upon quite favourably by the racing authorities at Donington and Crystal Palace : the latter circuit, as mentioned by the Editor of MOTOR SPORT, is ideally suited to these small ears. “Should anyone prefer to rejuvenate Uisters and such like, I would suggest two separate classes of events, as handicap racing spoils the fun, the two classes being as follows :
(a) Cars built up of components of one make only. (b) Out-and-out specials built to the designer’s own ideas. “In conclusion, I do not hesitate to
say that in my opinion road-racing and sprints would prove far more successful than dicing ‘old cars round a muddy field.
“These views have the full support of the Midland Motoring Enthusiasts’ Club, who are most anxious to foster this particular branch of a very fine sport, and on their behalf I would welcome any suggestions sent direct to me, or through the Editor of MOTOR SPORT, as it is our wish that some definite plans may be laid ready for post-war motoring.” Certainly we prefer Birkett’s scheme to Wharton’s, but whereas the former visualises occasional races confined to 750 Club members, the latter is viewing the matter from the angle of fairly extensive national support. The chief objection raised against Birkett’s scheme to date is, “Where will you get your racing ? ” As real racing is called for, with the cars allowed to reach their maximum of 70-80 m.p.h., and brake properly for the corners, “any old field” is no sort of answer, even if the R.A.C. ever sanctioned Inflation of the oft-quoted but rather specialised C.A.P.A. happenings. Ring roads round airfields my never become available for the purpose and may not, anyway, be as suitable as some folk think. So the 750 Club would have to look to existing circuits. There seems no reason why Brooklands should not, just once, run a race for unblown 750s over the Campbell Circuit, as it once did for Fiat 500s and Talbot Tens, providing intending entrants could promise safe cars. If the 750 Club invited the clubs which organise members’ days at Donington and the Crystal Palace to its speed trials, it would probably be permitted to hold one scratch race per season at each venue, especially if some of the entry-fee takings were handed towards the general cost of such meetings. That, then, offers promise of three decent, if short, races on three decent circuits in the first season. Remember that the cars’ owners are impecunious, that they use their cars on the road, and that they can also enter for ordinary trials and sprints and for other club races, and that might well suffice. It is difficult to see how it can be otherwise. If more frequent races are wanted, Wharton’s scheme obviously “has it,” because before the Brook lands, Donington and Crystal Palace organisers put over regular races for 750-c.c. cars, or 500-c.c. for that matter, they must be convinced that such cars will be fast enough and exciting enough to attract the “gate.” If this could be proved to be the case, they might put over races for such ears, to attract new names, bolster-up flagging entry lists, and advertise a novelty. But fairly soon folk with over a thousand pounds to spend would produce cars so superior to those run by the more impecunious that interest would ebb, and as the performance of cars in the next-larger capacity class would invariably be just that much more
spectacular, the beauty of the 750-e.e. class would doubtless wear thin both for organisers and entrants. From road runs with Birkett in his ” Ulster” Austin Seven when he has been in a professional hurry, I am convinced that an unLlown 750, given downdraught carburation, a reasonable cylinder head, and a decent ‘crank, and with sensible linings on its brakes, can be made to go quite fast enough to develop real driving’ skill and technique over a road course with fairly frequent and varied corners. Impecunious amateurs could display their tuning skill and their driving ability amply, and quite inexpensively, given scratch races for road-equipped 2-seaters of this sort. If too much enthusiasm were shown, any such races the 750 Club managed to hold could be open by invitation only. I am sure this points the way to offering a certain amount of real racing each year to limited numbers of persons for a very modest outlay. So I hope S. H. Capon and his committee will try to further the possibilities of such racing after the war. Equally. I hope over-ambition will not kill the thing. Unless the 750 Club finds its own course, very frequent and very
long-distance events just won’t be possible —even this Utopia would probably put entry fees much higher than is visualised by the present sponsor, because a club course would cost a dickens of a sum in upkeep. But run sensibly, and strictly confined to inexpensive road-worthy cars that would all be, roughly, equal in performance, there arc, I feel, great possibilities of a certain amount of real racing for the impecunious after the war. Otherwise, 750-e.e.racing can only develop on Wharton’s lines, and I suggest that not for long would it remain the undisputed pastime Of the almost-broke.