V.S.C.C. driving tests, Silverstone (Dec. 8th)

Having accepted an invitation from Dudley Gahagan to ride with him to this meeting in his 1926 Type 37 Grand Prix Bugatti, I was delighted when the Great Freeze Up gave way to warmer weather the day before. The only disadvantage of this exhilarating mode of travel was that, not having so much as an aero-screen for protection, I arrived disguised by a mud-cake that caused me to resemble a Targa Florio competitor of long ago—or were they plastered with dust? Alas, it wasn’t long before a gale-swept Silverstone was lashed, first by heavy and then by torrential rain. We had to drive home in successive cloudbursts that penetrated every stitch of the heavy clothing I wore—but after getting indoors and letting this drop sodden to the floor and leaping into a hot mustard bath, I feel able to write this report. . . .

In retrospect, at all events, to ride again in a Bugatti was most thoroughly worth while. Gahagan’s Type 37 is delightfully original. It was bought new by a gentleman named Galloway living in Woking—could the close proximity of Brooklands Track have influenced him?—and has since had more than a dozen owners, including W. B. Scott, Jack Bartlett, Leslie Bachelier, N. Utley, Brian Finglass and Macloud Cary. Otherwise, not much is known of the history of YP 9663.

Two circumferential, heavily-clad mortals can sit in it in comfort and the suspension is not nearly so hard as memory suggested. The noises, too, are not so raucous as expected, although the exhaust boom from the Brooklands’ expansion-chamber and enormous fish-tail is inspiring, and the indirect gears make merry music. But mechanically the engine is surprisingly quiet.

It was splendid, too, to sit again in a car in which the instruments are engineer’s dials set in a deep aluminium panel, and in the cockpit of which brake cables and chain-and-sprocket compensators, petrol pipes, gear-lever cross-shaft and the like are naked and unashamed. Ignition advance and retard is the concern of a long lever coming straight hack through the aforesaid alloy facia: gear-changing is effected by an outside r.h. lever that Dudley Gahagan shifted with consummate skill and at lightning speed with thumb and forefinger, so that I never quite knew whether we were in 2nd, 3rd or the 14/54 top cog.

The view forward is perhaps the finest in motoring—tapering blue, much-louvred bonnet terminating in the classic, very slender horseshoe radiator, topped by a substantial deeply-threaded filler cap. Both cycle-type front wings are naturally in full view—sit up slightly and you can see not only the wheels but the king-pins, and that continuous brake cable passing nonchalantly over pulleys, said to be apt to break and leave you brakeless, hut stopping the car well until it does. Behind, the pointed tail and ”real” eared fuel filler. . . .

My job was to nurse the off-side rear mudguard, which had come adrift, and keep pressure showing on a very Edwardian, looking Fiat gauge with the wooden-handled air-pump. It was all the greatest fun, Dudley cornering on the slippery roads to the nearest mm.—or at all events cm. I know most sports cars are safer than saloons but a Bugatti, by reason of impeccable roadholding and “king-pin” visibility, is surely the safest of them all?

When the rain came I could see nothing at all, as I wear glasses, except for a blur of many-coloured mushrooms going by on my port side in towns, which I discovered was simply girls getting on with their Christmas shopping under their gaily-hued umbrellas. I do not know quite how Gahagan tells how fast his Bugatti is going—the tachometer being inoperative—but I knew—at 65 m.p.h. the rain turned into sharp needles impinging on my face….

What can one say about a series of rather similar driving tests, eight in all, especially when they are held in such miserable conditions and are of the regular V.S.C.C. pattern which waste the wide expanses of the runways—Hinchcliffe explaining that they are this way as the R.A.C. requires the drivers to go very pussyfoot, even at a private meeting of this kind? Nothing much, except that Silverstone is the bleakest of venues, except perhaps for Snetterton, and quite featureless, so that the V.S.C.C. should deem itself fortunate to have received an entry of 71 vintage and p.v.t. cars.

The majority were the regular customers, but R. F. Stenhouse brought an extremely well-preserved 1925 Triumph Super Seven 2-door tourer, a baby car notable for its 3-bearing crankshaft and hydraulic brakes. The oldest car present was Victor Rawling’s 1914 Swift cyclecar; Just as I had noticed that he had its hood strapped down, whereas that of Riddle’s 1921 G.N. cycleear blew up just when its driver was trying to reverse, the floorboards blew out or the Swift. . .

Gahagan’s wasn’t the only Bugatti, because Hamish Moffat had forsaken a Welsh dance (but not, I hope, his partner) to motor through the night to Silverstone in his 1923 Brescia Bugatti, as was evident as he, too, wore a mud-pack. Kain brought in his 1926 G.P. Bugatti, and two very similar 14/40 M.G. tourers were parked adjacently. Hill made his 1930 A.J.S. 2-seater rush about, Fidler’s 1930 o.h.c. Morris Minor tourer looked opulent, if non-original with brass radiator and lamps, the Franklin Rover Tens were out in force, and Bevis brought a 1930 Alvis presumably as an example of about everything that a vintage car shouldn’t be.

What else did I notice before I got so wet that I just didn’t care? Mrs. Cardy wearing a blue jumper in her blue 1925 Austin Chummy—four ladies were contesting a special award and they were all “Mrs.”, so presumably V.S.C.C. members marry their girl-friends before allowing them to drive their vintage cars. Peter Binns actually removed his duffle coat in order to spin his O.M. Pasmore had that rarity, an unchopped Bentley, albeit a very touring 1924 3-litre. Macpherson’s 1928 fabric 4-seater Lea-Francis had a Hyper radiator, Millar’s 1930 2-seater Lea-Francis an upright one. Wrapson was wrapped up in a comfortable Austin 12/4. Lucky man, for the rain now reached unmanageable proportions and my notebook fell apart. Lots of people seemed to have been caught by an inaccurate weather forecast, for while every sort of headgear from bowler to fur-hat was in use, umbrellas had been left at home, except for one of the golfing variety with which a very charming young lady seemed likely to do a balloon-jumping display at any moment, the wind also having increased to unmanageable proportions. But let me give you the results :—

Standard Vintage Touring Cars : First-Class Awards : C. Franklin (1929 Rover), C. P. Marsh (1925 Austin). Second-Class Awards : E. Riddle (1925 G.N.), D. L. Franklin (1929 Rover). Third-Class Award : J. D. Rogers (1923 Jowett).

Vintage Standard Touring Cars : First-Class Awards : P. J. E. Binns (1927 O.M.), J. V. Skirrow (1930 Fraser-Nash). Second-Class Awards : B. B. D. Kain (1926 Bugatti), D. S. Bennett (1930 Alvis). Third-Class Awards : D. R. Marsh (1928 14/40 M.G.), W. S. May (1926 Fraser Nash).

Vintage Sports Cars : First-Class Award : B. M. Clarke (1924/9 Austin Seven). Second-Class Award : P. Bevis (1930 Alvis). Third-Class Award : M. Leo (1930 Lagonda).

P.V.T. Cars : First-Class Award : A. M. Westmacott (1934 Lagonda Rapier), B. Simsey (1934 Alvis). Second-Class Award : P. A. C. Kneller (1932 Alvis). Third-class Awards : R. C. J. Wood (1932 4.5-litre Invicta), R. A. Hutchings (1936 B.M.W.).

Ladies’ Award : Mrs. G. C. Cardy (1925 Austin Seven).