There are still a few British Class records established before the war which have not been improved upon and which are therefore still on the records book. These include the Class E (1,501 to 2,000 c.c.) f.s. mile record, which still belongs to Jack Dunfee and a supercharged Grand Prix Sunbeam at a speed of 122.07 m.p.h. set up in 1929, the f.s. kilo. and mile Class F (1,101 to 1,500 c.c.) records, standing to the credit of the late Sir Henry Segrave who in 1925 set these to 114.7 and 113.24 m.p.h. respectively, driving the single-seater sixteen-valve Talbot, and the Class G (751 to 1,100 c.c.) f.s. kilo. and mile records, which were taken in 1936 by Hugh Hunter in the supercharged Appleton Special, at 111.0 m.p.h. for both records. All were set up at Brooklands.
Having found these ancient records still in being, the British Vita Company, who won this year’s European Saloon Car Championship, decided that the time had come to erase them, using tuned versions of modern saloon cars. They obtained the sanction of the R.A.C., the R.A.F., the E. Yorkshire Police and Dement U.D.C. to make the record attempts at Elvington aerodrome on October 12th last year. They proposed to use a lightweight Mini 1300 and their supercharged hill-climb Mini, driven by H. Ratcliffe, to attack the Class F records, J. Handley in a special B.M.C. 1800 saloon to try for the Class E figures, while a lightweight Mini 1000 would have a crack at the Class G records. There was also mention of an attempt to establish an “Outright Mini Record” with a supercharged Mini in the hands of J. Goodliffe, but this is an unofficial record apparently invented by British Vita.
The first attempts had to be abandoned because another engagement for some of the cars. Elvington was hooked again for November 2nd, but torrential rain and gales caused the bids to be abandoned. So these pre-war records are still open to attack, with the exception of those in Class G. These were raised to 130.651 and 129.373 m.p.h., respectively, by A. Staniforth’s supercharged Terrapin, at the ISO/NSA Meeting at Elvington on October 5th/6th, as reported on page 1022 of our November issue, thus, it would seem, putting these records out of reach of even Vita Speed Minis.
In conjunction with this proposed attack on British Class records which had been made at least 39 years ago at Brooklands British Vita had intended to lay on an appropriate party. Two of the holders of the records which were in jeopardy, Hugh Hunter and Jack Dunfee, were invited to attend, and demonstration runs were to be made by Cameron Millar’s Sunbeam and the Appleton Special. This idea was a bit distorted, inasmuch as when Dunfee took the aforesaid records in 1929 he was driving one of the 1924 2-litre supercharged six-cylinder Sunbeams, of which the sole surviving example in complete form has been given away by Rootes to Prince Rainier. Millar’s Sunbeam is one of the 1922 non-supercharged four-cylinder cars; although one of these appeared in B.A.R.C. races, R. T. T. Spencer winning a race there in 1926, they were not used for record-breaking. As for the Appleton Special, now owned by a dealer, when we last saw it this had an ordinary 1½-litre unblown Riley engine and not the highly supercharged Riley Nine engine it was raced with pre-war. So it was rather dishonest of the pre-party hand-out to state that “Jack Dunfee has enthusiastically declared his intention to come, as the actual 2-litre Sunbeam racing car has been located and will be loaned by present owner-driver Mr. Cameron-Miller; this vintage record-breaking car has been fully restored by Fergus Car Preparations of Bourne”.—Our italics.
Indeed, the hand-out provided plenty of amusement. For instance, it said that during 1931 Morris Motors had broken the f.s. kilo. and mile records at over 100 m.p.h. with 100 GN, the Morris Minor side-valve saloon! That Morris was, of course, rather special, with a well-streamlined single-seater body. Various spelling errors made amusing reading, as they quoted such drivers as Sammy Davies, Zborowski, Seagrave, Barry Thomas, Gardener and Kaye Petre, and I was astonished to learn that, had I been able to he present (the invitation arrived too late), I would have “created further interest to both Press and public”! The three record categories were incorrectly quoted in respect of engine dimensions and it was droll to read that efforts were being made to locate the “Seagrave Talbot or a near replica”, for this single-seater has not been seen for many decades, since Field ran it at Southport, nor have any of the two-seater sixteen-valve Talbots survived. The best mistake of all, however, was mention of “Mountain hill-climbs” being held at Brooklands, by someone who has heard of the Mountain circuit but apparently never seen it! There was also mention of attempting “the maximum terminal velocity speed” and of creating the “fastest Mini in the world marque”, but these are targets of Vita Speed’s own invention, whose combined aim, they announced, was Prior Tempore, Prior Jure.
All that apart, the runs would have been very interesting and can, I hope, be made this year. Castrol and Burmah were to have blessed the attempts and the cars were to have been run on Dunlop SP41 tyres and nitro methylene and Westlake fuel. That the Brooklands figures have survived for so long is a tribute to the speeds of cars in the vintage era. Although you might expect tuned production-type cars to be quicker, 40 years later, it could be that the special Mini Cooper 1300 and Monza Austin 1800 saloons would find it difficult, even impossible, to break the British Class E and F records, particularly the former. Jack Hellberg of British Vita may have realised this, for he is currently trying to persuade the R.A.C. to recommend to the F.I.A. that International and British Class records be split into two categories, those for racing cars and those for modified production type cars. This would give scrutineers more headaches, but would he more in line with American practice, for Stock Car records for catalogue-conforming cars have long been recognised in the U.S.A. Hellberg is also campaigning for a permanent 3,000-yard runway in this country where records of up to a mile could be established. Meanwhile, all this should increase respect for racing cars of circa 1923 design which still retain some of the fastest British records in their respective classes.—W. B.