Donington Park racing

Once again Tom Wheatcroft is going to try and get motor racing going again on the revised Donington Park circuit, with the first meetings scheduled for this spring. Twice in the past it has looked as though racing was going to start, but unforeseen legal hassles and planning problems have held things up, so let us hope that it is a case of third time lucky. At the moment the plans are that the first meeting shall be for motorcycles, followed by a car meeting run by the BRDC. This is very fitting because it was the motorcycle boys who got Donington Park going in the first place, in 1931, and in spite of what the “media-men” might say, it was a motorcycle meeting that was the last to be held in 1939 when war put a stop to racing at Donington Park.

Motor car racing began at Donington Park on March 25th 1933 organised by the local Derby and District Motor Club, which was also the organising club of the motorcycle meetings, and the present Pathfinders and Derby Motorcycle Club, which replaced the defunct D.&D.M.C. will be organising the first meeting this year. In 1939 the opening meeting on April 1st was the British Empire Trophy race organised by the BRDC so it is equally fitting that they should open the new season. In recent publicity handout material it was stated that the BRDC British Empire Trophy Race was the last race to be held at Donington Park in 1939. This is not true. The last major car race at Donington Park was the Nuffield Trophy, held on June 10th and the last Club meeting was run by the Vintage Sports Car Club on August 12th, followed two weeks later by the final motorcycle meeting.

It is interesting to look at the entry list for the first meeting, of 1933, and to see Kenneth Evans with number one, he still being very active in racing circles behind the scenes with the BRDC and the Brooklands Society. At number 6 was Robin Jackson who is still alive and well and at number 12 was John Appleton, also happily still with us. Number 15 was Anthony Powys-Lybbe, whom the Editor interviewed not so long ago, and number 25 was Eddie Hall, who lives in Monaco, on the edge of the Grand Prix course, and it was he who won the very first race, driving a supercharged MG Midget. In event 5 at this meeting there were but two starters, Eddie Hall with his MG Midget and Ron Horton with the prototype MG Magnette, which was featured in Motor Sport in November last and is now being rebuilt in Japan. Not surprisingly the Magnette won this race.

By 1939 there had been a lot of changes made at Donington Park, the circuit was much wider and longer and full-scale Grand Prix races had been run. The starting area had moved from down in the valley near the Donington Hall to up on the plateau at the top of Melbourne hill and serious long-distance races were the order of the day. For the British Empire Trophy Race on April 1st 1939 there were 24 entries for the 200-Mile Handicap event for racing cars. Of these T.A.S.O. Mathieson had entered two Maseratis, an 1100 c.c. and a 3-litre 8CM, but neither of them materialised, while in practice two cars damaged themselves and another failed to arrive. Billy Cotton, the bandleader and father of the Bill Cotton of today’s entertainment world, had an almighty engine blow-up in his E.R.A. (R1B) and Kenneth Evans had the back axle break on his ex-Scuderia Ferrari “monoposto” Alfa Romeo, while Arthur Hyde’s Riley 1100 was not ready for David Hampshire to drive. E.R.A. R1B is still active in VSCC racing with its present owner Patrick Marsh, while the Evans “monoposto” Alfa Romeo is in New Zealand. This left 19 starters, eight E.R.A.s, four Rileys, two Maseratis,.an Alta, an MG, a works twin-cam Austin, the B.H.W Special and the Brooke Special. Surprisingly, in view of the race being at the beginning of the season, there was an awful lot of mechanical trouble and only seven cars finished, the winner being 20-year-old Tony Rolt in an E.R.A. prepared by the legendary Fred Dixon, and the young man set a pretty blistering pace, which may have accounted for so many retirements. In second place was Bert Hadley in one of Lord Austin’s beautiful little twin o.h.c. Austin 744 c.c. single-seaters and third was Arthur Hyde in the ex-Earl Howe Maserati 8CM. The other finishers were F. Gee in a I Hitt.: Riley, Con Pollock in an E.R.A., Reg Parnell in the B.H.W. Special and the Hon. Peter Aitken in an E.R.A. The winner averaged 75.91 m.p.h., including a 30 second pit stop to refuel.

It is the intention to include an historic car race in the programme of the first new-Donington Park meeting, to commemorate the 1939 British Empire Trophy so it will not go amiss to look at those nineteen cars and drivers who took part in the 1939 race. Happily, the winner Tony Rolt is still alive and well and very active in the automotive engineering world and his E.R.A. was R5B, which he acquired from the Prince Chula stable. It was and still is known as “Remus” and is still very active today in the hands of the Hon. Patrick Lindsay. Second place man Bert Hadley has recently retired from running a Government engineering skill-centre in Birmingham, and a short while ago I was able to let him sample the latest in road-going Ferraris. The twin-cam works Austin that he drove in the 1939 race is the one on display in the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, which unfortunately does not run. However, the second works Austin, that Charlie Dodson drove in 1938, is in the Donington Collection and is in full working order. Of Arthur Hyde, who was third, I have lost all trace, but his car has led a chequered career. It was a wide-chassis 8CM Maserati, bought originally by Earl Howe and then raced by Eileen Ellison and T. P. Cholmondeley-Tapper. In 1938 Hyde acquired it, previously having raced Rileys, and was progressing well with this much faster car, his third place in the British Empire Trophy Race being well deserved. After the war this Maserati 8-cylinder, number 3013, was turned into a road-car, with a rather ugly all-enveloping body and it was bought by the writer Gavin Maxwell. In his book “A Ring of Bright Water” he gives a graphic description of winding it up to 145 m.p.h. on the Great North Road and having the engine blow-up with disastrous results. It was later rebuilt with the engine from another 8CM that had been converted into a sports car before the war by Whitney Straight. This was number 3010 and Straight had fitted an ENV pre-selector gearbox in place of the Maserati gearbox. The complete unit, engine and ENV gearbox, from 3010 was put into 3013 but it then disappeared from public life for quite a time, re-appearing a few years ago rebuilt back into a single-seater by Bill Summers, with a reproduction body as near to the original Maserati body as possible and it is still in existence today.

Of J. F. Gee and A. C. Pollock I have also lost all trace, and likewise Gee’s 1 1/2-litre Riley, but Pollock’s E.R.A. was R2A, the second car built by the E.R.A. works. After being used as a works team car it was sold to Nicky Embiricos and he had the front end altered and the half-elliptic leaf springs and beam axle replaced by a proprietary independently sprung front axle made in Italy by Tecnauto. Pollock acquired the car in 1938 and ran it until the war came, and from 1946 onwards it was very active in the hands of various English drivers and today is owned by Michael Glass and when not racing it resides in the Stratford Motor Museum.

Anyone following motor racing since the war will remember Reg Parnell, first as the driver of anything from saloon cars to Grand Prix cars, and then as the team-manager of Aston Martin. His son Tim followed in his footsteps, racing Formula Junior and suchlike cars and then managed the BRM team for a long time. Reg died suddenly after an operation in 1964 when he was only 53. Before the war he did a lot of racing with a special K3 MG Magnette, which he modified extensively with the help of “friends and neighbours” in Derby and by 1939 he had acquired the B.H.W. Special. This was a monster of a car created by Dick Wilkins and designed by Wally Hassan. A special chassis was constructed from channel-section steel, with independent front suspension by wishbones and a transverse leaf spring, while splayed 1/4-elliptic leaf springs at the rear supported the ends of swing axles of an independent layout. Into this was installed the engine and gearbox from the Type 54 Bugatti that used to be raced by Kaye Don. This 8-cylinder Bugatti engine was supercharged and of 4.9-litres and though large and heavy the resulting car was immensely powerful and fast, but it needed someone of the physique of Reg Parnell to master it. The name was derived from the initials of Bugatti, Hassan, Wilkins. After the war it made a few unhappy appearances in amateur hands and then passed to a collector in Scotland. The last news was that it had been broken up and the Bugatti engine and gearbox had been built into a Type 54 Bugatti made up out of parts for a German museum. The rest of the original Kaye Don 4.9-litre Bugatti, from which the engine and gearbox were taken, still exists.

The last of the finishers in that 1939 race was the Hon. Peter Aitken, who died many years ago, but his E.R.A. still exists. This was RUB, built new for Reggie Tongue, who sold it to Peter Aitken when he bought a Maserati. After the war it passed through a myriad of owners and was driven by a vast number of people, being crashed badly on three occasions. It was enlarged to 2-litres and modified in numerous ways so that while it is still an E.R.A. it does not bear much resemblance to the way it was in 1939. Today it is still active in VSCC racing in the hands of its present owner Martin Morris, from Devon.

Of the twelve drivers who retired during the 1939 British Empire Trophy race, Percy Maclure, Leslie Brooke, Bob Ansell and Johnny Wakefield are all known to have died. Maclure was driving his famous 1 1/2-litre six-cylinder Riley, with Andre-Girling i.f.s. and this car was very active after the war and became the basis for Geoff Richardson’s R.R.A. By the time the engine had been replaced by a Jaguar unit, and the chassis by an Aston Martin one, the original Maclure Riley was gone forever, though some of the parts still lurk about under work-benches. The Brooke Special started life as a Riley fitted with an MG Magnette engine, with Andre-Girling i.f.s, added and over the years Leslie Brooke developed the car and raced it with various engines installed, sometimes an Alta, sometimes a Riley and eventually an E.R.A. engine. It passed into other hands and eventually became a two-seater sports car with a post-war MG engine installed. Ansell was driving E.R.A., number R9B, which he had bought from Dennis Scribbans and this car is still racing today in the hands of the present owners, Christopher and Peter Mann of the VSCC. Wakefield’s E.R.A. was rather a special one, as it had a B-type chassis with a C-type Zoller supercharged engine, and it also had de Ram shock-absorbers. After the war Bob Gerard acquired it and it underwent many modifications to try and keep it competitive and today it is owned by Donald Day of the VSCC. In the 1939 race Maclure retired with a loss of oil pressure, Brooke with clutch slip, Ansell with a broken half-shaft and Wakefield on the opening lap with a run big-end.

Ian NickoIs, Charlie Dodson, Bob Gerard, George Abecassis, Arthur Dobson and “Wilkie” Wilkinson were others who retired from the race and are still alive and well, and will no doubt be keen to attend the reunion at Donington Park. Ian Nickols was driving the very special single-seater K3 MG Magnette that Reg Parnell had developed. It had originally belonged to H. C. Hamilton, who had built it as a single-seater, and Parnell fitted it with a special twin-camshaft cylinder head. Later it acquired ifs. from a Lancia and was raced by Aubrey Cuddon-Fletcher before Nickols acquired it. It retired from the race in a spectacular fashion when a half-shaft broke and the broken shaft and wheel parted company from the car and took the public address system wires down. Nickols raced it again after the war and then sold it. Subsequently the special engine was sold to an American and a normal single o.h.c. MG Magnette was put in its place, but today the car lies rusty and derelict. Charlie Dodson was driving a very rare 1,100 c.c. Maserati, with Tecnauto suspension units at the rear replacing the splayed 1/4-elliptic leaf springs. In practice a crack developed in a cylinder block and though Rolls-Royce made a temporary repair which allowed him to start, and run well, before the end the crack opened up again and that was that. This particular Maserati was brought to England in 1938 by Johnny Lurani, but has now disappeared completely. Gerard, whose post-war racing record with E.R.A., Frazer Nash and Cooper-Bristol is legendary, was driving a 1 1/2-litre Riley which went out with gearbox trouble, and now seems to have disappeared into oblivion. Abecassis was driving his famous silver Alta with all-round independent suspension by sliding pillars and coil springs. He retired with a loss of oil pressure, no doubt due to a big-end failure. This car still exists fundamentally, but has not seen the light of day for a long time. George Abecassis still runs H. W. Motors at Walton-on-Thames, selling exotic and expensive cars. For once Arthur Dobson was not driving his famous white E.R.A. with the nickel-plated radiator cowl, R7B, for he was the E.R.A. works driver in 1939 and the owner Humphrey Cook had just begun to sever connection with Raymond Mays and Peter Berthon. Consequently Dobson was driving R4B/C/D the factory development car, that was still being used at the beginning of 1939 because the new E-type was not ready. Dobson was going well when the engine blew-up in a pretty comprehensive fashion. When the Cook/Mays rift was sorted out the latter acquired R4D and changed its colour from pale green to black and silver. After the war it had a new chassis made for it and was modified in many ways, with radius arms to the rear axle and mods to the Porsche-type i.f.s., and became permanently a 2-litre. It is owned today by Nigel Moores. W. E. Wilkinson, always known as “Wilkie” in racing circles, was racing the offset singleseater Riley built in 1935 by Hector Dobbs. This was a very light and very fast unsupercharged six-cylinder Riley and it retired from the 1939 race with a broken gear selector rod. After the war it had a new body made for it and passed through many hands, but still lives today in the care of VSCC members.

The remainder of the nineteen drivers were Norman Wilson and Robin Hanson but all trace has been lost of them. However, their cars are still with us for Wilson had bought Pat Fairfield’s 1,100 c.c. E.R.A. R4A, and after the war Bob Gerard acquired it and amalgamated it into his E.R.A. collection. It emerged as a 2-litre, with lowered bodywork and new radiator grille and is still active today with its present owner, the Hon. John Venables-Llewellyn, though it does not look much like it did in 1939. Robin Hanson was driving E.R.A. R6B that was owned by Mrs. Hall-Smith, and after the war was also acquired by Bob Gerard and up-rated. Today it is owned by Sid Day of the VSCC.

Of the nineteen drivers who took part in the 1939 British Empire Trophy, eight of them should be able to attend the opening Donington Park meeting, as well as three of those who entered but failed to start. Of the twenty-four cars that entered thirteen of them could be gathered together again.—D.S.J.

Let’s Get It Right…

Last month a printing error made me refer to the pre-war HRG with red mudguards. I don’t care whether an HRG has red, white or blue mudguards. What it was intended to say was that real mudguards were proper and fitting on this car, at a time when all-enveloping bodywork spelt their demise. Another printing slip gave the pre-war V12 racing Sunbeam shift-drive; in fact I wrote shaft-drive. A slip of the pen, or type-writer finger (all this by the way is typed on an aged Imperial) made me state that the road-test Chrysler Alpine-S was expeditiously serviced by Francis’ Garage of Llandrindod Wells, which it wasn’t, as this garage is Vauxhall agency. I probably made the slip because I buy most of my petrol from that garage, when in this town; in fact, the servicing was done by the Chrysler agent, Pritchard’s Garage. And hurried proof-reading made us say in the text that W. B. Scott lapped Brooklands in a Bugatti at 106.42 m.p.h. in 1928, whereas in the picturecaption the year is given as 1927. For the record, the latter is correct. Finally, Mamod, who make those fascinating steam toys, including a sporting model steam-car, tell us that although the conveyor which takes castings away from their automatic die-casting machine is a Umec-13oydell, the actual machine is the product of E.M.B. of W. Bromwich. W.B.

We regret to report the death, last November, of Mr. Eugene W. Quero, who was a Vice-President of the Brighton & Hove MC and was for many years the Hon. Secretary and Organiser of the National Brighton Speed Trials. For many years Mr. Quero was Manager of the RAC Office in St. Helier. Also, it is with deep regret that we learn of the deaths of Eric Bellamy, Librarian to the National Motor Museum, and of Jack Scott, Sales Director of the Motor Car Division of Rolls-Royce, who joined the sales department of Clement Talbot in 1921. Finally, as we close for press, we hear that J. G. Grenfell, who was well known. at Brooklands from the first 1907 meeting onwards, and who was something of a pioneer of do-it-yourself supercharging, died recently.

Lyons Award

The Sir William Lyons Award, presented annually by the Guild of Motoring Writers to the winner of a competition for aspiring motoring or automotive journalists, has been won by a woman for the first time in its history. Nineteen-year-old Louise Quinnell, of Seaford, Sussex, a speedway enthusiast, had the Sir William Lyons Trophy, a cheque for £250 and two years’ probationary membership of the Guild presented to her at the Guild’s annual dinner in December.

Regulations for the 1977 Lyons Award (the upper age limit for which is 22) will be published soon. Entry forms will then be available from Mrs. Jenny Brittan at the Guild of Motoring Writers, Talbot House, Broadlands Road, London W6 4AN (01-340 6785) or from Andrew Whyte at Jaguar, Browns Lane, Coventry CVS 9DR (0203 34 2121).