Ken Hutchison: mud & motors

The wealthy race fan side-stepped the family business to make a name for himself in trials and on the track

I do not know quite how Ken Hutchison acquired the finance to take up motoring sport but have heard that after completing his education he was supposed to join the family company. He did not enjoy this and was told he could leave with all the dividends and annuity due to him. He purchased a chain-drive TT Replica Frazer Nash with which he was very successful in trials. For instance, he was a prominent supporter of the MCC classics with the Frazer Nash in 1931 and ’32, and with Fords thereafter in the Exeter, Land’s End and Edinburgh events, at first the four-cylinder ones then with V8s, with the exception of an SS in the 1933 Exeter, an Alvis in the MCC Torquay Rally and a Jensen in the 1935 London Gloucester trial. He won the coveted MCC Triple Award in 1933 in a Ford.

Meantime Ken had married Kitty who knew most of his fellow competitors and was great fun, not minding navigating in hoodless cars in pouring rain, which she described in two amusing articles in Motor Sport.

When Donington opened in 1933 Hutchison obtained a red Type 37 Bugatti with which he won the second heat and the Final from Freddie Dixon’s Riley and Casswell’s Frazer Nash, setting a lap-record of 60.3mph. At the second meeting he won a 10-lap race from H J Aldington’s Frazer Nash and Eason Gibson’s Riley. After which he returned to trials driving.

He had been competing in club “mud” events with his Ford, as had Sydney Allard with one of the TT racing Fords, gaining team awards with Chappel and Hutchison. Realising that the 1934 TT car had outdone its usefulness Allard set about having his company construct trials specials with Ford V8 engines. One of these, CLK5, was for Hutchison. Its first event was the West London MC’s Coventry Cup Trial but some improvements were required, so only a souvenir award was won. Undeterred, an entry was obtained for the 50-mile Southport sand-race Handicap race, which CLK5 won impressively. It then took the NW London MC’s Gloucester trial’s prize for best class performance again.

These successes resulted in orders for ordinary Allard cars and Sydney formed a team with Guy Warburton’s Vauxhall 30/98 and KH’s Ford. There had been public complaints that country lanes were being spoiled by cars with competition tyres so these were banned by the RAC. Hutchison’s new car was a light one with most of the weight over its back-axle. At first a Ford V8 engine was installed but for the Experts’ Trial KH had a Zephyr V12 engine. The Vauxhall was replaced by CLK5 and KH got Allard to build him a trials Allard with a 4.3-litre V12 Lincoln Zephyr engine. The 1937 Experts’ Trial in Devon was chosen as the first event for KH’s new car. One of the ‘sections’, Colley, on the edge of Exmoor was a steep hill bounded by high banks with a central gulley. Sydney in his Allard took it at high speed, the car mounted a bank and overturned, pinning Sydney and his wife Eleanor beneath it, with petrol dripping on the hot exhaust. A horrid experience, until some onlookers got them out.

In 1938 the team of ‘Tailwaggers’ was made up of Allard’s latest car, Warburton, the former Vauxhall owner’s Allard and KH’s white V12 Allard. The drivers all took home a Premier Award, a first class award and the Team Prize.

The Experts’ Trial was held again in 1938, and the ‘section’ of the Allards’ accident used again but renamed Ditch Lane, presumably to avoid timid memories. I was to go in KH’s powerful V12 Allard.

I can recall it all. Kitty, who enjoyed jollity, went down early on the day before but KH decided we would leave for Exmoor after lunch at his Wimbledon flat. I went in leather coat and with a flying helmet, in readiness for a bleak ride that afternoon and next day. But I had no scarf and not wanting to be late for lunch a local Woolworth’s was the only available place in which to buy one. When KH saw it he said, “You’re not wearing that awful thing, are you?” But I still remember the wonderful chocolate pudding his maid served us.

On the way in the Allard the lamps failed as it became dusk and KH stopped at a very small country garage. “We are closed,” we were told but a spot of financial persuasion produced a mechanic who dealt with the lamps. Those who recalled the previous year’s accident seemed to regard me as very brave or foolhardy going in KH’s faster Lincoln-powered Allard, but we got up safely after a fast ascent and I must admit I was glad when we got to the top. There had been a less good performance on a former ‘section’ but KH got a second-class award and was third in the Highland Two-Day event before the war closed it all down.

There was a sequel to the Experts’ weekend. After the trial I wanted to avoid another night away and Tom Lush agreed to collect me by driving from London in my worn-out Austin 7 Mulliner fabric coupé. The noise in the hotel bar was at its height when Kitty said she could hear the Austin’s horn outside. So we were off on the long run home. We ran out of petrol but Tom removed the screen wiper tubing(!) and blowing through it induced enough for us to reach a garage.

Hutchison was then living in an imposing house, once the residence of Sir Malcolm Campbell. Invited to dine there with Ken and Kitty, my wife and I were present when Kitty’s Siamese cats started to climb up the curtains before the windows, causing Ken to ring for a maid who was told to get them down immediately, otherwise they would be exterminated. On another occasion I called on this wealthy man and found him sitting in front of his gate with a pile of worn tyres and a shabby leather coat and a big “For Sale” notice. He showed no embarrassment but complained that he had been there for a long time without any customers coming, hardly surprising as the mansion was up a remote Surrey lane… There’s no accounting for human oddities!

In the post-war period KH resumed his competition driving, winning the Bristol MC and LCC Spring Trial, making FTD at the Southampton MC’s Fordingbridge hillclimb, and taking a souvenir award in CLK5 and a second-class award in the MCC Buxton Trial, until in 1946 he decided to take up racing.

He had already made his debut at Brooklands in 1938, when he and Allard had finished ninth in the LCC Three-hour race for fully-equipped sports cars over the Campbell circuit, with Kitty in the pit, in the V12 Allard, after losing time when the fan belt broke and caused overheating.

For 1946 KH bought the Scuderia Ferrari 2.9-litre P3 Alfa Romeo which A F Ashby had raced pre-war, becoming distinguished as having raced at Brooklands from 1929 to 1934, with Rileys, until he got the Alfa, with which he won a Dunlop Road Handicap there in 1938. He had had a new cast-iron cylinder block made and other engine changes, and installed the Dubonnet suspension and Lockheed hydraulic brakes. It broke the Class-C lap record (66.89mph).

KH had bought this Alfa in 1946 in a sorry state. After he had dealt with this he decided on the sensible plan of developing the car in stages, and engaging the famous engineer Robin Jackson as supervisor.

In his first season, 1947, KH took part in many speed trials and hillclimbs, which included two second-FTDs at Shelsley Walsh, Bo’ness and Southsea, FTD at Poole and a tie for FTD at Bouley Bay. He said that the car’s top speed was 152mph on a 3.79 axle-ratio and 700×60 tyres “but it would require a mighty long road” and would mean 6500rpm in top gear, and he did not exceed 6200rpm.

Other events in 1947 included Craigantlet hillclimb and the Brighton speed-trials, the only setback being a broken piston during the Gransden race. KH hired an aeroplane to take the Alfa to Jersey. He continued to take part in various events but space precludes a list.

After his racing years were over Kitty and Hutch toured Europe in a Mercedes-Benz which had given no trouble in a phenomenal mileage and Hutch wanted to see how long it would go without needing attention. After he died I wrote to Kitty with condolences and asked if she would be returning to England, but she said that, although most of their friends had gone, she thought she would just drive about in the Mercedes, staying in the hotels they used when her husband was alive – which I thought was rather sad.