A lunch to celebrate Mike Hawthorn leads to an unexpected private view
At the Bill Boddy Tribute Day, Tim Ely, who owns Mike Hawthorn’s Riley Ulster Imp (top), invited me to one of the Hawthorn lunches he organises to commemorate the Farnham ace’s death and his title win. In October I duly pointed the Mk2 towards The Barley Mow at Tilford, Surrey, where a gaggle of old cars assembled on the greensward. No speeches, just a happy gathering of car lovers who’d brought 1½-litre Rileys, 120 and 140 Jaguars, a replica C, AC Greyhound and several Elans among others as a background to the eternal “where did you get your dynamo fixed?” conversations of such meetings.
One person there knew the blond playboy we were remembering. In the early 1950s Dick Forsey was mechanic to Charles Brackenbury and would meet Hawthorn at races. During one Dundrod TT meeting everyone went off to a favourite pub, and after a certain amount of jollity Mike gave Dick a lift back to Belfast, crammed into the tiny Riley we were standing beside, with its trademark bow tie on the radiator grille. How was he on the road? “Oh, mad. Just mad. He was in a big hurry to get back to see a girl. I was just glad to get there.”
Mike and his father were keen pilots, and over lunch Tim showed me photos of one of their Fairchild Argus planes being restored in New Zealand as a flying tribute to the Farnham Flyer.
A postprandial bonus was an invitation to Tony Lewis’s private museum. Hidden down a wooded lane in several large buildings were a run of Lagondas including Earl Howe’s V12 saloon and a V12 Le Mans replica, a K3 MG, twin-cam Sunbeam, Healeys, a Gullwing and a lovely SS1. Everything was taxed, and several race regularly. Did I mention the Muira? A car I’d happily keep in my sitting room to gaze at…
More surprising than the cars was Tony’s large collection of ‘petrolania’ – fuel pumps from as far back as 1898, globes, signs, rare oil cans. It was news to me that for a while you bought different brands from the same pump nozzle (above), just switching a lever from Shell to Pratts to BP.
It’s when you see in a museum something you remember as an everyday sight – for me, a Mobil fuel pump – that you suddenly feel time passing by like a race car down Hangar Straight…