Bolide in a china shop
In these days of "shortest and most direct route" and, even worse, of "alternative means of transport," a long road journey is a rare treat. However, by good fortune the more usual 7 m.p.g. flying ferry wasn't to be had on a recent occasion, and much less fuel was with difficulty obtained for a spot of motoring. Without any embellishments, 300 miles in a little over 24 hours was a pleasing prospect. So when 9 p.m. found us wandering around a little Berkshire town in search of (solid) refreshment, the crew was entirely happy.
As is often the case, food proved a little elusive, and the quest led us into an inconspicuous back street, when something caught my eye. Not food, but something which banished the thought of it from our minds. For, in the back premises of the local china shop there lay a red single-seater of intriguing aspect. Strange indeed are the wartime haunts of racing cars. I have seen Alfa Romeos in a piggery, an Alta in a Canadian Army barracks, an R-type M.G. Midget in a cable factory, a Shelsley Special in a barn, and Bentleys in a mushroom farm. But china shops, hitherto, I have ignored.
Rapid investigation showed the car concerned to be one of the small number of independently-sprung racing Altas. So far as I am aware, Abecassis, Beadle, and Lady Mary Grosvenor retain their cars: the whereabouts of the car which Belle-vue fitted with i.f.s. I do not know. But Hugh Hunter's former car is most certainly in Berkshire. Readers may recall that this particular car was built up by R. R. Jackson, and was in effect the second independently-sprung Alta. The first machine, of course, was Jucker's, and after its crash this was rebuilt for Abecassis. The ex-Hunter car has a channel-section frame, the open sides of the channels fining outwards, and coil spring independent suspension (on rather Morgan lines) for all wheels. Later cars had a tubular frame, and Abecassis had his frame converted to box section, while Lady Mary Grosvenor's car has torsion bar springing.
By the time we had identified the car its present custodian came on the scene. He told us that the Hon. Peter Aitken bought the car before the war, and ran it at the August, 1939, B.A.R.C. meeting, an inaccurate statement since no such entry figures in the programme for that meeting. The car has changed colour since Hunter ran it, being now a bright red, but the same special body is retained. The latter has a special front end, high tail, and fairing over the rear springs. A noticeable special feature is the fitting of telecontrol shock absorbers.
But the Alta (which is for sale, incidentally, at a price) was not the only item of interest. A Bugatti and sports Morgan were too far off to be seen, but intriguing photographs decorated the office. Items in the art gallery included a long-chassis Squire, a 4 1/2-litre Invicta which, suitably stiffened, was run in a Stanley Cup meeting at Donington, and the Walker Special. The latter, which Sir Heron Walker ran at Shelsley with little success, apparently used Hornet axles and a 14-h.p. Wolseley engine reduced to 1 1/2 litres by Laystalls.
Time marches on, alas, and we had to proceed, still unfed, On our business. But if you find yourself in Faringdon any day, go and buy a 1 1/2-litre pudding basin from the china shop.