On Sunday morning, May 18th, I stood with the Countess of Arran gazing over Windermere, a lake now rapidly becoming crowded with a great variety of craft. Sea Link ferries, sailing dinghies, cabin cruisers and what seemed to be be a tangled shein of water-skiers now occupied the measured kilometre, over which much earlier in the day, and on the previous day, Lady Fiona, in her Class 2 off-shore three-pointer, powered by two Mercury outboard engines (producing some 500-hp) had attempted to become the first woman to achieve 100 mph in such a craft. Unsuitable water conditions conspirering with inaccurate trim (albeit she attained for a brief spurt 99 mph) had defeated her. Now with Skean Dhu perfectly trimmed, and proved to be in a test run, her pilot was urged to “have another crack at it !” The Countess turned to me and asked my advice. Should she go ? In all conscience I could not say yes, and as I pointed out across the lake my point was fully taken. The attempt was postponed until this very gallant lady is able to return. All right– if Betty Cook across there in the USA should beat her to the 100 mph, then our very determined Countess will make the beating of that record her next target.
As we stood looking at the lake, I reflected not only on the nine weeks I had spent with Donald Campbell at Coniston during 1966/67, but also back into the mists of time when, 50 years ago on Friday 13th 1930, and as a fifteen year-old schoolboy, I had stood in a press launch moored off the same course on Windermere and had watche Sir Henry de Hane Seagrave, having already gained the WWSR at 98.78 mph in his first two runs, with “Miss England II”, sped towards us once again, determined that this beautiful craft had still more to offer. Just before she reached the northern exit of the course “Miss England” struck a submerged log (or so it was suggested at the subsequent inquest) and plunged deep into the lake. Sir Henry, having been speedily recovered from the water, was rushed to Belle Grange, a house on the western shoreline. There, after asking about his two riding companions and about his record, he died from his injuries. Michael Willcocks, his chief engineer, was to suvive his injuries, but sadly Vic Halliwell the riding mechanic also died. Britain gained an expensive record that day, and fifty years later the anniversary again falls on Friday 13th June.
Whether these thoughts influenced my response to Lady Fiona’s question I know not. I do know that it would have been utter folly to add to an already crowded lake a craft with the potentil of Skean Dhu. What did occur to me was the similarity of speeds being sought that weekend, half a century ago, using some 400-hp and now 500-hp.
Arthur Kowles, Ambleside (Donald Campbell’s biographer)
South African Off-Road Racing
I read with much interest in an issue many months back that you were most keen to participate in the Baja “500” in California. Here, in Southern Africa off-road racing has really opened up with the introduction of Sandmasters and other tubular frame vehicles a few years ago. We have a fuel-injected VW 411 powered Sandmaster which is really quite tame compared to some of the exotics, eg Rotary-Mazda, Rover V8, Porsche, even Lancia powered all hung in a variety of frames. However, power tends to crunch gearboxes more regularly than winning and it is sufficient power and consistency which really brings results.
This year there is a series of six races ranging in distance between 500 km. and 1,000 km. The terrain varies from sand and cattle tracks tracks (Transs-Kalahari) to precipitous rocky mountain tracks (Roof of Africa).
For a big event such as the Roof of Africa, racing takes place over three days; the first day consists of a race meeting where vehicles of each of the various classes race five laps round a 4 km part gravel, part tar circuit followed almost immediately by a 40 km stretch over rough terrain. The overall time taken in the race plus the off-road section determines the start position for next day. The two following days involve one or two racing sections making up a total of 500 km for each day. It is really fantastic fun and the camaraderie amongst the entrants is tremendous — to finish is an accomplishment. Ask Tony Pond about the “Roof”; apart from saying it was one of the most enjoyable races he has ever entered, he will also no doubt claim that he holds the record for the greatest distance travelled by a saloon car — that is until the back axle fell out!
I am still trying to persuade a sponsor to send me to the Baja and if you also fail to get there, I would highly recommend you come over and see what great fun is had in this very healthy side of motorsport.
WA North, Johannesburg
PS. — The ex-Bob Oltoff AC Cobra is alive and very well complete with original engine here in Southern Africa.