Around and About, July 1981

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“Racing for Britain”; support for promising young drivers

Under the laudable new scheme “Racing for Britain”, whereby motor racing enthusiasts throughout the country subscribe money to support promising new drivers, more than £18,000 has been raised since the project got under way at the beginning of April. A panel of journalists, including Mike Greasley, editor of our sister publication Motoring News, initially submitted a list of drivers for consideration and then those who contributed money to the fund voted to select the two drivers to receive support during 1981. The drivers nominated for help are both competitors in the British Formula 3 series, twenty-four-year-old Dr. Jonathan Palmer, from Handcross, Sussex and twenty-seven-year-old Carlisle driver David Leslie. Both are currently competing at the wheel of Ralt RT3s and additional support is also to be given to two young British Formula Ford drivers who will be announced later. “Racing for Britain” is still anxious to raise further funds and contributions, from either companies or individuals, should be tendered to 41, Richmond Avenue, Bedford, Middx (01-890 3293).

Players back Lotus again!

Colin Chapman announced that he was re-establishing his links with the John Player Special cigarette brand when he unveiled both his 87s and a revised “88B” (see separate story) at Brands Hatch on June 15th. The familiar black and gold livery will be carried by works Lotus F1 cars until the end of 1984, this development retaining Essex Petroleum as a co-sponsor, with the Monaco based oil company’s logo still on the side pods, but obviously a much lower-key involvement than before.

As an added attraction, Lotus “raided” their own Formula One museum and put on an impromptu parade of various of their Grand Prix machines, going right back to their Gold Leaf red-and-white liveried 49 which was demonstrated by former team driver John Miles. Then the Lotus mechanics were allowed something of a “treat” as they drove round in front of the assembled press in Lotus 72, 77, 79, 81 and 88 while Nigel Mansell and Elio de Angelis pounded round rather more energetically in their current 87s. All the cars, except the 49, were in John Player Special livery and when they lined up for photographs on a mock starting grid in front of Brands Hatch pits, one couldn’t but be impressed. John Player certainly have spent a long time linked with Lotus and it was particularly pleasant to see that Colin Chapman has retained so many of his cars, rather than selling them off the “wheeler dealers” or allowing them to languish, unused, in dusty museums.

A ponder on Porsche

The name Porsche is synonymous with reliable, high performance cars, both on the road and on the track. Porsche may be the largest producer of high quality sporting road cars in Europe, but they are an awful lot more as well, as a recent visit to the centre of things Porsche, near Stuttgart, to meet the new President of the company, Herr Peter Schutz, showed.

Porsche’s philosophy is simple. They will take every step they can to ensure that their cars remain technically advanced, in the forefront of new market trends. With technology as advanced as it is today, the achieving of this aim is ever more expensive, and, as many small volume producers have discovered, sometimes prohibitively so. Development costs, even when amortised across the whole production run, can often work out at being just as expensive as actually producing the cars — some manufacturers have side-stepped this issue by relying on their long established name to maintain sales, but not so Porsche.

At Weissach, near Stuttgart, is a research and development facility, complete with test track, wind tunnel and high speed rail for crash simulation, which would put many of the major volume manufacturers to shame. At a time when such producers are cutting back on their R & D programmes, Porsche are expanding theirs, funding the expansion of the facility, and the development work on their own cars, to a great extent by selling their expertise to other industries as well as to other motor manufacturers. Some of the development work on the Audi Quattro was undertaken at Weissach, the NATO Leopard tank first appeared there, and, of course, all Porsche competition cars are built there — at the time of our visit, the Le Mans winning 936 was the centre of activity in the competitions department. The effort at Weissach (where such developments as a 4-w-d 911, methanol burning road cars, Porsche’s own 4-cylinder engine and so on are under way alongside much secret work, from the German government, Audi and others) being paralleled by a huge re-investment in the main producing plant at Zuffenhausen, where the 911 and 928 are built. A new parts centre, fully computerised of course, is under construction at the moment and the production lines themselves are due to be rebuilt.

As Herr Schutz explains, technology is moving so fast that it is essential to build flexibility into the production line to enable the new ideas from Weissach of one day to be incorporated in the production car of the next, and that is just what Porsche wish to do to keep ahead. By the atmosphere of enthusiasm and dedication found throughout the Weissach complex and the Zuffenhausen plant, from the humblest fitter on the line to the President, Porsche will succeed.

Latest Brooklands Prospects

The Brooklands Society, which has just held another big Re-Union, with demonstrations on part of what is left of the hallowed banking of the Weybridge Motor Course by appropriate cars and their crash-hatted occupants, has explained to its members and to shareholders in Brooklands Track Ltd. why it had to be so cagey until now about the action it apparently wasn’t taking to secure the “40-Acres,” comprising that part of the Members Hill and Paddock it had been hoping to preserve for posterity.

Having explained the difficulties that ambition was beset with, it now talks of trying to preserve 28 acres of the historic place. But with the value of the ground set at £250,000 to £300,000 per acre(!) and rates to pay if it were acquired, which could only happen it seems if the Society could build a new access road, out of keeping with the original Track layout, which might cost another £1,000,000, it can be said that the Directors of BTL, Kenneth Day, Peter Roddis and Andrew Child, have a heavy load to shoulder. . . A blinding glimpse of the obvious, as Punch might have put it! Admittedly, BTL had the support of a Surrey County Councillor and the Chairman of the Leisure and Amenities Committee of Elmbridge Borough Council on their side at a discussion with the owners. But it must not be overlooked that it took BTL two years to raise £6,500, which included two donations of £1,000, from members of the Alvis OC and from Sir Charles Hayward who sold Brooklands to Vickers in 1946 for £330,000. . . .

The situation can only be called sad. If what may eventually be saved is hemmed in by further industrial development, the old place will surely be hardly recognisable? The unhappy aspect is that as Brooklands has become part of a nationalised industry, presumably, it could have been saved for the nation at the discretion of the Government, years ago. Ancient railway-lines and iron-ships matter, but not, apparently, this great heritage of Britain’s motoring, motorcycling, and aviation pioneering. A short time ago a TV programme was devoted to the need to preserve such things as early London cinemas, other interesting old buildings and similar items of industrial archaeology. Shoreham Airport was specifically mentioned, as having been the first licensed aerodrome in Britain. Yet Brooklands, dating from 1906, the first motor track in the world, scene of countless brave endeavours from A.V. Roe’s first flight to the Wellington and the dam-buster bomb, has almost gone. Disgusting!

But it does look as if the end may be in sight, in spite of the fact that BLT has been offered “first refusal” by British Aerospace on its newly proposed “28-Acre” Project to be controlled by an Educational Trust, at a price “rather more in line with what it can afford,” and claims National, county and local representative support for its laudable aims. If the worst comes to the worst and all the efforts of the Society and the track-clearers come to nought, presumably we shall have to fall back on memories, fortified by published Brooklands history (hurry up with your final volume of the motorcycle racing there, Peter Hanley) and the Society’s own Gazette.

William Williams — Racing Driver

At one time there was speculation here as to the real identity of “Williams,” who achieved fame by winning the first Monaco GP of 1929 in a Type 35C Bugatti, going on to win the French GP that same year, as it was thought at the time that he might have been English. In fact, William Grover-Williams was born near Paris, but his father was English. An article in The Observer colour-supplement last May about the life of the famous artist Sir William Orpen refers to that gentleman’s mistress leaving him in 1929 to marry his chauffeur, Grover-Williams.

This is almost certainly the mysterious racing driver (his other names are given as Charles Frederick), for Hugh Conway has told us he married a Frenchwoman and one can well believe that the girl would have preferred the dashing 26-year-old racing driver to the 51-year-old Irish artist with whom she had been co-habiting for twelve years. Williams was supposed to be of considerable private means, so one imagines he was more a companion, less a chauffeur (even if he did wear a “smart, dark-brown uniform and peaked cap”), to Orpen, a liking for cars making this a congenial task. (He had risen to being a works-driver in the Bugatti team by 1934.) Orpen painted pictures of the first World War and when war again broke out in 1939 Williams immediately volunteered to join the British Forces in Paris, so there may be a link there between master and “chauffeur”. Williams was arrested in Robert Benoist’s house by the Gestapo in 1943, after serving the underground movement very bravely, and shot. It now remains to be seen whether Jonathan Cape’s book “Orpen, Mirror to an Age,” by Bruce Arnold, will reveal what kind of cars the racing-driver “chauffeur” drove for Orpen. If there were others, that is, besides the “Open Rolls-Royce” used in the 1920s for excursions from Orpen’s summer apartments in Paris to Dieppe, there to pick up Yvonne Aubicq for a gentle drive along the front to Charlie’s Bar to which The Observer refers.

Senga Sprint Car

While at Shelsley late in May, we were shown a series of photographs depicting a 350 c.c., two-stroke-engined sprint car built by Eric Rogers and called the “Senga”. The fact that Senga is Agnes backwards is, apparently, relevant, but beyond this very lithe is known about the history of the car, why it was built in the first place and, indeed, if it ever ran competitively.

The style of construction indicates that it was built in the immediate post-war years. The frame is tubular, the wheels are Austin 7, and A7 components have been used in the fabrication of the independent front suspension and in the solid rear axle. The engine is very much a one-off, having two separate cylinders, one on each side of the car, joined by a common crankshaft. The drive is taken by chain from a sprocket bolted to the crank between the cylinders to an Albion gearbox, and thence by chain again to the rear axle. The cylinders have rotary inlet valves, and are fed by Amal carburetters of a style which were not available until the late fifties, indicating that it may have been active at this time. Ignition is by magneto, chain driven from the crankshaft outside the left cylinder. The whole construction is sophisticated, if, with the benefit of hindsight, rather misguided.

The present owner, Ken Hallett of Worcester, acquired the car in London some time ago from Mr. Rogers’ family, but has been unable to find out what Rogers did with it. It seems to us unlikely that anyone would build a car of 350 c.c. to compete in the 500 c.c. class in sprints or at race meetings — a triumvirate of Shelsley sages (Walter Gibbs, Harold Hastings and Rupert Instone) is positive that the car never appeared there; we have not been able to confirm or deny a rumour that it ran in the Brighton Speed Trials, but it certainly is not mentioned in our records of that event. The most likely explanation is that it was built to take one of the National 350 c.c. class short distance records, held since 1969 by a vehicle called the Smith Special. The small capacity tank implies that it would not have been built for the longer records in this class, held since 1934 by a car called “Vitesse”.

Ken has done an immaculate job in rebuilding the car, and has become sufficiently fired with enthusiasm that for his next project he plans to rebuild something he can use for historic circuit racing, but meanwhile he would dearly like to know whether the Senga has any competitive history or is simply one of motorsport’s fascinating red herrings.

 

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