A Personal Re-Union

Dear Reader,

The month of May was a very busy one, with three Grand Prix events, at Imola, Monte Carlo and Mexico, and from all accounts those of you who had to watch these events on the television screen were very disappointed. If FOCA and Mr Ecclestone are to be believed as regards the worldwide coverage of Formula One, then half the world was disappointed.

Our own Murray Walker cannot be blamed if the camera work is poor, the transmission is fuzzy, or the action is missed. He can only commentate on what the television director decides to put on the small screen. There is no substitute for actually being there, but not everyone can do that, so I suppose bad coverage is better than nothing at all.

The real hard-core enthusiast will probably sit through the worst television transmission, grasping at crumbs, rather than see nothing at all. I imagine the fringe-interest people either fall asleep or read the paper; I doubt whether many actually switch off.

As long as the television set is switched on, the statistic-researchers and monitors are happy, for their figures will remain impressive. The fact that nobody is sitting in front of the set is of no importance to them. They are like the readership survey people who once said that every copy of Motor Sport is read by eleven people! They didn’t say that those eleven people actually bought a copy.

Of great significance to an avid section of the British motor sporting scene was May 21-22, for over that weekend the Bugatti Owners Club celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first meeting at its Prescott hiliclimb, held in May 1938.

When the weather is good there is no better place for a motor racing garden party than Prescott, and that weekend was glorious. Apart from the garden party the hill was in continuous use for the BOC Classic Meeting, a special event held annually these past few years, for old and obsolete cars of all types, from Edwardian and Vintage machines through to out-of-production Jaguars and Ferraris of recent times.

The word “Classic” (like “vintage” or “jazz”) is one which is grossly misused; it seems to encompass anything that is no longer in production, no matter how good or how awful it was when new.

The owners themselves turned out in force to support this 50th anniversary, with a huge parade of Bugattis of all types ascending the hill in a cavalcade during the lunch break. To open the cavalcade Neil Corner set off in his Type 59 Grand Prix Bugatti of 1934, and if you want to see a really genuine and authentic Grand Prix Bugatti then take a good look at Corner’s car. There are not many about like it, certainly not at VSCC race meetings.

I did not attend the first Prescott meeting in 1938, like a lot of those people who were at the anniversary gathering, but I did get there the following year, just before war put a stop to it all. It was at that 1939 Prescott meeting that I first learned how to get into the paddock and starting area without an official pass! “Formative years” they were called.

In the midst of this happy garden party I was able to enjoy another anniversary, along with a small and select group of people. It was nothing to do with Prescott or Bugattis, but it was particularly significant for us.

Taking part in this Classic meeting, in the sports class, was a green HWM-Jaguar with cream wheels (registration number YPG 3) driven by its new owner Clive Rides from Weston-super-Mare. Now those of us who know about HWMs know that YPG 3 used to be HWM 1, and that this was the sports HWM-Jaguar which George Abecassis raced in the 1954 Mille Miglia. When HW Motors sold the car they retained its original registration HWM 1 to put on its successor, and re-registered the car YPG 3. The HWM-Jaguar carrying the famous number HWM 1 is still about and very active, but it is not the car that ran in the 1954 Mille Miglia. My particular interest in YPG 3 was that I rode as passenger in it in that 1954 Mille Miglia, so it was rather pleasant to see the car again. Clive Rides has only recently acquired the car, the previous owner having hidden it away for some 20 years.

To return to the 50th anniversary party, among the gathering was the man who made Fastest Time of the Day at the second meeting in 1938— one G E Abecassis, driving a 1½ litre Alta. George Abecassis was enjoying a picnic with his daughter (who is about to start Formula Ford racing) and various friends, but was dragged away to sit behind the wheel of HWM 1 (the original), and I joined him in the passenger seat.

It was 34 years since we sat together in that car, peering into the mist and rain around Padova. Abecassis shouted at me at the time: “Can you see anything?”, to which I replied “No”, “Neither can I”, he said, and continued to drive into the gloom at about 100mph! Our race came to an end after 200 miles when a broken rear shock-absorber made the car impossible to handle at over 120mph in the dry, let alone in the wet.

Today’s rules and regulations being what they are, we could not go for a little drive up the hill, which was a pity, but the present owner of the car was thoroughly enjoying competing with it. While that little personal and impromptu re-union made my day, I am sure it also put a little cream on the cake for Clive Rides.

I have previously mentioned the continuing flow of readers letters! receive; a recent one from Germany expressed sadness that the media world seems to think Grand Prix racing started in 1950. What it means is that World Championship Grand Prix racing started in 1950 — actual Grand Prix racing having started in 1906. The writer had just seen some media blurb from a well-known European press agency which said that the first Monaco Grand Prix was held in 1950.

The sadness to me is that this is a slight on all the Grand Prix winners of the races before 1950, not only at Monaco, but all over Europe and elsewhere. Yours DSJ