A Flying Officer describes his cars
F/O. Donald Parker recalls the motoring he has had during two-and-a-half years in the R.A.F.…
Since Motor Sport has, quite rightly, recently had lots about Moss and Jenks, here is a bit more about the latter, when DSJ made a rare driving error. He would not have minded me recording this, which anyway Doug Nye has referred to in that entertaining book Jenks — A Passion for Motor Sport (MRP 1997), which my bearded friend, persuaded by the BRDC, gave us, and for which Sir Stirling Moss, OBE wrote the foreword. So I propose now to recall this experience with its interesting finale, correcting a few errors.
It began when Jenks asked to borrow the Mercedes-Benz 300SL gull-wing which had been loaned to us for a road test, and in which Michael Tee and I had some memorable motoring. I drove to Cornwall from Hampshire in it, and then Michael and I took it up to Fort William in Scotland, Michael giving me a splendid bit of mini-Mille Miglia motoring from Glasgow to our hotel there, putting 60 miles into an hour over this winding route in the rain. We had booked a meal and beds by ‘phone before this exciting run began, the proprietor agreeing to stay open. When the 300SL arrived he was refusing dinner to someone else, explaining that he had promised to remain open only for two late guests who had rung an hour or so ago from Glasgow, so they would not arrive for some time, as he knew just how long the journey took. His car was a Morris Eight… The 300SL did 0-100mph in just over 16 secs and we had done over 136mph on suitable roads.
Now, back to Jenks. He had a test route which he called his ‘Giro de Hampshire’, from Camberley to Andover, Stockbridge, Romney and back, over which he would drive a night lap as fast as he could in any car he could borrow. When I got home to Fleet he was waiting to try the 300SL. I had come into Frimley rather quickly and been stopped by a policeman. Unfortunately the gullwing door hit him under the chin as I opened it. He was very decent about this, but Jenks went haring off over the same road in reverse and was halted by the same policeman…
I had been rather reluctant to let him take it, saying I had promised to return it to the London depot by 11am on the Monday, so must have it back by 9.30am as I liked to be punctual. You may have guessed that I waited and waited. It wasn’t until very late that DSJ parked outside. “Here’s the Merc, come and look at it,” he said. I was annoyed and replied, “I have driven it or ridden in it for nearly 1500 miles; why should I want to look at it?” The reason was that DSJ had gone into a ditch and damaged the bodywork. (Prior to that he had averaged 72.8mph to Andover). I refused to return the car in that condition, telling DSJ he had better explain this. Insurance was, I knew, high on these cars and I felt M-B would not be at all pleased — which they weren’t! Until someone looked more closely and called out, “By Jove, you’re the chap who won the Mille Miglia with Moss.” At that point the top brass came out to talk to our little bearded wonder and all was forgiven…
Our test report inspired Rob Walker to send us his account of going to Stuttgart with a friend to buy two lightweight 300SLs. A wealthy man, Rob joked that to do this, if he did not have enough after selling his normal 300SL, he would have to mortgage his house, sell his wife’s jewellery and borrow all her money, then all he would have to do would be to pay the alimony that the judge would award if it came to the divorce court. The M-B-minded will find all of this in Vol 32 of Motor Sport for April 1956.
Rover: end of a century
The devastating demise of Rover can scarcely be minimised by recalling past successes achieved by this once great British make. However, these should not be allowed to fade away without some thoughts about the highly creditable achievements by a company which began car manufacture over 100 years ago.
It met the post-war motoring boom with its jolly little twin-cylinder air-cooled Rover 8, which was upgraded to nine horsepower four-cylinder status at the appropriate time, and the 1930s ‘Speed’ model Rovers must not be forgotten.
The dignified P4 ‘Auntie’ models of 1948-63 and the Rover 105S, capable of nearly 100mph without disturbing its poise, were followed by the P5 3-litre, which Jenks called the ‘Great Aunt’. The 2000s and V8s of the ’60s and ’70s with sophisticated specifications served me well as excellent company cars.
One Rover achievement which often seems to be overlooked was its development of the turbine car, capable of 152mph by 1952. In ’63 one of these, as the Rover-BRM, was allowed to run in the Le Mans 24-hour race, unclassified only because the boffins could not agree on how its engine size equated with piston-engined cars. Driven by Graham Hill and Richie Ginther, it finished in a token seventh place, at an average of 107.84mph for 2583 miles, in a race won at a record 118.10mph by a Ferrari, followed by five more Ferraris and a 4.7-litre AC Cobra. For the ’65 race a turbine Rover ran as a normal entry. Driven by Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart, it averaged 98.8mph for 2370 miles and was the first British finisher.
Jenks and I used to enjoy visits to Solihull to discuss not only Rover matters but also motor racing with Spencer King and Peter Wilkes, two truly enthusiastic engineers.
What a pity Lord Stokes killed off that promising BS mid-engined V8 sports Rover, of which I had a hush-hush pre-production test, Jenks complaining that although I introduced him to Wales’s ‘Devil’s Staircase’, he would have liked to drive this exciting yet practical car over the Alps. With these memories in mind I find the present outlook sad, and very bleak.
The other Brooklands
Brooklands is renowned for being the world’s first purpose-built motor racing course, opened in 1907. But it might not have been because, almost unbelievably, in 1900 or thereabouts another similar race track was planned at the holiday resort of Clacton-on-Sea in Essex. Not only that, but this track was to be designed by Col H Capel Holden, designer of the Surrey Brooklands, and was also to have been named Brooklands, it was thought because of a nearby brook.
Moreover, this was not planned as just a simple circuit as used for bicycle racing. It was part of a grandiose scheme to include a golf course, polo ground, sports fields, tennis and croquet lawns, a bowling green and even a pond for model yachts. The track would be on the edge of Alton Park, close to Jaywick Sands.
Col Holden was thinking of a 2-1/2 mile lap, with banking at each end. I wonder how steep he would have made the banked corners, remembering how he told Hugh Locke King, who had Brooklands built in 1906/7, that very high and long ones were essential? Holden could not have copied Indianapolis, as this was not built until 1909.
The later Brooklands cost Locke King a fortune and nearly bankrupted him. He and his wife had previously purchased the Mena House in Cairo, facing the Pyramids, just to live in, before spending another fortune converting it into the best hotel ever devised, in their view, and then returning to England and rebuilding their mansion at Weybridge. The hotel was managed for them by Baron de Rodakowski who was Clerk of the Course at Brooklands for the first year of racing there. So with the ability to humour the very wealthy in Cairo he was well-equipped to meet the aristocratic drivers at the Track, where he was known as Mr Rodakowski. Alas for Clacton, the ambitious project never materiarised, after costs had risen to £66,000 and the expected railway link had been abandoned. But I am told that the housing estate built where the track would have been is named Brooklands. Not only that, but the gardens there have this illustrious title and the roads therein were named after cars, 26 in all, from Alvis and Austin to Vauxhall and Wolseley. I wonder if they still are?
The memory of the Surrey Brooklands has been kept alive by the Brooklands Society and the Museum, and plans are already forming for Centenary celebrations in 2007. Many truly fascinating aspects of it are recalled in the Society’s Gazette, named after Motor Sport’s 1924 forerunner: indeed, it was from the Gazette that I gleaned this remarkable piece of history, divulged therein by Miss P de Barthe Bond. Anyone who craves links with Brooklands history is recommended to become a Society member by applying to Linda Titherley: tel 01252 408877
The origins of ‘Mother Gun’
Captain Woolf Barnato, who in later years became one of the famous ‘Bentley Boys’ driving works Bentleys in the classic long-distance races, and who financed Bentley Motors Ltd, was an all-round sportsman, amateur boxer and a fine cricketer. He also hunted and rowed, when not holding lavish parties at ‘Ardenrun’, the house on his country estate, and looking after his business affairs.
When he turned up at Brooklands in 1921 with an 8-litre Locomobile and took a third place with a lap at 75.01mph it was obvious that he had decided to add motor racing to this busy repertoire. He soon won in his yellow Calthorpe, and the following year won again and was second with a 2.6-litre Talbot. In an Ansaldo he took another first and a third, but was unsuccessful in a 6-1/2-litre Mercedes.
He changed to a Wolseley Moth for the 1923 season of BARC handicap races, winning one and gaining two seconds and a third, and an Enfield-Allday produced another third. Barnato appeared again in the Wolseley in ’24 and with it scored a win, two seconds and two thirds.
In 1925 Barnato took delivery of a short-chassis ‘100mph’ 3-litre Bentley with a handsome two-seater Jarvis racing body, and that season at Brooklands it gave him a win and three third places, its fastest lap at 97.65mph. He also ran his 8-litre Hispano-Suiza in the BARC handicaps, taking records at up to 92 mph. He entered both the Bentley and a 2-litre straight-eight Bugatti in the same race, adding a second and another third place.
The following year, in fewer races, Barnato won again in the Bentley and got a second place, lap speed up to 103.33mph, and it was fifth in a 100-mile handicap.
Although production of 3-litre cars had not begun until late in 1921, these Bentleys were notably fast. The works driver, Frank Clement, had lapped Brooklands at 92.57mph that year, and the following lap speeds were obtained by mainly private owners between ’22 and ’24:
1921: Frank Clement (works car), 92.57.
1922: Clement, 100.21; JF Duff, 96.86; WG Barlow, 94.33; The Hon G Egerton, 84.41.
1923: Clement, 106.88; Fiennes, 95.78.
1924: JF Duff, 98.23; LJR Lapizburn, 93.62.
When the Bentley OC was allowed a two-lap race in 1926, CT Baker Carr’s winning 4487cc car lapped at 104.19mph, a 4-1/2-litre at 103.11mph, and HN Pelmore’s second-placed 4-1/2 at 99.46mph, with five others of these road-going ‘tourers’ exceeding 90mph.
At Easter 1928 the speed of Bamato’s 3-litre was up to 101.85mph and he had two more wins with it. By August it had a 4-1/2-litre (4398cc actually) engine and had been re-bodied, with a radiator cowl extending down to enclose the dumb irons, reminiscent of how the late JG Parry Thomas had streamlined his racing cars, perhaps suggesting that Thomson & Taylor had taken the Bentley in hand. Could it be that the Jarvis body had been damaged in a road accident?
Barnato was now driving works Bentleys in important long-distance races, so the keen beginner Dudley Froy drove for him. The revamped 1925 Bentley got quicker and quicker before the end of the ’28 BARC season, the lap speed gradually increasing to 119.43mph. Froy also won the Surbiton Club’s 50-mile race, and broke two World and four Class C records to become a 120mile badge holder.
Now comes the ‘Mother Gun’ connection. The name was given to the first production 4-1/2-litre Bentley that left the Cricklewood factory in 1927. Did this name arise, maybe, because the 4-1/2-litre was thought to possess gun-like performance and the first production example was the mother of the rest?
This first 4-1/2-litre was driven in the 1931 BRDC 500-Mile Race by Couper and Bevan, and as a works car had also won some important sportscar races prior to this. It was then sold to The Hon Walter Norton. In 1932 Richard Marker, who had been a well-known Bentley enthusiast and trials driver, bought it and in 1934 the body from the Barnato/Froy car was used for it.
‘Old Mother Gun’ continued to serve Marker very well in the diminishing number of outer-circuit races open to it. From 1933 to ’36 it gave its owner three wins and a couple of second and third places, from the inevitable scratch or otherwise heavily handicapped starts, in a car so fast as to demand skilful handling on those exhilarating runs. Apart from these races Marker competed in the ’33 500-Mile race, but was delayed by low oil pressure, and during the ’34 500 the flywheel sheared off the crankshaft. A 6-1/2-litre Bentley engine was then installed and the old car was faster than ever. It lost a 100-sovereign Match Race to the 4-litre V12 Sunbeam driven by Cobb, but Marker did a lap at 120.36mph and got his 130mph badge after a lap at 131.06mph in the ’36 Gold Star Handicap.
Nor was this all, because he lent the Marker-Bentley to the very capable lady driver Miss Margaret Allen. She was well able to tame a Frazer Nash single-seater, and in the larger car earned her 120mph badge after an exciting race for her and the spectators with a 122mph lap. The end was not in sight, as Robin Jackson rebuilt this historic Bentley into the Bentley-Jackson. It recalls what went on a long time ago down Weybridge Way….
Revenue over revs
I was delighted to see that Autosport soundly criticised ITV for its disgraceful substitute of advertising for the closing laps of the enormously exciting Imola GP. I was about to add my own views but was unsure whether cuts could be made without involving TV contracts; had I known they can, my wrath would have equalled that of Autocar’s Chris Harris, who will never buy a Vauxhall or any other product that took precedence over the breathtaking finish by the indomitable Fernando Alonso and the still-brilliant Michael Schumacher.
It reminded me of a similar episode long ago. The BBC was doing a radio commentary on a leading motorcycle race in which a stupendous last-lap duel was being fought out. Just as the listeners were about to discover which had passed the finish first the programme was terminated as ‘Woman’s Hour’ was due. Apparently lots of irate ladies immediately rang the BBC to express their annoyance at not knowing who had won, after all the lead-up excitement.
Fallible memory suggests that it was all the more dramatic because one rider was on an Italian machine, the other on a British one. I used to read The Motor Cycle and Motor Cycling as a schoolboy, as well as all the motor magazines, Motor Transport and even The Commercial Motor and would have known then.
Now the only race I can find that fits is the 1935 Senior TT, when Stanley Woods on a 499cc Guzzi won by 4sec from Jimmy Guthrie on a 490cc Norton at 84.68mph in this terribly demanding race, with a record lap of 86.53mph. If I am wrong I expect the ‘bikers among our readers will correct me.
The Palace in print
Veloce Publishing has added to its catalogue Motor Racing at Crystal Palace by SS Collins (ISBN 190478834 3, £12.99) which recalls the London circuit, starting with races there in 1899 (excellent pictures) on a 350-metre banked cycle track described as “pre-dating Brooklands by at least eight years”! These Veloce books are not complete histories, but they do provide good coverage of older venues to refresh the memories of those who went there or to open others’ eyes. The Palace book goes up to 2001.
The Palace did indeed offer exciting racing for all kinds of cars, from the ERA era to moderns, with vintage cars also being impressive. Collins by-passes the last, preferring colour pictures of the place today, where racing may never be revived, and a page of ‘popsies’ in hot pants to embellish the old-time atmosphere. Race results are not listed, but the clubs which used the place are, and there is a picture of Dick Seaman demonstrating a W125 Mercedes-Benz with a careful lap of 2min 4sec, with an amusing story of what happened to Dick and Bira on that occasion.
I attended almost every pre-war meeting, at first by 49 bus and then in my Austin 7 Mulliner coupé which embarassingly blocked the exit when the transporters of the great were leaving, until it was given a four-speed gearbox, after which it would ascend the ramp without a push and I was back for a late tea.
Hispano-Suiza history mystery
A reader living in France who owns an Alfonso Hispano-Suiza would like to know of its owners prior to Bernard, Maiden, Mitchell and Hill. Car No 1916 was delivered to a Mr AG Brown in London in 1913; he also drove a smaller car of this make at Brooklands that year.
I hope someone can help our enquirer. It reminds me of the fun I had with my ex-Forrest Lycett 1913/14 Alfonso, driving it in speed hillclimbs and on long runs such as the SMM&T London and Cardiff Armistice Parades. On one we had stopped for a meal and were behind time. Just as we were resuming a person asked if the car had the 80×180 engine and could he look at it? “Sorry,” we said, “no time,” and sped away; I have felt guilty ever since, and wonder who he was?
At about the same time that Hill/Cuthall, Bridcutt and I were using our Hispanos in VSCC and other events, a Major Pitt also had one of these desirable Edwardian sporting cars, which he drove in the 1934 RAC Rally and on a Swiss tour.
My ancient car coped well with modern traffic and would cruise at an easy 60mph and climb the old Birdlip hill four-up, although by then bottom gear had broken up and Alan Southon had sleeved it out of commission. In fact, ‘Alfonse’ was at last wearing out. It caught fire occasionally, when my wife would leap out, and the floor was in a sorry state. When a young man asked for a lift back to Stowe school after we had watched practice at Silverstone we put him in the back. Jenks soon called for me to slow down — the chap’s feet had gone through and he was running to keep up with the car! Worse, when I took part in a speed hillclimb at Sandhurst all my rusty tools and dirty rags fell out, causing an irate commentator to demand I run down the course and retrieve them, watched by a critical Royal Military Academy audience. It rather detracted from a class win…
It was responsible for getting my photograph in The Times for the first and no doubt the last time. I was taking part in the first post-war speed trial at Elstree in 1946 and they photographed the paired starts. The Hispano was with John Bolster’s 1911 40/50 Rolls-Royce and led it away, but the carburettor needle slipped and we slowed down. Our correspondent remarks that he remembered seeing my Alfonso at the sale of the late Mr AWF Smith’s cars. The reason was that the cylinder block was now porous, it had lost that bottom gear and the body was getting worse. I had taken ‘Alfonse’ to Lawton & Goodman’s in London, who had made the handsome 20/70hp Whitlock cars and were also coachbuilders. They looked puzzled, saying the wooden body had no frame, concluding that “it had been carved from a very large log”. I could not afford such a tree, so decided to let it go. Mr Smith had long wanted the car and I knew him to be a serious enthusiast. So, prompted by Jenks, I gave in. I heard that after Mr Smith’s death the car went to Germany. A few years ago I was sent photographs of it, beautifully restored, with an invitation to go to Sussex and drive it again. But before I could it was up for sale and I now hear that, somewhat ‘brassed-up’, it is in the Keller Collection at Petaluma, California.
After all this, can you help with the early history of car No 1916?
Shelsley’s centenary story
It is reviewed elsewhere, but I must pay a personal tribute to Simon Taylor’s The Shelsley Walsh Story, (Haynes, ISBN 1 84426 0903 3, £30). It must surely be one of the great sporting pictorial motor books of 2005. The large format allows more than 250 pictures to be effectively enlarged so even if you have seen some of them before it doesn’t matter, because the detail is superb.
Not only that, but Taylor has captured the very spirit of our oldest speed hillclimb by depicting not only the cars, drivers and personalities but the place itself. It is the paddock scenes, the spectators in one shot walking in a vast mass down the course after a meeting, mothers with very young children, and schoolboys among them, which makes this book so evocative. Read this book, and if you have never been to a meeting at the famous venue, you will, I think, want to go to the next one!
So here is a superb history of the place from the beginning to last year; we have waited a long time for it since CAN May wrote his history in 1945. To illustrate a GP book is easier, with cars cornering together and at more corners, so the appeal of Simon’s work is all the more praiseworthy. It contains new material and lists all the FTDs, with records, and has a good index. There is even a history of the hotels at which competitors and officials stay.
This may sound like a publicity tribute, but it is not; only once have I met the author, a fine motor racing commentator, once ITV’s F1 man and now Editor-at-Large (nearly as odd as calling me the Founding Editor!) of Motor Sport.
His book really did give me enormous pleasure. Of course, nothing is quite perfect; I would have liked more about the formula classes for which competing cars were weighed at Mardey (with possible cheating as water tanks were allowed to leak on the drive to the hill) and a picture of Cyril Paul in the record-breaking Beardmore would have been nice. But Taylor’s knowledge of Shelsley Specials and modern runners like Adam Fleetwood’s Gould-XB is fully in keeping with the wealth of pictorial coverage he has chosen.
VSCC stops London traffic
It was a clever piece of PR for the See Red VSCC meeting at Donington on September 3/4 which brought traffic to a standstill in New Bond Street while Ian Duncan’s 1956/7 250F Maserati was driven in full race trim down the famous London road by Rick Hall, accompanied by a 1965 Routemaster omnibus in ‘See Red’ livery past Bonhams sale rooms. The busy road was not closed, apparently, and Rick was not apprehended. It must have warmed the heart of the VSCC’s commercial director Julian Ghosh, but it was a far cry from the days when members merely played with their pre-1931 cars unaided by such publicity.
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