Driven in very different ways
‘Iron man’ EddIe Hall loved a drIvIng challenge, so goodness knows what he’d have made of autonomous cars…
America’s fabled Pikes Peak mountain climb — 12.4 miles of historically loose-surfaced roadway, soaring nearly 5000 feet from start to finish — has — graced the competition calendar since 1916. It’s rather different today, of course, after extensive ‘black top’ surfacing, while last year saw a remarkable climb take place there as Stanford University’s automotive engineering group sent their Audi Coupe up the famous old course. The crucial difference was that in essence their Audi was driving itself, being one of several autonomous control vehicles currently under development in various parts of the automotive world. I guess it made a change to see a car climbing the course with nobody at the wheel, as distinct from seeing a car climbing the course with ‘a’ nobody at the wheel.
Back in April I belted myself into the car’s front passenger seat, on the top floor of a multistorey car park at Stanford Uni. With a friction selection of 0.7 dialled in to its autonomous electrickery it took off, I guess at 0.7 of maximum acceleration, braked at 0.7 max effect, the untouched steering wheel whirled left and it screamed through a 90-left at 0.7g and then accelerated down the next brief straight before brake, whirl, scream… and so on around a course the students had premapped there. It’s self-guided by a military-style multi-fix satnav system which — I was assured — is accurate to two centimetres, cruise missile style. I emerged enthralled by the admittedly eerie experience, if ambivalent. This might well be the thin end of a wedge, a harbinger of the end of motoring as we have been privileged to know it…
I had been invited to Stanford to deliver one of their first Revs Institute lectures on the way motor racing used to be for the private owner/driver. It was a matter of painting in an enjoyable sector of motoring history against a layered background of different disciplines, engineering, social history, economics, politics, psychology, medicine… You name it…
The Collier Collection’s ex-Eddie Hall Rolls Bentley was the centrepiece of the Revs symposium, and Stanford’s finest were instrumenting the old warhorse to explore in 21st Century terms its true performance. Eddie Hall himself was the epitome of the well-heeled private owner/driver of the 1930s, but one who is virtually forgotten today. Born in 1900 into a wealthy Yorkshire textile family he became — among other interests — an enthusiastic amateur racer, mountaineer, Olympic bobsleigh crewman and photographer.
He drove in competition from as early as 1922 to 1951, and excelled in long-distance events demanding personal endurance and stamina. He adored the challenge of the RAC Tourist Trophy on Ulster’s Ards circuit — at 13 and twothirds miles per lap, the British Niirburgring. He drove a Lagonda in the original 1928 Ards TT, an Arrol-Aster in 1929, and then come 1930 finished second in class in a 41/2-litre Bentley. From 1931-33 he drove MGs there, and in that latter year won the BRDC 500 Mile race at Brooklands in an MG K3.
Thus established, Hall became interested in the first Bentley being produced by the marque’s new owner, Rolls-Royce. Even W Bentley would write, ‘Taking all things into consideration, I would rather own this Bentley car than any other produced under that name.’ Hall bought 31/2-litre chassis 1335AE’ with rakish sports bodywork, probably by Abbotts of Farnham, though credited to Offords. He received it in March 1934, and having entered an MG for the Mille Miglia, he used the Bentley there as his reconnaissance car. He and his new wife Joan promptly covered the course twice at racing pace, the Bentley cruising at 90mph and exceeding 100 on some stretches. Oil consumption was less than a pint, no plugs had to be changed, the brakes only needed adjustment once… and the new owner was deeply impressed.
He promptly leaned upon Rolls-Royce to give “consensus and some measure of support” to his racing 1335AE’ privately in the Ards TT. They agreed — at arm’s length — and loaned engineer George Ratcliffe as chief mechanic. The car was fitted with a new lightweight body and Hall drove it to three consecutive second places in the great TT race, from 1934-36. Each year saw the burly Yorkshireman’s ‘Silent Sports Car’ fastest, only to lose out under the RAC handicap. His nemeses were racing motorcyclist drivers whose surnames began with a ‘D’ — Charlie Dodson (MG) first in 1934, Freddy Dixon (Riley) 1935 and then Dodson/Dixon (sharing a Riley) in 1936.
Back in 1932 Eddie had climbed the highest peaks of Scotland, England and Wales within 24 hours. Using the Bentley, he now aimed to stand on each summit between sunrise and sunset. On June 29, 1934 — maximum daylight — he and Joan left their tent on the summit of Ben Nevis and began a descent five minutes after sunrise. They reached their Bentley at 5.42am, and by 11.42 reached Scafell in England. By 1.10pm they reached its summit. Back in the Bentley at 2.27 they then tore into Wales, beginning to climb Snowdon at 7.35pm. Overcoming mid-climb exhaustion they reached the summit at 9.45pm, 10 minutes before sunset. Their Bentley had covered some 470 miles, about the length of another Ards TT.
After retiring to Canada, then South Africa, the Halls returned to racing post-war, with Eddie running old 1335AE’ — which wore an allegedly aerodynamic (and appallingly ugly) hardtop — at Le Mans in 1950. Tom Clarke went along as co-driver, but ‘iron man’ Hall flatly refused to hand over, and completed the entire 24-hour race solo. In later years when Jenks asked him what sanitary arrangements he’d employed, Eddie Hall simply roared with laughter, slapped him on the back and said “Wear green overalls, lad”. Hmm, not so much a problem these days, when we are beginning to see motor cars which drive themselves…
What to do when the chassis numbers don’t add up?
Those of us who have spent perhaps too many hours poring over racing car identities and being concerned about whether or not it was chassis ‘0007’ or ‘0009’ which Jose Julio Fandango drove in the 1961 Tristan da Cunha GP are probably beyond help. But never mind, it’s nice to know, and in these days of substantial financial value accruing to truly historic cars this has a practical point.
Back in the 1950s individual Lotus competition cars came to be identified by a number of different numbers. Roy Badcock was a long-serving Lotus manager who, in the ’70s, made available two filing cabinets containing some of the original sales record cards for the single-seater Lotus Type 12s, a few of the Type 16s which went to private customers, most Type 18s and 24s, plus many other Lotus types.
From these cards it appeared that the ‘300-series’ numbers, by which the front-engined racing cars (at least) were known, were only applied upon their completion. Cards survived for 10 of the dozen Type 12s built and three of those showed that differentstyle numbers were applied originally. Thus the car which later emerged as Anthony Brooke’s serial ‘354’ had actually begun life known to the works as ‘F2/7’. Dennis Taylor’s Type 12 chassis ‘355’ had originally been ‘F2/6’ and Swiss hillclimber Charles Vogele’s ‘356’ had been ‘F2/9’. The cards revealed another problem with factory record keeping, in that Vogele’s surname was misspelled as ‘Voegler’.., but then nobody’s perfect, and we managed to work out who that customer would really have been.
Incidentally, very similar misspelling afflicts the original Cooper Car Company chassis books, and there was one name in particular which confused me for an embarrassingly long period. In the original Cooper records there’s an entry for a 1966 Formula 1 Type 81 Cooper-Maserati, ‘F1/4/66’ ordered by ‘Scuderia Felipe Pemeti’. So who the hell was Signor Pemeti? I think it was Sheridan Thynne who finally pointed out to me the bleedin’ obvious that customer was really ‘Scuderia Filipineffi’, the prominent Swiss organisation.
Well, this was all well and good, but apart from seeing some of these three-digit Lotus numbers stamped on the occasional chassis plate, I had never seen any contemporary photographic evidence of such real-life, on-car identity until recently, when I was riffling through a small envelope of tiny Box Brownie prints. And one which dropped onto the table top showed a Climax-engined car apparently in the pits at Monza with its engine cowl opened high. And blazoned across the inside of that open cowl were the digits ‘935’. Well, I’m darned contemporary confirmation at last of a paperwork system which we had only really seen, from period, in the paperwork itself. According to the old card system ‘935’ was supplied to Rob Walker Racing, late in 1961, before becoming the Walker car used occasionally by Stirling Moss during the early 1962 Tasman tour races in New Zealand and Australia. Pre-Photoshop, the camera could not lie.