Those who knew Brooldands and went to sprint meetings before the war will be sad to hear that Robert A. Waddy passed away at Eastbourne on April 7th, aged 78; it is likely, though, that the mere mention of Waddy’s name will raise a smile and lead to a string of good stories, for, even before Fuzzi, that incredible four-wheel-drive giant-killer of his, saw the light about 1936, Waddy had made his uninhibited presence felt amongst people who raced cars and motorcycles and flew light aeroplanes.
Waddy was educated at Oundle, where they took engineering seriously, and raced a motorcycle at the All-Khaki meeting at Brooklands during World War I. After Army service Waddy explored the motoring and jazz possibilities of the United States. Settling at Rochester, NY, he became a brilliant welder under the tutelage of Art Bartold, a dirt-track wizard in those parts, and hit the cinders himself, first with big Harley-Davidsons, then with a Model T Special called, simply, Five, finally with the Duesenberg with which Jimmy Murphy won the 1921 French Grand Prix. During the winters he worked with Art and also became an “ostler” on the Lee High Valley Railroad; that is to say, a driver who drove the great steam express locomotives away and serviced them in the Rochester yards when they came in from a run. He also ministered to the Inner-American during Prohibition, with a truck based near the Canadian border.
Returning to England during the hectic Twenties, Waddy, with a partner named Pearl, quickly made a name in professional dancing and cabaret at night-clubs during the “Ma Meyrick” era, using an E-type 30/98 Vauxhall to commute between Brighton and London. During the day he combined business with pleasure as a lifeguard on Brighton Beach, and put in some flying on Avro 504Ks at Shoreham as a pupil of the immortal Pashley. He quickly moved on to a B-Licence and qualified as an instructor on that principal rival to the DH60 Moth, the Avro Avian.
It was the Warren Girder construction of the metal Avian fuselage that inspired Waddy to build what was possibly the first space-frame racing car, and name it Fuzzi —a corruption of “fuzzilage”. Weekday visitors to Brooklands between 1936 and the war will certainly remember the thin wiry character with longish windblown locks, usually wearing a broad grin, a pair of shorts, and nothing else, who worked and lived in a corner of “The Robinery” through the kindness of its proprietor, R. R. Jackson, and who in return would help with track trials of cars undergoing development, being a smooth sympathetic driver with a good car. [Yes !—ED.)
The Fuzzi was built mainly in Denmark Mews, Hove. In appearance it was a scaled-down GP Auto-Union, just large enough to accommodate one small man and two single-cylinder JAP engines, one fore, the other aft. Waddy was convinced that four-wheel drive was the answer, in those days of narrow tyres, to the wheelspin problem, and experience proved him right. As a piece of shoestring engineering the Fuzzi was brilliant. The most expensive items were the four Citroen torsion-bars used in the suspension. Waddy did his own welding, of course, and the brace of “dirt” JAPs cost about £10 each. By using two independent engines Waddy avoided the differential complications that bedevil every single-engined four-wheeldrive design. Both units were controlled by a single pedal, although the pedal was made in two parts so that the driver could heel-and-toe: heel for the rear engine, toe for the front one, giving instant and sensitive control of wheelspin at either end. In practice, Waddy confessed, he never mastered this footwork, because the motorcycle gearboxes made the car too unreliable for sustained practising. Usually he was up all night before every meeting, and in fact he lost so much sleep that he actually nodded off while competing, with results painful to both driver and car. Apart from Waddy, the only person to drive Fuzzi in competition was Joan Richmond, when he lent her the car for Shelsley-Walsh. Joan said afterwards she couldn’t remember what she was supposed to do with her loudpedal foot and was “so frightened she put the whole of it down”. This remark was typical of Joan and she made, of course, best ladies’ time of the day.
In choosing four-wheel drive for his Special Waddy was absolutely right. At Brighton Speed Trials one year the weather kindly emphasised this fact. On a dry course ‘Waddy’s little unblown 1,000-c.c. Special equalled the time of the Appleton Special, holder of the Class G International record for the standing kilometre; and when it came on to rain Waddy completely saw-off the Appleton, high-pressure blowing and all.
When war stopped play the Fuzzi was all set for a brilliant career. Instead, the little car spent five years at Hove while its creator learned yet another skill, sorting out the intricacies of Lockheed hydraulic steering on high-speed coastal craft for the Navy. Life as a Service Engineer to Motor Torpedo Boats and Gun-boats was seldom dull, although the lingering fragrance of Lockheed fluid and bilgewater mixed was something Waddy tried to forget; he was lucky though in being able to motor between Shoreham, Brightlinpea and Scotland during petrol-rationing, and wise in his choice of car, which was a drophcad Delahaye 135 Coupe des Alpes—fast, reliable and amusing.
When motoring sport came alive again Waddy was well over 50 and felt he had had enough. He still went enthusiastically to meetings, but Fuzzi was passed on to younger men who mistakenly, tried to make four-wheel drive work with a single 3.6-litre Ford V8 engine. Lance Macklin drove the car brilliantly at the Stanmer Park meeting at which an ERA climbed a tree, but the power/weight ratio was poor, and Fuzzi seldom appeared again. A great pity!
Few people had more and better stories than Robert Waddy. He talked well on engineering, dancing, steam-locomotives, motor-racing, jazz music and golf, all subjects he knew from the inside; and could be hilariously funny. We shall miss him very much, apart from which, his work on four-wheel-drive will always assure him a place in motoring history.