"Babs" at Large

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Having provided a new countershaft for the aged Benz gearbox in Owen Wyn Owen’s Thomas Special, VSCC President Roger Collings was allowed to enter “Babs” for Silverstone.

After I had pulled Wyn Owen’s leg about the fact that he seldom had the 27-litre monster out of first or second gear on his several demonstration runs, he pulled my leg by saying that, although he was not brave enough himself, if I were I could have a ride with Roger. So we did three laps of the Club Circuit before Friday’s practice – the first time Collings had driven the car.

After the customary tow-start on a quick-release bar behind Wyn Owen’s Range Rover, the giant ran very well. I fact, the step-off once the Liberty engine had taken hold in second gear was immensely impressive, even more so than the noise from the twelve stub exhaust-pipes! Lack of stopping power restricted our straight-line speed to a perhaps modest estimate (the rev-counter was not working) of 90 mph, before Roger had to haul hard on the outside handbrake for Woodcote. If only there had been more room…

The driver discovered that considerable concentration was needed to get “Babs” round the corners, which came up so quickly, but he drove manfully, changing into bottom gear to help the rear-wheel brakes. Above the cacophony of sounds, I swear the back tyres were starting to howl at Becketts, and I could see a lot of flame around the two front Zenith carburettors on top of the V12 engine on the over-run. The driving chains, one of which broke in Pendine in 1927 when Parry Thomas was killed? We never gave them a thought…

Wyn Owen, his son and Collings afterwards went through the routine of removing the wheel-discs to check the spokes; the water galleries were also removed for some minor leaks to be cured. Next morning, Roger adjusted the foot transmission-brake preparatory to more practice laps.

“Babs”, again ran well, but came in with smoke rising from the cockpit. At first we thought this was emanating from the small-diameter Thomas multi-plate clutch which is liable to overheat, but it turned out to be the foot-brake which was overheating.

Roger decided to miss the first race, and concentrate on the Itala Trophy. Alas, soon after “Babs” started the warm-up lap, a con-rod came out, leaving a fist-sized hole in the crankcase – a fatigue failure of a part which has been in use since Parry Thomas set his 171.9 mph World Land Speed Record in 1926.

It was a terrible disappointment, but Wyn Owen is philosophical, saying spares are to hand and “Babs” will run again. For me, it had been another fascinating motoring experience for which I am very grateful. WB