Looking Back with Harry Rose

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I drove to Manchester the other day, not to report on the prison riots then raging, but to talk about pre-war motor racing with Harry Rose, who drove Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Hotchkiss cars at Brooklands and Donington. We went in a 1.4 LX Ford Orion, very economical (38.6 mpg overall and a decent quantity of unleaded 4-star left in the 10.6 gallon tank after the Wales-Manchester-Wales commute, and it was nice to find the 5-speed gear change as smooth as one used to expect on Fords. Altogether a useful £8990 four-door booted family car.)

Harry Rose became interested in cars when he was living in Southport and it wasn’t long before he decided that speed was his metier. His first car was an Austin 7 Swallow, and then came two larger Austins, two or three Wolseleys, and faster cars like a 2-litre Lagonda fabric saloon, a blown 1750 Alfa Romeo and so on . . . Others he recalls include an SS coupé, an Auburn coupé, a Sunbeam Rapier, a Chrysler Imperial saloon, a Cadillac 60 Special, a Buick saloon and a Ford Prefect. For his racing he bought a 2.3 Monza Alfa Romeo in Paris after driving it round Montlhéry Track and deciding that he liked it. At the same time he had a 2.6 Mille Miglia Alfa Romeo fitted with an extra large supercharger, Billy Rockell and Giulio Ramponi looked after Rose’s cars, aided by Reg Stone, a fitter from De Havilland’s at Hatfield.

Rose began his racing at Brooklands in 1934. Both outer circuit and Mountain circuit races were entered with the red Monza Alfa Romeo. Lap speeds gradually improved, to 114.23 mph in the Esher Senior Long Handicap at the August Meeting. It then began to give trouble and was replaced for 1935 by a blue 2 1/2-litre Maserati, which started well by taking third place in a Mountain Handicap behind Humphrey Cook’s ERA and Charlie Martin’s 2.3 Bugatti, its best lap at 75.22 mph. Rose also ran his grey 1750 Alfa Romeo at Brooklands which it could lap at 98.62 mph and the Mountain circuit at 65.21 mph. In contrast, the Maserati could get round the outer-circuit at 113.71 mph . . .

Thus encouraged, later in 1935 Rose bought from Whitney Straight one of his 2.9-litre straight-eight Maseratis, the famous No.3011, together with a quantity of spares. Ramponi naturally encouraged this acquisition. Incidentally, with the purchase went an entry in Straight’s name for Shelsley Walsh hillclimb, which he persuaded Rose to use. But going to the hill in the company of Jarvis in his blown 4 1/2-litre Bentley, Rose was not allowed a run… He had arrived with two mechanics but the stewards would not let him practice. Unused to the Maserati, he nevertheless took third place in his class on the day of the hillclimb, in 45.2 sec. With this fast car, to which he was not yet accustomed, Harry finished fourth in the 1935 Brooklands Mountain Championship, lapping at 76.31 mph.

For that year’s BRDC 500 Mile Race at the track, Hotchkiss decided to send over the well-streamlined single-seater, enclosed cockpit, record breaker with which Capt. George Eyston had taken records at Montlhéry of up to 1000 miles duration, at speeds of up to 112.37 mph, although his target of 48 hours was defeated when the tail of the body came adrift. Hotchkiss nominated the ace driver Albert Divo, who had known Brooklands from 1923, for the “500”, and he arrived with two mechanics to look after the car. Rose had been persuaded to partner the great Frenchman but saw little of him. Divo took the first spell, and the last, and Harry found the car “an uncomfortable boneshaker” and as the cockpit cover was not used in the race he was deaf for some time afterwards. But in spite of the Hotchkiss having been hastily prepared, it was running at the end, having averaged 106.68 mph.

Rose was now living in a flat in Grosvenor House, in London’s fashionable Park Lane, which enabled him to get to Brooklands and back in a day. His “scuderia” was stabled at Lancaster Gate Mews. The road cars included a 20/25 Rolls-Royce coupé-de-ville, which handsome ensemble the chauffeur would bring round to the Grosvenor House forecourt at the lifting of a telephone, and others along the years before the war numbered two Ford V8s, a short chassis V12 Hispano Suiza with coachwork by Fernandez & Darin, which was not as expected, so was replaced by a very elegant Saoutchik drophead coupé, and a number of Delage cars, including the straight-eight with a drophead coupé body.

In one or other of these fine cars Rose would motor to Brooklands, usually in a Delage or the sports Alfa Romeo. The Monza was driven there but the 2.9 Maserati went by truck. The straight-eight Delage won the Concours D’Elegance at the 1932 Guy’s Gala Brooklands Meeting which was attended by the Duke and Duchess of York, Rose’s sister was a keen motorist and would go down to watch him race. He was fond of fast Continental driving, such as going from Paris to Rome and back in a day and a night when Ramponi had to meet his mother in Milan. Rose also reckoned to leave Paris after breakfast, lunch en route, and still arrive in Monte Carlo before midnight. There he would stay at the Hotel de Paris, from the balcony of which he once watched a pre-war Monaco GP, to water-ski, etc. He bought a boat at the last pre-war Earls Court Show, went to the Alps to ski, and has sometimes taken the controls of aeroplanes when flying from the Hooton Aero Club. Other fast runs in Europe were done in his 4 1/4-litre Derby Bentley Vanden Plas tourer.

By 1936 Rose’s racing was concentrated on the 2.9 Maserati. For the 1936 British Empire Trophy Race at Donington, Dick Seaman asked if he could borrow it and liner-down the engine to 2696 cc, to meet the group handicap system used for this race. The ploy worked, Seaman winning at 66.33 mph. The Maserati’s owner drove his Monza Alfa Romeo, but it stopped for brake adjustment and after 55 of the 100 laps the transmission failed. However Rose drove the linered-down Maserati himself in the JCC International Trophy Race at Brooklands the following month and not only won his class but was fourth overall, at 88.11 mph. Bira, who won by a mere one second from Raymond Mays, both in ERAs, in a sensational finish, remembered how during the race “Harry Rose would loom up in my sidemirror like a big black spider. It was a terrifying feeling to be chased by a faster car… Harry Rose threatened me again for a few more laps. I could see clearly in my dusty mirror that he was not going to let us get away from him. He was squatting down behind his aero-screen and was coming after us in earnest. It was strange to see this new owner of the black Maserati in the place of that famous Anglo-American ace who created a new style of racing, with smart cars and a generally neater turnout than before. The black Maserati was the last word in smartness when Whitney Straight had it, and now Harry Rose was carrying on the good work. It certainly ran beautifully that afternoon and I could not help thinkng that it had a big chance to finish in front of us all”. Incidentally, Bira went up to London that evening to appear in the BBC’s In Town Tonight” programme, still in his racing overalls, the script-girl preparing the programme as they sped away from Brooklands in Prince Chula’s Derby-Bentley…

Alas, the great racing future that seemed to lie ahead of Rose was not to be. Harry lent the Monza Alfa to his young stockbroker friend Kenneth Carr. He was due to drive it in the Short and Long Handicaps at the 1936 Whitsun BARC Meeting. He had practised satisfactorily that morning and went out again for a few extra laps. It was then that he lost control coming off the Members banking, and was killed as the car rolled over. After being consoled by Percy Bradley, the Clerk of the Course and others, Harry Rose drove away to break the sad news to Carr’s mother. The accident turned him away from racing and later in the year he sold the 2.9 Maserati to Prince Chula, for Bira to drive, after Louis Chiron had advised gaining experience with a larger car than the ERAs. The successful outcome is well-known. In recent times, after David Heimann had had this historic Maserati resuscitated, Rose, invited to see it, was able once again to sit in the driving seat.

Harry Rose was not in the motor trade as his main line of business but he had associations with it and just before war broke out was engaged in trying to form Delage (England) Ltd., for the assembly of these cars here, with a factory in Slough. Difficulties intervened and the accountants decided against the project. After the war Rose moved to Manchester and continued to enjoy his motoring. An early Ford Cortina with the speed equipment is recalled and today he keeps his hand in at the wheel of a Peugeot 205XL.

WB

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