Veteran to classic -- VSCC Silverstone

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Vintage Sports-Car Club racing opened at a cold “new Silverstone” on April 20, using the 1.7-mile National circuit, the 10-race programme oversubscribed, with 286 entrants. After the customary 30 minute High Speed Trial, in which only Walker’s 1935 Alvis retired and Bowles’ TT Ford V8, Mrs Monro’s big Alvis and Beattie’s Frazer Nash failed to attain their qualifying requirements, the Fox & Nicholl Sports Car 10-lap race was contested, won as predicted by Anthony Mayman’s 3.7-litre Maserati, with Pilkington’s 4-1/2-litre Talbot 6.4 sec behind, and Chris Mann’s 2.9-litre Monza Alfa Romeo third. The only non-finisher was Green’s 4-1/2-litre low-chassis Invicta.

Next came the 12-lap Allcomers’ Scratch Race. It was a great battle between Hannen’s rear-engined Cooper (these cars a new departure in VSCC races, where previously only drivers who faced the engine were encouraged, unless in 500s), and Mayman’s well-known Lotus. The latter just pipped Hannen at the end, after a race-long effort, to cross the line 0.2 sec in the lead. Far behind, Porter’s 2-litre Cooper finished third, ahead of Ludovic Lindsay’s 250F Maserati and Barrie Williams, the saloon and sports-car champion, who made a good job of driving the Indianapolis Offenhauser Turtle Drilling Special. But the only ones truly in the race were Mayman and Hannen. Haywood, back-to-engine in his Cooper, was in trouble, two laps in arrears.

Another 12-lapper followed, the Itala Trophy Scratch Race, renamed the Sam Clutton Race in memory of the recently-deceased Cecil Clutton. And a fine race it was, with two aero-engined cars, Morley’s mighty Napier-Bentley and Boswell’s Bequet-Delage out in front with Harper’s fast and furious Morgan three-wheeler snapping at the tails of these giants, after Nick Mason’s Bugatti had retired from third place on lap 5. At the corners Boswell closed right up on his rival but 24 litres offered better acceleration than 12 litres, enabling Peter Morley to win by 0.4 sec. Stewart’s 4-1/2-litre Bentley went very well to finish fourth, beating the Bentleys of Hine and Birrane, but Caroline’s normally competitive Morgan three-wheeler lasted for only one lap. It was good to see the Halford Special running so well, ahead of the 1924 200 Mile Race Alvis, these cars, of Cheyne and Benfield, adding a Brooklands’ touch to modern Silverstone, and Walker in the Ford-powered GN was obviously enjoying his tail-sliding cornering tactics, their placings respectively 16th, 17th and 10th, the GN a lap ahead. Stanley Mann drove the ex-Brooklands Bentley-Jackson into 12th place for Vaughan Davis. This race also had the distinction of being run in a snowstorm.

As if a breather were deemed necessary, it was provided in the form of a 5-lap Handicap race, which Paul Grist’s well-known 2.6-litre Monza Alfa Romeo, but driven this time by his son Matt, won from the Rileys, 2-litre and 1-1/2-litre respectively, of Davie and Watson. The 12-lap Patrick Lindsay Pre-War Scratch Race was next on the agenda and should have been a very exciting event, because Peter Hannen in the 1937 Maserati 6CM had made fastest lap in practice and so was expected to offer a real challenge to Anthony Mayman’s “invincible” ERA R4D. Unfortunately it all came apart in this Christies-sponsored race, when Hannen, and Lindsay in the ERA “Remus”, failed to observe a flag signal in practice and were penalized with a 10 second penalty and made to start from the back of the grid. This seems a harsh decision; either fine a driver, as at Brooklands (if you will forgive me for harping on the place) or disqualify him for a serious offence; but do not spoil the race, as happened to this one. As it was, Lindsay had a return of suspected magneto trouble and “Remus” was pushed from the grid. But Hannen, his blood perhaps up due to the penalty, went like fury from the back of the grid, the surprised support vehicles, having to brake to await his start!

The blown 1-1/2-litre Maserati came through the field at a surprising pace, passing the other 21 runners, to take second place to Mayman, 2.8 sec in arrears of the victorious ERA. To do this Hannen lapped in 70.6 sec, compared to Mayman’s 71.5 sec — Peter Hannen definitely “Driver of the Meeting”. Which is not to overlook the fact that, seemingly unchallenged, Mayman had no need to use all the ERA’s speed, and he is still very much “Mr VSCC”. . . . In third place came Jaye in the ex-Beadle 2-litre Alta, regarded by DSJ as the best of its make. It was a pity, however, that Hannen and Mayman could not have started together, with Peter unpenalised.

The other “long” race was for Historic sports-racing cars from the 1950s, a gesture to which the VSCC sometimes succumbs. It attracted a big field of colourful and fast cars, some it seemed conducted with due realisation of their auction-room values. Again, there was a bit of a cock-up, when Gammons in the 1959 Belfast-built, Chevrolet Corvette-powered Devin was told, only when he was on the starting grid apparently, that he was on unacceptable tyres. He would otherwise have won fairly comfortably from Harper in sponsor Robert Brooks’ 1956 3.8-litre D-type Jaguar. As it was, Harper was given the race, from Valentine Lindsay’s 3.4 Jaguar D-type and JD Pearson’s 1954 3.4 Cooper-Jaguar, Gary Pearson’s 1959 3.8 Lister-Jaguar having dropped right back after holding second place up to four laps from the finish. The only C-type Jaguar, of Humphrey Avon, came home 13th, behind the Brooks Monza 750 Ferrari and Felton’s Testa Rossa.

Two more five-lap Handicap races and a five-lap Scratch Race made up the programme. In the first of these there was a close finish between Mason’s 1-1/2-litre Riley and Bird’s original Singer Nine, 0.2 sec separating them at the line, with Wakeley’s blown Rapier third.

It was yet another tribute to the late Sam Clutton that Jonty Williamson won the second of these races with the immortal 1908 GP Itala (which Clutton campaigned for 54 years) lapping at 57.69 mph. Fantom’s 14/40 Humber Special, in which he drove home, was second, young Shoosmith’s 1-1/2-litre Riley third. Alas, the rebuilt Harker V8 was a non-starter. The final race went to Fiskin’s blown 2-litre Alta entered by Dan Margulies, lapping at 72 mph, a popular win from Jamieson’s 4.3 Alvis and Dunn’s 1-1/2-1itre Riley.

So a good if chilly start to the VSCC racing season — next meeting at Donington Park on May 27. Reverting to the High Speed Trial, an excellent run for beginners, it was nice to see seven lady drivers having a go and Miss Elizabeth Blake qualifying in her father’s 1927 supercharged 1084cc BNC, which the programme was delighted to remind us is really a Bollack, Netter et Cie. Interesting, too, that the fibreglass body of the Devin (apparently one of ten surviving cars of this rare make) was similarly billed, whereas replica fibreglass bodies are unacceptable to VSCC officials! — WB

***

Paddock Peering

Not many of the sports cars in the Fox & Nicholl race were much in keeping with the cars this Talbot/Lagonda-orientated firm raced before the war! Indeed, the winning 6C Maserati was built up by Tony Merrick some ten years ago, out of a few parts and many new bits he had to make. Yet the VSCC programme cheerfully says it is a Mile Miglia car. So it was nice to see Pilkington’s Talbot-Darracq, a genuine enough car, take second place, and Mann’s equally acceptable Monza Alfa Romeo gain third place. Felton’s Alfa Romeo, which has been made up from a handful of bits from a 1938 2900B, sports a handsome replica Mille Miglia body like the Hugh Hunter car; but it is not a true MM car.

Alta enthusiasts had a good day, with Danny Michum winning his scratch race with the ex-Cormack car, now with blown 2-litre engine, and Jaye finishing third in the big race in the resurrected ex-Beadle 2-litre. Maserati followers should have been even more inspired, after seeing Peter Hannen’s wonderful drive from the back of the grid in the black 6CM in the Patrick Lindsay race, perhaps reminding older folk of how Johnnie Wakefield used to challenge the ERAs with his 6CM in 1937. No doubt the shorter straight on the new circuit hampers the powerful 2-litre ERAs, and the Maser probably made good use of its torsion-bar irs and low centre of gravity on the corners. Of the ERAs, the two pale green ones were Anthony Mayman’s Merrick-built AJM-1, driven by Chris Mayman, and the formerly maroon car Hamish Moffatt and Jeddere Fisher used to share, sold by Hamish to a Japanese collector after it had come back from S Africa, which Merrick then rebuilt and now drives for the new owner. Some ERAs still retain 1-1/2-litre engines, but the 2-litre R4D had the Godfrey-Roots supercharger, not its Zoller.

The V8 Bequet now uses two SU carburettors, but retains the original inlet manifolding within the vee of the cylinders of the 12-litre Hispano Suiza aero-engine and the same carb layout, one pointing forward, the other backwards. Ricketts non-started in the Sally Marsh ERA because of a septic hand.

The Harker V8 non-started due to the starting-handle dog letting out the oil, after a good showing on the Friday. Barrie Williams enjoyed driving the Offenhauser/Meyer Drake Indy car, describing its transmission as having two gears, fast and faster. Of the varied Alvis Specials, that of Jamieson’s, driven into second place in the 5-lap Scratch race, is a road-equipped 4.3-litre evolved out of the ex-Clinkard single-seater, which went off to the USA but has since returned. Now this Alvis looks like a Monza Alfa, but with an Alvis radiator-cowl and it stands out as a praiseworthy way in which someone with imagination has constructed an Alvis Special.

Apart from racing cars, I was intrigued to see in the Paddock the 1924/25 Reo Speed Wagon motorcoach which I bought for the proverbial song from some gypsies a great many years ago and which Tom Lush and I drove from the Andover area home to Fleet. It remains original, with substantial push-rods operating the overhead inlet valves, but its excessive fuel thirst (which caused us to sell it, since when I had not seen it until now) has resulted in the carburettor being changed. It must be one of the few truly period ‘Twenties charabancs still running. So you see, much can be gained by wandering about the Paddock at a VSCC Meeting. Writers do not disclose their sources, but I am indebted to our “spotter” for these notes. — WB

***

Results (top finishers): VSCC Vintage Race Meeting, April 20, 1991

Fox & Nicholl Race: 1. AJ Mayman (Maserati) 71mph; 2. R Pilkington (Talbot); 3. CA Mann (Alfa Romeo).

Allcomers’ Race: 1. AJ Mayman (Lotus) 84 mph; 2. PM Hannen (Cooper); 3. G Porter (Cooper).

Sam Clutton Race: 1. FP Morley (Napier-Bentley) 72mph; 2. A Boswell (Bequet-Delage);3. S Harper (Morgan).

Patrick Lindsay Race: 1. AJ Mayman (ERA) 80mph; 2. P Hannen (Maserati); 3. P Jaye (Alta).

Sports-Racing Cars Historic Race: 1. J Harper (Jaguar) 80 mph; 2. V Lindsay (Jaguar); 3. JD Pearson (Cooper-Jaguar).

First 5-lap Handicap: M Grist (Alfa Romeo) 63mph; Second 5-lap Handicap: JT Mason (Riley) 57mph; Third 5-lap Handicap: JT Williamson (1908 Itala) 56.62mph;

Five-Lap Scratch Race: G Fisken (Alta), 70 mph. (NB: Only in the one race were speeds calculated to decimal points!)

Fastest lap of the day: Mayman (Lotus), 67.8 sec. (Best lap on old circuit at last VSCC Meeting, 60.03 sec).

Leaders to date in the Motor Sport Brooklands Memorial Contest (Pre-war cars): AJ Mayman, 36 points; Morley, Grist, Mason, Fiskin, and Williamson, 13 points each.

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