Historic scene with... Gordon Cruickshank
Air power in action
How Justin Maeers and his GN special lifted the Motor Sport Brooklands Trophy
If on your way to a VSCC meeting you’re overtaken in a blast of noise by a spindly pointy-tailed cyclecar going unfeasibly quickly, chances are it has Justin Maeers at the wheel, winner of the 2013 Motor Sport Brooklands Memorial trophy. Maeers has been a GN addict for many years, and his current hit is the famous Parker-GN, motivated not by a V-twin but by four pots of a 6.2-litre DH Cirrus engine that ought to be in an aeroplane. As well as our trophy, Maeers also carried off the Longstone Tyres championship for cars driven to events – and even without trying it I reckon that’s quite an achievement. It must be like sitting in a tin bath in a wind tunnel.
All season long Justin was driving to VSCC events, racing hard and driving home again, topping the Motor Sport Trophy rankings for pre-1940 cars that could have run at Brooklands. And it’s not just to go racing.
“I drive it a lot on the road,” he says of his outrageous special. “It’s a fantastic road car. I even drove it from Dijon to Flaine in the Alps and went ice racing in it. I can honestly say that driving it up a mountain pass was the finest driving experience I’ve ever had.”
He began racing in a four-wheeled three-wheeler Morgan, the RIP Special, which he still has. “I’ve raced in other fields,” he says. “A crash in a GN-Ford put me off for a while, then I raced a TR3 for several years and bought a Lola T70. But it just wasn’t as much fun; I missed the crack of the vintage world. The VSCC is such a brilliant way of going racing – everyone’s in it for the right reasons.”
Justin has another very original 1922 GN for VSCC trials to fill the off-season, but loves to get back to the Parker’s grunt. The car has been racing since it was new in 1922, first with its original GN twin, then from 1926 with a JAP, and from ’79 with the Cirrus lump.
“Mark Walker sorted it and got it going quickly in single-seater form. Nine years ago he offered it to me, but my wife said if I bought it she wanted to come along. So we built a 1½-seater body!”
That hasn’t slowed it down: between Walker and Maeers the Parker holds a stack of hillclimb and sprint records and is a spectacular sight on the track, as anyone who watched Maeers’ epic Mallory Park battle with Robert Carr’s AC/GC can attest. Justin is a worthy winner of our venerable trophy, heading Charles Gillett (Frazer Nash) and Andrew Mitchell (HRG).
The GN pair occupy Maeers fully (in between running his high-end lighting company), so he loans the RIP Morgan (also a Prescott record holder) to young drivers. “We must encourage young members,” he says, “and the ’Nash and Morgan sections are particularly friendly to them.” Meanwhile the T70 is for sale, because, says Justin, “there are so many brilliant things to do in the VSCC and only so much time!”
Supersonic city centre
Thrust SSC makes a dramatic centrepiece at Coventry’s Transport Museum
In April Doug Nye wrote about the stillborn Coventry Climax flat-16 F1 engine, suggesting that there might be one in the Coventry Transport Museum. So on my way somewhere I went to the museum to ask. And there isn’t. (Can anyone tell us where any surviving units are?) But there is an impressive collection of British cars, bikes and motorcycles, 99 per cent of them with a Coventry connection, so I did the tour.
I didn’t choose the best time to arrive, a week or two before the museum begins a huge redevelopment project that will revamp most of the galleries and upgrade facilities (while remaining open to visitors). And to go with this 21st-century makeover, the museum gets a 12th-century extension. Built in the late 1100s as a chapel-hospital, the Grade 1-listed Old Grammar School, empty for 30 years, will become an additional exhibition and education space.
It’s hard to picture the days when so many vehicles were manufactured in this area (136 makes are on show), but the succession of defunct marques on display tells a tale of burgeoning enterprise in a new field, inter-war expansion and gradual, painful decay. Crouch and Crowden, Harper and Gwynne and scores of other badges – they would have made Bill Boddy’s eyes light up but failed adequately to tickle the public’s fancy; as the tour hits the BL years and the shrivelling of Britain’s remaining motor industry, the soundtrack in the gallery changes tellingly to Ghost Town by Coventry band The Specials…
I’m always a happy customer for a scene-set, so the ‘street’ of vintage shops and garages, tools and spares spilling across the workshop floor, kept me entertained, and the bicycles – or more correctly, the cycles as the wheel count goes from one to five if you count trailers – demonstrate a fascinating range of ingenious answers to pedal power. Slightly off the transport theme is the Blitz Experience, a smoke-filled ear thumping evocation of the city’s WWII devastation packed with rubble, dust, crushed vehicles and collapsed walls. Powerful. But not as powerful as Thrust SSC.
I hadn’t seen Richard Noble’s supersonic LSR breaker in person before and wasn’t prepared for the sheer size of it, squatting in a tunnel like a nuclear bunker. I approached via the tail, a towering black T above a skinny fuselage with the staggered steerable rear wheels squeezed inside; far ahead the afterburner nozzles on the vast fat Rolls-Royce Spey engines (the same as powered the Phantoms that Thrust pilot Wing Commander Andy Green first served on) point threateningly at you, and it’s a long way forward to the cavernous twin air intakes and floor-hugging needle snout. Only when you turn and look back do you see the tiny canopy through which Green, control yolk snapping from side to side, squinted to keep this missile roughly on the black line of oil that led to 763mph and Mach 1 success. It’s tempting to compare it to the Tornado F3 fighters Green used to fly at work, but Thrust SSC’s ground-hugging crouch and the locomotive brutality of the steel tube frame are a million miles from aviation tech.
What a contrast to move 500 yards to Spon Street, lined with medieval buildings that survived not only the Blitz but over-eager planners. Most have been moved here, corralled by the ring road like a building zoo, but the sagging jetties and drooping rooflines of these ancient timber-framed structures remind you that low-tech can survive stress and age just as well as high. I’ll look forward to another visit to Coventry when the museum revamp is finished next year.
Fire up my tardis
If second sight was widespread we’d all own a valuable classic
You get used to ‘if only’ stories in this business, but an encounter at a wedding recently produced a tale that made me grimace. A gentleman of, shall we say, some seniority was telling me about his experiences in the motor industry in Chelsea in the 1950s and ’60s. One day in the mid-Sixties a young man pulled up at his garage in a peculiar old car and asked if they could store it for a couple of weeks. Terms were agreed and the man disappeared. For two years. Finally my acquaintance, wanting to expand his premises, got fed up of the abandoned relic and paid someone to drag it away and scrap it.
He still remembers the odd winged mascot, and the badge saying ‘Voisin’…
What we’d blow the budget on this month
Cheshire Classic Cars
Fancy a Group B rally car driven by a World Champion? Ex-Colin McRae, this has been fully refurbished to works spec and is ready to compete in historic events
Morgan Plus 8 racer
Well-known competitor in the Morgan Challenge series, fitted with 3.9-litre V8 and alloy body and wings and ready to race. You too can experience 280bhp on sliding pillars!
It ain’t pretty, but this machine has entered more Le Mans races than any other car – an amazing 10 times, placing second, third and fifth. Driven by Streiff, Schlesser, Elford.