The 1934 Fox and Nicholl Lagondas
For the 1934 RAC Tourist Trophy race on the Ards circuit to the east of Belfast a team of three special Lagondas were entered by the well-known firm of Fox and Nicholl. Having raced teams of Talbots for a number of years Arthur Fox returned to the make Lagonda and the three special cars, powered by 4 1/2-litre Meadows engines, were entered for the Hon. Brian Lewis, John Hindmarsh and John Cobb, their racing numbers in the 1934 event being, respectively, 1, 2 and 3, leading the entry list as they were the largest-engined cars in the race. The three cars were constructed in the summer of 1934 and were registered BPK 201, BPK 202, BPK 203, and were very distinctive in their bright red paintwork with regulation four-seater bodies and rounded tails surmounted by a central fin. A large petrol tank was concealed within the tail, with a hinged lid on the top to get at the two filler caps, and under the rear of the tail was the spare wheel, the end of the tail with its fin being held in place by four spring clips.
In the race Lewis and Hindmarsh were well in the picture, finishing fourth and fifth, respectively, while Cobb finished eighth. In 1935 Arthur Fox entered two of the cars for Le Mans in mid-summer, with Hindmarsh and Luis Fontes in BPK 202 and Dr. Benjafield and Sir Ronald Gunter in BPK 203. The former pair won the race and the latter pair finished 13th after some gearbox trouble; the winning car raced under number 4 and the second car under number 14. For the 1935 RAC Tourist Trophy race, again at Ards, Hindmarsh drove BPK 202 under race number 1 and C. J. P. Dodson drove BPK. 201 under number 2, and they finished seventh and eighth, respectively, and would have been higher but for tyre changes. If nothing else, these Fox and Nicholl cars were reliable, making seven entries in their two seasons and finishing every time, the races being long ones, 24 hours at Le Mans and over six hours in the TT.
For 1936 Arthur Fox built a new set of cars and the BPK trio were sold into the sporting world and used as road-going sports cars. The remarkable thing is that all three still exist, in full working order, and ostensibly in original trim, all with original engines and racing bodywork. In recent times there has been some confusion over these three cars, probably caused due to the cars being widely spread and living sheltered lives. BPK 201 went to America around 1953. BPK 202 was in regular use just pre-war, and from the early 1950s was kept by one owner and only used for special occasions. BPK 203 went to Ireland in about 1937/38 and was brought back to England in 1956 and led a quiet life in Yorkshire. Interest has revived in the team of cars since BPK 202 passed to David Johnson, who appears with it at Lagonda and VSCC meetings, and BPK 203 has passed to Robby Hewitt and is beginning to make regular VSCC appearances. BPK 201 is still in America and has recently joined a dealer’s collection, but plans are afoot to bring it back to England.
In Motor Sport for April 1959, on page 243, in on article by L. S. Michael, O.B.E., is the statement that the 1934 Team cars had the 10 ft. 9 in. wheelbase Lagonda chassis frame, whereas the proposed M45R employed the 10 ft. 3 in. chassis frame of the earlier 3-litre Lagonda. This caused the American owner of BPK 201 to comment that his car must have been cut-and-shut, as it had a 10 ft. 3 in. wheelbase! Measuring BPK 203 last week I made it also 10 ft. 3 in., so Michael was obviously wrong in his article, which is surprising when reports of the 1934 TT all quoted the cars as having a 6-in. shorter wheelbase than standard. Cross-checking various reports, road-tests, articles and brochures on the Meadows engine as used in these Lagondas, everyone agreed that the cylinder bore was 85 mm. but there were variations in stroke from 120 mm. to 120.65 mm., while the swept volume varied from 4,429-c.c. to 4,467 c.c. So far I have not had the cylinder head off BPK 201 so I have yet to check these figures, but a specification sheet published by Henry Meadows Ltd. gives the bore at the agreed 85 mm. and the stroke at 120 mm., with a capacity of 4,467 c.c.
Last autumn the Ulster Vintage Car Club unveiled a memorial to the RAC Tourist Trophy races on the Ards circuit and published a very nice souvenir programme. In this was a photograph purporting to be Hindmarsh (spelt with an “e” in the middle), in one of the team cars, whereas in fact it was Dodson in the 1935 race, in BPK 201. David Johnson very graciously sent BPK 202 (the Le Mans winner) over to Ireland for this ceremony and Lord Dunleath drove it round the famous circuit, and in Motor Sport for December 1971 we showed the photograph from the souvenir programme and one of Johnson’s car taken in September 1971, reproduced again below. Arnold Davey, the Hon. Registrar of the Lagonda Club, was quick to put matters right, pointing out that Dodson drove BPK 201 in 1935, and Lord Dunleath drove BPK 202. In transferring the information from the letter to V-E-V Miscellany America became Australia. None of the 1934 team has ever been in Australia. The souvenir programme confusion arose from the car in the photograph bearing the racing number 2 and Hindmarsh being number 2 in 1934, but in 1935 Dodson was number 2 and Hindmarsh was number 1. That the photograph in question was taken in 1935 and not 1934 is borne out by the car behind, which is clearly a TT Singer, number 36, and on page 20 of the programme is the 1935 entry list with number 36 listed as a 972-c.c. Singer driven by J. D. Barnes. Entry number 2 is C. J. P. Dodson with a Lagonda 4,451 c.c. On the same page is the 1934 entry list and car number 36 is a Riley driven by P. G. Fairfield and car number 2 is J. S. Hindmarsh with a 4.429-c.c. Lagonda.
I have not been able to look at BPK 201, but the other two cars still have the RAC Scrutineer’s stamp (they were very thorough in those days) on the right front engine bearer, pinched with a die just by the engine number. The three engines were serial numbers M45/269 C58/1, M45/270/C58/2, and M45/271 C58/3; at some time the engines of BPK 201 and BPK 202 were changed over, while BPK 203 is original. Gearboxes were always a weak point on these cars and BPK 202 has a different model of Lagonda gearbox to original, while BPK 203 has an Alvis gearbox at present, while the original one is being repaired.
Among the remarkable things about these three 38 year-old cars are that the bodies have survived, even to the finned tail cover and the mudguards, and mountings which were spring steel are all still as they were made in 1934. The two cars which ran in the 1935 TT, BPK 201 and BPK 202, had new bonnets with louvres on the top as well as the sides, and outside exhaust systems. The louvred bonnet tops still remain, but the exhaust systems have reverted to the normal inside pattern. BPK 203 was not converted and still retains its 1934 louvre-less bonnet top. However, for the 1935 Le Mans race it was fitted with two bonnet straps, which were replaced by the normal single one after the race, but the holes for the fixings in the aluminium bonnet boards can still be seen.
Tracing the history of old racing cars is a fascinating business, but depressing when various accepted pieces of history can be proved to be wrong, indicating a casualness by reporters at the time, while taking an actual car to pieces and cleaning and measuring it can cause dreadful confusion to the historians. I am currently involved with BPK 203, and while number-plates can easily be changed, it is satisfying to find original stamping marks under old paintwork or pencil or chalk marks behind bodywork panels. That we actually have BPK 203 I am fairly well satisfied, as removing the original leather from one of the interior panels revealed 203 chalked on the plywood base, and cleaning the underside of the bonnet boards revealed 203 stamped on the aluminium.—D. S. J.