Veteran Edwardian Vintage, March 1974

A section devoted to old-car matters

Racing Austins return to Donington

On the last day of January Tom Wheatcroft added two more racing cars to his now-famous Donington Collection. They were a Twin-Cam and a side-valve racing Austin, which British Leyland, largely through the efforts of Ivor Greening, have lent to Wheatcroft, who offered to rebuild them. Typically, Tom made this the occasion for a party backed by BL.

When the two now-immaculate Austins, which had been sadly neglected since their racing days ended with the war, were formally accepted, the entire pre-war Racing Team was there as well—drivers Kay Petre, who arrived in her Mini-Cooper, Charlie Dodson, Pat Driscoll, Bert Hadley, Charles Goodacre, mechanic Raleigh Appleby, and J. F. Bramley who looked after the Team’s publicity. I wonder how many other museums could assemble such a team, so long after a car’s active racing career had ended?

I happened to be at Donington when the Austins arrived for overhaul, so I know just how much remarkable progress was made in a mere four months. That the two Austins are now not only absolutely immaculate but are again in running trim is quite staggering. Especially remembering how for years we heard that all the spares had been scrapped, although the s.v. car was hurriedly made to work for the 1950 Brooklands Memorial Day, and the Twin-Cam was roughly thrown together for the 1972 Austin Golden Jubilee. These are complicated supercharged small racing cars, of which only this one side-valve and one other Twin-Cam survive, the latter still in BL’s possession. Fortunately, the Wheatcroft workshop is used to complex restorations! John Cole refurbished the bodies, which were resprayed by Jim Underhill. Shop-Foreman Brian Davis and his mechanics Rod Wright and Michael Shearer got to work on both engines. Walker’s Packings supplied a head gasket for the 32-stud head of the s.v. car and Kingsley Engineering produced a new fuel tap, a centre-shaft for the oil-pump drive and the necessary bushes for the Twin-Cam. They are local firms, at Oadby. Another local company, Radiator Repair Services of Leicester, made new radiators and oil-coolers, which were needed for both cars. New oilpiping was obtained by BL from Aeroquip UK Ltd. Graham Tilley and Harry Hart also had a hand in the rebuild. Then came the difficult task of timing the Twin-Cam and persuading both cars to run in anger again, after a silence lasting the best part of 34 years. The complexity of the o.h.v. 744 c.c. engine would have deterred many people but the Wheatcroft mechanics obviously share Tom’s love of historic machinery, so all was well—if you want to refresh your memory of these cars, it is all in the “Book of the Austin Seven” which Grenville published in 1972.

So the nostalgic day arrived. The only thing Tom had forgotten was to tell us to bring dark-glasses, for in a month of almost continual rain he had arranged for the sun to shine. The Team drivers again climbed into the cars and although the s.v. was proving temperamental, as racing cars are all too apt to do before their public, we were able to hear the Twin-Cam make all the right sounds, when Goodacre took it for a canter after lunch. The successes of these 750 c.c.class cars are well-known. At Donington alone they won outright the 1937 Coronation Trophy Race (Goodacre) and the 1938 British Empire Trophy Race (Dodson) and their other notable victories are to be found in “The MOTOR SPORT Book of Donington” (Grenville, 1973). Incidentally, the official hand-out was in error over the 1937 Relay Race, won by the Austin Team of Mrs. Petre, Hadley and Goodacre, this being run not by the Junior Car Club but by the Light Car Club and being nearer 250 than 500 miles, while it is a pity the BL typist cannot spell Shelsley Walsh or Prescott correctly!

After the Twin-Cam had uttered its brief battle-cry (its tachometer reads to 12,000 r.p.m.) we returned to the museum building to see a publicity film of the Murray Jamieson racer being built at Longbridge in 1935 and another, on a smaller screen, of the happenings that had taken place outside only moments before—what wonderful “toys” we possess, these days!

It is absolutely splendid that these Austins are now in the Donington Collection and I strongly recommend a visit to pay homage to them, and to the girl and men who drove them to prestige-making victories for Britain. You will find plenty of photographic evidence of this in the Museum.—W. B.