The Editor Interviews

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Bill Bengry, Rally Driver

That is how the entry in my local telephone directory reads, reminder of one of our more versatile rally drivers, who by reason of careful personal preparation of the cars he drove, allied to determination and skill, has an enormous number of awards to his credit, and now prepares his son’s competition Opel 400 with undiminished enthusiasm.

It was perhaps not unexpected that Bill Bengry took to motor-cars as a hobby and an eventual livelihood, because he was brought up very much in a transport world. His grandfather ran a haulage business, and his father, who was an enthusiastic football follower, obtained a convertible body for the Model-T Ford used by his haulage company and began taking trains to away matches. This led to the establishment of a proper coach business, which still operates today. The Ford was replaced with a Fiat in 1923, followed by the first Reo coach in this country, the initial task of which was to take visitors from Leominster to the Wembley Exhibition of 1924.

After this, four Reo Speed-Wagon coaches went into service, and by the time Bengry’s father was involved they were using these with, later, a mixed fleet of Leyland Tigers, Bedfords, Maudsleys and Fodens. The haulage business went much farther back, to 1904 in fact, first using Foster and Clayton steam-waggons, and then Sentinel Speed steam-waggons and Leyland and Bedford petrol trucks. It is interesting that the Reo coaches eventually had to be scrapped because the PSV regulations forbade transmission brakes, in case these caused the prop-shaft to break and either come up through the floor or carry, away the remaining brake gear. One interesting coach operated for a time at Bengry ‘s was an experimental Sentinel with underfloor engine, It met its end in Lentwardine when it ran into a flood, the water sucked into the cylinders bursting the block. In 1937/38, Bill and his brother decided to try their hand as agricultural contractors, having been given an early Austin 20 tractor and a Titan tractor. He later purchased his first new Ferguson, followed by John Deer tractors that served throughout the war years. Interest in mere motor-cars had been fostered by an uncle who had a Riley Redwing and that led to an interest in Rileys generally. Bengry then played with 100 mph cars like 4 1/2-litre Lagonda, Railton, and Alvis, had a less-quick 3-litre open Lagonda, an FWD supercharged Alvis faric saloon, and did some work improving the suspension and appearance of a Morgan 4/4, etc. He also had a straight-eight Bugatti with a saloon body possessing sophisticated windscreen and window-lift arrangements. This was a disappointment, as the noise rivalled that of the FWD Alvis but the speed wasn’t anything like the hoped-for 100 mph. But into all these cars Bill worked his own ideas, a valuable introduction to preparing cars for rallies. After the war he took a Ford Agency in Leominster but, failing to get a quick supply of new cars, changed to his well-remembered VW Agency. (Today Bengry Motors (Leominster) Ltd are Peugeot / Talbot and Vauxhall / Opel agents, at the same Longmore Garage in Leominster.) The versatile ex-rally driver has many business interests in the area, and he was Mayor of Leominster in 1971, involving the Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace — there is a photograph of the overalled Mayor looking underneath a big Rover before one very successful classic rally!

So Bengry started rallying Volkswagens, finding the handling on ice and snow great fun. Last year he did much work refurbishing this well-known red Beetle for the RAC Golden Jubilee Rally; it was in his drive as I arrived in the Alfa 6 to get this story and in his grounds are some of his old rally cars, like the London to Sydney Ford GT, and bits and pieces from others, a veritable rally museum or graveyard . . . By this time he had become closely associated with the formation of the Hereford MC and when they had a speed hillclimb at Bucknell he decided he had to beat an HRG entry, so he hurried home to collect an early Alvis Speed 20 chassis, blew up its tyres, hurried back, and made ftd. This was the wreck of a demonstrator damaged in the Coventry “blitz”, which Bengry had bought for £37. At this time he used to help Eric Brandon and the Coopers build their Cooper 500s in Surbiton and his own competition cars included the 1938 Morgan 4/4, a Fiat Balilla saloon to which he fitted a spot-light that swivelled in unison with the front wheels — “all right, but a bit fraught if you had to use opposite lock!” — a Volvo 121, and a Simca 1000 saloon the body of which was too weak for rallying. For some time he was hampered by lack of efficient navigators.

Thus the Riley Redwing “met its Waterloo” at Waterloo on a Measham Rally, an ex-Tank Commander took too many rough short cuts to which the Balilla’s fabric-coupling propshaft objected, but the VW with Konis on the back would work quietly up to 80 mph and was used for Autotests and Motoring News rallies with much success. A funny episode was that, as Bengry entered sometimes as “Bill” and at others by his proper names, Alfred Edgar, the then-Editor of MN did not realise he was leading the paper’s Championship. . . . The real break came when the Triumph rally driver, Peter Roberts, wanted to do an Express & Star Rally but hadn’t a car. Bengry had rebuilt the engine of a Simca Montlhery saloon and with it they “cleaned” all sections and went on to win. Before this Peter insisted on seat-belts, which Bengry