The MCC "one-hour blinds"



Last February we described how the Junior Car Club entertained its more active members in the vintage years by putting on once a year a One Hour High-Speed Trial, which with notable impetuosity had the flavour of a road course, even though these admirable events took place within the confines of the Brooklands estate.

Not to be outdone, the Motor Cycling Club, Britain’s oldest such institution and well into cars as well as two-wheelers, also held a High Speed Trial in which amateur drivers could try their hands at some fast track motoring. But unlike the JCC, which had a great reputation for ingenuity, the MCC was content to use Brooklands’ outer circuit for its annual frolic, which also lasted one hour and become known by the rather coarse title of “the one-hour blind”. Cars and bikes “blinding” round the Track, see?

Following the JCC’s initiative in 1925, the first of these MCC one-hour blinds took place later that season, timed for October as a good palliative for the fug and frustration of the London Motor Show. It might be thought that private owners of precious motor-cars would not want to submit them to this sort of full-throttle, flat-out cruelty. But the more circumspect who decided to go in for this new MCC speed event did not need to utilise quite these extremes, because to win a top award they had only to complete a given number of laps in the hour, and if they proved incapable of doing that, lesser prizes could be won, for somewhat inferior performances.

For example, when the regulations for the 1925 “blind” were studied it was seen that the stipulated 37 laps or 102.37 miles need not be covered at more than 45 mph (2 hr 15 min) if you drove a car of over 1,500 c.c., to win a gold medal, or more than 37 mph and 40 mph to achieve this with a car of, respectively, 1,100 c.c. or 1-1/2-litres. The many enthusiasts who had watched enviously the racing at Brooklands meetings now had the chance, in their road-equipped cars, to get a taste of speed on the famous Track. Enough, in fact, for 60 of them to present their cars for scrutiny before the start of this first MCC High Speed Trial.

Three failed to materialise and Edward Hillary’s Frazer Nash was not permitted to run because it did not have the prescribed silencing arrangments. But just before 2.15 pm the field got away to an impressive massed start, the time-keepers/lap-scorers being assisted because the first dozen cars had passengers in white jerseys, those in the next 12 cars in red jerseys, and the next batches of a dozen cars had passengers adorned with blue, yellow and green jerseys, respectively — I wonder if any of this wearing apparel was prized afterwards as souvenirs?

At the end of the initial rather fraught and frenzied lap, with one luckless driver forced to the top of the Members’ banking at some 40 mph, first to appear was H J Aldington in his Frazer Nash, pursued by Leon Cushman in the 20/70 Crossley, E P Paxman in his Frazer Nash, R Norris in the Rhodes, Ian Macdonald’s 12/50 Alvis, all well-known drivers, and by a Salmson and C M C Turner’s Gwynne, followed by another Salmson. The spectators were presented with the unusual sight of four-seaters with hoods furled “dicing” with more sporting motorcars, and it was difficult for some competitors not to regard the occasion as a race. One lap however was enough for a Windsor, two laps for Bartley’s Gwynne, which had broken a valve-cotter, and Conradi (Salmson) who had run a big-end. After three laps a Senechal and Urquhart Dykes’ Alvis stopped at their pits, which wasn’t compulsory — but quickly resumed. A G Gripper (Aston Martin) also had an early call at the pits and a Lea-Francis was already out, with magneto trouble. “Aldy” was also in troubie, with a loose silencer.

It was a fine free-for-all, friendly duels developing and some of the saloons, such as a Rhode, Austin, Riley and Cecil Kimber’s Morris-Oxford, challenging the open cars. But such speed round Brooklands took its toll. The camshaft drive on a Riley sheared, causing retirement in clouds of black smoke accompanied by loud explosions, and a Morris-Oxford had a big-end fail. Alan Hill found the pace deteriorating on his Rhode and changed the magneto, but could not then get the timing right. The Crossley was unlucky, a tyre puncturing after 19 laps, and a wheel was changed on Dixon’s Vauxhall behind the Members’ Hill. Even this simple event for production cars called for some plug changes and replenishment of petrol, oil and water, a Sunbeam nearly lost its bonnet, a Riley its large silencer and fishtail, in spite of these being strapped to the luggage grid — a non standard arrangement no doubt foisted on the driver by the recent Brooklands silencer regulations. (Only the driver was supposed to work on a car).

First to complete his run in this new event was H E Tatlow, whose 1-1/2-litre Lea-Francis had been lapping at over 60 mph. An Alfa Romeo was the next to complete its lappery. No times were issued, as the MCC didn’t want to brand the thing as a race, but Tatlow had completed 102 miles in about 98 minutes. For the rest it had not been very testing, 45 qualifying for gold medals, and an Alvis for a bronze medal. Incidentally, two runners were entered as Victories, but may have been Palladiums, and two Belgian FNs, of which I owned a saloon example for a short time, long afterwards, a Surrey and a Straker Squire light car were amongst the gold-medal winners.

Easy, with but ten retirements/non-qualifications. . . And so popular by 1926 that MCC Secretary Jackie Masters had to put on two One-hour runs, the first starting at noon, the second at 3.30pm. The average speeds needed to obtain top awards had been increased to 50, 52-1/2 and 55-1/4 mph in round figures, for the three classes.

So that October it all happened again. From a massed start a 7-litre Hispano Suiza battled with two 3-wheeler Morgans. R J Munday had a skittish 1914 30/98 Vauxhall but Bearman’s later 30/98 held the Track well and a Senechal was aided by an extra passenger in its tail. To avoid the starting crush Beck calmly put on the tonneau cover of his Newton-Ceirano before getting away. Mulder’s big Hispano, lapping at some 70 mph, was so much on the boil at the finish, that its engine ran on for some time. A GN succumbed to over-heating which a five minute pause failed to alleviate and Derrington’s Salmson soon needed water (one gallon), oil (half-a-gallon) and new plugs (four).

In the second “blind” (the solo motorcycles had had a separate Trial that morning) the runners included seven ACs, two with hoods up, a big Metallurgique saloon, two Bugattis, an aged Jowett and Pollitzer’s Alfa Romeo, four up. Oats (OM) and Fairrie’s (2-litre Bugatti) treated the event as a race, which the latter “won” by some 200 yards. An A7 lapped consistently at 55/60 mph but some of the ACs broke their 1/4-elliptic front springs. This time 47 golds, one silver and one bronze medal were awarded, the last named to a Delage. Although intended as an amateur event, as the MCC said, “to have an afternoon’s sport unmarred by the police,” some well-known drivers really had a go. Space precludes detailed acounts of all these fast “blinds” but they continued up to 1938, and one- and two-lap races were included in the programmes. Also timed flying laps, in one of which in 1938 Gerry Crozier’s Ford V8, its leathercloth body well zipped up, clocked a remarkable 96.71 mph.

By 1930, the last of the “vintage” years, gold-medal speeds were up to 52.57 mph for 850 c.c. cars, 66.4 mph for the “big-uns”. Yet the majority of the competitors gained “golds”, and the retirements were confined to an Aston Martin and a Senechal, a Frazer Nash and A L Baker’s Bugatti (whereas his father’s Minerva comfortably “struck gold”, at 77.28 mph), while non-qualifiers were an A7, Hutchison’s Frazer Nash, a Triumph Super 7, a Riley 9, Blaw’s Bugatti, a Lea-Francis, a Singer Six, Munday’s 30/98, and a Hotchkiss, the latter after a duel with Elgood’s 3-litre Bentley. A wheel had to be changed on Wood’s Speed Six Bentley, after lapping at around 100 mph — but it still averaged 91.38 mph, Elwes’ s/c A7 covered 26 laps at 73.29 mph, while Lord de Clifford’s blown 2-litre Lagonda did 82.04 mph. On its first competition appearance Linfield’s MG Six Speed Model covered 69-3/4 miles in the hour, a Stutz saloon, starting late and throwing rusty water over itself, 74.89 miles. The unluckiest driver was Seyfried, whose Aston Martin had rocker trouble before completing a lap. . .

Contrary to the MCC objecting to those who treated their High Speed Trials as occasions for establishing personal records this was encouraged when the Badderley Trophy was put up in 1937 for the first driver to exceed 100 miles in the hour. That year rain almost washed things out but in the first Trial Sir Lionel Phillips in the 7.2-litre Leyland 8, with Peter Robertson-Rodger as passenger, managed 97.85 miles, with a best lap of 100.61 mph. In the second “blind” on that September day Elgood’s 4-1/2-litre Bentley put in an impressive 98 miles, under very poor conditions.

So the pursuit of the Trophy was on in 1938, remembering that in 1936 H J Aldington had achieved 98.52 miles in spite of losing time while he changed his goggles, again in rain, in a 2-litre TT 328 BMW. (“Aldy” challenged again in 1938 in the 328 BMW, with Mrs Aldington as passenger). Fine weather at last assisted the faster competitors, and in the first run Sir Lionel and the eleven-year-old Leyland improved on their previous best with an impressive 106.71 miles. Wooding’s Talbot 95 was next best, at 103.22 miles. But in the second run Elgood clinched his right to the Trophy, the vintage 4-1/2-litre Bentley setting a rousing 110.3 mph. And that was it. Because in 1939 war washed out such sport. In 1949 the VSCC revived these high-speed trials at Silverstone, under slightly different rules, and still runs them. W B