THIS is not, of course, an expression of political idealism, though doubtless we shall get plenty of that sort of thing written for us and talked at us when the bombs have finished dropping and the shells have forgotten to sing. It is merely an expression of hope that competition motoring will be regarded a little more kindly by the Government and the public at large, when the heroes come looking for a country fit to live in, than was the case before this war. If we forget all about motor-racing from the international politics viewpoint, then it has to be agreed that of recent times racing and other forms of competition in which speed was the deciding factor have had very little generally to justify their continuance. Formerly we told the ordinary man-in-the-car that the racing car of to-day was tomorrow’s tourer and, enjoying improved tyres, better brakes, more efficient motoring generally, he found that not too difficult to believe, even if he never paid all but a few coppers short of a pound to look in at a B.A.R.C. meeting. Moreover, we told the manufacturer that racing was an excellent advertisement, and at a time when even Sunday papers would mention your new light car if you so much as entered it for a High-Speed Trial (and give it half a column if a pretty girl drove it) that sounded quite well, too. But times changed. Sunbeam gave it up, then Bentley, then M.G., then E.R.A. Trials attracted unfavourable attention. Race entries fell. A major war, it seems, could alone re-focus public opinion correctly on the value of healthy competition and publicised research to our third greatest industry. For if this War does not do just that surely nothing ever will!
In the first place, every man and woman in the British Isles knows that they owe their security to the Fighter Command of the R.A.F. It is the duty of motor-racing enthusiasts, fanatics if you will, to emphasise to them that our present fighter aircraft are extremely closely related to the racing seaplanes which nobly upheld British prestige in international contests a decade ago. The fighter that is universally recognised as our most potent yet talked of, the Supermarine Spitfire, is a direct descendant of the Supermarine S-4, S-5, S-6 and S-6B racing seaplanes of 1925-31. The Air Ministry decided, in 1927, that the immense cost of having built a team of racing seaplanes to represent this country in the International Schneider Trophy contest would be completely justified. Three Supermarine S-5s were ordered, and flown by the R.A.F. Flt.-Lieut. Webster, flying the example with the geared 875-h.p. Napier “Lion” motor, won the race at 281.65 m.p.h., while Flt.-Lieut. Worsley was second on the S-5 with an ungeared 875-h.p. “Lion” engine, at 273.07 m.p.h. Later in the year Flt.-Lieut. d’Arcy Greig set up a British speed record of 319.57 m.p.h. with an S-5. The S-6 Supermarine represented Great Britain in the 1929 race, and that flown by Flg.-Off. Waghorn won the Trophy at 328.63 m.p.h. In September of that year Sq.-Ldr. Orlebar set up a new World’s Speed Record of 357.7 m.p.h. The Rolls Royce R-type V12 racing motor was used. Two of the original S-6s were flown in the 1931 contest, but Rolls Royce Ltd. had now got the output of their racing engine up to 2,300-h.p. and this engine figured in two new S-6Bs. One of them, piloted by Flt.-Lieut. Boothman, won the race at 340.8 m.p.h. The Rolls-Royce motor was then boosted to 2,600-h.p. and Flt.-Lieut. Stainforth set the World’s Speed Record of 407.5 m.p.h. From these great machines were developed, first the F7/30 single-seat fighter, and then the “Spitfire I,” with a maximum speed of 340 m.p.h. at 17,000 ft. The next version did 362 m.p.h. at 18,500 ft. and went into squadron service in July, 1938. Still on 87 octane fuel, further improvements resulted in 367 m.p.h. So the type was developed, to give 387 m.p.h. at 18,500 ft., as the “Spitfire II,” on 1,250 h.p., using 100 octane fuel—which are the last figures I may give you.
In that simple little history is surely proof of the incalculable value of racing to technical development. The “chariots for the glamour boys,” as a certain flying paper has so inaptly termed these remarkable fighting single seaters, whether “Spitfire,” Hawker “Hurricane,” Boulton Paul “Defiant” or Fairey “Fulmar,” all carry the unmistakable stamp of race-breeding—via the late R. J. Mitchell and the Supermarine seaplanes which he designed for the Schneider Trophy races.
After that so extremely convincing reminder of the value of racing to technical progress, let us consider the much frowned-on matter of trials-riding as it has its place in war. By grace of the dear old gentlemen of the R.A.C. it has to be “riding” and not “driving.” Have motor-cycle trials been banned in war time Britain? Certainly not; the War Office sanctions trials and scrambles on war-testing grounds, organised by the ordinary clubs. Indeed, such events are encouraged, and Service, A.R.P., A.F.S. and Home Guard personnel allowed to compete, subject only to using the basic fuel allowance. Why? Because this is by far the best way of imparting essential riding-training to members of military mechanised units and of keeping mobile units of Civilian Defence organisations on tiptoe. The Army has its own big trials, and that civilian riders are still more expert than the majority of the boys in khaki is evident by the fact that they invariably demonstrate to the troops before these events. So any fair-minded and thinking individual must accept the value of motor-trials in the national scheme of things, no matter how deeply they frowned at number-bearing cars in peace-time. Again, you must not examine army vehicles too obviously, of course, but can you help noticing the influence of the competition car which is embodied in almost every type? Aero screens, “comp.” covers, horizontally-raked steering-columns, good visibility, easy-to-reach fire-extinguishers, and so on. And even skilled lorry-drivers have to be taught trials-driving tactics effectively to man them.
An oft-scoffed-at argument in favour of building racing cars used to be that the men who prepared these cars learnt a new standard of skill and pride of workmanship. I have often brought out that point myself, but usually with my tongue in my cheek, for the happy owner of a mass-produced fug-box has got a sound vehicle very inexpensively and knows that each bolt is far from being hand-fitted and that certainly his bearings are not hand-scraped over a period of many hours—and, of course, he has no reason to care the least little bit.
But he needs very little imagination to realise that highly-skilled workmanship must go into the development and production of military aeroplanes and of all those weapons of modern warfare that are going to retain for him his liberty. It is not unreasonable to suppose that four expert mechanicians to one racing car is a fair average to take, so when a field of 30 cars roars away at the fall of the flag, here are 120 skilled personnel ready for the next war-call—and 30 “boys” well suited to fly with the R.A.F. If our vast car-manufacturing concerns cannot spare a little of their immense turn-over to produce racing cars in the new world to come, thus releasing 20 men out of 20,000 who will improve their engineering knowledge and dexterity, it will be a pretty poor state of affairs. It will be an even worse state of affairs if the public, their Government, and the people’s magistrates and judges, do not recognise, in this new World, what we have always known—that a capable driver of a fast car is far safer than a disinterested dawdler in a little, seemingly-harmless, box of glass. It is said, with some disgust, that the wonderful little o.h.c. racing Austin Sevens are rotting in the open. I feel quite cheerful at the news—if it means that Sir Herbert is so certain racing will be essential to his firm after the war that new designs are to be put in hand for the purpose-. . . . I notice with pleasure that the great Ford Motor Company Ltd. is using the front covers of the weekly motor papers for a display of advertising showing a firm appreciation of sporting motoring—although I was sorry their artist associated a stop-watch with Beggars’ Roost, so suggesting to an uneducated public, as the dailies have always done, that M.C.C. trials are vast day-and-night races. The Ford Company used to take more than a little interest in private-owner trials and rallies and presumably intends to do so again.
I can only hope, when our gallant young men return from serving their country in the air, on the sea, and in the mechanised land forces—those who do return—that they will not be criticised and hampered and expensively fined and absurdly abused for wanting to handle fast, controllable cars as such machinery should be handled. And I hope that their companions, who will have tolerated khaki combinations almost continuously throughout the war years, will not be universally regarded as social outcasts just because they wear much shorter skirts and generally seductive clothes and use far more orange lipstick and paint and pencil than would be quite fitting in grandmamma’s drawing room. Youth rather past youth and attempting to forget it will doubtless feel an irresistible craving for fast cars, fascinating friends, late nights, drinks, dancing, early rising and long and rapid drives, Castrol “R,” racing and all the rest of it. As youth with a like burden did in the years 1919-1920. Let these grown-up boys and girls have their fling; the young man who gets his Messerschmitt at 80,000 ft. will not be likely to spill blood at the wheel of his Bentley; the young woman who is going successfully and with honour through service in the W.A.A.F., A.T.S. or F.A.N.Y. is unlikely to run into serious trouble when men once more wear civvies and women silk. Although, as an aside, I am rather fearful that those who desire completely sophisticated young things as their passengers will find that military responsibilities and discipline (and the increased wages of the workers in industry) will result in the majority of the rising generation of British Womanhood being quite 100 per cent. in this direction. I do not see why any sane motorists should be frowned on and fined in future, in the light of the part motoring is playing in the present war. The Budget has been disposed of with no increase in taxation. If nothing unexpected happens the h.p. tax would seem to be stabilised at least until January, 1943. After 21 months of war motoring is not restricted more than the requirements of defence make essential, at all events at the time of writing. Can it be that a brave new world is dawning, in which there will be a greater tolerance of sporting motoring and motor-racing, based on the increasing mechanisation-consciousness of the people? We can but hope so, for certainly if this little island is to hold its place in the modern world it must be so; nor need such a condition be in any measure as unpalatable as that Brave New World pictured by Huxley, in his book whose title suggested the heading attached to this outpouring.