This brief history of the Bugatti Owners Club’s famous speed hill-climb venue is opportune — for there will be four meetings there this year.
With no race-course in this country where motor-racing can happen, sprint venues gain a new significance, and the two outstanding are obviously Shelsley Walsh and Prescott. At Prescott the Bugatti Owners’ Club, which owns it, intends to hold climbs there this season “come what may,” so it is fitting that we should refresh our memories of the place and what has already happened there.
The B.O.C. came into being in 1931 and that year held a successful speed hillclimb at Chalfont St. Peter. In later years, this climb, a speed event at Northwood, Lewes speed trials and races at Donington were held and this club, always one of the most exclusive and best-run smaller bodies, went from strength to strength. In 1937, when it was announced that a club hill-climb site had been purchased, the B.O.C. really became a factor in the land! The club was actually all set to purchase Dancer’s End when legal difficulties arose on the old trouble of noise and the matter had to be dropped. A member of the council then bought Prescott House for £2,500, and members were asked to subscribe £4,500 to cover this and the cost of the work needed. The club showed immense enthusiasm, £5 debentures carrying 4 1/2 per cent. interest were issued, and Prescott became an established fact. The estate lay in grand country close to Cleeve Hill, Gloucestershire, about five miles from Cheltenham. It not only provided a course nearly 1,000 yards long with a fine variety of bends and an average gradient of 1 in 20, but a very excellent house as well, adaptable as club premises. When purchased, the road was little more than a rough, slippery track, but it was professionally widened and re-surfaced to give a hard road 15 ft. wide at the narrowest place and 20 ft. wide on the corners. A return road was constructed, fields were laid on as large car parks, and another used as a competitors’ paddock. Work on the road commenced in December, 1937, and the club decided that in April, 1938, it would stage its opening rally at Prescott, to enable members to see and try the new bill. This rally was in every respect a success. After lunch in Cheltenham the famous 1913 Bugatti ” Black Bess” led Earl .Howe’s Mercédès-Benz out to the estate. Timed climbs were permitted, and Craig’s blown 4.9-litre Bugatti set an unofficial record of 55.58 sec., closely run by Syrnondson’s Type 57 S.C. Bugatti in 57.83 see., and Clutton’s astonishing 1908 Sixty Itala in 59.03 sec. During the sunny afternoon Mrs. Newman and her son and Col. Leveson, with his wife and daughter, visited the course, and Col. Leveson promptly joined the club. It was a happy way of raising the curtain.
Prescott proper opened on May 15th, with a closed meeting. Everything proved to be decently in order except for the rough and slippery nature of some of the footpaths, for which an apology was broadcast. The electrical timing apparatus, public address system and marshalling all worked smoothly; there was a footbridge over the course, and times were issued promptly. Encouraged by the 2s. 6d. admission fee, some 2,000 to 3,000 spectators attended, while competitors had £60 worth of prizes to win. The day closed with Arthur Baron in possession of the course record, his 2.3-litre, twin-rear-wheeled G.P. Bugatti clocking 50.7 sec. There were 53 entries in all, and each car had two climbs. In practice Bear damaged his Bugatti and rushed to London for spares, and the Becke-Powerplus, Smyth’s Brescia Bugatti and the Allard all left the road, but without serious damage. Tlie veterans opened proceedings, Clutton hammering home bottom gear on the Itala, and then winning in 58.4 sec. from Heal’s Fiat, which clocked 59.6 sec. Lord Avebury’s Lammas-Graham dominated the touring class and then, of the 1 1/2-litre sports cars, Clark’s rather special Frazer-Nash beat Baillie-Hill’s Meadows H.R.G. by a small margin, clocking 54.8 sec., with Curtis 3rd on another H.R.G. Shakespeare’s Type 55 Bugatti took the 3-litre sports car class from Craig’s Type 55, in 54.8 sec., while Allard, using Hutchison’s V12 Allard, saw everyone off with a run in 54.35 sec., 3.3-litre and 4.9-litre Bugattis being the runners-up. Making much noise, the little Sumner-J.A.P. won the 1 1/2-litre racing class in 51.28 see., and as Vaughan’s Becke-Powerplus and Lones’s Morgan-base “Tiger Cat” were the runners-up, quite a Shelsley atmosphere prevailed. Of the over-1 1/2-litre racing cars, Baron, of course, took the record, and Lemon Burton’s 2.3-litre Bugatti was but 0.04. sec. slower. In this class Craig’s 4.9-litre Bugatti did 52.9 sec., Ballamy, using an old G.P. Bugatti with i.f.s. took the novices’ prize. It was pleasing that Leslie Wilson was present, enjoying himself to the full!
So pleased was the club with the new hill that the annual Monte-Honiton-Carlo Rally ended this year, not at Honiton, but at Prescott. Good times were recorded in the climb by Symondson (54.8 sec.), Shakespeare (55.2 sec.), and Craig (55.6 sec.), all with Bugattis.
The Open Climb on July 3rd surpassed all expectations. Showers rendered the course tricky, but notwithstanding, the record fell. The new holder, Abecassis, took his 1 1/2-litre Alta up a whole 2.85 sec. faster than Baron had climbed in May, clocking, on his second run, 47.85 sec. Baron himself revorded 48.14 sec. with the Bugatti and Fane showing real abandon and going up in the wet, did 48.56 sec. with the dual-blower “Shelsley” Frazer-Nash.
Clutton was motored off the road in the veteran Fiat, but before this, clocked a rousing 58.33 sec., although Mills’s 90 Mercédès won on Formula. Baillie-Hill’s H.R.G. dominated the 1 1/2-liitre sports cars, proving faster than Claridge’s and Curtis’s sister cars. while Fane’s 328 was fastest 2-litre sports. Hutchison’s AIlard won the big sports car category comfortably from a Bugatti and a “30/98” Vauxhall. Buckely got his 750-c.c. racing Austin up in 50.86 sec., beating Denis Evans in the sprint M.G. Ansell’s E.R.A. took 48.77 sec., to get 3rd place in the 1 1/2-litre racing class, and Lord Avebury’s Alta won the 2-litre division, in 50.92 sec. Baron’s “2.3” Bugatti beat Craig’s and Lemon Burton’s Bugattis in the over 2-litres class. The standard of driving was high, but Prescott maintained its reputation as a tricky course, and the less-intelligent onlookers had their share or entertainment. Allard left the road and hit a tree, Lones’s “Tiger Cat” left the road, and Morrish overturned his M.G. Magnette, without sustaining personal injury.
The next meeting was an affair of the Vintage S.C.C., on August 27th, this being the only club, besides the owners, permitted to use the hill, a privilege bestowed because it was Tom Rolt, of the V.S.C.C., who discovered Prescott and introduced the B.O.C. to it. As no R.A.C. timekeeper was present, times could not rank as records, but Fry and the Freikaiser wagen clocked 47.62 without any brakes to speak of, after a crash in practice – .23 sec. better than the course record, unofficially. Heal managed a fantastic 55,91 sec, on the 1910 Fiat, Craig, on a lurid ascent with the “3.3” G.P. Bugatti, was second fastest, and Giron, in spite of gearbox trouble, third fastest in another Bugatti. The fastest vintage car proved to be Grimshaw’s Bugatti (50.74 sec.), while Vaughan’s Becke-Powerplus did 50.99 sec., and Cutler an astonishing 52.44 see. with a Meadows-Frazer-Nash, Derek Matthew bent his Alfa-Romeo.
The last B.O.C. Prescott of 1938 came on September 25th. The course was wet, but the sun cheered the spectators. Fastest time was established hy Ansell’s white E.R.A., in 48.91 sec., but the Alta record remained intact. Abecassis was actually second fastest, in 49.12 see. Again Heal’s Fiat was the most outstanding veteran, with a climb in 57.49 sec. Claridge’s Frazer-Nash managed 56.61 sec. to win the unblown 1 1/2-litre sports category, and in the equivalent blown class Hampton’s 1922 Mercédès needed 57.66 sec. Things livened up when the bigger sports cars came up, Bagratouni’s supercharged Alfa-Romeo actually proving faster than Fane’s B.M.W. and more rapid than previous meeting’s Allards, to clock 53.92 see., on a wildish ascent. Crozier’s L.M.B. V8 won the largest. sports car class in 54.42 see., and with the racing cars came a new record, when Buckley’s Austin won the 750-c.c. class in 52.37 sec. Lord Avebury’s old-type 2-litre Alta took its class with an excellent ascent in 49.81 see., and of the big racing cars, Craig’s “3.3” Bugatti was victorious, in 50 see. dead. A handicap was also nun, Newsome’s S.S. scoring On a climb lasting, 55.85 sec. Fane’s Frazer-Nash was fastest car up to half-time, in 49,13 sec. Again, excitement wasn’t entirely absent. Sumner injuring himself when the noisy Summer-.J.A.P. left the road after clouting the bank, while Symonds overturned his M.G., Vaughan ran short of fairway in the Becke-Powerplus. and Joe Fry seriously damaged Freikaiserwagen in a practice crash.
So ended Prescott’s extremely successful first season, with everyone mightily pleased. Abecassis in charge of a 47.83 sec. Course Record, unofficially bettered by Fry, and 1939 promising even greater things.
The 1939 Prescott season commenced on May 14th, with an Open event. Fifty-eight makes other than Bugatti entered, enlivened and put on their mettle by eleven cars from Molsheim. Better refreshment tents were in use and a big crowd attended with evident enthusiasm. A wet course was probably responsible for the record again remaining the property of Abecassis. The late Percy Maclure was fastest, with the i.f.s., blown 1 1/2 litre Riley, in 51.65 sec. Buckley, with the works o.h.c. Austin Seven, made a magnificent climb in 53.6, see, Abecassis suffered from temperamental plugs, and second fastest time was made by Ansell’s successful E.R.A., in 52.3 sec. Fane made a polished ascent in the single-place Frazer-Nash (52.67 sec.), to take third fastest. Beadle’s 2 1/2-litre Alta won its class In 55.74 sec., and of the sports cars Lind Walker’s blown 1 1/2-litre Bugatti (59.29 sec.), Clarke’s Frazer-Nash (57.97 sec.), Shakspeare’s blown “2.3” Bugatti (56.1 sec.), Langley’s B.M.W. (55.34 sec.) and Hutchison’s Allard (53.21 sec.) were the class victors. Baron’s Bugatti took the big racing class by ascending in 55.81 sec., and Bear’s unblown Bugatti clocked 56.43 sec. Taking 80.5 sec., Hampton’s quite-perfect 1910 10-h.p. Bugatti won the veteran class on formula, with Lycett’s Hispano-Suiza runner-up. Heal’s Fiat, however, was fastest, in 60.48 sec.
A sort of private B.O.C. party happened next, on June 11th, f.t.d. going to Baron’s “3.3” G.P. Bugatti in 48.71 sec., second quickest being Lemon Burton’s 3.8-litre Bugatti, in 49.86 sec. Bagratouni’s Alfa-Romeo unofficially beat Fane’s sports car record, with a run which occupied 52.02 sec. The Becke-Powerplus, handled by Vaughan, won the 1 1/2-litre racing class, in 50 sec.
Came the International fixture, the most ambitious Prescott yet, on July 30th. Raymond Mays entered for the first time, while Molsheim sent over Wimille and the 1937 Formula Bugatti, now blown. In practice, Mays, Wimille and Beadle all broke the course record, and a dry hill on the Sunday, following a bad storm, set the seal to the day’s sport. Everyone was on their best form. Heal got an astounding 54.82 sec. out of the old Fiat, beating Alfa-Romeo, B.M.W. and three Bugattis, besides fourteen others, in the process. Crozier’s 1 1/2-litre Bugatti set a 1 1/2-litre sports car record in 53.07 sec., and Claridge’s unblown Frazer-Nash won its class, in 54.69 sec. Then Bagratouni’s blown 2.6-litre Alfa-Romeo upheld its growing reputation by taking the 1 1/2 – 3-litre sports class at record speed – 52.11 sec.- beating the Alfa-Romeos of Hunter and Templer. B.M.W.s dominated the unblown class, Frost fastest in 54.46 sec., and Allard set a new sports car record with his V8 Allard in 51.33 sec., beating Silcock’s V12 Allard by 1.32 sec. Monro got a good third with his 4 1/2-litre Invicta. The racing classes were immense. Hadley set a 750-c.c. all-time high, in 47.76 sec., Buckley doing 49.39 sec., and the Dowson Lightweight a fine 50.64 sec. Then Fane’s single-seater Frazer-Nash set a 1 1/2-litre record, ascending in 47.72 sec. after spinning completely round on his first run. In this class Ansell’s E.R.A., Hamphire’s Maserati, Maclure’s Riley and the wonderful 1,265-c.c. Becke-Powerplus were placed in that order, all in under 50 sec. Raymond Mays then came to the line in the black 2-litre E.R.A. and did two wonderful, resounding runs, in 46.25 and 46.14 sec., to establish the course record standing to this day. Beadle’s 2-litre Alta was second in 47.37 sec. Wimille, trying very hard and displaying immense verve with an unsuitable car, clocked 46.69 see. with the 4.7-litre Bugatti. He was rewarded with first place in the over 2-litre class, beating Kenneth Evans’s 2.9-litre Alfa-Romeo, and making second fastest ascent of the day. Beadle, Fane, Hadley and Ansell, incidentally, were next in order of general merit. Mays took £100 and a silver cup. That was Prescott at its best.
There remained another Vintage S.C.C. meeting on August 26th, on the eve of war. A soaking course prevented fast times, Vaughan and the Becke managing f.t.d. in 56.07 see., Allard being second best in 56.37 sec. Now we all await May 19th.
April 10th. L. Craig (4.9-litre Bugatti) … 55.58 sec.
May 15th. A. Baron (2.3-litre Bugatti) … 50.7 sec.*
June 12th. R. Symondson (3.3-litre Bugatti) … 54.8 sec.
July 3rd. G. Abecassis (1 1/2-litre Alta) … 47.85 sec.*
Aug. 27th. J. Fry (1,100-c.c. Freikaiswerwagen) … 47.62 sec.
Sept. 25th. R. Ansell (1 1/2-litre E.R.A.) … 48.91
May 14th. P. Maclure (1 1/2-litre Riley) … 51.65 sec.
June 11th. A. Baron (3.3-litre Bugatti) … 48.71 sec.
June 30th. R. Mays (2-litre E.R.A.) … 46.14 sec.*
Aug. 26th. P.Vaughan (1.2-litre Becke-Powerplus) … 56.07
May 19th. ? ? ?
* Course Record
Existing Prescott Records
(Something at which to Aim)
Veterans … A.S. Heal (Fiat) … 54.82 sec.
Sports cars up to 1 1/2 litres, unsupercharged … Bailie-Hill (H.R.G.) … 54.26 sec.
Sports cars up to 1 1/2 litres, supercharged … G. Crozier (Bugatti) … 53.07 sec.
Sports cars of 1 1/2-3 litres, unsupercharged … A. Fane (B.M.W.) … 52.75 sec.
Sports cars of 1 1/2-3 litres, supercharged … G. Bagratouni (Alfa-Romeo) … 52.11 sec.
Sports cars over 3 litres, unsupercharged … S. Allard (Allard) … 51.33 sec.
Sports cars over 3 litres, supercharged … J. Crowther (Bugatti) … 55.03 sec.
Racing cars up to 750 c.c. … H. Hadley (Austin) … 47.76 sec.
Racing cars 751-1,500 c.c. … A. Fane (Frazer-Nash) … 47.72 sec.
Racing cars of 1,501-2,000 c.c. … R. Mays (E.R.A.) …46.14 sec.
Racing cars over 2 litres … J. Wimille (Bugatti) … 46.69 sec.
Absolute record … Mays (E.R.A.) … 46.14 sec.
Sports car record … Allard (Allard) … 51.33 sec.
Veteran record … Heal (Fiat) … 54.82 sec.