The Bugatti Owners’ Club holds its first Prescott Speed Hill-Climb of 1948 on May 9th. Here is a short survey of what has gone before…
The position at Prescott
In these days of constant flitting from one course to another, when we are allowed to run sprint meetings at all, Prescott is the only course at which drivers compete regularly, thus offering a chance to compare figures and cars. Shelsley Walsh always has continued with its meetings, and we sincerely hope always will, but, unfortunately, only twice a year, whereas Prescott has managed at least four meetings a year since the war, consequently, one is better able to study the times made there and view the situation over the post-war period. Also, Prescott meetings are continuing in spite of the “Basic ban”. I do not wish the reader to imply that I am in any way belittling Shelsley Walsh, or any of the other speed courses used since the war, but as Prescott had two full seasons before the war and has now had two full seasons since the war, the time is ripe for a review of the situation.
Comparing the two periods, pre-war and post-war, the most notable fact is that the f.t.d. that Raymond Mays set up in July, 1939, of 46.16 sec., has not so far been improved upon, the nearest approach being Sydney Allard, in the air-cooled Allard, with 47.25 sec. at the May meeting of 1947, closely followed by F.R. Gerard in his 2-litre E.R.A. with 47.85 sec., in July, 1947. Admittedly, many meetings were spoilt by rain. The sports-car record, however, has undergone a complete change and has fallen from 51.83 sec., set up by Allard in July ,1939, when he did that grand run with a very bent motor-car, to 49.86 sec. by Rodney Clarke with his Type 59 Bugatti, a racing car converted for road use. This run he did in July, 1947, and beween the two dates, the sports-car record passed through the hands of such people as E.J. Newton (H.R.G.), John Heath (Alta), Leslie Johnson (Darracq), and G. Tyrer (B.M.W.).
As we delve further into Prescott records, we see that all the sports-car classes have had their records well and truly lowered, while not one of the racing class records has been broken. The 1-1/2- litre is the only racing-car record that has looked like falling, both Ansell (E.R.A.) and Whitehead (E.R.A.) getting very close to breaking it, the latter, indeed, missing it by second places of decimals only.
Perhaps the most outstanding sports-car effort is that of G. Tyrer in his cream and blue 328 B.M.W., his record for the 1,501 – 3,000-c.c. unsupercharged class now standing at 50.81 sec., set up by Alf Frost on a similar car. F.W. Kennington’s run of 51.83 sec. in his Mille Miglia K3 M.G. Magnette giving him the class record for sports-cars up to 1,500-c.c. s/c is also very good, especially bearing in mind that he is giving away 400-c.c. An equally outstanding run was that of Newton in his unblown Meadows-H.R.G., in 51.29 sec., giving him the unblown 1,500-c.c. sports-car class record. Finally, Heath’s time of 50.03 sec. with the blown 2-litre Alta and Johnson’s 50.55 sec. with the Darracq, both constituting class records, are excellent. It is interesting to note that in the two classes for cars from 1,501-c.c.– 3,000-c.c., supercharged and unsupercharged, both of the record holders, Tyrer and Heath, were giving away a full litre on capacity.
From the Edwardians, there has not been much advance, but that is hardly surprising, as such cars do not go in for drastic record-breaking measures like those of Newton or Tyrer. However, Peter Clark managed to lower the best Veteran-class time (54.82 sec. set up by Anthony Heal in the F.I.A.T.) to 54.71 sec. with the 1914 G.P. Mercedes, a time which will stand comparison with many “very fast sports-cars” and quite a number of racing cars.
The 500-c.c. class has only been with us since the war, but nevertheless times have been appreciably reduced, from Strang’s 58.1 sec. at the first meeting to his present record of 50.49 sec.
What of the cars? Many people have complained that the sports-car classes are becoming farcical, because the winners are invariably driving very special motor cars and in some cases thinly-disguised racing cars. Admittedly, the owners do some pretty drastic things to save seconds; both Newton and Tyrer going in for drastic weight reduction, but no one can deny that both the H.R.G. and the B.M.W. are thoroughbred motor cars. No one who saw the H.R.G., complete with all its equipment, competing in the last trial of 1947, and doing well at that, could possibly complain, while Tyrer’s 328, although looking most un-Teutonic, would now befit a Motor Show as a standard product. Whether it is better to openly save weight or to do it by a more subtle method, such as is adopted by the owner of a 328 that has light-allloy wings looking exactly like standard ones, is open to doubt. Kennington’s M.G. Magnette hardly calls for criticism, as it was originally built in 1933 as a racing-sports-car, and apart from being most successful from its birth, has proved a most satisfactory everyday sports-car. John Heath’s Alta can be regarded in the same light, being a sports-car built for a particular job, namely sporting motoring. Then we come to the big-car classes, with Johnson’s Darracq and Clarke’s Bugatti. Both now comply to the required sports-car specification, both have been run in Grand Prix races, one, the Bugatti, admittedly having been originally built for Grand Prix racing, but now endowed with all the necessary clobber that we in this country considered right and proper for a sports-car to wear. Of the two, the Bugatti has probably been used on the road more time on the road as a normal sports-car during the past year. Comparing times still further, it is interesting to study the fortunes, or otherwise, of cars that have changed hands. In 1939 G.M. Crozier ran a Type 51 Bugatti that had been into a road car by Bachelier, with it holding the class record in 53.07 sec. Now G.N. Richardson has rebuilt the car, replacing its road body by the correct G.P. body, and succeeded in climbing in 52.80 sec. The Club car before the war, the Type 51 now owned by Peter Monkhouse, climbed in 51.84 sec., driven by F.W. Shakespeare, while in May, 1947, the new owner did 47.78 sec. The fastest Type 51 pre-war was Arthur Baron, in the car run last year by G.M. Watson, with a time of 48.14 sec. while in the post-war period, Monkhouse’s previously mentioned time has not been bettered. The late A.F.P. Fane, driving his Shelsley single-seater Frazer Nash, recorded 47.72 sec. in 1939, which still stands as the class record, while Major Vaughan, at his first meeting with this car last year, recorded 48.92 sec, so we can confidently expect big things from this combination. C.I. Craig with the black-and-white 3.3-litre G.P. Bugatti in racing trim, recorded 50.25 sec., which Rodney Clarke has now reduced to 49.86 sec., carrying complete road equipment on the same car. In 1939 A.H. Beadle, with his 2-litre Alta, at his first meeting at Prescott, recorded 47.87 sec., while Noel Carr with the same Alta, also at his first meeting, recorded 50.15 sec.
So one could go on, comparing Rileys, H.R.G.s, Bugattis, Allards and all the other cars, both sports and racing, which have, during the four years of Prescott’s life, stormed up the hill, some fast, some slow, many never reaching the top; and, of course, one could trace the doubtful honour or the slowest time of the day — but that is another story altogether. — D.S.J.