The Luton Hoo Speed Trials

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Highly satisfactory V.S.C.C. Meeting on new, fast course. Gerard’s 2-litre E.R.A. makes f.t.d. in first “Basicless” event. Runners-up Poore (Alfa Romeo) and G. N. Richardson (E.R.A. Riley).

The Vintage S.C.C. is “old-fashioned” only in its idea of the best age of the sports car. In its activities it is absolutely on its toes. For this Club gave us the first British post-war speed event, at Elstree in 1946, and it combined with the C.U.A.C. to run the only two race meetings held in England since the war—those excellent Gransden meetings of 1946 and 1947.

This year, with private motoring non-existent in this sad little island, it was the V.S.C.C. which found a brand-new sprint venue 31 miles from London and there organised a sprint meeting for cars running on unrationed methanol fuel.

This brave venture was the success it deserved to be. The course, a wide, properly surfaced road with many fast bends, was situated conveniently close to Luton and in a truly picturesque setting. The thanks of all enthusiasts are owed to Sir Harold Wernher, Bt., for loaning it. By allowing competing cars to negotiate a roundabout, consisting of a yellow-hued 45-gallon oil-drum, after running up this course, the finish was located halfway down it, giving a total timed distance of 1.4 miles. Harry Bowler, imperturbable as ever, had everything well under control and the organisation was excellent, while a really good commentary was broadcast at the spectators.

A few words about these spectators. They came in unprecedented numbers ; indeed, a long queue was still paying to come in at half-time. The National Institute for the Blind will benefit accordingly, but not thanks to the many policemen who, having let cars into the public park without question, busied themselves taking down numbers of cars in the public park. Just how much this check is going to cost the tax-payers we do not know  —  thousands of letters will presumably be exchanged between the registration authorities and the D.P.O.s in trying to catch out some unfortunates “off their tolerated routes.” For the police it must be said that they were only obeying instructions. Every Trade Plate in the land must surely have been at Luton Hoo, so some people were privileged to spectate unmolested. Apart from the speed trials, an auction sale was also held to aid the Funds, and apparently was in the best V.S.C.C. tradition, a 1920 “23/60” Vauxhall selling for £85. But “basic” promised or not, prices are falling, and not many cars reached their reserves.

The Club received 130 entries, but was obliged to limit itself to 64, made up as follows:  Up to 500 c.c., 6;   501-750 c.c., 8;   751-1,100 c.c., 9;   1,100-1,500 c.c., 10; 1  ,501-2,000 c.c.,10;   2,001-3,000 c.c., 8;  over 3,000 c.c., 12.  Of these, the proportion of pre-1931 vintage cars was: 0, 2, 3, 4, 6, 2 and 5, the last-named including 4 Edwardian entries.


Practice commenced on the Sunday and was notable for a few incidents, notably Fairman having a record skid in his Bugatti, hitting the bank and breaking a king-pin. The Lightweight Special blew-up too badly to be repaired by the morrow and the 1910 F.I.A.T. dropped a valve, without apparently harming its internals. Martin’s M.G., Mallock’s Austin 7 and Southon’s Becke Powerplus were disliking straight methanol, Miller’s Bugatti-Anzani was absent with supercharger trouble, and Brandon damaged the gearbox of his Cooper, but had it replaced overnight.

We made our usual “snoop round the paddock”  —  we have been doing it for so many years we cannot stop ourselves  —   and observed some interesting details. The new Coopers of Cooper and Sir Francis Samuelson were a centre of attraction. They have a 3 in. longer wheelbase, cast-alloy wheels, shock absorbers, two leading-shoe brakes and built-up F.I.A.T. 500-pattern suspension as the main differences over the 1947 version. They used Dunlop 15 by 4.25 E.L.P. tyres. Lord Strathcarron’s Marwyn has twin petrol feeds from a small tank behind the driver’s head to the needle-less dirt-track carburetter, Norton model-18 rear wheels and brakes and a hinge-forward bonnet-cum-scuttle held down by wing-nuts after the driver is installed. Strathcarron was letting-in his clutch at about 2,000 r.p.m., from the start. The little Monaco now weighs 504 lb., and Hartwell was letting-in his clutch at 5,000 r.p.m.

Tony Crook’s “2.9” Alfa Romeo was running sans front wings and lamps and had its radiator quick-action filler wired shut to the grille. This car now has two short separate exhaust pipes. Poore’s Alfa Romeo, which made best time in Sunday’s practice, now has a type 150 Wilson pre-selector gearbox just ahead of the seat, driving via the Alfa box, which is put either into top or 3rd gear, the Wilson box having no reverse or neutral positions. The new Hutchison-Poore winged horse emblem was painted on the car  —  the wing-loading of the horse being fearful to contemplate. The Alfa Romeo recently had a test on an airfield and was beaten by an H.R.D. “Rapide” motor-cycle in road-trim, up to 70 m.p.h.

Plowman’s OE “30/98” Vauxhall had 5.50-17 tyres, a down-draught carburetter and hydraulic front brakes. Burton’s Riley Special used a neat slab tank, a considerable “power-bulge” to cover its blower and a hand-throttle on its gearlever. Bear’s ex-Abecassis grey “3.3” Bugatti was started-up correctly on its side handle. It had unpainted metal number discs each side of the tail and tended to jerk off the line at 3,000 r.p.m. In contrast, Baring was getting his Maserati Six off at 5,800 r.p.m. Mallock’s skeleton Austin 7 had enclosed-cable front brake operation, 3.25-18 front and 400-19 rear tyres and a foot tyre-pump serving as a tank pressuriser. The F.H.B. 500 was started on its kick-starter.

Newton’s famous H.R.G. was on methanol and was seen to have its exhaust pipe now swept over the rear wheel and a new mounting for its rear shock-absorbers. Bradnack ran the ex-Woodall single-seater Frazer Nash, its rev.-counter out on its scuttle, Tullock’s Type 35A Bugatti horrified us by displaying the name “Frankie and Johnnie” on its bonnet, and J. B. Norris ran his recently acquired ex-Geoffrey Taylor i.f.s. 2-litre Alta. Rowley’s Bugatti, also driven by Bond Williams, has been rebuilt by the Ace Service Station, with 3-litre brakes. Richardson has forsaken his Bugatti for the ex-Sheila Darbishire E.R.A.-Riley and G. Nixon had the Brooke Special, with 1,749-c.c. Riley engine having six S.U.s, and a Lucas vertical magneto. The seat is now set high over the prop. shaft. St. J. Horsfall’s rebuilt 2-litre Aston Martin, destined for this year’s Formula II  racing, looked very smart and had a truly imposing exhaust system, consisting of four pipes running out of the bonnet into a slotted main pipe and very big-bore tail pipe. There is a petrol tank at floor-level beside the driver’s seat.

The Vauxhall-Villiers looked quite compact with its new body; later Brooke intends to incorporate Vauxhall flutes in the radiator grille. The three carburetters on the blower are retained.

Hutchison’s Alfa Romeo had a solid rear axle, but its Wilson box had yet to be fitted. It was steadier with twin than single rear wheels, whereas Poore preferred singles. Mike Oliver ran the beautiful 2-seater ex-Birkin “2.9” Maserati, sold by Charles Follett and having its imposing helmet rear wings in place. Darbishire was making a welcome re-appearance with the rather unusual ex-Giron, ex-Fry, ex-Lemon Burton “2.3” Bugatti with split roller big-ends; it has recently had a new blower. G. Gale had the ex-Johnson Darracq, running stripped and seemingly less inflammable than before, while Major Tullock had the ex-Emery, ex-Spikins blown Hudson Special. Many people were confused by McAlpine’s Maserati, which was none other than the ex-Prince Chula car, repainted and declared as 3,062 c.c. A Bugatti steering wheel with extended dural boss, as on the Yates’ Maserati, was used to give a good driving position.

The fine weather unfortunately broke up for Easter Monday and some rain fell during the meeting, but not enough to more than temporarily dampen the course. Before racing started the B.B.C. television camera was let off at Peter Clark, Cecil Clutton and Lord Strathcarron in their respective cars; the B.B.C. showed an intelligent interest in proceedings and remained to televise the cars in action. Harry Bowler’s Lagonda was the course patrol car and Raymond Mays opened the course in a Mk. VI Bentley. The following is a report of this very successful day’s sport, class by class:

Class 1  —  Up to 500 c.c.:

Cooper’s Cooper had things all its own way, driven in a very spirited manner and obviously possessed of really useful brakes. Brandon took things rather more carefully at the roundabout and Samuelson, after a slow first run, slid round at the first corner on his second and rolled backwards to a standstill, unharmed. The Monaco achieved an impressively high speed, but hadn’t the punch of the Coopers and Hartwell muffed a change-up on his first run. The Marwyn was only .12 sec. slower than the Monaco.

1st: J. N. Cooper (Cooper), 89.57 sec.

2nd: E. Brandon (Cooper), 91.20 sec.

3rd: G. R. Hartwell (Monaco), 94.00 sec.

Class 2  —   501 to 750 c.c.:

In spite of some mis-firing on its first run, Maclachlan’s blown single-seater Austin, making its first appearance since the war, went magnificently, winning easily from Symonds’ ex-Brettel Austin, which elected to go wrong way round the roundabout and momentarily up the bank on the first attempt. Martin’s skeleton M.G. went through the bends very fast to get third place. Bowles’ “Ulster” Austin, boiling merrily, was off-colour, but Mallock (Austin) judged his bends splendidly and didn’t find it necessary to lift his foot for any of them save the roundabout. We would like to see this driver handle a faster car. The Lightweight and the Wharton were non-runners.

1st: A. Maclachlan (Austin s/c), 84.78 sec.

2nd: G. H. Symonds (Austin s/c), 89.51 sec.

3rd: J. G. Martin (M.G. s/c), 90.24 sec.

1st Vintage: A. R. M. Mallock (1930 Austin s/c), 99.30 sec.

Class 3  —  751 to 1,100 c.c.:

Appleton needed only one run in the ear-splitting Appleton-Special to win by a very comfortable margin. He approached the roundabout really fast and used spinning rear wheels to good effect in negotiating it. Kennington’s M.G. was consistent as to times on both runs, but lost valuable seconds cutting out too soon for the roundabout on its first run and sliding coming out of the first corner on its second. Southon was having a careful Easter tour in the Becke, but got the vintage award with slowest time of the day, as Finch’s Amilcar didn’t run. Croysdill’s Lancia i.f.s. endowed Riley-base Special was quiet but slow, and Burton’s Riley was extremely sick, taking 107.03 sec. on its first run, and being slower thereafter, the blow-up seeming to have happened this time. Lester’s M.G. was another very ill car. Marshall drove cautiously in Kennington’s second M.G.

lst: R. J. Appleton (Appleton-Special s/c), 82.90 sec.

2nd: F. W. Bennington (M.G. sic), 88.22 sec.

3rd: R. J. Marshall (M.G. s/c), 91.08 sec.

1st Vintage: A. C. Southon (1922 Becke Powerplus), 119.21 sec.

Class 4  —  1,101 to 1,500 c c.:

This class produced a surprise and we congratulate Richardson on a very fine drive indeed in the E.R.A.-Riley (which he drove seemingly faster than ever the previous owner did), while condoling with him that the car should run out of fuel after going even faster up to the roundabout on his second run. He was 3.66 sec. faster than Baring, whose Maserati was inclined to snake and slide. Newton made an immense run in practice, in 86 sec., but on his first run on the Monday somewhat overshot the roundabout mark-tub on his first run, which resulted in a bad slide as he accelerated out. Using twin rear wheels for his second attempt, he came wide through the S-bends, tonneau cover flapping wildly and improved by .77 sec., showing how hard he tries on every run. Of the others, the Norris-Special helped itself round the roundabout with the banks, Blomfield crashed a change in his slow 1925 Bugatti, Bradnack blipped up to the turn-about, where his front tyres suffered, and Radford’s Talbot Darracq  —  once a Formula car  —  suffered startling brake judder on its first appearance and was beautifully placed, incidentally using twin rear wheels, on its second.

1st: G. N. Richardson (E.R.A.-Riley s/c), 77.90 sec.

2nd: A. A. Baring (Maserati s/c), 81.56 sec.

3rd: E. J. Newton (H.R.G.), 87.03 sec.

1st Vintage : F. A. Norris (1929 Norris-Special s/c), 88.10 sec.

Class 5  —   1,501 to 2,000 cc.:

Gerard’s E.R.A., faultlessly handled, had the class, and f.t.d., well in the bag, as many people expected. On his only run he got off well, and took every hazard neatly, cutting out comparatively early, to the accompaniment of bright yellow exhaust flames. His time of 74.40 sec. must be highly pleasing to this enthusiastic stable.

Horsfall’s Aston Martin deserved its second place if any car did, clocking 79.0 sec. after a pause in the paddock to free sticking throttles. The second run took but .28 sec. longer  —  fine showing by a previously untried unblown car. Deserving, too, was the one and only John Bolster, who drove with immense verve but speed also, elbows and front wheels flapping. His second run incorporated the nearest thing to disaster we have ever seen John handle  —  and after getting “Mary” out of a series of really nasty slides he went on, foot as far down as ever. Good stuff  —  and there is precious little real driving seen today. (The Editorial glasshouse has safety-glass throughout.)  Birrell’s Bugatti burst, nor did Tullock’s justify its bonnet motto. Nixon drove the 1,749-c.c. Riley  —  alias Brooke-Special  —  with verve, using the bank at the roundabout, and Norris in his new Alta was fast, but somewhat ragged

1st: P. R. Gerard (E.R.A. s/c), 74.40 sec. f.t.d.

2nd  St. J. Horsfall (Aston Martin), 79.00 sec.

3rd: J. Bolster (” Bloody Mary “), 81.32 sec.

1st Vintage : J. Bolster (1929 “Bloody Mary “), 81.32 sec.;

2nd Vintage : J. W. Rowley (1927 Bugatti s/c), 88.88 sec.

Class 6  —  2,001 to 3,030 c.c.:

Many of us had thought that Hutchison would make second fastest time of the day and, although this was not the case, his beautiful Alfa Romeo took the class, nicely handled and much faster on its second run. It reached about 110 m.p.h. up the hill to the roundabout. McAlpine, transferred to this class, drove the ex-Chula Maserati really fast, rear-axle judder under braking and some snaky moments notwithstanding, the usual flame fluttering from the exhaust-pipe on the overrun. He certainly deserved his second place. Tony Crook in the Mille Miglia Alfa Romeo followed the general trend in this class, being 8.62 sec. faster on run two than on his first appearance, the acceleration of what is, after all, a sports-car, grand to behold. Darbishire’s Bugatti, with much blip, spin and dicery, was again far faster on its second attempt. Brooke had probably the most dangerous slide of the day in the Vauxhall-Villiers, returning through the S-bend; alas, on his second run the car blew-up well and truly. Stubberfield’s Bugatti went straight-on into the bank at the roundabout, but Whincop’s sister car was well handled and placed, his handwork on the steering wheel a relief after many exhibitions of using the wheel as a support. Salvadori’s Alfa Romeo suffered, it appeared, from snatching brakes, and spun its inside rear wheel out of the roundabout, while on its second run heavy braking was indulged in round the corner at the finish. Oliver took his choice Maserati very close to the mark-tub.

1st: K. Hutchison (Alfa Romeo s/c), 78.12 sec.

2nd: K. McAlpine (Maserati s/c), 80.46 sec.

3rd: R. E. Salvadori (Alfa Romeo s/c), 80.57 sec.

1st Vintage: A. Brooke (1922 Vauxhall Villiers), 85.86 sec.

Class 7 —  Over 3,000 c c.:

Naturally, Poore had it all his own way amongst the big-fellows, the “3.8” Alfa Romeo a goodly sight as it was unleashed along the amply-wide road. On his first run a missed change-up upset the time, which was 81.85 sec. Gale deserved second place in the ex-Johnson Darracq, which he got off really well, although his first approach into the roundabout was fast but not too clever. Clutton was immense in the Itala, its doors roped together for security. Even at the roundabout he contrived to get round fast and coming up on his second run he quickly got a fierce sideslip under control. Gibbs’ F.I.A.T. was sick, very sick, on its first run, but did 96.93 sec. thereafter, but Clark’s Mercedes was quickest Edwardian in 91.47 sec., looking definitely under control  —  incidentally, it uses front brakes, which were not on the car in 1914. Clark’s time just beat the best Plowman could do in his nice “30/98” Vauxhall, which he placed very well through the bends. Bear did not seem to have got the hang of the ex-Abecassis Bugatti, nor did it sound absolutely fit, but it improved appreciably on its second appearance, getting third place. Selsdon had withdrawn the Talbot.

1st: R. D. Poore (Alfa Romeo s/c), 76.63 sec.

2nd: G. Gale (Darracq), 82.83 sec.

3rd ; K. W. Bear (Bugatti s/c), 83.74 see.

1st Vintage: P. C. T. Clark (1914 Mercedes), 91.47 sec.

So concluded a most ambitious meeting, and the packing up began. The Itala was hitched behind a near-vintage 2-litre Crossley saloon, the Mercedes to Clark’s Big Six Bentley, the Vauxhall Villiers to Brooke’s Lancia Dilambda. Many interesting cars were to be observed, such as a very fine 4-1/2-litre Le Mans Bentley, two 3-litre twin o.h.c. open 4-seater Sunbeams, Scott-Moncrieff’s 5-litre yellow Bugatti saloon, a 1913 Delage 2-seater, Wadsworth’s aluminium and yellow, rather noisy “Silver Ghost” Rolls-Royce tourer, someone else’s Rolls-Royce chassis, two prototype examples of the new pushrod Aston Martin, a smart Riley-base “Special,” the inevitable “Chummy” Austin Seven, a “30/98” Vauxhall and many more. As the light faded a majestic Daimler-Hire Daimler conveyed exalted guests off to the station; it had paraded up and down the course throughout the week-end. In spite of the police check-up there would seem no good reason at all why methanol-meetings should not continue and we look forward to a resumption of Prescott this month.  —  W.B.

Special Awards:

F.t.d. Special Award and £25: F. R. Gerard (E.R.A.).

Fastest Vintage Time Special Award and £25: J. Bolster (“Bloody Mary”).

Fastest un-s/c Time Special Award and £5 : St. J. Horsfall (Aston Martin).

The Best Dozen at Luton Hoo

1. Gerard (1943-c.c. E.R.A. s/c), 74.40 sec.

2. Poore (3,800-c.c. Alfa Romeo s/c), 76.63 sec.

3. Richardson (1,496-c.c. E.R.A.-Riley s/c), 77.90 sec.

4. Hutchison (2,904-c.c. Alfa Romeo s/c), 78.12 sec.

6. Horsfall (1,970-c.c. Aston-Martin), 79.00 sec.

6. McAlpine (2,900-c.c. Maserati s/c), 80.46 sec.

7. Salvadori (2,900-c.c. Alfa Romeo s/c), 80.57 sec.

8. Bolster (1,962-c.c. “Bloody Mary “), 81.32 sec.

9. Baring (1,498-c.c. Maserati s/c), 81.56 sec.

10. Darbishire (2,300-c.c. Bugatti s/c), 81.93 sec.

11. Crook (2,904-c.c. Alfa-Romeo s/c),m 82.38 sec.

12. Gale (4,000-c.c. Darracq), 82.83 sec.