A bit of history - from a photo collection

A reader loaned us an interesting collection of photographs from the archive, of the Ulster Transport Museum in Belfast taken by a staff photographer of the Bangor Spectator and they included some rare and unusual ones of the 1932 RAC Tourist Trophy race on the splendid Ards circuit to the east of Belfast. From 1928 to 1936 this annual event represented road racing at its best, on a circuit the equal of anything in Europe at the time. The only drawbacks to the series were the insistence of the RAC running the event as a handicap, and a pretty complicated one at that, and the banning of supercharged cars in the last three years of the races on the Ards circuit. The handicapping invariably favoured small-engined cars so that MG and Riley were always to the fore and the larger cars could be driven in heroic fashion, as they often were, and never hope to achieve higher than second place.

In the 1932 event C. R. Whitcroft was the winner with a 1087-c.c. Riley and from the collection on loan we have taken some rare photographs. The first shows the two Alfa Romeos of Sir Henry Birkin and Lord Howe in close company, these being 2.3-litre supercharged straight-eight Le Mans cars. Until 1934 the cars in the TT, which had to be sports cars, could run stripped of road equipment and it is interesting that the Alfa-Romeos kept the right-hand front mudguard in place in an attempt to stop road dirt and stones flying up in the driver’s face. Further, it is interesting that Birkin wore a linen helmet and his riding mechanics a crash-hat, while Howe wore a crash-hat and his riding mechanic wore a linen helmet. The second picture shows the Hon. Brian Lewis looking at the broken rear-huh of the Fox and Nicholl Talbot 105. number GO52, while Arthur Fox the owner is walking away. This incident occurred during practice when Lewis was taking Fox for his annual ride in one of the racing cars. They had just started their third lap when the hub sheared at its root and wheel and hub flew off into the hedge. It was at Quarry Corner and Lewis had quite a busy time bringing the car to rest on three wheels and a brake drum. This incident is fully described and fully illustrated, even with a photo of the wheel in mid-air, in the magnificent one-make history book by Anthony Blight, “Georges Roesch and the Invincible Talbot”, Grenville Publishing Company Ltd., £5.25.

In the Blight Bible the two photographs show first the wheel conning off and then Lewis and Fox examining the broken hub. The photograph reproduced here was taken between the two in Blight’s book, after Fox had got out of the car but before Lewis had done so. It would be interesting to know where Fox was going in this picture and what he did between this moment and the Blight photograph where he had returned to the car and Lewis had got out and lit a cigarette.

The third photograph is really it tribute to a very promising Irish driver and to MG Midgets that went so well in Ulster. Car number 30 is a supercharged 750-c.c. MG with H. C. Hamilton at the wheel. His performances round the Ards circuit were meteoric and sometimes over enthusiastic, and this was one occasion. He is seen about to start practice during which he went incredibly fast and then crashed, wrecking the car and injuring himself slightly but sufficiently to put him out of the race. A point of interest on the car is that they did not use aero-screens but instead had large cowlings, as used on the 1922 TT Vauxhall’s, to deflect the wind off the driver and mechanic.

The last photograph conic under the “believe it or not” category for it shows an 1100-c.c. Alta car number 26 driven by J. L. Ford, about to start practice. If I was asked if an Alta ever took part in the TT I would have said no, but here is proof. It started in the race and contemporary reports merely say “the Alta retired”. — D. S. J.