A thoroughly sporting day

“Anthony Hutton,” they said at our recent encounter with four Thoroughbred sports car contender around Silverstone Club circuit, “yes, Hutton is the man you must talk to before you write anything about the Oldham and Crowther Championship.” Being a person who does not like to neglect advice when baffled, our reporter did talk to Mr Hutton at great length, discovering a decisive personality who has created a category which has always had a surplus of competitors who wish to air their 1946-59 sports cars in earnest competition.

Hutton, formerly an outstandingly successful property man who has now moved further into the promotion of all kinds of mechanised sport, (through his company Sport Action Enterprises Ltd.) first became involved by his association and ownership of Invicta cars. At first he was just an Invicta owner with the VSCC. Then, as the cars became less popular, he felt he had become the only interested part in the bulletin that he was writing for Invicta owners, so he sold the car and went to the USA to seek fresh inspiration.

By 1968 Hutton was back in England, acting as the Competitions Secretary for the JDC and running a fixed head XK. The further acquisition of a Lister-Jaguar brought Hutton even closer into the organisation of sport for the ‘classic cars’ and he began to petition the HSCC Committee for permission to run a race, followed by a regular series of events, for the popular sports cars of the 1950s. The Committee, not unnaturally, had reservations about the quality of entry that they would get, and Hutton decided to go out and run just such an event himself.

The first race for what have become regularly known as Thoroughbred Sports Cars was at a Thruxton JDC meeting in 1972. Hutton recalls: “It was a full grid, first time out, but what really pleased me was that of 33 places 28 were novices, having their first race. To me, this is one of the attractions; bringing new blood into the overall historic scene, which is a very tight-knit little group of people.

“We ran a few more events with full grids, and by the end of 1972 John Harper and I got together to form a company (Forward Enterprises Ltd.) to organise and promote this kind of racing. John and I have always promoted the XK, right from the days when they were £200 to the present day where, frankly, even I can’t afford one!”

For the following year, 1973, Forward Enterprises had attracted a series sponsor in the form of another property development outfit, Charles Spreckley Ltd. that year and 1974 the Thoroughbred Championship continued under the Spreckley banner, until that company felt the economic pinch in December 1974. Jaguar restoration and parts specialists Oldham and Crowther stepped into the breach for 1975, and are still very active sponsors for the series this year, entering their own alloy-bodied Jaguar XK120 for David Preece to drive.

Both Hutton and Ruth Oldham stress that it is really the spirit of the regulations that matter, rather than the exact wording. Unfortunately there was a rather well-publicised row over car eligibility during the winter, but that has been firmly pushed aside in the unity of running a seven-race Championship with three classes, which continues to attract good competitor and spectator support.

Ruth Oldham has no doubts as to the reason for the Championship’s popularity: “They come to watch because they can identify, or remember, the cars Dad took his girl-friend out in. Nostalgia is part of our life in Britain now, and people like to look back to when British cars were really great . . . the best in the World. For me there is no sports car of character left on the British market since the demise of the E-type.”

Ruth had some pretty pungent comments to make about the standard of Thoroughbred racing too, compared to some vintage meetings. “I like to see the cars really raced hard, I detest the type of racing where a D-type is being . . . all over things that haven’t even half the Jag’s competitiveness, simply because the D-type driver is terrified what will happen to this investment.”

Those cars that are eligible for the Championship are detailed in the RAC Blue Book. Basically manufactured between 1946 and 1959, there is an exemption that allows cars like the XK series to participate right up to the year they were dropped, 1961.

Every year there is a meeting between competitors and Hutton and a list of eligible cars and new regulations are discussed, but Hutton does have to act as a benevolent dictator to produce the final rules. Eligible cars include ACs of 2 litres, Aston Martins DB1, DB2, DB2/4 Mks I, II and III and DB4 (3.7 litre maximum); Austin-Healey 100/4, 100/6 and 3000 Mk1 (3-litre maximum); MGAs (1650cc maximum or with twin cam engine); Morgans of 4/4 and Plus 4 type (2.2-litre maximum); TRs from TR2 to TR3A (2.2-litre maximum), XKs, 120, 140 and 150 (3.8-litre maximum); the MGA-engined Elva Courier and 1216cc Lotus Elite. The organisers can also accept road-going sports cars complying with vehicle regulations at their own discretion. On this list as examples are Porsche 356, Healey Silverstone and the Frazer Nash.

The three classes are 2701cc and over, 1651 to 2700cc and up to 1650cc. Prize money is limited to £1,000 and is paid to the top five points scorers in each class: the overall points champion takes £145, all paid at the close of the season. Booby prizes and, “plenty of pots,” are additionally awarded to ensure that there is something for pretty well everybody. One has to register before the start of the season in March to score Championship points, writing to Speed Action Enterprises at 29 Lennox Gardens, London SW1X ODE. Don’t bother for this season though – Championship has its full quota of challengers.

The vehicle regulations amount to maintaining the look of the car in production form whilst modifying the engine comprehensively and the suspension slightly. The overall idea is that you shouldn’t be able to use anything that wasn’t available to those who raced pre-1959, or 1961 in the case of the exempted cars. In practical terms this means that you can fit the straight-port Jaguar racing head to the 120, while the MGAs can have up to 1650cc, prior to the 1961 installation of a bigger B-series engine thereafter. No fuel injection or dry sump equipment is allowed, but the cylinder head combustion chambers can be totally reworked with the best possible camshaft(s), valves and carburation to feed them. You are not allowed to alter the cubic capacity from that specified for your marque of car, but it’s obvious from the power and smoothness of the units I tried that pretty well anything else is allowed.

Transmission changes are restricted only that you have to have the same casing and number of ratios as those originally available. So you can have close ratio gears, and a limited slip differential is also allowed.

On the body side you can fit an aero screen instead of a windscreen, but all hard tops, tonneaux and hoods must be to original works optional extra design. The grille can be removed (though you are asked to ensure the “aperture must be original and finished in a workmanlike manner”) and the internal trim removed, though two seats must be left. The main chassis and the body panels should be original in shape, weight, design and material.

On the braking side quite a lot of modification goes on in practice, for you are allowed to go up to the best that you can find in disc brakes specified for the marque within its eligible years.

Perhaps the most controversial regulation, and one that could well have resulted in my writing this from Silverstone’s handiest hospital, is that “wheels must be either spoked or pressed steel. Rim widths shall no exceed 6 in.” With Dunlop L section racing tyres specified, this means these often fairly weighty cars are able to put considerable loads on steel wheels. not surprisingly, this results in wheel failure with the centre pulled from the centre, which is exactly what happened to John Chatham’s illustrious Abingdon-built Healey, reg no DD300, the lap before I could try it! John wasn’t hurt, nor was the car, but the thought of three-wheeling round Copse in one of the most widely raced and successful Healeys of all time had little appeal to the reporter. It is for this reason that you see the Healey in the heading picture, but no more. While on the subject of pictures, I must apologise for the lack of illustration for Bruce Brown’s 1951 Elva Courier Mk1 . . . it arrived at sundown and the pictures suffered severe jaundice, couple with a camera totally unimpressed by the all-night stint that the keen team had put in to be present.

The two cars I did drive at length are pretty well-known – the Oldham and Crowther Jaguar and Reg Woodcock’s seemingly immortal TR3.

The Woodcock Triumph came straight away after the Chatham incident, and was wearing the steel wheels, despite which we enjoyed a very fast and exhilarating session. Woodcock is obviously a man of strongly fixed loyalties. He has always worked at Joseph Lucas – Reg is now with the electric wiper motor side – and he has had the car since November 1960.

Woodcock didn’t compete the Triumph until 1965, when he did a little sprinting, but the following year saw the Woodcock Triumph combination appear for the first of its 10-year racing life. Woodcock cheerfully admits that the TR has had a new body, grinning widely as he recalls, “I can’t remember when it was, but it was quite a big accident!” the quiet Midlander has a neat and precise way of expressing himself and of driving the motor car. In the last three years alone it has taken one class Championship (Dick Protheroe, 1973) and the outright title for 1974 and ’75 in this Thoroughbred series.

The white TR looks pretty standard, right down to the large, original-style instrumentation for speed and engine rpm, but it hides some comprehensive work. The main outer body panels are in aluminium. The TR engine, the 2.2-litre four-cylinder that traces back into the depths of Standard Vanguard saloons, has been transformed from a rough and tough workhorse into a smooth unit that reaches the suggested maximum of 5,500 rpm very quickly indeed.

Included in the modifications are changes to the shape of the standard combustion chambers, ports and valves. Pistons of 87mm provide a compression ratio of 11.7:1, while a racing camshaft and Weber 42 DCOE carburettors are utilised in conjunction with a redesigned racing exhaust layout.

The cockpit (well, you are sitting behind an aero screen!) is only altered in looks by the Astrali three-spoke steering wheel and has the luxury of an operative speedometer: at the end of the main straight this had its needle hanging off the 120 mph end of the scale while we tried to restrain ourselves to the 6000 rpm that Woodcock allows for top gear only.

Starting was absolutely prompt and the steering of a quick, light operation that would do credit to a mid-engined modern machine. The Dunlop CR65 racing tyres had a soft compound that was particularly well-matched to the slightly wintry conditions, and I found the car much easier to handle than the others.

However, the installation of a TR4 master cylinder to improve the brakes had left the centre pedal as soft as a cowpat, and about as encouraging when arriving at Becketts. Because I was unused to the steering, the car felt a little twitchy for the most of the session, but that quickness of reaction is very reassuring when the car starts to slide. The gearbox works well under full throttle conditions, though the clutch pedal action itself errs toward the laziness exhibited by the brakes.

Sitting in the bracing Silverstone sunshine with the wind battering round your body is a tremendous tonic whether in the Jaguar or the TR, but the way in which the Woodcock Triumph stayed faithful to instructions from the driver endeared it to me. the other plus, from a stranger’s viewpoint, is that it managed 1m 10.1s as a best lap, which I think was about as quick as Mr Preece in the Jaguar that day, though he was relying on the older, harder compound rubber.

Beside the TR the Jaguar towered in the best imposing British Racing Green shade, the driver climbing up into the bare driving compartment. WPU 207 was purchased as a secondhand road car by Ruth Oldham for just £45, some 12 years ago. The car is a 1950 model and has been fanatically built (and formerly driven) by Martin Crowther, the “other half” of the Peterborough partnership.

The outstanding point about this XK is that it is predominantly made in aluminium, though the centre section is steel. Jaguar D-type steering (rack and pinion) has been used along with production front suspension, though the latter item does feature bronze bushings. All four wheels have discs, those of a Mk9 at the front and the units from an XK150 on the back. The dual circuit braking system also includes enormously powerful twin servos, which give a very individual feel to the brakes indeed: neither Preece nor I seemed to be very confident in the time lag experience with the system, but Crowther’s approach to every corner demanded he explore every possibility of improving retardation.

Phenomenal power is quoted for the 3.8-litre motor in its present form, though a shortage of time had left brake-horsepower reading periods a little short too, Martin Crowther reporting 250 b.h.p at 4,500 r.p.m Normally the engine is taken to 6,000 r.p.m in the gears and 6,300 in top.

The cylider block is from a mk9 saloon, the head straight port D-type derivation, mated to the factory's short inlet manifolding, which carries triple Weber 45 mm sidedraught carburettors. In the lower half of the engine there is trapdoor anti-surge arrangement for the sump and Tuftriding for the balanced crankshaft.

The original gearbox has the best change I have encountered in any Jaguar – including John ‘Plastic’ Pearson’s wild Modsports XK – and is mated to a multi-plate clutch. Naturally the car has the permitted limited slip differential installed within an axle that is accurately located by links fabricated by Oldham and Crowther. Incidentally, the same car, fitted with wider wheels, has also been raced in the more liberal Modsports category with success. In the Thoroughbred category it is very much a front-runner, often having most racing miles locked in battle with Hutton’s partner, John Harper, who also has an aluminium XK120.

Preece, a former works Leyland Mini rallycross driver, came to the O & C Jaguar drive after two wins in an Aston Martin DB4, which he drove in the same sideways style that he had enjoyed before his terrible televised rallycross accident. Preece has been very fast in the car even with a lack of experience in Jaguars, but even he admitted that our test day ought to be conducted with restraint as the new tyres had little adhesion.

Like the TR, the Jaguar is still tractable enough to potter down the pit road. Once out on the track I was designated running-in duties at 5,000 r.p.m., which eventually netted a lap time of 1m 13.7s, which bears no comparison to the expected performance at Silverstone.

I found the cockpit really did feel high in the air, a problem I had not really noticed in the Pearson car at Brands Hatch. Arriving at Becketts, one sailed majestically in, and I rather had the feeling of how drivers in those magnificent Bentleys must feel while contesting the “Pom” at Silverstone. By Bentley standards I expect the Jaguar has positively Lotus-like lightness and agility, but to one brought up on a diet of modern cars in recent years, I found it difficult to commit the car to a line without the awful thought . . . is the front end really finding grip? If so, when will it tell me what’s happening?” On the open spaces of the hairpin I found it simpler to accelerate the tail out of line than turn the steering wheel, and I’m sure this is what the real aces must do in third and fourth-gear curves: it’s still a lot of motor car to hand on to, even if your names does happen to be Hamilton.

Engine power from the hairpin to Woodcote was marvellous, delivered with a really fierce Jaguar roar that accompanies being beaten to death by the wind through the open sides. A real enthusiast pleasure, like large motorcycles.

I also had a brief run in Bruce Brown’s freshly-rebuilt 1959 Elva Courier Mk 1 that won the small class in the last year’s Championship. It didn’t really prove anything as the car was really suffering from having been dragged from the workshop, but was interesting to note that the Les Ryder-modified engine of 1622 c.c. had an estimated 100 plus horsepower which makes this well-balanced 1400 lb. car a stiff competitor for anyone to beat in the wet, and the device to have in the class. – J.W.