The VSCC at Silverstone (April 11th)

The Vintage SCC had excellent weather and a fine entry of 150 cars for its first Silverstone race meeting (Club circuit) of the year. First, cars circulated for 40 minutes in the traditional High Speed Trial, said to be a simple exercise for novices; but it caused four retirements and four failed to qualify. Of those who put in the required number of laps, three were girls, Miss Ford (Alvis Speed 20), Di Threlfall (Austin 7), and Jane Arnold-Forster (Austin 7), the participation of the ladies being a happy aspect of VSCC competition in this age of female-liberation – so please, Grant Peterkin, can we one day have an all-ladies’ VSCC race, as they used to do at Brooklands?

The first race was a five-lap Handicap, Duly’s Alfa Romeo Monza winning from Bellenie’s 1 1/2-litre Riley Special and Chant’s 4.3-litre Alvis “Brutus”. In this race, a car which looked as if it had strayed from the Brooklands’ outer-circuits was the very long Giron-Alvis, with dual superchargers for its 3 1/2-litre engine hidden in the nose cowl, the work of the late Louis Giron.

Next came the 10-lap Itala and Lanchester Trophies Scratch Race for genuine vintage racing cars. Nothing stopped Hamish Moffatt in Wall’s monoposto Type 35B Bugatti from dominating the event from start to finish, and as Kain and Mason chased him hard in their Type 35Bs this was a convincing Bugatti domination. Moffatt lapped at a rousing 80.07 m.p.h. having won last year, in this Bugatti. Nigel Arnold-Forster’s Becquet-Delage, a 1923 GP car in which is installed a 1917 V8 12-litre Hispano Suiza aero-engine, its exposed cylinder-blocks and cam-covers painted blue, even to the core-plugs, to match the handsome bodywork, was a centre of interest. There is but a two-speed gearbox, giving ratios of 2.46 to 1 and 1.74 to 1, so Nigel has to coax the 150 to 200 horses away on the clutch, with some judicious wheelspin from the 4.50/4.75-21 rear tyres. Sure enough, he stalled it at the start but some impressive and quiet speed along the straights enabled this exciting car, on its first modern appearance, to catch all but the three leaders, for which it won the Lanchester Trophy (at 70.20 m.p.h., with a best lap of 74.69 m.p.h. — for other speeds, see results), from Adrian Liddell’s dazzle-hued Straker Squire. The Hispano engine of Nigel’s compact monster is quoted as of 11,959 c.c., which compares with the 11,762 c.c. of the similar engine in the 1921 Brooklands Wolseley Viper. A Type 55 Zenith carburetter between the cylinder blocks feeds each bank through large inlet piping and there are two plugs per cylinder, each magneto supplying four plugs per block.

All this excitement did not detract from the excellent drive by ‘Trishia Pilkington in a 1930 1,750 c.c. blown Alfa Romeo which her husband had cobbled up from spare parts, being careful not to make the body a replica of anything in particular. She finished fifth ahead of Tom Thelfall’s well-known Lancia and the Straker Squire.

The lone five-lap Scratch Race was then led from beginning to end by Malyan’s 328 Frazer Nash-BMW, with Newman’s 1 1/2-litre Riley Special and Bellenie’s similar confection following it at a spaced-out distance. That led to the 10-lap Pre-War Allcomers’ Scratch Race. This set a precedent for the VSCC, in that it was a sponsored race, although only in respect of the winner’s trophy apparently. The competing cars did not carry decals, however, and it wasn’t possible to see whether all the drivers were wearing Hangar International Magic Stretch Slacks, although I must say I hadn’t realised that you can buy a new pair of trousers these days for only £12. There was a further whiff of sponsorship in the air, for it was rumoured that the famous ex-Prince “Bira” ERA “Romulus” (R2B) was racing for the only time this year, at the request of Vogue magazine. That did not prevent Bill Morris from driving it magnificently, leading all the way, with a fastest-lap of 82.70 m.p.h., about which Donald Day in his 2-litre ERA (R14B) and Nick Mason in another 1 1/2-litre ERA (R10B) could do nothing at all. So this was just as much an ERA domination as the other 10-lap race had been a Bugatti walk-over. While cars like Gahagan’s ERA (R7B) and Felton’s Alfa Romeo were retiring, Morris built up an unassailable lead, to the delight of Narisa Chakrabongse, owner of “Romulus”. Following the trio in were Tim Llewellyn in the big Bentley and Pat Marsh in ERA R1B. Another to retire had been Peter Morley in the 24-litre Bentley-Napier, after a good start. He was thinking longingly of Nigel’s bottom gear of 2.46 to 1, which he could use as an uprated top-gear on his true monster, which is otherwise unchanged since last season. Paul Morgan was out in an interesting road-going, just-pre-war 4 1/2-litre Talbot, with remade single-seater body, a car thought not to have been used until after the war. Harper’s ever-welcome Aero Morgan was out-cornering Freddie Giles’ GN/Morgan “Salome” in spite of the latter’s extra wheel, the three-wheeler no doubt aided by modern Avon tyres, to finish ninth. But in a later race it dropped out, its puzzled owner peering beneath it on the straight, where in had come to a standstill. Reverting to this Haggar Allcomers’ race, Millar’s Maserati 8CTF did not appear and Lindsay had a return of the old magneto trouble with the ERA “Remus” (R5B).

To off-set the excitement of this race another 5-lap Handicap followed, although this must have seemed just as exciting to those taking part — incidentally, the race-fields were very big, so that any one of them might almost have constituted an entire smaller pre-war Brooklands meeting! Mrs. Pilkington came through well in her “new” Alfa Romeo to win from Hudson’s 1 1/2-litre Ulster Aston Martin and Loveday’s Alvis Speed 20, Zeuner meanwhile again losing all the sparks in his Type 37 Bugatti.

So we came to what had to be the fastest race of the afternoon, the10-Lap Allcomers’ scratch contest. The presence of the vast and immaculate transporter of Neil Corner Racing implied that Corner was back again with his 3-litre 12-cylinder ex-Tasman Dino Ferrari. In fact, he was completing part of a sell-off of some of his cars, pending some rumoured interesting new developments in his stable, de Cadenet taking his D-type Jaguar (the tail-fin of which just clears the transporter ‘s roof) and the Hon. Patrick Lindsay the 1914 GP Opel. The enthusiastic and versatile Lindsay said he was racing “Remus” as relaxation after auctioning an equally-famous painting for nearly £2-million a few days before, and to his credit he drove away after the racing in his newly-acquired Edwardian racing Opel.

Opposing Corner in the race were Simon Phillips in his 1958 Lotus 16 and Martyn Chapman in the equally-well-known 1958 3.7-litre Monza Lister-Jaguar, although rumour says he may be selling the Lister, perhaps to get on with the E-type ERA project. An added attraction, and one which it is said would-be spectators were enquiring about beforehand, was David Llewellyn in the ex-Stan Jones’ 250F Maserati, which Alan Jones’ father drove into 3rd place in the 1957 Armore New Zealand Grand Prix. Non-starters included Vic Norman’s second Ferrari, the Dino 246, which would have been entrusted to Albert Obrist (just as well it non-started, for this is a car using some new parts and having “no continuous history”, so should be foreign to VSCC policy). The 4CL Maserati of Dan Margulies (whose career we featured last month) had blown-up expensively in practice.

It turned out an exciting race. Corner was nowhere in it on the opening lap, which was led by Chapman, with Lindsay’s incredible 1936 ERA “Remus” second, now on its third magneto, and Phillips third. Next lap and Corner was third, as Lindsay had dropped back a bit, flame streaming from “Remus” exhaust-pipe on the over-run. By lap 4 Corner was in second place and on the next round he went into Woodcote on the right of the Lister, to pass it, but his lead was short-lived. We were now debating whether Lindsay had his ERA going faster than ever before or whether the post-war cars were not up to form, because the ERA was still in fifth place, behind Harper’s B-type Connaught but ahead of Norman’s 250F Maserati, and not giving much ground. Someone thought Corner was braking earlier into Woodcote than he had done in other races. A cynic wondered whether they were staging a ding-dong battle in the hope of being noticed by a race-sponsor, with a view to getting themselves Haggared, debagged, or something. . . .

However, two laps from the finish Corner decided it was time to do something about Chapman’s fairly comfortable lead and he again went past, lapping at 90.59 m.p.h., to win safely from the Lister-Jaguar, Phillips some way back in third place, with Harper next home, Lindsay still a most creditable fifth, and Norman trying to close the undignified gap. Llewellyn spun his Maserati at Becketts, twice I believe, and retired, although he reports that it is a nice car to drive, but he is obviously still learning. It was good to see Alan Cottam’s Connaught out again, one of four entered, although Harper’s car should not have a Jaguar engine with the “toothpaste tube” body.

A slightly drawn-out afternoon merged with evening as the two final 5-lap handicap races were run off. In the last Chant’s 4.3-litre Alvis “Brutus” won from Tim Llewellyn’s 8-litre-engined Bentley, and Macpherson, who came up fast from the very back of the field in his Cooper-Bristol. In the previous event the winner had been Bugler’s LG45 Lagonda, which took the lead two laps from the finish, beating Bishop in Hernandez’ Austin 7 and Peter Binns’ road-equipped Brooklands-model Riley. Also road-equipped was Bob Danaher’s Maserati 8CM, driven by son Sean. J.F. Middleton was given the Crompton “Driver of the Meeting” Award, his 1929 4 1/2-litre Bentley looking very standard, although he did open a pane of its vertical windscreen for racing, which is more than Haye did on his equally standard-looking 1927 SD 12/50 Alvis beetle-back. – W.B.