Looking back with-Derek Rutherford

From Ards to Le Mans

I had lunch just recently with Derek E Rutherford, who has the distinction of being the longest-established Associate Member/Mechanic of the BRDC (which he joined in 1936). Naturally we talked about motor cars and racing…

As a young man in Ireland, where his employers were Talbot agents, his first four-wheeler was an AV Monocar which he used to drive over what became the Ards TT course – though he lapped the famous roads in the reverse direction. He came into contact with the Lea-Francis team at the first TT in 1928, and was treated to exciting practice rides with the eventual winner Kaye Don and with RMV Sutton.

He hoped to compete as a riding mechanic in the race itself, but for insurance reasons only Lea-Francis staff were permitted to do so. He consoled himself in helping Ian MacDonald with his Brooklands-model Riley, a car which was driven with such abandon that when a stop was due it skidded in at right-angles to the crude wooden pits.

Rutherford, whose father had a 1908 Rover, himself owned an interesting run of cars. A GN replaced the AV, and was followed later by a 3-litre Bentley, a 2-litre Lagonda, a Bignan and many more. He also drove an 8hp Talbot-Darracq two-seater (like the one I now own) in the Craigantlet hill-climb, and a 14/45 Talbot tourer in other Irish hill-climbs, before coming to England.

While working for the RAG Carburettor Company in Victoria Street, he met the girl who became his wife. He also met Rawlence and Oats, who used these carburettors on the OM, and Captain George Eyston, as whose mechanic he acted in the 1931 Tourist Trophy, when they finished eighth.

Visiting Brooklands from about 1924 onwards, Derek Rutherford got to know most of the racing drivers. He particularly remembers Shuttleworth flying him and his pregnant wife from the Track to Hanworth Air Park in one of his Desoutter monoplanes.

After joining Lagonda Ltd at Staines he found himself back at the TT again, assisting with the works entries and helping WO Bentley with the 4½-litre and V12 Lagondas during the Alan Good regime.

Le Mans was also on the itinerary now. Ten minutes before the start of the 1938 race, in which the two V12s ran so well to WO’s imposed schedule speed, Derek was to be found painting identification roundels on the bulges or “tits” surrounding the horns of the Dobson/Brackenbury car. These drivers finished third at 83.61mph and won their class (with the Selsdon/Waleran car fourth).

After the take-over, Rutherford remained at Bryce Fuel Injection Ltd in Staines, designing injection equipment and in his spare time helping Bob Gerard to get his ERA running properly. He eventually moved to Gloucester with Hawker-Siddeley.

I was stimulated to learn that, having recently celebrated his eightieth birthday, Derek Rutherford was about to put his Mk VI Bentley Special (a potent open two-seater with aero-screens and slab tank) back on the road. Until a few years ago he competed in BDC events with this car, continuing more recently as a marshal.

His first new car, a Morris Marina, was bought on his retirement; he liked torsion-bar suspension after working on the 2½-litre and 3-litre Lagondas, and trusted the MGB-type engine. His current Fiat 1100 acts as a useful tender to the Bentley.