It is interesting to look back at certain moments from motor racing’s past and recall incidents or episodes which may not have been appreciated as they happened, or may be new to those who follow racing today.
The JCC International Trophy Race at Brooklands in 1936 had a most exciting finish perhaps the most exciting seen for a long time at the Weybridge Track. In those distant days Prince Chula’s “White Mouse” Stable entries driven by his young cousin Prince “Bira” and the works ERAs, led by Raymond Mays, were a feature of many meetings.
For this particular long-distance event, cleverly handicapped by using bends of differing severity at the Fork to even out the potential of cars in different capacity classes, Prince Chula was running the ERA “Romulus” which he had given to Bira on his 2Ist birthday, and Mays was driving one of nine other ERAs. Bira took the lead after 16 of the required 100 laps but when he came in to refuel on lap 70, Mays went ahead. It seemed then that the Bourne ERA must win this 260-mile battle, as Mays had made his refuelling stop earlier in the race. So Chula settled for Bira taking second place.
Then it began to become dramatic. Insufficient fuel had been put into the tank of Mays’s car, and Bira was cutting down his lead and Mays had to stop again. In the intensity of the situation he overshot his pit, then a few churns-worth of fuel were hurled into the tank and the green ERA roared off. But Bira was by then 16 seconds ahead, with only eight laps left. However, Mays was in great form as he pursued the blue and yellow ERA round the clockwise JCC circuit. On the last lap it looked as if the green car would overtake the blue one and reassert Mays’s lead. All eyes were focussed on the Byfleet banking and there, close to the top, Mays overtook Bira.
But it wasn’t over! Mays’s car faltered momentarily on the Railwo straight, and the crowd that had been clicking stop-watches dramatically gasped as, by a fine piece of slipstreaming, Bira closed right up, then pulled out and roared back into first place. Some 6500 rpm had momentarily cooked a plug in Mays’s engine. But it recovered and up the finishing straight to the chequered flag he made an immense last effort to catch Bira, only to lose by one second after 260 miles of this intense motor racing. Bira’s average speed was 91.00mph, Mays’s 90.99!
That was exciting enough. But in Chula’s pit it had been even more exciting. Because, very honestly admitted in his book Brought Up In England (Foulis, 1943), the Siamese Prince who normally managed his racing with military precision, had made what he sportingly called the greatest blunder of his career, as pitmanager, believing that when Bira came in to refuel Mays was a lap ahead, whereas both ERAs were on the same lap. Thus even when Mays was obliged to stop a second time for fuel, Chula still thought he was a lap ahead and that there was no point in speeding Bira up. It was Humphrey Cook, of the works ERA team, who informed Chula of his error. There have been other instances of similar chivalry in motor racing, but not many! One sees little of it in modern F1 racing. . .
At Brooklands that day there were then but five laps to run and Bira was puzzled to receive the “go-faster” signal (in Siamese characters!) But he never disobeyed Chula and so did what he could: he had a lead of only 10.8sec. It was not enough. It took Mays the four remaining laps to reel in and pass Bira, and had that plug not fluffed, he must surely have won.
If Chula had not made that uncharacteristic mistake on his lap-chart, with which he was being helped for the first time by his old friend Banyen, if Mays’s engine had given full power throughout the last mile or so. . .? These are the ifs that help to make our sport so fascinating. . .
There is another interesting side to this race. Prince Chula says his lap error was caused because of a misunderstanding with the race officials, who accused Bira’s pit of having too many mechanics helping with the refuelling. No race report I have read, including our own, makes any reference either to Chula believing Mays to have a lap advantage over Bira or of this argument with the officials. It seems that the “fuss and argument” went on for some time, long enough for Chula to, disregard his lap-chart. Yet Bira was allowed to continue, so presumably the excess churn-wielders were recalled in time, because I cannot believe that even a Royal Prince of a friendly country would have been permitted to disobey such rules, in such a crucial race, and Bira was neither disqualified nor penalised in any way. Another of those ifs and buts of motor-racing. . .
There are one or two other aspects worth recalling about this close-fought, dramatic race. The winner Bira, who must have been quite exhausted after a duel lasting nearly three hours, was due to appear on the BBC’s In Town Tonight programme, due to go “live” at 7.30pm. Bira had first to say a few words into the track microphones and receive congratulations, before leaving for the London studio. The BBC had sent down a chauffeur-driven Daimler but the two Princes decided to use their own car, presumably Bira’s Derby Bentley. They had only about 1 1/4 hours for the dash to the metropolis, Bira still in his overalls, eyes ringed by his goggles, with a script-girl beside him. They arrived only slightly late and the Daimler wasn’t far behind.
The Autocar had decided to obtain aerial photographs of the race, taken by Flight’s photographer John Yoxall, from T B Andre’s DH Leopard Moth “Silentbloc”, flown by the well-known Comet racing pilot Ken Waller, who was Brooklands Aviation Limited’s Chief Instructor. This presented difficulties, because low flying over the track during racing were frowned upon. So they took off 10 minutes before the race started, got pictures of the car parks and the racing cars lining-up, ventured one shot more, after the race was on, then waited for a gap in the field before coming in to land. Dare I end with a silly joke? Someone remarked that the week before all this Bira (who was a sculptor) got a bronze in the Academy. “Why that’s nothing,” said his friend, “last week I got a silver in the Land’s End.”
In Australia the person who has the ex-Cholmondeley Tapper T37A Bugatti with Ballamy ifs, is restoring the ex-Johnnie Wakefield 6CM Maserati which was raced here in 1937/38 and went out to Australia in 1940. It was in pieces and was never assembled but the body, dashboard and seat were used for the famous Australian Kleinig Hudson Special. After trying to buy this car for three years it has now been acquired by the Bugatti’s owner, so he says he had a happy Christmas! He would now like photographs of the car, to assist with the rebuild.
Another reader is researching the ex-Porter Hargreaves, Jackie Astley, Ivo Peters, Ken Miles 1935 TT Replica Frazer Nash which was known as the “Electron” car due to its original lightweight doorless fabric body and raced before the war at Brooklands, Leinster, and in the 1936 Limerick GP, etc. Photographs of this car are sought. Letters can be forwarded.
Into heavier steamers, the National Traction Engine Club continues the good work it has done for many years and issues an excellent quarterly magazine Steaming. The annual subscription is £12 and the Membership Secretary is J Cook, 25 Ripon Drive, Sleaford, Lincs NG34 8UF.
The Journal of the Morris Register continues to be as interesting as ever, edited by Harry Edwards, the last issue containing an article about the Military Morris Eight, for example (to match that about military A7s in a recent issue of the Austin Seven Clubs Association journal) with 20 pictures of these Army Morrises.
The popular and well-established Yeovil CC’s Bristol-to-Bournemouth Vintage Vehicle Run is scheduled for June 14 this year. It involves a 97-mile route, and is open to all pre-1940 cars, motorcycles and commercial vehicles, if the last-named weigh not more than four tonnes. Period costume is encouraged and the entry-fee per vehicle is £25, £20 for Yeovil CC members. Entries close on April 1st; details from A Davidson, 63 Abbots Way, Yeovil, BA21 3HK
Further to the reference last month to the mystery Brescia Bugatti single-seater, David Sewell of the Bugatti Trust tells us that it is probably the car raced at sand meetings, for which purpose its engine was converted into a supercharged 1100 cc power unit and the chassis into a single-seater by sawing off the nearside engine bearers and gearbox mounts. It is believed still to exist, except for some body parts, in South Africa.
Aeroplane Monthly had an interesting picture of a Chummy A7 towing a trailer containing a Scud 1 glider, with the E D Abbott factory at Farnham in the background, in an article on L E Bayens, creator of these gliders. The Abbott coach-building concern was well-known in motor racing circles, making the body for the Abbott Nash, for instance.
The Vintage Motor Cycle Club, which now has more than 11,000 members, announces that its well-established Banbury Run will be held on June 21, and the VMCC International Assembly at Cheltenham on June 12-14. Sec, Mrs Ann Davy, VMCC Ltd, Wetmore Road, Burton-on-Trent, Staffs DE14 1SN.
Lord Montagu’s National Motor Museum at Beaulieu celebrates its 40th Anniversary this year, for which several special events are planned.
We are pleased to announce that Motor Sport is again awarding the Brooklands Memorial Trophy and £950 in prize money on a points system at VSCC race meetings, for pre-war (ie Brooklands period) cars.
The 750 MC is trying to trace the full history of the Cooper Special built by John Cooper and sold by him in 1937, when it had a supercharged engine. The car was driven to the 750 MC’s Abbey Hotel Meeting in 1958. But where was it between times?
The Club Bugatti France is holding the Bugatti International Rally, starting from Le Mans, between June 23rd and June 28th. We are glad to hear that the same Club had its annual Montlhery event last March, which suggests that, although the Paris track is under threat, more of its fabric remains intact than can be said of Brooklands.
A reader, Graham Harding, who is running his father’s last car, a 1941 Rover 3500S, is hoping to trace that gentleman’s history. He ran the West Parade Garage in Lincoln before the war, financed by his father, an architect who ran a Model-T Ford in the early days. Harry Harding is thought to have ridden a Velocette in an IOM Clubman’s TT and to have raced Morgans at Brooklands, although we have no record of this. He later owned a 1902 Beeston Humber and an Achilles, veterans sold respectively to James Allday and Douglas Fitzpatrick. He is believed to have built cars of his own make at the Lincoln garage; but what were they known as?
Apparently he owned a T35A Bugatti, believed to have been sold to de Ferranti, and an FWD Alvis, K-4444. He met his motorcycling wife when the lady was stranded at the roadside with her Morris bullnose. Mr Harding served with REME during WW2, then returned to Lincoln. He died in 1978. His father had built 21 lock-up garages in Wragby Road in 1921 which were turned into houses by 1979; there was a rumour that during WW2 four pre-war GP cars were stored in one of the corner garages then, prior to shipment to the USA. If anyone knows anything, letters can be forwarded.
Rounds of this year’s Inter-Register Contest, an idea which originated in these columns, in which some of the one-make clubs for the older cars pit themselves against one another, are due on May 3 (STD Register), July 19 (Alvis Register), September 6 (Crossley Register), October 4 (Riley Register), October 18 (Fiat Register), and October 28 (Austin Ten DC), the Humber rally having been held in April. Variety enters into it, the events including rallies, treasure hunts, driving-tests, a scatter rally and a Christmas night rally, in various parts of the country.
The Haynes Sparkford Motor Museum near Yeovil is opening “The Morris Garages Ltd” Restoration Workshop on April 8.
We said elsewhere that Montlhery near Paris, the steeply-banked track built in 1924, which will have a rally with an Austin-Healey theme there in June, is under threat. We now hear that in the hope of attracting the French GP there in 1996. Reconstruction has been agreed to and this will entail demolition of the banking, except for a section of it to be retained as a memorial; no doubt a far smaller section than exists of the Brooklands bankings, which are the subject of a protection order. How very sad!
In our “stop-press” report of the enjoyable VSCC Herefordshire Trial last month we were only able to find space for the top results. Those who won Second-Class Awards were R Firth (Riley), D Pearce (MG), S Welch (A7), J Green (A7), Mrs Diffey (A7), P Weston (A7), P Tebbett (Riley), N Garland (Alvis), B Collings (Bentley) one point ahead of his father R Collings (1903 Mercedes), and C HamiltonGould (Ford). Third-Class Awards went to P Evans (HRG), C Gray (A7), J Diffey (A7), D Lee (Salmson), R Clark (HRG), R Odell (Riley), T Wellock (A7), R Marsh (Morris), D Marsh (30/98), and D Davies (Alvis), the fine weather beforehand having made this an expensive, but memorable, event for the Club. Points ranged from the winners’ 274 (four tied) to 241.
The Bugatti OC is combining with the VSCC to hold its Spring Rally at Wiscombe Park, Devon, on May 8/11. The Classic Meeting at Prescott, with a Cavalcade of Bugattis, occupies May 31, and other Prescott hilIclimb fixtures are the garden party and Concours d’Elegance which will conclude the Summer Rally of July 17/18, and other Prescott meetings include the MAC/RAC Championship on May 2/3, the MAC Championship climbs on June 27/28 and the VSCC meeting on August 1/2. The Hiliclimb Driving School has courses between May 20 and September 2, using the cross-over course for two of them. Secretary: Susan Ward, Prescott Hill, Gotherington, Cheltenham, Glos GL52 4R.
The Classic Marathon organised since 1988 by Philip Young will be sponsored this year by Mitsubishi, to celebrate its 75 years of car manufacture. For pre-1966 cars, divided into 11 classes, this great adventure takes in Alpine Passes, and runs through Holland, Belgium, Austria and Italy, after starting on June 6, from London’s Tower Bridge. Early entries have closed but those at £1400 per car can be taken up to May 1. Rally Office: Classic Marathons Ltd, 85 St John’s Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN4 9TU (0892 524746).
The February edition of the Daimler & Lanchester OC’s magazine The Driving Member contained a history of the 1900 hottube Daimler EX10, which took part in recent Brighton Runs and the 1989 American New London to New Brighton Run, an explanation by Dr F W Lanchester about the early days of the three famous Lanchester brothers, Henry Sturmey’s preparations for his 1898 End-to-End run on a 4hp Daimler, and a description from The Automobile Engineer of the 2 1/2-litre and 4 1/2-litre V8 Daimler engines, of which the latter would surely make a fine power-unit for a hybrid sports car? The front cover depicts a Daimler fire-engine used in Edwardian days by the Aldershot volunteer fire-service and a big racing Daimler said to be a Targa Florio car, probably from the 1907 race, although the race number does not conform. Some 53 new members, six with pre-war cars, have enrolled since last December. The membership secretary is John Ridley, The Manor House, Trewyn, Abergavenny, Gwent, NP7 7PG and the International Rally will be held at Stansted Park on June 14.