Bill Boddy

After World War II, ‘Round the Pole’ racIng for model cars became very popular, and even had Its own autodrome

After the war the pastime of racing miniature car models with miniature internal combustion engines normally used in model aeroplanes grew spectacularly, because of the ban on the flying of petrol-powered model aircraft in the war years. Such models were timed for their performances when raced either in a straight line or ‘Round the Pole’, in which the model cars were tethered to a pylon so that they made circular laps. I attended one of the first club meetings of this kind which I was able to describe in the magazine Model Car News.

The Model Car Racing Association was formed in 1936. Its president was Alan Hess, the editor of Speed, and motoring broadcaster at such venues as Shelsley Walsh and the Veteran Car Club’s London-Brighton Run. This club included the rubber-band cars and the clockwork models, with its principal venue at the Metropolis Garage near Olympia, which allowed a clear stretch of floor of 150ft for the car to run. The fourwheel-drive model was favoured for these straightaway sprint events and speeds reached 40mph in 2.8 seconds with a model weighing only some 31b. Timing was tricky and could cause grievous bodily harm, calling for a quick eye and good judgment and, as few cars had brakes, a blanket into which a bolster was sewn so that the car was enveloped into its folds as it crossed the finishing line. This more often caused spectacular crashes, and major repairs were carried out in the pits.

In November 1937 Motor Sport published the regulations for their Grand Prix which included classes for `Schuco, Woolworth’ and ‘unlimited’ models. There were four classes, Class A for cars not exceeding eight inches in overall length and over a distance of 50ft, Class B cars not exceeding 16ins over 100ft, Class C not exceeding 24ins also over 100ft and Class D for unlimited length cars over 150ft.

In the early part of 1942 D ARussell published in Aeromodeller (which was part of his MAP stable of magazines) a simple design for a 2.5cc car and instigated a competition for cars powered by an internal combustion engine up to 6cc and not exceeding 10cc, with the outcome that F GBuck won at 45mph. Eventually with development his car reached speeds of 77mph.

By 1946 Russell opened the British Model Car Club’s permanent headquarters at Eaton Bray Model Sportsdrome in Bedfordshire. Having 72 acres of level ground, the intention was to devote the site to model activities such as race car tracks, take-off areas for model aircraft and later ponds for power boats. With some 200 members, future plans also included two permanent tracks of 72ft diameter, with pits and workshops, a members’ clubhouse, and later a holiday camp for modellers. With a permanent track a more elaborate ball-bearing pylon was erected, being several feet high and incorporating a platform and small circular wooden rest to enable a ‘line master’ or timekeeper to stand while the cars revolved around him. At the opening meeting WP Jones’s car, a beautiful scale model Alfa Romeo powered by an OK Super 60 motor, made the fastest time of the day with 57mph.

By 1949 the Austin Trophy, presented by the Austin Motor Co Ltd for annual competition, was won by WSWarne with his 10cc Dooling at 113.22mph, taking the national record.

The waning of tethered car racing and Russell’s other business failures, including a large fine for building the Sportsdrome without planning permission, saw the end of Eaton Bray Sportsdrome by 1951.


London’s palace of delights

Ten years after the Crystal Palace held its first motorcycle meeting in May 1927 it staged its first road circuit car race, on April 24, 1937. It was offended by some 30,000 people, probably a record crowd at a long-distance car race in this country. The day was warm and sunny but there was no covered accommodation for competitors.

Heat one for the Coronation Trophy was for 1 1/2-litre cars, over 20 laps of the two-mile circuit. Of seven starters, the Continental-type grid saw five cars on the front row. Pat Fairfield in an ERA won, with an average speed of 52.63mph.

After the second heat, won by Raymond Mays, also in an ERA, there was a two-lap demonstration run, shamelessly called by the announcer the ‘Old Crocks’ run. Dick Nash’s 1912 15-litre Lorraine Dietrich ‘Vieux Charles Trois’ and Cecil Cluffon’s 1908 12-litre ltala ‘Floreffa’ took part The crowd, in awe of these two large veterans, saw Nash’s car show masterful handling and fine acceleration.

In the 30-lap final, Pat Fairfield won, taking the course record at 54.59mph. Also that year in June, bicycle racing arrived with a 100km International Cup Race for professional riders.

On July 17 the London Grand Prix was held, which with shorter races, famous drivers duelling throughout and the absence of pitstops was a considerable success. On the Thursday before, during practice, 15 out of 17 competitors got into trouble due to torrential rain, and the blowing-up of the remains of the Palace ruins added to the grim day, but Dobson with a 11/2-litre ERA set a new lap record of 56.43mph. Again ERA had four cars, but Mays had back axle trouble and Dobson crashed, so Prince Bira’s ‘Romulus’ won at 54.36mph. Connell took second place.

During October the BBC televised the first ever live motor sport event, from the International Imperial Trophy meeting, Bira wining again at 57.8mph though Dobson took the fastest lap at 58.63mph. Dick Seaman also gave a demonstration run in the Grand Prix MercedesBenz W125.

The general opinion of the circuit was that it was too wiggly in places and could be wider with a beffer surface, but with the onset of war the final race was run on August 26, 1939 and won by Bert Hadley in an Austin, although it was Mays in an ERA who held the final lap record at 60.97mph.