Rumblings, November 1972

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• Crystal Palace.—A very successful, but rather sad, race meeting was held on the Crystal Palace circuit by the Aston Martin Owners Club on September 23rd, for it was the last meeting to be held on the London circuit. The Greater London Council, for reasons best known to themselves, have decided that London no longer needs a motor racing circuit in S.E.19 and the Crystal Palace racing circuit is to be closed, to make room for other sporting amenities more suited to the tastes of the people of South London.

The AMOC meeting contained races for Vintage and Historic cars, GT cars and rounds in the popular JCB Championships for Historic racing cars. The last race of the meeting, and thus the last race to be run on the Crystal Palace circuit (unless a miracle brings about a reprieve) was a 10 lap scratch race for Historic Sports Cars, and it was won by Gerry Marshall driving a Lister-Jaguar, so he can now go down in history.

During the meeting a parade of well-known drivers who have raced at the Crystal Palace in the past, was held, and it contained names like Raymond Mays and Kenneth Evans, who raced at the circuit in its early days through drivers like Salvadori, Ireland and Moss, to drivers of quite recent times. It was a well-supported occasion and a good meeting, but a sad one. The Crystal Palace road-racing circuit opened in 1937 and many interesting meetings were held until the war came. It then re-opened after the war in 1953 and was in continual use until this final meeting, the interesting twisty bit in the middle of the circuit being eliminated in the post-war scene, in order to raise lap speeds from the rather lowly 60 m.p.h. to around the 80 m.p.h. mark and subsequently to over 100 m.p.h., the record now standing for all time to Hailwood with a Formula Two Surtees at 103.39 m.p.h., a mere 48.4 seconds.

The irony of the whole business would seem to be that the Greater London Council have taken away a popular London activity without offering any compensation or replacement. The London Grand Prix round Hyde Park would be a nice gesture, and a successful combatant to the Birmingham Grand Prix.

If anyone is thinking of writing the complete history of the Crystal Palace road-racing circuit, let us hope they do a more accurate job than the AMOC did with the souvenir programme of the final meeting.

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• Accurate speed.—A lot of performance figures for high speed cars are taken for granted, without enquiring into the methods used for ascertaining the figures. When you hear that a timed speed of 137 m.p.h. was done on a French Autoroute between kilometre posts by a passenger working a hand-operated stop-watch, the creditability of some performance figures becomes rather doubtful. This sort of thing may be alright for a bit of popular journalism, but it would not do for International Records, for there the distance has to be certified by surveyors to an accuracy of 1 in 10,000, the measured distance and run in permits a rise or fall of 15 ft. in 2 miles, and the timing clocks and beam apparatus have to be checked by the National Physical Laboratory at Teddington within a few days of the event. All this was done recently on the runway at Fairford, in Gloucestershire, where the Concorde 002 does its test flying; not to check the aircraft’s performance, but in order that Members of the National Sprint Association could attack National and World motorcycle records. While assisting with the organisation of this event we were able to take a V12 engined Jaguar XJ12 saloon through the measured quarter of a mile at 127 m.p.h. Starting from rest at the end of the runway we let the automatic transmission accelerate the car for the seven-eighths of a mile run in to the measured distance, and went in to the ¼-mile indicating 125 m.p.h. and out the other end indicating 135 m.p.h. (average by the time clock was 127 m.p.h.) and alter 1½ miles the instruments were reading 140 m.p.h. and 6,000 r.p.m. in direct drive. The end of the runway approaching called for some heavy braking at that point.

For a 5-seater family saloon this was no mean performance under the conditions prevailing, but the motorcycle record breakers put things into perspective when the fast ones used the same course. F. Cooper on a machine built by himself and powered by two Triumph 650 c.c. twin cylinder engines, coupled together and supercharged, using nitro-methane laced fuel, with the same run in to the measured quarter-mile, achieved 193 m.p.h. in one direction and a two-way mean of 189.87 m.p.h. With the timing beams set up at the kilometre distance astride the centre of the 2 mile runway, N. Hyde on a Supercharged 3-cylinder Triumph of 836 cc. with a sidecar attached, achieved a two-way average of 161.8 m.p.h. to take the World Record. On the standing start kilometre, again on a two-way attempt, J. Hobbs on a double-engined special motorcycle using two 500 c.c. Triumph engines supercharged, took the World Record at 18.605 seconds, an average of 120.23 m.p.h. All told 61 records were broken at this meeting by motorcycles from 50 c.c. to 1,300 c.c. and by riders from 16 years of age to 47 years of age. At this annual Records Weekend there are no “ifs and buts” and no second chance, your record must be made by two consecutive runs under strict supervision and under carefully controlled conditions and the result has to beat the previous record by more than one per cent.

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• Porsche and “Babs”.—It was a happy idea on the part of the Porsche Club of Great Britain to have as part of their week-end rally to Wales a talk by Owen Wyn-Owen about the late Parry Thomas’ resuscitated “Babs” and a visit afterwards to Capel Curig to see the progress Wyn-Owen has made since he dug the ancient giant out of Pendine sands three years ago. The Abernant Lake Hotel at Llanwrtyd Wells had a most impressive car park full of immaculate Porsches of all kinds and the entrance to the hotel even had an illuminated Porsche emblem for the occasion. Within most of the well-known British Porsche protagonists were present and there was on display Betty Haig’s very smart 1951 Porsche 356 which had been trailered there for the occasion. How compact and sleek it looked compared with the later models lined up outside! One believes that another of these Porsches is still in regular use in this country. Wyn-Owen’s talk went over extremely well. He is a born humorist and was so entertaining that he was unable to make the audience break off to refill their glasses (he himself being in danger of becoming hoarse), even the ladies being reluctant for him to break off his fascinating talk. This was illustrated with slides, commencing with pictures of “Babs” at Brooklands and Pendine and concluding with colour shots of it being exhumed and then meticulously restored.

Such progress has Wyn-Owen made that it seems likely that “Babs” will run again quite soon. The engine, transmission and chassis are re-assembled and only body and wheels are needed for completion. A replacement 27-litre V12 Liberty aero-engine was bought for £30, having seen service in the blitz in Merryweather’s tire-pump equipment, feeding water from the Thames into storage tanks for the use of the AFS. This after two other Liberty engines had been found in Cheltenham but would have cost some £80. Motor Sport has recounted previously how GKN skilfully rebuilt the original gearbox, from a Mercedes Simplex (or Benz ?) and Wyn-Owen showed us how one of the differential pinion-shafts was worn more than the opposite one, which he suggested was due to lapping Brooklands Track. He disposed of the once-current theory that Thomas was killed when a driving chain broke on “Babs”. The true cause of the accident remains a mystery but may have been due to a back wheel breaking up or a front stub-axle breaking. The engine in the restored “Babs” has at present Lucas distributors on the front ends of the camshafts, which prevents the carburetters being refitted, some replacement Delco distributors of correct size having been lost by the Postal service between America and Wales. Chain of correct pitch for “Babs” driving sprockets is no longer made but some was found in store in Germany, and a slide showed the new air-pressure pump made for the car by Brian Morgan, whose Company made the original.

It was nice that Wyn-Owen made no pretence that “Dabs” was Parry Thomas’ best engineering accomplishment and that, very funny as his talk was, all his references to the ill-fated driver were made with reverence. The almost mythological aspects of the last run of “Babs” were underlined when Wyn-Owen told us that after Jock Pullin had dragged Thomas’ body from the burning car and had looked round for something with which to throw sand on the fire he found standing beside him a workman holding a spade, who had somehow materialised out of the vast area of the empty beach—there was a slide to prove it . . .

You may ask what “Babs” has to do with the Porsche Club, but remember that it has twelve cylinders, that at the time when it crashed the Aldingtons regarded chains as the ideal form of transmission and “Babs” is chain-driven, and that not until very recently, and then only in competition guise, could a Porsche go as quickly as this Thomas Special was going on that final, fatal record-breaking bid . . .

Writing of the Aldingtons, it was very nice to find both H.J., W.H. and John present at the party. Not long before Dr. Ferry Porsche had presented H. J. “Aldy” with an autographed Porsche steering wheel to commemorate his 70th birthday and retirement as a Director of AFN Limited and Porsche cars (GB) Limited. The German Porsche Company has signed a contract with Porsche Cars (GB) Limited and AFN Limited under which Dr.-Ing.h.c. F. Porsche acquired a 60% share holding in the British companies. The new Board of Directors consists of Dr. F. Porsche, Dr. E. Fuhrmann, H. Branitzki, J. T. Aldington and P. T. Bulbeck,