Letter to readers, November 1988

Indian summer

Dear reader,
When people talk about an “Indian Summer” I am not quite sure what they mean, as I have never been to India and only really know about European summers. They used to happen around June or July, but seem to be getting later and later in the year as the decades go by. I tend to simplify problems which are beyond my control, so summer to me is any day when it is not raining!

For the past eight years one of my “summer days” has always been the first Saturday in October. On that day I take my bucket and spade and go to the seaside for a “summer holiday”. Being a creature of habit (the habit of enjoying life) I always go to Weston-Super-Mare for my holiday by the sea, because the official summer holiday season of that popular town ends on September 30. From October 1 car parking is free through the winter, until the holiday season opens again in the following spring.

More important is the fact that on the first Saturday in October the Burnham-on-Sea Motor Club holds its annual speed-trials on the seafront road . The go-ahead Woodsprings District Council closes the road for the day, allowing competitors to blast up the seafront and return along the pedestrian promenade. The seafront road is a very normal-width, slightly cambered and slightly curving stretch that runs from the Pier to the Hospital, and on this stretch a measured 500 metres (half a kilometre) is laid out, with elapsed-time beams and a terminal-speed beam. As the friendly Burnham Club fits some motorcycle demonstration runs into its full programme, I always take a racing motorcycle as well as my bucket and spade when I go for my summer holiday.

1988 marked the thirtieth consecutive running of the speed-trials by the Burnham-on-Sea Motor Club; before that the event was run by the Bristol Motor Cycle and Light Car Club, and the very first motoring event in Weston-Super-Mare dates back to 1913. To celebrate its thirty years, the Burnham Club arranged for four cars to put on a demonstration to open the meeting.

These four represented a cross-section of the thirty years. First to run was Bruce Spollon with his ERA R8C, the car originally raced by Earl Howe, then DSJ with the first of the works HWM-Jaguar cars (originally HWM 1 but now registered YPG 3), then came Tony Marsh with his four-wheel-drive V8-powered Marsh Special which he built for hill-climbing and sprinting in the 1960s and with which he has rejoined the hill-climb world, and finally the evergreen Roy Lane who borrowed his old Techcraft 4-litre V8 for the occasion.

For all four drivers the “demonstration” runs were serious practice runs for later events, Roy Lane clocking 137 mph through the speed-trap, while yours truly wound the HWM-Jaguar up to 93 mph.

The event proper encompassed everything from Special Saloons to Cosworth DFL-powered Pilbeams, and competition in all the classes was vigorous to say the least. Since this was the final round in the British Sprint Championship, there was a “run-off” at the end of the day for the fastest twelve cars, regardless of class. By this time competitors had got the “feel” of the course, having done two practice runs in the morning and two in the afternoon class categories, so that the two “bonus” runs at the end of the day always witness some heroic times and terminal speeds. We were not disappointed this year.

I always enjoy watching someone do a professional job of work, and some of these “sprint” artists had to be admired as they unleashed virtual Formula One cars up the narrow seafront road.

Paul Edwards claimed the Championship title in his Techcraft-March V8, but Roy Lane in his DFL-powered Pilbeam was the Weston “man of the day”. His six runs up the 500-metre course are a model example of what sprinting is all about: 11.70 sec: first practice run 11.44 sec: second practice run 11.31 sec: first competitive run 11.27 sec: second competitive run & FTD 11.30 sec: first run-off run 11.19 sec: second run-off run on that last run, which was the final run of the day, his speed at the end of the 500 metres standing-start was 165 mph! On the Weston-Super-Mare promenade, not on a motorway.

The following day, Sunday October 2 (there was a Formula One race on the same day on a “mickey-mouse” circuit in the middle of nowhere in southern Spain, I am told), the Vintage Sports Car Club held its own event on the Weston-Super-Mare seafront, by courtesy of the local Council and the Burnham Motor Club. Last year the VSCC held a sprint the day after the main event, and It was so successful that it is now an accepted part of the Weston Speed Weekend.

Restricted to vintage and post-vintage cars (ie, pre-war cars, the youngest of which was 50 years old, and the oldest 85 years old), the performances were naturally down on the Saturday event; but even so there were some stirring runs, with FTD going to the most famous of all ERA cars, R4D, driven by Anthony Mayman with a time of 14.70 seconds and a terminal speed of 122 mph. Not to be left out of the Sunday fun and games, I persuaded my friend Peter Whenman, who fettles-up Lagondas among other VSCC-type cars, to let me share his 41/2-litre Meadows-engined M45R. While we had a private needle-match for the car’s best time and speed, we also got embroiled with David Roscoe in his 4.3-litre Alvis special. All day we had been striving to break the 20-second barrier, and on his last run David clocked 19.98 seconds, to the gloom of the Lagonda faction.

When quizzed about how he had found that little his extra, David said “Oh, I took my jacket off for that run” — it was that sort of happy meeting.

Meanwhile, down in southern Spain I am told that all the Formula One heroes were bitching and binding at each other and indulging in ungentlemanly actions on the track. But then the twisty little track at Jerez is that sort of place.

It is strange how you hear very little whining and whingeing at Spa-Francorchamps, the Osterreichring or Silverstone. On those circuits they have their work cut out, being Grand Prix drivers, whereas at the “mickey-mouse” circuits they are playing at being Formula One drivers. There is a subtle difference, you know. Yours, DSJ