Birthday party - Castle Combe (August 26th)

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A 50th birthday is something to forget rather than to celebrate, where humans are concerned. With cars, historic racing cars in particular, it is different. But it was exceedingly generous of Kenneth Neve, Stanley Sears, Sir Francis Samuelson and Philip Mann to invite so many of their friends to celebrate the 50th birthday of four 1914 Grand Prix racing cars—I use the term “Grand Prix,” as I did last month, in the sense that we use “Formula One” today, although, in fact, three of the cars were built for the 1914 Tourist Trophy race.

There was no significance about the date—it was chosen for convenience and was later than the cars’ birth, but it was a day of clear blue sky and hot sunshine over Castle Combe circuit, where this exceedingly enjoyable party took place.

The actual 1914 French G.P.-winning Mercedes, owned jointly by Stanley Sears and Philip Mann, a fabulously exciting discovery of a few years ago, following a tip-off I gave Mr. Mann, should have been present but is still being meticulously rebuilt by Tony Townsend, although its vee-radiator, in grey undercoat, and some of its internals, were displayed in the big marquee wherein the assembled guests later toasted the cars and their loyal owners.

There was, at 11.30 a.m., a brief demonstration, wherein the two 1914 T.T. Sunbeams, the 1914 T.T. Humber and the 1914 G.P. Opel raced for six laps, attempting to average the same speed —56.44 m.p.h.—as K. Lee Guinness had done in winning the two-day 600-mile 1914 I.o.M. Tourist Trophy Race for Sunbeam. This was not a very formidable task round the resurfaced circuit of Castle Combe, lent for the day by owner Mrs. Morris and Circuit Manager Michael Burn, and the 65.3 m.p.h. at which Lautenschlager won the 1914 French Grand Prix for Mercedes might just as well have been taken as the target.

After a couple of warming-up laps the contestants were away and Sears naturally pulled out a good lead, by reason of the greater engine size of his Opel, 1,146 c.c. larger than the T.T. opposition. Laurence Pomeroy, commentating, drew attention to his fourwheel-drifting but to me the Opel seemed just to jerk its tail. Next came Sir Francis Samuelson, driving very stylishly his 1914 T.T. Sunbeam in his 54th year as a racing driver. Neve followed in his 1914 T.T. Humber and Mann, running rather wide at the corners, and ” in the red ” on the tachometer, which would be around 3,000 r.p.m., brought up the rear, in Sears’ 1914 T.T. Sunbeam. We heard later that all four cars had easily exceeded the target speed.

How very fine it was to see these old Grand Prix cars thundering along so actively, neither dull museum exhibits nor circus stunts in the hands of unworthy operators.

The cars themselves need very little introduction. The Opel is one of two which came to race at Brooklands before the First World War, remained in an aeroplane hangar for the duration of hostilities, and was acquired by Alistair Miller and converted into a single-seater for Segrave to race. Scars has rebuilt it in G.P. guise, which necessitated having a new cylinder block cast, it is said at a COSI of k50o. It was easily the fastest car on this Birthday Demonstration, and, apart from the ring on its transmission-brake drum expanding and slipping down the prop-shaft, gave no trouble.

Sears’ other car is the Sunbeam which Dario Resta drove in the 1914 ‘T.T., but only for part of one lap, for a big-end bolt broke up. Sir Francis Samuelson’s T.T. Sunbeam is the actual Guinness race-winning car. Neve’s Humber was driven in the T.T. by its designer, Burgess, but retired with a seized piston, although it is believed to have made the fastest practice lap.

It was nice to know that both Sears’ racing cars were driven to their birthday celebrations from Sussex. The others were trailed, Nev6 Humber on a modified horsebox towed by his very smart Rolls-Royce, which makes a familiar and formidable ensemble.

All these 1914 racers were using Dunlop tyres, a reminder that, but for the generosity of Fort Dunlop, racing them in their fiftieth Year would be quite impracticable. Sears’ Opel is on 6.00 18 Dunlops, his Sunbeam is shod with 5.00-5.25 X 21 Dunlops, Samuelson’s Sunbeam runs on 820 X 120 Dunlops, while the Humber has 8 x 105 Dunlops on its front wheels, 8zo X 1201 at the rear. All have sixteen-valve engines, the o.h. valves actuated by a single oh. camshaft, Mercedes-style, on the Opel, by twin overhead camshafts, in the Henry Peugeot tradition, on the Sunbeam and Humber. (For further information, all the participants featured in Motor Sport’s “Veteran Types ” articles before or during the last war.)

What a pleasant day it was, as we sipped” bubbly” in quantity, looked after with olde worlde charm by our hosts, and thought back to the days more than two World Wars ago!

Jack Williamson had brought along the 1908 G.P. Itala “to let it see how younger racing cars perform.” Cecil Clutton came in his 5-litre Bugatti, Tom Rolt in his one-owner 12/50 Alvis ducks back. There were other vintage cars present in the sparkling atmosphere, from Chummy Austin to Bentley. Cameron Millar’s twin-cam 3-litre Sunbeam must have been proud of its Coatalen forebears. Robert Waddy came in a Dauphine, Tim Carson in a Volvo, Stanford in a Lancia Flavia, Breen in his Lancia, Barker and Boddy in Fords. Basil Davenport and Prof. Mucklow were there. Bunty Scott-Moncrieff and his charming wife Averil arrived in a Jaguar, not a Rolls-Royce as you might have expected, and all around were people who understand full well why four enthusiasts had thought it right and proper that a birthday party should be held for four ancient motor cars. A day to remember, definitely l—W. B.