Veteran to classic: LCC relay races

Battle royal

Back in 1931 the Light Car Club decided to join others in organising a real long-distance race at Brooklands. But with a difference.

The length of the race was to be 90 laps of the Outer Circuit — a formidable 250 miles — but, as LCC members were mainly amateurs with non-professional cars, the event was to be a Relay Handicap, for teams (mixed or one-make) of three cars not exceeding 1500cc; so the distance expected of each would be only 84 miles. Thus the LCC Relay Race, at first known as the Relay Grand Prix, was established, and very good training (and fun) it was for the less-experienced drivers, team-managers and pit-staff.

The scheme was quite simple: an entrant’s three cars and drivers were all individually handicapped on the basis of the fastest car, thus obviating any advantage in stopping the “A” and “B” cars after a lap or two and letting one’s quickest entry do the remaining distance!

In fact, the adjudged “fastest” car of each team was required to start first, and all three had to be presented to the starter, although if the “A” car was hors de combat after practice it could be pushed over the line and the “B” car brought up. Moreover, if a car retired, the next in the team was allowed to take over and complete its distance; for example, if an “A” car failed after ten laps, the “B” car had to do 50 instead of its intended 30 laps.

The changeover was by means of sashes — the flaming torches used in relays in Roman times not suiting racing cars! The driver finishing his stint handed the sash to his teammate who was waiting to depart, and if a car stopped “out in the country” a long run, on legs instead of on wheels, would be required.

These Relay Races turned out to be excellent value and I much enjoyed watching them. Interesting as the various teams were, I had an especially keen hope that the Morgan three-wheelers would “put one over” on the works Austins. The racing cyclecars crackled round at speeds which stamped their drivers as more courageous than most, and somehow these intrepid devotees of the air-cooled vee-twin engine and chain-drive, clad in leathers and belonging more to the motorcycle world, greatly appealed to me. One felt sympathy for the little Malvern company as it annually pitted its entry against that of the great Austin Motor Co of Birmingham, which had already made some 135,000 A7s and was running its latest racing cars with a team of famous works drivers. My fingers were always metaphorically well-crossed in favour of the gallant “Moggys”, risking all at the rim of the Brooklands’ bankings, their throttles held open, it was said, by elasticbands, so that the drivers could keep both hands on the steering-wheels and not back off for a moment!

Other teams had A7s and Morgan three-wheelers in them, it should be noted, but we will concentrate on the fight between these as one-make teams. How did these battles royal work out?

The first of these races, with the grandiose name of Relay Grand Prix, received its full complement of 22 teams, and was run on July 25, 1931. Already Lord Austin had seen the publicity possibilities of the LCC’s ingenious concept, or it had his sympathy, for he put in a team of the latest single-seater A7s to be driven by Leon Cushman, Donald Barnes and Charles Goodacre. The Morgan team, entered by George Goodall of Morgan’s, consisted of Clive Lones with his well-known racer powered by a JTOR JAP vee-twin, Jim Maskell in “Jim”, given a JTOR engine for the occasion, and Tommy Rhodes with his Aero Morgan, which Malvern had rebodied in the latest Super-Aero body-style.

After practice, during which Rhodes’ engine seized and caused him a nasty spin while devouring the Byfleet banking at some 90 mph, the Morgan entry was moved from scratch to a five-minute start. But this still left it more than three minutes in arrears of the blown MG Midgets, and over six minutes behind the works A7 team.

Lones set off well, lapping at nearly 93 mph, the lightweight machine airborne at times on the banking as it began to whittle away the 19-lap lead of the limit car. But then rain began to bucket down.

These Relay races were apt to be run under such conditions — I well remember how Kay Petre (A7) and the girls of the MG Magnette team (notably the slim, good looking Doreen Evans) drove undaunted through a stinging downpour in 1934, and how Ashton-Rigby’s MG developed an enormous skid at the Fork, narrowly missing the Vickers sheds, striking the barrier which sheltered the waiting “C” cars and flattening its exhaust-pipe, which caused its retirement.

In 1931 Morgan’s Maskell found visibility so bad that his speed dropped to the 80s, and he had to stop for attention to the drowned engine; Rhodes did his best to regain lost time as conditions eased a bit, lapping at 87 mph until the water on the Track reduced him to a crawl on one cylinder, and the Morgan team just got home within the time-allowance, in twelfth place, at 71.84 mph. The works Austins had won, at 81.77 mph, but my sympathy was with the gallant three-wheelers — perhaps the drivers’ bravery was emphasised by memories of the accident which had befallen Ware and Allchin in the 1924 200-Mile Race, when their Morgan’s back wheel had locked-up and the car overturned, putting both men in hospital for a long spell.

That race had been run by the JCC, formed from the original Cyclecar Club, and the Light Car Club stemmed from the New Cyclecar Club formed to reinstate three-wheelers at Brooklands after the ban which followed Ware’s crash.

Not everyone regarded Morgans as altogether suited to long-distance lappery there, but this did not deter them from entering for the 1932 Relay Race. The team comprised Lones, using a modified, longstroke 1096cc JAP JTOR engine, Rhodes’ Super Aero with Baragwanath-tuned JAP JTOR engine, and Geoff Harris’ similarly powered Super Aero. Charlie Curtis was there as works mechanic to help if necessary, as was the JAP rep. Lord Austin again put in a team of supercharged single-seater “Dutch-Clog” cars, which their drivers were glad to vacate after the 30 laps because their cramped cockpits were decidedly uncomfortable. These fast A7s were on scratch, the “A” car starting an hour after the first away.

The Morgans made a fine fight of it. Lones began lapping at over 94 and later at 98 mph, carrying ten gallons of fuel for his 85 miles, until a big-end broke up. Rhodes took over but a rocker broke, so Harris had to take the team on; alas, after only 12 minutes, his engine too broke a rocker. The A7 team averaged 91.13 mph, finishing fourth, the winners at 77.51 mph being Hutchens’ trio of two EW Daytona Wolseley Hornets and an EW International Hornet (Hutchens’ own car holding 5200 rpm to turn several 86 mph laps, at 30 mpg). In 1933, for what was by now an established event, HFS Morgan himself put in Rhodes, Lones and Henry Laird, their Morgans prepared and repainted red with cream wheels at Malvern Link.

Well-base rims were replaced by split rims on grounds of safety, and Lones used his highly-tuned, water-cooled 731cc JAP vee-twin engine. Laird was given a JTOR engine, behind a new dummy radiator, and Rhodes used a new 996cc JTOR JAP, tuned to consume RDI fuel on a cr of 9.8:1. Both Laird and Rhodes had double Hartford shock-absorbers to keep the back wheel down, necessitating canvas panels to replace the former tail hump. It was a serious onslaught with the JAP mechanics Booker and Millington, Amal’s man Davenport and Charlie, from Malvern in attendance, but a ploy to use radio to communicate between drivers and pits didn’t work out.

This year the Morgans were especially impressive (and frightening!) as they sped round at close to 100 mph under a heavy handicap. Indeed, Lones did 102 mph, the first “ton-up” lap in this race, but engine failure intervened.

New regs specified that engines of the “B” and “C” cars could not be started until the sash had been handed over, so drivers had to use restraint about opening up cold engines. This was particularly hard on the Morgans, as they ran with only top-speed chain in place, so Laird had to chunter off on his 3.9:1 ratio until the engine took hold. He was soon lapping at 90, and once at 99.8 mph, but it was hectic stuff, and to the wrath of the officials he found it impossible to keep to the left of the black “passing” line at the Fork. The strain soon told, as the steering tie-rod broke.

This left Lones with 50 laps to complete, but his small engine took him round at some 95 mph. Twenty laps from the end he was third, just ahead of Goodacre’s orange “Dutch-Clog” blown A7, and ten more laps saw the Morgan team in second place, which is how it finished — at 89.01 mph, beaten only by Alan Hess’ MG Magna team. The A7s were 2.59 mph quicker.

It was much the same in 1934. This, to my delight, was the year when the Morgans put it over on the works Austins! The Malvern team was virtually as in 1933, the JTOR engines having a different cr for each “pot” (Laird’s now pulling a 3.8:1 top-speed), and the scent of burnt Castro! “R” was in the air. … Passengers, as intrepid as the drivers, took the ride, Richard Laird in the “B” car.

This time the full quota of laps was completed by the first two Morgans, and as the sunshine turned to the aforementioned torrential rain, Lones had 30 laps to do in the 731cc job, its engine now some 11,000 racing miles old. Coping well with low visibility and the flooded track, he brought the team home in second place, at the fastest-to-date average of 90.91 mph. The works A7s withdrew after Driscoll, his “A” car having broken a fuel-pipe, had taken a short cut, sash in hand, across the Aerodrome to the pits, and so would have been disqualified, and the race was won by Thompson’s team of mixed A7 models, at 84.65 mph. I went away elated …

The 1935 event had Laird with a new long-stroke 80mm x 107mm bronze-crankcase JTOR, poking out at least 70 bhp, in his “A” Morgan, Rhodes with JAP works-tuned 996cc JTOR in a three-speeder Morgan as the “B” car, and Lanes sticking to two speeds and the little 731cc engine. Laird lapped at 94 but had the front suspension sliders break after 17 laps; Rhodes then did the next 43 laps at well over 90 but, sadly, the timing-shaft of Lones’ engine broke after five laps, so that was that …

The Singer team of new three-bearing 1 ‘A-litre cars won, at 85.13 mph, in the rain of course, and the A7s were well down, at 86.15 mph.

Perhaps racing was becoming more professional. For whatever reason, entries dwindled for the 1936 Relay Race, and the LCC let in cars of over 1500cc; no factory-Morgans entered. The Aston Martin team was victorious, at 87.91 mph. The following year the Morgans were again absent, and the works Austins won the fastest Relay of the series, at 105.63 mph from scratch, Bert Hadley lapping at 121.18 mph, ably supported by Charles Goodacre and Mrs Kay Petre. For 1938 the LCC substituted a three-hour sports-car race. But how exciting those Austin versus Morgan battles were while they lasted, and how nice it is that in today’s VSCC and Morgan TWC races Harper, Caroline and others continue to give us a taste of that I. pre-war enjoyment! WB

Was it?

In the History of Brooklands Motor Course, a book still available from Grenville, I include a list of the certificates which the Brooklands ARC issued to both trade testers and amateurs, anxious to prove the speed of their cars or motorcycles. Those numbered 2295 and 2296 were issued in respect of runs over the kilometre and mile, with a flying-start, by a 36/220 Mercedes-Benz coupe. The respective speeds were 100.40mph and 91.37mph, the date was October 1928 but the drivers’ name was hard to decipher. I made it out as “M. Julkenkian”. But could he have been in fact the millionaire-industrialist Nubar Gilbenkien, who was known to have idealistic ideas about his cars and who may have gone to the Track to see whether the top-model Mercedes of the time was just enough for him? WB

Lea-Francis Rally

This year’s Lea-Francis OC Rally at Stamford Hall, organised by Roger East, had an excellent attendance. Overall prize went to G. Willerton’s 1951 14hp saloon. J.C. Collins came in a rare Ace-of-Spades Six, rebuilt over 20 years, to win the Andrews Trophy for best restoration. C. Brooks’ 1925 I-type 12/22 also made its first outing for 20 years. N. Plant had his O-type 1930 12/50, now with Vauxhall ifs, C.H. Wagstaff was in his supercharged ex-racing Lobster and T. Burtonshaw was back again with a 1930 saloon which in 50 years had done only 22,000 miles in the care of one owner. WB

Readers’ requests

Tony Ward is rebuilding the ex-GA Wooding Talbot which won the Locke King Trophy cars race at Brooklands in 1939. After the war it was given a Tickford coupe body but later sold to Anthony Blight. Mr Ward acquired the car from Scott-Moncrieff 18 months ago and now needs details of the original bodywork. He also owns a Talbot 75 and the recently-completed 1934 BA110. Letters can be forwarded. WB


Malcolm Clube would appreciate any information about the exciting Hamilton Special, which dates from 1933 and consisted of a Rolls-Royce PII chassis into which was installed a Rolls-Royce Kestrel aero-engine. This engine was destroyed and replaced by a Merlin by Simpson’s of Elstree in 1946. Not to be confused with the Merlin Rolls-Royce built by a Mr Dodd or the Rolls-Royce Merlin Special which Michael Wilcox once drove at the Brighton Speed Trials, this car is at present garaged in Hampshire and should make a highly exciting road car! WB

The 24-litre Lion-engined Napier-Railton, one of the premier exhibits in the Midland Motor Museum at Bridgnorth, has been sold by Bob Roberts to Victor Gauntlett, although we believe it will reside in the museum until the end of this year.

Mr Gauntlett is said to be contemplating putting front wheel brakes on the giant car and using it on the road, which should be exciting! I believe that the Napier-Railton has only been driven on the road once, for brief tail-sliding moments on the film set when it was used as a fake LSR car in the drama Pandora.

After its pre-war racing and record braking career ended, it was used for testing GQ aeroplane parachutes, for which purpose it was fitted with disc rear brakes in case a ‘chute failed.

It would be nice if these disc brakes could now be removed rather than front wheel brakes added which would put the car back into the form in which it was when John Cobb used it to set the absolute Brooklands lap record of 143.44 mph in 1935. No doubt the Brooklands museum would welcome it as a loan exhibit. WB