The 3-litre T.T. Vauxhalls

George Sanders, the Vauxhall enthusiast, tells of the history of those elusive 1922 Vauxhall racing cars.

In these notes I am purposely not giving technical details of the above cars, as I believe their design is well known, and in view of the fact that they were fully described in a recent issue of one of the well-known weekly motoring journals, any remarks of mine would be superfluous.

Three chassis and four engines were built for the 1922 Isle of Man T.T. race, to the designs of Ricardo and King, and the completed cars, Vauxhalls 1, 2, and 3, were driven by M. C. Park, O. Payne and E. Swain, their respective mechanics being E. W. Pugh, A. G. Blackborough and O. G. Walker, in that year’s race.

Due to minor troubles, which so often beset a new design, only one car completed the course, this being Vauxhall 2, driven by Payne, which finished in 3rd place to a Sunbeam and a Bentley, at an average speed of 53.7 m.p.h. (the distance to be covered being eight laps of 37 3/4 miles).

Now let us follow the individual history of these three cars after the conclusion of the race, commencing with Vauxhall 1 (M. C. Park). Vauxhall 1. — After the T.T. races, Vauxhall Motors entered this car for most of the sporting events of those days, which included speed trials, hill climbs, and track work; its first appearance being at Shelsley Walsh hill climb in July, when fastest time of the day was made in 53.8 seconds. During the remainder of this year, and the first part of 1923, she ran in 16 events, gaining 10 1sts, 5 2nds, and a 3rd place. The Brooklands 17th Lightning Long Handicap, in October, 1922, provided her best performance, this being won at an average speed of 108.73 m.p.h.

In 1924 the car was sold to Mr. P. Gurney, who, however, never drove her in competition, nominating J. D. Barclay to fulfil his entries. Barclay was obviously attracted to the car, as shortly afterwards she passed into his possession, and remained his property until the close of the 1925 season, though this same driver was associated with Vauxhall 3 until the end of 1928. During this period she was again used for both track work and speed trials, gaining a total of 6 1sts, 4 2nds, and 7 3rds, her best win being the 42nd 100-m.p.h. Long Handicap at 100.25 m.p.h., this in June, 1925.

1926 saw the car pass into the hands of Dan Higgin, who raced her successfully for two years, winning 11 races, placed 2nd four times, and 3rd twice. Southport and Wallasey were its most regular hunting grounds, though perhaps her best performance in the hands of this driver was the 1/2-mile standing start at the Colwyn Bay speed trials, which distance was covered in 30 seconds.

Mr. Carson, her last owner, purchased the car in 1928; in his hands she gained a 3rd at Skegness, won two Long Handicaps at Brooklands at speeds of 97 and 99.9 m.p.h. respectively, and broke the International Class D record for 200 kilos. standing start, at an average speed of 155.487 k.p.h. (96.6 m.p.h.)

Shortly after this the engine “blew up” at Brooklands, the remains of which, according to Mr. Carson’s letter, were used as spares for Vauxhall 3.

So far as the chassis was concerned, this had a Buick engine installed and, fitted with a Monoposto body, made, I believe, a brief appearance at a meeting held at Howards Park around the summer of 1934. Where it had been the previous few years I don’t know.

Eventually she was shipped to Australia, and used for dirt track racing.

So much, then, for Vauxhall 1, her total bag being, during the seven years she was raced, some 29 1sts, 13 2nds, 11 3rds and one international class record.

Vauxhall 2. — This was the car which, driven by Payne, finished 3rd in the 1922 race. The early history of this car seems a little hazy; she certainly was not used a great deal, and does not appear to have been raced again that year.

I believe her next appearance was during July, 1923, when she ran at the Colwyn Bay speed trials, being driven by that well-known Vauxhall driver, W. Watson, and put up the fastest time of the day, with a time of 22.8 seconds.

Not until the next year do we hear of her again. At two meetings during 1924 a 3-litre Vauxhall was handled by Raymond Mays, and I can only assume the car he drove to be this one, as the other two cars were at this time being raced by Barclay and Cook; apparently she was still the property of the works. On both occasions he made fastest time of the day. (Perhaps not unusual for this driver.)

Early in 1925 the car passed into the hands of a private owner, by name H. F. Clay, in whose hands she achieved many successes. This driver gained no fewer than 22 1st places, 4 2nds, and 2 3rd places over a period of two and a half years’ racing.

All these successes were gained either at Southport, Blackpool, or Skegness; his best performances were the 1/2-mile standing start in 28.8 secs. (Blackpool, October 11th, 1926), reduced to 27.2 secs. the following year; the flying kilo., 23.2 secs. (Southport, September 17th, 1927), and the 1-mile standing start in 45.2 secs.; (Southport, September 17th, 1927).

Raymond May became her next owner around the beginning of 1928, first running her at Skegness in June of that year, where he gained one 1st and one 2nd place; the following week-end she ran at Southport with similar wins, after which, during the next seven years, she was destined to become so well known as Shelsley Walsh in various guises, appearing, I think I am right in saying, nowhere else.

Shortly after Mays purchased the car, amongst other modifications the engine was supercharged, and in one sense, so far as performance times are concerned, little credit can go to the car as one of the original “3 litres.”

During these years her time at Shelsley Walsh was gradually reduced, until the splendid time of 42.4 secs. was achieved in September, 1933.

A complete rebuild had taken place in 1932, after which the car became known as the Vauxhall-Villiers Supercharged Special, later reduced to the more imposing name of Villiers Supercharge.

In the latter days during which Mays was driving her, there is no doubt that a phenomenal amount of power was being obtained from the old 4-cylinder engine. I did hear it stated that this was in the region of 324 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m., with a boost of 35 lb./sq. in. available, of course, for sprint work only.

Though I cannot vouch for the figures, it would be very interesting to hear from those responsible for the tuning what the actual performance figures were.

However, to get back to the main theme, in Mays’ hands she gained 9 1sts and 5 2nds.

Mrs. Wisdom drove this car at Shelsley Walsh in 1934, but, no doubt due to the appalling weather conditions which prevailed at that particular meeting, achieved no success.

Mays apparently decided he had reached the limit of performance at the end of 1934, and the car, having been put up for sale, was purchased by Sidney Cummings.

Cummings, who owned her for some 18 months, must have given all spectators the thrill of every meeting at which he entered, and many will remember how this car used to behave towards the end of a run, with the final relief, after the dust had cleared, of seeing the barriers still in situ.

After all these years it again became quite common to observe this veteran Vauxhall once more putting up the fastest time of the day. Lewes, Wetherby, Madresfield, Poole, Southsea and Brighton all heard her ear-splitting exhaust, 9 1sts (7 f.t.d.s) and 2 2nd places were collected, for only one incident. The Lewes course was eventually covered in 18.13 secs., and the Brighton 1/2-mile completed in 22.89 secs., or an average speed of 78.6 m.p.h.

In 1987 the car came into the hands of R. L. Hanson, who only once competed in an event, this being at Wetherby, when a time of 32.7 secs. was returned.

Shortly after this the car was dismantled, and the engine installed in the chassis of the ex-Kaye Don 4.9 Bugatti. In this form she was driven by various drivers, including Peter Walker and Anthony Brooke. Her last owner appears to be Malcolm Ferguson.

Again the engine was removed, and is now the property of Anthony Brooke (vide Motor Sport, February, 1942). It seems a great shame that such an historical car should have been scrapped, and that all but the power unit has been passed to “metal melters,” never to be recovered.

Let us hope Mr. Brooke will create a Phoenix and be able, with all his spares, to build up another 3-litre.

In all, then, this car, Vauxhall 2, gained, over a period of 16 years’ racing, no fewer than 46 1st places, 12 2nds, and 2 3rds. Certainly an active life.

Vauxhall 3.—This was the car driven by E. Swain in the T.T. race, but as earlier mentioned, did not complete the course, due to mechanical trouble. I do not think this car was raced again until the following season, when she appeared in the hands of Humphrey Cook. Cook had been a frequent competitor at Brooklands and other events since the beginning of the 1920’s with his “30/98” Vauxhall, “Rouge et Noir,” the name of which was transferred to his 3-litre when he changed his mount. From this time onwards, i.e., the spring of 1923, this car commenced a very hectic racing career, being run at numerous Brooklands meetings, speed trials, and hill climbs.

In Cook’s hands “Rouge et Noir ” was always one of the star turns at the old sprint venues in the early 1920’s. During the two years he raced this car he collected no fewer than 33 1sts, 21 2nds and 8 3rd places, and making fastest time of the day on no less than 20 occasions. It should also be mentioned that at the close of the 1923 season nine world’s records were broken.

For comparative purposes, Cook’s best times at the various meetings were, I believe, as follows: Kop, 27.8 secs. (April 28th, 1923); Aston Clinton, 46.4 secs. (May 12th, 1923); Spread Eagle, 43.6 secs. (July 14th, 1923); Shelsley Walsh, 52.8 secs. (July 12th, 1924); Porthcawl, 50.2 secs. (July 18th, 1924); Caerphilly, 71.2 secs. (July 1st, 1923); the standing kilo. at Skegness in 36 secs. (June 4th, 1923); the flying mile at Saltburn at an average speed of 101.68 m.p.h. (June 21st, 1924); and at Brooklands, the Essex Senior 100 m.p.h. Long Handicap at 100.25 m.p.h. (June 2nd, 1923).

The world’s records broken included the 1/2-mile, 1-mile, 2-, 5- and 10-miles, both standing and flying start, the highest speed being attained in the 1/2-mile flying start, which record was taken at 109.69 m.p.h. (16.41 secs.) The following year this car also passed into the hands of Jack Barclay, owner of Vauxhall 1.

I am not quite sure which events were won by which car during the period up to the time that Vauxhall 3 was streamlined; the first event of which I have a record of this car being handled by Barclay was the 46th 100 m.p.h. Short Handicap, which he won at an average of 99.25 m.p.h. (September 12th, 1925).

At the end of this season the records made by Cook in 1923 were improved upon, the mile being covered at an average speed of 110.77 m.p.h., in all eight records were broken. During 1926, undoubtedly this car’s best performance was achieved in the Evening News 100-miles handicap race at Brooklands, when driven by the late J. G. P. Thomas, and starting at plus 90 secs., she finished in 3rd place at an average of 104.82 m.p.h.

In October of this year Thomas went for and took, four records, these being the 100 kilos., 50 miles, 100 miles, and 1 hour, at between 104 and 108 m.p.h.

1927 saw this car being handled by John Cobb, though I believe she still remained the property of Barclay. Cobb’s outstanding performance was that of winning the Sporting Life Trophy from scratch at an average speed of 111.92 m.p.h. for the 100 miles. During the course of the race the records made by Thomas in October of the previous year were eclipsed. A fine run for a five-year-old unsupercharged 3-litre, nearly 20 years ago. [It was now streamlined, as a single-seater. – Ed.]

She doesn’t appear to have been raced at all in 1928, and next appeared in the hands of David Brown. During the four years that Barclay owned her she gained 9 1sts, 7 2nds, 7 3rds, and at different times broke 17 international class records. These gains may not seem so numerous as one might expect over such a period, but were practically all achieved at Brooklands, where more and more serious competition was being met, not only from more modern racing cars, but also from the aero-engined giants which were approaching their hey-day.

David Brown, like Mays, had the car supercharged, also to Villiers’ designs, and proved very successful at Southport, where he won a total of at least 13 races, being placed 2nd only once.

Brown does not seem to have raced her at many venues, but on one of his visits to Shelsley Walsh clocked 47 secs. During the time the car was his property she was completely rebuilt, which rebuilding included the fitting of an underslung chassis. There is no doubt she could show a fine turn of speed over a short run, her maximum being in the neighbourhood of 140 m.p.h.

I believe her last owner was one, A. L. Baker, who purchased the car in 1932; from my records she only appeared at one meeting, namely, Lewes in May of that year, gaining the “Baker Challenge Trophy.” What happened to the blue 3-litre after this I don’t know, but expect she was, like her sisters, dismantled, and for ever lost.

Vauxhall 3 produced the biggest catch, with no fewer than 56 1st places to her credit, 28 2nds, 15 8rds, and at different times during her life took 26 class records.

I think there can be few marques of racing cars that can boast of their original team of three cars completing an aggregate of 33 years’ continual racing, gaining all told 131 1sts, 53 2nds, 28 3rds, and 27 class records. A wonderful car in her day.

In making the above notes, I must apologise for giving so many plain figures, but as I intended this should be a straight record of performance, it is rather difficult, without going into a lot of detail concerning each race, to avoid the fact.

It is not easy to determine just when various drivers became owners of individual cars; this particularly refers to Vauxhall 2, later the property of Raymond Mays, and I trust that discriminating readers will, in order to assist in arriving at the true history, please correct me where I have shown myself in error.