Rumblings, September 1949

The B.R.D.C./Daily Express Silverstone Meeting couldn’t help but be enthralling, with Villoresi, Ascari, Farina, Chiron, de Graffenried and Levegh driving, and everyone agog to see what the cars due to run in the Production-Car Race could do. Desmond Scannell deserves the greatest possible credit for his enterprise and organisation. We have had sports-car races aplenty, but never before anything quite so true-to-catalogue. Only tyres, ignition control and setting, and carburetter settings could be non-standard. Which rendered all the more enjoyable the solemn assurance by one manufacturer that his cars were on standard compression-ratios, he being apparently unaware that they jolly well had to be, under the regulations. There was an expectant air before the race, reminiscent of the week before the first 200-Mile Race twenty-eight years ago, or before the first long-distance event for the “500s,” last year, for this Production Car Race was something new and exciting.

In a way it was a pity amateur entries of older cars were mixed with manufacturers’ entries. The Allards, Jaguars, Healeys, Rileys, Frazer-Nashes, H.R.G.s, Jowett Javelins, M.G.s and Morgan were virtually all “works” cars, although nominated by private owners in some instances. Entries from Aston-Martin and Connaught were unfortunately turned down. Below are some notes on the entries, make by make: —

Morgan. — Peter Morgan’s car was a “Le Mans “two-seater “4/4,” with fuel filler protruding from its tonneau and cycle-type front wings.

M.G. — The M.G.s were very smartly turned-out “TCs,” with tonneaus over the passenger’s seat and a holder for four spare Champion plugs screwed to the floor on the passenger’s side. They had blank number-plates and 4.50-19 tyres.

Jowett. — The Javelins were black saloons, carrying their tools correctly stowed in the boot, but having bucket front seats replacing the normal bench-seat, 5.50-16 Dunlop racing tyres and the hub-plates purposely left off the wheels, which had brake-cooling holes. Hume practised on a left-drive fawn saloon bearing his racing number, and with bench-seat, until his other car arrived.

H.R.G. — These were normal, Singer-engined 1 1/2e two-eaters, Clapp’s reserve car an “1,100.” They ran fansch are optional anyway) and had 4.1-to-1 axle ratios and indirect ratios of 4.64, 7.16 and 11.88-to-1. Peter Clark’s car had a bar to its radiator cap and two air-holes in the bonnet side for the S.U.s., while Clapp’s had a slot in its bonnet. Clapp used 5.00-17 tyres, and the 1 1/2-litres had 5.25-16 tyres, these lightweight Dunlops saving 10 lb. per wheel. Tonneau covers. were used.

Aston-Martin. — It was a thousand pities the current model Astons didn’t run, but Rowley represented the marque with his 2-litre, which Phipps drove in the 1936 T.T. It had an. 8.3-to-1 compression-ratio that didn’t particularly love pump fuel, the block from the Seaman car, slots in its aerodynamic rear wings to cool the brakes and Girling shock-absorbers cunningly coupled to the front axle brackets to which radius rods were formerly coupled.

Frazer-Nash. — These were the “Competition” two-seaters of Le Mans fame, with a cylindrical silencer on the end of the exhaust pipe that didn’t do much silencing. Treybal was on 5.25-16 India tyres, and his engine was said to be slightly less powerful than Culpan’s, giving about 116 b.h.p.; this car had the 3.9-to-1 axle ratio. Gerard’s had a different silencer.

Riley. — Surprisingly, these were 2 1/2-litre saloons, Mylchreest’s and Sangster’s black, Ayes’ white, and not the open two/three-seater, 100-m.p.h. cars. The tyre size favoured was. 6.00-15.

Healey. — These were the new “Silverstone” cars, with radiator filler flush with the bonnet top-panel, the shallow “vanishing” windscreens, and bolt-on wheels shod with 5.50-15 front and 6.00-15 rear tyres, the spare horizontal in the tail. Chiron’s was blue, with B.R.D.C. transfer, Wisdom’s green and Rolt’s red, the last-named having four decorative holes in its. bonnet sides. Jaguar. — The Jaguars stole the show, being 3 1.2-litre XK two-seaters, with bumpers in place, aero-screen and faired mirror, and with the new 2LS Lockheed front brakes, 17-in. diameter steering wheel, 140-m.p.h. speedometer, steel connecting-rods, 8-to-1 compression ratio and 3.64-to-1 axle ratio. As a surprise, Jaguar’s finished “Bira’s” in blue with yellow road wheels and steering wheel, to match his colour-scheme, Johnson’s being white to match his white singlet and helmet, and Walker’s red. 6.00-16 Dunlops were fitted and the undershield used at Ostend was not fitted. Mann ran his pre-war type open 3 1/2-litre Jaguar “100.”

Allard. — Two of the Allards were the new de Dion axle J-type two-seaters, backed by Potter’s K-type Alpine Trial two-seater, also of 4,875 c.c. All had a recuperative cooling system to condense lost water-vapour, and whereas Sydney had the latest Dunlop racing 6.00-16 tyres on his front wheels, Leslie the older Dunlop racing tyres on the front of his car, Potter preferred Dunlops sports tyres. The rear tyres were 6.25-16.

Lagonda. — These were 4 1/2-litre “Rapide” four-seaters, Wright’s using twin vertical magnetos and 6.50-16 Firestone rear tyres, Howarth’s the same size Goodyears.

The Lea-Francis was an absentee. The Jaguars soon proved themselves the fastest cars on the course, leaning over some what when cornering, and howling their tyres, but very, very fast. Culpan’s Frazer-Nash sounded a bit “popply” and Gerard provided the first exciting incident when the off-side rear wheel flew into the air as he was taking Abbey Curve, rendering the brakes inoperative and smashing the shoes on that side. Luckily Bob held the car. which came to rest on the grass just before the bridge, on the pits-side of the road. The wheel was found by a house hundreds of yards away but the brake drum was not seen again — it should be worth searching for, in view of the price of F.N. spares. A brick was rumoured to have damaged the sump as well. Next morning the car was repaired, but “Aldy” was in session with the scrutineers, armed with sectional drawings; of the F.N. rear axle assembly! But these cars were extremely fast. Peter Clark, acting as duty-chauffeur to all the H.R.G.s, set the off-side rear brake of his car alight and experienced slight front-wheel flap, “Bira” had tyre pressure experiments carried out and brakes adjusted on his Jaguar, while the Allards were troubled by loss of water, a loose exhaust fantail and, on Leslie’s. car, ignition too far advanced. They, too, were fast when they were running. Sydney’s whistling as it went by, the Riley saloons and the M.G.s likewise very impressive, and the rolling of the Javelins wonderful to behold. New shock-absorbers were being sought for Wright’s Lagonda. Cotton’s Riley had its rear S.U. attended to, rear tyres were swopped on the Healeys, and Rowley’s Aston-Martin had its scavenge pump pack up, just as Seaman had in the 1936 T.T.

Fastest time on Thursday was “Bira’s” 2 min. 9 sec., followed by Johnson and Walker in 2 min. 10 sec., or only 3 sec. slower than Wa Iker’s E-type E.R.A.! The order after Friday’s practice, when the straw bales had been somewhat altered, was: —

Clearly, this One-Hour Production Car Race was going to be most interesting and an instructive contrast to 24-Hour events, which are the prerogative of Ferrari, anyway. The rules, too, were being rigidly enforced, filters being sealed, and M.G. and H.R.G. being required to refit the screens they had removed on seeing Jaguar’s with single aero-screens (which are standard equipment). Rear window glass had to be removed from saloons.

Turning to the International Trophy cars, most of these were familiar, but there was Gerard’s E.R.A.’s neat new radiator cowl, Hampshire’s “Hanuman” Zoller-E.R.A. and the G.P. Ferraris, Whitehead’s using 6.00 16 front and 6.50-16 rear Dunlops. Villoresi and Ascari 5.50-16 front, 6.50-16 rear Pirelli “Corsa” tyres. Fun and games numbered the E-type E.R.A.’s burst oil pipe, water in the wrong places in the C.D.L.’s engine, the changing of a brake drum, and later a fuel-line, on Ascari’s Ferrari, and an episode when Claes’ Talbot lost oil-pressure and stopped, Chiron offered him a ride in on the tail of Mairesse’s Talbot (that he was driving in the race in place of his own) and “Bira” touched the Talbot’s front hub-cap going into a corner, sending Claes head over heels in the straw and rendering Chiron very cross. The Ferraris came in a vast Alfa-Romeo van, the Ferrari flying-horse insignias flanking its radiator grille, and bearing the inscription “Scuderia Ferrari Automobili, Modena, Italia” on the sides. These cars proved the fastest on the course, but Whitehead’s looked a handful.

On Thursday Villoresi lapped in 1 min. 57 sec. (91.44 m.p.h.), Ascari in 1 min. 58 sec., the other “under two-minute” men being Etancelin (Talbot), 1 min. 59.4 sec., and Mays (E.R.A.), 1 min. 59.6 sec. On Friday, de Graffenried pulled a surprise, putting his Maserati round in 1 min. 55 sec. (93.03 m.p.h.). The other fast men were: Farina (Maserati) and Ascari (Ferrari), 1 min. 56 sec., “Bira” (Maserati), 1 min. 56.2 sec., Walker (E.R.A.), 1 min. 57.2 sec., Etancelin. (Talbot), 1 min. 57.4 sec., Parnell (Maserati), 1min. 57.8 sec., and Gerard (E.R.A.), 1 min. 59.0 sec. Villoresi dropped to 2 min. 2 sec., Mays to 2 min. 8.8 sec. Of the 500s, Dryden did 2 min. 16 sec. (78.66 m.p.h.) on the Thursday, Moss shearing a universal joint, but doing 2 min. 17 sec. on the Friday, which Reece’s Cooper equalled, Brandon being a second slower.

Most of the vans and tenders were familiar, but “Bira” showed discrimination in using a new Morris Minor saloon in “Bira”-blue, while a “30/98 ‘ Vauxhall brought the trailer carrying Moor’s “Wasp.”

What happened in the races is detailed elsewhere.

If August provided a very full fixture list and most exciting and important racing, those who were away on holiday and missed it all can still enjoy their fill of motor sport this month. To start with, there are the International kilometre speed trials along Brighton’s Madeira Drive, on September 3rd, sports cars of all kinds running in the morning, the racing cars after lunch. This event is in the classic tradition, a straight sprint beside the seaside with cars running two-abreast (until one driver steals a march on his rival!), and it attracts an enormous entry. Excellent vantage points, as well as sea-air (and rain-water if the weather is unkind!) are available along the tall promenades flanking the road. On the same day S.U.N.B.A.C. have a members-only (no public admitted) race meeting at Silverstone, to which the 500 Club, M.M.E.C., N.-W. London M.C., Sheffield & Hallamshire M.C., and Leicestershire C.C. have been invited.

On September 10th the Curragh races take place in Ireland — J. M. James is taking his V12 4-litre Sunbeam over — and the following day the seal will be set to the R.A.C. Hill-Climb Championship, the last round being fought out at the B.O.C. International Speed Hill-Climb at picturesque Prescott. Writing before the Craigantlet event has been held; it looks as if there will be a battle royal between Poore, Fry and Allard, with very dissimilar motor cars.

Then, on the 17th, the scene shifts to Goodwood, in Sussex, where the unlucky B.A.R.C. will stage another racing-cars-only meeting of short races in the best Brooklands tradition, only over a “road” course. That over, off we all go to Shelsley Walsh, on the 24th, for one of Leslie Wilson’s much-appreciated mixed car and motor-cycle (not forgetting the “chairs”) speed meetings at the dear old Worcestershire hill, when Mays hopes to regain the record with his new, hush-hush sprint car. There is a B.D.C. hill-climb near Lewes, too, on the Sunday after Shelsley. After which we all troop to Earls Court, from the 28th onwards. In addition, at Southport on the 17th you can see the veterans and Edwardians in action, and trials bring a foretaste of winter, notably the Davis Trophy Trial in Lancashire on the 3rd, and the Knowle Trophy event in Hampshire on the 18th. Busy month