Grass roots

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“In view of the fact that class divisions, are becoming increasingly popular in trials, usually start at up-to-1100cc, the Austin Seven, as a 747cc side-valve car, inapt tube outclassed in its older form, as owned by a large body of real enthusiasts,” began an unobtrusive notice in Club News (Motor Sport, February 1939, page 43).

“The obvious cure seems to be to found the Seven-Fifty Club exclusively for Austin Seven owners, and run sensible trials for these fascinating babies — possibly permitting entries from such things as the inevitable £5 Morris Cowley and the 850cc M-type MG on occasion,” it went on. “We know of someone who would be prepared to do the secretarial work and trials organisation in a quiet way, but first of all he wants to know the extent of the support likely to be forthcoming. If you would support such a club, will you please drop a postcard to this person: ‘WS’, 21 Lucien Road, London SW17 …”

At the time Bill Boddy was running a lightweight Chummy, having been inspired by Tom Lush’s special-bodied four-speed A7 which had done quite well in trials until the advent of the big V8-engined cars of the late 1930s.

Nineteen replies were received within a week of publication, and very soon a meeting was held and the Seven Fifty Motor Club formed. On April 16 an inaugural rally was held at Virginia Water in which 28 cars, all but four of them Sevens, took part. Two weeks later a run to Stonehenge was organised, and the first competition event, the Committee Cup Trial was held in Kent in June 1939.

War came at the end of summer, and the club ticked over by occasional meetings at the Osterley Park Hotel and a newsletter produced by Bill Butler.

On the outbreak of peace motorsport slowly returned and by 1949 club chairman Holly Birkitt had devised the “750 Formula” for sports and special Austin Sevens, with rules that limited tuning with a view to keeping costs down. The first race for such cars was at the Eight Clubs Silverstone meeting in June 1950, and 16 cars took part. The winner was Tom Lush’s Ulster, driven by Charles Bulmer who later became editor of Motor; Colin Chapman in his Lotus 2 was among the runners!

The 750 Formula is still thriving, albeit using the Reliant 850 engine, and the wheel has turned full circle, the club having run a series for pre-war Sevens (and specials built thereon) as a purely historic class for the last ten years. Under Birkitt’s chairmanship, the Ford-based “1172 Formula” (now Formula 1300) and the Six-Hour Relay were divined within a couple of years. These too are still thriving. More recently the club has run Formula Vee, Formula Four, sports and kit-cars in various classes. All these categories are run to strict regulations to maintain close racing without escalating costs.

Celebrating its Silver Jubilee this year, the 750MC was established to organise low-cost competitive events specifically for the many owners of Austin Sevens, for whom no realistic racing class existed, and went on to bring other “baby” sports-cars under its tutelage and attract members by the thousand. It all started with a letter written to Motor Sport by its future editor, as Ken Cooke relates, regulations to maintain close racing without escalating costs.

Hugh Hunter was the first secretary of the club, Ken Welfare taking over for the important growth years of the post-war period. In 1956 Ken emigrated to Canada and, with membership then at over 2000, the club appointed its first, full-time paid secretary in Colin Peck. Colin did a good job in his quiet and friendly way until 1969 when he resigned on a matter of principle.

It was then that the current secretary Dave Bradley was appointed, and although he came from outside he was soon “moulded” into 750MC ways. Therein no doubt that the club has had a much more professional look about it since Dave took over, although it still caters largely for amateurs.

Trials are still thriving, many of the club’s events counting towards the RAC Championship, though very few are for Austin Sevens.

Interest in the Seven as an historic vehicle, as against a basis for a competition special, blossomed in 1962 when John Miles (later of Lotus fame) formed the Austin 7 Sports Register within the club and the first National Austin Seven Rally at Beaulieu was organised. Within months the Sports Register was expanded to cover all “original” Austin Sevens.

It cannot be denied that there was some friction between the racing side of the club (still using the Seven as a basis for the 750 Formula) and the “preservationists”, but this died down as the small Reliant engine was phased in during the mid-Sixties. The A7 section now amounts to almost half of the 750MC’s membership, with something like 40 events this year including races, static rallies (the National being held at Beaulieu this year for the 27th time!) and runs to the continent (including one embracing five European capitals in five days — one for each decade of the club’s history). A two-day Grand Fiftieth Anniversary race meeting was held at Mallory Park on July 8-9, as the centrepiece of a year of celebration. The 750 Motor Club Ltd is run by a board of directors, with several specialist subcommittees, and runs about 14 race meetings on most of the country’s circuits. These have been called “the backbone of club racing” by more than one writer, and they remain very friendly and efficiently run events, with racing as close as you will see anywhere. Those twenty or so enthusiasts who met 50 years ago to form the 750 Motor Club had no idea what it would lead to, but those who survive have every reason to be proud of creating an outlet for so many other devotees. KC

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