That Edwardian Race

The VSCC Edwardian race at the two-day Oulton Park Meeting last July aroused so much enthusiasm and favourable comment that I am encouraged to take another look at it. The entry was varied and excellent but could have been even more enjoyable. Of the big Edwardians which made such an impression when the VSCC first introduced them to spectators in 1936 some were missing. For instance, the 200hp Benz is incarcerated in Birmingham's transport museum. Nash apparently thought Oulton Park too far from Weybridge to bring the 1912 15-litre GP Lorraine-Dietrich Vieux Charles Trois, which was a pity, because it was one of the fastest of these giant racers in the pioneer VSCC races and thus a bit of a challenge then to Cecil Clufton's 1908 GP Itala of a mere 12-litres, the driver and car which started this Edwardian renaissance. We all hoped the Itala would win the 1990 run, but after being fastest in practice it carried a heavy handicap.

Of the cars revived more recently, the 1908 GP Panhard-Levassor is notably active but the mightly Metallurgique-Maybach has got into the auctioneer's clutches and when last heard of had a broken crankshaft. With so many pre-1915 GP cars running in the July VSCC race it was sad that Ludovic Lindsay could not produce the 1914 GP Opel and I am not quite sure why the 1908 GP T-head Austin — a British contender — made only a demonstration lap instead of racing, unless eleven miles was deemed a race too far. Unlike at Dieppe 82 years ago, where Moore-Brabazon's and Dario Resta's Austins had 477 miles to run and finished 18th and 19th, with an Italian, one German, a Belgian and a French car behind them.

Running through the runners for this interesting VSCC Oulton Park handicap race, Clutton's Itala, which needs no introduction, started from the pit-road to avoid boiling over on the starting grid. Sam has been racing it continuously since 1936. It is a genuine French GP car, with which Cagno came home 11th in 1908, and it subsequently ran at Brooklands before the Kaiser called halt. Another 1908 GP car, making a very rare appearance away from the shelter of the NMM at Beaulieu, was the chain-drive 12 1/2-litre, Benz, with which D Hill, who works for the museum, grappled for a lap. Clearly it was not in good form, and seemingly a brute to drive, a pity, as in the 1908 GP these cars were placed second and third behind Lautenschlager's victorious Mercedes. Baddiley's and Ware's Coupé de L'Auto 3-litre side-valve Sunbeams are of the kind which performed outstandingly in the 1912 GP at Dieppe, showing up the racing giants of the day. Nick Portway in Nick Ridley's TT Sunbeam, the type of twin-cam Coatalen confection that won the 1914 loM race, won the race at Oulton Park at 47 mph. The other team Sunbeam also survives but was not entered.

Fastest Edwardian at Oulton Park was the fine 1908 GP Panhard driven superbly well by young Tom Walker, the largest car there, with its 12.8-litre engine. Indeed it failed to catch the third place Sunbeam by a mere 0.1 seconds. It was listed as 'modified' but when I drove it for MOTOR SPORT ten years ago it seemed pretty original, but perhaps its R-R front axle and Zenith carburettor are the modifications the VSCC has noted. Oldest car was Collings' veteran 1903 9.2-litre Mercedes Sixty which appears so frequently in every appropriate event and even scores in unappropriate ones, and is an inveterate burner-up of the Brighton Road. Roger drove it fast this time, coat tails flying, finishing ahead of Tudor Roberts' equally sporting 1907 6.7-litre Mercedes, his fastest lap at 58.67 mph. We followed the other bucket-seated Merc along the A49 in the Ford Sierra after the racing and it cruised at an easy 50 mph on the level.

Ivan Dufton conducted the immaculate Bugatti 'Black Bess' for David Heimann, a car very well known to the BOC since I discovered it abandoned in Derby before the war, its chain-drive a surprise, and later discussed it with its speed-trial driver Ivy Cummings while she bathed her baby . . . . Kenneth Neve suffered a terrible disappointment. His TT Humber, having practised well, non-started when a tiny leather washer in the fuel-feed pump split so therefore there was no fuel feed, the irony being that Neve had a spare washer on the car which he could have fitted in a couple of minutes. Roy Adnams was so enthusiastic with Barwell's 25hp Talbot that he was disqualified for exceeding his handicap speed by 10%, rather hard as the handicaps were only made known after practice had concluded. Nick Bradshaw's similar Clement-Talbot was 9th. Here let me say how creditable it was that Lord Montagu released three cars from the National Motor Museum; Mrs Di Threllfall had the honour of driving the museum's 1915 'Prince Henry' Vauxhall and justified the responsibility, lapping at 49 mph (the nearest the official results quote), to place 6th in what is really a fast tourer among the out-and-out racers. Baddiley was also excluded for exceeding his handicap by 18%; he might have won otherwise and sportingly gave his garland to Nick Portway.

Tarring had the 11 1/2-litre Napier so ably rebuilt from a long-stored, chopped chassis car by Ron Barker years ago. I remember how effective an excorciser of Ghosts it can be when ascending the heights and at Oulton it was only 0.2 secs behind the Panhard. Black's Clement is a special car combining a 1906 9 1/2-litre La France engine in a 1911 Clement chassis. Brydon's 9 3/4-litre Lancia was still on the high seas returning from the Paris-Peking marathon.

It was, as I have said, a shame that Lindsay couldn't bring the GP Opel (one of these 4 1/2-litre cars was 10th in that great, dramatic 1914 battle at Lyons). The highly polished Th. Schneider was out again, a car comprising two mated parts, engine and chassis, so not actually a genuine GP racer, although its exciting bolster-tank decors fools some people. Hickling's yellow Dodge is as familiar as old parchment. Craig Collings was out in his father's nice comfortable touring 4.7-litre Brixia-Zust that spent so many years in Wales, and Barry Clarke's new find, a pointed radiator four-seater Metallurgigue, although it became too excited this time and mashed its timing-gears, will have its day, if Barry goes on working on it. Of the two Renaults, Harrison's is the well-known 'half-size' replica of Szisz's 1906 GP winner, which as Agatha — that Scarlet Woman enlivened the then newly instituted VSCC 1905-1914 class before Hitler stopped play for a while, and Winn had the job driven in trials by Harris, which looks as if it may at one time have carried a garage breakdown crane. Barry was out of luck, as Jane Tomlinson led well until his little Singer he had lent her expired after two circuits. It has been reliable in DTs etc but is another mod-job.

Newell had brought a smart 1908 3-litre A-type Vauxhall tourer all the way from New Zealand and very well it went. Ryder-Richardson occupied the lofty driving throne of his monster-9125cc Daimler, one of the first of these Coventry cars to have the Knight double-sleeve-valve motor, as we were reminded by a smoke screen in the starting-enclosure until he turned off the oil. Gordon was a courageous man to race a Tamplin — from memories of riding in one in MCC trials it was brave indeed! — but Mark Walker's T-head Alfonso Hispano Suiza looked just the job, and these Hispanos used to go surprisingly fast round Brooklands. This, too, was listed as modified — could the spartan coachwork be the reason? Hamilton-Gould had a comparatively small engined car in the guise of his 1909 Darracq, yet it went quickly enough to net him second place, sandwiched between the two racing Sunbeams. Of Bryden's 1913 Overland there wasn't a sign.

Although this was a handicap contest I append what would have happened had it been a scratch race, based on fastest race laps. After all, in the 1912 French GP a tiny Mathis competed against the 14-litre Fiat and 15-litre Lorraine-Dietrich cars (it wasn't quite last, either), and this happened again in 1921. WB

1. Walker (1908 12.8-litre Panhard Levassor) 2 min. 37.3sec 63.37 mph

2. Clutton (1908 12-litre Itala) 2 min. 43.8sec 60.85 mph

3. Collings (1903 9.2-litre Mercedes) 2 min. 49.9 sec 58.67 mph