A life in the fast lane
Family wealth allowed Dick Shuttleworth to pursue his passion for racing and flying, while his adventurous streak occasionally led him into trouble with the law
Richard Shuttleworth (or Ormonde) was born in July 1909, educated at Eton and served with the Lancer Regiment. His parents, Colonel Frank and Dorothy Clotilda Lang, had been presented to King Edward VII and Princess Alexandra after their wedding, and to celebrate Dick’s birth his father ordered 105 gallons of port. Dick was brought up by this wealthy family of agriculturists and makers of Clayton & Shuttleworth traction engines, of which they made 25,000 – if I am wrong I expect the National Traction Engine Trust will correct me. Dick’s father sadly died in 1913, and thereafter Dick lived with his mother at Old Warden near Biggleswade on the 7000-acre estate. His childhood activities included, having learnt to ride, hunting and point-to-point races. The name Ormonde was that of his Godfather, Lord Ormonde. Apart from the broader family wealth, at his coming of age party Dick inherited £2 million, or some £86m by today’s values, and later the entire family fortune.
Dick’s adventurous nature was evident early, when he climbed Eton’s Library roof and left his top hat on the pinnacle and when, now a Second Lieutenant, he rode his horse up and down the carpeted stairs of Sandhurst’s Mess on a Guest Night, neither of which pleased either the headmaster or his Commanding Officer!
Dick bought his first aeroplane in 1932, a Pobjoy-engined Comper Swift, and entered it for the Viceroy of India 700-mile race, George Stead racing the other, Gipsy-powered, Swift. This involved flying there, over 6000 miles in 30 hours. In the race Dick retired, flying home by Imperial Airways as he wanted to race at Brooklands, but a notable flying achievement by an amateur aviator. Stead won the Wakefield Trophy at 163.4mph and then flew back to Old Warden, a total of 15,000 miles in 130 hours.
Shuttleworth was acquiring a great many veteran cars and aeroplanes which would take part in the celebrated Old Warden displays as they still do, but as Motor Sport has long discarded its slogan ‘Land-Air-Water’ I will not describe these very interesting purchases. The veteran cars between 1928 and 1938 included a 1901 Panhard, 1902 de Dietrich, 1897 Daimler, a Richard-Brasier, a 1900 Wolseley, an early Benz and a Locomobile steam car plus driving a 1901 Arrol-Johnston non-stop from Dumfries to Old Warden in 1931.
I remember clearly, when going to watch the London-Brighton Run at the slight up-gradient past Croydon Aerodrome, seeing the de Dietrich coming so quickly on the left of the road as to make all the other veterans look even more pedestrian than they really were. In 1930 when there was a two-lap ‘Old Crocks’ race at Brooklands over the ‘Mountain’ circuit Dick lapped at 43.65mph with the 1903 de Dietrich, having replaced its original body with two bucket seats and installed aluminium pistons to give it a ‘Paris-Madrid flavour’. The next fastest was Ken Kirton’s 1904 Rolls-Royce (35.10mph). Dick’s mother drove a veteran Peugeot on other occasions.
For normal motoring Dick bought a Le Mans Aston Martin and a 1926 30/98 Vauxhall, and for local journeys Mrs Shuttleworth seems to have had a 1920s Wolseley Ten. In later times Dick favoured Railtons and on a wet night was known to take friends out in one and scare them as he perfected his cornering slides. He later became a director of the company.
There are some splendid stories about this member of the Shuttleworth family. How in those times he was the only person permitted to order fish and chips at the Ritz, and how he went to the Rolls-Royce showrooms in Conduit Street to order a new R-R, telling the salesman that it was needed urgently because the one bought recently was being used for towing the muck-spreader… Then there was the occasion when, having lost his licence and the Railton possibly untaxed, the servants informed Mrs Shuttleworth that the police were outside every gate, waiting for his return. She rang him, suggesting he spend the night elsewhere. But Dick knew of a lane well away from the other entrances up which he drove. He then told the butler to arrange to have a table and chair set up outside the main gate, and the policeman guarding it to be served the full course dinner. “Tell him that I hate to see anyone miss dinner and ask what wine would he prefer,” adding that Mr S has been in the house all the time…
By 1931 Dick had decided to try racing at Brooklands. A fellow officer had spent too much on a sleeve-valve Arrol-Aster car so Dick helped him out and bought his other one. He also acquired a supercharged Austin 7. They had been acquired from Birkin & Couper’s; it seems possible that they were investigating supercharging and experimenting with them, remembering that they were developing the blower 4½ single-seater Bentley with which Sir Henry Birkin, Bt, eventually took the lap-record to 137.96mph. If so, sleeve-valves presumably did not interfere with such research.
Shuttleworth and his Army friend, who raced anonymously as ‘W P Lockwood’ and Dick as ‘R Ormonde’, entered for 16 races between them but they never gained a place. The A7 began with 50mph laps, but eventually did an excellent 87.35mph. Dick’s Arrol-Aster opened at 87.4mph but improved to 88.15mph, and the other one did but one lap at 39.00mph. Otherwise it was non-starts or retirements.
It was hardly surprising that Dick changed to a Bugatti, a non-supercharged 2-litre, entered in his name. At first it was not impressive, crawling round for seven laps at under 65mph before retiring, but at the end of the season it was second in a ‘Mountain’ Handicap with a 69.74mph lap, an E-class course record. More ambitiously he drove an Aston-Martin in the Ulster TT but retired.
Shuttleworth had a shed very close to T&T’s premises with a blind corner for any driver turning right. The Comper Swift would be parked outside so that if Dick needed parts or tools at Old Warden he could quickly fly there and back. An angry Duncan Davis would emerge from the Flying Club to demand that Dick took off from the aerodrome but he never did. For odd jobs and going from his shed to the Brooklands Club House for lunch he used a vintage long-chassis Jowett two-seater.
Nineteen-thirty-three was a disappointing year for Dick, in spite of entering a supercharged 2.3-litre Bugatti in one event; TASO Mathison’s Bugatti relieved him of his Class-E record. But more ambitiously, Dick entered for the IoM Mannin Moar race, which ended when the Bugatti ran into the replenishment pits and destroyed five of them, as well as seriously damaging the car, an aspect of Shuttleworth’s sometimes wild temperament for which he lost his competition licence for a while and returned to his other interests.
In 1934 he raced Bugattis I and II, a supercharged 2.8-litre and a supercharged 2.3-litre, but to no avail. He raced at Brooklands, Donington, and again on the Isle of Man, and took part in Bugatti I, which he lent to Mrs Kay Petre, who won her race with it from scratch, lapping at 125.45mph, in speed trials. At the Track the Bugatti was unplaced but Dick’s new acquisition, a s/c 3-litre Alfa Romeo, won its heat in the ‘Mountain’ Championship but retired in the Final, and he concluded the season by winning the ‘Mountain’ Championship Race in the now 3.2-litre Alfa Romeo, with a best lap of 81.64mph, beating the outright record of Whitney Straight’s Maserati on a course with two difficult corners per lap.
In 1935 Shuttleworth was the first private owner to obtain a 2.9-litre monoposto P3 Alfa Romeo. At Brooklands he used both Bugattis and both circuits without success but when the P3 was ready it won its heat in the British Mountain Championship race but again retired in the Final. Before the 1935 season was over Dick then won the Mountain Championship scratch race in the P3, unofficially breaking
the course record set by Whitney Straight’s Maserati (81.64mph).
At Donington’s more road-race-like circuit the Alfa won its first race there at 67.49mph, and after leading in the JCC International Trophy race at Brooklands Dick had a problem which put him back to fifth place. After which Dick went to Shelsley Walsh hillclimb and won the 3-litre racing car class.
For his third attempt at the exciting Mannin Moar race round the streets of Douglas he used a Bugatti for practising and gave the winning Hon Brian Lewis, now in an Alfa Romeo, a close race until the transmission of Dick’s car expired. Next it was off to Dieppe for the GP. After an outstanding drive he was placed fourth behind Dreyfus, Chiron and Wimalle and ahead of Farina and Ruesch. For the Nice GP Dick had a 3.4-litre engine in the Alfa. He led Nuvolari for a short time but when fourth behind the famous Louis Chiron, and Dreyfus, the Alfa’s gearbox broke up. But what a wonderful result for the amateur British driver. To complete his year’s racing Dick drove the Alfa in the Brighton speed trials and set a record for the half-mile seaside course of 79.41mph, improving the time set by Sir Malcolm Campbell of 76.27mph.
After this it was up to Donington for the GP which was another notable victory for Shuttleworth from Lord Howe’s Bugatti, to the delight of Dick’s efficient mechanic Neil. That was the end of Shuttleworth’s racing career. In 1936 he flew out to East London with Charles Martin in a DH Dragon for the South African GP. But he was involved in an accident in the Alfa Romeo, sustaining serious injuries, and was unconscious for 19 days. His mother came out in the Arundel Castle, her heart condition preventing her from flying out.
After Dick had recovered he joined the RAF as a Pilot Officer when war broke out and was killed during a night test flight in a Fairey Battle over Benson in 1940.
Mrs Shuttleworth founded the Agricultural College at Old Warden, while Dick’s cars and aircraft have now grown into the Shuttleworth Collection, based at Dick’s own airfield on the estate. The Shuttleworth Veteran Aeroplane Society (01767 627398) looks after the collection’s historic aircraft and cars and publishes thrice a year Prop-Swing, which includes fascinating articles about how the skilled OW pilots cope with flying the antique aeroplanes. The collection holds public displays, each with its own theme, with remaining dates August 3 and 16, and September 7 and 20.
At the Bugatti OC’s recent garden party, hot-air balloons were present and flights in them were available to members.
I would have thought that driving a fast Bugatti would be satisfaction enough without enjoying an additional thrill, but tastes vary. I would have opted for remaining grounded…
The VSCC’s popular Loton Park hillclimb over two days produced an excellent entry. The fastest pre-war car was ERA R14B driven by Paul Richardson. Quickest vintage car was Justin Maeers’ Parker-GN, and the 1908 GP Panhard-Levassor was best Edwardian, driven by Mark Walker. The TT Humber trophy went to Robert Cobden’s Riley Falcon Special, and the Tidd & Ingram prize was won by Ms Hannah Enticknap in a 1930 Austin 7.
There was an unfortunate error in my Barnato piece which seemed to imply that at one point Woolf Barnato (above) drove an Aston Martin, which he never did. In fact it was Capt J C Douglas who drove both Aston Martin and Bertelli cars.
The MCC is holding its Edinburgh Trial on October 4, starting from Tamworth. The entry list is now open – Ron Butcher is the person to contact, on 01233 624737.
On the Austin-Healey Sprite and later MG Midget front, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Sprite the remarkable number of 1200 of these cars rallied at Gaydon recently. The Macmillan Nurses and Cancer Trust benefited. Congratulations to the MGCC, MGOC, Midget Register, Austin-Healey DC and AHOC.
That the STD Register is active as usual was emphasised at its national rally at Otley Hall with an entry of 60 appropriate cars, from a 1927 Sunbeam 16 to two 1936/37 Talbot 105s and a couple of 1936 110s.