A Lifetime in Motorsport
The early postwar years saw the swansong of the open two seater sports car which had enjoyed such popularity in the twenties and thirties Like many of their contemporaries my parents in law would compete with success in an MCC trial one weekend and in a race at Brooklands the next with lots of Social, domestic and pleasure as the insurance companies say in between times. All in the same car and without much attention in the weeks between. When I was first involved with cars I graduated to a series of MG Midgets via a Morgan and eventually to my much loved HRG. Often taking in as many as three events in a weekend, a speed trial on Saturday afternoon, a night rally that evening and a club driving test meeting on Sunday afternoon would have been quite usual and then back to the daily round visiting my agents on Monday morning.
But the writing was on the wall.
In trials many were building lightweight, rather Sparton, Ford engined specials, while in speed events we found ourselves up against a growing breed of sports/racers which never saw any road use and were often – dare I say it – trailered to meetings. Several hundred weight lighter than us although sharing the same motor the Leonards, Elvas. Coopers, Listers, and Tojeiros, not forgetting Colin Chapman’s early Lotuses, where we had superior driver skill as well, we could only share our separate race at the bottom.
This race was memorable on two counts.
First, it was the race that made me realise that if I wanted to persevere with racing, my beloved HRG must be replaced by something more competitive and second, it was probably the last photo taken of David Blakeley in action for a few weeks later he was shot by his girlfriend, Ruth Ellis, who was with him at this meeting and who achieved the dubious distinction of being the last lady in England to suffer the death penalty for murder.
For a few years the variety of events and a steep learning curve made up for a growing lack of success but by the mid fifties my mind was made up – I wanted to race. So 1955 found some friends and me building an early Elva kit around an MG motor. It took most of the summer to build and was not a success. The only thing I recall about the whole experience was listening to Grace Archer dying on the workshop radio.
But as sports car racing was getting more specialised and expensive other avenues were opening so by the next season my racing partner, Sir Thomas Beevor had acquired a CooperJAP, a 500 cc racer which had won its class the previous season and I was the proud owner of a small Renault 750 saloon. With these we reckoned we contest minor Internationals where even at our levels there was starting and bonus money to be had making the whole exercise no more expensive than say, playing golf or racing a sailing dinghy which was another of my interests.
Although the plan misfired, Tom retiring half way through the season and I turned to hydroplane racing towing my boat to and from meetings behind my erstwhile "racer", I learned many lessons.
I competed in the Daily Express Silverstone in May, rubbing shoulders on and off the track with the great and famous of the day, and it showed me that with the right car, which sadly the Renault was not, I could race touring cars Internationally in the vehicle which I drove every day on the road, not only saving money but achieving a long standing goal.