Some Motorsport History by Pete Stowe
WestCountry MotorSport History
Some highlights of motorsport events, cars and people
in Bristol and the surrounding counties in the 20th Century.
≈ Pre World War 1 ≈
1000 mile Trial. 65 participants in the 1000 mile round Britain reliability trial in 1900 completed the first day’s run from London, via Bath, with a stiff climb up the steep gradient of Park Street in central Bristol, Charles Rolls being the first to arrive in his Panhard. After a day in Bristol where the cars were on display to the public, the next day’s run took them to Cheltenham for a lunch break, en-route northwards. More on the 1000 mile Trial in the West Country
John Hargreaves. Amateur John Hargreaves, of Templecombe, Somerset, drove his Napier racing cars in the British eliminating trials in the Isle of Man for the Gordon Bennett Cup races of 1904 and 1905, in both years being selected as a reserve for the three-car British team. In 1904 he drove the 65hp car which was originally SF Edge’s reserve car for the 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup; in 1905 he had a new 80hp racer especially built for him by Napier.
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The years leading up to the First World War saw the formation of several new motor clubs in Bristol and the surrounding area - the Bristol & Gloucestershire Automobile Club, the Somerset Automobile Club, and the Bristol Motor Cycle Club (later, in 1922, to be renamed the Bristol Motor Cycle & Light Car Club) - and various motor sport events were organised.
Somerset hillclimbs. Timed hillclimbs, on public roads, were run by the Somerset Automobile Club at various locations in the county (Puriton, Shipham near Axbridge, Buncombe, and Wraxall near Shepton Mallet) between 1905 and 1913. More on the 1905-13 Somerset AC hillclimbs
Birdlip hillclimbs. The Bristol & Gloucestershire AC ran hillclimbs, at Birdlip near Cheltenham, in 1906 and 1907. More on the Birdlip hillclimbs
Longleat Park hillclimb. In 1906 the Somerset AC ran a major hillclimb in Longleat Park, Wiltshire. Francis Bolton in a Daimler recorded the best time of the day. More on the 1906 Longleat hillclimb
Upper Weston hillclimb. In 1912 the Somerset and Bristol & Gloucestershire clubs combined to run an Open hillclimb at Upper Weston, Bath. Best time of the day was recorded by the Sunbeam of marque agent Wilfred Bridges of Cirencester. More on the 1912 Upper Weston hillclimb.
Weston-super-Mare speed trials. In 1913 and 1914 speed trials for cars and motorcycles were held on a one-mile course on the beach at Weston-super-Mare, organised by the Somerset AC and the Bristol Motor Cycle Club. Winners of the car events in both years were the factory Talbots. More on the Weston-super-Mare speed trials
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The roads of the Mendip hills south of Bristol, and the Cotswolds to the north, provided challenging climbs for cars of the period, and began to feature in Reliability Trials organised by local and national clubs.
Bristol MCC Reliability Trials. The Bristol Motor Cycle Club’s 150-mile one-day trials of 1913 and 1914 in the Mendips included hills such as Dundry, Draycott and Cheddar, plus the 1 in 2.4 gradient of Vale Street hill in the Totterdown district of Bristol. The 1914 event concluded with a ¼ mile speed trial in Ashton Court Estate. While mainly for motorcycles these events also included classes for light cars. More on the 1913-14 Bristol MCC trials
Cyclecar Club Reliability Trial. The Cyclecar Club’s first trial, in March 1913, started and finished in Oxford, and the 150 mile route included sections on Gloucestershire hills at Birdlip (timed, slow), Sudeley near Winchcombe, Frocester, Nailsworth (‘The W’), and Upton (timed, fast). The best performance was by Victor Wilberforce (GWK), who also recorded the best times on both timed hills.
Nailsworth Ladder. Prior to 1913 only a few solo motorcycles had been able to climb Nailsworth Ladder, the narrow, rough, 1 in 2½ shortcut bypassing the zig-zag Nailsworth ‘W’ road up on to Minchinhampton Common, and much too difficult to be included in any competitive event. In March 1913 Mr. Thornhill on an 8hp Williamson became the first motorcycle and sidecar combination to achieve the climb. Then on 26th April 1914 William Paddon, while touring in his 12/16hp two-seater Hampton light car, became the first to complete the climb in a four-wheeler. At a more organised gathering of light cars and motor-cycles on 25th May, organised by Frederick Smith of the Wycliffe Motor Co. of Stroud, Paddon returned with his latest 9hp Hampton light car and repeated the feat several times. Watched by 700-800 spectators, others to make successful climbs included a Morgan and a Singer.
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Straker-Squire ‘15’. The factory of Brazil, Straker, Ltd in Fishponds, Bristol, produced thousands of Straker-Squire cars, lorries and buses and between 1905 and 1919, including their highly successful 15hp light car designed by Roy Fedden. Between 1907 and 1913 a competition single-seater version was successfully raced at Brooklands by Fedden, Harold Smallwood and Dick Witchell, and cars were also sprinted and hillclimbed with many successes. In 1914 two special cars were built for the Tourist Trophy race in the Isle of Man, where Bristol-born Dick Witchell finished third, although the second car of Frank Clement retired. More on Roy Fedden and the Straker-Squire 15
Douglas cars. Douglas began manufacturing motorcycles in Kingswood, Bristol in 1907, and achieved many competition successes. In 1913 an 8hp two-cylinder Williamson-engined light car was introduced. Willie Douglas campaigned one in various local trials and speed events, making its competition debut in a grass hillclimb at Blagdon in September 1913, and later scored a class win in the speed trials at Weston-super-Mare.
≈ Post WW1 ≈
Following the first world war speed events were again run in the area. During this period many of these events were for both cars and motorcycles, with 'bikes usually forming by far the larger part of the entry.
Weston-super-Mare Speed Trials. In 1919 and 1920 speed trials were again run on Weston-super-Mare beach by the Bristol Motor Cycle Club, although these were mainly for motorcycles, with only a handful of light cars. More on the Weston-super-Mare speed trials
Kingsdown hillclimbs. In 1921 and 1924 the Auto Cycle Union ran Open hillclimbs for cars and motor-cycles at Kingsdown hill near Bath, on the road leading eastwards from Bathford past the Swan Inn. Best performance in the car events both years was by Archie Frazer-Nash in a GN. Between 1922 and 1924 the Bristol MCC and the Bath & West of England MC also ran club events for motorcycles and light cars at Kingsdown hill.
Chatcombe hillclimbs. From 1921 to 1924 the Auto Cycle Union (Western Centre) ran Open hillclimbs for motorcycles and cars over a ½ mile course at Chatcombe Pitch, near Cheltenham. Best performances in the car classes were:
1921 BTD Archie Frazer-Nash (GN) 342/5s. Other class winner: HR Godfrey (GN)
1922 BTD Humphrey Cook (Vauxhall) 294/5s.
Other class winners: HS Eaton (GN), Raymond Mays (Bugatti)
1923 BTD HFS Morgan (Morgan) 323/5s
1924 BTD (tie) HFS Morgan & G Goodall (both Morgans) 283/5s.
Other award winners: FS Barnes (Hillman), BE Lewis (Frazer Nash)
Avonmouth Speed Trials. In 1922 and 1923 speed trials for motor-cycles and light cars were held on courses at Avonmouth, Bristol, in 1922 on St. Andrews Road and in 1923 on the new "Low Level Road" (the Portway) before it was opened to the public. Both events were mainly contested by motorcycles, but AJ Sgonina in a GN was the quickest light car in both years. More on the 1922-23 Avonmouth Speed Trials
Brean Sands Speed Trials. In 1922 and 1923 the Burnham, Highbridge & District MC&LCC ran speed trials for motorcycles and cars on a course at Brean Sands, south of Weston-super-Mare. More on the 1922-23 Brean Sands Speed trials
Redhorn hillclimb. In 1922 a hillclimb for cars and motorcycles was organised as part of Devizes Hospital Week, at Redhorn hill, near Urchfont. More on the 1922 Redhorn hillclimb
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Nailsworth Ladder. Between 1919 and 1921 the Light Car & Cyclecar magazine, in conjunction with the Junior Car Club, organised summer ‘Cotswold weekends’ which included attempts to climb Nailsworth Ladder.
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Hampton cars. William Paddon moved his Hampton Engineering company from Birmingham to Dudbridge in Stroud in 1919. Each new light car chassis was road tested in the surrounding Cotswold hills, the final test being an ascent of Nailsworth Ladder. During 1921 Hampton’s London agent BS (Bertie) Marshall raced a special-bodied Hampton at Brooklands.
The complete story of Hampton cars is comprehensively described in the book “The Story of Hampton Cars” by Trevor Picken.
Horstman Supersports. Bath engineer Sydney Horstmann began building light cars in the city in 1914. Restarting production after the first war the Horstman used a 1498cc Coventry-Simplex 4-cylinder engine and in 1921 a Super Sports model was added to the range. This was virtually a racing car, with a slim aluminium two-seater body and sketchy road equipment, and initially also used the Coventry-Simplex engine, although later a 1496cc Anzani engine was also offered. The 1922 model Horstman Super Sports had a more rounded and streamlined body.
Bristol born engineer and racing driver Douglas Hawkes was the first to successfully race a specially prepared Horstman at Brooklands, with several good placings in short handicap races in the spring of 1921. In September 1921 he drove an Anzani-engined car in the 280-mile Coupe de Voiturettes at Le Mans, but retired with a broken ball bearing in the rear axle. At Brooklands on 21st October 1921 Hawkes placed 5th in the JCC 200 miles race, his Anzani-engined car being the only one of the three Horstmans to finish, Claude Temple and Tommy Edwards having retired their Coventry-Simplex powered cars. Hawkes again finished 5th in the 1923 JCC 200, Claude Temple’s car, with supercharged Anzani engine, being unclassified. In the 1924 race Charles Coe, with supercharged Anzani engine, was the only Horstman to finish, in 15th place, Harold Purdy, DE Calder and George Newman in their normally aspirated cars all retiring. Others to race Horstmans at Brooklands during the 1920s included GA Wadham, New Zealander Ian Buchanan, and South African Mrs Cecil Christie.
The Horstman Supersports was also popular with amateur speed event competitors - in the westcountry Winifred Pink from Taunton, Somerset, and engineer Gaston Fery of Marshfield, Gloucestershire, and in northern England, Leeds garage owner Trubie Moore and Crewe businessman Geoffrey Boston, all having many successes.
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Winifred Pink. Throughout the 1920s amateur driver Winifred Pink competed in numerous speed events, first with a Horstman Supersports, then with the second ever Aston Martin to have been built (AM270), and finally an Alvis 12/50. More on Winifred Pink
≈ 1930s ≈
During the 1930s major trials continuing to use the Cotswold hills included the North West London MC’s Gloucester Trial and the SUNBAC Colmore Cup trial.
Roy Fedden Trophy Trial. In 1935 the Bristol MC&LCC began the Roy Fedden Trophy trial, initially using the Mendip hills before moving to the Cotswolds.
Roy Fedden Trophy Trial winners:
1935 (Mendips) - BHM Winslett (MG)
1936 (Cotswolds) - RA Macdermid (MG)
1937 (Cotswolds) - CD Buckley (Austin)
1938 (Cotswolds) - G Warburton (Allard)
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RAC Rallies. The first RAC Rally of Great Britain in March 1932 had 367 entries starting from nine different locations around GB, one being Bath, to cover a 1000 mile route. Events continued throughout the 1930s in a similar format, finishing at a south-coast resort for final tests. The 1933 and 1934 rallies also had starts at Bath, while the 1936 and 1937 events included starts from Bristol.
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Backwell hillclimb. 1935 saw the beginning of a series of hillclimbs run by the Bristol MC&LCC on a 550 yard sealed surface course in the grounds of Backwell Hill House, about 6 miles outside Bristol on the Weston-super-Mare road.
Best times of the day at these annual meetings were:
17 August 1935 - GR Hartwell (MG Magnette 1071cc s/c) 26.0sec
25 July 1936 - John Bolster (Bolster Special 1962cc) 27.2sec
3 July 1937 - John Bolster (Bolster Special 1962cc) 23.3 sec
3 September 1938 - John Bolster (Bolster Special 3924cc) 23.0sec
22 July 1939 - Sydney Allard (Allard 3622cc) 26.2 sec
The 1936 event was notable for Pat Driscoll crashing the latest ohv racing Austin, sustaining a fractured skull, while Hadley's ohv model was second quickest behind Bolster. In 1938 David Fry in the 1100cc s/c Freikaiserwagen, was just 0.3 sec slower than Bolster's 4-engined Bolster Special 'Bloody Mary'. More on the Backwell Hillclimbs
Prescott hillclimb. In 1938 the Bugatti Owners Club opened a new, permanent, 880 yard hillclimb course at Gotherington, just north of Cheltenham. For further history see the Bugatti OC Prescott hillclimb website.
Whitchurch Speed Trials. On 22nd May 1937 a once-only Speed Trial was held over a 750 yard course on the approach road to the new Bristol Airport at Whitchurch on the southern outskirts of the city. Entries included Home Kidston in Alfa Romeo and Bugatti, and David Fry’s Freikaiserwagen. Bert Hadley set fastest time of the day in the works 750cc s/c racing Austin, at 24.6 sec, while Robert Waddy crashed seriously in the twin-engined 4-w-d Fuzzi. More on the 1937 Whitchurch Speed Trials
Hillclimbs & speed trials. Other hillclimb venues, but with grass surfaces, used for minor events in the late 1930's were at Naish Hill, near Clapton in Gordano, and Hay Hill near Shepton Mallet, and there were also speed trials at Hatherop Park near Cirencester.
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CAPA. In the late 1930s a cheap form of racing was begun on a private grass track circuit near Clapton-in-Gordano using stripped down cars based on Austin 7's and the like, run by the CAPA club, named after it’s five founding members Dick Caesar, Franklin Coombs, Adrian Butler, RD ‘Bobby’ Price and Keith Aldridge. CAPA racing was vastly enjoyed by those who took part and, after a break for the Second World War, eventually stopped in 1950.
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Mendip Grand Prix. The Mendip Grand Prix de Tourisme was intended to resemble a mock sports car race and was held from 1936 on “the Permanent Circuit of the Castle of Comfort”, a 5-mile course on public roads on top of the Mendip Hills. While maintaining a fairly low average speed, from a Le Mans type start, the actual competition in this daytime event really took place in the compulsory pit stops every lap. Here the competitors had to carry out such tasks as changing spark plugs; changing a wheel; draining and refilling the radiator; etc. Following World War 2 the event was revived on the Mendips course in 1946 and 1947, then in 1950 moved to the Castle Combe race circuit. From 1951 it was re-titled the Mendip Petit Prix, and continued at Castle Combe through the early 1950s, later moving to Charmy Down, then in the 1960s to Lulsgate, and finally Whitchurch.
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Dick Caesar. A prominent motorsport figure in the Bristol area from the 1930s to the 1950s, Dick Caesar was one of the founders of CAPA, and in 1945-46 was the driving force behind the creation of the new 500cc racing car formula which later became Formula 3. He built many specials, including the 2-litre road-going sports “Caesar Special”, which he later rebuilt into a single-seater (and which was renamed “Kaiserwagen” when later owned by the Fry cousins), and several CAPA specials, the most well-known being the 2-litre AC-engined “Alfi-CAPA”, campaigned post-war for many years as the “Caesar Special” by Tony Taylor. In the late 1940s he designed the Gordano sports car and the Iota chassis for 500cc racing, and in 1951 the 350cc monococque-chassied Iota sports car. More on Dick Caesar and his Specials
Daisy and Ophelia were trials specials used by Bristolians Cyril Butler and Cecil Evans. ‘Ophelia’ was based on a modified Wolseley Hornet and ‘Daisy’ was a modified version of Dick Caesar’s original Caesar Special (later Kaiserwagen). More on Daisy and Ophelia
Freikaiserwagen. The 1936 Backwell hillclimb was notable for the first appearance of the rear-engined Freikaiserwagen special driven by Hugh Dunsterville, co-builder of the car with David Fry. Further developed by Fry, over the following two years Freikaiserwagen enjoyed considerable hillclimb and sprint success in the hands of David and his cousin Joe Fry. Post-war the car was twice reconstructed with new chassis, and in 1949 Joe famously set a new hill record at Shelsley Walsh.
The full story of Freikaiserwagen is told in the book “Freik – The Private Life of the Freikaiserwagen” by Hugh & Rob Dunsterville, published in July 2008.
≈ Post World War 2 ≈
Naish hillclimb and Filton sprint. After the Second World War ended in 1945 Bristol enthusiasts were quick off the mark in organising events, the Bristol MC&LCC with a hillclimb at Naish in August, won by Walter Watkins (Watkins Nash), and the Bristol Aeroplane Company Motor Sports Club with a ½ mile sprint on the tarmac of Filton airfield in October, Bob Gerard (ERA R4A) winning this one.
That was the only event to be held at Filton, however Bristol MC&LCC club hillclimbs continued at Naish until the late 1950s.
Prescott hillclimb. The first post-war hillclimb at Prescott was in May 1946, when Peter Whitehead’s ERA recorded the best time of the day, and the hill has been a venue for a round of the RAC Hillclimb championship since its inception in 1947.
Weston-super-Mare Speed Trials. In 1948 and 1949 speed trials were run on an 880 yard course on the Marine Parade at Weston-Super-Mare. Best time of the day in 1948 was by Ken McAlpine (Maserati), in 21.10s, and the following year Joe Fry was fastest in the Freikaiserwagen, in 21.13s. Weston-super-Mare Speed Trials results
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500cc Formula 3. In 1945-46 it was racing enthusiasts at meetings of the Bristol Aeroplane Company Motor Sports Club in Filton who devised the 500cc racing car formula that was to become International Formula 3 of the 1950s. This is described in more detail here: 500s - Formulated in Filton in '45.
This also led to a number of 500cc racing cars being constructed locally, such as the Arengo, of which several examples were built, and the Iota. However, most were one-off specials such as Jim Bosisto’s Buzzie and Jeremy Fry's Parsenn.
Iota cars. The Iota was the only 500 that was produced in the West in limited quantity. In 1947 a batch of 12 chassis and special components, such as the rear axle assembly, wheel hubs and front springs were produced. Individual builders could then add second-hand Morgan front suspension, an engine, and construct their own bodywork. These Iotas were usually given individual names, such as Stromboli, and Milliunion - built by Gerry Millington. In 1949 the chassis was redesigned and complete cars were produced by Iota Racing Cars of Alma Vale Road, Clifton, Bristol. The Iota's major race success was Frank Aikens' win in the support race to the 1950 British GP at Silverstone.
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Trials. The Gloucester and the Roy Fedden Trials commenced once more in the Cotswolds, while in south-west Somerset the Taunton Motor Club revived their Allen Trophy trial in the Quantock and Blackdown hills.
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Lulsgate race meetings. In 1949 and 1950 race meetings were held on the ex-wartime RAF airfield at Lulsgate Bottom (now Bristol Airport). More on the Lulsgate race meetings
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Joe Fry. In addition to the Freikaiserwagen, Joe Fry hillclimbed and raced various other cars including a 4½ litre sports Bentley and Type 55 Bugatti the 1930s. Post-WW2 he also raced locally built 500cc Iotas (on occasion confusingly also named "Freikaiserwagen") and Arengos (photo, left), and shared a Maserati with Cheltenham garage proprietor Brian Shawe-Taylor in the 1950 British Grand Prix at Silverstone, finishing 10th. Fry was later killed in an accident in the Freikaiserwagen at Blandford hillclimb in 1950.
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Gordano cars. In the late 'forties a new sporting road car, the Gordano, was planned by some of those behind the Iota, but unfortunately was not destined to reach production. Chassis design was by Dick Caesar, the engine was intended to be a 4-cylinder 1.5 litre design with Cross rotary valves. It was to be financed by Joe Fry. Two prototypes were built, an open sports version with 1548cc MG engine, and a saloon with 1767cc Lea Francis engine. However, in 1950 the project folded after the deaths of Fry and engine designer Rodney Gordon-Jones.
≈ 1950s ≈
Castle Combe circuit. In 1950 a new race track was opened by the Bristol MC&LCC on the former RAF airfield at Castle Combe, 20 miles east of Bristol, and has been in continuous use ever since (although no car racing took place 1956-61). More on Castle Combe circuit
Chedworth sprints. The Cheltenham Motor Club organised their first sprint at the former RAF Chedworth airfield near Cirencester in 1951, Peter Stubberfield (Bugatti) recording the best time of the day. The venue was revived in the 1960s and used for various minor club events. More on sprints at Chedworth
Staverton sprints. The Cheltenham Motor Club first used Staverton airfield (now Gloucestershire Airport) near Cheltenham, for a club sprint on 29th March 1952 with Ivor Bueb recording best time of the day in a Cooper 500. This was followed by their first Invitation sprint over the 1 Kilometre course on 25th May, when Don Bennett (Cooper-Vincent) was quickest. Cheltenham MC sprints continued until 1956, with Tony Marsh winning twice. In September 1956 Ken Wharton in an ERA was quickest in a Hagley & District LCC event. Further sprints at Staverton were run by the Jaguar Drivers Club (1957), the local Dowty Motor Club from 1959 to 1962 (BTDs by David Boshier-Jones (twice), Mike Hatton and Arthur Owen), and later by the Mini Seven Club (1963-64). Staverton Sprint class winners
Hay Hill. In 1951 the Shepton Mallet & District MC&LCC revived their ‘American’ hillclimbs at Hay Hill, events continuing until 1954. More on the Hay hillclimbs
Whitchurch race meeting. In 1959 a Formula 2 race, won by Henry Taylor (Cooper), was part of a meeting run at Whitchurch as part of Bristol’s Goram Fair celebrations. More on the races at Whitchurch
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Trials. By the early 1950s trials were becoming dominated by specials, and in 1953 the RAC introduced a Trials Car Formula, leading to the introduction of ‘Sporting Trials’ for the more specialised cars, usually at a single off-road venue, and leaving road trials visiting a number of classic trials hills for more standard cars. The Bristol MC&LCC’s Roy Fedden Trial evolved into a Sporting Trial (and a regular round of the RAC Championship), while their Allen Trophy Trial in the Mendips developed into a major ‘Classic’ road trial. In south Somerset the Taunton Motor Club’s Allen Trophy Trial continued as a road trial.
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Sir James Scott Douglas. Generally associated with the 1950s Scottish privateer race team Ecurie Ecosse, Sir James Scott Douglas was actually only part Scots, and had been born in England at Sherston, near the Wiltshire/Gloucestershire border. When he first started racing his own Jaguar in 1952 he joined the Bristol Motor Cycle & Light Car Club, which ran race meetings at the nearby Castle Combe circuit, and was elected as Club President for the years 1953 and 1954. More on Sir James Scott Douglas
Ivor Bueb. Cheltenham based Ivor Bueb was one of Britain’s top sports car racers in the late 1950s, best remembered for his two Le Mans victories with Jaguar in 1955 and 1957. His motor racing career began, though, in the West Country in 500cc Formula 3 single-seaters. More on Ivor Bueb and his 500s
Horace Gould. During the 1950's Bristol garage owner Horace Gould was also a successful racing driver, whose build and driving style led to him being dubbed "the Gonzalez of the West Country." His early races were in Cooper sports cars, he then used a Formula 2 Cooper-Bristol, winning the Joe Fry Trophy race at Castle Combe in 1954. Between 1955 and 1960 he campaigned a Formula 1 Maserati 250F as a private entrant in numerous Grand Prix around the world. His best World Championship results were in 1956 at Monaco (8th) and in the British GP (5th). He was also 2nd in the non-championship New Zealand GP in 1957.
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Bristol 450. The Bristol Aeroplane Company began producing cars at its Filton factory in 1947, and the 2-litre 6-cylinder engine was successfully used in a number of racing cars, such as the Formula 2 Cooper Bristol. In 1953 Bristol produced their own sports-racing coupe (the 450) for endurance racing at Reims and Le Mans. In 1954 the team finished 7th, 8th and 9th at Le Mans, winning class & team awards, then repeated this success in 1955, the cars now with open bodies.
Fry-Climax F2. Another locally produced racing car was the monocoque-chassied Formula 2 Fry-Climax, built by David Fry at Frenchay and raced in 1958-59 by Michael Parkes. More on David Fry and the Fry-Climax
Specials. In the 1950s many amateur enthusiasts built their own ‘specials’ for trials, speed events, and racing, for example Jack Weber and his Weber Special (pictured, left, in 1951), with MG Magnette chassis and engine. Another such enthusiast was Gerry Bath (Pegasus, Ford, 750 Austin, and Minim GT). More on Gerry Bath’s Specials
≈ 1960s ≈
Weston-super-Mare Speed Trials. Speed trials began again on the Marine Parade at Weston-Super-Mare in October 1959 with a closed/invitation event run by the Burnham-on-Sea Motor Club. Quickest over the ½ mile course was Geoff Richardson in Tommy Norton’s ERA R4D. In 1962 the event was raised to National status, and in 1967 the course length was reduced to ½ kilometre. From 1971 through to the final event in 1992 it was a round of the British Sprint Championship, and from 1987 the usual Saturday event was supplemented by a Vintage Sports Car Club event on the Sunday. While John Gray in his SPA/Pilbeam-Judd was quickest at the final event in 1992, the course record remains with Roy Lane, who recorded 10.90 sec. in 1987 in his Pilbeam Cosworth.
Dyrham Park hillclimb. From 1961 to 1966 the Bristol MC&LCC used a new 800 yard hillclimb course at Dyrham Park, ten miles east of Bristol, which had recently been taken over by the National Trust. Over the six years a total of 18 events were run, three per year. The first, in April 1961, was a closed to club event, and Jack Browning from Cheltenham recorded best time of the day, 37.8 sec. in his Jaguar XKSS. The first National status event was run in September 1962, when Peter Westbury was quickest in his Cooper-Daimler. The September 1963 event was the first to be a round of the British Hillclimb Championship, and the final event was in September 1966 when Bryan Eccles’ time of 30.05 sec. in his Brabham BT14 Oldsmobile remains the all-time hill record. A non-competitive Dyrham revival event was run in 2011 on the 50th anniversary of the event, and the 100th anniversary of the Bristol club. 1961-66 Dyrham Park Hillclimb winners (BTDs)
Yeovilton sprints. In September 1959 the Yeovil Car Club held their first club sprint on a course near Ilchester in south Somerset, using the tracks of the wartime dispersal area at Speckington, formerly part of the adjacent Yeovilton Naval Air Station. Best time of the day was set by Wally Cuff from Frome in a Cooper 1100, with the 1500cc Cooper-Climax of Fred Tuck from Weston-super-Mare second quickest. Horace Gould practiced his Grand Prix Maserati 250F but didn’t start the event. The first few events comprised a single lap of the 875-yard course but then soon changed to comprise two laps. Between 1963 and 1975 two events per year were run, with the last ever event being held in April 1978. Winners of early events included Vic Crapnell (Jaguar E-type), Ron Fry (Ferrari 250GTO and Ford GT40) and Ian Swift (Cooper-Ford V8). The April 1970 event was the first ever round of the new British Sprint Championship, quickest being Patsy Burt (McLaren M3A-Oldsmobile). Later winners included Bristolians Dave Harris (McLaren M10B Chevrolet) and David Franklin (March 772), who holds the course record of 55.37 sec.
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During the 1960s numerous other speed venues were brought into use for minor club events, such as hillclimbs at Longleat Park in Wiltshire, previously used in 1906, and the private drive down to St. Audries Bay Holiday camp, east of Watchet on the Somerset coast. New sprint venues included the RAF airfields at Kemble, near Cirencester in Gloucestershire, and the then disused Merryfield, near Ilminster, south Somerset. Also in Somerset, the roads of Burnshill Army Camp, near Taunton, Holimarine Holiday Village at Burnham-on-Sea, and the RAF training school at Locking near Weston-super-Mare were used.
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Cotswold Clouds Trial. The Stroud & District Motor Club began running the Cotswold Clouds Trial in the southern Cotswolds in 1962 using many traditional trials sections, such as Nailsworth Ladder.
Rallies. From the 1950s to the 1980s rallies made frequent use of the roads in the Mendip and the Cotswolds areas. One local competitor was Henry Liddon of Hanham, Bristol, who later as a co-driver in the works BMC Mini-Cooper and Ford teams won many International rallies, including the Monte Carlo Rally in a Mini-Cooper with Paddy Hopkirk in 1964 and with Rauno Aaltonen in 1967, the 1000 Lakes Rally in 1973 with Timo Makinen in a Ford Escort, and a hat-trick of RAC Rallies 1973, 74 and 75, also with Makinen in Ford Escorts.
The premier road-rallying series of the era was the ‘Motoring News’ Championship, which regularly included Tavern Motor Club’s ‘Rally Bristowe’, and later, ‘Moonraker’ events. The 1973 championship was won by Bristolians Nigel Rockey and Paul White in a Ford Escort; in 1980 Paul White won the RAC Rally, co-driving Henri Toivonen in a Talbot Sunbeam Lotus.
Forest of Dean Rallies. With the advent of forestry special stages in rallies in the 1960s, many events made use of the tracks in the Forest of Dean. First was the RAC Rally in November 1961 with stages at Speech House and Staunton - best times by Erik Carlsson (Saab) and Pat Moss (Austin Healey 3000). The RAC Rally used the Dean forests on a further 15 occasions - 1965-72, 1974-76, and 1980, and then in the Group B era, 1982 and 1984-85. Other major rallies to visit were the Gulf London (1965-67), the Welsh International (1971-74), plus the local Dursley Rally from 1966-69. Solely using the forest were the Newport MC’s Tour of Dean Rally (1967-77, excluding 1968 and 1974), and the Forest of Dean MC’s long-lived Wyedean Stages which began in 1975. For a full account of the first 40 years of the Wyedean Stages Rally see: ‘The Wyedean at 40’ by Neil Henderson (published 2015).
Horace Gould’s RAC Rally Skoda team. In 1961 Horace Gould entered a three-car team of Skoda Octavias on the RAC Rally on behalf of the Skoda factory. Read a contemporary account by team driver Norman Kell
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Jack Lewis. Jack Lewis from Stroud, Gloucestershire, began racing in an ex-Ivor Bueb/John Denley 500cc Cooper Mk.8 Formula 3 car in 1958, winning at Oulton Park, and gaining top three placings at Brands Hatch, Silverstone and Snetterton. The following year he moved up into Formula 2 with a new 1.5 litre Cooper-Climax, racing in England and Europe and won races in Belgium and France. In 1961 he bought a new Formula One Cooper and contested several Grand Prix as a private entrant, entered by H&L Motors, his father’s motorcycle business in Stroud, his best result being fourth in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Lewis continued in Formula One in 1962, initially with a BRM V8, placing third in the Pau Grand Prix, but then reverted to his Cooper-Climax, with a best result of 8th in Dutch Grand Prix, and at the end of the year he retired from motor racing.
Ron Fry. During the 1960s Bath garage owner Ron Fry raced, sprinted and hillclimbed a series of Aston Martins, Ferraris (250GT Berlinetta, 250GTO & 250LM) and then Ford GT40s, and Mini-Cooper, Ford Anglia and Ford Mustang saloons, with many successes. More on Ron Fry
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Marcos cars. Jem Marsh moved to Bradford on Avon in 1963, where the Marcos plywood monocoque GT, Volvo-engined 1800GT and the Mini-Marcos were produced. In addition to Marsh, local drivers to successfully race Marcos included Chris Boulter, Howard Steele (Ecurie Wild Goose of Dursley) and Terry Sanger, and in the Mini-Marcos Geoff Mabbs and Steve Roberts. In 1968 Marcos built the Group 6 Prototype Mantis XP with 3-litre Repco V8 engine which was raced once, by Ed Nelson and Jem Marsh, in the Spa 1000Km endurance race, but retired.
JW4. In the 1960's Johnny Walker produced his Formula 4 racing cars in a small factory at Charfield, near Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire.
≈ 1970s-90s ≈
Sprints. The RAC British Sprint Championship began in 1970, and over the next three decades used many westcountry venues, including the Weston-super-Mare Marine Parade event, and temporary airfield courses at Little Rissington, Fairford, Moreton-in-Marsh, and South Cerney (all Gloucestershire), Yeovilton in south Somerset, and Colerne and Wroughton in north-west Wiltshire.
Colerne. For over thirty years the MoD airfield at Colerne, near Chippenham in west Wiltshire, was the location of numerous motorsport events before permission to use the venue was withdrawn late in 2010. Sprints using parts of the perimeter track and runways began in 1978, with a variety of track layouts being used over the following years, and the annual Bristol Two Club Sprints being rounds of the British Sprint Championship.
In 1981 the Vintage Sports Car Club commenced an annual 1Km straight line sprint on the southern runway.
During the 1980s Colerne also began to be used for special stage rallies, the first being the Dursley Motor Cycle & Light Car Club’s Hercules Stages in October 1983. One month later Colerne hosted the RAC Rally, the stage winner being Stig Blomqvist in an Audi Quattro, the only occasion spectators were admitted to the venue. The Hercules Rally used Colerne again in 1984 and 85, while in July 1984 the Bath Motor Club began their ‘Azimghur Stages’ Rally, which continued until 2009. In the late 1980s Colerne was also used for stages on the Weston-super-Mare MC’s ‘Longleat Stages’ Rally, and between 2004 and 2010 it was used by the Southern CC for the ‘Wugging Stages’.
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Other venues to be brought into use for minor speed events included the Wildlife Park at Cricket St Thomas, near Chard, Somerset, the toll road at Porlock, near Minehead on the Bristol Channel coast, and in 1990 a one-off sprint on the Haynes Motorsport Museum test track at Sparkford near Yeovil.
Sprint and hillclimb champions. David Franklin from Bristol won both the British Sprint and the British Hillclimb championships in 1978. Franklin won the British Sprint championship again in 1979, while other British Sprint champions from the westcountry have been Jonty Williamson (1971), Dave Harris (1975-77 and 1980), Richard Ames (1987), Paul Edwards (1988), Nigel Bigwood (1989 and 90), Tony Eyles (1999) and Rodney Eyles (2000). Other westcountry British Hillclimb champions have been Mike MacDowell (1973 and 1974) and Chris Cramer (1980 and 1985).
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RAC Rallies. In 1976, 1980, 1983 and 1986 the RAC Rally of Great Britain started and finished in Bath. Among the local stages on the 1983 event was the Ashton Court estate in Bristol. For the three years 1997 to 1999 the Rally was based in Cheltenham.
Mark Lovell. In 1986 the British Rally Championship was won by Mark Lovell from Axbridge in Somerset, in a works Group B Ford RS200, co-driven by Roger Freeman.
People & Cars
Events & Venues
Further reading – Some books on Westcountry motorsport people, cars, venues and events
Further details of Westcountry related Motorsport History will be added to the above, in the fullness of time.
If you have any pre-2000 Bristol & Westcountry Motorsport related information, programmes, results, motor club magazines, or photos - please e-mail petestowe @ talktalk.net with details.
Westcountry Motorsport History
Last updated: 14 October 2021
© Pete Stowe 2021. All rights reserved.