Austin Motor Racing History

During my research on the racing history of the Seven, I was given the following article that first appeared to the magazine "Torque". This is the quarterly magazine of the Austin Ex-Apprentices Association (London Section). I was so impressed by the article (as others have been before me) that I will present the full letter by Freddie Henry. This was written in 1965 in response to an article by Ron Devereux. The article covers the early racing history of Austin as well as the Seven but any editing would take away from Freddie's excellent description of these events. Sadly, Freddie past away on the 27th of February, 1997.

Carried Away With Nostalgia


Looking through some copies of "Torque" I was delighted to see in the Spring 1965 edition, a letter from my old digs mate, Ron Devereux, who refers to the Austin engines which Lord Austin built to power the boats with which he twice held the World's Water Speed record. He also refers to the Austin "Twenty" racing cars which Col. Arthur Waite and Lew Kings drove at Brooklands.

Immediately following the letter, an Editor's footnote says: "Any suggestions as to what happened to these wonderful pieces of engineering? Ed."

Ron refers to the boats as "Maple Leaf" whereas in fact they were named Irene I and "Irene ll" after Lord Austin's eldest daughter the Hon. Mrs. Arthur Waite. "Maple Leaf" did in fact have an Austin V-12 cylinder 200 H.P. O.H.C. engine, but was piloted by Len Webster, who took the record in 1910 at Calshot.

Later, Lord Austin built an improved V-12 O.H.C. engine, which he fitted to a new boat the aforementioned "Irene l", and took the record piloting the boat himself. In 1912, he fitted the engine, which I believe was then developing 280 H.P., into the new "Irene ll", and again took the record at Calshot. I used to have a photograph of "the old man" with shirt sleeves rolled up and wearing a yachting cap, starting the engine prior to a record attempt.

When I first commenced my apprenticeship in 1926, I recall seeing a number of interesting engines stored in the basement of North Works opposite the old Farm Tractor Test Shop, and amongst them was the record-breaking V-12 from "Irene ll" . Also in this store was a prototype Austin pushrod O.H.V. V-12 aircraft engine, with copper water jackets, designed by Haefli during the 1914 -18 war, which was started by an A.B.C. Flat-twin engine.

Nearby were a "R.A.F. - 1 A" V-8 with side inlet and overhead exhaust valves, built at Longbridge during the 1914 -18 war, and a number of 5-cylinder radial engines built for the Austin Whippet Light 2 seater aeroplane which in 1921 sold to the man in the street for �275.

In the North Works Canteen there was a Sunbeam "Arab" V-8 aircraft engine, built at Longbridge during World War l, and a Sunbeam Coatelen V-12. Both had light alloy blocks with steel liners, and overhead camshafts.

I understand that after the death of Lord Austin in 1941, all these priceless relics were destroyed.

With regard to the "Twenty" racer which Ron refers to, this was called "Black Maria" and raced at Brooklands in 1921. It was based on the 4-cylinder monobloc 3.6 litre "Twenty" sports model, and won the 100 m.p.h. Brooklands Short Handicap race. Later, a smaller version was marketed, based on the "Heavy Twelve", and known in 1924 as the "Twelve Sports''. Both looked rather like the 12-50 Alvis sports 4-seater. After a visit to Germany, "the old man" returned with a 1924 Mercedes chassis, fitted with a supercharger; this last was removed and fitted to the "Twelve" sports. The Mercedes, (a 22/100 H.P. model) was still lying in West Works just before World War ll.

Sales Manager, Sam Holbrook used to drive a "Twelve" sports, known as "Yellow Peril".

When I first came to Longbridge, they had two German rear-engine "Rumpler" cars, one with a 5-cylinder radial engine and both with fully streamlined air-flow saloon bodies, built-in lamps, direction indicators, etc. They were of 1922-1924 vintage.

Round about the same period, Lord Austin designed a rear-engined 4-cylinder monobloc car with gearbox amidships and front-wheel drive, and an Armstrong Siddeley-like radiator at the front (shades of Harry Ratcliffe's 3 � litre Buick-engined Vitafoam Mini! Ed.)

I have a photograph of "the old man" at the wheel of a Wolseley "Beetle" racing car chain driven by a huge flat-twin engine, mounted with the crankshaft as on a Mini.

Later, he built a team of 4 100 H.P. Austin racing cars with 6 separate cylinders. This was only 3 years after founding the Longbridge car works in 1905. One of the silver cups awarded to the drivers of these cars (Brabazon. Warwick Wright and Dario Resta) in the 1908 French Grand Prix used to be in the Show Case at Longbridge.

Going back to 1905, the first Austin car built had a 4 (separate) cylinder, twin-cam side valve engine, of 25/30 H.P. rating, and one of these was sold to O. S. Thompson member of a famous shipping line, who, after running it as a 4-seat touring car, fitted a new 40 H.P. engine, together with a 2 seater body, and under the name "Pobble", raced it with his sister Muriel at Brooklands from 1908-1912 lapping as high as 91 m.p.h. In 1910, "Pobble" took F.T.D. at Shelsley Walsh Hill climb.

I had the pleasure of demonstrating the "Hayes" infinitely variable transmission to Oscar and Muriel Thompson in 1933. It was difficult to imagine these two elderly people lapping Brooklands at 91 m.p.h.!

In 1911, Percy Lambert built a beautiful slim, streamlined racer on a standard 4 cylinder 19 H.P. Austin, known as "Pearly lll".

I don t remember any other Austin racers until 1922, when following the success of the "Twenty" and 'Twelve" sports tourers at Brooklands and Shelsley Walsh, the first 4 cylinder "Seven" was built with the 696 c.c. engine developing 10 H.P. at 2,400 r.p.m. It. was immediately enlarged to 747.5 c.c. and the beginning of a successful racing record began.

Col. "Skipper" Waite drove one of the 1923 fabric 2-seater bodied racing "Sevens" down to Brooklands for the Easter Meeting, won the day (with a lap at 62 � m.p.h.) and drove back to Birmingham, all in six hours. The same year, Gordon England produced the famous aluminium-bodied "Brooklands" Seven, and lapped at 71 m.p.h. At the August 1923 Boulogne race, three rather high fabric-bodied Sevens appeared, Reg. Nos. OK-7095 (Arthur Waite), OK-8945 (Lew Kings) and OL166 (Harold Cutler), all driven by Longbridge personnel. A month later, Gordon England took out the "Brooklands" Seven, which now had a special pressure fed crank, lightweight pistons, high and quick lift cams, high compression "Ricardo" head, twin "Zenith" carbs, three branch exhaust manifold, and double valve springs. It weighed only 7 � cwt. and covered 5 miles at 80 m.p.h. In 1924, ex apprentice R. E. O. Hall, with an even lighter "G.E.-Brooklands" car, took records for the flying half mile at 84 m.p.h.

In 1925, "Skipper" Waite set up a racing shop at Longbridge in the stables used for the shire horses which operated the internal works transport. When I joined the company, these horses were still in use (1926).

Col. Waite, with a team including many names familiar to ex-apprentices (Alf Depper, Rally Appelby, Bill Scriven, Len Brokas, Jimmy Moore and Charlie Goodacre) started work on the first supercharged "Seven" . After unsuccessful tests with a blower supplied by a Bradford firm, the tool-room set to work building a very successful 'Roots'-type blower, and it is interesting that the three-lobe impellers were profiled on a gear hobbing machine used for the Seven clutch plate splined centre in production.

This blower was mounted on a cradle on the front timing-gear cover, using the magneto drive gear and a faster-than-engine ratio of approximately 1.25 to 1, giving 60 cu.ft. of air per minute at 5 Ibs./ resulting in an engine output of 36 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m. The car was very low, and with its fabric staggered-seat body weighed 6�-7 cwt. On its first appearance at Brooklands, "Skipper" Waite took a number of records, touching 92 m.p.h. and averaging 86 m.p.h. for the two-way flying kilometre.

Later in 1925, Waite entered the car in the 1100 c.c. class 200-mile race with a blown engine bored out to 775 c.c. Five other Sevens were entered, the drivers being ex-apprentices R. E. O. Hall, Alf Depper, Gordon England, Gordon Hendy and A. A. D. Grey.

About that time, the 1� litre class was the most popular race, and Waite had a 1� litre straight eight engine built, using two ‘Seven' cylinder blocks and crankshafts end to end, but the cranks objected, and the engine was never raced. One wonders whether a V-8 might have been more successful.

Towards the end of 1925 Jockey George Duller won the Brooklands 50-mile Handicap with the 747.5 c.c. engine at 90 m.p.h., shearing the crankshaft just forward of the flywheel as he passed the finishing post. Many ex-apprentices will have had a similar experience!

The next year, 1926, I shared digs with Charlie Goodacre, then employed in the racing shop, and I used to hear all the latest news. Col. Waite finished that year holding all Class H (750 c.c.) records. The following year,1927, he returned to his native Australia, and the supercharged racer was sold to Johnny Pares, who was employed at Longbridge. He and Road Tester George Coldicutt increased the wheelbase by 12 inches. This was achieved by bolting the rear section of a similar ‘Seven’ frame to the existing one and increasing the length of the forward drive shaft. I had the pleasure of driving the car at that time but the original blown engine had been changed for one with twin ‘Zenith’ carburettors (later replaced by Cox-Atmos instruments). The engine was of the 'Gordon England' variety, and the car was christened ‘Slippery Anne’.

Charlie Goodacre was busy at that time in the Racing Shop Test House, but as racing for 1927 was confined to private entries, he was spending most of his time running-up a 3-litre, 16 cylinder engine being developed for the Navy. I used to visit the test house, knock on the door and Charlie would let me into the Holy of Holies. The engine had four ‘Seven Horse' cylinder blocks mounted on a common crankcase, with two lines of twin 4 cylinder cranks coupled together by the flywheels and geared to the next pair of cranks. It. was a very compact engine, four carburettors, four magnetos and quite a roar under full power.

In 1928 Col. Waite had a special 'Seven' built and sent out to him in Australia for the Grand Prix which he won.

This car was the prototype of the "Ulster "Seven which was about to be put into batch production in order to qualify for the Ulster T.T. Sports Car Race. It had a cylindrical crank turned from a solid billet, pressure lubrication, and a French ‘Cozette’ vertically driven supercharger. With a two seater body and outside exhaust, it sold in blown form at �225 or �185 unblown. (The blown engine had magneto ignition, the unblown a coil).

In England, two cars were built, one maroon and black, to be driven by Sidney Holbrook, son of sales manager, Sam Holbrook, and the other car finished in cream and green to be driven by Assistant Sales Manager Gunnar Poppe. At that time, l was an apprentice working with Sidney Holbrook on the first production 6 cylinder ‘Sixteen’ engines, and on Sunday mornings, we used to set off at dawn for the Coventry Road at Stonebridge in order to carry out speed tests on the ‘Ulster’ cars. We had many scraps with Gunnar Poppe.

The two cars were entered for Shelsley Walsh Hill climb, but were beaten by George Coldicutt in the old, unblown Slippery Anne. However, at Southport, Sidney collected three firsts.

In 1929, George Coldicutt, Archie (Chain-gang) Frazer Nash and the brothers Donald and Stanley Barnes joined Holbrook and Poppe. A team was entered for the Ulster T.T. race and Sidney sent a telegram from Belfast for me to come over. The cars were garaged at Harry Ferguson Ltd., the Austin Distributors, and Harry Ferguson, later to become the millionaire tractor maker and inventor was the host. The successes during that year were too numerous to detail.

Col. Waite returned to England in 1930 and joined the team with Freddie March (now Duke of Richmond and Gordon) and Sammy Davis (of ‘Autocar’ fame). Later in the year, Charlie Goodacre shared the wheel with Sammy Davis. The most notable victory was to win outright the 500 mile race (Davis-March).

In 1931, Sir Malcolm Campbell, after taking the World Land Speed Record, in 'Bluebird' stepped straight into a beautiful little pale blue "Ulster"-type special single seater and raised the measured mile record (class H) to 94 m.p.h.

Immediately afterwards, a fully streamlined, wind tunnel tested single seater, with wheel fairings and an Austin-built 'Roots' blower was built with a power output of 56 b.h.p. at 6,000 r.p.m.

Sammy Davis was to drive the car, but during the Easter Brooklands Mountain Race, I saw him overturn his 4� litre Invicta, at close quarters. Pat Driscoll, who was leading the race in a Lea Francis ‘Hyper Sports’ stopped to rescue Sammy, an act which was instrumental in bringing Pat into the Austin Team.

Sammy Davis was badly injured and it was decided that Poppe should drive the new Austin. Later, Leon Cushman took the wheel and raised the two way kilometre record to over 102 m.p.h.

Mrs. Gwenda Stewart, who had been driving those beautiful little blown straight-eight, front wheel drive American Millers, took the Austin to Montlhery and raised the 10-kilometre record to nearly 110 m.p.h.

At Shelsley Walsh, the previous year (1930) a Rolls-Royce apprentice, W. E. Harkes, beat the Austin works team with a production Ulster fitted with his own 4-speed gearbox. Not being satisfied, he was now working on a further modification, by fitting a "Twelve Six" front axle to the car to give it more stability and into this he was to install a new engine, comprising two ‘Ulster’ cylinder blocks mounted on a common crankcase with two 'Ulster’ crankshaft-conn-rod assemblies mounted side by side and geared together. This eight cylinder, 1� litre car put up a fantastic performance, but the roadholding was poor. He then converted the engine to push-rod O.H.V. and mounted it in a French 'Lombard' chassis.

Another enthusiast, J. Anderson built a car with a tubular space frame and independent suspension. Into this, behind the driver, he mounted across the frame, � la Mini, an ingenious engine constructed from two Seven engines mounted back to back but with a bevel gear between the two flywheels from which was taken, through a fluid clutch, the drive to the prop. Shaft. The car was very successful at hill climbs and at trials. He also built an engine with two Seven units mounted side by side and geared together with contra-rotation.

In 1930, I had my first drive at Brooklands, my digs mate, apprentice Ralph Secretan, had bought one of Malcolm Campbell's two 1� litre eight cylinder supercharged Bugattis, and as he had never driven a car before ( !) he entered me for the Easter Handicap Race. The late Mr. Brack, Apprentices' Supervisor, had called me into his office to tell me that Secretan had asked him if I could have Good Friday off (we worked on Good Friday in those days) as he wanted me to assist in the final tuning of the car. I travelled down with the Austin team, I arrived, somewhat tired, Secretan showed me the Bugatti; it was completely stripped to the last nut and bolt. By working night and day, non stop we were just able to get the car running in time for the race. Unfortunately, we holed a piston, and flames came into the cockpit on the Byfleet Banking.

I spent my summer holidays working on the car for nothing at Thomson and Taylor's Racing Shops, where Campbell's new 'Bluebird' was under construction. A new 6 cylinder 1100 c.c. engine was also being developed for the M.G. racing car. The 'Powerplus’ supercharger on the M.G. was giving trouble and Ken Taylor borrowed the blower from Ralph’s Bugatti to try out on the M.G.

The competition which loomed ahead from M.G. was instrumental in a decision being made, in 1931, to build new cars, and in 1932 Col. Waite arranged for me to join ex-apprentice Stan Yeal's time-keeping team, thus enabling me to be in the pits at race meetings. We had a team of three streamlined single seater cars prepared by Rally Appleby and Bill Scriven. But young Murray Jamieson, of the Amherst-Villiers Organisation appeared with a white production 'Ulster' Seven, fitted with an Amherst-Villiers supercharger of his own design. The car was so much faster than our factory cars that Col. Waite bought it and Jamieson joined the racing shop at Longbridge, where he set to work designing a new side valve racer. It had a ‘Roots’ type, Austin-built blower of his own design, mounted vertically at the front and driven from the front of the camshaft, supplying air at 24 Ibs. boost. With a large S.U. carburettor and twin sparking plugs on each cylinder, it developed 70 b.h.p. The offset transmission used in the existing single seaters was retained, and a 3-speed gearbox fitted. In 1933, with Murray Jamieson at the wheel, the car went to Montlhery and took records at 120 m.p.h. It had an air-flow wind-tunnel tested body.

Meanwhile, we were having great success with the three single seaters driven by Pat Driscoll, Charles Goodacre and Donald Barnes. We won the J.C.C. International Trophy Team Prize.

Next year, 1934, Pat Drlscoll took the new Jamieson car to Southport, and raised the flying mile record to 123 m.p.h. It. was then rebuilt as a sprint machine, with a new tubular front axle, and the weight reduced to 8� cwt. and Pat raised the Shelsley Walsh record.

That year, Col. Waite made me co-driver with Wallis Milton in the trials car. (Milton had taken the first ever Austin Seven in its first trial in 1922). We entered an Austin Ten in the 1934 R.A.C. Rally. The ‘Ten’ was two years old, but had van springs, prototype 4-speed synchromesh gearbox, quick lift cam, aluminium head, and down draught Zenith carburettor. With a low ratio rear axle it would still touch 75 m.p.h. I had co-driven with Milton in 1932, when he used a 1931 Fabric Saloon, again modified, having van springs, prototype constant-mesh gearbox, and ‘Ulster’ engine. We had great fun with that car, because of its fantastic performance and atrocious road-holding. It would exceed 60 m.p.h. in third, but its 80 m.p.h. top speed was unobtainable because of its instability, whereas the Ten was remarkably stable if not so fast.

In 1935, we replaced the 'Ten’ with a production ‘Nippy-65’ 2-seater sports, fitted with an up to date version of the pressure fed crank 'Ulster’ engine. However, in view of the competition from Singer and M.G., Lord Austin agreed to the construction of a special trials car using an unblown ‘Ulster’ engine and with slab tank, twin spare wheels and a very pretty ‘V’ sloping radiator grill. The car handled superbly, but needed more power. Reluctantly, ‘the old man’ agreed to the addition of a ‘Centric' belt driven blower, and the performance was transformed. Later, three more cars were built, and in conjunction with our car (Reg. No. AOX-3) formed a trials team, later known as the ‘Grass Hoppers’. Drivers of these extra three cars were Bill Scriven and ex-apprentices Bert Hadley and Dennis Buckley.

Murray Jamieson was now working on the design of what was to become the famous Overhead Camshaft Seven racer. His instructions from 'the old man' were that the car should have a frame and suspension layout similar to the Standard Austin Seven, with a torque-tube rear axle. This axle had double-reduction spur gears to facilitate removal and changing of ratios. The fuel tank-held 25 gallons and consumption was 4-5 m.p.g. The short stroke 744 c.c. engine had net liners and valve gear suitable for development to 12,000 r.p.m. engine speed.

The initial calculated output was 134 b.h.p. at 9,800 r.p.m. but in fact it was never developed to produce more than 116 b.h.p. at 9,000 r.p.m. The camshafts were gear driven from the back of the engine, and these gears also drove the Roots blower at 1� times engine speed and 22 Ibs. pressure. Compression ratio was 6.5 to 1. Magneto was a Swiss vertical Scintilla. There was a triple-stage oil pump with pressures of 10 Ibs./ and 100 Ibs./ On its first run on the bench it developed only 22 b.h.p. without a blower, but when the blower was added, the output shot up to 90 b.h.p. at 8,000 r.p.m.

Pat Driscoll gave it its first public run at the 1936 Easter Brooklands meeting.

In Germany, Walter Baumer drove the car in competition, and at the 1937 Freiburg Hill Climb he set up new records for the 1100 c.c. and 1500 c.c. classes.

Ex-apprentice Maurice Dubois and I were at that meeting, and afterwards, Baumer, head mechanic Len Brokas, M.G. driver Bobby Wohlrausch and his attractive blonde wife joined us in a night's drinking.

During 1937, ex-apprentice Bert Hadley, after proving his worth on the side valve car joined the O.H.C. car team with Pat Driscol, Charlie Goodacre and Charlie Dodson.

Like Charlie Goodacre, Bert was a mechanic in the racing shop, and these boys built their own cars. l consider that full marks are due to 'Skipper' Waite for choosing drivers who knew their cars inside out. Without doubt, Bert Hadley and his car were the most formidable combination of that period, and he won event after event. He had offers to drive for other teams, including E.R.A. but 'the old man' would not agree. Bert told me that he had to use his persuasive powers on Lord Austin to allow him to continue running the cars, and latterly he had to cannibalize Pat Driscol's wrecked car for spare parts.

It is true to say that the cars gave of their best when running under these difficult conditions, and by now Bert had become a top line racing driver.

The Jamieson side-valve car was being driven successfully by Kay Petre, and ex-apprentice Dennis Buckley had a crack at the O.H.C. cars. Kay borrowed our trials car, AOX-3 for the Crystal Palace Sports Car race, and later during practice for the Brooklands 500 mile race, while driving the side-valve racer, her rear wheel was touched by Reg. Parnell's M.G. and she overturned, to remain in a state of unconsciousness for months.

At the 1938 Easter Brooklands, I witnessed a dreadful accident, when one of the Talbot racing team cars crashed into the crowded paddock, killing Murray Jamieson, who by now had left Austins to design the new E.R.A.

Col. Waite asked me to take his New Zealand friend Phil Seabrook, who had raced the Seven in New Zealand, to see the Nuffield Trophy race at Donnington. This was a most exciting scrap between Bert Hadley, in the O.H.C. car and Prince Bira in the 1� litre E.R.A. The race was dominated by Bert and team mate Charlie Dobson, and after the quickest fuel stop imaginable, Bert was still in the lead. On the 56th of the 64 laps, Bira passed Bert, but as Bira had still to re-fuel we were quite confident. I recall running to and from the Bira pits, where lots of little Siamese chaps were trying to signal Bira to come in for fuel, but he ignored all signals and finally he crossed the line just ahead of Bert Hadley, but without even enough fuel to do his lap of honour.

The last time I saw the O.H.C. car run was in the 1939 Crystal Palace Imperial Trophy and I believe this was the car’s last race. Bert gave a superb exhibition of skilled driving in winning the event. I always felt that if World War ll had not followed, Bert would have been the ‘Jim Clark’ of 1940-41.

I started this letter in reply to your request for information on the record-breaking 'Austin' boats and ‘Twenty’ racing cars, but after referring to my 'Austin Scrap Book', I began to re-live those exciting days.

Sincerely Yours,

Freddie Henry.

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