Pete Stowe ........

some MotorSport History


Motorsport in the Bristol Area

Some highlights of motorsport events, cars and people in the Bristol area from 1900

1000 mile Trial. 65 participants in the 1000 mile round Britain reliability trial in 1900 completed the first days run from London, via Bath, with a stiff climb up the steep gradient of Park Street in central Bristol, CS Rolls being the first to arrive in his Panhard. More on the 1000 mile Trial in Bristol

The following years, leading up to World War One, saw the formation of several motor clubs in the Bristol area - the Bristol Bicycle & Motor Club, the Bristol & Gloucester 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 took place.

Hillclimbs. There were timed hillclimbs - on public roads - at Chew Hill, at Clapton in Gordano, at Wraxall near Shepton Mallet, at Shipham near Axbridge, and also at Lansdown and Weston on the outskirts of Bath. More on the 1912 Chew Hillclimb

Reliability trials covered testing routes in the Mendips hills to the south of the city (and some also included the 1 in 2.4 gradient of Vale Street hill in the Totterdown district), and the Cotswolds to the north, where the famed Nailsworth Ladder, near Stroud, provided a stiff challenge. More on the 1913 Bristol Trial

Weston Speed Trials. In 1913 and 1914 speed trials were held on a one-mile course on the beach at Weston-super Mare, successful marques included Arrol-Johnston, Sunbeam, Talbot, Morgan, Vauxhall and Willie Douglas' Douglas light car from the works in Kingswood, Bristol, more famous for its motorcycles.

Post World War 1

Speed events. Following WW1 speed trials were run again on Weston-super-Mare beach (1919 and 1920) and in 1921 there was a hillclimb at Kingdown, Bath.

In 1923 speed trials for motor-cycles & light cars were held on a half mile course on the new "Low Level Road" at Avonmouth before it was opened to the public. Light cars winners were the GN's of AG Sgonina (sports) and AR Passey (touring).

During this period most of these events were for both cars and motorcycles, with 'bikes usually forming by far the larger part of the entry.

CAPA. In the 1930s the private CAPA Club began cheap form of racing, using stripped down cars based on Austin 7's and the like, on a private grass track circuit near Clapton-in-Gordano. CAPA racing was vastly enjoyed by those who took part (and is described in more detail in BACkfire - the History of the Bristol Aeroplane Company Motor Club; see the BAC MC page ). After a break for WW2, CAPA racing eventually stopped in 1950.

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 roadgoing 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-WW2 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

Trials. During the 1930s trials using the Cotswold hills included the Gloucester Trial, and in 1935 the Roy Fedden Trophy trial began.

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)

More on the 1935-1938 Roy Fedden Trophy trials

 

Backwell Hillclimb. 1935 also saw the beginning of a series of hillclimbs on a 550 yard sealed surface course in the grounds of Backwell Hill House Estate, about 6 miles outside Bristol on the Weston-super-Mare road.

Fastest times of the day at these annual meetings were:

17 Aug 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 Sept 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 1935 1936 1937 1938 1939

 

Freikaiserwagen. The 1936 Backwell hillclimb was also 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 “Freik – The Private Life of the Freikaiserwagen” by Hugh & Rob Dunsterville, published in July 2008 by the Midland Automobile Club - see www.freikaiserwagen.com for more details.

Hillclimbs. Other hillclimb venues, but with grass surfaces, used in the 1930's were at Naish Hill, near Clapton in Gordano, and Hay Hill near Shepton Mallet.

Whitchurch Speed Trials. On 22 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

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 WW2 the event was revived on the Mendips course in 1946 and 47, then in 1950 moved to the Castle Combe race circuit. From 1951 it was retitled the Mendip Petit Prix, and continued at Castle Combe throughout the 1950s, apart from 1957 (Charmy Down) and 1959 (Lulsgate).

Post World War 2

Speed Events. After WW2 ended in 1945 Bristol enthusiasts were quick off the mark in organising events, with a hillclimb at Naish in August, won by Walter Watkins (Watkins Nash), and a 1/2 mile sprint on the tarmac of Filton airfield in October, Bob Gerard (ERA) winning this one. The Filton Sprint is described in more detail in BACkfire - the History of the Bristol Aeroplane Club; for further details see the BAC MC page or www.bristolpegasus.com

More on the 1945 Naish Hillclimb

Trials. The Gloucester and Fedden Trials commenced once more in the Cotswolds.

 

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 in BACkfire - the History of the Bristol Aeroplane Club; for further details see the BAC MC page or www.bristolpegasus.com

This also led to a number of 500cc racing cars being constructed locally, such as the Arengo, of which several examples were built. However, most were one-off specials such as Jeremy Fry's Parsenn.

The Parsenn 500 chassis in 2004

Iota. The Iota was the only one that was produced 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 Iota's were usually given individual names, such as Stromboli, Buzzie, and Milliunion (below), 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.

Gordano. 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 4cylinder 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, & a saloon with 1767cc Lea Francis engine. However in 1950 the project folded after Fry and engine-designer Rodney Gordon-Jones died.

Weston Speed Trials. In 1948 and 1949 speed trials were run on the Marine Parade at Weston-Super-Mare. Fastest times of day:

1948 Ken McAlpine (Maserati) 21.10s

1949 Joe Fry (Freikaiserwagen) 21.13s

Joe Fry. In addition to the Freikaiserwagen, Joe Fry hillclimbed and raced various other cars including a 4 1/2 litre sports Bentley and Type 55 Bugatti the 1930s. Post-WW2 he also raced locally built 500cc Iota’s (on occasion confusingly also named "Freikaiserwagen") and Arengo’s, and shared a Maserati with Brian Shawe-Taylor in the 1950 British Grand Prix at Silverstone, finishing 10th. He was later killed in an accident in the Freikaiserwagen at Blandford hillclimb in 1950.

Race meetings.

In 1949 and 50 race meetings were held on the ex-wartime airfield at Lulsgate (now Bristol Airport). More on the Lulsgate race meetings

In 1950 a new race track was opened on the former 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). See also the Castle Combe page.

In 1959 a Formula 2 race, won by Henry Taylor (Cooper), was part of a meeting run at Whitchurch as part of the city's Goram Fair celebrations.

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 Grands Prix around the world. Best world championship results were in 1956 at Monaco (8th) and the British GP (5th). He was also 2nd in the non-championship New Zealand GP in 1957.

Racing Cars

Bristol 450. The Bristol Aeroplane Company began producing cars at it's 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 result 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 the Fry-Climax

JW4. In the 1960's Johnny Walker Formula4 racing cars were produced in a small factory at Charfield, near Wotton-under-Edge.

 

Throughout the 1950s and 60s numerous ‘specials’ were built for motorsport use - see the local Specials and Special Builders page

 

Speed events. Speed trials began again on the Marine Parade at Weston-Super-Mare in 1959, and from 1961 to 1966 the Bristol MC&LCC used a new hillclimb course at Dyrham Park (a non-competitive Dyrham revival event was run in 2011).

David Franklin from Bristol won both the British Sprint and the British Hillclimb championships in 1978. Other British Sprint champions from Bristol have been Dave Harris and Nigel Bigwood.

Rallies. From the 1950's to the 1980's rallies made frequent use of the roads in the Mendip and the Cotswolds areas. One local competitor was Bristolian Henry Liddon who later was to win many International rallies as part of the works BMC Mini-Cooper and Ford teams.

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 Ashton Court estate in Bristol.

British Rally Champion of 1986 was Mark Lovell from Weston-super Mare.


Further Bristol related motorsport will be added to the above, in the fullness of time.

If you have any pre-1970 Bristol motorsport related information, memories, programmes, motor club magazines, or photos - please e-mail petestowe @ talktalk.net with details.

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