The Racing Era
the book Wings and Wheels, The story of Boreham Airfield published by the
Ford Motorsport Library.
Researched by Bryan Jones
Boreham Airfield in the early 1950s
Powerful engines roared again at Boreham
airfield in the early 1950s. This time it was not the sound of American
bombers with their Pratt and Whitneys, but the more down-to-earth noise of
From relatively humble beginnings in the autumn of 1949, the former US air base grew rapidly to become one of the country’s premier circuits for both motor car and motor cycle meetings. Between then and the summer of 1952, Boreham played host to many of the world’s most well known drivers and riders, and they’re equally famous machines.
The first meeting was a driving test, organised by West Essex Car Club at the end of the Chelmsford Rally in the autumn of 1949, while the opening speed event came in March the following year and was repeated three times in all. That used the measured kilometre on the main runway, with cars racing side-by-side from a standing start. All classes could enter, from family saloons to specials.
Motor cycle racing made its debut at the circuit in September 1950, introducing the highly successful ”Chelmsford 100” in which 81 riders from various clubs around the country competed for a £100 prize.
Clerk of the course was Alan B. Mullee, a staunch member of organisers Chelmsford and District Auto Club and prime mover in obtaining permission to use the abandoned airfield for motorsport.
These were the only meetings at the circuit in 1950, but the following season was a busy one for Boreham, with four motor car race days and three motor cycle events.
A crowd of 6,000 saw Archie Butterworth dominate the first car meeting in April, and then it was the turn of the motorcyclists to stage the Chelmsford Club Races on 28 April. The next car races were on 26 May, when a rare error of judgement cost the legendary Reg Parnell victory. He crashed through bales of hay, put on the side of the track for safety reasons. Dennis Poore won in an Alfa Romeo.
There was a smaller crowd to see some thrilling racing at the next car meeting on 30 June, which included Mike Hawthorn, Tony Rolt, Eric Brandon, Tony Crook and Bernie Ecclestone.
Brandon took the 500cc Formula Three race in his Cooper, while Tony Crook won both the 10 lap sports car event and scratch race for 1501-2500cc cars in his 1501 Frazer Nash.
Top drivers and famous machines put Boreham firmly on the motorsport map in the early 1950s, when it became renowned as one of Britain’s premier circuits. One motorcycle racing official was so enthusiastic that he hailed the Essex course as ’a far better track than the one at Silverstone airfield’. Like all the world’s top motor racing circuits, each significant point was given a name – Hangar Bend, Waltham Corner, Tower Bend, Orchard Corner and Railway Corner all hold special memories for supporters in those halcyon days
Australia’s famous Ken Kavanagh took part in the next motorcycle meeting on 21 July, but it was a much more modest affair than the third and final meeting of the season, on 1 September, when John Surtees recorded his fine Chelmsford 100 victory.
The great John Surtees had his first motor cycle solo ride at Boreham. He and his father entered a race on 28 April 1951 and then teamed up for the sidecar event at the same meeting. Surtees, whose father’s christian name was also John, then showed real world championship potential in September of the same year, with a shunning victory over a class field in the ’Chelmsford 100’. Apprenticed to the Vincent factory in Stevenage, he won the 20 lap senior championship scratch race on one of their machines. It was a 500cc Grey Flash with a
simple push rod motor, which left the more experienced Manx Norton riders trailing helplessly in the pouring rain. John Surtees Senior and Junior teamed up again to take part in the eight lap sidecar scratch race at the same meeting. It seemed that Boreham was an attractive circuit to the rider who went on to prove unbeatable at times both in Britain and on famous circuits around the world. When he visited Boreham recently John was still able to describe the layout of the circuit with remarkable accuracy.
Meanwhile, motor racing had scored another success on 11th August, despite wet weather, and people were beginning to rate Boreham as Britain’s top track. Big name drivers included Roy Salvadori, Reg Parnell, Duncan Hamilton, Tony Rolt and Sidney Allard, thrilling a crowd of around 20,000, many of whom got in without paying.
One of the most colourful characters ever to grace the Boreham airfield track was Archibald Butterworth. He was the star of the first meeting’s speed tests in the 1951 season. A tall, immaculately dressed and distinctive looking man, Archie’, as he was affectionately known, was renowned for his great inventive skills, both in automotive interests and in the field of military armaments. In fact, the AJB car in which he stormed to success in the April Fools’Day event was one he had built himself. Unusual in design and with a four-wheel drive, its more than four litre unsupercharged engine was said to give such acceleration that he could reach 50 mph in just 50yards. There must have been something in the claims, for Archie averaged nearly 90 mph over the measured kilometre run, and was estimated to be travelling at more than 125 mph as he flashed past the post.
ERA driver Brian Shawe-Taylor won the main event, chased home by Rolt, also in one of the popular ERAs. Unfortunately, Rolt was robbed even of second place, when his engine blew up less than half-a-mile from the finish.
The 1952 motor car racing season opened with speed trials on 6 April, a notable achievement being by Mrs J.H. Sarginson, from Diss, Norfolk, who reached 120 mph in a Jaguar. She drove through gale-force winds and rain to beat her husband by five seconds. Roy Salvadori won the 1500-3000cc class in 31.8 seconds, driving a Frazer Nash.
Two new lap records were set at the motor racing meeting on 17 May. Mike Hawthorn achieved his 92.02 mph in the Cooper/Bristol, after Don Parker had done 84.25 mph driving a Kieft in the 500cc class.
Once again there were 20,000 spectators, but this total was exceeded on 21 June, when an extra 5,000 squeezed in to see Reg Parnell make up for his previous crash by driving a two litre Cooper/Bristol to victory in the Formula Two event.
This was quite a day, because in addition to Dennis Poore breaking Mike Hawthorn’s lap record, Ron Willis (BMW) at 85.5 mph, and Dick Jacobs (Frazer Nash) at 85 mph both smashed the two litre sports car record. Graham Whitehead (ERA), in winning the 10 lap scratch race, also set a record with an average speed of 92 mph.
Motorcycling started 1952 modestly on 26 April, with a National Race Meeting that attracted 211 competitors and demonstrated the continuing rise in popularity of the circuit.
There was a total entry of 197 for the 26 July National Meeting, sponsored by the ”Evening News”, when the number of races was increased from seven to 10. Most well- known rider was Reg Armstrong of Dublin, who just a short while previously had won the Isle of Man Senior Tourist Trophy. Ex-fighter pilot Les Graham of Chislehurst, who had finished second to the Irishman on the
island, also took part on the first four cylinder MV Augusta seen in this country.
Prize money of £500 was believed to be the highest total in Britain up to that time, and it was thought the meeting included the biggest assembly of star riders to meet in direct competition in Britain. By this time, spectator comfort had been improved to such an extent that new stands could seat 4,000. There were catering tents in every enclosure, and loudspeakers strategically placed around the circuit kept everyone up to date with what was happening.
Memories were revived of the Americans at Boreham, as many enthusiasts slept in tents around the track, to be in position for the start of racing the next day. The surface was in excellent condition and there was an abundance of colourful bunting to celebrate Ken Kavanagh’s record-breaking ride.
So the season’s stage was set for Boreham airfield’s biggest racing weekend to date, the International Festival of Motorsport, from 30 July to 4 August. What the jubilant enthusiasts did not know beforehand, of course, was that effectively it would mark both the climax and the end of motor car and motorcycle racing at the circuit.
Some measure of the meeting’s success can be gained from the fact that 50,000 spectators turned up, hotels and guest houses for miles around were fully booked, and the racing produced a host of thrills and excitement, even though a torrential shower of rain caused temporary problems.
West Essex Car Club again organised the motor racing, and the whole festival of motorsport was sponsored by the Daily Mail.
Drivers came from many different countries to contest the main motor racing event, the coveted Daily Mail Trophy, but despite the best efforts of top Britishers like Hawthorn and Ken Wharton, it went to Italy’s Luigi Villoresi in a monster of a Ferrari.
Everywhere there were signs of the international flavour of the meeting, with the flags of participant nations flying over the pits area. And the British did have something to cheer, as Ken Wharton, in a Frazer Nash, romped away with the 1500-2000cc event at an average speed of 84.49 mph.
His effort was emulated by Alan Brown in a Cooper Norton, who won the Formula Three 500cc race at an average speed of 83.86 mph. But as so often happened in its chequered but thrilling history, the main event proved a disaster for the BRM team, none of whom finished in the first three.
The motor racing ran for the first part of the weekend, followed by the motorcycle racing on 4 August, and the main event in this case was the British Championship Senior race for the Daily Mail Trophy, one of eight events at the meeting.
Kavanagh beat off the challenge of the ”strongest field of international racing stars seen at any motor cycle meeting in Britain since the war”, to take both the Senior and Junior titles, plus the Daily Mail Trophy.
His opponents included people like Fergus Anderson on a Moto Guzzi, the same machine on which he had won the IOM Lightweight TT, Rod Coleman of New Zealand and Ernie King from Australia, both riding AJSs.
The trophy was presented by Lord Brabazon of Tara, the pioneer aviator and keen motorist, at the time president of the Auto Cycle Union.
Lap records fell from meeting to meeting at Boreham, once claimed to be the fastest circuit in the country, and often in the thick of it was Mike Hawthorn, another driver in his early days who later went on to fame and fortune before his tragic death. After appearing in and winning races at the circuit in 1951, Mike chose the following May meeting’s main event, the Formula Libre, to set a new lap time best of 92.02 mph in a 1971cc Bristol-engined Cooper. Hawthorn’s joy did not last long, however, as at the very next meeting, Dennis Poore, driving an Alfa Romeo, went round in 94.41 mph. Even that performance was overshadowed by Italian star Luigi Villoresi, who completed the first 100 mph lap in Britain since the racing days of the famous Brooklands circuit. This was in practice for the Daily Mail Trophy race in the summer of 1952. Villoresi improved to another lap record of 103.45 mph at the same meeting, and drove his 4.5 litre Ferrari to victory in the prestigious race, at an average 82.83mph.
Great days, but when the excitement had died down, all that was left for what had become known in some quarters as ”Britain’s fastest circuit”, was the finale to the 1952 season and Boreham’s racing days – Chelmsford Auto Club’s last National Meeting on 23 August 1952.
A newspaper article dated 16 December 1952 announced that due to financial losses, it was unlikely that any more would be staged there.
So it was left to Ford Motor Company, who had been looking for a suitable site to use as a vehicle development centre, to start moving in during early summer in 1955, maintaining continuous occupation and a link with motorsport up to the present day.
A Ford Open Day at Boreham on 8 September 1984 featured a nostalgic parade by GT40 Motor Club members and other racing cars, recalling the exploits of the invincible Fords and the days of the slower and less reliable cars of the past.
Nearly two years later, on 15 June 1986, Boreham Proving Ground staged ”A Celebration of Motoring” to mark the 20th Anniversary of Ford’s first victory in the Le Mans 24-hour Classic, at which they were joined by other famous names in the history of motorsport – Ferrari, Jaguar, Bentley and many others.
So it was left to Ford Motor Company, who had been looking for a suitable site to use as a vehicle development centre, to start moving in during early summer in 1955, maintaining continuous occupation and a link with motorsport up to the present day. A Ford Open Day at Boreham on 8 September 1984 featured a nostalgic parade by GT40 Motor Club members and other racing cars, recalling the exploits of the invincible Fords and the days of the slower and less reliable cars of the past. Nearly two years later, on 15 June 1986, Boreham Proving Ground staged ”A Celebration of Motoring” to mark the 20th Anniversary of Ford’s first victory in the Le Mans 24-hour Classic, at which they were joined by other famous names in the history of motorsport – Ferrari, Jaguar, Bentley and many others.
West Essex Car Club
|Home | Top||
Maintained by "Crow"