Alistair Ford covered Scottish motor sport. The archetypal reporter, trained on the Greenock Telegraph, he was affable, popular, fair-minded and fun as in my picture of him with Anne Brown on some rally in the 1950s. As sports editor of The Motor World (founded 1899) Alistair rode round routes in the backs of rally cars, enlivening many miles sometimes uncomfortably squeezed into the boots of 2-seaters. He summed up the 1952 season The Autocar of February 20 1953. I’ve added some comments.
MY FILL OF DAYS by A.N. FORD
IT is my fortune to be one of the scribes of motoring sport with Scotland as my territory. At this time of year the hurry and scurry of press dates are forgotten, there is time to become re-acquainted with my family, and there are hours when I can put my feet on the mantelpiece and muse on a sporting season that has flown all too swiftly beneath my pen. Memory of the first big event of the Scottish season joins with the crackling fire to warm my bones.
There is talk of making the Scottish Sporting Car Club’s Highland Three Days a much tougher rally than it was in April, 1952. I am in agreement with some of the suggestions but, at the actual event, I was content to savour three magnificent spring days that were ablaze with sunshine; the landscapes of the braw shires of Perth and Stirling burgeoned fresh and green. I remember walking the quiet and well-kept gardens of Gleneagles Hotel early on Sunday morning with never a word written and not worrying overmuch. I remember motoring with A. K. Stevenson to a driving test on Gask aerodrome and discussing what a wonderful speed hill-climb the road up to Findo Gask would make were it not for the fact that it is a public highway. And from Gask to a regularity test at Yetts o’ Muckhart, with the sun beating in through the opened roof of the Sunbeam-Talbot and nothing for it but to stop at one of A.K.’s howfts, the Rumbling Bridge Hotel, before the pair of us went off to sleep.
We were fortunate with weather throughout the Scottish season, and the Scottish Motor Racing Club’s first meeting for half-litre cars was blessed with the kind of Saturday that the Met boys forecast as “fair and warmer.” The sylvan surroundings of Kirkcaldy’s Beveridge Park made an ideal venue for the 500s and, but for the narrowness of the track, there is no question that this little circuit would be difficult to equal.
Besides grand weather conditions the day also provided some very exciting sport, and I remember Ninian Sanderson’s very fast little yellow Cooper flashing round tree-lined bends like the proverbial lightning, winning two heats and the final besides clocking the day’s fastest lap. To add to the day’s excitement came the terrific performances of Charles Headland in his Kieft, which were to end in one of the season’s most spectacular crashes. While going “like the hammers,” the brake pedal snapped and the Kieft left the track at Raith Bend to bounce and overturn among the bushes. Headland was fortunate to escape with a collection of bruises.
On the morning of the following Saturday the wind blew with bitter persistence, chilling the very sun so that its ears shone redly in its shining morning face. And that was the morning I had chosen to go to Turnberry in Ian Hopper’s famous Hopper Special. (Ian Hopper was well-known in the Glasgow motor trade) This notable car meets most of the demands of the non-blown classes for sports cars up to 1,500 c.c., and its Lea-Francis engine, tuned to perfection by its owner, has a quite remarkable urge. The vehicle, however, offers all the protection of the sleekest and slimmest racing car you can think of. At the end of the fine Kilmarnock road, where I had watched the speedometer rise to really great heights at least twice, I was frozen to the marrow and, as I made my rounds of pit and paddock in search of titbits of information that are the essence of my job, I could hardly make a note of the replies.
The day, of course, improved, and was to add to my quota of memories with the delightful and easy style of Ian Stewart’s (IMM Stewart of Ecurie Ecose) fine win in his Jaguar and an epic struggle between the Coopers of Pat Prosser and Ninian Sanderson, and the Scottish-built J.P., driven by Joe Potts (of Bellshil, notable tuner of motorcycle engines) himself. This battle brought the crowd to its toes, and was resolved only on the home stretch in the very last lap, when Sanderson just pipped Prosser, with Potts a length behind. Three weeks later I was to make a delightful journey in the Frazer-Nash (a Le Mans Replica) owned by the young Glasgow driver, John Melvin. (competitor in the Monte and present at last year’s Scottish Veterans’ celebration)
We were for Crimond. The car had stood for some fifteen minutes outside the showrooms of Melvin Motors, but, even after that brief space, the leather upholstery of the bucket seats was warm to the touch and a cake of chocolate that had fallen from John’s pocket was fit only to be poured from its wrapper.
John idled his way through the five o’clock traffic of the city, but thereafter the miles flowed under the tireless wheels of the “Nash” in a smooth stream that was a tribute to the driver. There was a dream-like quality about that evening excursion as the golden landscapes changed unceasingly, with the buzz of Glasgow giving place to the slower tempo of Stirling and Perth, followed by the night’s gathering quietness in Coupar Angus, Forfar and Brechin.
Stonehaven and the sea again, with the caller air imbued with the qualities of chilled champagne and the good red earth of Aberdeenshire taking on a new magic as the sun sank gradually to rest. The coast road to Aberdeen flashed past and we were sitting in the dining-room of the Caledonian Hotel, with our waiter’s eyes popping as he heard when we had left Glasgow, and ever and anon taking a peep out of the window to have a look at the Frazer-Nash in the intervals between serving a meal fit for Lucullus himself.
On again in the soft gloom by Ellon to Peterhead, to take up residence in hotels where nothing seemed too much to ask of the staff. The time that we had saved on our journey was then frittered away in gossip and chatter about the sport, making it just as well that there was no really early rise for practice. It is so often the incidentals to the sport that are remembered—surroundings, personalities, pleasant encounters, comfortable sojourns in good hotels; a weekend losing some of its savour because of a poor hotel.
The hotels in Aberdeen and Peterhead that I have stayed in have always added to the fraternity that goes with the sport, and some of the meals I have eaten there have been out of this world. So it has been down in the Borders, and although it’s a far cry from Crimond to Charterhall, the following Friday night was to find me walking the streets of Berwick-on-Tweed at a late hour after a party given by the Winfield Joint Committee to welcome the drivers and their friends to the first national meeting at the Charterhall circuit.
My map tells me that Berwick-on-Tweed is an English town but never yet, in any of my visits, have I felt that I have stepped outside my territory. As I wandered the deserted walks by the Tweed the atmosphere and the surrounding scene were as Scottish as any I know and, remarkably enough, at the gathering I had just left Mike Hawthorn had reminded me irresistibly of the driver who was strolling by my side. He had been pleasant and friendly to everyone who spoke to him and seemed to have the same unassuming qualities as Jimmy Stewart—a Scots lad who, during the season, made his Healey Silverstone get round our circuits in a manner remarkably rapid. (Jimmy Stewart of Dumbuck was nominated by FRW “Lofty” England as Hawthorn’s co-driver for Le Mans, 1955)
From yarning by the banks of Tweed Jimmy drove me up to the top of the town before making his way to Avton. I was staying at the Castle Hotel, and this is surely one for your notebook. The next day’s sport was highlighted bv Hawthorn’s Scottish debut when, with his shirt tails flying behind him, he drove a magnificent race to win the most important event of the day.
For the rally enthusiast our Scottish Rally, organized by the Royal Scottish A.C., is the premier event of the year.
Out of a jumble of recollection 1 remember Miss Sadler’s immaculate Rover, so variously described as being lilac, pale petunia or magenta, and myself wanting to write—It Was A Mauve One!—and have done with it. I remember, too, the rattle that plagued our A.40 all the way up Loch Lomondside. If we stopped once we stopped half a dozen times, but it was only after lowering the car off the jack and reaching into the door pocket for a duster that we came across the tyre gauge lying unwrapped at the bottom. I remember, too, The Autocar’s A. G. Douglas Clease finding the apt description of an Austin A.90 in the braking test on Rest-and-Be-Thankful by saying, “And now, here comes the Courtesy Car.” (Ford-ese. He means "curtsey")
Close on the heels of the Scottish Rally came the two international speed hill-climbs, Bo’ness and Rest-and-Be-Thankful. At both of these events I was tremendously interested in Ken Wharton. Here, surely, is a very worthwhile British speed hill-climb champion. To watch him rounding Courtyard Bend and taking the notorious Snake on Bo’ness was to watch a craftsman at work. There is nothing easy about Wharton’s style, it is a concentrated essay in control, and always he gives the impression of a driver giving all the possible attention he can to the job in hand. (see picture in an ERA)
That was my impression and it was confirmed by his handling of the Cooper on Rest-and-Be-Thankful, where he followed his f.t.d. at Bo’ness by making a new record for the “Rest” on the very next Saturday.
Perhaps because they are enclosed within the boundaries of Kinneil Estate the Bo’ness meetings have a rather happy family quality about them. This was particularly obvious at the international meeting, but the tragic death of Ian Struthers took a great deal of the joy from the meeting for everyone there. The qualities of Rest-and-Be-Thankful are very different, for here is a magnificent and demanding hill-climb set amidst truly commanding scenery. And yet, one remembers such ordinary things as sitting in blazing sunshine supping ice-cream out of a carton and listening to F. J. Findon’s rather whimsical voice commentating on the misfortunes of “Lead Foot” Martin, the Australian hill-climb expert, who bent his Cooper on the railings at Cobbler Bend and finished the hill-climb on foot.
Amidst races, rallies and speed hill-climbs the R.S.A.C’s Veteran Car Run was a breath from another age. Just as the Emancipation Day run from London to Brighton attracts a tremendous interest in the south so the appearance of the veterans in Scotland is a signal for crowds to gather at every point on the route. I remember at the final rallying point in Ayr how the whole entry of vintage vehicles disappeared completely amid the throng of interested spectators.
I remember a race meeting when it did rain. This was the August meeting at Crimond, when, before the day was out it was coming out of my ears, having seeped its wat there from the soles of my feet. But even that day had its compensations in the tremendous duel that took place between Ninian Sanderson’s Cooper and Don Parker’s Kieft. This was one of those struggles for supremacy that stay in one’s mind for a very long time and I was “crawling real crouse” – as the old Scots saying goes - when Ninian went ahead of his English counterpart. This, of course was entirely wrong but even the most impartial of sports writers are human.
Always in memory will be that fabulously exciting sound that is the hall-mark of the B.R.M. And not only did we see them we saw them win! I know, I know; it was only a minor event, and the Daily Express Tumberry meeting was but a national one. I refuse to bandy words. Like every spectator at that meeting I wanted to see them win, and in the evening I went home with a lovely glow that owed nothing to the wine of the country.
It was at Turnberry also that I again took delight from driving of Stirling Moss. Surely there are but to equal this amazing young man. To watch him weave his way through a bunched-up field of competitors is to see real mastery, and to watch his line in taking a comer and his superb drifting technique is to see the driving of a car as an art. (the first motor race meeting I ever went to. Picture below - signed - with Iain Carson, school-chum of many years)
Memory drifts to a little two-day rally organized by the Falkirk and District Motor Club. This event provided one of the most attractive routes of the season, amid September landscapes heavy with harvest.
I remember sitting high up in the Campsie Hills and the loveliness of Campsie Glen in bright afternoon sunshine. I remember motoring through such little bien and snug places as Comrie, Lochearnhead and Aberfeldy. I remember roads by the side of Loch Earn and Loch Tay that wound and twisted to provide ever-changing glimpses of blue water, fields of golden grain, dark Scotch firs at the full, and the deep purple of heather staining the hills. I remember, too, the rushing waters of the Dochart at Killin that made a slight thirst seem utter parchedness.
In the same month was the Scottish Sporting Car Club’s Heather Rally, which explored southern Scotland in weather best described as variable. With rain dripping down my neck from the trees overhanging a test section I watched a look of horrible surprise spreading over the face of Shona Kennedy, wife of an official - as a competitor came downhill to the car in which she was seated as a check point, and was just that little bit too late with the anchors; that it ended in a most unpleasant scrunch at the rear of the Kennedy Wolseley.
I remember the long final route section on the Monday, when the rain-dulled landscape was cheered only by afternoon tea in the Galloway Arms, Crocketford, where we toasted our toes at a grand fire, munched home-baked scones and cakes, and agreed with William Lithgow who, back in 1628, wrote of the same spot: “I found heare in Galloway in diverse rode-way innes as good cheare, hospitality and serviceable attendance, as though I had been ingrafted in Lombardy or Naples.”
In October I was back again at Charterhall for the Daily Record International meeting—the very first international circuit event to be held in Scotland, for which great credit must go to the enthusiastic members of the Winfield Joint Committee.
For me this meeting was the ideal climax to a grand year’s sport. I remember the arrival in the paddock; no need to ask who had made the fastest lap, for there was the good Doctor Giuseppe Farina with a feather in his hat, a huge smile on his face, and a lightness of step that showed that he was on top of the world. I remember Bira (Birabongse, the Prince of Siam) looking very dapper in sky-blue overalls and tartan socks above his suede shoes.
I remember being slightly envious of the doyens of my own craft, up from London and able to be very blasé with the secure knowledge that there had been any number of international race meetings in their country. I remember the rumours of B.R.M. ignition trouble and their non-arrival until the last possible moment. I remember the growing excitement that was only eased by the two-minute signal, the drop of the national flag, followed by the sight of Jimmy Gibbon’s familiar Rover Special and the knowledge that the day had really begun.
And what a very fine meeting this was! How pleasant to recollect Ian Stewart’s lovely handling of his C-type (Ecurie Ecosse – Ian Stewart was a match for Moss) Jaguar that was to keep him ahead of Stirling Moss all the way, but how unfortunate to see Stirling have to take evasive action in his Norton-engined Cooper to avoid Johnnie Coombs, whose Cooper had lost a rear wheel at Karnes Curve, so that we still don’t know if Stirling could have won. But that’s motor racing, and there was to be a further example of it before the day was over. While lifting my check cap to Bob Gerard’s fine performance in his not-so-young E.R.A., I am certain that he, too, would be the first to say that the truly unluckiest man of the day was Ken Wharton, in the B.R.M.
This International Trophy Race was a most exciting forty laps in which Wharton drove magnificently, and throughout which the engine of his B.R.M. sounded a paean of triumph which was not to be. I remember the green car hugging Kames Curve. I remember it sweeping round Paddock Bend lap after lap after lap. And then, at the finish, in the very last lap, it spun at Tofts Turn to give Gerard the opportunity for which he, too, had striven so hard. The cup of B.R.M. misfortune was brimming over.
But that’s motor sport—the sport whose excitements, whose fortunes and misfortunes, whose triumphs and defeats are the never-ending interest that gives me “My Fill Of Days.”