By the outbreak of war Bentley was effectively out of work. His family firm had been selling cars but trading soon ceased. Cars still had to be serviced but with his business in ruins for as long, it seemed, as the war lasted, WO wanted to make the most of his great secret scoop. He had been one of the first to adopt aluminium pistons in the DFP in which he set ftd for his class at the Aston Clinton hill-climb. He set a ten-lap record at Brooklands for a 2 litre car at 66.8mph (107.5kph) and a year later, with L8 aluminium pistons, raised it to 81.9mph (131.9kph).
He now wanted to put this breakthrough at the disposal of the nation. It would be just the thing, he was sure, for high performance aircraft engines. He sought out Commander Wilfrid Briggs, head of the Air Engine Section, which liased between the Admiralty and the engine industry. Briggs operated from a small wooden office on top of Admiralty Arch and captured WO’s attention at once. “The only officer in the navy as clever as Briggs was the man who appointed him,” wrote WO, recounted in The Complete Bentley.
By June 13 1915, less than a year after the grand prix, Briggs had WO Bentley gazetted as a Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR), an elite bunch of civilian volunteers who obtained quick promotion for wartime officers into the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). Briggs sent WO to Derby, where Rolls-Royce was making air-cooled Renault aero engines, to meet Ernest W Hives (later Lord Hives) with whom WO formed a friendship that lasted 20 years. Engineer Hives soon had Rolls-Royce’s new 200hp water-cooled Eagle engines equipped with aluminium pistons.
Henry Royce was adept at meticulous improvement rather than radical innovation. WO was determined he should get to know more of his adversary’s engineering. WO recalled that in 1915: “…a friend of mine tipped me off that one of the Mércèdes racing cars, which had swept the board at the 1914 French Grand Prix, had got stuck in England at the beginning of the war and still rested at the Mércèdes showroom in Long Acre. I thought it ought to be investigated. So I told Briggs about it and together we went along, representing the British Crown so to speak, with a ‘search warrant’. The place was in a fine old mess, but down in the basement lay a 4½ litre Grand Prix Mércèdes. We had it dug out, and soon it was being taken to pieces by Rolls-Royce at Derby.”
There was no search warrant of course and accounts of the legitimate wartime larceny differ. In one WO towed the Mércèdes to Derby behind Briggs’s Rolls-Royce. In another he recruited his old school friend Roy Fedden, later a distinguished engineer at Bristol Aircraft, and the pair raced along empty wartime roads from London to Derby, before towing the 1914 racer into the Rolls-Royce factory.
The precocious young Lieutenant also recommended that Rolls-Royce examine the contemporary double overhead camshaft Peugeot racing engine.
Grand Prix cars only had five gears then and were racing round some unlikely places, like the Caesar’s Palace car park in Las Vegas, and inaugurating street courses in Montreal, Long Beach and Detroit. Lunch with Innes was always entertaining.
Whitehall, Birdcage Walk and The Mall are being talked about. Hyde Park was probably practical; Grosvenor House and The Dorchester would have been good viewing points. Decent breakfast and all-day bar. The Parliament Square picture was a product of artist Geoff Hunt’s imagination.
Nothing’s new really.
Jim Clarks and Sebastian Vettels, who have some magic ingredient that always makes them point something of a second a lap faster – or the Michael Schumachers who take risks on skis.
When it gets to actual racing wheel-to-wheel a driver needs an unusual degree of self-confidence, or maybe lack of imagination. It must get the adrenalin-flow that makes them face danger if not with equanimity at least with resolve. At that point it doesn’t much matter which sex you are.
Divina Mary Galica MBE held the British women's downhill skiing speed record at 125 mph so she could cope with speed. She took part in her first Olympic games at Innsbruck in 1964 aged 19, competing in downhill skiing and slalom. She was in the next two winter Olympics, at Grenoble in 1968 and Sapporo in 1972, both times captain of the British Women’s Olympic Ski Team, finishing in the top ten of the Giant Slalom. Aside from Olympic competition, Divina achieved two World Cup podium finishes downhill, taking third place at both Badgastein and Chamonix in 1968. She even returned to skiing at the 1992 Winter Olympics, representing Great Britain in speed skiing.
Divina was cross with me for downplaying her chances in Formula 1 although I tried not to buy into the idea that her reputation on snow and her looks engaged the sponsors. Yet even the staid old Guardian took any opportunity to carry her picture. She certainly had the right stuff and really was only a few fractions of a second off the pace.
Divina Galica, the former Olympic skier, is to try and qualify for the John Player British Grand Prix on July 18. She could be the first British girl to drive in a world championship Grand Prix should she lap the Brands Hatch Grand Prix track in around lmin.23sec in the Surtees TS 16, with which she broke five British speed records last week.
John Surtees is trying to complete a new TS 19 car for her to take part in the biggest test of her two-year-old career at the wheel, but she will probably still use the car in which she lies fourth in the Shellsports 5000 European Championships,
The chances of Divina reaching the starting grid in the Grand Prix are slim. There are 30 entries, 26 places on the grid, and it will only be if some cars fail to turn up, or have trouble during practice, that she is likely to take part in the Grand Prix - round nine in the 1976 World Championships.
Two years ago Lella Lombardi, the Italian girl driver who subsequently took part in a full season’s Formula One, was entered for the same race and managed a lap at 1min. 23.3sec. Although there were five cars slower, she failed to qualify for the race by a full second. Recent alterations to the track have slowed it slightly, and James Hunt’s pole position for the Race of Champions in March was 1min. 20.4sec., so Divina will need to aim for something between 1min. 23sec. and 1min. 23.sec., to reach even the back row of the grid.
Yesterday I asked what her best time in private practice had been round the undulating 2.61miles, but she confessed she had not yet driven the full course. Her longest race so far has been only three quarters of an hour, to the two gruelling hours a Grand Prix would take.
Imperial Tobacco Ltd will take their cigarette brand insignia off the cars they have entered in the Grand Prix, which means the John Player Lotuses will appear in plain black and gold, without the J.P.S. logo. This follows an undertaking given to Dr David Owen, Minister of State at the Department of Health and Social Security last November.
Throughout their two cigarette manufacturing units, John Player and Sons and W. D. & H. O. Wills, Imperial Tobacco are one of the largest sponsors of motor racing in the country. No similar undertaking has so far been given by Phillip Morris, the American company who sponsor the Marlboro World Championship team.
Divina Galica had a narrow escape from injury when she crashed her Hesketh on the first day of unofficial practice for Sunday’s Argentina Grand Prix. She went off on one of the fastest parts of the course, a 150 m.p.h. bend, and wrecked one side of her car against the safety barrier.
“I was trying out some suspension modifications,” she said later. “The car just turned round on me. It was very quick, and there’s really no explanation. We are getting the spare car ready for practice tomorrow.” Miss Galica had been having trouble getting down to a competitive practice time, and her accident might make it difficult for her. She needs to improve by seven or eight seconds - a big margin - to reach a qualifying speed.
She has been in Buenos Aires for several days, and so far has not posted a lap speed that would qualify her for the race. Mario Andretti (John Player Lotus), James Hunt (McLaren), and Niki Lauda (Brabham Alfa Romeo) were among the fastest drivers yesterday in good conditions, with a light breeze taking a little of the heat out of the strong sun.
Miss Galica was not the only driver who went off the road. Didier Pironi, the new member of the Tyrrell team, collected some catch fences on the right hand corner at the end of the pits, but damage was superficial.
Practice proper starts today with 24 starting places at stake for the 28 cars entered. It is already apparent that the winners will be those who pace themselves best on Sunday. Driving on the limit in this heat would, mean cars would be unlikely to survive two hours’ racing, even if the drivers did.
Tyres have gone soggy within a few laps, not so much from the influence of the hot asphalt, as the absence of the usual stream of cool air to keep their working temperature correct
Lap times until now must be treated with caution, because yesterday’s tests were more in the nature of a shake-down. Brake pads must be bedded-in, the gloss abraded off new tyres water and oil run through engines to make sure things are done up, but already there are signs to show who will be fast and which teams have tpo worry about starting places.
The military remains the biggest worry to the Grand Prix Circus. Like many other things in Argentina. The track officials take second place to the masses of heavily armed soldiery who stand about, taking on roles usually the preserve of police at European tracks, or as in Britain, volunteer marshals.
Good piece by Beverley Turner in The Telegraph today
because he couldn’t see through Fuji’s October fog. It was a brave decision. He returns to Europe for an operation to an eyelid which still does not close, a legacy of his Nürburgring injuries.
The season’s acrimony and protests will not be forgotten. The legal wrangles may have failed to get Lauda the drivers’ title, although they did gain Enzo Ferrari the constructors’ championship which, for the 78 year old Master of Maranello, is probably more important. His attachment to his cars is emotional and he remains the most powerful man in motor racing, Bernie Ecclestone and the Formula One constructors notwithstanding. They are no match for Ferrari, who directs events by remote control without ever leaving his shuttered industrial fortress on the plains of Lombardy.
Lauda’s courage will be remembered longer than his cavalier attitude towards the press, and the enthusiasts who tried to meet him or, pursue him for his autograph. The most they usually see is the closed door of his caravan,- or his helicopter as he flies back for more testing at Fiorano. Here, he hones his cars to perfection, and the moment he stops, as after his accident, their edge is lost.
James Hunt will be remembered for a calmness and maturity surprising to those who knew him in his early days. He is accessible, entertaining, and seems to drive racing cars because he enjoys it. No cool technician like Lauda, who may have his head and his heart in his driving, Hunt has his soul in it.
It is difficult not to draw a comparison between Hunt and Britain’s first world champion, Mike Hawthorn. Hunt has the same boyish good looks, the same easygoing manner, and the same sort of zest. You could never picture Jackie Stewart with a pint in his hand; there was never anything boisterous about Jack Brabham. Denny Hulme was positively monastic. Hunt’s talent is like Hawthorn’s, at its best against the odds and enjoying a challenge, and although occasionally inconsistent it stems from a natural athletic urge.
He is different from Jim Clark, who was shy and retiring. Clark’s talent amounted to genius, and he would take whatever car he was given and make it go faster than anyone else in the world; his sense of balance and accuracy of vision were so highly developed that he adjusted to the car not the other way round.
Jackie Stewart had natural talent too, but it was focused more on making the car suit him. His gift was precise communication with his engineers. He could describe how the car behaved and would have it constantly improved.
Graham Hill was a man of iron will, who won races with more courage and determination than inborn skill at the wheel. Like Lauda he recovered from a terrible accident, but Lauda added an understanding of the complex electronic test facilities Ferrari employs to match the car to each circuit before it reaches the start line.
Jack Brabham was a talented engineer, who knew his car’s theoretical limitations and would calmly experiment as he drove until he established what they were in practice. He almost invented the science of chassis tuning, adjusting ride height, spring rates and so on 17 years ago. John Surtees, champion in 1964 for Ferrari, was another practical driver, perhaps relying even more than Brabhani on how the car felt through the seat of his pants.
There will be no monasticism for the new world champion. He keeps in training, but by inclination, not stricture. He will be a successful ambassador for his country and for motor racing, with all the qualities of a classic schoolboy hero.
In an interview after the Japanese Grand Prix Lauda defended his decision to pull out of the race after two laps. “There is a limit in any profession or sport,” he said. “The cars are not suitable for driving through so much water. When logic tells you that things will not work right, to me it is the normal human reaction to draw the inevitable conclusion, not to say ‘I hope for a miracle’ - and a miracle it was, in my opinion, that there were no fatal accidents.”
FINAL WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP POSITIONS. Hunt (GB) 69, Lauda (Austria) 68, Scheckter (S. Africa) 49, Depaillier (France) 39, Regazzoni (Switzerland) 31, Andretti (US) 22, Lafitte (France) 20, Watson (N. Ireland) 20, Mass (Germany 19, Nilsson (Sweden) 11, Peterson (Sweden (10) Pryce (GB) 10, Stuck (Germany) 8, Pace (Brazil) 7, Jones (Australia) 7; Reutemann (Argentina) 3. Amos (NZ) 2, Stommelen (Germany) 1, Brambilla (Italy) 1.
Following the film RUSH and the Motor Sport retro video the BBC repeated its splendid Hunt/Lauda documentary last night with Simon Taylor, one of the stars of the film, who said “This is indeed a completely new documentary. It includes fresh interviews with Daniele Audetto, Alistair Caldwell, Niki himself, even James’ sister (who has never appeared talking about her brother before, apparently). I have only been allowed to see snatches, but they were enough to indicate that the researchers have managed to find some remarkable footage from 1976 that was new, as well as the old familiar stuff.”
Speed and horsepower climbed with the 3.0-litre V10s, before the switch to V8s for 2006. BMW probably reached 19,000rpm first in 2002 but engines had to do bigger mileages in 2004 and 2005. The top 2005 V10 was the Toyota, which ran to 19,200rpm and produced 930bhp. All the 2005 V10s exceeded 900bhp, probably not more than 950bhp except possibly the Honda.
Bamsey describes the astonishing performance of a Formula 1 engine. At 20,000rpm, the CA's piston acceleration was 10,616 g, while the load on each crankpin by piston and conrod reached 5937kg. Ballistic missiles can only manage 100g, while 5937kg is about two and a half times the weight of a Rolls Royce Wraith.
Race Engine Technology's full report of the Cosworth CA, in issue 73, spans 27 pages and can be bought from www.highpowermedia.com, or by calling Chris Perry on +44 (0)1934 713957.
Cosworth CA (top) and its great predecessor the Ford-Cosworth DFV (right)
James’s Guild of Motoring Writers’ Driver of the Year Award seems to have taken place in a seedy night club full of girls, rather than the RAC in Pall Mall. He won the title twice and the film portrays the trophy as a little silver cup, which it isn’t. Scorning formal attire while the rest of us sat applauding in black ties, he made a witty speech. Demoting the occasion to a night club missed the point. By turning up at the RAC in open-necked shirt and plimsolls he was telling us someting.
Still, the portrayals of James (Chris Hemsworth) (left above) and Niki (Daniel Brühl) are absolutely spot-on. Voices and mannerisms are completely authentic even if the script is careless. Alexander Hesketh’s sudden arrival and departure from Formula 1 was nothing like that, and the idea of “champers in the pits” as the extent of the team’s high living was nothing like that either. The most permissive censor would have blanched at the truth. Alexander was much noisier and heartier than his screen counterpart.
Louis Stanley was far more pompous and self-important, called everybody by surname. He even called Jackie “Stewart” in the ambulance after his accident at Spa. Yet the actor failed to catch “Big Lou’s” essential humanity. The film somehow misses Teddy Meyer’s excitement in Japan, holding his fingers up to tell a disbelieving James he was world champion.
Hard to believe Guy Richard Goronwy Edwards QGM is 70. After a glancing blow to Lauda’s crashing Ferrari, togther with Brett Lunger, Arturo Merzario and Harald Ertl, Guy stopped and went back to the burning car. In 1998 he told Autosport: “I could see him. I had time to run back and save him. It was very difficult. Petrol fires are awful and this was a big one. The heat and noise were incredible. I was running and thinking - do I really want to do this? The honest answer was No Way. But what could I do? Stop and walk back? The flames were so thick, I couldn't see the bastard. It was hot and there was choking dust everywhere. I knew it was now or never and with a desperate sense or urgency, and help from other drivers, feeling quite desperate, we were banging against each other, pulling, cursing and just struggling. His shoulder straps came away in my hands and it was incredibly frustrating, the heat was just so physical. I got hold of an arm and a good grip on his body and the little sod came out with all of us falling in a heap. We pulled him out like a cork from a bottle.”
Best line in the film? James to Niki: “You’re the only person I know who could get his face burned off and come out better looking.” Sums it up really.
So there were no works Cooper-Maseratis or Anglo-American Eagles, and BRM, Lotus, and Ferrari could manage only one car apiece. The field was further depleted on the Wednesday before first practice, when the JA Pearce Racing Organisation transporter mysteriously caught fire. It had been parked infield on the Club Circuit with two Pearce-Martins and a Cooper-Ferrari aboard, all of which were destroyed. Tony Lanfranchi, Earl Jones and Robin Darlington were left without drives, however Pearce emerged almost unscathed. Apparently he had the lot insured for £100,000.
I was photographing drivers on the grid with my big Rollieflex, a twin lens reflex with beautiful optics. When you got everything right it took superb pictures but getting everything right meant an exposure meter and, well, it wasn’t handy. Heavy and clumsy, it used expensive 120 film, so if you weren’t getting paid a lot for pictures it was not very commercial.
Mike Parkes (above) was driving a 1966 long-chassis Ferrari, a stretched one that suited his 6ft 4in. Ferrari was trying out various cylinder heads on its V12 in 1966-1967, quad-cams, two-valve, three-valve and Parkes had a new one in which the inlet and exhaust arrangements were reversed, so instead of exhaust pipes draped over the sides like spaghetti in the slipstream, they were bundled up in the middle.
Son of Alvis’s chairman, Mike had joined Ferrari in 1963, more as a development engineer than a driver, working up the 330GTC road car, but he quickly became a leading member of the sports car team. In 1961 he had been second at Le Mans with Willy Mairesse in a 250 Testa Rossa, and was successful driving Maranello Concessionaires’ Ferraris. In 1964 he won the Sebring 12 Hours, in 1965 the Spa 500Km and the Monza 100Km, gaining his place in Formula 1 when John Surtees departed Ferrari in a huff.
Parkes drove in four grands prix in 1966, coming second at Rheims on his debut (and only his second grand prix), had two dnfs, and then was second again in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. It was an astonishing start to what looked like a promising career. At Silverstone BRM had one H16 for Jackie Stewart, who matched Parkes in practice, and two V8s for Mike Spence and Chris Irwin. Lotus had a 2litre BRM V8 in Graham Hill’s car, a token entry while it was developing the Ford-Cosworth V8, which would make its sensational debut for Clark and Hill at Zandvoort a month later.
Parkes led almost the entire 52 laps to win the International Trophy, pursued by Jack Brabham (Brabham-Repco) and Jo Siffert in Rob Walker’s Cooper-Maserati. Stewart had kept up with him in the early stages until the BRM’s universal joint bolts sheared.
RIGHT Bruce McLaren (1937-1970) at the wheel of his McLaren-BRM V8, in which he finished 5th in the Daily Express International Trophy. Founder of McLaren Racing, he died at Goodwood in a freak accident with a Can-Am car.
BELOW Mike Spence (1936-1968) Already a veteran of four seasons’ grand prix racing, likeable talented Spence finished 6th in his BRM at Silverstone. A month after Jim Clark’s fatal accident at Hockenheim a year later, Spence took over Clark’s entry at Indianapolis and was killed in a practice accident.
Mastermind question. What have a world champion racing driver, an 18th century philosopher, and Munich 1938 in common with two Lincolnshire hostelries? Clue – the Scottish Borders. The pubs are the Hume Arms in Torksey and at South Kyme in the fens near Sleaford.
Lord Dunglass was a young parliamentary private secretary when he accompanied Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to Munich on his mission to avert war in 1938. The piece of paper Chamberlain waved to crowds on his return proclaimed that Hitler had no more territorial ambitions in Europe. Alas, it did no more than buy another year’s preparations for the war which, even then, was inevitable. It gave a year’s grace, time to build government so-called “shadow” factories in which Rolls-Royce would build Merlin aero engines, and Vickers-Supermarine Spitfires.
Dunglass’s title was a courtesy one. He was not entitled yet to sit in the House of Lords, but was able to stand for the Commons. The family had a long record of public service; his great grandfather was under-secretary at the Foreign Office in Wellington’s 1828-1830 government and Dunglass seemed destined for something the same until his parliamentary career was unexpectedly interrupted. When he volunteered for army service at the outbreak of war a medical examination revealed spinal tuberculosis. This consigned him to two years’ treatment, a lot of it spent in a plaster cast. His return to the Commons as MP for Lanark, and later Perth and Kinross, led to distinctions that included acting as Foreign Secretary during the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962.
Renouncing his family Earldom, Dunglass become plain Sir Alec Douglas-Home and in December 1963, following Harold Macmillan’s resignation, succeeded him as prime minister. Taunted by Labour leader Harold Wilson for being an aristocrat and the 14th Earl of Home, Douglas-Home dismissed the inverted snobbery with “I suppose Mr Wilson, when you come to think of it, is the 14th Mr Wilson.” Describing Wilson as “a slick salesman of synthetic science”, Douglas-Home derided Labour as, “the only relic of class consciousness in Britain”. His opponents retreated, saying that, “The Labour Party is not interested in the fact that the new Prime Minister inherited a fourteenth Earldom – he cannot help his antecedents any more than the rest of us.”
(the 14th Mr Wilson)
Alexander "Alec" Frederick Douglas-Home, Baron Home of the Hirsel (2 July 1903 – 9 October 1995) died at the family seat near Coldstream in the Scottish borders, not far from Chirnside, near Berwick-on-Tweed. It was here that the Scottish philosopher, historian economist and essayist David Hume (1711-1776) had grown up.
Hume was important in the period known as the Scottish Enlightenment. His father Joseph Home, an Edinburgh lawyer was a scion of the same Home and Douglas-Home dynasties that held six Baronetcies dating back to 1638. In 1734 David altered the spelling of his name and from the family home of Ninewells, Chirnside between 1754 and 1762 embarked on a writing career that included a 6-volume History of England, “From the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in 1688”. A wide-ranging work inspired by Voltaire, it covered more than kings, parliaments and battles and included a study of literature and science, noting the work of Francis Bacon, Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton. It contended that England had achieved “the most entire system of liberty that was ever known amongst mankind.”
At heart a Royalist, David Hume thought revolutions quite unnecessary, which led to his History being regarded as essentially Tory, emphasising religious differences more than constitutional issues. He was anti-Presbyterian, anti-Puritan, anti-Whig, and his portrait feature on the gable of the Hume Arms in Torksey is probably a cameo profile from an engraving in one of his major works.
(It could be mistaken for Adam Smith (1723-1790), (below) another notable figure of the Scottish Enlightenment, moral philosopher and political economist.)
That David Hume was not, however, directly connected to Torksey. This was more correctly Sir Abraham Hume, whose grandfather Robert Hume (1662-1732) of North Berwick in Scotland was yet another scion of the Home-Hume-Douglas dynasty. There were two Sir Abraham Humes, one 1703-1772, the second 1748-1838, and their property in Lincolnshire included Torksey, a manor belonging to Sir Jermyn Davers until disposed of to The Duke of Newcastle who, in turn sold it to Sir Abraham in 1748.
Enter John Cust (1779-1853), 2nd Baron and (from 1815) 1st Earl Brownlow. In 1810 he married Sophia, daughter and co-heir of the second Sir Abraham Hume. This brought Cust not only Torksey and South Kyme, where there is the other Hume Arms, but also under the will of her uncle the 7th Earl of Bridgewater, a lot of the Ellesmere estate in Shropshire, the Ashridge estate in Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire, and properties in County Durham and the North Riding of Yorkshire.
So, it seems, the arms of the Hume family were spread wide. The world champion racing driver? The connection is Chirnside (pop 1300), 9 miles west of Berwick-upon-Tweed and 6 miles east of Duns. Its name was said to be derived from a cairn on nearby Harelaw Hill. South of the Lammermuirs and north of the Cheviots it was the home of Jim Clark (1936-1968), who won the world drivers’ championship in 1963 and 1965. Born at Kilmany in the Kingdom of Fife, the Clark family moved to Edington Mains farm at Chirnside in 1942 when Jim was six.
Here he graduated from farm tractors to his father’s Sunbeam Mark III, started racing in his friend Ian Scott Watson’s Porsche and Lotus, before joining Team Lotus in Formula 1. One of the greatest drivers of all time, Clark set records in his eight year career that have only recently been broken by virtue of the proliferation of grands prix.
ebook Jim Clark, Tribute to a Champion. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jim-Clark-Champion-Eric-Dymock-ebook/dp/B004U35A9E
Brinton was motoring correspondent of the News Chronicle and chairman of the Guild of Motoring Writers in 1967. He wrote a few books, one ostensibly in collaboration with Jim Clark for a sponsor, but as he got older and commissions dwindled he grew embittered and standoffish. Gordon Wilkins (1912-2007) had a distinguished career of more than 70 years. On the way back from the 1939 Berlin motor show, he and a colleague attempted to achieve 100 miles in the hour in a Lagonda V12. “Sadly we couldn't quite make it, because Hitler hadn't made enough road. It was almost in the bag until right at the end we ran out of autobahn.” They achieved something over 98 miles in the hour.
Gordon went to the opening of the Volkswagen factory at Wolfsburg in 1938 and remained active as a motoring writer well into his 90s. During the war he joined the research department of the Bristol Aeroplane Company and in 1944 worked with Sir Roy Fedden on an ill-starred and difficult car with a rear-mounted sleeve-valve radial engine. The Fedden project foundered in 1947 and Gordon joined The Autocar, where he became technical editor. In 1949 he drove a Jowett Javelin in the Monte Carlo Rally, and in 1951 driving a works Jowett Jupiter (as below) finished tenth overall and second in its class. At Le Mans in 1952 Wilkins won his class in a lightweight Jupiter. Fluent in French and German Gordon left The Autocar in 1953 for a prolific career in Europe, notably as English editor of the authoritative Automobile Year.
His career as a racing driver included driving at Le Mans in 1953 a Special Test Car Austin-Healey NOJ 391 – chassis No SPL 224/B with Belgian Marcel Becquart. Just after scrutineering it was rammed by a truck, suffering damage impossible to repair in time, so its engine, brakes and all scrutineer-stamped components were transferred to spare Special Test Car, NOJ 393 - chassis SPL 226/B, which the Healeys brought to Le Mans “as insurance”. They finished 14th. Bonhams is selling its twin NOJ 392 in the same sale as the Mercedes-Benz.
Between 1964 and 1973 Gordon was a presenter on BBC2TV Wheelbase. I count writing voice-overs for him and colleagues Maxwell Boyd and Michael Frostick as a career highlight.
From 1980 to 1992 Wilkins and his wife, the formidable Joyce his professional partner, moved to rural France. Afterwards they lived in a palazzo in northern Italy, thanks to their friendship with an Italian count. The Guild of Motoring Writers honoured Gordon on his 90th birthday and was treated to a somewhat rambling speech, which is remembered with affection. Affable, urbane and with an engaging modesty Wilkins was a doyen of the profession.