by Robin Gray
Many of the longer-standing members of the 750 Motor Club will remember Ken and Marian Hart’s very active involvement in The Brooklands Centre for over 30 years in “Daisy”, their much-travelled yellow tourer.
Marian graduated in chemistry from Cambridge and immediately went to work for Beecham’s at its research centre in Surrey where she spent the rest of her working life. She was part of a team which discovered the penicillin nucleus thereby allowing the synthesis of semi-synthetic super penicillin which greatly enhanced the effectiveness of this new wonder antibiotic.
Daisy was noticed sitting on top of a pile of cars in a scrapyard near Reigate in 1955 as they rode past on Ken’s motorbike. A deal was done and Daisy thereafter became an enormous part of their lives as they spent most of their holidays touring all over Europe in her, usually with Marian at the helm. They were both heavily involved in organising the series of Brooklands’ Centre rallies to European principalities. Marian also became the Chief Marshall at Hyde Park for the London to Brighton Run and they never missed attending the National Rally at Beaulieu in Daisy.
Marian was forced to retire from the Committee of The Centre when, sadly, Alzheimer’s Disease took hold and she spent the last few years in a care home. Custodianship of Daisy, meanwhile, passed to the safe care of Barry and Sue O’Sullivan.
by Richard Perkins
With the passing of Ken Hart on August 4th at the age of 90, The 750 M C and the Austin Seven movement has lost one of its most versatile and interesting characters. In his working life Ken was an engineer who could be relied upon to come up with an original solution to almost any practical problem. He was an 'ingenieur', as the French and Germans write it, in the true sense of the word and never more so than when he was 'dickering' with his 1931 Austin Seven four-seat Tourer, Daisy.
Ken bought Daisy in 1954 from a scrap yard in Reigate, Surrey and set about turning her into a continental Grand Tourer. He and his wife Marian campaigned Daisy at rallies throughout Europe winning many awards for both Concours and Performance. Marian was usually No.1 driver and Ken acted as riding mechanic and navigator. Together they entered such prestigious events as the Escargot D'Or, and the Paris-Deauville Rally and they dashed back to London with the Beaujolais Nouveau on many occasions.
Once a Brooklands Centre member returned from Boulogne and reported seeing a flying-helmeted Marian urging Daisy, tyres howling, round the old Grand Prix circuit. Yet to follow them on the public road, 'sedate' is rather too vigorous a word for their progress. As they undertook most of these events entirely alone with no back-up, Ken's ingenuity was often needed but he was no purist. Daisy's present owner reports that a temporary electrical fix sometime in the distant past and somewhere in the South of France not only got the Hart's safely back home but was then left unaltered until a small fire broke out under the back seat last year. He continues to find 'Ken-isms' about the car and particularly likes the direction indicators which utilise re-cycled jam jar lids.
Ken came on the Brooklands Centre Run to Monte Carlo in 1974 and very shortly afterwards joined the Centre and The 750 M C. This was the start of a long and fruitful period for both Marian and Ken in the service of the Centre and the Club. Before she fell ill, Marian was The 750 MC Chief Marshal at Hyde Park for the start of the VCC London - Brighton Run. She, with Ken, was awarded the Murray Pacey Award for services to the Club in recognition of this work.
Ken had a puckish sense of humour. He, Marian and Daisy attended Beaulieu regularly for many years and collected The Joan Cox Trophy for the car in longest ownership several times. Once the BBC made a film about the National Rally at Beaulieu and naturally Ken was interviewed sitting beside Daisy. The usual questions were asked and then the inevitable "How much did you pay for her?" "Oh" said Ken "Twelve pounds ten shillings" and then after a suitable pause added "I dare say she might be worth twice that by now." When talking with Ken you always had to take care that your tail was not being gently tweaked.
Ken was also a talented artist. He improved the Brooklands Centre logo and designed the art work for two of the Centre's coffee mugs. One of these features an ingenious design of five different models of Austin Seven with six wheels between them. You have to see it to understand it.
For the past year, Ken had been in a residential home but he was always pleased to hear about Austin Seven events and of Daisy's progress in particular. Ken had no children but is survived Marian. Sadly she is suffering from a long-term illness and is living in a nursing home in Surrey. Our condolences are sent to her, Ken's nephew Peter, and other members of his family.
Barry (and Sue) O'Sullivan own DV8491 - aka Daisy - and Barry writes in memory of Ken Hart,
who died 4th August 2013, aged 90.
Ken and Marian Hart's ownership of their 1931 Tourer coincided with what might be called the second golden age of the Austin Seven. At the start of the 50-odd years they owned her Daisy was the pre-war banger for the impecunious, and by the end she was both collectable (by the discerning) restorable and, eventually, an investment. She even appears on page 15 in the book 501 Cars You Must Drive.
As a Brooklands Centre irregular I knew Ken and Marian as part of the team that helped make it the group to belong to, and always in the background was their primrose-coloured car. It wasn't until 2007 that a chance conversation led my wife, Sue, and I to meet Ken with an eye to buying Daisy. The deal - if such it was when it was obvious that we were getting a slice of motoring history - was done and at the end of a good pub lunch we become her new keepers.
Ken was generous with his advice, memories, anecdotes and spares, and in no time we had two or three of everything (albeit, often broken, faulty or indistinguishable under layers of oil and grease). Visits to Ken - to show him that Daisy was in good fettle - ended with the photo albums where Marian in her distinctive headband and Ken in a deerstalker could be seen rubbing shoulders with Bugattis, Lagondas and other exotic fare on the Escargot D'Or rally or in Deauville, Paris, or Monte Carlo.
Daisy was their passport to adventure. Judging by the photographs and cine films they took their favourite holidays were taken on the smooth, rolling roads of Normandy and Brittany, with asides to Germany, Andorra, Sardinia, Corsica, San Merino Jersey, Guernsey, and Lichtenstein; and they contributed hours of planning and letter writing - essential in the days before the internet - to the Brooklands Centre expeditions of which they were an essential part.
It has been said elsewhere that Ken was an engineer and it is a tribute to his skills that he kept Daisy on the road for all those years. There was a body-off restoration in the 80s (fully documented, bills and photographs of course) and various planned and unplanned repairs and replacements over the years. There were also the bodges and dodges beloved of the Austin Seven owner who likes to do his own car maintenance. Indicators were added - at shoulder level, attached to the windscreen supports - using jam jar lids, and perfectly serviceable they were too: and distinctive! The wiring was eccentric and frequently changed colour from one side of the car to the other. On-board spares covered every eventuality and a half-shaft was slung from the bonnet hinge. Daisy was loved and cossetted and every outing was recorded and remembered by the fireside in the winter months.
In the five years we have owned her Daisy has been put back to a more orthodox, factory standard, but with a few tweaks of our own and in 2012 we took her to France on the Fougeres Rally where she performed faultlessly. Her finest run was a cross country dash in the company of two 30-98 Vauxhalls whose owners complimented us on her performance and style. In the way that Marian and Ken did: Sue drives, I navigate.
I have on my desk a broken con-rod mounted on a plinth with a plaque that reads 'Daisy's first tow home in 60 years' The date in 1991 is, significantly, the 4th August.
Ex-Austin Seven 750 Formula racer Graham Currie talks about
50 years of varied sporting life
Graham Currie has gone full circle. After racing bicycles in the early fifties, he is back on his pushbike 50 years later, after enjoying 30 years of racing karts, sail boats and Austin Sevens. Graham thought he had given up cycle racing when he joined the army at 18 years old to do national service in REME as a vehicle mechanic, but he was soon back on the bike to avoid the army’s obsession with football. A posting to Egypt led to mechanicing on tanks and riding in amateur motor cycle trials. When he finished in 1953, he returned to Cheshire where he met his future wife Betty, and bought his first car, a 1934 Austin 7 Opal 2 Seater for £70. It was the only car he could afford then, as he was only earning £8 a week as a salesman, but this car led him to the North West Centre of the 750 Club. Shortly after, he swapped the Opal for a fast but brakeless Ford 10 engined Special, swiftly followed by a Buckler (an early kit car) in which he took part in his first race at Oulton Park. Hooked, he decided to try 750 formula racing. In 1956 he sold the Buckler and built an Austin special from a heap of bits bought from a Club member and about three Austin 7 saloons, bought for 50 bob (£2.50) each. Graham then spent many winter months in the garage building the Special while Betty sat on an oil drum polishing heads, manifolds and even the carburetor butterflies (so the car would go faster!). Once the Special was roadworthy, it only cost £1/2/11d to tax every quarter. (Graham still has the original logbook!) An RAC Racing Licence cost 7/6, the same as a dog licence, and you didn’t need a medical certificate in those days, you just had to be able to breath.
The Special boasts twin SU carburetors with an alloy head and Bowden independent front suspension. The body is made of aluminum and the rear is, believe it or not, a nosecone from a De Haviland Venom jet fighter plane! Graham and a friend Guy Martin bought three 9 ft long nosecones for 7/6d each from a sale at an RAF maintenance unit in Cheshire. The rear of a Special is the most difficult part to make as a good panel beater is required, but Graham thought the jet nosecone, when cut down, was ideal. In 1957 Graham raced a whole season with no wins, but it was a good learning curve for him. After spending the winter modifying the car, he finished one Friday evening at 6pm. The following day was to be the first race of the season at Silverstone (180 miles away). But the car, with new pistons and bearings, had to be run in before racing, so a group of friends rallied round and took turns in driving the car round all night – waking each other up when it was their turn. The next morning Graham and Betty drove to Silverstone, a four hour journey on hardboard seats, to complete the running in process. All was worthwhile in the end as he took his first race win and still has the article from the May 15th 1958 edition of the County Express to prove it! Uncannily, the article next to it is about the closing-down of the RAF maintenance unit in Cheshire… where Graham bought the nosecone!
Graham went on to win other races at Silverstone and Brands Hatch, and with other placings and several "blow Ups" came second in the Goodacre Trophy national 750 Championship. Also that year, he took part in the 750 Motor Club 6 Hour relay race at Silverstone, as a member of the NW Centre team with Dave Rees, Lionel Hockney and Guy Martin. In the event three of the cars couldn’t stay the course, and the race was completed with all four drivers sharing the ultra reliable Rees Special. It’s still fast and reliable to this day! The programme shows that other teams that day featured a Mr.Jim Clark and a Mr.Graham Hill in their lineup. Does such talent lurk among today’s 750 Club entries?
Due to the club’s practice of arranging racing for the impecunious enthusiast, a policy that continues today, these events attracted people with the talent to design and build their own cars, often on a shoestring. Many of these personalities went on to form the mainstay of Formula One and other top classes of racing of later years. Colin Chapman of Lotus, Eric Broadley of Lola, Mike Costin and Kieth Duckworth who became Cosworth, Derrick Bennett of Chevron, and Len Terry, one of the most successful designers of all, were to be found in the paddock at 750 Motor Club Meetings in the '50s. Graham and Betty made great friends over the racing years, and Betty, when not timekeeping, was often seen happily cooking for the racers and helpers over a small gas ring in the paddock. Some are still friends today so the food must have been OK. Graham finished racing his Special in 1958, and sold the car for £200 to finance his and Betty’s marriage. In 1995 (thirty-seven years later), Graham happened to be perusing a bookshop in Brands Hatch and found a copy of the November 1958 edition of Autosport where he had advertised his Special. It was advertised and sold for £200. For twice that, in the same edition, you could have had a Grand Prix Bugatti!
Still bitten by the racing bug, but with no money to take part, luck came Graham’s way when two ex-racing friends started a business manufacturing Go-Karts when Karting first arrived in this country from the States. They offered him a free Kart to drive in exchange for him tuning and maintaining the three works machines. These Maykarts quickly became front runners and the team enjoyed many successes during the next three or four years. The best part was that in the first year of British Karting, prize money was allowed and he found it was not unusual to be able to win more money racing on Saturday than a week’s wages at the day job. Being paid to enjoy yourself is surely everyone’s dream. Graham then, in the early sixties, went on to sail and race all kinds of boats, from his own dinghies to other peoples yachts and he continued this passion on and off for 20 years, with the singular distinction of never winning a race! He has also enjoyed, if that’s the word, a couple of trips crewing in tall ships. Then in 1982 he discovered a passion for skiing, and he and Betty have been enjoying this sport ever since!
Other forms of motoring fun have included navigating in night rallies in open cars in North Wales, made no easier by the fact that most of the signs start Llan&hellip, and bouncing up long muddy rocky hills in a friends Dellow in M.C.C. classic trials like the Edinburgh and the Exeter.
In 1984, out of the blue, he had a phonecall from Dave Rees, veteran Cheshire racer from 25 years back, who had been scouring ball-bearing companies in the Yellow Pages in the hope of finding him. (Graham was in the bearing business for over 30 years) Dave had found Graham’s old Special in a barn in Bolton, Lancashire! Graham went to visit the car and his children, who had never seen it, persuaded him to buy it back. He bought the car, in a semi-derelict state for £400 and re-joined the club. Since then, Graham and Betty have been enjoying trialling in the Special and going on rallies and local club events. Every year they host the much-loved Buttercup Bounce in their garden, where Brooklands members barbecue lunch, drink wine, then spend the afternoon racing around the buttercups with buckets on their heads! Graham’s grandchildren can be heard yelping with delight as their Grandad whizzes them round the field in the Special.
Graham has been a member of Brooklands Centre for 20 years. His first club-night meeting and first outing in the rebuilt Special was at the Hand and Spear Pub near Weybridge, and it turned out to be a rather memorable event. While he was chatting with fellow members over a beer, his Austin was seen to be ablaze in the car park. The electric fuel pump had caught fire, but in line with the generosity to be found in this Club one of the members sacrificed his pint of bitter to quench the fire, another produced a spare piece of petrol pipe and some wire and the car was road worthy again in no time.
Graham had an unfortunate brush with prostrate cancer recently but fought back, and went on to cycle 500 miles through France from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean for charity. He raised an incredible £14,000, all from personal donations from friends and relatives, including many 750 Club members. The money was used by Blazer, the prostate cancer charity, to purchase a centrifuge for use in cancer research at Guildford Cancer Centre.
Graham says he’s been a member of the 750 Club for both ends of the last fifty years, starting in the North West Centre and finishing (but not yet!) in the Brooklands Centre. Nothing has changed. You meet, and always did meet, good, practical, down to earth, genuine friends, who will lend you a hand, lend you a spanner or even lend you their prized car.
The next event to savour will be the "Robin’s holiday" a tour through the Pico’s de Europa, this time in Graham and Betty’s "other car" a Marlin Roadster.
Graham’s motto – The one who dies with the most toys, wins!
Claire Norman – Brooklands Centre
Robin Deacon talks about filming for Top Gear
and his grandfather Freddie Henry
(former president and chairman of the 750 motor club)
Robin Deacon's grandfather Freddie Henry was former president and chairman of the 750 Motor Club and used to judge all the entries at Beaulieu every year. After Freddie passed away, Beaulieu named one of the trophies after him and every year Robin's mother is invited to present the trophy to the winner of the class, and the family make it a day out. Ever since, the family, especially Robin and his sister, have had a keen interest in Austins and Robin decided to continue the tradition of Austin ownership in the family and bought a replica Red Austin Ulster 1932 (chassis with a new aluminium body) in July 2003. He took the car to Beaulieu for the first time in 2004.
Freddie Henry was interested in cars from an early age and was driving from the age of seven! When he was 8 years old, he was out driving his parents one day but they were suddenly pulled over by the police, who asked them to give a drunk man in a pub a lift home! Robin's granddad's interest in Austins started when he was walking past a pub in Hammersmith one day and saw a couple of chummies outside. He went inside the pub and started chatting to some members who were holding a club meeting. Freddie then applied to be an Austin apprentice at Longbridge, and later became president and chairman of the 750 Motor Club.
As for Freddie's grandson, Robin is a cameraman and works with a specialist camera company who mount cameras on go kart drivers, cars and aeroplanes etc! Robin took part in filming two Top Gear programmes. Last summer the producers of Top Gear performed a stunt by getting a parachutist to jump out of an aeroplane and land in an open-top Mercedes which was driving at 40mph along the runway under the plane! A camera was mounted on the parachutist's head and other cameras were mounted on various parts on the exterior of the car. A camera was even mounted on the bonnet of the car which looked back so you could see him dropping into the car as he landed! During another Top Gear programme, a jumbo jet was parked on the runway at Prestwick (in Scotland). The brakes were applied and the engine turned on at full blast, and catapulted (by a hydraulic ram) cars across the runway behind the engines as Top Gear fancied seeing how a Mondeo and a 2 CV compared, which one would be trashed the most (going into the slipstream and getting blown down the runway! Cameras were mounted in the cars, and on various parts of the aeroplane looking back. (Large industrial suckers that are lever-operated attach the cameras onto cars.)
Last year, Richard Branson attempted to break the world record (by time) by crossing the channel in an amphibious car. He drove dover to Calais in 1 hr 40 mins (previous record 6 hours) in a Gibs Acuardo, a purpose-built sports car/boat. Robin attached cameras to the car, and Robin was supposed to go in a Press Boat to see all the action, but missed this boat, so ended up in the RIB boat (big orange lifeboat) instead going alongside Branson! On arrival at the beach, Robin got a slap-up meal paid by Virgin, and then was bundled on a ferry back to Dover!
Robin has also worked with cameras on a children’s Saturday morning TV show, and mounted cameras on go-karts and radio-controlled helicopters etc. Robin has also worked for programmes 'Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway' and 'You've Been Framed' by fitting hidden cameras in various places. And he once had to fit five cameras to Gerry Halliwell's (Spice Girls) Mercedes but this was such a fiddly job (installing fake speakers with cameras mounted inside), it took him and his colleague 14 hours to finish the job!
Claire Norman – Brooklands Centre
Click here to see tribute to Freddie Henry.
Val Biro is the author of the famous "Gumdrop" stories. Gumdrop is a 1927 Austin Heavy 12 tourer and in some of the stories adopts magical powers.
We bought our A7 Box in 1982 when daughter Wendy was 3½. Familiar with the Gumdrop stories she christened our A7 Box "Gumdrop" because of the colour. When she was at primary school in Clandon, Val Biro paid one of his visits to the school in the real life Gumdrop and told the children stories. I was fortunate to be asked to entertain Val over lunch and took the opportunity to take a photo of the real Gumdrop and our "Gumdrop". Val autographed one of Wendy’s Gumdrop books "to the little Gumdrop".
20 years later Val took part in the "Ups and Downs" rally and outside the Devil's Punchbowl café he kindly allowed me to take a photo with both "Gumdrops". As he said the real Gumdrop’s hood has faded over the years along with his own hair.
On 25th November 2006 Nigel and Wendy entered the VSCC Cotswold trial, run for the first time since 1938. This was their first VSCC trial and so they were in the Newcomers class. They borrowed Peter Flood's Ulster (which Nigel had modified for trials for him) which performed absolutely fabulously and as a result Nigel and Wendy won the Cotswold Cup for best Newcomer performance with a score that would have given them at least a 3rd class award had they been in the "big boys" class. Well done Nigel and Wendy!
VSCC Cotswold Trial
The Coulters' cars:
1925 Austin 7 Chummy
Jointly owned with Brian Fordham – bought from Robin Gray Feb 2003. Used for navigation rallies, trials (VSCC Light Car) and general trips.
1925 Humber 12/25 tourer
Bought in 1998, has been dormant for 25 years in a coach house in the New Forest. Used for tours and rallies.
1925 Salmson VAL3
Jointly owned with Brian Fordham. He has had it for over 40 years and the rebuild is in its 35th year. This is an interesting car – 1100cc 4 push-rod engine, solid rear axle, no front brakes. Salmson started car manufacture in the early 20s by building GNs under licence. They developed a very successful grandprix twin OHC engine from this 4 pushrod engine. The British Salmson (only 300 built) used the same twin OHC configuration.
'Optimism' – 1974 MG Midget
Rescued from a scrap yard 3 years ago, since then it has been actively campaigned at National level in the MSA PCT Championship. Winner of the ASWMC PCT Championship 2004.
'Guy' – 1963 Austin Mini Cooper "S"
Owned since 1981. Previously owned by George Holland who won the RAC National Autotest Championship in this car during 1973. Featured in Nigel Edwards Classics in Colour Book on the Mini Cooper S. Picture taken at the start of the 1991 Star Rally, which we went onto win.
'Uhie' – 1960 Morris Mini Minor
Owned since 1970 (first car after we got married!) – used when participating in 750 events as it just about manages to keep up and not embarrass the '7s' it is travelling with.
'Nymphie' – 1960 Morris Mini Minor
Used as a competition car since purchase in 1969. Now brought up to full Mini Cooper 1275 'S' Specification. Won the BTRDA PCT Class Award in 1997, and currently being used for Classic Historic Rallying.
Austin Seven Special 1935
Used for hill trials. Highlight of Claire's life – driving on the banking of Brooklands old race track!
Poppy 1935 Austin Seven Tourer
Owned since 1985. Have been to Picos d'Europa mountains in Spain, Norway, Sicily and all parts of France (many times!) Once when they were going round a roundabout, Judy fell out of the door and wasn't too impressed when Len screamed "Mind the bloody door!"
1953 MGTD owned since May 2005 (Judy, not Len's car!!)
The French Alps 2006