Story Sunday: 1949 Lulsgate Race Meeting

In 1949, we secured the use of the Lulsgate Airfield, which is now Bristol International Airport.  We ran a race meeting on a circuit around the perimeter roads and down the runway.  There were 8 races featuring over 100 entries including names like Mallock (the amazing car designer) and Fry (from the chocolate family).  J. Norris won race 7 in his Bentley – is he related to Bristolian McLaren F1 driver, Lando Norris?  Anyway, here’s the period review from our 1949 journal…

Lulsgate Race Meeting

APRIL 16th

The Club, exercising its now notorious influence over the ‘Clerk of the Weather,’ enjoyed another warm sunny day for its first attempt at organising a circuit race meeting at Lulsgate Aerodrome on Saturday, April 16th.

Thanks to the very willing co-operation of the local office of the Ministry Of Civil Aviation, and the Manager of Bristol Airport, the event finally did come off, after much alarm, despondency, and that brand of hope deferred which maketh the heart sick.

It was a semi-private meeting, open to members of the British Automobile Racing Club, Bugatti Owners’ Club, Bentley Drivers’ Club, 500 Club, Vintage Sports Car Club, and of course our own members. We were limited to Sports Cars, Super Sports Cars and Racing Cars of 500cc capacity, but the enthusiasm among members of all the clubs was such that we had the very respectable entry of 83, which, including dual entries in more than one race, provided more than 100 entrants in all. We had the usual number of non-starters, but enough remained to make a very respectable turn-out.

In the very laudable desire to confine the activities to one day, the stage door was opened at 9 a.m. (for scrutineering) and practising was scheduled to begin at 10 0’clock. In actual fact competitors were rather slow in turning up, not really surprising in view of the distances some of them had to come, and the first practice runs began at 10.30.

This delay threw the start of the actual meeting back by thirty minutes, and the flag fell for the first race at 1.30 p.m.

The first race was a five-lap event for Sports Cars up to 1,100cc. and Super Sports Cars up to 850cc. and nine competitors got away on the fall of the flag to a very good start. A. B. Napper (Morgan 4/4-1,098cc.) quickly took the lead closely followed by S. E. Barnes (M.G. 74i-s), H. E. Roberts (Morris) and J. Weber (M.G. 847-s). These four held their lead to the end of the race, although two laps from the end Weber snatched third place from Roberts.

The second race was for Sports Cars 1,101-1,500cc. and Super Sports Cars 851-1,100cc., again five laps, had 16 starters (by special dispensation). This was the biggest field of the day and provided a very exciting event. J. Buncombe (H.R.G.), G. W. Best (M.G.), G. A. Ruddock (H.R.G.), R. Melville-Smith (in J. G. Martin’s Frazer-Nash), H. Lester (MG.) and Peter Scott (H.R.G.) fought quite a battle before finally sorting them. selves out into quite a widely-spaced procession.

Class (C), the third event, was another 5-lap race for Sports Cars and Super Sports Cars. Eight starters got off the line in a very impressive manner, G. C. Woods (B.M.W.) and A. M. R. Mallock (Austin-Ford) fighting for the lead, with G. N. Gee (11litre Riley Sprite) close behind. After one lap Gee moved up to the front and held that position for the rest of the race, while C. D. F. Buckler (Buckler) took third place.

The fourth race (five laps) for Sports Cars over 2,000cc. and Super Sports Cars over 1,500cc., had such a large entry that it was run in two heats. In Heat 1 Leslie Onslow-Bartlett showed right from the start that he meant to win, and took the lead in his Mercury-engined special to romp home ten seconds in front of the next man, J. Cripps in a Chrysler-engined special, with L. Leston 2.5-litre Jaguar equally far behind again.

In the second heat J. G. Fry’s very attractive supercharged 2.3-litre Bugatti, closely followed by J. M. James’s 4.9-litre of the same marque, held a comfortable lead from the start, and finished in that order with H. Kemp-mace’s 4.5-litre Bentley and G. F. Matthew’s 3.5-litre Jaguar in third and fourth places.

The next event was for 500cc Racing Cars and was the only ten-lap race. The entry, nine cars, was quite good, but only five faced the starter, the remainder having fallen by the wayside. J. F. Westcott (Cooper) made it clear from the outset that it was his race, barring accidents, and most interest centred around a ding-dong struggle between J. N. Gibbs(MAC.) and G. H. Millington (Milliunion), Gibbs having a better turn of speed, and Millington proving the faster on every corner.

After the tea interval, racing was resumed with the five-lap handi-cap for Bugatti cars. Four entrants was a disappointing total, and the handicapping presented quite a problem, as practice time generally led one of the time-keepers to remark that there must be some powerful attraction on the far side of the course, as they certainly came past him fast enough to warrant much better times.

However, all drivers got away to the fall of the flag, first man being J. F. J. Bosisto in a 3.3-litre, followed by H. Birkett in a vintage 3-litre at 15 seconds, I. M. James 45 seconds, and J. G. Fry 65 seconds.

Birkett dropped out in the second lap with a faulty fuel pump, and Bosisto held his lead to cross the line exactly one second ahead of James, with Fry, who had suffered after the first lap with a nasty hacking cough in the engine-room, 10 seconds behind again.

In the next race, a handicap for Bentley cars, a valiant effort to overcome a very Iong start was made by the very fast 4.5-litre car driven by H. Kemp-Place, but although he managed to put up F.TD., the lead of nearly two minutes was too much for a 5-lap race.

The meeting closed with a Bristol Members’ Race for cars of any size and shape, again run in two heats. This provided our only tie of the afternoon, Buckler winning Heat 1 and Onslow-Bartlett Heat 2 in 9 min. 47.2 sec.—what a pity they were not in the same heat. Times generally appeared to be slower in this race. Was it due to the sudden chill wind that sprang up, or were our friends thinking about keeping their cars in one piece to get home on?

So ended a very good day’s sport. May there be another one like it? We hope so. Thanks from the Club to its members who helped to make the event, and to those enthusiasts from the clubs who were our guests for the day.

Round The (Partridge) Bend at Lulsgate

Partridge Bend was situate in the middle distance in a north-westerly direction viewed from the start. I was fortunate enough to be there with an assortment of flags and a fire extinguisher of placid appearance. Speaking personally, the latter was the cause of the only major incident during an otherwise most enjoyable day.

The bend was some 100 yards in length during which the course turned through an angle of approximately 45 degrees (or 135 degrees whichever way you look at it). Anyway, it was acute. The outer half of the track was covered with fine grit and small loose stones. A certain M.G. driver discovered the lack of co-efficient of friction on this surface during practice and gave us a little entertainment by turning round twice. This was followed by a description of the course which must have been unduly biased—l couldn’t see much red colouration anywhere.

After a few laps most drivers realised the necessity of avoiding the loose stuff and concentrated on the inner half of the track. This provided quite a hefty bump on leaving the corner, but it was noticeable that, having chosen a particular path, a driver would religiously stick to it lap after lap, regardless. I suppose the idea’s sound, but in some cases it looked far from it. Birkett (Bugatti) tried the inside edge of the course but after a couple of practice laps, during which the offside wheels were coping with perimeter lights (convex) and drains (concave), he reverted to the track proper.

Having a stop-watch (borrowed), I besported myself with a spot of timing during the morning practice. Unfortunately, I can’t remember many times now, which isn’t very helpful, but Buckler’s Buckler and Onslow-Bartlett’s Mercury were consistently recording 1 min. 53 sec. and I min. 45 sec. respectively. One of the Roberts Brothers lapped in a resounding 1 min. 17 sec. This worried me not a little, until I realised that it’s always preferable to time the car rather than remember which brother Roberts is being timed.

During the racing ‘ proper’ in the afternoon the value of ifs was amply demonstrated on this particular bend- Napper’s Morgan was rock steady though his bearing metal seemed to have strayed from the odd rod after the first two laps. However, he pressed on, not rewardless.

Buckler, Onslow-Bartlett, Mallock (Austin-Ford), Westcott (Cooper), Fry (Bugatti) and H. E. Roberts (Morris) all made the corner look easy. The Morris reminded me of a car I once saw during my schooldays—a Delaunay—Belleville I think—not that it matters. Mallock must have thought it really was easy since he spun to rest during the Class (C) race when leading, I was pleased about this because it gave me the opportunity to wave 20 per cent of the flags kindly provided by the organisers. To show that this gyration was not Mal-luck (sorry!) the same car, different helmsman, repeated the performance later, finishing up backwards on the inner grass verge. In both cases it was away again with little delay showing quite phenomenal acceleration, associated, I believe, with ratio of power to weight.

The Bentley and Bugatti boys were most impressive. I feel sure Farthing (Bentley) attended the same school of motoring as Onslow-Bartlett. On this bend, his left arm controlled the direction-finding mechanism. elbow hoisted like a north cone, right arm rang the changes, whilst head, suitably adorned with reversed peak cap, was rotated through 180 degrees to ensure that no one was, in fact, following. I have wondered since just what combination of arms and/or gears would be used on a left-hand bend. Hay (Rolls-Bentley) lacked noise (which always has a psychological effect equivalent to about 20 m.p.h.), but was nevertheless fast and steady.

Cuff (Cuff Special) carved himself a new outer perimeter (grass) on one occasion, but otherwise managed to get round on the official track quite quickly.

Millington (Milliunion) had his usual run of bad luck. During practice he (or more accurately his engine) suffered seizure and much effort was expended in changing the necessary working parts. A private duel ensued during the race with Gibbs (Mac 500) which ended when Millington fractured a fuel pipe. He finally came to rest on Partridge Bend after the race with the undertray scooping up loose stones and the engine misfiring on one. Pity.

Godby’s Austin displayed an alarming amount of toe-out, and the last time I saw it the starboard radius rod was trailing, having, no doubt, given up the unequal struggle. During the Bristol Members’ race Scott (H.R.G.) followed Best (M.G.) throughout, making up to 4,500 revs. per minute efforts to pass. In desperation, during the last lap Scott sounded his horn most imperiously, presumably to indicate that Mr. Best should please either (a) move aside or (b) slow down a little, preferably (b).

After the final event and being a dutiful marshal I furled the flags and placed them, together with the placid-looking fire extinguisher, in the back of my vehicle. I suppose it must have been the desire to emu-late the maestros that caused me to try a spot of cornering, and I’m told it’s what the technicians call centrifugal force what really did it. Have you ever had a largish fire extinguisher all to yourself?

Round the bend, ah—well, who cares? Whichever this way was you the look at it, Lulsgate was an excellent show.  Here’s hoping this was the first of many.

J. Y. T.

1949 Lulsgate Track Map

1949 Lulsgate Race 1

1949 Lulsgate Race 2

1949 Lulsgate Race 3

1949 Lulsgate Race 4

1949 Lulsgate Race 5