Intrepid Frazer Nash Supersports ace Charles Gillett is still ‘King of the Dunes,’ having successfully defended his Motor Racing Legends Pre- War Sportscar crown with the help of Eddie Williams as a dozen enthusiastic teams took to the fabulous seaside circuit of Zandvoort at its sixth annual Historic Grand Prix event on September 3.
The British chain-gangers got off to a flying start in the sunshine and were chased all the way by the ever-combative German Rudi Friedrichs in his Alvis Firefly 4.3, spannered by best buddy Wolfgang Kalf. Bentleys comprised half of the field, WO’s marque’s top rep Clive Morley shaking off strong early opposition from Chris Chilcott (Frazer Nash Fast Tourer) to land a strong third in his faithful 3/41⁄2.
A catalogue of issues unfortunately meant that last year’s superlative 17- car field was not repeated, despite excellent feedback from 2016’s pioneers. Nevertheless, the determination of Steve Smith to make the show with the crowd-pleasing Hotchkiss AM80 following a major engine failure in our Kidston Trophy race at the Silverstone Classic, barely a month previously, was the talk of the paddock.
“A cam bearing turned, cutting off its oil supply, cracking the block,” said Steve. “I had the engine out and stripped on the Monday, took the block to the laser welder in Portsmouth on Tuesday, delivered it and the new bearing material to the line borer on Thursday, straightened the cam, reassembled the engine and had it running again by Friday the following week.” Having carefully run it in, racing a Pitts Special aerobatic aircraft at Dunsfold’s Wings & Wheels event the weekend before Zandvoort the indefatigable engineer set course for the Netherlands…
Gillett secured pole position with an impressive 2m19.072s (69.27mph) on his third flying lap – inside Sam Stretton’s best in Jose Maria Fernandes’ supercharged Alta last year and our first sub-140s second effort – in Saturday’s qualifying session. He and Williams wound up more than three seconds quicker than Friedrichs (2:22.087). Row two was an all Bentley domain, the 3/41⁄2s of Richard Hudson/Stuart Morley and
Clive Morley, split by 0.076s on 2:27.860 and 2:27.936 respectively. Chilcott/Futter completed eight laps between them for P5 with 2:29.078.
They shared a row with ‘Vliegende Hollander’ Alexander van der Lof, son of the late cabling baron Dries who, alongside test pilot Jan Flinterman, was one of two home drivers to start the inaugural World Championship Dutch GP at Zandvoort in ’52, driving an HWM. Van der Lof cut 2:33.543 in a stunning 1935 Delahaye 135S Le Mans from the family stable – rebodied in a low-drag battledress by Le Blanc in ’51 – and last run more than 20 years back.
Invicta guru Trevor Swete was next up in his S-type (2:36.651), with the Bentleys of MRL founder Duncan Wiltshire (3/41⁄2) and entrepreneurial hotelier Martin Overington (whose 41⁄2 ‘Blower’ was a tad smoky) growling at his heels on 2:38.273 and 2:38.534 respectively. Smith played the Hotchkiss in cautiously, clocking a solid 2:41.855, but confident that there was plenty more to come from its three-litre straight- six. The Bentleys of Overington’s business partner Robert Spencer (3/41⁄2, a replacement for the programmed FN Super Sports) and Guy Northam (41⁄2) completed the field.
That evening the majority of the ‘Bentley Boys’ joined the cavalcade of competition cars from the paddock into Zandvoort’s pretty town centre, barely a kilometre away. A throwback to the 1960s – when with no pits at the track the F1 cars were prepared in garages there and driven in and out – it was fittingly led by Jim Clark’s 1967 Dutch GP-winning Lotus 49 R2 and a bevy of shrink-wrapped Heineken promotional girls atop a giant motorised barrel resembling something from Wacky Races. After a couple of ‘laps’ behind a Police motorcycle everybody parked and, following a short reception, repaired to bars and restaurants for dinner.
Overington and Spencer found a very different way to prepare for Sunday’s 40-minute race, piloting a pair of sizzling 1500cc Arrows- Megatron [BMW] A10 F1 turbocars from 1987 in The Force’s demonstration session. With their eyelines – not to mention parameters of speed – reset they duly clambered up into their loftier steeds and came out to play for real. Alas Martin’s Bentley blew most of its water out in the paddock and lasted only one lap in the race.
As the red lights went out to trigger the rolling start Friedrichs used his Alvis’ superior torque to reach Tarzan first, pursued by Gillett who threw his Frazer Nash sideways and skittered round the banked hairpin before the diverse field traversed the Gerlachbocht, burrowed into the dished
Hugenholtzbocht [named for circuit designer John] and climbed into the dunes, where the swoop through Scheivlak corner, approached blind, is arguably the star turn.
‘Muttley’ Chilcott got a flier, threading his featherweight Nash past the quickest Bentleys and coming round third at the end of the opening lap. Clive Morley clung on to fourth, with van der Lof, Hudson, Swete, Overington, Wiltshire, Smith, Spencer and Northam astern.
Gillett bowled ahead of Friedrichs on lap three and with two devastating fastest laps in three – the latter a phenomenal 2:17.840 (69.89mph) – put daylight between them. Despite its aero shortcomings the hot Meadows- engined FN pulled a remarkable 103mph through the speed trap on the long start/finish straight, only 4mph shy of the Alvis’ best.
Clive Morley (from third) and Hudson (fifth, relaying Stuart M.) were the first to make their mandatory stops, on lap seven, when the lapped Bentleys of Spencer and Northam also came in. Friedrichs and van der Lof, promoted to fourth and going well, chose lap eight when Swete pitted and the dice of the race, embroiling Wiltshire and Smith in their stout PW2 class fight, reached its pivotal moment.
Having lapped together until then, Duncan peeled his periwinkle-hued Bentley off and Steve followed suit in the Hotchkiss. “I stopped almost at the end of the pitlane, hoping that Steve would pull up behind me. Of course he didn’t, he went past, and that’s when he pulled a flanker,” smiled Wiltshire. “As soon as I saw Duncan move, in my mirrors, I left,” grinned Smith who shot out ahead of his rival, there to stay.
Chilcott pitted after nine tours, from third again before the stagger unwound. Futter climbed in but, without his pal’s experience of pre-war cars, slipped back to sixth. Nonetheless, he thoroughly enjoyed another run in the Nash. “I could be tempted to sell the [Formula] Junior,” he said with a glint in his eye.
Leader Gillett was the last to hand-over, at 10 laps, but Williams was quickly up to speed and lapping consistently. While Friedrichs was able to halve his initial 11 second deficit, Eddie remained unflustered and slithered home 5.048s ahead of the PW7 class-winning Alvis, landing his car owner a limited edition commemorative Zandvoort HGP watch from event sponsor Tudor.
Clive Morley joined them on the podium, having worked hard for a PW3 class-winning third in his splendid beetle-backed Bentley. “My shoulders are hurting and my leg is full of metalwork from when I rolled the car at Silverstone [in August 2015], but I’m absolutely delighted with third,” he said. Son Stuart was fourth in Hudson’s Bentley, the last unlapped runner, ahead of Swete and Chilcott/Futter.
Smith in the Hotchkiss, with its distinctive bellowing exhaust note, worked hard to maximise its braking advantage over Wiltshire’s Bentley, dancing it into Tarzan and finishing more than 10 seconds clear in seventh. Spencer and Northam finished ninth and 10th, two laps down, but Dutch hopes evaporated when van der Lof pulled off at three-quarters’ distance.