1970 - 84: Restoration of original body and involvement in vintage sport car racing, major engine derangement and laying up
The car last recorded appearance in 1970 with its non-original body was at the Gayton RAF battle of Britain celebrations. The captioned photographs aren’t specific but it’s assumed that the Gayton in question is in Northamptonshire, rather than Norfolk – around 15 miles from Robert Wicksteed’s home in Brigstock.
Despite having changed the appreance of the car many times over the previous three decades, thankfully Robert never threw anything away, so when Alvis called in 1970 to ask, Please Sir, if the car could be present at the firm’s Golden jubilee, he worked like a thing possessed to re-convert his latest stylistic creation into the original, and turned up on time, albeit with the car clad in undercoat only (and wet at that). For this reason, the car that many will remember during Robert’s successful campaigning during the ‘70s and 80’s was actually sporting the original bodywork although its first outings had the rather cumbersome wings/footboards.
Motoring fashions change. This is also 1970, but the wings have been replaced with something lighter only to be offset by the addition of oversize tyres.
The photograph is captioned ‘1971 Alvis Day – Crystal Palace’
Having returned the car to its original configuration, the logical thing to do was to use it for its original purpose. Robert’s family did have other cars (including a Lister-engined Mk10 Jaguar, and access to a SS100 and others), so despite having taken his daughters to school on a regular basis in HP6161 during their early childhood, it was no longer required for conventional duties.
1973: A Glorious Year
In its 50th year, HP6161 began to return to public duties……
……..starting with the VSCC Silverstone meeting, at which the car and its pilot picked up an award in the 1 hour high speed trial. As with most of the activities around this period Jack Linnell was present – seen here with a temporary right foot (he subsequently lost both legs, but it didn’t prevent him from being an enthusiastic supporter…..
……..followed in short order by VSCC Prescott where the BBC filmed a piece for the news interviewing both Robert and Jack. In the second shot Jack and his wife Betty can be seen talking to Tom Rolt who, some 40 years after this picture was taken, was given recognition for the efforts he and others made in creating Prescott by having part of the course named after him.
The Birthday Party
1973 is also a date of some significance in that Robert Wicksteed chose to mark the car’s 50th birthday with a party (for the car – not the owner) and enlisted the support of not only his family but also the car’s custodian – Jack Linnell (and Betty), together with some 60 plus Alvis owners and their spouses. The event was hosted by Jack at his house and is still talked about today.
Note: There isn’t a complete guest list but your editor has attempted to put names to faces and, where appropriate, cars. Since many of the participants are sadly no longer with us we may never know the full detail, but if any visitor to this website can add to the narrative, you are encouraged to get in touch via the contact page.
Every proper party has to have an invitation.
The sun shines on the righteous and Sunday, 19th August 1973 must have been prayed for because the weather was glorious. The centre picture shows the Wicksteed family (l-r. Robert, Luglia (Lulie), Mandi, Nigel and Robert’s wife Doreen just before the event.
l-r. Bert Guilford, the Alvis Service Manager with Robert Wicksteed and Jack Linnell
There was quite a healthy turnout of Alvis staff, including G R Howell (a Director) and his wife, Mr & Mrs G H Wiltshire, D J Hammond and others as well as P Mitchell from Coventry Museum, together with his wife. The Alvis-owned FWD car came too, but it’s not known who piloted it.
Two other Alvii were celebrating their 50th birthday – CR8372 – a Cross & Ellis bodied 5 seater 12/40 tourer belonging to A Reid and CR7478 – a 4 seater Carbodies bodied saloon (owner unknown).
The Speed 25 of A F Rivers-Fletcher
Not sure whether it’s coming or going, but this is the 1925 TE 12/50 of C G Duce
TM9057 – the White TK12/50 of Frank Spencer, together with GK4031 (owner unknown), UL2046 (Alvis Ltd) and an unknown 12/50.
Here too, one wishes that individual cars had been photographed, but aside from the two 1923 12/40s already detailed, the only clear number is that of UX2847 – the 1928 Alvista Mk 2 TG12/50 belonging to P Bradshaw.
The three Speed models EGT 51 (B C Crisp), BVC834 (G Martin) and EJ5824 (Rivers-Fletcher) with the as-yet unbodied 200miles car RW12 hiding behind and a TD21 saloon beyond that.
The reawaking form of Eric Benfield’s 200 miles 1924 Racer RW12 making a guest appearance together with its custodian and his wife.
Another view of RW12, this time with its means of arrival evident – Peter Glover’s very fast Beetleback. The TD21 saloon hiding behind may also have been Jack Linnell’s.
Two other guests and their owners: First, AH47 – the beautiful 1937 Alvis Speed 25 owned by G F W Fisher and his wife alongside what is believed to be Jack Linnell’s TF21 drophead. Secondly is a clearer view of Frank Spencer’s TM9057 (Persil 1) and the 1930 TJ12/50 Special together with (on the left of shot) PD5555 – a 1923 Horstmann owned by A M Simmons and responsible for delivering Peter Hull to the event (perhaps his Alvis was at the doctor’s on the day?)
Other cars and people:
VR859 – 1929 TG12/50 Atlantic (John Burnell)
RX9226 – 1931 TK12/60 2 seater sports beetleback (Bert Salt with Mrs Salt)
UL5405 – 1929 TG12/50 Atlantic saloon (Micky Radford with Mrs Radford)
VRN unknown – Silver Eagle (Mr & Mrs R Crouch)
ET6430 – 1930 TB16.95 Cross & Ellis tourer (G T Walker)
EK6964 – 1929 SD12/50 2 seater sports beetleback (Hugh Torrens with Mrs Torrens)
250EXN – Speed 20 (Brian Ledwith)
838GYN – Speed 20 (E Oakman with Mrs Oakman)
CM7821 – 1927 TH12/50 4 seater sports (A N Foster)
CVC473 – 1965 Alvis TE21 (D Michie)
RLK484 – BMW (W Boddy with Mrs Boddy)
Norman Johnson who, along with Peter Hull, authored ‘The Vintage Alvis’; Mr & Mrs D Crouch; R Jaeger, LTC Rolt, Mr & Mrs B Earlin, Mr & Mrs H Deterding, Bob Lewin, Reg White, B Messenger, Mr & Mrs J Spiller; Mr & Mrs Bobby Baskcomb; G R Howell, Taffy Parsons, Charles Clarke and no doubt many more.
Return to racing
Having restored HP6161 to its (late) 1923 racing specification, the next decade saw the car and Robert appearing regularly at competitive events. Up until 1980 this would include races as well as sprints and hillclimbs and, as we shall see, Robert generally drove the car both to and from the event which gave him an advantage over many of his competitors on two grounds: firstly, he was already in tune with the driving characteristics of the car well before he reached the start line and secondly the car was already set up and tested before practice.
In 1974, Robert and Jack travelling down to West Byfleet for the Brooklands Reunion. What’s striking about these pictures (particularly the last one) is that one can easily imagine what the people present are thinking about. Just standing on the Member’s banking and imagining the sounds, smells and images of a half century previous. The photos also give some indication of the state that this historic track had been allowed to deteriorate into before being rescued by the Brooklands Society and others.
Two photographs from 1975 – Prescott and Silverstone, where Robert achieved a second place in each case. With a drive time of around three hours the return from Prescott would have extended into dusk, whereas Silverstone was less than an hour’s journey – hence the different lighting arrangments. Robert’s driving style is fairly evident from the pictures.
Another three from the following year (1976) showing Robert at Shelsley Walsh in the paddock and at Prescott – Pardon hairpin and the Esses respectively.
It’s fair to say that 1976 was one of Robert’s most successful racing years of the period. At Shelsley, he was placed in Class 5 (Edwardian, no front brakes) largely to bolster numbers (there were only three other entrants) and, unsurprisingly, he cleaned up. Racing against a handicap of 57.00s his second (and fastest) run was 49.20s to take the class record (the next nearest on the day was the 54.51s of a 3300cc TT Humber).
This clearly put him in the right frame of mind for Prescott a few weeks later. Robert’s caption to the Pardon photograph reads ‘saving tyre wear – fastest ever 12/50 climb – 53.48s’. This time has never been bettered by HP6161.
1977 saw HP6161 competing at Cadwell Park and Silvertone as well as celebrating the 80th birthday of Jack Linnell (seen here at Wilbye with his wife Betty), as well as at Donnington, Shelsley and (below) Prescott – it is noticable how Prescott has changed over the years from an almost woodland setting into a modern racing venue,
1978 is noteworthy in that it heralded the return of the 1924 200 miles racing car to competition, having been meticulously restored by Eric Benfield. Both HP6161 and the 200 miles car competed against one another over the next two years at in both circuit racing as well as sprints and hillclimbs, although only the former has been captured on film with the pair together (seen here at Silverstone in 1978 and 1979 respectively).
1980 started, competition-wise, much the same as previous years, with entries at Silverstone and Shelsley, amongst others. The latter is noteworthy in that HP6161 suffered an engine failure during practice (whilst still recording a very respectable 51.0s). A conrod broke and Robert – who always drove to and from the competitions – simply removed the offending article and motored home to Northamptonshire on 3 cylinders. Robert evidently had spares at home, for a month or so later he was in action at Cadwell.
It was here that HP6161’s lack of front brakes was to prove its undoing. Chasing the 1933 Aston Martin Le Mans of J R Martin into a corner on the mountain part of the circuit, the younger car outbraked HP6161 and Robert, unable to avoid the collision, rolled the car. Thankfully the driver was unhurt (apart from his pride) but the car sustained damage to the radiator, bonnet and steering wheel. As the notice says: ‘Motor racing is dangerous’
The resulting damage kept HP6161 out of circulation for not only the rest of the year but 1981 and 1982 as well. It returned in 1983 – too late for most of the season’s competition events but in time for an appearance at Shelsley where a conrod let go after being over-revved and the subsequent Diamond Jubilee celebrations in October to commemorate 60 years of the Alvis 12/50, which took place at Brooklands. Sadly, unlike 1974 where Robert was accompanied by Jack Linnell this time he was on his own – Jack passed away in July after 59 years of ownership of HP 6161.
Two photographs of the assembled cars at Brooklands at the event organised jointly by the Alvis Register and the Alvis Owners Club (AOC). The first, taken from the Clubhouse roof showing the test hill in the background and part of the Campbell circuit. The cars parked within the fenced area in front of the Clubhouse are all ‘Brooklands’ cars – that is: cars that have raced at the circuit before it closed on the outbreak of the second world war in September 1939. Apart from HP6161, these included the ex-Urquart-Dykes WM47, the Michael May ‘Green Car’, the Follett Special and the Sammy Davis 1928 Le Mans FWD. The second, taken from the test hill, shows the gathering of 12/50 cars around the clubhouse.
Robert Wicksteed ascending the test hill.
Robert's last race
In 1984, with the arrival of grandchildren, Robert’s motoring exploits were curtailed. It was, however, the golden jubilee of the VSCC and as a part of the celebrations, the club had a series of events planned around Herefordshire in July. Robert entered for two – the Speed trials at Silverstone and, three days later, the hillclimb at Shelsely Walsh. Entered in class one for the Dunlop trophy, which he won. This was to be his last competitive drive in HP6161 as, on the way back to Kettering, the number two conrod broke and he had to be towed home.