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Reg Parnell BHW Special


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#1 Steve L

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Posted 26 November 2002 - 15:57

This is an interesting Brooklands racer I would like to know more about.

Built in the late 1930's using the 4.9 litre engine from the ex-Kaye Don Bugatti T54 "Tiger Two" and a chassis designed by Walter Hassan (including I think, Auto Union inspired swing axle rear suspension), it had a reputation for fearsome handling!

It was driven (always?) by Reg Parnell.

The T54 Bug has recently been restored, but with a new engine as the original is in America. I don't know where the chassis is, but I believe it still exists.

It would be particularly interesting to see a period picture of the car without its bodywork.

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#2 Doug Nye

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Posted 27 November 2002 - 17:32

Steve - It's always disappointing to see a new thread with a 'zero' alongside it so if nobody else will pitch in here's a little background on the Bugatti-Hassan-Wilkins Special - or BHW - a car which has always quite interested me...

It emerged in 1938, built by Walter Hassan of Bentley and Brooklands Bentley special fame to the commission of Dick Wilkins, who was a close friend of Dick Seaman's and one of the very few people to attend Dick's wedding to Erica Popp. Wilkins postwar would combine with Rob Walker in ownership of the Moss 1960 TT-winning Ferrari 250GT SWB. He was also a chum of Michael Parkes, and after Parkes's F1 career-ending injuries in the 1967 Belgian GP, he spent much of his convalescence with Wilkins who ensured that Parkes received the best care. Mr Ferrari always had a soft spot for "his Englishmen" and always admired the English gentry, and he told Wilkins through Parkes that anything he wanted from Ferrari in return for looking after Parkes's welfare, he could have. Wilkins jokingly said "I wouldn't mind a P4" - the contemporary works sports-prototype, of course - and hey presto, that's how the famous sole un-messed-about survivor ended up in his ownership since Mr Ferrari was as good as his word...

Hassan designed the BHW special to be powered by the supercharged 4.9-litre straight-eight engine taken from Kaye Don's famous Brooklands Type 54. Wally built a new chassis frame which carried independent front suspension and a rear end with splayed-out quarter-elliptic leafsprings.

Both Wilkins and A.P. 'Ginger' Hamilton - of sometime Brooklands Alfa Monza fame - drove it. Hamilton owned a garage near Charles Cooper's new establishment in Surbiton, Charlie had been Kaye Don's mechanic/racing manager and now here was Hamilton driving a new special powered by the ex-Don engine - plainly there's a linkage here.

The car proved - by common consent - a man-eater. Wilkins sold it in 1939 to Reg Parnell who appeared in it not only at Brooklands but also on the road circuit at Donington Park and even in hill-climbing. It seems to have been a rather nasty, unweildy, unreliable thing and although it survived the war as an entity it dd not long survive the peace before it was dismantled and the parts redistributed. The Kay Don Type 54 Bugatti - restored by Crosthwaite & Gardiner - survives today in a private collection 'somewere in England'...

I don't recall having seen a picture of the BHW unclothed, but here's a rather poor one of the device in action - big heavy engine loading up the front wheels, one would imagine - open the throttle and if it was firing on all eight the 4.9 offered sufficient torque to kick the car from terrible understeer into snap oversteer in an instant...

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#3 Steve L

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Posted 27 November 2002 - 19:35

Thanks very much for such a great background story for the BHW, Doug.

Looking in WB's Brooklands Bible, the car only seems to have been used at Brooklands in races on the Mountain Circuit and for the 1939 International Trophy. With 4.9 litres of supercharged grunt, one would have thought that the full Outer Circuit would have been more to its liking?

Saying that, with the "interesting" handling maybe once over the famous bump at full pelt would have been quite enough, even for someone like Parnell!

I have found another reference to the BHW "dominating" one of the final pre-war events at Donington, so it does seem to have won something in its relatively short career.

I think it looks quite an attractive device, and it would be nice to think that it may yet turn up again one day.

It would make a smashing sprint car!

#4 Marcor

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Posted 27 November 2002 - 22:33

There's a good description and story of the car in Graham Gauld's book "Reg Parnell, The quiet man who helped to engineer Britain's post-war racing revolution". I've bought it as a cut-price book (£ 6.99 instead of £18.99) at London two years ago.

Text in pages 31, 32, 33 and pictures in pages 98 and 99.

#5 Steve L

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Posted 29 November 2002 - 19:33

I enjoyed this book when I had it out of our local library a couple of years ago, and at £6.99 it has to be a must buy! I see Mill House Books still have it, so I will get the cheque book out tomorrow...

I have come across another interesting picture of the BHW (hope it comes up on screen, as I am new to doing this. If it does, then sorry about the quality - the original in a book wasn't much better!)

[IMG]http://www.members.a...venlinesuk/bhw1[IMG]

It shows a rather dishevelled-looking Freddie Dixon standing alongside the car at Donington Park. The big Bugatti engine can just about be seen.

The BHW now seems to be painted a different, darker colour than when it first appeared in 1938-early 1939, so I assume the photo must have been taken immediately pre-war (I have a vague memory of seeing a picture of a starting grid at Goodwood postwar, where the car is at the back behind assorted ERAs, where it is also I think painted in a dark finish).

I'm not sure what Freddie's involvement would have been in this photo. By late 1939, I believe he had lost his racing licence due to various misdemeanours (Freddie's criminal record may be a good idea for a future thread!), so I don't think he could have been driving. He could have been looking after the oily bits, like he did later with the ERA-Delage? Or maybe he was just an interested bystander?

#6 O Volante

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Posted 29 November 2002 - 19:45

Only because the name popped up here: Does somebody know what the initials A. P. mean in 'Ginger' Hamilton's name? When and where was he born? And did he race post-war - don't think so, but ... ?

#7 Steve L

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Posted 29 November 2002 - 19:46

Oh dear. No picture! Let's try again

http://members.aol.c...venlinesuk/bhw1

#8 Ian McKean

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Posted 29 November 2002 - 22:50

Originally posted by Steve L
I'm not sure what Freddie's involvement would have been in this photo. By late 1939, I believe he had lost his racing licence due to various misdemeanours (Freddie's criminal record may be a good idea for a future thread!), so I don't think he could have been driving. He could have been looking after the oily bits, like he did later with the ERA-Delage? Or maybe he was just an interested bystander?


Gosh!

Isn't it amazing what we learn on TNF? I had no idea that Freddie Dixon had a criminal record!

As a boy I read about about Freddie Dixon's amazing exploits in Rileys and his genius as a tuner. I seem to recall stories of his cutting pistons in half, sticking a spring between the two halves and using cutting paste to hone cylinder bores for minimum friction. He achieved a lot considering he started racing cars at quite a late age, fortyish I believe.

As a student at Birmingham University, I fell in with Andy Dawson (later of Datsun Team Europe fame). The first time I went to his parent's 'house', we turned into the drive and could see a stately home at the end of the drive. About half an hour later we drove past the church and finally arrived at the front door.

At this point Andy finally admitted that his parents had a flat in the stately home, as opposed to owning the whole lot. It had amazing water hammer, by the way.

When he showed me the garage (where he built some kind of 650 cc motorbike engined kart-like special) I noticed a shield on the wall inscribed "Freddie Dixon". When I drew this to Andy's attention, he denied all knowledge of Freddie Dixon and had no idea why I was so excited.

I may be wrong but I think the stately home was called Elton Hall.

On one other occasion I came across a silmilar shield. This was when I stopped at some farm (in Gloucestershire I think) to buy something or other (can't remember what) and was taken into a garage, or large barn. Suddenly I noticed a large shield on the wall inscribed "Lord Selsdon". My guide turned out to be a descendant and was pleased and impressed that a stranger should be aware of his antecedent's success at Le Mans.

I would be very interested to learn more about the connection between Freddie Dixon and Elton Hall (and, of course, his criminal record).

PS
Did I mention on another thread that Andy's old man was the only Englishman to drive an Auto Union before the war (correction, Scotsman, since he played rugger for Scotland)?

#9 Doug Nye

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Posted 29 November 2002 - 22:57

Freddie Dixon like Luis Fontes had a conviction, I believe, for causing death by dangerous driving or while under the affluence of incohol...shorry itsh late.

DCN

#10 Vitesse2

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Posted 29 November 2002 - 23:28

Originally posted by Doug Nye
Freddie Dixon like Luis Fontes had a conviction, I believe, for causing death by dangerous driving or while under the affluence of incohol...shorry itsh late.

DCN


I knew about Fontes and Kaye Don, but wasn't aware of anything about Dixon. Interesting ....

#11 David McKinney

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Posted 30 November 2002 - 06:51

I thought Dixon's conviction resulted from his assaulting a policeman who had pulled him up for driving with more alcohol in his system than he should have had.
But that might have been another incident

#12 Steve L

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Posted 30 November 2002 - 10:40

I read somewhere that Freddie only quietened down in prison once his drawing board had been brought in, so that he could redesign Riley engines and the like! Whether this is true or not....

A booklet was produced a couple of years back to coincide with an exhibition on FDs life at Preston Town Hall. There isn't much text and information in it, but plenty of great photos. It was very nicely produced, and fairly cheap (under £10 from memory). It may still be available from the specialist motor booksellers.

Pre-war, Freddie also looked after ERA R5B for a period, dabbled with the Sunbeam "Silver Bullet" and then designed his own revolutionary though stillborn land speed record car.

Post-war, he maintained the Alfa Aitken to which he fitted his trademark multi carburettors, and also co-designed an advanced four wheel drive system. Not sure what he did from 1939-45 though.

A very versatile man.

#13 Ian McKean

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Posted 30 November 2002 - 11:10

Steve, there is a chapter on the BHW in John Bolster's fascinating book "Specials". It doesn't really add much to Doug's information but is interesting nonetheless. It has another photograph of the car carrying the number "4" (as in Doug's photo), and the caption states it was from the International Trophy at Brooklands in 1939.

If you like, I will scan and OCR the chapter later this weekend and post it here.

#14 Steve L

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Posted 30 November 2002 - 12:03

Thanks Ian, I would be grateful if you could do this for me.

I have half-remembered another amusing anecdote about Freddie Dixon, concerning Prince Bira's wardrobe at pre-war Donington Hall where the drivers used to stay before events at the circuit.

If someone knows what I am talking about and can post the full (true?) story, or I will do this myself when (if!) I can recall the details in a couple of days time!

In the meantime, here's another taken from Charles Mortimer's "With Hindsight" book. It relates to the 1935 Dieppe Grand Prix.

"The highlight of it all was the prizegiving at the Casino, to which we had to go to collect our winnings.

Arriving slightly late through having to walk there, we were routed through the kitchens, just astern of Freddie Dixon and Charles Brackenbury, also late.

The cabaret was about to go on, consisting of a huge, stripped to the waist, turbanned chap, about to carry in a pretty girl sitting on a large brass tray. The girl was sitting cross-legged on the kitchen table and this was altogether too much for Fred. Picking up the tray and balancing it and the protesting young lady he marched on to the stage to what really was tumultuous applause from all.

It was a very good evening with the piece de resistance being transported back to the hotel in a Bugatti Type 49. Certainly a weekend to be remembered!"

#15 WGD706

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Posted 30 November 2002 - 14:15

In 1935 Dixon was tried for various offences, including drunken driving, assault and dangerous driving. He was acquitted of drunken driving, but was convicted of the other offences and spent three months in Durham Gaol.
http://www.tymc.info/fred_dixon.htm

#16 Steve L

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Posted 01 December 2002 - 10:02

While searching for something else yesterday (this always happens!), I came across an article in an issue of The Brooklands Gazette (vol 25 No 2/3 2000) written by Yves Kaltenbach on "Bugatti Type 54 at Brooklands". This sheds some additional light on the BHW.

The article states that the engine and gearbox were removed from the ex-Kaye Don car over the winter of 1936/7 and sold to R.S Wilkins. This was fitted into a new chassis featuring Alvis 4.3 front suspension to create the BHW, but thereafter development proved troublesome and Wilkins sold the car to Parnell.

Reg had plans to covert the engine to the then current 3 litre formula, but this did not happen and he used the car more or less as built up until the war.

Post-war the BHW was acquired by Brian Finglass who was later advised by Parnell to "get rid of it quick otherwise you'll break your bloody neck!". The car was then sold to a Scottish shipping magnate called Edward Thompson who sold the engine only as late as 1966.

And as regards the fate of the chassis, this is where the trail goes cold. It would be nice to think that having survived as late as the 1960s, the car is still around somewhere relatively intact.

#17 Doug Nye

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Posted 01 December 2002 - 11:01

I'm not sure this is correct but I was told recently by a Brooklands contemporary of Parnell's and Dixon's that Fred's conviction involved the same incident for which Luis Fontes was also jailed - though they were driving different cars at the time - dim, possibly scrambled, memories of what sounds like an impromptu race on the public roads after too boozy a dinner...irresponsible b------s I'm afraid...

DCN

#18 Ian McKean

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Posted 01 December 2002 - 21:49

This is what John Bolster wrote about the BHW Spec ial;


"The B.H.W. (Bugatti-Hassan-Wilkins) was an attempt to exploit the undoubted power of the 4.9-litre supercharged Bugatti engine. This type of power-unit was originally installed by its manufacturers in a somewhat clumsy car, the road-holding of which was marred by a heavy gearbox incorporated with the back axle, and which had very inadequate brakes.

This particular engine had already proved its speed in the hands of Kaye Don, Dudley Froy, and George Eyston, but as maximum velocity is only one attribute of a racing car, it was decided that it deserved to ride in a modern, independently sprung chassis. The front suspension was by transverse spring and wishbones, and came off a 4.3-litre Alvis. It was attached to a straight boxed chassis frame of great rigidity.

At the back, the Bugatti axle-gearbox was retained, but it was mounted solidly on the chassis. The side tubes of the axle were removed, and in their place a pair of swing-axles were installed; that is to say that universally jointed half shafts were enclosed in articulated tubular half axles. These were suspended on quarter-elliptic springs.

The detail work of this vehicle was superb, and all the parts of, for instance, the centralized steering and the right hand, three speed, gate change, had an artistry of execution and finish that were a delight to the connoisseur. The single-seater body was also well proportioned.

Unfortunately, the 86 x 107-mm. (4860-c.c.) Bugatti engine was terribly heavy. It was a twin overhead camshaft, Roots-supercharged, straight eight, and it was built in the grand manner, with no thought of weight paring. I sat in the beautifully upholstered seat, and handled the well placed controls, but one had the inescapable impression that this was a very big car indeed.

The weighbridge confirmed that the complete machine weighed just over a ton, and that amount of motor-car takes a lot of stopping at road-racing speeds. Very large brakes were fitted, but the suspension did not behave any too well when they were applied, and there is no doubt that the B.H.W. was just too big and heavy to compete with smaller and nimbler vehicles.

Nevertheless, a very high maximum speed was a feature of the car, and Reg. Parnell, who raced it in a number of events shortly before the war, claimed that it would go through a whole season without even having its sparking plugs changed. Incidentally, Parnell still holds the "Manufacturer's Circuit" lap record at Donington, with the car."

#19 Roger Clark

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Posted 01 December 2002 - 22:30

Originally posted by Steve L

Post-war, he maintained the Alfa Aitken to which he fitted his trademark multi carburettors, and also co-designed an advanced four wheel drive system. Not sure what he did from 1939-45 though.

A very versatile man.


During the war, dixon ran a small engineering company making bits for the war department. The four wheel drive system, of course, eventually became the Ferguson.

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#20 KJJ

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Posted 18 August 2005 - 00:05

Originally posted by Doug Nye
I'm not sure this is correct but I was told recently by a Brooklands contemporary of Parnell's and Dixon's that Fred's conviction involved the same incident for which Luis Fontes was also jailed - though they were driving different cars at the time - dim, possibly scrambled, memories of what sounds like an impromptu race on the public roads after too boozy a dinner...irresponsible b------s I'm afraid...

DCN


I've just been reading the Times' accounts of these incidents and to set the historical record straight, Freddie Dixon was sentenced to three months imprisonment for dangerous and reckless driving on 4th October 1935, this in Middlesborough. The incident in which Luis Fontes killed a motor cyclist, and for which he was subsequently sentenced to three years imprisonment, occured on 6th October 1935 in Coleshill, Warwickshire. Easy to see how they could be confused with the passage of time.

#21 humphries

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Posted 18 August 2005 - 08:39

KJJ

Innes Ireland was one of my favourite drivers and I can still clearly remember him in the 1959 BET taking Old Hall corner in a Lotus XV on the absolute limit. He was disqualified for having no passenger seat!

Unfortunately there was a dark side to his character and I've been told that he appeared in court in Stafford on an assault charge in the 1960s. Is this true?

John

#22 KJJ

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Posted 18 August 2005 - 12:06

John

I'm afraid I only started collecting material on Innes Ireland five or six years ago and, apart from some of his long ago exploits down here in Radnorshire, everything I know has been drawn from published material and the occasional kind souls who have emailed me with snippets of information.

There is no mention of a court appearance in the Times digital archive - Innes would not be unique amongst his grid contemporaries if he did have a criminal conviction of course - there was a lot at the Sotheby's sale of his memorabilia that contained newspaper cuttings of "an altercation on the M1" perhaps that was it. Interestingly, well to me at least, Stafford is where his first wife was living at the time of their divorce, a possibility.

I think you are right when you say that there was a dark side to Innes's character, like Longfellow's little girl with a curl, when he was good, he was very good indeed, but when he was bad he was horrid.

If anyone can provide me with information about Innes please get in touch and by the way I've no interest in splashing such stuff on my rather feeble little website.

Apologies to all those who clicked on this thread wanting to read about Parnell's BHW!

#23 Dutchy

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Posted 15 May 2012 - 12:32

I have long been interested in this car and am surprised that the remains have effectively disappeared. I was fascinated to see film of it sitting on the grid at a 1953 VSCC Silverstone meeting on youtube. I can't access it from this computer so can't insert the link but a search on youtube should find it easily.


#24 Ted Walker

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Posted 15 May 2012 - 12:56

I have a photo of the car taken in 53 I think when it was owned by a chap called Wallington. It has long been thought that it went to Scotland.