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Robert O'Brien - mystery man...


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#151 KJJ

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Posted 11 July 2006 - 22:46

Originally posted by humphries
Whilst researching races held in Scotland I saw in the programme entry list for the Charterhall meeting (11 Oct, 1952) the name Johnny Claes entered by Ecurie Belge in the 1500cc Gordini, the car used by Bob O'Brien at Spa. With the race number 28 Claes was entered in both the Newcastle Trophy for F2 cars and the Formule Libre race for the Daily Record Trophy.

Little information can be gleaned from the British journals of the day about the F2 race but I turned to an old notebook compiled back in the 1970s and, to my surprise, I had recorded that amongst the starters for the F.Libre race was - R.O'Brien (Gordini)!

Checks in Motor Sport, Autosport, The Motor, no mention, but in The Autocar there was a list of all the starters in the F.Libre race and sure enough - R.O'Brien (Gordini)! Whether O'Brien or Johnny Claes drove the car in the F2 race is not known.

Now Graham any photographs of #28 would be useful.

John


Has Graham Gauld been directed towards this post? I guess he may well have taken some shots at the meeting, there's a photo of the front of the grid on page 33 of his Scottish book.

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#152 Trigwell

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Posted 12 July 2006 - 11:32

According to Paul Sheldon & Duncan Rabagliati's book "A Record of GP & Voiturette Racing" Vol.5 1950-53, it was Claes at Charterhall in October. They have Robert O'Brien racing in Claes' Gordini just twice during 1952, at Spa and at Glenzlandring, Germany on 31st August, car no.130 entered by Vicomtesse de Walckiers.

: James

#153 David McKinney

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Posted 12 July 2006 - 12:54

Originally posted by Trigwell
According to Paul Sheldon & Duncan Rabagliati's book "A Record of GP & Voiturette Racing" Vol.5 1950-53, it was Claes at Charterhall in October. They have Robert O'Brien racing in Claes' Gordini just twice during 1952, at Spa and at Glenzlandring, Germany on 31st August, car no.130 entered by Vicomtesse de Walckiers.
: James

The Charterhall race in question was a Formule Libre event. These are not covered by the black books

#154 Adam F

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Posted 14 July 2006 - 09:24

I just came across this letter from our man, in the July/August 1952 issue of the SCCA magazine "Sports Car".

Posted Image

The letter must have been written on about 21 April 1952, as the Ibsley meeting O'Brien refers to was on 19th April.
From Motor and Autocar reports, O'Brien wasn't among the final entries for the May 10th meting at Silverstone, nor did he appear at Monaco.
This is explained by his appearance, back home, in the meeting at Bridgehampton on 24th May. Quite why he hopped back to the U.S. in May, before appearing at Spa in June one can only speculate.

#155 Hugo Boecker

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Posted 14 July 2006 - 09:47

and O'Brain wasn't at the list for the Eifelrennen, Nürburgring May 25Th neither F2 nor Sports Cars up to 2000cc. But Jonny Claes was in the entry list entered by Equrie Walkiers with a Gordini in F2 but was also a DNA

#156 Hugo Boecker

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Posted 14 July 2006 - 09:54

according to "From Chain Drive to Turbocharger" by Jenks Chassis 421/100/163 , a Mille Miglia Type and not a LM Replica, was delivered to W.O'Brien and exported to the USA. So that's why he was back in US for a short while ? He built a team with Roy Salvadori and Tony Crook -- found nothing about in Roy's biography !?!

#157 Allen Brown

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Posted 14 July 2006 - 10:01

Lake Road, Deepcut. Very nice. Not short of a few bob then, our Mr O'Brien.

#158 humphries

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Posted 14 July 2006 - 10:32

Nice find, Adam.

Reading the correspodence pages of old motoring magazines sometimes reveals lots of little motor-racing nuggets.

A most odd letter, I think. One hundred thousand spectators at Goodwood? Could that be right?

James should be able to tell us what LM Replica Bob acquired.

John

#159 Trigwell

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Posted 14 July 2006 - 15:10

Well done Adam! :clap: This letter helps me identify the car, if not the man. You did of course mean to write that you found the letter in the July/August 1952 SCCA mag, not 1951.

O'Brien says that his car was a Le Mans Replica model - 26 had been produced by early 1952 and many of these can be immediately discounted as we know the ownership/racing history of nearly all of them.

He says that he would make up a team with Tony Crook & Roy Salvadori - in Autosport Jan.11 1952 Crook was advertising 2 such cars for sale. One is known to have gone to Arthur & Dudley Hely and been raced by them in 1952/3 and by future GP driver Tony Brooks in 1953/4. The other (chassis 007 ex-Jack Newton) was raced by Michael Currie in 1953 but I have no record of who had it in 1952. As it was a very successful car in Newton's hands from 1949 to 1951 and continued to be successful in 1953/4 it is strange that it does not appear in UK races during 1952, apart from a sprint event on March 2nd where Crook made BTD (photo in Autosport Mar.7).

This car is by far the best fit for the O'Brien car, although it seems that that he never got to race it. According to Autosport and the official race programme he was not included in the entries for Silverstone on May 10th, nor did he race at Monaco. Maybe these events were over-subscribed. The only confirmed entry is for the Targa Florio in Sicily on 29th June but he failed to show up.

And in reply to Hugo, Bob O'Brien did not take delivery of a new Mille Miglia Frazer Nash. It was the unrelated William O'Brien.

: James

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#160 Adam F

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Posted 14 July 2006 - 15:21

James,

Thanks for pointing out my typo - post now corrected.

Glad this hepls you to narrow down which Le Mans replica O'Brien had.

#161 Hugo Boecker

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Posted 14 July 2006 - 16:37

Thanks Trigwell It#s alway a mess with all that old and short names Bob Robert William Bill ..... :)

#162 Richard Jenkins

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Posted 14 July 2006 - 20:56

Adam, sterling work! :up: :clap:

Is there anyone in touch with messrs Crook or Salvadori who wouldn't mind asking them a question about Bob O'Brien (as he appears to prefer to Robert)?

Also, does anybody live near Deepcut & have the bravery to go up to the house & ask about the former occupants? It's a long time back but you never know....

DH has looked for other O'Briens in the area, but no go.. But someone must know something.......

This mystery gets ever more fascinating. Though I say "mystery", we probably know more about BO'B now then we do about a whole host of other drivers.......

#163 Allen Brown

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Posted 14 July 2006 - 21:53

I live 2 miles from Deepcut. Consider it done.

#164 Richard Jenkins

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Posted 14 July 2006 - 22:06

Thanks, Allen. :up:

How strange you should have links/be near to almost everywhere Mr. O'Brien used to live! ;)

If only all the remaining driver mysteries had Aylesbury links, I could pack up & retire :lol:

#165 Allen Brown

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Posted 14 July 2006 - 22:12

It is curious, isn't it? I'll try to get over to Deepcut before I fly to New Jersey on 1 Aug. If Mr O'Brien was still alive, he might think I was stalking him.

#166 Trigwell

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Posted 17 July 2006 - 16:48

I phoned Tony Crook today. He has remarkable recall and remembered O'Brien immediately.

Crook confirmed that he had entered him for the Silverstone "Daily Express" International Trophy on May 10th and that O'Brien would have been the third member of the Crook/Salvadori team (each in their own Frazer Nash). He said that the entry was not accepted by the BRDC because O'Brien had lost his competition licence! He was therefore unsure whether the sale of the Frazer Nash to O'Brien went through or not and would check his records at Filton and get back to me in about 2 weeks time. He was fairly convinced that O'Brien never did get to race in the UK.

Tony remembered O'Brien saying that he had done rather well at Sebring that year (1952) and indeed he finished fourth in a 2-litre Ferrari. A Frazer Nash was the outright winner and that probably impressed O'Brien.

Tony Crook is in good shape, still involved in running the Bristol Car Coy and still flying his aeroplane although he is in his mid-80s :smoking: . He loves to reminisce about his racing days from 1946 to 1955.

#167 Hugo Boecker

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Posted 17 July 2006 - 17:16

:clap: Trigwell
so we also know why he didn't appear at the Nürburgring
On March 8th he came 15th with a Jaguar XK120 at the 12 HourVero Beach Endurance.
And having lost his licence between March and beginnig of May may give us a clue why he was in the States at the End of May. Maybe there was some legal action against im by the racing organisations. And this brought him his licence back. Anything to find in the April or May issues of US magazines?

#168 Adam F

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Posted 17 July 2006 - 18:00

Originally posted by Hugo Boecker
: Anything to find in the April or May issues of US magazines?


Hugo,
Nothing else in the SCCA magazine Sports Car during 1952.
He did, however, definitely race at Bridgehampton on 24th May coming 9th.
One thought, does "lost" mean withdrawn, or simply mislaid/left in U.S.A.?

James,
Great to hear that Tony Crook actually remembers Bob O'Brien :clap:

#169 Trigwell

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Posted 17 July 2006 - 19:56

Good point Adam. I will double-check with Tony Crook when he calls me in a about 2 weeks. However I noted down that he said "there was something funny about O'Brien" and that he was warned by Desmond Scannell (secty of the BRDC) that O'Brien did not have a licence.

: James

#170 Trigwell

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Posted 17 July 2006 - 20:10

Oh, another thought. As O'Brien raced at Sebring it might be that the SCCA withdrew his licence. Sebring was sanctioned by the AAA and there was bitter rivalry between the two groups, the amateur SCCA not condoning the professional AAA. Maybe O'Brien went back to the US to get an AAA licence :confused:

: James

#171 Trigwell

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Posted 12 August 2006 - 19:47

Tony Crook phoned me today and confirmed that he had indeed sold the ex-Jack Newton Frazer Nash (currently owned by Nick Mason) to Robert O'Brien in early 1952. So one small part of the puzzle solved.

: James

#172 David McKinney

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Posted 12 August 2006 - 19:55

But what did he say about O'Brien himself?

#173 Trigwell

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Posted 12 August 2006 - 20:13

Nothing more than what he had already told me, that he had apparently lost his competition licence and couldn't take up the entry for the Daily Express meeting at Silverstone in May.

: James

#174 KJJ

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Posted 19 November 2006 - 19:58

Anything further to report on the O'Brien front?

#175 Allen Brown

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Posted 19 November 2006 - 22:37

Sorry - still haven't paid a visit to that house. I'd clean forgotten.

It's on my to-do list.

Allen

#176 KJJ

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Posted 19 November 2006 - 22:51

What with O'Brien attending that Ibsley meeting on 19th April and then racing at Bridgehampton on May 24th, I thought it was going to be an easy job to find him on ancestry.com's new US immigration records. No joy as yet, but it does seem to be an avenue worth pursuing. if someone can spare the time.

#177 scags

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Posted 20 November 2006 - 00:55

The Bergen Record never got back to me about the R. O'Brien article, and the alfa board was a waste of time. Did anyone check the NY times obituaries?

#178 KJJ

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Posted 06 May 2007 - 09:16

Anything new on the O'Brien front?

#179 Adam F

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Posted 06 May 2007 - 14:41

Taking up KJJ's suggestion, I looked at Ancestry's US immigration records for 1952 and found the following, which I believe is likely to be "our " man :-

15 May 1952 - From London To Idlewild Airport, NY - Pan-Am Flight - Robert O'Brien - U.S. Passport No. 45777

11 November 1952 - From Brussels to New York - Sabena Flight - Robert O'Brien - U.S. Passport No. 45777

Unfortunately neither entry gives a U.S. address.

These dates would fit with him spectating at Ibsley on 19th April, but racing at Bridgehampton on 24th May, and also with him then staying in Europe for the 1952 season.

Also, there are two earlier entries (in 1949 and 1951) for a Robert O'Brien flying from Europe to New York, whose address in 1949 is given as Teaneck, NJ, right next to Hackensack, NJ.

At least all this apparently confirms that he travelled & held a passport under the name Robert O'Brien.

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#180 Adam F

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Posted 08 August 2007 - 12:08

Some more information on Robert O'Brien, for those who are interested...........

I recently obtained (from a friend's archive) a copy of Bob O'Brien's business card.

It shows :-

ROBERT O'BRIEN & CO. INC.
The Original Airline Supply House

337 SECOND STREET
HACKENSACK, NEW JERSEY


HACKENSACK 3-6060/6061



On the reverse is written his address in Belgium (c/o John Claes)


I believe that this further confirms that the man "chosen" in post 113 above is the man who competed in the 1952 Belgian Grand Prix.

I would further expect that someone based in the U.S. would now be able to find out more............

#181 scags

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Posted 08 August 2007 - 13:22

I'll be in Hackensack this afternoon. If the building is there, I'll post a photo tonight or tommorow, but I seriously doubt the buisiness is still there.

#182 KJJ

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Posted 08 August 2007 - 14:09

Well done Adam

I expect you've already googled this:

http://www.yellowbot...kensack-nj.html

#183 Allen Brown

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Posted 08 August 2007 - 14:17

And then googled this?

#184 Allen Brown

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Posted 08 August 2007 - 14:22

East Air Corp was founded in 1950 and its founder still works there(!). His email address is given on this page in case Richard or Adam want to follow up and find out if he recalls O'Brien.

PS Great work Adam!

#185 Richard Jenkins

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Posted 08 August 2007 - 21:10

Well done Adam. Your commitment to the cause is extraordianary.. and er.. a little scary ;)

I'd agree with the conclusion - certainly Hackensack holds all the answers, or the confirmation of the answers, perhaps.

My time is very limited right now until early next month & limited access to a computer (not to mention I'm not at home much in the next three weeks) but it's something I can look at in September if someone hasn't beaten me to it already.

#186 scags

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Posted 08 August 2007 - 22:23

Posted Image
Shot with C100,D370 at 2007-08-08 I hope this works. I went by the place this afternoon. Maybr those CIA rumors were true- a four airplane charter service and parts company has a strong smell of spook!

#187 275 GTB-4

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Posted 08 August 2007 - 23:53

Just an observation: the building has obviously had larger Bay windows at some time...or awnings.

#188 Adam F

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Posted 09 August 2007 - 07:30

Scags, thanks for posting the photo.

Ken/Allen, Yes, I had noticed East Air while Googling, but hadn't noticed that the founder still worked there.
I'll try to find out if he remembers O'Brien.

#189 KJJ

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Posted 29 September 2007 - 14:01

I wonder if TNF's very own History Detectives have come up with anything further on Mr O'Brien

#190 scags

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Posted 19 March 2008 - 12:35

There was an article on East Air in today's local paper, including an interview with the 90 year old founder, Gino Nepola. did anyone ever email him? If not, I will.

#191 KJJ

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Posted 13 April 2008 - 10:15

Originally posted by scags
There was an article on East Air in today's local paper, including an interview with the 90 year old founder, Gino Nepola. did anyone ever email him? If not, I will.


Anything more to report?

#192 Adam F

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Posted 13 April 2008 - 11:45

Apologies - I missed Scags' post from last month.

I e-mailed the company (EastAir) but didn't hear anything back.
If you are able to contact Gino Nepola and find if he remembers Bob O'Brien that would be great.

#193 Paul Medici

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Posted 13 April 2008 - 22:17

This is probably of no help but in '63 or '64 we drove over to this small shop in
in New Jersey (I don't remember the town) to pick up parts for my friends Alfa.
Tom O'Brien also owned a Type 268SP that he had purchased from Luigi and
raced it in several events on the East coast in 1964.
Coincidence, or might he be related to your mystery man?

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#194 scags

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Posted 14 April 2008 - 19:48

I sent Gino an email- hope for the best

#195 cabianca

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Posted 15 April 2008 - 04:10

This has been one of the better threads ever. I just read it for the first time and will make some calls. Lou Chinetti, Jr. should know something because of the Dino. One historic note: The Bergen County Record is mentioned several times. A racing section in that paper later became National Speed and Sport News, Chris Economaki's tabloid of record for US roundy-round racing.

BTW, great work by all concerned. The aircraft parts business would be a great front for a CIA spook. It was international, and allowed for contact with pilots, a group often needed for various paramilitary dirty tricks.

#196 scags

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Posted 15 April 2008 - 11:11

no luck on the email- Gino's personal address is unavailable. i'll try something else after my upcoming vacation.

#197 cabianca

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Posted 18 April 2008 - 21:30

The list of new members in the Sept/OCT 51 SCCA magazine, Sports Car, shows a William Jay O'Brien as a new member.
Address is given as N. Ocean Blvd., Gulfstream, Delray Beach Florida. May or may not be our man. Believe our man had a second home in FL. Timing could be related to entry at Watkins Glen. This O'Brien's car is also an XK-120.

Historian Jim Sitz thinks the Connought O'Brien is not our man.

O'Brien's race number at the Grenzlandring 31 Aug 52 was 130.

#198 Adam F

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Posted 21 April 2008 - 16:36

Originally posted by cabianca
The list of new members in the Sept/OCT 51 SCCA magazine, Sports Car, shows a William Jay O'Brien as a new member.
Address is given as N. Ocean Blvd., Gulfstream, Delray Beach Florida. May or may not be our man. Believe our man had a second home in FL. Timing could be related to entry at Watkins Glen. This O'Brien's car is also an XK-120.

Historian Jim Sitz thinks the Connought O'Brien is not our man.

O'Brien's race number at the Grenzlandring 31 Aug 52 was 130.


Cabianca,

Many thanks for this.

By coincidence, I have in the last few days acquired a copy of the SCCA List of Members for 1951, and this has no Robert O'Brien listed.
It does list the William Jay O'Brien mentioned above, in Florida, which would seem to date the list to late 1951.
As far as I can see Bob O'Brien's first race appearance was at Watkins Glen on 15th September 1951, where he was a late entry, so he could have just missed the deadline for the 1951 Members List.

O'Brien's business card (see post above) clearly shows his name as "Robert O'Brien"
FWIW Airline records show that he travelled as "Robert O'Brien".

With due respect to Jim Sitz, photographic evidence does seem to indicate that the Bob O'Brien who drove a Connaught at Bridgehampton in 1952 (photo in Joel Finn's Bridgehampton book) bears a close resemblance to the guy photographed in the pits at Spa in 1952.

Why do you believe "our man" had a second home in Florida?

#199 cabianca

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Posted 22 April 2008 - 05:31

Adam,
Sitz keeps a very detailed reference card on every major entrant. Unfortunately, he does not keep a reference to his notes. His O'Brien card says the Connought O'Brien is a different O'Brien. He reckons he read something somewhere to cause him to make the note. However, he had O'Brien joining the SCCa in 51, which I disproved by finding another O'Brien as the 51 joiner.

My belief in his FL home is that he raced the early FL events. Almost all Northeast competitors who raced in those events had a FL connection. Otherwise, a long way to tow. No other proof. It appears O'Brien had the money (and his Cadillac tow car) to make the Florida trip, even if he didn't live there.

BTW, I agree that his inability to get Euro entries was most likely due to something being wrong with his license. Certainly, his Sebring placing in a Ferrari would have been of interest to organizers and given him some creds.

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#200 Adam F

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Posted 01 October 2008 - 09:53

Another small snippet regarding Bob O'Brien

Originally posted by humphries
Whilst researching races held in Scotland I saw in the programme entry list for the Charterhall meeting (11 Oct, 1952) the name Johnny Claes entered by Ecurie Belge in the 1500cc Gordini, the car used by Bob O'Brien at Spa. With the race number 28 Claes was entered in both the Newcastle Trophy for F2 cars and the Formule Libre race for the Daily Record Trophy.

Little information can be gleaned from the British journals of the day about the F2 race but I turned to an old notebook compiled back in the 1970s and, to my surprise, I had recorded that amongst the starters for the F.Libre race was - R.O'Brien (Gordini)!

Checks in Motor Sport, Autosport, The Motor, no mention, but in The Autocar there was a list of all the starters in the F.Libre race and sure enough - R.O'Brien (Gordini)! Whether O'Brien or Johnny Claes drove the car in the F2 race is not known.
John


Whilst looking in the LAT archive recently, I saw a Motor Sport photo of the Gordini in question (No. 28) with a driver (fat bloke!) who is clearly Bob O'Brien.
So he definitely appeared at Charterhall.
And there his enigmatic racing career apparently ended......