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Mystery Shelsley Special


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#1 simonlewisbooks

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Posted 06 June 2005 - 11:32

Here's a puzzeler for anyone into Shelsley Specials and English speed hillclimbing in general.
I have this photo in my files and I't obviously Shelsley in the 30s or 40s but other than that I have no idea what the car is or who the driver is or the actual date of the photo.
I've had a print of it displayed on my book & photo stand at Shelsley Walsh for about the last 5 meetings now(Including last years VSCC) and so far no one has been able to identify it despite many a senior MAC member having taken a look. The number is not clearly visible on the tail but starts with a 1 and looks to be followed by 8 , or 6 or 3... but I could be wrong.

Posted Image

Anyone got any ideas? All I can say is the general feeling is it's NOT the Cognac special...

Simon Lewis
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#2 ensign14

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Posted 06 June 2005 - 12:03

Seems to be very narrow...couldn't be the Derby-Maserati, could it?

#3 simonlewisbooks

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Posted 06 June 2005 - 13:18

This one appears to have Frazer Nash/GN transmission (chains), so no, not the Derby Maserati I'm afraid.

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#4 David McKinney

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Posted 06 June 2005 - 13:59

The Richard Bolster Special was (is) very narrow, but I can't recall what it looks like from behind :

#5 Stephen W

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Posted 06 June 2005 - 14:30

From what I can see it does bear a strong resemblance to te Bolster Special. This was based on a GN and did have a strap of some sorts over the tail section. Richard was a burly bloke as is the character in the photo. Also he wore a crash hat and a dark sweater as again the photo shows.

As others have said I can't say I have seen a photo of the rear of the Bolster Special but it does seem to be the favourite.
:)

#6 ensign14

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Posted 06 June 2005 - 14:31

Did the Bolsters wear hard hats? I have an image of John Bolster in my mind in DSJ's book on historic cars from circa 1988 (the book, not the cars) of a handlebar moustache somewhere under what looked like a skillet. Somewhat early for hard helmets? Like the above photo?

#7 Tim Murray

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Posted 06 June 2005 - 16:17

There is a photo of Richard Bolster's special in his brother's Specials book. It is a front three-quarter view of the car on the line at Shelsley, and as Steve W says, Bolster is clearly wearing a dark-coloured crash hat and sweater. The tail of the car is only just visible, so it is difficult to make comparisons, but it does appear to have similar strapping to the car in Simon's photo.

#8 Miles Fenton

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Posted 06 June 2005 - 22:33

Could it be the Humphrey Semence Special or the later copy of same?

#9 Stephen W

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Posted 07 June 2005 - 10:58

Originally posted by Miles Fenton
Could it be the Humphrey Semence Special or the later copy of same?


I doubt it! Once again the John Bolster SPECIALS book has a photo of the Semmence special. In this it is shown with a built in mirror on the scuttle which is missing from the machine depicted by Simon Lewis. The driver in 1947, L. Hawthorn, is pictured without a crash hat, however I don't know if H. Whitfield Semmence wore a crash hat or not.

Further information: In Chris Mason's super Uphill Racers there is a photo (page 65) of the start line in 1932. The two guys operating the chocks are remarkeably similar to the two in the above photo. Also in Chris's text there is a reference to the "downpours of 1936" which might indicate the year.

:cool:

#10 Steve L

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Posted 07 June 2005 - 16:55

I don't think it could be the Cognac Special, as from memory this was a two-seater until the 1970/80s.

Also, all the pictures I've seen of the Semmence Special show it with much wider tyres than the car shown in your photo.

The Richard Bolster Special (at least as it is today) has a different shaped tail. As a matter of interest, the RBS had a bad crash at Silverstone a few years ago (I think the front axle broke!) - anyone know what has happened to it since?

I suppose that as the picture has been shown to a number of MAC members, the Frazer Nash "Terror" has been ruled out?

Another possibility (off the top of my head - no books to hand to check pictures/dates!) would be the first Norris Special?

#11 Ted Walker

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Posted 08 June 2005 - 07:26

Although the helmet does looklike Bolsters,most of the photos I have show the car without the large mirror as shown in the Shelsley shot.

#12 simonlewisbooks

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Posted 08 June 2005 - 08:44

So favourites are the Bolster special and the Semmence special.

Having trawled through the Pathe downloads about Shelsley those dated 1946 and 1947 show events seemingly rain soaked enough for this photo to have been at either. Likewise 36, the year of the Auto Union.

Richard Bolster was killed in the war I recall so if this is him it's likely to be from 36 (or did John also drive it post-war?) and the car looks to be number 18 or 16 from what little I can see of the number on the tail. The helmet doesn't rule out a mid 30s date as Segrave wore one to set FTD in 1925 with his Grand Prix Sunbeam.

Does anyone have programmes from these three years (36,46,47)that might narrow things down a bit?


One other Shelsley Special question. In 1938 M R Willows ran a car listed as a 3.6 litre ABU. I have a photo for which Howard Stockley kindly found the identity. But what was the ABU? It's not the usual little special as you can tell from the capacity, in fact it looks more Bentley-sized.

Simon Lewis
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#13 john medley

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Posted 08 June 2005 - 22:11

I too favour Richard Bolster's car, and the second meeting at Shelsley in 1936.

No programme showing numbers, but the entry list printed in The Autocar shows the cars in what appears from photos to be in numerical order -- and R Bolster is 16th in the list

#14 Ray Bell

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Posted 08 June 2005 - 22:36

Originally posted by simonlewisbooks
.....One other Shelsley Special question. In 1938 M R Willows ran a car listed as a 3.6 litre ABU. I have a photo for which Howard Stockley kindly found the identity. But what was the ABU? It's not the usual little special as you can tell from the capacity, in fact it looks more Bentley-sized.


Any pictures of this little devil?

I think there's a fair chance of identifying the engine from a picture of the car.

#15 simonlewisbooks

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Posted 09 June 2005 - 08:37

Originally posted by john medley
I too favour Richard Bolster's car, and the second meeting at Shelsley in 1936.

No programme showing numbers, but the entry list printed in The Autocar shows the cars in what appears from photos to be in numerical order -- and R Bolster is 16th in the list


Sounds convincing John, many thanks. I think in the absence of overwhelming evidence to the contrary this probabaly solves the mystery.One question - Did it rain at that second meeting, do you know? (I assume without reffering elsewhere that Stuck appeared at the first 1936 meeting?)

ABU - the photo isn't a close up but here goes. Any information gratefully recieved
Posted Image

Simon Lewis
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#16 David McKinney

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Posted 09 June 2005 - 09:56

OK Ray, what is it? :lol:
3.6 litres could be a Ford V8
And does that bulky front suspension suggest front-wheel drive?
C A N May's Shelsley book makes no mention of the car or of Willows, and Chris Mason's Uphill Racers doesn't mention it either

#17 Stephen W

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Posted 09 June 2005 - 10:27

Originally posted by David McKinney
OK Ray, what is it? :lol:
3.6 litres could be a Ford V8
And does that bulky front suspension suggest front-wheel drive?
C A N May's Shelsley book makes no mention of the car or of Willows, and Chris Mason's Uphill Racers doesn't mention it either


Rollocks! I had just scouted the above worthy sources and also failed to find a reference.

Mind you it looks like it could be 4 wheel drive! I'll keep searching!

#18 Ray Bell

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Posted 09 June 2005 - 10:40

Exhaust's too high for a Ford V8...

Look at Vauxhall 25, maybe Morris truck, I think it's too early for the Austin 6 truck engine. The photo is a bit distant... is it possible to scan in close at high resolution?

#19 simonlewisbooks

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Posted 09 June 2005 - 10:53

Here you go....best I can get.
Posted Image
Any help......? Doesn't look fwd in this shot.

Howard Stockley says the results show the car failed on it's second run which might explain why the driver seems to be looking down to his right.

Simon Lewis
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#20 Ray Bell

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Posted 09 June 2005 - 11:45

No, it's not front wheel drive... that's a pretty conventional front axle there.

#21 Vitesse2

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Posted 09 June 2005 - 16:47

Bodywork looks a bit like a Talbot 105 to me.

#22 Tim Murray

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Posted 09 June 2005 - 19:30

I've found a period picture of the Semmence Special, taken at the Poole speed trials in August 1939:

Posted Image

In my view, based on the different tail shape and absence of strapping, this is not the car in Simon's first picture.

#23 simonlewisbooks

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Posted 10 June 2005 - 07:57

Originally posted by Tim Murray
I've found a period picture of the Semmence Special .... In my view, based on the different tail shape and absence of strappimg, this is not the car in Simon's first picture.


I agree you Tim. The Semmence special is a rather classy looking car I have to say. Not your average "special" by a long way.

As for the ABU, yes it does look a bit like a Talbot or one of the big capacity MGs maybe?

Simon Lewis
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#24 Steve L

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Posted 10 June 2005 - 11:50

The "ABU" looks a bit 1920's to me - is that Perrot shaft braking at the front?

The radiator has a touch of Aston Martin about it maybe?

I thought at first that the car in the picture could have been the Spurrier-Railton Special, based on an Arab car chassis, but now I'm not so sure.