All of the pictures on this page were  taken by Roger Phillips,
I am very grateful to him for the opportunity of reproducing them here.

(CLICK ON AN IMAGE TO SEE A LARGER VERSION)

 

 


THE BRIGHTON
SPEED TRIALS

 

 


The Brighton Speed Trials began just over a hundred years ago when the south coast resort celebrated the opening of the newly resurfaced Madeira Drive with a "Motor Week" between July 19th and 22nd 1905. Local aristocrat Sir Harry Preston had lobbied the town council to tarmac the road - originally known as The Kings Drive - with the specific intention of bringing motor racing to Brighton. Mass production of the automobile was still in its infancy, but the inaugral event attracted over 350 entries.  The fastest cars ran over a flying kilometre course whilst the slower cars competed over a standing mile.  Because of a dispute with residents over the 4,000 resurfacing cost, the next event didn't occur until 1923.  The event was again run in 1924, but then there was a gap until 1932, it was then run yearly until 1938.  Because of World War II, there were no Trials until 1946.  Since then, they have run every year with the exception of 1969 which was cancelled due to nationwide fuel shortages.

Over the years, many drag racers have competed at Brighton with Sydney Allard being the first in 1961.  He entered his newly completed Allard Dragster in the Unlimited Racing Cars Class and found himself alongside cars with aero engines of 20+ litres over the standing start kilometre course.  For the 1962 event, the organisers introduced a Dragster Class.  The only other car in this class besides Allard was Chris Summers in an obsolete F1 Cooper.  For the 1963 Trials, Allard was joined by a couple of American dragsters, Dante Duce in the Top Gas Mooneyes car, and Mickey Thompson in his Top Fuel Harvey Aluminium Special.  The 3 cars made demonstration passes over the quarter mile.

The Dragster Class was dropped for the 1964 meeting but was re-introduced in 1971 when the cars were run singly, at the end of the meeting over a quarter mile course.  More than 15 drag racers were entered in "Class 17" as well as several other well know racers such as Dave Stone in a Cortina, Dave Render, Doug Harler in a Dodge Charger, John and Tony Dickson, Gerry Tyack, Bob Oram, Gary Goggin and Ken Obee who were entered in the regular classes over the kilometre course.

Roger Phillips was on hand to photograph the '71 event as Custom Car's editor Mike Hill had entered his own blown Capri and later wrote a report of his exploits.  Luckily for us Roger also caught the dragster action and so we take great pleasure in sharing with you these never-seen-before photographs from this unique event.

 

 

 

 

 

The entries in the Dragster Class were paraded along Madeira Drive prior to their solo runs.  In the foreground is Metronome, complete with Rolls-Royce pushcar, followed by the Hillbillies' Topolino and Santa Pod's Gloworm Capri.  John Dickinson, seen here in the black hat, was at Brighton both as reporter for Kool Kams magazine and racing a GTO with his brother Tony.  John recalls that the Brighton and Hove organisers looked down their noses at these new-fangled dragsters and did little to hide their preference for the vintage blown Bentleys and other traditional entries - not a sentiment echoed by the 30,000 crowd who roared their approval at the quarter mile machinery and their show of power.


 

 

 


 

Mike Derry was taking his turn behind the tiller of the immaculate "Hillbillies" Topolino, while partner Roland Pratt acted as crewchief.  The Hilborn injected 454 Chevy altered ran in the nines over the quarter mile course, good enough for second quickest ET of the day.  The West Country boys would soon forego the Topolino and debut England's first bona fide Funny Car, the Vauxhall VX490 "Transcontinental".  Thanks to Roger Phillips we will be able to take a detailed look at this short-lived AA/FC at a later date.
 

 
 


 

Dave Watts, more regularly seen at Santa Pod Raceway in his role as BDR & HRA Race Director, was on hand to help organise the drag racing fraternity. Here Dave supervises the super clean "Invader" Vauxhall Viva altered, as driver Reuben Johnson manoeuvres towards the start line, after parading along Madeira Drive.
 

 
 


 

Allan "Bootsie" Herridge was still in his first year as driver for Santa Pod's "Gloworm" Capri Funny Car, but acquitted himself well putting on some wild and smokey runs - and even managing a wheelie on the less than ideal road surface.  The lack of traction was one problem, but the ineffectual safety measures were an aspect that have stuck in John Dickson's memory - issues that the RAC addressed by banning the dragsters from the Brighton Speed Trials after 1974.
 

 
 


 

Last but not least in this pre-race parade, Dennis Stone in Opus One.  Son, Dave would soon take over driving duties in this fore-runner to the legendary Tee Rat altered.  Opus One had previously been owned by Cliff Jones before the Stones puchased it and inserted their mighty Rat engine.  What happened to Opus One we don't know, but the humble Thames push van even out-lived Tee Rat and seemed to remain synonymous with the Stones' team for years to come!
 

 
 

It seems (and we're open to suggestions here...) that the dragsters had to be push started down Madeira Drive - the wrong way - before being turned round to begin their runs.  "Poison Ivy" driver John Williamson certainly recalls there was no space in the pits or before the start-line to kick the dragsters into life - and no self-starters in those days of course.  What is certain is this is Bruce Brown in "Age Machine", running an injected small block Chevy (he would later replace it with the Hillbillies' Rat motor) and fast approaching the startline, after apparently being push-started by the team's GTO. Unfortunately Bruce's slingshot seized the clutch moments later, and their day was over.

 

 
 


 

Star of the day, and quickest dragster was John Siggery in "Geronimo".  John's 9.38 was good enough for best ET of the event.  Geronimo was powered by a 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket engine, bored out to 324 cu in.  The home built dragster had first appeared at Santa Pod in 1968 with Mick Tickner as the original driver.  John would later have a brief spell driving Santa Pod's famous "Commuter" fueler, before disappearing from the drag racing scene.
 

 
 


 

The double-decker bus, on the left hand edge of the photo was used as a race control centre for officials and time-keepers, and was positioned next to the start-line.  Here Dennis Stone smokes the rubbers away from the line.  Madeira Drive boasted a new surface in 1971, good enough to see many records broken, but inadequate for harnessing the horsepower of the dragsters.  Still this made for some wild start line antics, much to the delight of the crowd, if not the Brighton officials . . .
 

 
 


 

Reuben Johnson failed to get a time slip after Dennis Stone's run, when Opus One caused a marshal to fall over the timing equipment in fright.  Shame, as judging from the growth on Invader's slicks, Reuben was on a fair clip as he approached the finish-line.  Invader caught the eye of many photographers and magazines - on both sides of the pond - and Roger Phillips and Custom Car were no exception.  Thanks to Roger's collection we can look forward to a closer look at both the Viva and Firenza Invader at a later date.
 

 
 


 

John Williamson decided to attend the Speed Trials at the suggestion of drag racing friend, and Brighton local, Bob Oram.  Bob, famous for his "Red E" E-type Jaguar was running over the kilometre along with the other doorslammers, whereas John in his 3.8 Jag powered altered "Poison Ivy" ran in the dragster category, over the quarter.  "I probably ran about a 13 second ET, which was about par for the altered around that time" remembers John.  A new "Poison Ivy", in partnership with Pete Smith, would later become a 10 second runner in Middle Competition Altered, at Santa Pod and various NDRC venues.
 

 
 


 

And nemisis of many Middle Competition Altereds - Stripteaser - was in attendance.  Here the infamous Mini van is in one of its earliest incarnations, but already the standard "Stripteaser" configuration was in evidence - Jaguar engine where the driver should be and driver where the groceries normally resided.  Roger Bishop, Rob Messent, Jim Brett and Roger Hobbs, the builders and owners, quickly adapted and upgraded the car as drag racing grew in the early '70s, assuring that the "Jumping Dog House" remained both a crowd favourite, and a step ahead of the opposition.
 

 
 

A nitro injected Fuel Altered running down Brighton seafront at full pelt?  How much would you pay to see that!  For those not familiar with the south coast resort, Madeira Drive ran from Brighton's Palace Pier to Black Rock, near to the town's marina, with the beach below on one side and the towering Edwardian terraces on the other, allowing the spectators a bird's eye view of the racing.
 

 

 
 


 

And if the Hillbillies' A/FA wasn't enough, Steve Cryer's Metronome was the equivalent of a AA/FA but as Mike Derry and John Siggery were the only sub-10 second runners at Brighton that day (Saturday 11th September 1971), we can only presume that Metronome did not perform to its potential.  The blown hemi-powered Bond Bug was one of the most outrageous machines ever seen in British drag racing.  But then builder Mark Stratton never built anything straightforward . . .
 

 
 


 

This little slingshot has proved difficult to identify, but thanks to Clive Rooms' extensive library, we are quite certain this is the Mark 2 version of the original Worden dragster, put together by Harry Worral and Tony Densham around 1962. The driver was listed in the Speed Trials programme as a G.W.McGuire.
 

 
 


 

Far easier to recognise is John Whitmore in his Drag-N-Fly dragster.  While the Midlander had first appeared on the scene in 1967, it was in the early 70's that this giant killer became famous on the strips.  Squeezing every horsepower he could out of the diminutive 1293cc BMC 4 pot, John's reputation as an innovative and resourceful engineer made Drag-N-Fly one of the most successful dragsters in British drag racing history.
 

 
 


 

The end of the quarter mile comprised of a flag man, an overhead banner sporting the word "Finish" and what appears to be a single timing beam that would explain why only ET's and not terminal speeds seemed to be mentioned in the various race reports of the day.  Here Stripteaser completes another successful run.
 

 
 

John Williamson recalls the finish-line flagman gave him a bit of a fright, "I thought who's that silly b*gger waving a flag at me?  Then I realized I'd crossed the finish line, and he was warning me to slow down.  The shutdown area was short and bumpy and I had my hands full to get the car stopped.  But we made it - and then it was straight off to Santa Pod for more racing!  We slept in our Vauxhall Cresta tow car somewhere between Brighton and Wellingborough and were at the strip for the Sunday.  We were drag racing mad in those days."

It is a pleasure put the Stone's photo alongside Poison Ivy for as a footnote, John has always remembered Dennis and Dave's help and quick-thinking when Poison Ivy accidentally slipped off the trailer in the Brighton pits - a helping hand that was typical of the Stones and would make them so popular amongst fans and fellow racers alike.
 
 

 
 


 

Gary Goggin received his Fastest Time of The Day trophy after recording a 22.26 at 155mph over the kilometer in his immaculate Corvette.  This was a new record in the Sports and GT Class.  "Go Go" Goggin would of course become one of the early stalwarts of British Pro Stock, with his Chevrolet Camaro.  Stanley Theobald, Brighton's then-Mayor had the honour of presenting all the '71 winners with their cups and trophies.
 

 
 


 

John Siggery seems to have received a considerably smaller trophy for his quickest ET of the event. Geronimo was not the biggest dragster at Brighton, but Dennis Priddle's "Hot Wheels" Top Fuel car never made a run due to engine problems and Clive Skilton, although billed to appear, never showed with his fueler due to similar difficulties.
 

 
 


 

We apologise for the lack of bike photos from Brighton, but we're very pleased to include this photo of Don East who received the absolute FTD award after recording a 20.05 over the kilo on his Triumph powered "Quasimodo" drag bike.  Don was a real down-to-earth character, very popular amongst his fellow riders.  We will be delighted to pay tribute to the late Don East in our subsequent Bike Gallery culled from the Roger Phillips Collection.
 

 
 

 

Historical introduction by Clive Rooms.  Captions by Clive Rooms and Andy Barrack.  Photographs copyright of Roger Phillips

A special thanks to Mike Lintern, John Dickson, John Williamson, Ian Messenger and Paul Jordan of the Brighton History Centre  for their contributions to this feature.

 

 

     
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