As told exclusively to
Bruce Brown got into motorsport aged 18 with a Mini at autotests and sprints. After a few years scrambling, he bought a Daimler Dart which he took to Santa Pod in 1966. He replaced that with a '55 Chevy and then bought Allan Herridge's old Pulsation dragster from Chris Urlwin and Alan Ward. Bruce named the dragster, with its engine from the '55 Chevy, Prospector 2.
I was born and brought up in Suffolk and my mum and dad had a garage in Glemsford. It was the main garage in the village and it was always very busy. There was a railway track at the end of the piece of land with the garage and before Dr Beeching, trains used to run from Colchester to Bury St. Edmunds. It was handy having this land because that’s where I learnt to drive, as you will learn. Having the garage, which was called the Bungalow Garage, and where I worked as a mechanic, was also a big advantage as we had power, compressed air and plenty of space to keep cars and trailers.
I first started driving with a 1927 Austin Chummy when I was 12 or 13, it didn’t have a self-starter or anything so I had to tickle the carburettor and then crank it over by hand. We had some land and I used to drive it around for fun. I shared this with another lad. I started driving on the road when I was 17 in May 1960 and when I left school.
Then I bought me my own car, a 1931 MG Midget with Mulliner coachwork with a top on. I’ve got a picture of that somewhere. I remember it was Maroon. Originally it would have come with the MG OHC engine but before I bought it a Morris Minor side valve engine had been fitted – not very exciting! I put number sevens all over it because that was the number used by my favourite racing drivers, Stirling Moss and Barry Sheene.
I wanted to do scrambling but my mother wouldn’t let me until I was 21, I thought I’ve got to do something so I bought a brand new Mini and I started doing auto tests in 1961, with the occasional sprint at Snetterton. I got a trophy for a class win. The auto tests were at a disused aerodrome, can’t remember where, near Ipswich I think. In the auto test I used the 1960 Mini, it was great fun because you had the box set up; you had to go into the box forwards and come out forwards, I used to go into a handbrake turn as I went in and then come out again but making sure I kept the car in the box. I got quite good at that.
In 1962 the Mini Coopers come out, each time I had a new Mini I used to send the head to get an exchange ported head, I can’t remember the company, I think it might have been Taurus it had a chrome rocker cover which was nice, it was ported, it had shiny combustion chambers, it was lovely. 11.5 to 1 compression ratio, if you remember the Minis had the speedo go round and then the fuel gauge was at the bottom. With the Cooper the speedo went up to 90 but I could get the needle halfway across the fuel gauge! Must have been about 110 mph!
The only downside was you couldn’t get good tyres for the Mini, because they were an odd size, they were only 5.20 x 10 and I was always getting punctures. I used to keep the jack and wheel brace in the front of the car because I was always getting punctures, you could only get cross plies then for the factory size, you couldn’t get bigger ones. When the Michelins ZXs came out that was better. The Mini Cooper was fast but it only did 22 mpg! I only had that for a few months and I traded it in for a Frog Eye Sprite, it was a lovely little car but if it rained you used to get wet feet! I used to do sprints with the Mini Cooper, I remember one sprint was at Snetterton, you had three runs, two during daylight, and one after dark. I remember it was very foggy coming back once!
In 1964 I started scrambling; that was very competitive. I always got on better with 4 strokes. My dad bought me a BSA B33, ex Police with all the Police gear on it. I stripped it all down and made a scrambler out of it. That was a lovely old bike. My mate had an ex-Army BSA M20 and he had the scrambler on the side car to get to races. The first scrambling bike I bought was a 1961 Greeves.
I raced mostly in East Anglia; Littleport was one of my favourite tracks. I had a license for Eastern Centre, the worst track was Stalham, the course was pathetic, only had a maximum of 10 riders, it was hopeless. I also raced one time at Broughton near Huntingdon and it was pouring with rain and I thought the meeting would be abandoned; everywhere was waterlogged, and a bit round the back was like a lake. I had a 441cc BSA, a brand new one I had bought. When I dropped the clutch I was in 2nd gear and I got away OK, I got to a hairpin corner and on the way back from the corner I saw that everyone was behind me! I won the race, the only one I ever won, I didn’t get a trophy but I got money, 13 shillings! When I went drag racing in the 1970s I used to get £120 start money!
I also raced in the Southern Centre in Kent in the winter because there was no racing in East Anglia. I raced at Biggin Hill and a nice track near Swanley, which was with my 250cc Montesa. I was still scrambling when I started drag racing.
I went straight into drag racing in 1966, I didn’t spectate first, just went straight into racing I raced a Daimler Dart in the Sports Car class. I modified the exhaust pipes with a cut out so you could blank off the silencers. It didn’t make a lot of difference but it sounded good; lovely engine. I remember when drag racing started a lot of people used Jag engines, but they were a bit heavy. I raced the Daimler, which I had bought from Camden Motors in Leighton Buzzard, for about a season. The Daimler was cream and I painted the wheels red, that didn’t look very good, don’t know why I did that!
I wanted something a bit quicker so I bought a ‘55 Chevy from a bloke in Chelmsford, The first drag racing meeting with it was a practice day at Santa Pod, and I went with one of my motor cycle mates, it was a hay fever sort of day and I was all stuffy. I did a few practice starts and I thought “This is alright!” I had a Hurst shifter on it; I put a 283 in it because it had a worn out 265 Chevy. I called the car Prospector, can’t remember why. I bored the engine out to 292ci, and it had all the good bits in it, like high compression pistons, I also made up some beautiful headers into collectors that came out behind the front wheels. At my dad’s garage in Glemsford we had all the pipe sections and so I was sawing bits and welding them together. I bought a lot of bits from Dave Riswick, he was really helpful.
Looking back I wished I had put a good gearbox in it, like a Muncie. I remember seeing the ‘55 on Anglia TV once. I had stripped all the weight out of it and with the 292 engine it went 13 seconds dead at over 100 mph, pretty good at the time.
I kept breaking Chevy gearboxes so I thought I’ve got to have a dragster. I can’t remember much about actually getting the dragster but I bought it from Chris Urlwin and Alan Ward in Watford. They had started to build it up to race but decided to sell it instead. It was in fact originally Allan Herridge’s Pulsation dragster. I put the 292 from the ‘55 into the dragster and called it Prospector 2. I tried a 2-speed Chevy box in the dragster and tried it out at an airfield at Great Waldingfield but it used to shear the shafts, I thought I need to go direct drive and I put a 5.11 in the back.
I put 2 Carter AFBs on a cross ram. It wouldn’t run properly, kept falling on its face. I couldn’t get bigger jets so I drilled out the jets I had and it ran lovely after that. For the cross ram I needed some carburettor intakes so I cut some bubble car headlights in half and mounted them on the carbs, to ram the air into them. At a static display at Silverstone one of the big officials sat in the car once and said it was like sitting behind a pair of big boobs! Later on I tried Enderle fuel injection, which I couldn’t get to work right, the car ran best with the two Carter AFBs.
I also did a demonstration at Hednesford Hills, where they did stock car racing. I did a burn out on the straight! I remember to get there, going around the Bull Ring in Birmingham, with the car on the trailer twice because I couldn’t find the exits! That was a good running car, 10.20/30s at 135, best was 140. If the performance went off I just put in a new set of plugs and it was OK again. It ran on Firestone 7.00/15 racing tyres because slicks were so expensive. The racing tyres were pretty hard but spun just the right amount to not bog the engine.
Most of the racing was at Santa Pod but I remember racing at Martlesham Heath near Ipswich which was handy for me. I had met the Gleadows, Brian, Mick and Robert, by then; they were only about an hours’ drive from me and sometimes I would go to see them and we would go to the pub and then have a curry or a Chinese then sometimes they would come over to see me.
I remember when we ran at Martlesham we stayed in the British Bulldog pub in Ipswich for B & B. On the Saturday we towed our cars around Ipswich to give publicity for the race meeting. We went to a Chinese restaurant in Ipswich on Saturday night. We were all wearing racing jackets and the waiter asked “You all Americans?” There were a few American bases around there so he must have thought we looked like Americans! The traction at Martlesham was not very good but the car ran well. It was a nice place to race, in heath land, as long as you kept away from the bracken!
Once I was at a car show in Bury St. Edmunds and Emerson Fittipaldi sat in my car, he was in it for ages. He said he wouldn’t be able to drive it.
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