The Early Years - part 2

As told exclusively to by Nick Pettitt


On Tuesday evening February 27th 1962, the NSA invited the BHRA to one of its ‘Noggin and Natter’ meetings at the Barley Mow, Horseferry Road, London. The meeting was held to discuss the possibilities of four-wheel Drag Racing with RAC sanctioning.

Although the NSA was mainly concerned with bikes it also welcomed cars and had seen an increase in the number of cars in the association recently. They were already affiliated with the Auto-Cycle Union for the bikes but didn’t have enough car members for the RAC to consider sanctioning and it was suggested that some members of the BHRA should join the NSA to help them get Car Sprinting and Drag Racing sanctioned by the RAC.

Many BHRA members did pay the £1 join up fee and it was soon announced in The Sprinter, that car members were up to the required figure for application to the RAC for recognition and a month later they were recognised by the RAC as well as affiliated to the ACU. Not only that but the BHRA also announced in Kool Kams that they too were now RAC affiliated meaning they could organise their own Drag Race Meetings.

Brian Sparrow was competitions secretary of the NSA and he met BHRA members Allan ‘Bootsie’ Herridge and Brian Witty for the first time at the Barley Mow meet. They told him about Brian’s Chrysler hemi Dragster they were now building and their ambitious plans to take on the Allard Dragster at the Evesham Automobile Club Sprint Meeting at Long Marston in June.

They didn’t have the budget and facilities available to Allard, they were just basic Hot Rodders taking their dreams from the pages of Hot Rod Magazine and building their cars to the best of their ability with limited funds. Brian Sparrow was impressed by this and agreed to join them on the trip in June.

April 15th saw the West Essex Car Club hold a National Speed Trial at RAF Debden Airfield for the first time as the former venue at North Weald was no longer available. Eight entries were listed in the Dragster Class but the only real Dragster there was the Allard and Sydney was looking for quicker ETs.

He didn’t disappoint, running 10.48 seconds using only one gear, the quickest in the UK at the time. Second quickest at this meeting was George Brown on his big Vincent bike ‘Nero’ who recorded 11.49 followed by Tony Marsh’s Sprint Special BRM with an 11.92. Tony also recorded the quickest time of the meet over the standing start half mile at 18.33 seconds.

Motor Sport pic.

Motor Sport pic.

Pierre De Villiers from Stansted, Essex had been to the Indianapolis 500 in 1961 as a mechanic on a Chrysler special and thought it was about time the UK had an entry. He enlisted the help of Tony Densham and Harry Worrell and together they stripped and rebuilt an old Connaught with a 4-cylinder 2½ litre Alta engine and they fitted a new body designed and built by Harry Worral.

They headed for Indianapolis with the car in May 1962 but never managed to qualify so they wandered down the road to Raceway Park to watch the Drags and an idea hatched to build a Dragster in England. Unlike Allard, Cooper and Witty who were all going for big American V8 lumps at the time they decided that a small engine and light frame would be a good recipe for a quick machine and began construction of the Worden dragster using a Shorrocks blown 1500cc Ford, 105E box and BMC rear axle.

Pierre De Villiers, Tony Densham and Harry Worrell headed for Indianapolis in May 1962.

The Worden starts to take shape.

June 24th soon came round, and it was time for Allan Herridge, Brian Witty and Brian Sparrow to head up to Long Marston for the Sprint Meeting which had been held there annually since 1955. Robin Evemy and his younger brother Owen also joined the team for the trip. Brian Witty had his Chrysler Hemi rail finished and it was loaded up on the trailer behind Allan’s Land Rover.

Arriving at Long Marston they were pitted next to the Allard Dragster which was running strong as usual but, try as they might, Witty’s low buck Chrysler hemi machine would not run properly. Even the Allard crew lent a hand trying to get it running without success.

From left to right is Allan Herridge, Robin Evemy, Brian Witty and Robin's younger brother Owen. Brian Sparrow pic.

Long Marston pits. Brian Sparrow pic.

Unfortunately Witty's Dragster never made it to the line. Brian Sparrow pic.

The Allard Dragster was looking good with big slicks and American Mags. Brian Sparrow pic.

Tony Marsh seemed to be enjoying himself with his 2500cc Special. Brian Sparrow pic.

Check out those Firestone pie-crust slicks. Brian Sparrow pic.

G. Marsh checks over his blown 1100cc Jap V-Twin. Brian Sparrow pic.

W. Camp had his head in his Cooper. Brian Sparrow pic.

Blown 1172cc sidevalve Ford lump in W. Camp's Cooper. Brian Sparrow pic.

Number 83 must have been a late entry as it's not in the programme. Brian Sparrow pic.

The team were learning that running a home-built Dragster wasn’t easy and they went home disappointed but full of ideas for the future. Allan was also now building a Dragster. Back in March he had been given a ‘39 Buick Sport Coupe for free as the owner couldn’t afford to run it. He’d taken out the straight eight motor, gearbox, rear axle and any other bits he could use and dragged the rest to the tip.

Brian Sparrow joined forces with Allan along with Robin Evemy and John Harrison to form a syndicate known as Dragster Developments injecting some much-needed cash into the Buick Dragster build which would be ready to race by the start of the 1963 season.

The DD Buick nearing completion. Brian Sparrow pic.

Allan was working in less than ideal conditions and was pleased when Robin Evemy's parents allowed the use of the garage at their bungalow in Denham near Uxbridge. Brian Sparrow pic
On Saturday July 14th the Allard Dragster appeared at Goodwood as part of the Festival of Motoring. Sydney fired it up and managed to complete one lap of the circuit before running out of methanol in front of a huge enthusiastic crowd.

No helmet for Sydney but he probably had his tie on! Bernard Gudge pic.

The Allard Dragster created a lot of interest at Goodwood. Robbie Smith collection.

Sydney Allard was back at Brighton for the Speed Trials on Saturday September 15th. Running much better than the previous year he clocked 22.30 and 22.04 seconds over the standing kilometre but failed to break any records. A burst pipe between the blower and intake manifold was slowing him down.

Nothing could slow him down at the Church Fenton BARC Drag Sprint on September 23rd where he ran a 20.86, the quickest standing start kilometre time achieved by a four-wheeled vehicle in the UK at the time. Approaching the finish line, the back end of the inlet manifold blew out, and as Sydney commented... ‘Leaving a bloody big hole’

Fingers in ears as Sydney blasts off at Church Fenton.

Bill Morris's Model Y Hot Rod.

On Wednesday October 31st, Brian Coole, Allan Herridge and Brian Sparrow went to meet Bill Morris at the Fortes Restaurant, halfway up the M1. Bill was the promoter of Hednesford Hills Stock Car Raceway in Birmingham and was introducing a new formula called Hot Rods. This was a non-contact formula and Bill had already built a Model Y Ford Hot Rod fitted with an MGA 1600 engine, A40 gearbox and 100E rear axle. It also had hydraulic brakes and many engine and chassis parts were chrome plated.

Bill offered the BHRA the use of the raceway to display their cars and parade around the track during his meetings and the following year the venue was used for the first BHRA AGM.


The Dragster Developments syndicate had been working hard on the Buick Dragster now known as the DD Buick and had it ready to go for the West Essex Car Club Sprint at Debden on March 31st 1963. It had front brakes fitted but never appeared with an engine cover. Maybe the RAC were not enforcing some of their regulations?

They loaded it up on a trailer behind Bootsie’s Model B Ford limousine and BHRA member Pete Bartlett followed in his customized ‘48 Plymouth coupe. Must have been quite a sight seeing them make their way early morning from Hayes to Debden.

Ready for the tow to Debden. Brian Sparrow pic.

Bootsie contemplates driving a Dragster for the first time. Brian Sparrow pic.

That's Pete Bartlett's customised '48 Plymouth coupe next to Bootsie's Model B. Brian Sparrow pic.

The DD Buick was drawing a crowd of onlookers who'd probably never seen a Dragster before. Brian Sparrow pic.

The bungee strapped fuel tank fed four 6V pumps one to each SU H6 carburettor. The pumps were run by a 6V motorcycle battery in the cockpit with a cut-out switch on the dash. Brian Sparrow pic.

The BHRA's first Rod & Custom Show.

The DD Buick was the only Dragster entered and it was causing quite a crowd as they unloaded and got it ready for the first run. Allan recorded 18.18 first time out, then improved to a 16.68 followed by 17.19 seconds. Not too bad for a first outing and the team went home ready to make some mods before their next event at Long Marston in June.

The BHRA held their first Rod and Custom Show at John Bennett’s Spa Engineering on Sunday 14th April. John had his customised ‘54 Oldsmobile there which had started life as a 4-door in Sweden before he converted it into a pick-up. He towed in Brian Coole’s unfinished ‘34 Ford Hot Rod which had a dressed up and chromed flathead, lowered suspension, hydraulic brakes, 16” Steel wheels with spider bullets and was sprayed Midnight blue with purple tint.

Bootsie brought the DD Buick along towed behind his Model B. Also at the show was Ken Cooper’s ‘37 Ford yella coupe, Alan Doyle’s ‘32 Model B 5-window, Len Pond’s customised Vauxhall Victor, Vic Outen’s ‘54 Zodiac, and Dave Moses was there with his radically customised ‘53 Consul. More and more Rods and Customs were being built in the UK. Here’s a few examples of what was about in 1962 and ‘63...

Le Roy Hilligenn's custom 1950 Austin A70 with quad headlamps. Car Mechanics pic.

Rick Goodale's Morris 8 with hand painted flames and cycle mudguards next to Vic Outen's Zodiac and Ken Cooper's '37 Ford. Rick Goodale pic.

John Gilbey's '37 Morris Cabriolet and Brian Webster's '34 Morris 10/4. Brian Webster pic.

Dick Bird's '37 Morris 8 fitted with a Ford 10 engine and box, padded white running boards and whitewalls. Dick Bird pic.

Dick Bird also helped build this chopped '33 Austin 10 with Morris hydraulic brakes and Ford E93A engine mated to a Wolseley Wasp gearbox. Dick Bird pic.

Channelled Austin 7 with Speedex aluminium wheels up front. Kool Kams pic.

Mr Fitzgerald used a Ford Pilot chassis and engine, a cut down Model Y body and pre-war Jaguar grille. Kool Kams pic.

Clive Lingard's channeled Model Y Ford. Hot Rod Magazine pic.

Neat nerf bar on Mike Butler's Model Y. Popular Hot Rodding magazine pic.

Bill Mason's '51 Ford 10 pick-up with shortened bed, rolled pan, PA Cresta tail lights and tube bumper. Rear fenders had glass tail-fins fitted with PA Cresta indicators and it was lowered all round by 3” Kool Kams pic.

Quad headlights on Dave Moses' radically customised '53 Ford Consul. Ken Cooper pic Pic

Rear end had Bondaglass tail fins, Anglia tail lights and Continental kit. Kool Kams pic.

Robin Evemy's Triumph roadster with cycle mudguards. Brian Sparrow pic.

John Bennett's customised Austin A70 pick-up fitted with a Mk2 Zephyr grille, Consul bumper and quad headlights. Kool Kams pic.

John Bennett's '58 Pontiac Chieftain with modified grille and bumper. Rick Goodale pic.

John Bennett's '54 Oldsmobile 4-door converted into a pick-up. Rick Goodale pic.

Bob and Roy Phelps' '59 Plymouth was also converted into a pickup. Kool Kams pic.

Ken Cooper's V8 '33 Ford cabriolet with '32 grille. Ken Cooper pic.

Allan Herridge's V8 Model B Ford limousine. Ken Cooper pic.

Alan Doyle's V8 '32 Model B Ford 5-window coupe. Brian Webster pic.

Ron Lee's English Model B Ford. Ron put a flathead V8 in it before selling it to Jeff Beck. Pete Farnell pic.

Ralph Wray's in-progress 3-window '32 Ford coupe. Pete Farnell pic.

Brian Coole's V8 '34 Ford sedan which was lowered and fitted with juice brakes and spider bullets on 16" wheels. Ken Cooper pic.

Nice '34 Ford coupe, owner unknown. Pete Farnell pic.

Pete Farnell's '36 Ford coupe. Pete Farnell pic.

The NSA Noggin and Natter meeting at the Barley Mow on Wednesday May 8th featured a talk and discussion on how to build a Dragster. Sydney Allard was there to explain how to do it professionally and both Allan Herridge and Brian Witty were there to explain how to build one on a shoestring, the beg borrow and steal method.

The idea was to show that whilst a Dragster can cost a lot of money, it need not if you're merely out for some exciting and enjoyable sport. The evening was rounded off with the showing of an American Drag Racing film, The ‘62 Fuel Drags.

The Do It Yourself Dragster by Allan Herridge.

The Mystery Dragster?

This Mystery Dragster appears on Brian Sparrow's cine film from a 1963 bike sprint. No one has so far been able to identify it but one possibility is a mention in the Dec '62 issue of Kool Kams of a Canadian Ford flathead V8 powered Dragster with a tube frame being built by Dave Leeves, a member of the Road Knights in Maidenhead.

June 23rd saw the Evesham Automobile Club Sprint Meeting at Long Marston. The DD Team had been lightening the front end by junking the heavy Model B Ford I-beam in favour of a straight tube front axle and the Fiat Topolino steel wheels had been swapped for skinny wires. A pressurised fuel system was made, complete with a hand pump and a further 1/8 inch was skimmed off the head.

Bootsie made four passes at Long Marston. First pass was over the half mile course and resulted in a time of 26.9. He then put in three runs over the quarter, a 17.52 after a missed shift, then a much improved 14.58 and finally, a 14.23, the best run to date. Sydney Allard was also there running a couple of 12 second passes before unleashing a strong 10.76.

That could be Robin Evemy's Mum walking past wondering what she had let herself in for after letting the DD Team use her garage and drive. Brian Sparrow pic.

The DD Buick now had a much lighter front end and a pressure fuel system with a spun aluminium fuel tank complete with hand pump. Brian Sparrow pic.

New polythene fuel lines were made up with a fuel log on the manifold and six inches were lopped off each copper exhaust pipe. Brian Sparrow pic.

Here you can see the fuel pressure gauge on the dash and gear lever which selects second and top gears only on the left. Hand brake lever and oil pressure gauge were on the right. Brian Sparrow pic.

The spectators sat on WW2 pontoons that lined the strip.

Sydney Allard was there running strong as usual. Brian Sparrow pic.

Motor Sport pic.

Meanwhile Tony Densham and Harry Worrell had been working hard all winter designing and nailing together their lightweight Shorrock C75 blown 1500cc Ford powered Worden Dragster. They entered it at the British Automobile Racing Club’s Drag Sprint at Church Fenton on Sunday 14th July.

There are no records of the times it ran at that meeting but by the end of 1963 Tony was running regular low 14 second ETs with more to come proving that small engined lightweight Dragsters could be competitive against cars like the DD Buick.

The Worden was fitted with engine cover and front brakes to keep the RAC happy.

It looked much better without the engine cover. Brian Sparrow pic.

The meeting everyone was looking forward to was the Car Sprint Meeting at Church Lawford in Rugby on August 4th co-promoted by the NSA, the Allard Owners Club, and the Herts County Automobile and Aero Club. Many BHRA members attended making notes of how the meeting was run as they were planning their own event at the same venue three weeks later to be called the 1st Big Go which wasn’t going to be a sprint but would be the first true Drag Race Meeting held in the UK.

August 4th was a wet and misty day. Vic Outen joined John and Brian Greengrass in their flame decaled Ford Zephyr for the drive up from London. Getting there at 12.30 they found Ken Cooper with his ‘Yella Coupe’ and John Bennett who’d come up in his Pontiac. They were both working as marshals along with other BHRA members who were on the start line.

Allan Herridge and the DD Team were there running well despite a lack of traction in the damp conditions getting violent wheelspin for the full quarter he still ran 14.83, 14.63 and 14.42 and took the NSA Members Award for his efforts. Sydney Allard was having no traction problems and hooked up to the slick surface clocking Fastest Time of Day with a 10.91.

That's Patsy Burt's Cooper Climax which ran a best of 14.67. Paul Hicks pic.

Fastest time of the day went to Sydney Allard with a 10.91.

Kool Kams pic.

Dragons Hot Rod Club members Clive Lingard and Paul Hicks had travelled down from Manchester in Clive’s channelled Model Y Ford Hot Rod. The stock sidevalve motor had been given a port job, twin Zenith carbs and aluminium flywheel managing a time of 20.98.

Pete Bartlett was running his Triumph TR2 which clocked a 19.12. Tony Densham and Harry Worrell had entered the Worden Dragster but were having problems and didn’t make any runs.

Clive's Model Y had been channelled 4 inches and had flattened springs. Paul Hicks pic.

Check out those wild chrome pipes. Paul Hicks pic.

The signal red Hot Rod stood out amongst the regular sprinters. Paul Hicks pic.

The meeting ran well, finishing half an hour earlier than advertised. Just as well as by then the rain was pouring down and some of the BHRA members legged it to John Bennett’s huge Pontiac to discuss the running of the Drag Race on the 25th.

Sadly, the much-anticipated Drag Race didn’t happen. The BHRA believed they could put on a Drag Race Meeting on their own but out of 300 members only 17 entered which wasn’t enough to hold an RAC sanctioned event. The meeting was cancelled at the last minute.

Many of the members who hadn’t entered said it was because they didn’t feel their car was quick enough for Drag Racing which really wouldn't have mattered as they would have been classed with similar machines producing close racing. This was a big disappointment as a lot of money and man hours had been put into it.

It was soon realised that the answer was to have a co-promoted meeting and the Big Go was rescheduled for 17th May 1964 and with the help of the NSA and the Allard Owners Club was a huge success.

News was coming through that Dean Moon’s Mooneyes Dragster was coming over to race Sydney Allard in a series of quarter mile duals in September 1963; things were looking up for British Drag Racing...

Magazine articles: click thumbnail to enlarge, click back to return.

Sports Car Illustrated Oct 1960

Sports Car Illustrated Oct 1960

Sports Car Illustrated Oct 1960

Sports Car Illustrated Oct 1960

Autosport 21 July 1961

Autosport 21 July 1961

The Motor Aug 1961

The Motor Aug 1961

Motor Sport magazine Sept 1961

Motor Sport magazine Sept 1961

Autosport 8 September 1961

Autosport 8 September 1961

Motor Sport magazine Oct 1961

Autosport 28 September 1962

Gallery: click on any thumbnail for a large image.

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