As told exclusively to
The American Invasion continues as Mickey Thompson joins Mooneyes at Brighton.
Thanks to Shige Suganuma of MOONEYES for finding and sending photos and memorabilia from their Archives.
Saturday 14th September saw the Duce/Allard series at Brighton for the annual Speed Trials. Drag racing and land speed legend Mickey Thompson had taken everyone by surprise when he turned up completely unannounced with an AA/Fuel Dragster. Mickey had been at the SEMA meeting and didn’t want to let one of his speed equipment competitors, Dean Moon, win the trophy and get the resulting publicity. Not only that but the Evening News reported Mickey had said... “I heard on Monday that Mr Sydney Allard was calling the Brighton meeting the World Championship and thought what the heck am I doing in America?”
Mickey used a dragster originally built for him in 1962 at Tommy Ivo’s shop. First time out at Lions with Jack Chrisman driving it pulled a wheelstand, turned left and hit a telegraph pole. Mickey took it back to Ivo’s shop to be straightened out then used it as a test bed for his speed equipment. By September 1963 it had a nitro burning blown ‘n’ injected 4 bolt wedge head 427 Ford fitted and sponsorship from the Harvey Aluminum Company.
He persuaded his friend General Curtis LeMay to fly the car with spares and nitro to England on a US Air Force plane arriving at the American Air Force base at RAF Mildenhall the day before the Brighton Speed Trials. It helped that LeMay was passionate about motor racing and even owned an Allard J2.
Mickey had contacts in England including Stirling Moss who allowed him the use of his luxury, hi-tech London flat. Not only that but he had the use of his secretary and the Rossler brothers, his mechanics. Also a Cortina estate and trailer was provided to tow and push start the dragster and a Mini Cooper as a runabout.
Once at Brighton he became an instant thorn in official’s sides, bursting into the stewards' box informing Major Parker, an elderly and very senior RAC steward, “You guys don’t know how to do things here, you’re doing it all wrong” with reference to their archaic staging procedures which had been used since the early 1900s. Gerry Belton was in the box at the time as manager of the Allard team and quietly crept out before things got too heated.
Mickey was completely unfamiliar with the British scene and was expecting to see something like an American dragstrip laid out at Brighton. He was not impressed with the rough, bumpy surface and haybales used as barriers. The officials were not too happy about the American dragsters running without front brakes and after a fatal accident earlier in the day when Vivienne Lewis lost control of her Tojeiro Jaguar they decided to play it safe and change the original plan of side-by-side races over the quarter to untimed short single demo runs.
Despite this Duce and Thompson put on a great show of wheelstanding, smoky starts, parachute popping and haybales caught alight by Thompson’s exhausts, completely blowing the minds of the British spectators and the motoring press.
Sydney couldn’t match these wild antics but did manage a couple of good runs and released his triple chutes for the fans. The Mooneyes team had suggested Allard’s tyres were too big and getting too much bite for the power he was running. They even tried them on the Mooneyes dragster which resulted in a sheared torsion bar.
Autocar reported... “Both Dante Duce and Mickey Thompson were turned out in immaculate fireproof overalls, face masks and gloves while Sydney Allard chose a natty sports jacket and flannels”
Tony Densham was there with the Worden dragster and he took second place in his class running a 27.86 kilometre behind Patsy Burt’s 25.59 in her 1.5 litre Cooper Climax.
George Brown smashed the kilometre record with a fantastic 19.29 on Super Nero well over a second and a half quicker than his 20.99 in 1962. The Americans were impressed.
The following weekend the tour moved to a sprint meeting at Church Lawford in Warwickshire on the Saturday. Ken Cooper had jumped in his ‘33 Cabriolet hot rod and taken the short trip down from Birmingham. He snapped some pics as well as having a chat with Mickey Thompson.
Ken Cooper’s pics...
The strip was more than just bumpy, it was reported that moss grew from some of the joints in the surface, not exactly conducive to high speeds and slicks! The lightweight Mooneyes car ran 13.25 at 115mph, the bumps causing it to jump out of gear while the heavier Allard sped to 127mph in 11.34 seconds but developed a bearing failure in the Chrysler hemi. Mickey Thompson also ran, thrilling fans each time he fired up yet could only muster a 10.64 at 141mph over the bumps.
An interesting car known as the Clanger Special was competing at the Church Lawford sprint; built and raced by J. R. Field it was a cross between a dragster and a racing car. It was built for both sprints and hill climbs. Mr Field sat behind an Allard rear axle, front end was also Allard and it was powered by a healthy Mercury flathead V8 with Ardun ohv heads. It was a proper home-built job, the chassis having been made in his garden shed from a mixture of Allard parts and hydraulic tubing, but it ran respectable 14 second ETs just nudging the ton.
The last round of the series was held at Debden in Essex where the Thames Estuary Automobile Club ran their sprint meeting. The strip was vastly superior and although it was a ticket only event, around five thousand drag fans reportedly managed to talk their way in and what a show they got.
These colour slides from Debden are all from the Robbie Smith collection...
Mickey Thompson, pleased to find a strip more suitable for high-speed blasts, kept his foot in it for his first run of the day, leaving fans gawping as the silver machine thundered down track ahead of a wall of tyre smoke to record the fastest and quickest quarter mile outside of the USA, 178mph in 8.84 seconds!
Duce was back in the nines with a strong 9.99 at 164mph, while the Allard team were still having problems after rebuilding the hemi overnight and couldn’t better 13 seconds. It was later found that the blower drive had sheared. Poor Sydney hadn’t had much luck during the series and never managed to run close to the ten second passes he’d been reeling off since 1961.
Tony Densham and Harry Worrell were there with the Worden clocking 14 second ETs and George Brown was back out on Super Nero running low 11s, not quite matching the 10 seconds he’d run at Silverstone.
Then an announcement that the two American dragsters were going to race saw fans thronging the track, or at least as close as they could get. Dean Moon handled the flag start and Dante Duce got the holeshot. Mickey Thompson smoked after him, soon passing and burying Mooneyes from view in 9.47 seconds as Duce got out of shape.
Motor magazine reported “Duce got away first in a cloud of blue tyre smoke, front wheels clawing the air, but Thompson took off in pursuit and by half-way had caught and passed his rival." The report continued, “Then Thompson's Harvey Aluminum Special veered to the left in front of Duce's Mooneyes blinding the pilot with smoke from the still spinning tyres. Duce veered off course and had to pull the ripcord of his parachute to slow enough to be able to steer through the finishing gate.”
At the end of the day Mickey Thompson expressed the desire to set his engine up for nitro raising the bhp from 600 to 1000 and try to run 250mph over the half mile as he had a high gear centre section for the rear axle ready to fit. Following his earlier smoke down, such a run was deemed “suicidal” by RAC stewards who replied in a single syllable, NO!
He switched to nitro anyway or as drag aficionados would say "tipped the can" for a final quarter mile blast. The ground shook and eyes watered as the air came strong with nitro fumes. Mickey left with even more tyre smoke recording 9.21 seconds, slower than his first run but the fans went home happy, wiping their eyes, having experienced for the first time the true meaning of nitro power.
Mickey took the dragster back to RAF Mildenhall to be shipped to California but the USAF knew nothing about it and wouldn’t let him in, so he left the car in the care of John Bennett at Spa Engineering who put it on display at the 1964 Racing Car Show and various BHRA shows around the UK to promote drag racing. Towards the end of 1965 Tony Densham took the dragster to his Ambica Engineering workshops for a freshen up renaming it the Golden Hind. He then took it to the new Santa Pod Raceway in 1966 making some demo runs at the August Championship meeting.
The car was broken up at the end of the 1966 season. Tony bought some of the parts from Mickey Thompson and other parts were sent back to him. Tony also bought a set of blueprints from Mickey, and they became the basis for the design of the Commuter.
The SEMA Trophy was awarded to Mickey Thompson as he had clocked the quickest run of the series but Mickey said “We’ll put Sydney Allard’s name on it and he can keep it” and it remained with the Allard family until 1970 when Sydney’s son Alan presented it to the British Drag Racing & Hot Rod Association to be awarded to the AA/Fuel winner of the annual July International Meeting at Santa Pod.
Although the Americans had only made a couple of short blasts at Brighton and only a few quarter mile passes in front of spectators, their visit received tremendous coverage. It left fans clamouring for more, arming Sydney Allard with the knowledge that the future of British drag racing lay in making such a spectacle available to a larger audience and ambitious plans were soon to hatch for an International Drag Festival in 1964 featuring a selection of the best American drag racing machines.
On a smaller scale Allards began designing a Shorrock supercharged 1500cc Ford powered lightweight dragster to be sold in kit form. This was Sydney’s son Alan Allard's’ idea as he was involved in selling Shorrock Superchargers for Ford engines at the time. Tony Densham and Harry Worrell’s Worden dragster had already shown that a light small engined dragster could be competitive.
The BHRA had their first AGM at the end of the year held at Hednesford Hills Raceway and plans were coming together for their first Big Go in May...
Silverstone and Debden video click here
Silverstone, Brighton and Debden video click here
Church Lawford and Debden video click here
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