The first known existence of a club for the motor sports enthusiasts of the Bristol Aeroplane Company at Filton is towards the end of World War 2. During the war years the local BAC workforce had been swelled by engineers from around the country, many of who had been actively involved in car and motor cycle sport before the war. In late 1944, with the prospect of a resumption of motor sport in view, the BAC Motor Sports Club was formed. In addition to catering for cars and ‘bikes sections for motor boating and light aircraft flying were also envisaged, although these never actually materialised.
By July 1945 membership had reached 200, and early activities included meetings and lectures, with guest speakers such as John Bolster, Laurence Pomeroy and Raymond Mays. Events included a gymkhana for cars and motor-cycles and a grasstrack motorcycle meeting, but the most significant was a Sprint for cars and ‘bikes on Filton Airfield. The first British speed event to follow the end of the war in Europe had been the Bristol MC&LCC’s loose surface Naish hillclimb in August 1945, the second, and the first to be held on a tarmac course was the BAC MSC’s “Bristol Sprint” on 28th October. The course was half a mile long, with a single fast, right hand bend with awkward camber, and there was an entry of around 100 cars and motor-cycles. Fastest time of the day was set by Bob Gerard’s ERA, from John Bolster in “Bloody Mary”, while best of the motorcyclists was St. John Horsfall on a 998cc Vincent.
Among the Club membership were some who were very keen to see some form of low cost formula that would allow the average enthusiast to go motor racing. Dick Caesar was one, having been involved in a local cheap racing activity pre-war known as CAPA. In December 1945 the Club arranged a meeting to sound out interest, a 500cc single-seater formula was agreed and the conclusions widely publicised. The ideas found favour throughout the country and the Club arranged a further meeting on 25th March 1946 when delegates from all over Britain attended to finalise the “National 500cc Racing Car Formula”. (Read an account of these meetings here)
With a low cost racing formula successfully devised and launched it soon became more appropriate for it to be administered by a dedicated national club, so in August 1946 the 500 Club was formed to take over from the BAC MSC – the 500 Club eventually becoming today’s well known British Racing & Sports Car Club. By the early 1950’s the formula had received international recognition and become an acknowledged training ground for future Grand Prix stars such as Stirling Moss and Peter Collins, while it also set Cooper on the road to two World Championships in 1959 and 1960. With many of the leading lights of the BAC MSC – Dick Caesar, John Siddall and Jack Harding – now heavily involved with the new formula there was less interest and time for general motor club activities and midway through 1946 the original Club was wound up.
In 1955 enthusiasm for motor sport at the Bristol Aeroplane Company was sparked once more when employees of the Car Division ran a “Night Navigation Training Rally” and by August the BAC MC had been re-formed. During the late ‘fifties the Club regularly ran autotests and autocross and held regular club nights and film shows at the Railway Inn at Patchway. The monthly magazine “Backfire” was introduced in 1959, while a “Racing Section” had purchased a 500cc JAP-engined Iota Formula 3 racing car. Intended for use in sprints and hill-climbs, the Iota was tested a few times on Filton airfield, but was apparently never used in competition and was sold after a couple of years.
However, with the club having been formed by mainly rallying enthusiasts, the central activity for the next ten years was rallying. The initial closed to club events led to a major invitation event in 1957, the Cross Trophy Rally, among those to collect awards in coming years were Geoff Mabbs, Tony Nash and Henry Liddon, all later to become works team members. By the end of the 1950’s the Club were running seven rallies a year, but in 1960 the RAC introduced a limit of four per club. To compensate agreement was reached with the Weston-super-Mare MC for the series of WesBac Rallies with each club running alternate monthly events, the first in February 1960 being followed by a further 37 over the next seven years. These events featured three grades of route to cater for crews differing abilities, while the cars used by WesBac winners perhaps reflect the development of production cars and of rallying in the early sixties, the Austin A40’s and Triumph Heralds of 1960 giving way to Mini-Coopers and Cortina GT’s by 1964 – with one WesBac going to the works Hillman Imp of Tiny Lewis and Robin Turvey that year.
By the mid-sixties changes in the law and rally rules led to a general disenchantment with rallying, but this was countered with an upsurge in production car trials. By 1966 a club trials championship had replaced the rally championship and the Cross Trophy had become a major, multi venue, PCT. During this time the club acquired another car, a left hand drive 1951 VW Beetle, for use on club events. In 1967 the ACES Motor Club, which had existed for several years for the apprentices at the Company Technical College, was absorbed, while changes in the British Aerospace industry led to the disappearance of the Bristol Aeroplane Company, the Filton factories eventually emerging under British Aerospace and Rolls-Royce ownership.
The mixed program of events continued into the early ‘seventies, when BAC MC teams dominated the local opposition for several years in Castrol’s popular national inter-club motor sport quiz, being area winners four times, progressing to the National finals in 1969 and 1974. However Club membership had declined from its peak of 240 in 1960, as had interest in competitions, and a low point was reached in 1974 when no events at all were run. A meeting in January 1975 considered winding the Club up, but the fourteen present decided to continue, and competitions were restarted with autotests, trials, and a series of Friday evening navigation exercises was started in 1976 and has continued ever since. A more ambitious road event was introduced with the HorseBac Rally (co-promoted with the White Horse MC) in 1979 and 80, before reverting to the more navigational March Hare Scatter as the major road event the following year.
With several members being active in speed events the Club joined forces with the Bristol MC&LCC for the Bristol Two Clubs Sprint at Wroughton airfield in 1976 and what initially set out to be a clubbie event ended up as a round of the RAC National Championship. In 1978 Wroughton became unavailable and a new venue was found at Colerne airfield near Bath. The first Colerne sprint was rained off part way through, but the original course, widely regarded as a superb drivers course, fast, demanding and enjoyable, was used for the next ten years with a second event, the Wessex Sprint (and additional promoters in the MG Car Club), being added in 1983. Changes at the airfield, still a military base, rendered the original course unusable in 1989, a couple of different layouts then being used before the basis of the final course was adopted. Since 1983 a track day at Castle Combe has been a regular July fixture, and while the idea of a sprint at the circuit had occasionally been considered, it was only in 1991 that a way around the circuit’s noise restrictions was devised with the proposal of an event solely for road-silenced cars. Successful negotiations resulted in the inaugural Pegasus Sprint in October that year and regular sprints meetings were thus re-introduced to Castle Combe after a break of thirty years.
In 2001, as the old Bristol Aeroplane Company name had in fact been in disuse for many years it was thought no longer appropriate, and the club was re-launched as the Bristol Pegasus Motor Club. In 2002 a further Sprint was added at Llandow, run jointly with the Bristol MC, however in 2010, after 32 years of use, events at Colerne came to an end when the venue ceased to be available for motor sport.
by Pete Stowe
Full Club History Published
“BACKFIRE – The History of the Bristol Aeroplane Company Motor Club” by Pete Stowe charts the 56 year history of the Club, from it’s original creation in 1944, up to its renaming as the Bristol Pegasus Motor Club in 2001.
The first two chapters cover the Bristol Aeroplane Company Motor Sports Club of 1944-46, including many details of the sprint held on Filton Airfield in October 1945. The Club’s role in the creation of the 500cc Formula 3 at Club meetings in 1945/6 is also fully covered, tracing its origins from the pre-war CAPA racing in Somerset to the formation of the 500 Club, the forerunner of the BRSCC. It was this racing category that led to the rise of the world championship winning Cooper marque, and the beginnings of Britain’s leading role in world motorsport.
Later chapters cover the rallies and trials of the 1950s and 60s – the Wesbacs and the Cross Trophy’s, and the sprints at Colerne and Castle Combe, and other activities, from the 80s through to the present day. The text draws on numerous anecdotes from the pages of the club magazine over the years.
The 8 colour and 19 black & white photographs include the Issigonis Lightweight and the Watkins-Nash special at Filton in 1945. The foreword is by one of British motor sport’s leading figures, Stuart Turner :
“It is an absorbing history … the story of the ups and downs of the Club is so typical of many of the 700 or so now operating in the UK … I hope all readers get as much pleasure from reading its history as I have”
The 40 page, soft-cover, A5 format publication is printed on gloss paper, and is available to non-Club members for £5 including postage.
Copies can be obtained from the author at 8 Laxton Drive, Kingswood, Wotton-under-Edge, Glos GL12 8 SQ. (please make cheques payable to P Stowe)