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Birkett Relay

Doug Bukin Remembers, by Trevor Steggles


Doug Bukin shares his memories of the early days of the 750 Motor Club with Bill Boddy and Holly Birkett. Doug was involved at the very beginning of the Birkett Six Hour Relay Race, competing in the first event held in August 1951. Amongst the many acquaintances and friends of Doug were the late Colin Chapman who went on to found Lotus Cars and enjoy success at the highest levels of our sport and Sid Marler, a long-time member of the 750 Motor Club and regular competitor.
 
“I first joined the 750 Motor Club in 1946, this was in the early days of the Club when regular meetings were held in the Red Cow Public House, which was in Hammersmith, London. During one of these meetings attended by Bill Boddy and Holly Birkett amongst others, the idea of a Six Hour Handicap Relay Race was suggested. This was met with plenty of support and both Colin Chapman and I agreed to form a team and take part.
 
“We decided to enter a team of Austin Seven-based specials that would represent the London Group of Austin Sevens. This group catered mainly for Austin Sevens but also accepted other 750cc cars, such as M-Type MGs and Morris 8s. It was hoped that the first Relay Race would attract between 25 and 30 teams each comprising six cars, and with the clever handicap concept much larger cars from other clubs could enter, and any team could win.
 
“The first Birkett 6 Hour Relay Race was run on August 31st 1951 and it proved to be an outstanding success from the beginning. Colin Chapman was expected to be fast in his Lotus Mk3 as he had shown to be in the previous ‘Eight Clubs Meeting’. Many of us ‘Birkett’ entrants had competed in the Eight Clubs and ‘Sunbac’ meeting held two months earlier in the year, but we did not know what to expect with the first ‘Birkett’ although the circuit was the same. On race day my Austin Seven Special was towed to Silverstone behind my ex-London Taxi, a 1934 Austin 12-4. My friend Sid Marler helped build the special was involved in the meeting with me, and was another early 750 Motor Club member.
 
“All the teams with one of their six competitors lined up on the circuit in a sort of layby at the track side. In those early days there were no buildings on the side and the circuit was marked out with hay bales and oil drums, all very exciting! The teams comprised nearly all period cars including the pre-war Bentley Boys, and the new Jaguar XK120s - the cars we lusted over. That first six hour race is rather a dim memory now, however we came into the pits after our session to hand over the ‘sash’ so the next one could go out. I remember that during these handovers there were quite a few incidents, such as overshooting your designated ‘pit’ and having to go round again, cars coming in too fast, running into the handover car, and quite few cars just not ready to go out.
 
“It was difficult to follow the race from the updates by race control announcements because of the handicap system. However we all agreed that considering this was the first time, the efficiency of the 750MC’s organisation was excellent, as it still is. We were running second on handicap but this was dropped to being fourth at the finish. Colin Chapman and his ‘Lotus III’ were only allowed to complete 30 laps, mind you it was fast! At the end there was a parade lap of the winning ‘Bentley Team’, and we all went home happy and looking forward to the next one, and in my case many more. It just seems amazing that starting from that meeting in the Red Cow during the late 1940s with Holly Birkett and Bill Boddy a simple idea developed into the long running success that is the Birkett Six Hour Relay Race.
 
“Sid Marler and I were invited to compete in the 50th anniversary 12-hour race held at Snetterton, unfortunately Sid’s Lotus Elan had an oil pump troubles, so Viv suggested that we both do the parade together in my Austin Seven, just like old times! During the 50th Anniversary meeting John Peel’s Radio 4 program sent a young lady reporter and presenter to interview myself and my wife, it was a ‘human interest’ feature about life after two heart attacks, the first one at Silverstone in 1993. She said she would only be staying a short while but ended up staying all day with the team in the paddock making tea and coffee and having a short drive on the perimeter road in my Austin Seven - she loved it all!
 
“Reg Nice (our team manager) sent me out for the last session and with five of our team cars being out of action, I was called in frequently for oil and water and sent out again. I think I completed 67 laps, more like a Grand Prix distance. On the finish run lots of people were on the pit rails applauding us all. When I arrived in Parc Ferme, the leader of the Morgan Plus 8 team came over and asked me to pass on to the team their congratulations, we were the ‘gentlemen’ of the race, giving way and being aware of their fast presence. I commented ‘it was self-preservation actually’!  We had to use our mirrors as we were rather vulnerable with no seat belts or roll bars.
 
“The team gave us a lovely reception and a 50th anniversary cake, a wonderful occasion with a resulting very stiff arm and shoulder on the way home.”

 

Doug Bukin

Holly Birkett

Sid Marler

Colin Chapman

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