For a motor club that’s been running since 1946 it’s inevitable that it would boast a long and interesting history, so how do you fit over 70 years of experience onto a single web page? The simply answer is that you can’t, and the following should be regarded merely as a brief introduction to the Club, how it was formed and its gradual progression into the local motoring scene.
Following the end of the Second World War, the restoration of a limited petrol allowance (initially for 2- and 3- wheelers) reignited many enthusiasts desire to contemplate competition motoring once again – a passion kept alive during hostilities thanks to nostalgic articles in the leading motoring magazines such as Motor Sport.
At the time a pool of eager enthusiasts existed at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) in Farnborough. Made up of young graduates seconded there to sustain the war effort, they decided to form a small motor group with local residents Bill Boddy, who had kept Motor Sport alive throughout the war, and Holland (Holly) Birkett, whose previous role as pre-war chairman of the 750 Motor Club proved invaluable. Despite no immediate motivation to form an official motor club this close-knit party of fanatics had the makings of the Hampshire element.
The Berkshire side came from the local farming community and employees of the light engineering firms and garages that kept them mobile and operational. Chief among these, from the Hants & Berks Motor Club angle, were Harry Hopkinson who had a garage in Eversley and his friend Jim Petty who ran a small engineering and painting works in Cove.
It was these two individuals who initially floated the idea of a motor club to fill a void – the pre-war Reading based motor club showing no signs of revival – and so Jim undertook to canvass some of his RAE customers for support. Harry’s ‘local’, the New Inn (now the Tally Ho), a hundred yards or so from his Eversley garage, was a natural choice for what is now regarded as the inaugural meeting of the Hants & Berks Motor Club on 10th January 1946.
The initial reception was encouraging and following a year of consolidation, the running of a several competitive events and an overhaul of the committee, this new motor club achieved stability. Holly Birkett was Chairman, Charles Bulmer (RAE and later Editor of Motor) was Secretary, Bert Fountain (GWR communications manager) was Treasurer and Joe Lowrey (ex-RAE and now Technical Editor of The Motor) the man of ideas. Incidentally, it was he, together with Jack Ballett, a pre-war motorcycle trials enthusiast, who devised the Club’s first event on 9th March 1946, the ‘mud-plugging’ Blackwater Trial.
Other events soon followed: a treasure hunt, gymkhana, sprint and, towards the end of the year, an innovative navigational event requiring the use of Ordnance Survey maps, until then largely the province of the military. If no moth-balled pre-war transport was available then members happily participated in home-built specials based on Austin 7 or, later, Ford 10 parts.
So, at the end of the first 12 months of the Hants & Berks activities and existence, the Club had a stable committee, a strong membership of 150, had mastered the RAC Competition Regulations and was proficient in issuing meeting minutes, bulletins and reports.
It’s true to say that the Hants & Berks Motor Club has always been at the forefront of new events, including The Eight Clubs consortium for running races at Silverstone, Night Navigation Trials, the Pairs Point-to-Point team treasure hunt, 2CV Cross (rough road racing for Citroën’s utility cars), and many others.
Some events have been short-lived and some still flourish today. With far too many to comment on we’ll look at two of the most successful events that the Club organised…
When ambitions turned to speed based events, Harry Hopkinson’s wide circle of contacts was invaluable, first enabling the use of the driveway of West Court, Eversley, as a sprint course and, when that was lost at the end of 1946, the driveway of Great Auclum, Burghfield Common, which was then owned by Neil Gardiner, a director at Reading’s Huntley and Palmers biscuit factory and pre-war Brooklands competitor, sympathetic to the cause.
His unique quarter-mile drive had a downhill start followed by a twisting climb, with a steep banking at the lowest point, ideal for a challenging hill climb course and set to become part of the National Championship from 1959 to 1973. During that period many famous names featured at Great Auclum including Ken Wharton, Stirling Moss, Renato Martini, Roy Salvadori, Eric Brandon, Roy Lane, Colin Chapman and Tony Marsh taking part alongside local competitors. The last event was held in 1974. Although the site has since been redeveloped the driveway still exists, albeit in a poor state of repair.
However, what may be considered the most ambitious events that the Club organised were the economy runs. Tests of driving skill balancing speed with fuel economy over a substantial distance.
It was actually down to sheer good luck that the Hants & Berks got involved. In the early 1950s Joe Lowrey, having competed in economy runs organised by a rival motor club, was seeking a suitable sponsor to allow the Club to run a similar event. At the same time the Vacuum Oil Company, who were responsible for the Mobilgas economy runs in America, were looking for a way to publicise their new Mobilgas service stations to the UK market. Joe provided them with the perfect solution in sponsoring a national economy run.
This partnership led to the first Mobilgas sponsored Hants & Berks Motor Club Economy Run taking place on the 18th/19th June 1955. The route was a 600-mile round trip from Reading into Wales then down to Bournemouth before finishing back in Reading. The route length subsequently increased to 1000 miles.
Throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s the Club’s Economy Runs became internationally acclaimed and widely popular, even after Mobil ceased sponsorship in 1973. However, by 1988 rising costs, aging equipment and the eventual disappearance of sponsorship altogether, ultimately forced the committee to reluctantly close the book on a great period in the Hants & Berks history.
After the demise of the economy runs, the Hants & Berks realised it was becoming increasingly difficult to attract a reasonable entry for its more traditional motor sport events. With internal membership static and little chance of surviving under current conditions the Club – like so many motor clubs of early 1990s – needed a solution, quick.
One suggestion put forward was to utilise the Club’s long and extensive experience in organising local events aimed at the classic car owner. At the time it seemed a natural progression for the Club as many of our own members were in possession of classic cars. The issue seemed to be that there was a severe lack of regional events to participate on with many owners finding it difficult to use their cars other than for the usual static shows.
The result was a classic car tour. The concept was simple: using an easy-to-read road book, entrants would follow a pre-set route across scenic countryside and via scenic roads until finishing at a place of interest for all to enjoy. Run in May 1995, the Early Bird Classic Car Tour was our first attempt at a classic car event, which proved so successful that it was soon followed by several more tours and a classic car show held in Woodley, east Reading.
This change of direction proved a great success resulting in a much needed life-line and boost to the Club’s resources and membership subscriptions which continues to this day. Although the Hants & Berks took the leap into classic car events, the Club still continues its proud motor sport heritage by supporting both local and national stage rallies and organising navigational rallies alongside social gatherings.
No one in those early days could have foreseen how the creation of such a small motor sport club by a group of post-war motoring enthusiasts could have risen to what it has become today, a Club with an important and fascinating history, a Club at the forefront of new events, a Club with great skill for organisation and a Club that could successfully adapt to the ever changing environment of motor sport.
If you wish to learn more about the history of the Club then the following may be of interest;
As part of our 60th anniversary celebrations back in 2006, the Hants & Berks Motor Club decided to document its long and rich history in the form of a special commemorative book.
Aided by rarely seen photographs from the Club’s archives, this special publication brought together members past and present who told the story of the Club’s first 60 years, its events, social gatherings and origins through their own experiences.
Although originally available in print form only, we now offer the opportunity for all to view the document electronically. To download a copy of our Jubilee book in PDF, just simply click on the link buttons opposite. NOTE: Due to the size of the file, the document is split into two halves. Depending on your computer speed download time of PDF files may vary.
Pages 1 to 56
Pages 57 to 107
In 2016 the Hants & Berks Motor Club reached its 70th anniversary and in order to help celebrate this rather significant milestone we kindly asked our members to rummage through their photographic archives so we could establish a special archive section for previously unseen images from past Club events.
Just click on the desired link button to open the required gallery. Some pages may take a while to fully load due to the volume of images present.