SKIRROW PROGRESS TOO SLOW!
Some years ago I bought a ‘Skirrow Special’ on eBay, of all places. The Skirrow went into limited production in 1936 and was a development of a prototype that Harry Skirrow had built for Belle Vue, Manchester speedway. It was all part of a plan to start up speedway car racing, which was a raging success in the United States, in England.
Belle Vue decided to build their own cars so Harry started a company called Skirrow Special Cars Ltd to build his. Car Speedway Ltd was set up to run the business side of things and there was a National Association of Speedway Car Racing Circuits that licensed drivers in 1938 and 1939. The photo below shows one of the Belle Vue Elto-engined cars ahead of a Skirrow-JAP at Coventry speedway some time in 1938 or 1939. When the war started, racing came to a stop for the duration.
The photo below shows a brand new car at London’s Lea Bridge speedway where they were built for Harry Skirrow:
Post-war, about a dozen or so of the JAP 8/80 V-twin engined cars were bought up and kept in Northamptonshire by Dave Hughes who founded the Brafield speedway in 1949. He took the cars to speedway tracks all over the country, organized races and did what he could to revive midget car speedway racing.
Some Skirrows were still racing in 1962 but cannot have lasted much longer. Sometime in the 1960s, one of the most successful of the pre-war midget drivers, Les White, bought one of Hughes’ cars. lt was just ‘for old time’s sake’ said his son Malcolm who did a ‘light restoration’ on it and demonstrated it from time to time at a local speedway.
When Les retired from the garage business he sold everything up and the car went to America, eventually to a private collection in Florida. From there it was sold to Canada, and then I bought it without an engine and shipped it to Sydney with the aim of restoring it and running it in Vintage Speedcar Association events. Here is the car as it arrived,
The chassis has two pairs of BSA FWD springing and drive mechanisms, one at the front and one at the back as can be seen in the following drawing:
The rear wheels are obviously fixed direction-wise and both ends are without dampers. The front uses a BSA steering box and column with a Bluemels sprung steering wheel. A double sprocket on the front-mounted engine drives forward and rearward Rudge clutch assemblies which are on counter-shafts running in cast aluminium mounting cases. Exactly as on a speedway bike, a final drive sprocket is fixed to each clutch and drives a shaft on the ends of which are flexible joints and all the other BSA bits and pieces . The following video shows the chassis and the transmission after the body was removed:
The whole of the chassis and running gear was stripped to bare metal and reassembled with repairs and replacements such as the flexible drive couplings using the invaluable assistance of the BSA FWD club’s spares scheme. The sprockets were replaced and a new rear drive-shaft was the only significant part that needed to be custom-made.
I was prepared to make an engine more or less from scratch but I was lucky to acquire a post-war 8/80 JAP and Greg Summerton has made a new crankshaft and reconditioned the bottom end. The cylinders need to be relined and a new timing cover machined to accommodate the prewar total-loss Pilgrim pump. Cylinder heads and rocker gear need a service of course and there are brand new Mahle pistons andTerrys valve-springs in boxes as well as new valves. There are Amal type 27 carburettors with twin float-bowls. but no magnetos.
Rudge speedway countershaft units and clutches seem to be like gold but I found two sets of these to replace the ill-fitting Norton units. The very stylish body, which is mainly several heavy pieces of welded sheet metal sitting directly on the chassis, has been extensively reconditioned with some new panels and it is now ready for final finishing. Here it is at the moment:
Nobody knows how many Skirrows were made but I have seen a reference to Harry Skirrow saying there were just 17. Several were reportedly destroyed by bombing in the war, two ended-up in Australia but have since been lost and, allowing for a few to be scrapped, that would line-up with the dozen or so that Dave Hughes had.
There seem to be just three complete Skirrows surviving including this one. Bugatti expert Ivan Dutton has one which he bought at auction about ten years ago; it is complete and running. He also has a real treasure in the substantial remains of demon-driver Spike Rhiando’s Skirrow as well as one of the Elto-engined cars built for Belle Vue. It was Spike Rhiando’s spare engine for his Skirrow that was part of a deal for John Cooper to build a long chassis car with the 8/80 JAP at the rear. Spike first raced this in the Isle of Man in 1948.
I wrote a while ago that work on the Skirrow had stopped while several other projects – a book and another car – were finished off. That work seems to be everlasting, so I want the Skirrow to be taken over by somebody else. I bought it out of curiosity and dug up a lot of history some of which was used in my book Power Without Glory. The Skirrow was a pioneering series-production single-seat racing car with strong motorcycle connections. Significantly, it was the reason the 8/80 JAP, as developed by Eric Fernihough for his world’s motorcycle record efforts, went into limited production.
It’s a sweet little car and if you would like full details of what has been done, and still needs to be done, with a view to making an offer for it over $A30,000, or about £15,000, please get in touch.
There is another Loose Fillings article about early English speedway car racing at https://loosefillings.com/2015/12/13/bugattis-did-it-too