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Archive 44

500cc racing car

In the final part of this feature, we continue our research
by talking to Lord Strathcarron who raced the half-litre Marwyn for many years and still recall its many intricacies

Lord Strathcarron, who had been one of the first Marwyn customers, was engaged as the 'works' driver. He remembers being paid 9 a week to enjoy himself. That may not seem much today, but it represented 2 a week more than he earned from his 'proper job' as a car salesman in London, selling Rolls-Royce and Bentley motor cars.

   He recalls that the early Marwyn's were not very stable and, indeed, one owner (a man called Hall, nicknamed 'Binky') was killed when his racer overturned on him while he was testing it on an airfield. Subsequently, the motorcycle-type wheels (Strathcarron thinks they were at least 19in diameter) were replaced by 15in wheels, lowering the centre of gravity.

   He soon realised that the JAP-powered Marwyn was no world-beater, being outpaced by more sophisticated opposition. He found it easy to assess his chances by looking at the opposition in the entry list, particularly when some of his major rivals began to use vastly more expensive Norton engines. Whereas the JAP speedway engine was available 'off the shelf' for 75, the only way to acquire the Norton unit was to buy an entire Manx Norton 500cc racing motor cycle, which cost more than a complete Marwyn car! His Marwyn became regularly outpaced.

   The position worsened further when top '500' contenders had their Norton units prepared by leading freelance tuners Francis Beart and Steve Lancefield, both of whom seemed to extract more power from the engines than could the Norton 'works' engineers.

   Even so, Strathcarron (a wartime RAF pilot and, much later, a leading speaker on motoring matters in the House of Lords) put up sufficiently worthy performances to be retained by the Marwyn company for the 1949 season and accepted the reappointment, despite the fairly off-putting experience of having his car roll over three times and throwing him out when racing at Thruxton. As is apparently quite normal in such circumstances, his feet came out of his shoes! However, he was deposited on the grassy trackside, rather than on the tarmac, and escaped without serious injury.

   Another early Marwyn customer was Don Truman (who, some years later, was to win the very first race at Oulton Park, Cheshire, in a Cooper-Norton). He recalls being unhappy with the Marwyn's handling, among other criticisms. His brother-in-law overturned it, causing considerable damage, and Mr Martin sent Truman two new JAP engines as compensation! Truman replaced the big, motor-cycle type wire-spoked wheels with smaller diameter Fiat wheels using hydraulic brakes, improving both the handling and ability to come to a halt.

   Before the 1949 season, the Marwyn company moved westwards from Bournemouth, establishing new headquarters at North Street, Wareham (by coincidence, also in No. 55 - like the Bournemouth address - and nowadays an off-licence), but the 'factory' (actually a somewhat ramshackle corrugated iron shed) was at the back of Stoborough Garage, in the small village about a mile to the south.

   With the move came a substantial re-design of the car, with extremely sleek bodywork by the Gray company of Emsworth, on the West Sussex coast (which had been partly responsible for the body on John Cobb's land speed record breaking Railton).

            Marwyn 500cc racer (courtesy of Irene Pulliblank).

   Having a much better aerodynamic shape than previously, the new Marwyn also benefited from hydraulic brakes (two leading shoe at the front), but retained friction shock absorbers. The wheelbase was increased to 7ft but the pronounced 'crab track' layout (the rear wheels much closer together than those at the front) remained, presumably to reduce the inherent understeer which is a characteristic of rear-drive cars without differentials.

   The price remained at 445 - the 'kit car' options being discontinued - but despite the new look and the chassis improvements, it seems the Marwyn racing car had already enjoyed its best days. Few 1949 cars were sold and before long the company was in financial difficulties.

   Keith Lloyd began working at Stoborough Garage not long after the Marwyn company went into liquidation and remembers the proprietor's name at the time as Pulleyblank and his financial backer as his aunt, a Miss Burrell. Mr Lloyd, now retired in Corfe Castle, a few miles down the road (having sold Stoborough Garage as a thriving Rover dealership quite recently), remembers the Marwyn 'workshop' well, at one time using it as a repair and paint shop and having to line the inside of the roof with sheets to avoid rust falling on his customers' newly sprayed cars!

   Lord Strathcarron has now given up car racing, but only a few years ago. He was a regular contender in the popular House of Lords v. House of Commons races at Brands Hatch, winning twice (the last time when aged 70!) the contestants using teams of identical Ford Escort race-prepared saloons. His racing career has spanned nearly 50 years.  

Since this feature was written we have learnt that Lord Strathcarron has sadly passed away.
We express our deepest sympathies to his family


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