At Oulton Park in 1955, the mustachioed Archie Scott-Brown drove this Lister Bristol to a convincing victory in the British Empire Trophy contest.
Photo: Ferret Fotographic
My recollection of getting to know Archie was that my father went to Cambridge University and was a member of the Cambridge University Motor Club. The club had an annual dinner through which I met Archie and Peter Riley (later to become a works Healey driver), both of whom became lifelong friends. A speed trial was organized for the day after the dinner, at a place called Bedwell Hay Farm, not too far from Cambridge. I would have my TC MG, Archie would have his TD, and Peter Riley—I’m not too sure, what he drove. We had great fun though at these speed trials that followed those dinners. That’s really how our friendships began and developed.
In 1954, Archie was given the opportunity of driving the Lister MG, a huge step forward for him, although he still campaigned the TD in other races. Everything went well until the British Empire Trophy race at Oulton Park. The medical side of the RAC Motorsport suddenly realized that Archie only had one hand. This was rather a shock to them. They knew of Archie Scott-Brown, but not of his deformities. These deformities were caused through his mother contracting German measles during pregnancy. He underwent numerous operations in his formative years to his feet, legs and arm. His right arm basically finished at the wrist but there was a sort of stump with a groove in it. When he drove, he put that onto the steering wheel. Naturally, he was very upset of the RAC`s decision to exclude him from the race. Lister too were very upset. Archie approached Brian Lister, suggested that I was a reasonable driver, and should stand in for him in the race. Give him a chance. I had the joy of having a test in the Lister MG in the Spring of 1954. I went quite well, which led to my racing in the British Empire Trophy. I did other races at various circuits, at Silverstone and Brands Hatch as well as hillclimbs at Prescott throughout the year.
It was a severe blow to his racing career, and Archie had to submit himself to various medical panels. By summertime, he got his licence back and was allowed to race the MG Lister again. The Lister Bristol was finished and ready by that autumn. Archie raced it and was immediately quick in it. He started winning with it straight away.
For the 1955 season, I purchased, with Bill Black, a Lister Bristol, one of only four made. Incidentally Barry Wood has the car and still races it today. It is the only surviving car and is in the livery of green with a red stripe down it, just as it was when I raced it. Bill Black wanted to do the hillclimbs and I did the races. Archie’s Lister Bristol didn’t look like the customer cars; it didn’t have the fins on the back. In the Spring of 1955 he went to back the British Empire Trophy, and in the pouring rain—the most dreadful conditions (the race would have been stopped in today’s world)—he walked away from the opposition, beat the works Aston Martins, beat Reg Parnell, and won the British Empire Trophy. It was a most wonderful moment for him to rejoice, and an incredible achievement for him. Success of that nature helped his cause with the medical authorities. If he could win races such as the British Empire Trophy in conditions such as those, he was surely safe and able to compete in other events. He became a hero to everybody, not only to the public but also to fellow drivers. His success rate was one to be admired; to achieve so much with such deformities.
He took part in Rallying, too. I was invited to join the British Motor Corporation Rally team and take part in the 1956 Monte Carlo Rally. The lead driver in the car was to have been Peter Reece; I was to be his co-driver. The car entered was an Austin A50 with an MG engine and a floor-mounted (instead of column-mounted) gearshift; a real little “hot rod.” Sadly, in the December of 1955, Peter was killed in a road accident. Peter was the son of Stanley Blake-Reece. Blake’s, as the garage was known, was a big Ford dealer in Liverpool. Archie and I went to Liverpool for his funeral. Archie drove his Mk I Zephyr. It was on this journey that I got to know some of the incredible abilities he possessed. He worked as a cigarette salesman, and was a keen smoker to boot. While driving at some 70 mph, with his “stump” on the wheel he would flick open the packet of cigarettes, take one out with his mouth, put the packet down, reach for the lighter, ignite it and light the cigarette. Brian Lister told me he could take the “cigarette trick” one stage further. Just with his left hand, Archie could open a box of matches, remove a match, strike it, and light a cigarette—again while driving. It was as though he made extra use and had extra powers in the one hand he had, far beyond what we are able to do with two.
We attended Peter’s funeral and after the service went to the Blake’s showroom for the wake—a few drinks, and sandwiches for the mourners. Archie and I were both summoned to Stanley Reece’s office. I remember him sitting behind a very big desk looking extremely sad. “Come on in lads,” he said, “Jolly good of you to come today. Naturally, we are all shattered at Peter’s death, but I’m determined that the car should do the Monte Carlo Rally. I’ve spoken to Marcus Chambers (Competitions Manager for BMC) and told him I want you, Jack, to take it, and I want you, Archie, to go with him.” Archie looked amazed, “I’m really not a rally driver; yes I’ve done a few club rallies, but the Monte is another matter.” Stanley said, “Archie, you’re a great driver, you have proved that. You could do this and really enjoy the experience. So, I want you to agree.” Archie agreed. We left the wake and made our way back to Cambridge. All the way back Archie kept saying, “I must be mad to have agreed to that, I can’t navigate.” I replied, “Well, Archie, I can’t navigate either.” We agreed to get back to Marcus Chambers and ask him to provide a good navigator. A guy called Ken Best, who worked on the promotions side of National Benzoil, came into the frame, and agreed to navigate.
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