Posh clothes from Goodwood

If one’s wardrobe is in need of a suitable whiff of the 1950s pit lane then Goodwood has joined the retro motorsport fashion fray with a collection by Belstaff.

Clearly aimed at the Suixtil demographic, the Goodwood, Sports & Racing range features such gems as a sweater called Collins, a jacket called Glover and trousers called Farnham. It’s all rather nice but S&G’s eye was rather drawn to a white t-shirt which weighs in at a stupefying 135 Euros.

You can visit the website here if you’re interested in having a gander at clothing modelled by some rather fey looking young chaps who look like they’re auditioning for a sixth form production of Withnail & I. Alternatively you can just have fun picking out the cars, drivers and races from Goodwood and Brooklands that are featured in the promo film:

Popular Mechanics covers Savage S.E.5a

When Major Savage’s stunning new sky-writing aircraft took to the skies over New York  it caused a sensation. Hard on the heels of eager advertisers looking to book their own mile-high branding in the sky there came the media wanting to know all about these British innovators – among them Popular Mechanics magazine, which leaves us with a little more detail on the aircraft…

The Savage S.E.5a was covered in depth by Popular Mechanics

The Savage S.E.5a was covered in depth by Popular Mechanics

Searching out Spitfires #3

Out in the middle of the Mediterranean you can find a beautiful, locally-restored Mk.IX Spitfire among a wealth of aircraft at the Malta Aviation Museum.

Malta’s Aviation Museum holds an array of treasures

This aircraft, serial EN199, was first flown at Eastleigh on 28 November 1942 and within two weeks it was packed aboard the MV Marsa and shipped in a consignment bound for Gibraltar, where it arrived on 13 January 1943 and was quickly reassembled.

She was ferried to North Africa on 29 January 1943 and became the personal aircraft of noted ace Wing Commander Ronald ‘Ras’ Berry D.F.C., whose initials were worn as her identifying code the fuselage. She took part in the Allied Operation TORCH landings and subsequent Tunisian campaign and fought on until the Axis surrender in North Africa.

She was then flown to Malta in time to take part in Operation HUSKY, the invasion of Sicily with 1435 Squadron, later transferring to 225 Squadron after the allied forces leapfrogged on to the Italian mainland. She survived the rest of the war in Italy and returned to Malta to perform peacetime duties with the Air Sea Rescue & Communications Flight at Hal Far airfield and, later, with 73 Squadron at Luqa – today’s Malta International Airport.

EN199 ended her career in a gale, during which she was blown into a ditch at Luqa and struck off charge as being beyond economic repair. Later she was presented to the local Boy Scout troop and from there seemingly got shipped from pillar to post around the Island until 1992, when local historian Ray Polidano gathered up the by-now rather hangdog airframe and started a restoration which saw her reappear in her original desert camouflage colours as ‘Ras’ Berry’s R-B.

For more information on the Malta Aviation Museum visit the website.

Tazio’s first TT winner

The 1930 Alfa Romeo 6c 1750 GS with which Nuvolari tamed the Ards circuit

The Royal Automobile Club has decided to accord the opening round of this year’s FIA World Endurance Championship with the world’s oldest motor racing title. The Tourist Trophy dates back to 1905, and has seen some of the most celebrated cars and drivers in the sport’s history put their name on the roll of honour.

One of the most evocative names etched into the TT legend is that of Tazio Nuvolari, who made his debut on the event at the fearsome Ards circuit on 23 August 1930. This race told a story of of Italian passion and British pride which hinged around Fred Stiles, a British dealer for Alfa Romeo.

Throughout the run-up to the TT there was considerable friction between the Alfa Romeo factory at Portello and the British racing community. This was caused by the relentless hounding of the Italians by wealthy British drivers, including Malcolm Campbell, Edgar Fronteras, and Lord Howe, who believed that they should be given the chance to add a TT victory to Alfa’s many racing achievements.

By all accounts their persistence brought about considerable frostiness in Anglo-Italian relations, which in turn was damaging to Stiles’ business. He was ultimately forced to speak out in the international language of cold, hard cash – going to Alfa Corse and purchasing three of its 6C 1750 GS models with the latest race-prepared and strengthened chassis and fitted with the very latest 102 brake-horsepower Testa Fissa engines previously only available to the works team.

The trio of Alfas at the start of the 1930 Tourist Trophy - Nuvolari closest

The trio of Alfas at the start of the 1930 Tourist Trophy – Nuvolari closest

The cars arrived complete except for bodywork, because the Gran Sport was only made in two-seater form, and the TT regulations stipulated that four-seater bodies with full touring equipment were required. One of the cars received a body fashioned in duralumin alloy by Hoyal – a body which had previously contested the Brooklands Double Twelve – while the other two were fitted with less exotic coachwork by by James Young.

Having invested so heavily in his cars – and doubtless to the further annoyance of Campbell, Howe and company – Stiles also secured the services of Alfa’s ‘crack’ squad of works drivers Tazio Nuvolari, Achille Varzi, and Giuseppe Campari. The duralumin-bodied car was given to Nuvolari and it quickly proved to be one of the fastest on the entry list – only Birkin’s 4½-litre ‘blower’ Bentley and Howe’s supercharged seven-litre Mercedes-Benz were able to lap faster.

The race turned out to be very wet, and this helped to level the playing field for the Alfas against their high-powered British and German competitors. The big Mercedes was particularly afflicted by the wet weather, while the main challenge to the Alfa team disappeared when Birkin’s Bentley crashed at Ballystockart.

This left the three Stiles Alfas to romp away from the field, entertaining the crowds with a mesmerising show of skill from these three heroes of the Grand Prix world. The lead changed several times during the race between the trio but it was almost inevitable that Nuvolari, the ‘Flying Mantuan’ would prevail with an average speed of 70.88 mph, slightly faster than Campari’s average of 70.82 mph, followed by Varzi at 70.31 mph.

The Anglo-Italian squad celebrates its 1-2-3 finish, hoisting Nuvolari aloft

The Anglo-Italian squad celebrates its 1-2-3 finish, hoisting Nuvolari aloft

Following the race, the eight bearing Testa Fissa engine was retained by the factory and a standard detachable head five bearing engine replaced it with matching numbers to the chassis. In order to sell the car, a very attractive two-seater James Young drophead coupé body was fitted, which reused original front end parts of the original racing body. GK 3481 was exhibited at the October 1930 London Motor Show and the first private owner was H.H. Prince Aly Khan, followed a year later by racing driver Whitney Straight.

After World War 2 the car passed through owners in Devon, Notting Hill, Kent and Dorset – where it remained until 1996. It was then sent to Italy for restoration, where the drophead body was replaced with a replica of the Hoyal duralumin racing body with which Nuvolari had won the TT. The car was sold by RM Auctions at its 2012 London sale for £784,000 ($1.2m) – quite a bargain, really.

$1.2 million gets you the chance to see the world from Nuvolari’s seat

Something for the weekend…

Here’s a little ditty to keep you entertained in an S&G manner wherever you may go, a lovely rendition of the pre-war hit ‘Flat-Foot Floogie’ by Slim Gaillard and Slam Stewart, The Hoosier Hot Shots in 1938

The original song was called “Flat Foot Floozie”, with the ‘floy-floy’ being slang for a venereal disease. The word ‘floozie’ was changed into ‘floogie’ to allow it be to played on the radio!

While our modern pop stars like to think that they’re breaking down taboos, it’s hard to imagine Rihanna singing a ditty about having an unfortunate itch!

Major Savage’s Sky-Writing Aeroplane

One of the very few genuine S.E.5a fighters left in the world is this one, which has been dangling from the rafters of the Science Museum in London since 1939. But a fighter with no guns and a civilian livery always has a tale to tell…

A unique survivor: the Science Museum’s SE5a

In the days immediately before World War 1 an accidental discovery was made: if low viscosity oil inadvertently found its way into a hot exhaust it would vapourize, creating a vast and dense cloud of white smoke without any real detriment to the aircraft. In these early days of flight, any such discovery was investigated for its possible usefulness in war – in this case smoke signals to ground troops or a defensive ‘fog’ to confuse attackers.

An aspiring aviation engineer at the time was one John Clifford* Savage, born in 1891 and apprenticed to Claude Grahame-White in 1909. Savage had a flair for the theatrical and broke off his engineering career in order to become manager and agent to B.C. Hucks, the first Englishman to loop the loop.

It was not until the early days of hard-won peace that the idea of making smoke trails was revived. During the war, Savage had been a lieutenant in the wartime Royal Naval Flying Service, rising to become a major in the new Royal Air Force, but with the onset of peace he was wondering what to do with his future.

He tried his hand at being a journalist, writing for Flight magazine under the nom-de-plume of Oiseau Bleu but that lacked a certain je ne sais quoi

By 1921  ‘Mad Jack’ Savage had revisited the idea of producing smoke and experimented with making first shapes and then letters in the air… and the art of  skywriting was born.The entrepreneurial airman went in search of an aircraft fit for the job, and settled on the Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a.

G-EBIB is a reminder of Savage’s entrepreneurial skill

This was not the most agile fighter of the war but unlike the Sopwith Camel it had a Wolseley Viper V8 engine that was easy to fix and which had a capacious pair of exhaust pipes. In addition they were in plentiful supply – more than 2500 of them had been sitting around since the end of the war and were available to buy at what amounted to pocket money prices.

Savage snaffled up 33 of these unwanted old fighters and converted them to his bespoke skywriting specification at his Hendon premises. When selling his services in later years, Savage declared that, as a wartime fighter, the S.E.5a was ‘designed and built to be eight times stronger than is needed to endure the stresses of sky-writing’.

The rechristened ‘Savage Wolseley S.E.5a’ had extended exhaust pipes that linked together through a hole cut in the tail and, suitably lagged with asbestos, this modification acted as the nib in Savage’s aerial pen. The smoke-generating oil was stored in front of the cockpit where the machine gun previously sat and delivered by a new control on the instrument panel while the pilot’s headrest was removed in order to give him a better rearward view of his handiwork. Finally the old drab camouflage of dark olive upper surfaces and cream linen below was replaced by an all-over silver finish.

The Savage Wolsley SE5a sky-writer

Savage’s inventiveness caused a sensation when his skywriting S.E.5a made its very public debut at the 1922 Epsom Derby. A bumper crowd for one of the biggest racing weekends of the year was enthralled as the silver speck 10,000 feet above them spelt out DAILY MAIL in vast white letters which, the newspaper later claimed, was ‘the greatest single development in outdoor advertising’ and that ‘everyone within an area of a hundred square miles – and there were millions – gazed spellbound at this fascinating sight.’

It was certainly a smash. Among those in the VIP enclosure at Epsom was none other than the leading novelist of the day, Virginia Woolfe, who used the occasion as the opening segment in her next book, Mrs. Dalloway.

Flushed with this success, Savage shipped one of his aircraft to the USA. With another ex-RAF pilot, Cyril Turner, at the controls, Savage’s S.E.5a carefully wrote ‘HELLO USA’ in the sky above New York. The following day the silver speck reappeared, writing: ‘CALL VANDERBILT 7100’. The number put potential advertisers through to the hotel where Savage was staying – and the demand for his $1000 service was insatiable.

Savage’s business thrived on both sides of the Atlantic. His 33 fighter aircraft were equipped with air-to-ground radio in order for him to give personal instructions to the men at the controls while they laboured away. The biggest European success for Savage’s skywriters came in 1928 when he was employed by German pharmaceutical company Henkel to promote its Persil brand of detergents. The response was swift and impressive.

Persil was Savage's biggest European client

Persil was Savage’s biggest European client

The Persil script stood an heroic 1.5km tall at the ‘P’ and ‘l’ and 1km tall for the ‘ersi’. The six letters stretched fully 7km across the skyline and 45 million cubic feet of smoke had to be generated in order to make the letters. The pilots also had to fly their route in reverse to make sure that it could be read from below, requiring them to rehearse the complex aerobatic moves until they became second nature:

The map for a Persil skywriter

The map for a Persil skywriter

The campaign was such a success that in many European countries a cloudless sky was called a ‘Persil sky’ right up until the 1960s. Whenever there was a sunny afternoon from the North Sea to the Mediterranean, people still half expected a flashing silver dot to appear and make its magical graffiti above them.

Savage stayed in business until 1939, although the fleet of S.E.5a’s grew tired and old and Savage invented a night time alternative to using smoke when he created a searchlight advertising beam to display words and logos – doubtless a great inspiration to the creators of Batman! One by one the old fighters were pensioned off – usually going to a breaker’s yard, but not always.

In 1934 two of his aircraft, registered G-EBIA and G-EBIC went to new homes- their first stops on a journey which today sees them, resplendent in their wartime specification, as mainstays of the RAF Museum, Hendon and The Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden – although more of them later.

By 1 June 1939 only one aircraft was left in Savage’s keeping, so he sat down with what might well have been his last sheet of headed paper and dispatched the following note to the Science Museum in South Kensington:

Dear sir,

I have one genuine War time S.E.5a aeroplane left out of a considerable number I used to own.

I really cannot remember whether the Museum has a specimen of this really rather historic type of aeroplane, and if it has not I will be only too pleased to present to the Museum the machine to which I have referred above.

Yours faithfully

J.C. Savage

Savage offers his last S.E.5a to posterity

Savage offers his last S.E.5a to posterity

This kind offer was of course accepted, and so G-EBIB has been preserved intact, not only as an example of this legendary fighter of World War 1 but also as an icon of the advertising industry. As for Major Savage, he had already added another invention to his CV – the crop spraying aeroplane, which found tremendous use in the USA and Australia in particular.

As war approached he redoubled his efforts in developing the searchlight technology which, although outlawed in Britain, had proved to be hugely lucrative in the Americas. Founding Savage and Parsons Ltd as a pure engineering firm, he developed an array of sound locators and searchlights, including the Leigh Light anti-submarine technology, which was to prove vital in World War 2.

Jack Savage died in September 1945 safe in the knowledge that his life’s work had been worthwhile and mourned by almost the entire global aviation fraternity. Of the six genuine S.E.5a aircraft still in existence, three are ex-Savage and while the silver example which hangs in the shadowy reaches of the Science Museum might not be the most enticing at first glance, it might well be worth a second look…

*corrected 17/10/15

Pyotr Nesterov: the man who invented aerobatics

For a decade after the Wright brothers achieved powered flight the received wisdom was that if an aeroplane moved more than 20 degrees off the straight and level in any direction it would tumble from the sky. This was true for many of the pioneering aircraft of the day but Russian pilot Pyotr Nesterov turned the theory on its head in 1913.

A Nieuport IV of the kind Nesterov used to make history

A Nieuport IV of the kind that Nesterov used to make history

Nesterov was the son of a career army man who attended a military school and then enrolled in the Tsar’s artillery in 1904 . In 1909 he encountered aircraft for the first time in their role of performing reconnaissance flights and spotting for his gunners – and to the adventurous 22-year-old this seemed like a spectacularly good wheeze.

In short order he began pilot training, qualifying as a pilot and then earning military pilot status. Not only was he talented at the controls but he also dedicated his time on the ground to thinking about strategy and tactics for the military use of aeroplanes. This included the possibility for an aircraft to fly in a loop if it needed to take evasive or aggressive action – and on 9 September 1913 a large crowd gathered at Syretzk Aerodrome near Kiev to see theory put into practice and successfully fly a loop in his Nieuport IV monoplane.

Within days the move was then copied by aspiring pilots across Europe and ‘looping the loop’ became a major box office success in that last year of peace. The birth of aerobatic displays came just in time to pre-empt the dogfights which would follow soon afterwards the course of the Great War.

For Nesterov that war would be measured in days. He encountered an Albatros reconnaissance aircraft on 8 September 1914 and attempted to shoot it down with a pistol. Having failed in this attempt he then tried to bring it down by using his undercarriage to give the German aircraft a glancing blow on the wing – but he misjudged the move and clattered into  the Albatros so hard that while he did indeed inflict fatal damage, he fell out of his own machine and tumbled to his doom.

Uniquely for an officer of the Tsar’s armed forces, Nesterov remained an officially approved hero in the Communist regime. Indeed, Stalin renamed the city of Zhovkva in his honour in 1951, but its original moniker has since been restored.

A stamp commemorating 50 years since Nesterov's feat

A stamp commemorating 50 years since Nesterov’s feat

Pyotr Nesterov

Searching out Spitfires #2

A silver Spitfire – and one of the last, this is F.Mk.24 VN485, which stands today in the Imperial War Museum, Duxford.

VN485 was recently rolled out at Duxford after a long restoration

VN485 represents the last of the line as the Spitfire entered the jet age

The Mk.24 was the last of the breed, built in 1946-47, and never saw active service. A decade after the type entered service, and trying to stay on terms with the first generation of jet fighters, the Spitfire Mk.24 had a pressurized cockpit to allow her pilots to reach a ceiling of 43,500 feet, powered by a 2,050 hp Rolls-Royce Griffon with a maximum speed of 454 mph with a service ceiling of 43,500 feet.

VN485 was delivered in 1947 and was shipped to Hong Kong in 1950 to join gathering reserves in what was a potential hot spot in the burgeoning Cold War.

Hostilities did break out in Asia but on the Korean Peninsular, meaning that none of the Spitfires were needed. The Hong Kong airmen had little to do and life must have been quite pleasant, all things considered. When the Queen visited Hong Kong in April 1955 four of the the local Spitfires – including VN485 – made the last official sortie by the type in RAF service when they performed a flypast before heading into retirement.

VN485 wears fictitious 'Battle of Britain' colours

VN485 wears fictitious ‘Battle of Britain’ colours on display

VN485 was placed on display in Hong Kong – being pictured in a replica Battle of Britain livery of 610 Squadron in the mid-1960s – before becoming a gate guardian. She was eventually donated to the Imperial War Museum in 1989 and restored to her 1954-55 colour scheme in 2004.

VN485 with Lancaster and Mosquito in the background

VN485 with Lancaster and Mosquito in the background

For more information on the Imperial War Museum’s fantastic facilities at Duxford, visit the website.

Western Front Warbirds #1

Aircraft of the 1914-18 war were far from durable. The survival of any at all after a century is something of a marvel, so let’s celebrate their ongoing existence – and those faithfully rebuilt, restored and replicated examples as well. It’s all a long way from Biggles and from Snoopy’s imaginary battles with the Red Baron…

The RAF Museum's FE2b - as good as a new one

The RAF Museum’s FE2b – as good as a new one

Our first survivor is this Royal Aircraft Factory FE2b, a type which flew as fighter, bomber and reconnaissance aircraft from 1916-18. It’s quite a work of art and features heavily in Derek Robinson’s brilliant tale of the Battle of the Somme, War Story.

This particular aircraft never saw action… indeed it took 90 years to build! The bathtub-like nacelle which holds the engine amidships and the crew of two out in front was built in early 1918 by Richard Garrett & Sons near Lowestoft, but was never delivered. Instead it sat around the factory until 1976 when it was donated to the RAF.

In the late 1980s the search began for original components to finally, belatedly build this FE2b into a complete aircraft, gaining an engine and ancillaries by the mid-1990s but then work ground to a halt. Finally in 2007 the 90% complete aircraft was sent off to Retrotech near Hastings and assembled, the gaps filled in and she was given the markings of A6526, which flew night bomber operations with 58, 102 and 148 squadrons in 1917-18.

Of course while all this was going on, Peter Jackson built two of them from scratch, using original Beardmore engines and as many original components as he could find!

For more information on the RAF Museum, visit the site.