On September 4, 1937 the famous RAC Tourist Trophy race for cars (there was also a Tourist Trophy for motorcycles) was held at Donington Park in Leicestershire, England. The “TT,” as it has always been informally called, was first run in 1905 back in the dawn of automobile racing and continues to this day which makes it the longest running motorsports event. For 1937 it was the first time that the TT came to Donington which then had a circuit length of about 3.1 miles, including the long Starkey’s Straight. Prizes for the race would be awarded under the handicap system common at the time, although the actual finishing order over the 100 laps would be of more lasting importance.
For this running of the TT there were 21 cars at the start, including works entries from Talbot and Frazer Nash (AFN Ltd, the Frazer Nash company, then being the British representatives for BMW) along with various Rileys and Singers. Frazer Nash had brought four of the new BMW 328 sports cars with their six cylinder two liter motors which would be driven by Prince Bira, Harold Aldington, A. F. P. Fane and Hector Dobbs, with Bira, Aldington, the owner of AFN, and Dobbs running for the team prize.
Although entered by Frazer Nash, these were in fact works BMW entries, painted in white which was then the official German racing color. In the race both the cars of Fane (n. 14) and Dobbs (n. 15) retired with transmission failure. Bira carried the flag for AFN and finished third overall while Aldington was eighth. The overall win and second place as well went to the two Talbot Lago T150C entries which were driven by Gianfranco Comotti and René Le Bègue, respectively.
Comotti had a modest prewar racing career with both Talbot and Alfa Romeo. He returned to Talbot after the War and also drove briefly for Ferrari through his friendship with the Marzotto family, Ferrari’s most important early customers. Le Bègue drove both for Talbot and Delahaye, the latter due to his connections to Lucy O’Reilly Schell, the mother of postwar driver Harry Schell. She entered Le Bègue with a Maserati for the 1940 Indianapolis 500 where he finished tenth, with lengthy relief driver help from René Dreyfus and mechanical support from Luigi Chinetti. Chinetti stayed on in America during the war years, working for Alfred Momo in Long Island City near New York, which began his eventual lengthy history on this side of the Atlantic.
After the war years AFN Limited produced a series of cars using the Bristol two liter motor, both the cars and the motor being close derivatives of the prewar BMW 328.
Photos by Louis Klemantaski ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com
To see more photos from our archive go to: http://www.klemcoll.com/TheGallery.aspx
When it comes to anything regarding BMW, I would have to defer to
my good friend Will Edgar, who wrote the most reallistic account of their team
at the 1940 Mille Miglia–convincing from lad who was still in grade school then !
But another friend, Denis Jenkinson had high opinion of their 328 roadster
regarding it as advanced in 1936 and still ” modern” to drive 40 years later
when he finally acquired one.
The kind comment by Jim Sitz refers to my “Being There” article in Bimmer magazine’s issue #95 that beings with the editor’s below-title note: “Wherein our author imagines himself in Europe watching BMW prepare for—and win!—the 1940 Gran Premio Brescia della Mille Miglia, the last big road race before World War II.”
While this story appears in the said print magazine, it is also accessible online, displaying the same text and photos. A search for “Being There Bimmer Magazine” will take you to it, with my hope you enjoy the trip.