A Life in Cars
The Motor Trade in the 1930s
Motor Racing in the 1930s
Post War Years 1945-1953
The “Griffiths Formula”
A Busy Retirement
For 70 years, until his death in 2003 at the age of 87, Guy Griffiths was involved in the British motor racing scene. He competed in the 1930s and in 1966 created the Griffiths Formula, which saved so many racing cars from the scrap heap and then became the respected Historic Sports Car Club (HSCC).
However, he is best known for his striking and perceptive motoring photography, which has appeared in books and magazines all over the world. Bill Boddy, the editor of Motor Sport for more than half a century, and a close friend of Guy’s, once described his work as “the best there is; his action racing shots are as sharp as his studies of celebrities.”
Although he continued to attend and photograph historic meetings into his 80s, his post-war photographs proved most popular, and are still in demand worldwide. These offer unique coverage of the immediate post World War II years, one of the most dramatic and interesting periods in the evolution of the sport, when the great drivers such as Fangio and Moss were at their height.
Guy was very knowledgeable about the cars from a technical point of view, having raced himself and operated as a motor trader for 20 years, as well as doing wartime research work for Napier, the famous engineering company.
Guy also wrote many motoring articles and supplied the photographs for numerous books, amongst the last of which was “1946 and All That” , published just two years before his death, a collection of his best photographic work brought together for the first time in one book.
Guy came from a wealthy, well connected family, with links to the art and business world, from Millais and Rodin, to Gordon Selfridge and Edwin Lutyens. Most of the following, including the photo captions, is in Guy’s own words, from articles and interviews he did in his 80s, which give an idea of the fascinating personality and background behind his compelling photography, and the atmosphere of the times he lived in.
“My interest in photography was started by my nanny, an enthusiastic photographer. From when I was about five, she taught me to print my own photographs.”
The process was P.O.P (printing out paper). This paper was daylight sensitive, but very slow. The negative was put in a printing frame with a sheet of P.O.P. paper behind.
This was done quickly in the shade, the frame was then pointed towards the sun, after a few minutes the top of the frame was opened and one could see if the sepia print was dark enough, if it was it was taken out of the frame and put in a dish of hypo beside one and later washed in the wash basin.
Later ‘gaslight’ paper was used; this needed a bright artificial light and gave a black and white normal print.
By the time I took my first self-portrait, I already wanted to be a racing driver. I wore one of my father’s old mackintoshes, my cap back to front and my sixpenny goggles. The camera was on a tripod and I measured the distance, set the self timer and quickly sat on the chair.”
Guy was fascinated by all types of vehicles and speed from a very early age; he wrote to Malcolm Campbell who sent back this photo (using the family nickname, Dinky), of him breaking the world land speed record.
Guy was one of the early pupils at Stowe, now a prestigious public school, but in 1929, when Guy started there, it was a very new establishment with liberal ideas, and had only been going for six years. The first headmaster was the inspirational J.F. Roxburgh, a leading educator of the 20th century, who had taught Evelyn Waugh at Lancing, and encouraged him to write. Waugh later returned the favour, reviewing a biography of Roxburgh in the Observer.
Guy was inspired by his headmaster: “Roxburgh was a wonderful man who treated all the boys with great respect for their opinions and individuality. Every afternoon and weekend he walked around and talked to the boys about their interests, hobbies and anything they had to say about the school, he never mentioned work, he knew every boy’s birthday and personally congratulated them. I told him I was only interested in two things – photography and motor racing.”
At this time, motor racing was considered an obscure amateur sport and photography an unusual activity, not even a proper craft, so for a headmaster, Roxburgh’s reaction was extraordinary. “He said to me, “We can do nothing about the racing, but we can about the photography. You must start a club.” So I did, and he was the first member. He asked me to renovate a small darkroom in the main building and also to make a record of everyday school life and a record of all the monuments and ‘follies’ in the grounds.”
There was no training in photography then; the young Guy learnt purely through experience. Even at this age, his commercial acumen was apparent. He became the official photographer for all the school events, and would take pictures of individuals in action, and then sell prints for sixpence a time!
“At Stowe I was not bright, I tried hard, concentrated, but the work did not interest me. One reason may have been that in class I sat next to Peter Whitehead*, and our real thoughts were becoming racing drivers!”
* Peter Whitehead did fulfil his dream, going on to compete in Formula 1, Formula 2, the Le Mans 24 hour and partnering Stirling Moss to victory in the Reims 12 hours. Sadly, in 1958 he was killed whilst competing in the Tour de France when his Jaguar 3.4-litre saloon plunged off a bridge.
The teenage Guy longed for his own vehicle: “When I was 14, I bought a 1914 ex-War Department Douglas motorbike for seven shillings and sixpence from a school friend.
It arrived by train and as I had no idea how to ride it, I had to push it up the hill from the station.
I kept it in the yard and used to play around with it. One day, I started it by accident and drove straight over some of my father’s valuable alpine seedlings – he was furious!”
Guy could not drive his bike on the road “I applied for a licence to ride a motor cycle well before my fourteenth birthday and got it (see above) but before I could use it I had a letter (see below) cancelling it because the law had been changed to sixteen! Another two years to wait….”
“When I was finally old enough to get a motor cycle driving licence, my father bought the family a Morgan four-seater with a side-valve J.A.P. engine.” (The 16 year old Guy was able to drive the three-wheeler on his motor cycle licence.)
“My father never learned to drive and like many of his generation preferred horses, but he said one interesting thing I have never forgotten, how he welcomed the smell of car exhaust gas.
Before the car, he said, summer conditions in London’s busy areas like Hyde Park Corner were terrible, the smell of horse urine and droppings and the flies were intolerable and there were crossing sweepers at several points to make it possible to cross the road in shoes.
During holidays when I went round London and my mother shopped I often took her into car showrooms and the extent of the Depression of those days is that they could take the trouble to write to a schoolboy, at his school, hoping he might influence an eventual purchase by his parents.
Eventually I struggled through the School Certificate and left, aged 16, but I already had a sort of job to go to and this is how it had come about: I had got into the habit during school holidays of wandering round London, photographing street scenes and people working.
One day I took a picture of the entrance of Chilworth Mews, and then went down it; there were Charles Rickards vans, old coster barrows and rubbish. At the far end, at number nine, a man was dismantling an Amilcar and there were a couple of similar cars inside.
His name was Alex ’Bill’ Black, quite appropriate as he was pretty dirty; breaking is not a clean job. Bill was educated and with a very pleasant voice.
He had recently failed running a firm called Modern Motors and was starting again from nothing. He had only been there a few weeks; his new venture was ‘Sports Spares’ selling parts for old sports cars of the 20s and the cars themselves.
After a few minutes we felt we had known each other all our lives and we knew quite a bit about each other as well.
He was on his own and asked if I would like to come out with him when he was looking for stock and drive back anything he bought, and so in that way I drove most of the cars of the 20s, good and bad, and had a good idea of their value. So I continued this after I left school almost on a full-time basis and we became so efficient he soon paid me quite a bit of money.”
Guy was not expected to get involved in the shady world of second hand car dealing in an insalubrious part of London such as Paddington. As can be seen from the letter below, having been through public school, Guy was expected to go to university (“both Varsities” means either Oxford or Cambridge; others were not even considered).
“It was during this time that I went to, and photographed, my first Motor Race event. It was a rather informal meeting at the old Greenford Trotting Track to assess it for serious motor racing. The quarter mile track had four and a half foot banked corners at each end with a surface of hard rolled earth and cinders, with half-inch loose cinders on top.
Quite a few drivers turned up and a huge variety of cars, drivers swapped round quite a bit, Jack Lemon-Burton had a large American engined special and gave me a ride round, as did the Conan Doyles with their Mercedes 38/250, something I have never forgotten, or the kindness to an unknown youth or the cheerful good natured enthusiasm of everyone there.
Many years later I learnt from Bill Boddy (later the Founder Editor of Motor Sport) that he had also been there. It seems the lap record was set by the Conan Doyles in the Mercedes and Dudley Froy in a G.P. Bugatti. Another of the fastest was ‘Cyclone’ Cecil, a West Indian in a very fast ex-works Ulster Austin. The faster cars reached about 70mph on the straights.”
With some of the money I earned with Black, and his help, I bought a very good Grand Prix Salmson, for a very modest price, this was my first own four wheel car.
“As well as motor racing and photography, I had always been interested in the Cinema and had a 9.5 Pathé home movie camera and projector and through their hire system had been able to see many of the old U.F.A. films such as METROPOLIS, THE CABINET OF DR.CALIGARI and these have influenced me ever since.
In late 1933, a year after leaving school, through a contact of my mother, who was also a film enthusiast, I was went for a short time to Ealing Film Studios as a very junior cameraman.
20th Century Fox had taken over the studio from the owner, Basil Dean, to make ‘quickies; to get round the quota law which insisted a certain number of films shown were made in Britain.
The head cameraman was Bob Martin, a top Hollywood operator who had decided to come and live in England to get away from the increasing union control and the whole destructive atmosphere.
When Fox offered me a contract to go to Hollywood, Bob Martin strongly advised me to refuse and go back to my motor trading that I had told him about.
At this point I must record one of the small tragedies of my life; in 1946 I had stored all my pre war and wartime negatives with my parents at Chipping Campden and although they were in one of the many empty rooms, doing no harm, they threw them all away, so of all up to April 1946 I only have odd prints, many rejects, so I have none from Ealing or the war.
With the money I had earned at Ealing, I started freelancing as a trader and sold my first car in June 1934, a 12/50 Alvis bought from Morrall’s garage in Evesham for £10 and sold to Bll Black for £16, a good profit, not bad for a first timer!”
“The second car I sold as a trader was an AC, bought for £8 and sold for £14. I cut away the drivers side to make it look more sporting.
After this, Bill Black advised me to take the plunge, get some premises and start on my own properly. I found 1a Saltram Crescent, Shirland Road, London W9 and started trading for myself in June 1934.”
It must be remembered that, having already started two careers and turned down Hollywood, Guy was starting his first business at the age of just 18.
The Motor Trade in the 1930s
“Saltram Crescent held seven or eight cars under cover, the same in an open yard and one under the arch leading to the road; at times we could squeeze in up to twenty cars. A few months later, when things got going, I took a garage in Shirland Mews, about 300 yards away which held up to seven cars, and was used as a workshop and for storing my racing cars. Later still, I took another garage in the mews which held seven or eight.
In August 1934 I did my best deal to date. On the 14th I had bought a Frazer Nash KM1068 for £34, and without spending a penny on it had sold it on the 29th for £75.
It was then that Ken Greenwood, who I had always considered the best salesman in the trade, came to see me. He was desperately short of money and needed a job; we had a long talk, he was much more experienced than me, but we both had the same idea; to make money you needed an organisation, not a 2 man and a boy set up, and for that you needed capital. Most importantly of all, at that moment he needed £5 a week and could not exist on less. A huge sum for me.
I had some capital; I took a chance and employed him at £5 a week, a figure on paper I could not afford. He turned out to be crucial to the business and we worked well together.
From when he started Ken gave me a very good piece of advice for a motor trader of those days. Never keep two sets of books, but always keep one up to date and accurate, and it always helped to have quite a lot of cash in your pocket and sometimes forget your cheque book. Many other motor traders of that time would have kept two sets of books, one for themselves and one for the taxman.
Every week we did the advertisements for the THE AUTOCAR and THE MOTOR. We always started the classifieds with the price, this would be printed in bold type; other firms did it as well, but looking under the cars that interested them, our potential buyers could always pick ours out easily. We could only afford to advertise 8 to 10 cars, but we changed nearly all of them every week, giving an impression of a larger stock than we really had.
As we got into 1935 we held 25-30 plus at any time, also racing engines and chassis and spares, mainly Bugatti, Amilcar and Frazer Nash. We always kept a stock of 38 and 42mm wheels sprayed aluminium. There was no MOT and tyres were often run down to the canvas and the car part-exchanged rather than replace them.
The success was down to two things, Hire Purchase and quick turnover, the second needed to finance the first. H.P. was unavailable from the established firms so I financed my own. The terms were half down, the balance over twelve months with 5% interest, payment to be made on the first day of the month; this made book keeping a lot easier and brought in a regular lump of money. It was hard going until the monthly sum equalled the money needed for stock, then it really took off, if the profits were not drained off by needless outgoings, such as racing!
Banks would not dream of giving an overdraft to what they considered a perilous enterprise so now and again Bill Black and I used each other as a bank. We would sell one of our stock, of the other’s choice, at cost price, and get a cheque. The car would not move but at the end of about ten days if the money had not been repaid we would deliver it. We both used this facility but I can never remember either of us having to hand over a car.
“During my first year I started off slowly but still bought and sold about 168 cars, this is a list of most of them.
This does not include odd racing chassis and incomplete cars suitable for building specials or racing engines.
Grand Prix Sunbeam
Motor Racing in the 1930s
As his business developed, Guy became very involved with the world of second hand sports cars and racing, which was very small in the late 1930s. Most people knew each other and the history of the cars. Here he talks about just a few of his many experiences.
Sammy Davis, Autocar Editor
One day in 1934 soon after I had opened, I had a phone call from Sammy Davis, Sports Editor of the THE AUTOCAR, a national hero after his epic win at Le Mans in 1927 and so at this time at the very top of the motor racing world. He said the paper had had a complaint about one of my advertisements and would like to come and clear it up.
I must admit in those days of innocence all traders could be a little optimistic about the merits and performance of their stock. I also knew that if THE AUTOCAR refused my advertisements I would be finished before I had really started.
He arrived in his International Aston Martin just after lunch. It seemed that a reader had complained I had advertised a 12/50 Alvis as lap speed 90 mph. When he said that, a huge black cloud lifted; the car was ex Purdy and I had an old Autocar reporting a race at Brooklands mentioning a lap speed of 92 mph by Purdy in his 12/50 Alvis. I showed Sammy Davis the car and the report. He said “Fine, that clears everything up”, and then with a little smile he said something like “Always make sure any fact you mention can be verified”, surely the best advice any journalist or writer could have.
He then stayed the rest of the afternoon talking, asking me about my ambitions, what I intended to do, listening about my plans to go motor racing, warning me about the pitfalls and cost and his own similar feelings at my age, how much easier it had been in those days. Then as he was leaving at nearly five o’clock, he said, “Always ring me if I can give any advice or help, and the best of luck.” So started a friendship which developed over the years and lasted till his tragic death.”
Jack Bartlett, sports car trader
Soon after I started I went to see Jack Bartlett at his Notting Hill garage. Jack had been trading since the 20’s and was absolute top of the sports car market, then mostly trading in 2.3 Alfa Romeos and similar Bugattis and almost new high quality cars.
I asked him if he would offer me any old part-exchange cars that he might not want to sell himself, he was charming and said he would be delighted and we became good friends and did many deals and he lent me any car that I thought some of my better off customers might be interested in.
Jack regularly raced cars he had in stock, Alta, Salmson and both Monoposto and Monza Alfa Romeos. I think he won the Southport 100 with a San Sebastian Salmson. We started at 9 a.m. Monday to Saturday, (9-12 Sunday), official weekday closing time was 5pm, but working time was often up to 10 or later; time off was when convenient for the firm.
The business prospered, but all the time, as Ken well knew and reluctantly accepted, the real reason for what we were doing was for me to make enough money to fulfil my long held wish to go motor racing.
The Segrave Sunbeam
In early 1935 a charming, very good looking customer came in and said he had a car for sale he was sure would interest me. He was the Hon Jock Leith (later Lord Burgh) and the car was the 1922 ex-Segrave Grand Prix Sunbeam.
(In 1923, Henry Segrave became the first Briton to win The Grand Prix, as the French Grand Prix was known in those days. He later got into record breaking and on 29th March 1927, was the first man to attain a speed of over 200 mph. He reached 231.44 m.p.h. on March 11, 1929 at Daytona Beach in the Golden Arrow, a speed which Malcolm Campbell could not match until 1931 when he managed 246.09mph. Henry Segrave died in 1930, making an attempt upon the water speed record at Lake Windermere, England.)
“He had found it, I think in Scotland, in a fairly dilapidated state and I gathered it had had a minor fire at the rear that had done little damage except to the tail. It had been raced at Brooklands but was not now eligible because of the 10 year rule (no car could race at the track with a chassis frame over 10 years old because of possible metal fatigue;, this resulted in many historic cars being destroyed).
Jock Leith had had it completely rebuilt, with many new parts from Sunbeam, who still had plenty of spares. A sensible modification had been to take the camshaft oiling off the main dry sump system and get rid of the dashboard drip feeds. The work had taken much longer than he had hoped and cost a very great deal more than he expected; nothing changes! He had competed a few times including Brighton, but now wanted to do some serious racing and buy the red 2.3 Bugatti Charles Martin had been racing. Unfortunately he could not buy the Bugatti until he had sold the Sunbeam and he needed £100.
We wandered out to the road and talked beside his car, the beautiful ex-Zbrowski Boulogne Hispano-Suiza that the Count* had left Clive Gallop when he was killed. After the war Morin Scott used the wings on the Hispano Special he built. I said I would love the car but £100 was more than I could justifiably afford for a car I would not want to sell, as I could buy four or five cars for stock for the same amount. He quite saw my point and after inviting me to take the Hispano round the block, he drove off.”
(Count Louis Zbrowski raced in the 1920s; the wealthy son of a Polish Count and an American mother, he lived at Higham Place a large country house near Canterbury, where with his engineer Captain Clive Gallop he built three aero-engined cars, all called Chitty Bang Bang. These later inspired James Bond author Ian Fleming to write the eponymous book, which was adapted for the screen.)
“A few days later he came again and said the Sunbeam was outside, ‘come and have a look’ She seemed in perfect condition, dark green with a 1924 type cowled radiator, a great improvement, everything seemed original apart from the rather stumpy tail, the petrol tank, seats, dash, even the original cream painted interior. He said he would leave her for a few days if I would run him home. He may have been an ‘Hon’, but he was a good salesman.
Having had the car at his disposal for a few days, Guy succumbed to temptation and bought the Sunbeam for £100.
“Jock then bought the Bugatti and said if we could use my trade plates we could take her out and see how she went before he entered any events. On a Sunday soon after, we went down to Symes, at Byfleet. We filled the car to the brim with methanol and off we went, driving in turns. We stopped for lunch in Guildford then dipped the tank, now getting empty, did a few more miles and took her back.
The Sunbeam still had her Brooklands silencer and I took her to the track to see how she performed. Though not particularly fast she was vice free and a delight to handle; by hand timing the lap speed was about 103-105 and she would have gone on all day. This was on pump fuel (about 75-78 octane) and road plugs.
I entered for the first available Donington meeting and towed her up, staying the night before race day in Nottingham. There was a fine entry including Shuttleworth’s Monoposto Alfa, Eccles’ 3.3 Bugatti, all the fast 2.3s; Leith, Martin, Dobson,and Brackenbury, apart from many smaller but very quick cars.
Practice went well until the last lap; coming into the hairpin, Kenneth Evans came up very fast behind me, I pulled tight into the corner to give him as much room as possible, and just put a wheel on the verge, as luck would have it there was a gully hidden by overgrowing grass at this point, as MOTOR SPORT reported it:
“He came up to the hairpin corner with Kenneth Evans on the single seater midget right on his tail. Griffiths cut the corner a shade too fine and the off side front wheel just clipped the grass. The car swung round and rolled down the slope inside the corner, coming up on its four wheels again, Griffiths was still in the driving seat and Evans who had pulled up quickly came running back, expecting to find him badly injured, instead his crash hat had taken a nasty dent and was wedged rather firmly on his head, his only other injury was a deep cut on his hand. Lucky man!”
The car was quickly repaired and entered for the July meeting at Donington.
The Conan Doyle brothers
Adrian and Denis Conan Doyle (sons of Sir Arthur, the creator of Sherlock Holmes) were regular callers in one of their 38/250 Mercedes and I was very fond of them and I think sometimes they got an unfair bad press as being just playboys. Once they surprised the rather staid local residents of Saltram Crescent; one hot summer day, they arrived in the short chassis white car, they were dressed in short white shorts white tennis shirts (now T shirts) white plimsolls and black leather gauntlets up to their elbows.
Another time they said they were running the 38/250 in the Southport 100 sand race, why not enter the Sunbeam, they would tow me up behind the Mercedes and we could all stay at the Hotel nearby. A generous offer but I boggled at the thought, knowing their rather fast driving, I thanked them, but after the first Donington I had bought a Luton van.
The event started as the tide was receding and the sand was still wet and push starts were hard, Shuttleworth overcame the trouble by towing his T51 Bugatti behind his aeroplane and then when he landed to untie, got the aeroplane stuck and only got it free later, I was overgeared in the race but had a good run and finished, I think, seventh, not bad with so many other very fast cars. This was the last time I raced the car as now all my time was concentrated on a more exciting project.
After Southport the car body was stripped off and ‘de-sanded’, all oils drained and brake drums removed and cleaned. When the body was off Ian noticed something marked on the chassis frame where the driver sits, it was centre pop marks and looked liked HODS, then looking closer it was HDHS, Segrave’s initials Henry de Hane Segrave*
One of the nicest memories I have of the car was in the summer of 1936. It was in the glass fronted showrooms I had then at 200 London Road, Kingston .One day an American two seater fixed head coupe drew up and a very attractive lady got out and came inside. She was tall, blond and wearing an obviously expensive fur-collared coat and cloche hat. She asked if I owned it and could she have a look at it. She identified herself as Lady Segrave and said it was the car her husband had driven at Strasburg, but with a later cowl. I told her about the marks on the chassis and she said after practice the bodies were taken off and her husband was afraid he might not get the same car so had his mechanic make a mark to identify it.
The Spook was one of several Frazer-Nash cars highly modified for speed trials and hill climbs by Dick Nash, a well known driver of the time.
“In the 1934 December issue of the magazine BROOKLANDS the following appeared: A new owner for the Spook
” K .N. Hutchinson tells us that he has just purchased the Spook from Dick Nash with a view to doing a little hill-climbing next season. He says the car is now developing 115 bhp and its weight is slightly under ten cwt. So he will have, at any rate, a hair raising time until he gets familiar with its tricks”
In May 1935 John Eason Gibson offered me the car on behalf of Hutchinson, who, he said could not come to terms with it. On May 27th I bought it for £45. I did a lot of work on the car, rebuilt the engine and transmission and regularly ran it in sprints and hill climbs. On my first outing at Lewes on May 9th 1936 I broke the 20 second barrier that Nash had never done and was 1st in the 1500 class (beating Nash’s new car) 2nd 2000 class and 3rd unlimited, only .04 seconds slower than the Vauxhall-Villiers. I continued development, running at Shelsley, Lewes and anywhere else. It was obvious that the only cure for a head gasket problem was to have the block and head cast in one, a very expensive undertaking, but I put it in hand.
One of the highlights of my life was to compete against a works entered Auto Union, driven by Hans Von Stuck, the continental champion. The weather was appalling, I ran after Raymond Mays and conditions were horrible but the wet saved my chains. “
As reported in MOTORSPORT:
“The starting line had become distinctly sticky and G.S.Griffiths (Anzani-Nash) had a broadside as he got away but was quite safe on the higher slopes of the hill, climbing in 47.4 seconds.
A most satisfactory day
In about March 1938 Sam Clutton* said to me “If we can use your General trade plates we can take the Itala to the opening Prescott meeting and both compete”. At the time I was living over my motor business in Hansard Mews, off Holland Road, Sam was living at the Old Manor House in Walton on Thames.
*Sam Clutton, founder of Clutton’s estate agents, was a life-long motoring enthusiast and a close friend.
This was the very first Prescott meeting. Sam had been asked by Lord Ellenborough who owned the estate to put it on the market. Sam, who was an active member of the Vintage Sports Car Club suggested to The Bugatti Owners Club they purchase the site as a home base. The Itala was a 1908 12.7 litre Grand Prix car. Very early on May 13th I arrived at Sam’s house. It was a beautiful sunny day, the Itala was standing in the drive ready to go; I put my bag of tools in the back and off we went., Sam was to drive down and I was to drive back, we had three small bicycle lamps and Sam said I could see better than he could in the dark.
The roads were almost deserted and we bowled along well until just after High Wycombe when we slowly came to a stop with obvious fuel starvation. The tank was full and pressure was OK but we soon found the carburettor was full of red rust sediment. A full tank and swishing fuel had dislodged years of rust in the tank. We blew out the petrol line, cleaned the carburettor and started again, but between about every 5 to 15 miles we stopped, and so it went on. We took it in turns to crank the Itala but we were both getting tired and losing time.
From now on Sam drove absolutely flat out between stops to try and make up time. Luckily traffic was fairly light, but just after Enstone a new Rolls-Bentley saloon was ambling along in the middle of the rather narrow road with the occupants enjoying the Cotswold scenery. We had no effective horn and they must have been a bit deaf not to hear the thunder behind them. After about three miles Sam was getting demented with rage and shouted “The next possible place I am going to try.”
Soon there was a dip in the road with a hill opposite and reasonable visibility; it was our chance and we just made it with two wheels on the grass. As we passed Sam said “Bang on their roof”. (You are high up in the Itala and we were very near); I did, gently, with good effect. I was relieved they did not pass us on one of our stops.
On the long road between Burford and Cheltenham we touched about 100 mph several times, helped by a friendly gradient. Eventually we got to Prescott and did our practice and proper runs, Sam making one of his more memorable times. After the runs finished we drained the tank and got masses of rust out. Then we put the car together again and two tired and very scruffy people set off for the hundred odd miles home. We only had three or four stops on the return, a good thing as we were both almost too tired to start the car.
Eventually we drove into the drive at Walton and switched off. After a moment’s silence Sam said “I think that was a most satisfactory day – now I am going to bed.” I drove back to London in my T44 Bugatti and did the same. Sam always said that day was the hardest the car ever had; it had not had much work done on it since he bought it, it was virtually raced the last seventy miles there, did eight timed rums and over two hundred miles there and back.
We were all re-united on the fiftieth anniversary in 1988 when our combined age was 229 years.”
By 1938, I had taken on a garage in Holland Park, a more salubrious area of London, and concentrated on selling better cars for more money, such as Bentleys, Sunbeams, Rileys and MGs.
Because of re-armament there was more money about than at any time since the Depression, the pound was strong, inflation low and we were prospering; Ken Greenwood (Guy’s chief salesman) made so much commission that he bought a farm in Suffolk!
The horrors of the last war were still with us and everyone wanted peace, however, we were all living in a fool’s paradise and we knew really that war must come sometime. By June things had started slowing down; in July prices nose-dived until most of my stock was worthless, and I was very exposed as my capital was in stock and hire purchase.
By August trade had more or less vanished and we decided .to close down, at the end of the month. War was declared on 3 September 1939, and that week we moved the stock down to a barn on Ken’s farm for storage. I still had an income from my hire purchase payments, but within a short time the Government put a moratorium on all HP payments and then I had none.
However, Guy did not have to worry for long; within two weeks, that problem was solved and his talents were in demand for the war effort.
When I was at Brooklands I had got to know a man called Hunt who was the Shell Aviation and racing fuel representative, I had also sold him a very fine 3-litre Sunbeam. Napier, the engineering company, had asked him for names of people he thought would suit them. About the third week in September he approached me and asked to go for an interview in their research department. I was asked quite a few questions, both general and specific and they wanted to know when I could start.
It was a tiny set-up of about a dozen key members; the aim was to further develop the then greatest piston engine – the Sabre, 24 cylinder H section sleeve-valve design.
It was during his time at Napier that Guy met Denis Jenkinson (Jenks) the motoring journalist, who was then working as a Government engineer. They discovered a shared obsession with motor racing, and immediately became great friends, a relationship which continued until Jenks’s death in Nov. 1996.
Jenks became one of motor racing’s greatest writers; his famed column in MOTORSPORT was read avidly for the 40 years he was that magazine’s Continental Correspondent.
Over the years Jenks also became an integral part of the motor racing scene, being perceived by the drivers and racing hierarchy as ‘one of us’.
He had participated in motor racing at the highest level, first as the athletic passenger of Sidecar World Champion Eric Oliver and later as the famed navigator who pointed Stirling Moss to perhaps the greatest of all motor racing triumphs – the record-shattering victory in the 1955 Mille Miglia round Italy race.
Apart from the horrors of the war, my time at Napier was one of the most rewarding of my life, working with marvellous men, often under difficult conditions, and their treatment of me so kind and considerate that it was more like a family as our section was quite separate from the main factory.
Guy ended up in charge of the research department at Park Royal.
Our work was of great interest to Harry Ricardo* who often came to see the tests being done and was involved in other work as well. When I decided to leave Napier at the end of the war Ricardo made me a very generous offer to run the Shoreham works, as manager with complete control after his death. But I wanted my freedom after nearly seven years; I yearned for the motor trade and photography and declined his offer.
* Sir Harry Ricardo (1885-1974), the engineer who made a major contribution to the development of the internal combustion engine for both automobile and aircraft use. His contribution was a vital factor in Britain’s victory in both world wars, as he designed the first engines for use in military tanks in WW1.
However, I always wanted to do something for the memory of the great Napier history and when Anthony Heal gave me his archives to combine with mine, I eventually persuaded David Venables to write his brilliant book THE FIRST TO WEAR THE GREEN This book describes the national importance of Napiers and their contribution to motor racing.”
Post War Years 1945-1953
While still at Napier I went (as a spectator) to the first post-war speed event in this country, the sprint at Elstree. I took a few photographs and at that moment decided to be a motor racing photographer. Every weekend, and from that day to 1953 I hardly missed a meeting. After the war, motor racing grew rapidly, more circuits opened all over the country, such as Silverstone, Goodwood and Castle Combe and there were meetings most weekends.
This was a happy and productive period for Guy, when his best photography was done; the war was over, his daughter Penny was born the year after the war, and he was at the centre of the motor world, involved in trading, racing and the emerging motor magazine industry. He supplied pictures and racing reports to THE AUTOCAR, was the official photographer for ROAD & TRACK and was friendly with all the drivers and journalists.
The years from 1946 to 1953 were a Golden Age in racing, when drivers such as Ascari, Gonzales, Farina and Fangio were at their peak. There was so much variety in cars then; all the manufacturers were looking for the solution to get more speed, but they were trying different ways of finding it.
Guy’s photographs are technically outstanding, particularly as photographing the sport was not an easy task; after the war, equipment was expensive and difficult to find; Guy often used cine film, which then had to be cut to size and loaded into cassettes. He usually took 20 cassettes of 36 exposures to each meeting. Later he used Kodak Plus X, rated at 64 ASA.
His camera was a 35mm Contax II used with various lenses. This was extremely sophisticated compared to the press photographers, who were still using glass plates. They normally had only 24 for a race meeting and seldom more than one standard lens.
The longest lens he used for colour was the 85mm F2 Zeiss Sonnar. Colour film was extremely rare in the 1940s and the best quality available was Kodachrome. Guy used this for all his early colour photographs. However, the maximum speed was only 12 ASA, so it was a considerable achievement to get pictures of such quality.
As well as shortages of film there were also difficulties in obtaining chemicals for processing and printing. Undaunted by such problems Guy made his own chemicals using the recipe pictured below. He measured the hazardous ingredients using a precise set of scales.
Taking pictures on the trackside could still be a hazardous business; for some shots, Guy would stand within three feet of cars cornering a bend, which would never be allowed at today’s Formula One events!
World War Two ended officially in July 1945 and Guy could not wait to get back to the world of cars and motor racing. He started another business trading cars, with a friend from Napier, Peter Bentley and he rekindled his passion for photography.
We took a ramshackle garage in Alton Road, Richmond and started Alton Garage. It was the same old cars, but now seven years older, but thanks to demob money trade was brisk, but the old cheap sports car trade could not go on much longer and I knew specialization was the only answer for a small firm.
I chose Alvis, as they had made good cars from the early 1920s to 1940 so one had a big price range and could trade up but still have cheaper cars to sell.
Guy used to sell individual photographs to the drivers and got to know them well. “They were all so polite and friendly to the public and to each other. During practice and after races they were always available to sign autographs and chat. Although there was plenty of fine competitive driving on the track, they rarely did anything that might put another driver in danger.”
When Guy was asked in 1991 to pick his favourite driver, he answered unhesitatingly, “Stirling Moss, without a shadow of a doubt. Many people would choose Fangio, but he was mainly a Grand Prix driver. Stirling had this extraordinary ability to get into any car and drive it better than anyone else. He had a marvellous spirit and would never give up in a race, even if he was far behind; he said he owed it to the public who had come to see him.”
When Moss was asked about Guy, he returned the compliment, describing him as “the outstanding motoring photographer of his day”.
Brands Hatch 14-10-1950 “I photographed nearly every weekend and covered many events for THE AUTOCAR, the American magazine ROAD & TRACK’ and other publication. Sammy Davis was back as editor of THE AUTOCAR, but soon due for retirement, and when he asked me to suggest a replacement, I thought of John Cooper.
He had been apprenticed at Alvis and had been there with Lofty England and Harry Mundy. Apart from that he was an electronics expert and at that moment was working on the Decca Navigation system and had helped with the design.
He was an instant success and his reports set new standards, continued later by Denis Jenkinson for MOTOR SPORT. Sammy often still came to events and gave a hand and sometimes Spike Rhiando joined us; the Six Hour Relay-Race was a huge event and we all covered it, I took the pictures and Spike and Sammy observed parts of the course and we all gave John “Autocar” Cooper as he was now known, any interesting tit bits we had seen.
Whenever John had an interesting road car for THE AUTOCAR to test, he used to pick me up from my home at Thames Ditton and we would go to Cambridge and have lunch with Pat Stevenson who worked for Cambridge Instruments. This gave us a chance to let it out over the almost deserted Newmarket flats.
When John was killed in a Frazer Nash going to see Pat I should have been with him, but I was ill in bed.”
A change of direction
By 1953, the motor trade was falling off, and Guy went into the clothes trade. Whilst continuing his business interests he had little time for photography but was still able to compete in club events driving a variety of cars.
The “Griffiths Formula”
From 1964 to 1966 Guy was very ill with cancer and not expected to recover; against all the odds he did, and, characteristically, soon took on another fight, this time to save some classic cars.
“By the mid 1960’s, many of the sports racing cars of the early 1950’s were being lost. They had no value and nowhere to race and were being scrapped, destroyed, unsuitably modified or exported. So to stop this, I started the “Griffiths Formula” in 1966, catering for them; it is now the Historic Sports Car Club.”
The HSCC has become the premier organiser of Historic Motor Racing in the UK. In 1991 Guy was the guest of honour at the twenty-fifth anniversary.
Guy’s daughter Penny had inherited his talent for driving and had considerable success at speed trial and club meetings, including many HSCC events.
A Busy Retirement
Guy attended and photographed motoring events well into his 80s, and as he had always done, stored and filed his photographs meticulously.
Being an early advocate of the single-lens-reflex camera (SLR) Guy moved from Contax to Pentax, a brand to which he stayed loyal for the rest of his life; Guy accumulated a large collection of Pentax cameras and lenses.. He valued the greater flexibility achieved from ‘through the lens’ viewing and automatic metering.
Despite having restricted mobility in later life he continued to be inventive in his approach to photography as can be seen here.
He contributed photographs and articles to motoring magazines, and numerous books, amongst the last of which was 1946 AND ALL THAT, published just two years before his death, a collection of his favourite photographs brought together for the first time in one book.
When his failing mobility hindered his developing photographs in his darkroom, he learnt how to use digital technology to scan and print photographs and to use a computer for writing his articles.
In 1996, Guy married his long time business partner Jean Hammond. Up to a few weeks before his death in 2003, he was still working on digitising his lifetime’s photographic work and on a new book.