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Dedicated to the memory of the late Brian Archer who fulfilled his dream to re-create John Sprinzel's Sebring Sprite Coupé

 

UMW 685

"SOME MEMORIES OF 1960s SPRITE RACING" FROM DAVID PRATLEY

"VTH 853: I bought this cherry red car as a second owner in 1960. A year later I entered my first competitive events with a sprint in North Weald and a couple of hill climbs at Stapleford in Essex. Initially the car was unmodified but later acquired a Paddy Gaston cylinder head which was no better than the standard one. Much improved, somewhat later, was the addition of a Shorrock supercharger which gave decent road performance. My first race was at Silverstone in 1963 when the procedure for turning the car into a racer was to replace the windscreen with a homemade plastic aero screen, take out the spare wheel and pump up the Michelin Xs a bit. Wonder if the car still exists?

UMW 685:
After a couple more outings with VTH in 1964 it seemed both risky to use our only mode of transport for competition and further more and more of the opposition were turning up on trailers. At the beginning of 1965 I bought UMW685 (and trailer) that had been previously raced with some success by Peter Cole. Not sure whether he had had it for one or two seasons but the car had been originally put together by Jeff Goodliffe, later to make his name with Vitafoam Minis.

The car, as bought, had been cleverly modified by Jeff. The rear axle location/suspension was by 'A' bracket and coil spring dampers that sat in fabricated top hats behind the driver, rather than the old quarter elliptics. The windscreen had been subtly lowered by slotting the rearmost hole and cutting down the hardtop to fit. The back of the car was a fibreglass replica with a 10 gallon plastic bottle bonded in as fuel tank. (Don't think the scrutineers would buy this one nowadays!). The standard steel bonnet had been replaced by an Ashley front that was further modified with additional cooling holes. The engine was a long stroke 1098 XSP ex-FJ motor, which I learnt later had been buily up by Eddie Meyer atr Special Engine Projects at Coventry. It was dry-sumped with the oil tank in the passenger footwell. The chassis had been lightened with a number of holes. And, the battery was a number of dry cell units taped together. The car was Healey light blue with a dark blue stripe; colours we kept during my ownership.

In those days there were enough old WW2 airfields around to take your car to and give it a trial run. I remember doing this at one such in the New Forest before my first race with UMW at Goodwood on 13th March 1965: not the ideal circuit for a first outing in an unknown car, but we survived.

I then took the car to Wiscombe Park Hill Climb down in Devon, (see photo top right). The car did not run at all well with the engine not clean and well down on power. At that time my daily driver, come trailer tow, was a bog standard 848cc Mini Traveller. After the meeting we loaded UMW on the trailer and headed for home. Unfortunately first out of the gate was a perhaps 1 in 4 hill to climb. No way was the Mini up to this so we had to get the Police to hold traffic at the bottom of the hill while we off-loaded the Sprite, drove the Mini and empty trailer up to the top of the hill and popped and banged the Sprite up to be reloaded at the top!

Clearly the engine needed sorting and we took it to Downton Engineering who rebuilt it and resolved the ignition problems. There were another six or so races that 1965 season. I remember one Austin-Healey Club event at Castle Combe when, in the Sprite/Midget race, we had a scruffy white autocross car among the entries. This proceeded to blow us all into the weeds driven by someone called Win Percy!

I missed the first half of the 1966 season, as I was on assignment to the USA, and therefore was only able to get in four late races. Not all bad however, as I was very fortunate to be a spectator at the Indianapolis 500 when Graham Hill won in a Lola T90.

By now life was getting harder in the GT/Sports car classes as Divas, Marcoses and the like were admitted to the 1150cc class. Then the BARC started the Freddy Dixon Trophy for marque cars which took away the more specialist derived vehicles.

By this time we decided UMW needed an upgrade. We lowered the ride height by about an inch with spacers under the front spring mounting plates and deeper, and better made, top hat sections at the rear. The front wheels also had a bit of negative camber now. Some wider JAPearce wheels and lower profile Dunlops replaced the wires and L sections. Finally we replaceds the old Ashley bonnet with a lightweight 'Frogeye' from early Sprite tacer Ian Ashley, later to star in F5000 and survive the Token F1. We added two smaller flanking dark blue stripes to finish things off.

We continued to run UMW for another two seasons, mostly at Silverstone and Thruxton, and mostly BARC or Nottingham Sports Car Club as the latter offered class prize money (£4 for a class win!) The car was better than the driver's limited skill and I had always t give best to the Alan Woodes, John Brittens and Gabriel Konigs of this world, although we could nearly always be relied upon to get a class podium. I only had one accident with the car when the Gould brothers' Ginetta G4 spun in front of me at Copse and I chose the wrong side. We ended backwards in the Maggots bank minus the plastic fuel tank and with a bent rear axle. A young head popped up from behind the protective bank, and far from enquiring about my health, said "can I 'ave yer autograph mister?!"
I sold the car at the end of 1969 to a JohnButler who was, I believe, a Detective Sergeant in the police at the time".

BOB HINCHLIFFE ON DAVID PRATLEY'S STORY
"I was delighted to read David Pratley’s article about his racing Sprites in the 1960’s and particularly his account of owning and racing UMW685. I have referred back to my piece of 18th March 2015 in your “comments” section about seeing the car at Silverstone on 3rd August 1963. On that occasion it was driven by Mr. P.R.G. Cole, so in answer to David’s query it was raced by Mr. Cole during 1963 and 1964. We always used to go to the NSCC meetings at Silverstone so I probably saw David racing the car but didn’t recognise it in the new colour scheme. It is very interesting to find out so much more about that exciting little Sprite that so fired my imagination on that wet Saturday at Silverstone so many years ago. Thank you David Pratley and let’s hope that one day we find out more about Mr. P.R.G. Cole and the ultimate fate of UMW685".

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Jeff Goodliffe
Jeff Goodliffe at Wiscombe Park in 1962

Cole
Peter Cole at Silverstone
in 1964


D Pratley
David Pratley at Wiscombe Park in 1965


UMW




The car as raced finally by Dave Pratley, now with its J.A.Pearce wheels and Frogeye bonnet.
(Photo: Ted Walker 30/13/1)