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The Retro Racing Club

One of the greatest frustrations for UK tethered car enthusiasts over the years had been the lack of opportunity to run their cars here. If you were a member of the BTCA and raced either a modern FEMA car or a more recent vintage model, then there were the European tracks, but only the oldtimer meetings in Sweden would allow diesel powered cars. For the collector, home builder and fun runner there was little opportunity, unless you were prepared to risk the compass circle at Old Warden, and its propensity for wrecking cars. In 1996 Peter Hill set up The Retro Racing Club to ‘Encourage the building and running of tethered racing cars of the more traditional type.’ This was later extended to include vintage tethered hydroplanes as well. Peter started by publishing a regular newsletter that ran to seventy issues over twenty two years and then expanded the club’s activities by offering numerous drawings, castings, and a variety of tyres to assist those interested in building or restoring cars.

Conscious of the need for a facility to run cars, Peter built a track in the grounds of Railway Cottage, his home in Bedfordshire, which became the regular venue for Retro Club members for fun competitions and thoroughly enjoyable ‘days out’. Apart from the couple of portable poles that were set up on car parks in the South West, the track at Souldrop was the only permanent facility available in this country. With Santa Pod Drag strip to the west and the Midland mainline immediately to the East, noise was hardly a problem on the ten laps to the quarter mile track. This was used extensively with many events and an assortment of trophies until the end of the 90s, when a move to Lincolnshire brought an end to the ‘Souldrop Speedway’ and the opportunity to run cars.

Souldrop Speedway Retrospective

Euan Forbes' Dooling and 1066 MI Special on track Original 1066 from Swindon Club passing pits.
Barry Shaw's cars with track record holding teardrop GN Cycle car with home built V twin by Peter Wickes
John Pell's Mills 0.75cc aircar Scale Bugatti 1942 Aeromodeller aircar, Frog 180

From LtoR: Martin Coe, Euan Forbes, Martin Voinquel, Peter Hill, Dave Coe, John Pell,
Bill Bannister, Jim & Jake Elsegood, Ariane & Loic Vaucelle from France

Dave Cunliffe with John Oliver, Olympia 1995 ME Exhibition, Olympia 1995 Peter Hill with RRC stand, Olympia 1998

The Retro Club had stands at several exhibitions and country shows as well as a track at the ME at Olympia where numerous members and past racers turned up including John Oliver and Ken Bedford of ETA. There is a story regarding the car in the LH photo that is being closely examined by Dave Cunliffe. George Thornton arrived at the exhibition with the car wrapped in newspaper, pointing out that it had last run at Monza in 1955. John Oliver apparently gave the car the once over, put fuel in it and put it on the line where it ran happily some 40 years after its last, previous run.

A real 'blast from the past' 1930s car with two very large clockwork gramophone motors

Two images from the heady days of running on the compass circle at Old Warden
Cars from Bill Langley, Euan Forbes and Bert Pearson


Great Carlton Raceway

The intention to build a new track in Lincolnshire was severely hampered by a series of unfortunate events, so it was something of a red-letter day when it was announced that the inaugural meeting of Peter Hill’s Great Carlton Raceway would be on 12th June 2011. 
The track can clearly be seen on Google earth, but more recently, the photos above were taken from a drone.

The track at Great Carlton is 7 laps to the ¼ mile and with the pouring of a wide apron during the 2013 season offered the ideal and unique opportunity to have a run with anything vintage or vintage style, as long as a certain degree of common sense was involved, speed wise. Since the Retro Club has been in operation, members have build dozens of cars of amazing variety, as well as rescuing and restoring original models, and here was a chance to try them out.

Peter Hill 2012 Oliver Monk Stalwart regular, the late Keith Bragg

First season and no apron as yet

Always a garden party atmosphere, especially when the sun shone

Preparing to pour the apron The joys of diesels? George Sayell's 'Girl Power'

Publicity photo for Borg and Beck plus a free T shirt.

Trevor and Bill Starting how it used to be done Original 1066 MRC

Whilst fast aircars are common in the old eastern Bloc, most of the cars run at Carlton were traditional designs or modern versions of them. Long time CL speed flyer Dick Roberts applied some lateral thinking and came up with the one way Proa design that would become a game changer. It took several versions and a change in running direction but it moved aircars on from the 40+mph to 80mph over the seasons. Now the proa design is deriquer and capable of over 100mph. The foreign versions use 2.5cc piped motors, but these are exceedingly fast and hairy.

Dick Roberts with 'sidecar' Thousands of laps by PAW power Many and various cars

2019 gala day with a visit from Italian enthusiasts
Track record 86mph A last look at the Raceway The man who made it all happen

The curtain comes down on the Gt Carlton Raceway.

In the decade since Peter built the second track a huge variety of cars were run, and apart from a couple of very wet days, the events were thoroughly enjoyable although liberally laced with the smell of diesel. At one stage it was a case of vying for track time as so many people were turning up with cars. In quick succession though, serious illnesses, family and business problems plus the ever present advancing anno domini began to reduce the numbers significantly. Then of course there was Covid, the opening of Buckminster along with a bit of subsidence that made running cars in an anti clockwise direction something of a lottery. This would more often than not end up with a car on its back or some very deranged metal. Not to say that the track was not runnable as Dick Roberts, Martin Coe and myself proved with their 80+mph aircar runs.

in 2022 the numbers had fallen to such a level that Peter seriously questioned whether it was worth continuing, but decided to give it one more season. To this end he asked people to indicate whether they would be supporting him, but with little response. Mowing the infield and setting up the pit area is a lot of work if only a couple of people turn up, which was the case for the first meeting this season.

Another ring round did not elicit any further response resulting in Peter declaring that the June meeting would be the last ever official track day at Gt Carlton.

That we were able to hold an event at all was something of a miracle as just four weeks previously, persistent rain had turned the track into a lake as the photos shows. It had dried out but not done anything for the evenness of the surface.

We reluctantly had to agree with Peter the level of support did not warrant the work and expenditure involved, although he did point out that the track would still be available for anyone that cared to contact him for a private day of running. We will not miss the eternal drag across the Fens adding ever larger and slower agricultural vehicles to our Observer Book of mobile traffic jams, but will miss the great days we have spent there, so thank you Peter, Anne and the late Keith Bragg who always seemed to be available for tea duties.

For a video of this final event go to our youtube channel www.youtube.com