We drive the ’49 Frazer Nash that gave birth to the Le Mans Replica

Martin Buck­ley falls for the charms of a very spe­cial Frazer Nash as he tells the story of the High Speed that raced at La Sarthe in 1949 and ’50, and in­spired the iconic Le Mans Rep

Classic Sports Car - - This Month - PHO­TOG­RA­PHY PHIL RUS­SELL/LAT

Any Frazer Nash is a very spe­cial car and the Le Mans Repli­cas are per­haps the most revered of all. It would be fair to say that they rep­re­sent the pin­na­cle of the mar­que’s post-war rep­u­ta­tion: fast, for­giv­ing and rugged, they were the out­stand­ing Bri­tish sports car in the 2-litre class be­tween 1948 and 1953. Ca­pa­ble of out­right wins in events such as the Targa Flo­rio, they were also em­i­nently us­able on the road.

Like so many truly great cars, they seem to have an in­flu­ence out of all pro­por­tion to the scant num­ber built. There were just 30 Le Mans Repli­cas (if you in­clude, as you must, the eight Mk2s with de Dion rear sus­pen­sion) and four High Speeds – the name ini­tially given to these cy­cle-winged, Bmw-in­spired ma­chines when they made their de­but at the first post-war Earls Court show in 1948, priced at £3000.

Bought new by a York­shire mill owner called Nor­man Cul­pan, chas­sis 421/100/008 was the last of the High Speeds to be minted. Con­nois­seurs of the mar­que might know it bet­ter by its Mid­dle­sex county reg­is­tra­tion, TMX 545.

It was in this very ma­chine at Le Mans in 1949 that Cul­pan shared the driv­ing with AFN boss HJ Ald­ing­ton. De­spite los­ing its clutch, TMX came third over­all at this first post-war French 24-hour event, and was the high­est-placed Bri­tish en­trant against im­pres­sive com­pe­ti­tion from Fer­rari, Aston Martin and De­lage.

Thus, it was this car that was the in­spi­ra­tion for all sub­se­quent Le Mans Repli­cas to emerge from the Fal­con Works in Isle­worth through to 1953. It fea­tured ex­ten­sively in AFN ad­ver­tis­ing, made the front cover of Au­tosport and ac­tu­ally ran again at Le Mans in 1950, where it fin­ished 20th over­all and sec­ond in class.

That alone would make it im­por­tant enough, but what is equally spe­cial about TMX is the sec­ond life that it went on to have. From the late ’50s through to the early ’70s it was cam­paigned in the hands of a York­shire farmer called Ce­cil Booth (‘Cec’ to those who knew him), a truly re­mark­able char­ac­ter and nat­u­ral racer who was as grit­tily com­pet­i­tive as the car it­self.

Born in 1920, Booth got a taste for speed on a Brough Su­pe­rior be­fore the war and had his first cir­cuit race in a 10-year-old Healey Dun­can at Ain­tree in 1958. Im­pressed by the pace of the Bris­tol-en­gined AC Aces, Cec soon re­alised that he needed some­thing more com­pet­i­tive. By chance, a friend tipped him off about the Nash, which was still in the hands of first owner Cul­pan and moth­balled in a garage half an hour from where he lived. It was only when Booth saw the car that he re­alised both its sig­nif­i­cance and that he had even seen it be­fore, when he at­tended (as a spectator) the Dun­drod TT in 1950.

Cul­pan was a suc­cess­ful pre-war mo­tor­cy­cle racer who com­peted in TMX 545 for three sea­sons, mostly in na­tional events with hon­ourable re­sults, al­though the car ap­pears to have been be­dev­illed by clutch prob­lems. It seems that Cul­pan had been ad­ver­tis­ing the Nash qui­etly since 1956, but it still took Booth 18 months to per­suade him to sell the car. Even then, he only just managed to scrape to­gether the £600 ask­ing price. The new owner later con­fessed that it was “one of my bet­ter in­vest­ments”.

Af­ter Booth’s death in 2000, the Nash passed to his daugh­ters Anne and Les­ley and his son John, who sadly later died in a mo­tor­cy­cle ac­ci­dent. Al­though it is well looked af­ter and much loved,

“SOME OF THE OTHER DRIV­ERS IN THE 2-LITRE CLASS USED TO SAY THAT THE NASH SHOULDN’T BE THERE, BUT ONLY BE­CAUSE IT WAS BEAT­ING THEM”

few out­side the fam­ily get to see TMX these days apart from rare ap­pear­ances at lo­cal shows.

In truth, the car’s ex­is­tence is not en­tirely her­mit-like, and you might have spot­ted it at Hamp­ton Court dur­ing the 2014 Con­cours of El­e­gance. Even so, I felt suit­ably priv­i­leged, on a bright af­ter­noon in late Au­gust, to be in the pres­ence of this prized heir­loom and rac­ing le­gend.

Anne, who drives her late fa­ther’s 911 as a daily run­about, can still clearly re­call the rainy af­ter­noon in Fe­bru­ary ’59 when she first laid eyes on TMX: “I was 12 when my dad bought the car, and he was quite ex­cited about it. I said to him, ‘Can you come and pick me up from school?’ It was some­thing he never did, so I didn’t re­ally ex­pect him to come. Any­way, I was with all my friends and I heard this car com­ing up the road… they all said, ‘What’s this?’ It looked old-fash­ioned even in those days.” She got in and her fa­ther drove her proudly to the top of the road. “It started fluff­ing a bit,” she re­calls, “but I des­per­ately didn’t want him to stall in front of my friends.”

Al­ready in his late 30s, Booth drove TMX in club races, hill­climbs and sprints up and down the coun­try, dic­ing wheel-to-wheel with the lat­est ma­chin­ery in a car that was al­ready a good 10 or 15 years older than ev­ery­thing else on the cir­cuit.

Booth didn’t keep much in the way of records of his con­sid­er­able achieve­ments, but his 14 sea­sons of mo­tor­sport in the ven­er­a­ble Nash earned him 23 over­all or class firsts, 23 sec­ond places and eight thirds – com­pet­ing in grids that in­cluded the likes of Bar­rie Wil­liams, Tony Lan­franchi, Mike Parkes and John Sur­tees.

“Some of the other driv­ers in the 2-litre class used to com­plain and say he shouldn’t be there,” re­calls Anne, “but only be­cause he was beat­ing them! In any case, there was nowhere else for him to be.” For younger sis­ter Les­ley, TMX was sim­ply a car that was im­por­tant to her fa­ther – and which clearly brought him a lot of joy – but she was too small to re­ally un­der­stand the sig­nif­i­cance. Be­ing older, Anne was able to ap­pre­ci­ate the Nash more keenly: “I got my love of cars from Dad and I used to go with him to the races. I got quite miffed if any­one else went with him!”

Booth’s hobby took him and TMX as far south as Brands Hatch, but he could more of­ten be found at windswept venues such as Cat­t­er­ick, Lin­ton, Oul­ton Park, Cad­well, Cas­tle Howard and the hill­climb at Hare­wood, where Les­ley met her fu­ture hus­band af­ter her fa­ther gave him per­mis­sion to drive the Nash. It was at Sil­ver­stone, though, where Booth en­joyed per­haps his finest hour when he won his class and came third over­all (be­hind a DB3S) at the Mar­tini 100 meet­ing in ’63. Run­ning taller 16in rear wheels for the long straight, he fared well in this Aston Martin Own­ers Club event through­out the ’60s.

Flick through Au­tosport from the pe­riod and the Booth/tmx part­ner­ship can of­ten be spot­ted in event re­ports. With the grille re­moved to pre­vent it from get­ting dam­aged (they were ex­pen­sive, even then), this determined fig­ure could be seen tow­er­ing above the Lo­tus Elites and 2-litre ‘mod­erns’. Or mix­ing it with Lis­ter­jaguars as he leaned into a four-wheel drift, or flick­ing through the cones at a long-for­got­ten speed test – the Burton’s (as in the tailors) Sprint

in Leeds was a favourite. What the re­port would not say is that the man be­hind the wheel had driven TMX to the event and would al­most cer­tainly drive it back. It is thought that the Nash was only ever trail­ered home from one event.

Booth could not have been fur­ther from the play­boy rac­ing driver im­age. Farm­ing and pig rear­ing be­ing as un­cer­tain a pro­fes­sion in the ’50s and ’60s as it is to­day, Cec was not a wealthy man. That said, the beloved Nash al­ways got what it needed. He was not shy, for in­stance, of send­ing the gear­box to Bris­tol at the end of ev­ery sea­son for a pricey re­build. Gen­er­ally, how­ever, TMX was main­tained and de­vel­oped on a tight bud­get, which makes the length of its com­pet­i­tive life in his hands all the more amaz­ing.

En­thu­si­as­ti­cally as­sisted by his young neigh­bour Neil Howarth, Booth would think noth­ing of work­ing un­til 4am on a Satur­day morn­ing to re­place a head gas­ket, or ex­per­i­ment­ing with dif­fer­ent types of ex­haust and then test­ing the re­sults at dawn on the de­serted Pen­nine roads near his Hud­der­s­field farm. The open-throated blare of the Nash was a fa­mil­iar wake-up call in this bleak, beau­ti­ful part of the world.

I asked Howarth if he got to pi­lot TMX much in those days: “He al­ways used to ask me to drive it but I was bit ner­vous in case any­thing hap­pened, al­though I don’t think he was too wor­ried.”

Like any good rac­ing war horse, it got bumped a few times in anger, re­calls Howarth: “On Tues­day nights we used to go over to Ain­tree to ex­per­i­ment with the ex­haust, and I re­mem­ber we had an ac­ci­dent. An­other time some­one spun in front of him in a race and he had nowhere to go.”

To say that TMX 545 is ‘orig­i­nal’ is not to say it is quite the car that ap­peared at Le Mans in 1949. Hav­ing driven the Nash for its first sea­son, in 1960 Booth started devel­op­ing it in earnest in an at­tempt to keep it com­pet­i­tive. To put more power down in cor­ners it got a de Dion rear axle from a crashed Mk2 quite early on. When said de Dion broke a hub in 1965, Cec got his older brother Roy, who – handily – ran an en­gi­neer­ing firm, to fab­ri­cate him a new tube from scratch.

Tri­umph TR3 front discs were fit­ted not nec­es­sar­ily for their su­pe­rior stop­ping power, but be­cause Booth got tired of fork­ing out for ex­pen­sive Alfin drums, which cracked reg­u­larly. Inexpensive, long-last­ing Miche­lin X rub­ber was pre­ferred wear for many years. The cur­rent 60-pro­file tyres were fit­ted when TMX did the Le Mans Clas­sic and came at the best price of all for a true York­shire­man: nowt.

In the early ’60s, mean­while, Booth fit­ted Koni dampers all round and got Dun­lop to make the 15in wires that the Nash wears to this day, al­though the orig­i­nal disc wheels (along with the bootlid) are stored with the car.

Not so the factory 115bhp Le Mans en­gine, FNS 1/3. In pe­riod, Booth was look­ing for power rather than wor­ry­ing about match­ing num­bers, so he re­placed it in the early ’60s with a 100D2 ver­sion of the Bris­tol straight-six that would rev to a full 6000rpm and give 140bhp in its ul­ti­mate form. Later came an ex-for­mula 2

Bris­tol unit that gob­bled so much oil at rac­ing speeds that a Heath-robin­son tube-and-fun­nel ar­range­ment had to be at­tached to the pas­sen­ger grab­han­dle so that Booth could feed it a pint of oil ev­ery five laps. To­day the Nash is run­ning the 100D2 (with lower-com­pres­sion pis­tons) and it goes very well on about 120bhp.

Howarth warms it up care­fully be­fore we take to the road and, as I clam­ber in, gives friendly instructions about where to lean on the al­loy body with­out leav­ing a dent. It’s a snug fit be­hind the wood-rim wheel, but would have been even snug­ger be­hind the orig­i­nal BMW 328 type.

Once you’re on the move, it doesn’t take long to un­der­stand why these ma­chines are so revered. The high-geared steer­ing is beau­ti­fully direct and fin­ger­tip pre­cise, the rasp­ing en­gine lusty and will­ing. Run­ning its Le Mans 3.75:1 axle ra­tio, progress is un­cer­tain be­low 3000rpm but gets stronger all the way up to an ear-split­ting 5500rpm, with some blue ex­haust puffs be­tween gears. The brakes feel strong, the gear­box a sat­is­fy­ing pre­ci­sion in­stru­ment that is there to be used and en­joyed, if not ex­actly rushed.

It is a tiny car, yet has a huge sense of pres­ence, ur­gency and oc­ca­sion about it. The six-dial dash is what Cul­pan and Ald­ing­ton would have seen in 1949, and the el­e­gantly crum­pled leather seats are the 69-year-old orig­i­nals. Views through the aero­screens along the shapely bon­net to­wards the bug-eyed Bosch head­lamps and cy­cle wings are more evoca­tive of the ’30s than the ’50s. But then that is what the Nash is all about: a ‘vin­tage’ sen­si­bil­ity in a for­giv­ing post-war car. It flat­ters even the mod­estly am­bi­tious with a seat-of-pants feel born of a very stiff tubu­lar chas­sis and faith­ful roll­free han­dling that caters to ev­ery sport­ing whim.

At what point TMX’S orig­i­nal en­gine was sold is lost in the mists of time, but, as with so many cars in long-term own­er­ship, cus­to­di­ans – bereft of a crys­tal ball – tend to do what feels right ‘in the mo­ment’ rather than take a view on his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance 40 years down the line. Booth seems to have been a prac­ti­cal man who looked forward not back. Nei­ther Anne nor Les­ley is sure what made him stop rac­ing the Nash in his early 50s, but let us as­sume the car’s sheer an­tiq­uity (rather than his) was be­com­ing im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore.

In the ’70s and ’80s, with TMX in re­tire­ment but still used oc­ca­sion­ally on the road, Booth’s in­ter­ests turned to fast road cars: ev­ery­one smiles when they re­mem­ber the de­liv­ery of his first Fer­rari. Pic­ture the scene of the Maranello sales­men meet­ing Booth in the car park of the lo­cal boozer and find­ing it dif­fi­cult to be­lieve that this rus­tic, pipe-smok­ing char­ac­ter in a flat cap and muddy wellies was re­ally the owner of a Dino. He went on to buy a Boxer and 308GTB, plus a BMW 6 Se­ries that is still in the fam­ily.

Booth’s in­ter­est in the Nash was re­newed af­ter he re­tired from farm­ing. With in­vites to the most ex­otic events he was able to take fresh joy, late in life, in a car that was in many ways in­te­gral with his own char­ac­ter and his­tory. That deep hu­man con­nec­tion to­day makes TMX one of the most fas­ci­nat­ing ex­am­ples of a rar­efied breed, all of which, by their very na­ture, have an in­ter­est­ing tale to tell. It’s a car that not only ex­udes his­tory from ev­ery pore, but must surely be the only twoowner un­re­stored Frazer Nash in the world.

Who’d have thought that in 2018 this near70-year-old thor­ough­bred of such sig­nif­i­cance and prove­nance would still never have been across an auc­tion block or seen the in­side of a Kens­ing­ton Mews show­room?

‘THE NASH WAS A FA­MIL­IAR WAKEUP CALL IN THIS BLEAK, BEAU­TI­FUL PART OF THE WORLD’

Le Mans 24 Hours, 1949: the Citroën-pow­ered DB ‘Tank’ of Lachaize/de­bille would be no match for the FN High Speed of Cul­pan/ Ald­ing­ton, which pow­ers by

Clock­wise, from left: tail fea­tures a light­weight can­vas cover in place of the usual bootlid; Bris­tol ‘six’ is fed by triple Solex carbs; work­man­like shape is de­void of un­nec­ces­sary frills; bold black dials sit di­rectly ahead of driver

Stalk­ing the De­la­haye of Si­mon/fla­haut at Le Mans in 1949. The French car would be forced to re­tire af­ter 19 hours, while the Nash fin­ished third over­all

From top: well-stocked dash­board with sturdy grab­han­dle be­neath – wooden steer­ing wheel is a later addition; il­lus­tri­ous badge adorns the grille; plaque com­mem­o­rates the car’s Le Mans his­tory; cy­cle wings and stubby side pipes be­stow this dis­tin­guished sports car with real pres­ence

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