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Passion For Pre-War With Tom Hardman at Formula Vintage, Snetterton

Passion For Pre-War With Tom Hardman at Formula Vintage, Snetterton

“Custodianship of these cars create memories for you that are priceless.” says racing driver Tom Hardman as we discuss why he’s competing in a pre-war car at the fifth round of Formula Vintage; Snetterton.
His chosen motor is a highly unique and exquisitely pretty 1937 MG Bellevue. Built on a 1935 MG Magnette by Walter ‘Wilkie’ Wilkinson, who was later renowned for work on the Ecurie Ecosse Jaguar C and D types, the aluminium-bodied Bellevue competed with several racers including the Evans brothers, Charles Mortimer and Basil de Lissa.

Elsewhere Tom Hardman was being driven around as a boy in a 1926 12/25 Humber, several decades after the car had been new. He explains “As a younger man, it was normal for me to simply accept that a lengthy commute would take several days to complete. Once I had my license, I was driving pre-war cars on modern roads well beyond when it was normal. I’ve stuck with that era of motoring because I relish the history of these vehicles as well as their surprising reliability and overall workability.”

Just over a decade ago the Bellevue was treated to a full restoration before going up for sale and Tom couldn’t resist. He’s excited to tell me he’ll be racing this particular MG at Snetterton on 17th September. The event will act as the final round of this year’s Formula Vintage, which is organised by the Vintage Sports Car Club. Tom is due to compete in the short scratch race and will face competition from marques including Frazer-Nash, Austin and Riley.

Going on to tell me how much he enjoys competing in motorsport, Tom also points out it’s not without its risks. “The lowest point in my motor-racing was when I suffered total brake failure in my beloved Austin 7, fondly known as the ‘B&Q Special’, at Cadwell Park. I had a very bad crash that broke one of my legs so badly that there was a strong likelihood of amputation. To my relief, it was decided this wasn’t necessary but I remained on crutches for some ten months after the incident.”

A decade later and Tom said racing had delivered an experience that was very much as if things “had come full circle” when he was victorious in an MG race at the very same venue. “What of the ‘B&Q Special?” I ask to which Tom reports the car is alive and well, having been re-built and then sold. “It was a very quick car and I thoroughly enjoyed developing it” he remarks.

Meanwhile, between the low of the accident that put him out of action for so long and the joy of a racing victory a decade later, Tom had developed his life-long love for pre-war into Tom Hardman Limited. Working as a historic motor trader in Yorkshire, Tom can now be proud of a successful business that sells a wide variety of pre-war cars as well as a handful of notable modern cars.

Before our phone call I’d already browsed the numerous lovely offerings currently listed on Tom’s website and I ask him what he’d recommend I buy were I also looking to compete in the same round of Formula Vintage. Tom thinks he has the perfect motorcar for me that “ … is now looking for a long-term dance partner in VSCC competition” and it’s none other than a stunning 1939 Alvis 12/70 with a 2.8 litre, 6-cylinder engine. Formerly owned by Robin Everall, a decorated Naval helicopter pilot who had a ‘need for speed’ when it came to motor vehicles, Tom assures me this should have more than enough capacity for my requirements. After all, the Alvis can boast of possessing a lightweight flywheel, hydraulic racing clutch, aluminium racing pistons, triple SU bronze-bodied carburettors and a close-ratio fully synchromeshed gearbox.

“What more could a girl need?” I ask and he laughs a little before I enquire as to what Tom himself would choose when it comes to racing cars, pitching the idea to him that availability and budget are of no obstacle. It’s not long before I hear the letters ERA being spelled out before Jaguar D-type and 250F Maserati quickly follow. Then there’s a slight pause before Tom begins describing the thrill of flames spitting from the exhaust pipe of Julian Bronson’s 1937 Riley Blue Streak Special. All of a sudden I think I can hear the boy sat in the back of the family’s rather old 1926 Humber at the other end of the phone!

That very same passion for pre-war will be propelling Tom around the challenging turns and long straights of Snetterton as Formula Vintage wraps up for the year in Norfolk on Sunday 17th September. 

Article by Gillian Carmoodie, Image by Colin Murrell
(With Sincere Thanks to Tom Hardman)

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