Driving an Austin J40 in the Settrington Cup

Among the great glories of the Goodwood Revival, the annual September classic-car racing extravaganza, is the Settrington Cup. This one-make race is one of the most popular fixtures on the three-day programme, featuring Austins with an unusual powertrain: small childrens' legs.

The clue is in the name - "Settrington" is the title given to the eldest son of the Earl of March. It's the third-generation title, as it were, of the Gordon-Lennox family who preside at Goodwood.

The first Settrington Cup, exclusively for Austin J40 pedal cars, was held in 2012. The history of the J40 pedal car is as endearing as the children who race it. The Austin Junior 40 began production in South Wales in 1949. Production was paid for by the government on a not-for-profit basis in order to give disabled coal miners employment. The cars were made from scrap metal off-cuts from the Longbridge Austin factory and were primarily intended for the American market, but production ran until 1971 and the pedal cars found homes with children all over the world.

Nowadays, a cursory look on eBay throws up one unrestored J40 body for £550, but other than that, just accessories - a horn for £55, inner tubes, badges, fascia panels and countless parts, but no cars.

My son, Josh, was lucky enough this year to be handed a J40 pedal car by its previous (winning) incumbent, Archie Collings, son of Ben Collings, Lord March's brother in law - himself a tidy Bentley racer at the Revival. Both Archie and his sister have taken the honours in Rusty, as the battered, patina-ed J40 is fondly known, but this year are finally too big to take part.

Josh is seven years old, which is mid-range for this race, although, as Will Kinsman, head of motorsport content at Goodwood, advised me, "emotional range" is more of a problem - the marshals don't particularly want children overcome on the start line.

Josh spent the summer happily bombing around the mean streets of Twickenham in Rusty, attracting jealous glances from children and adults alike. One particularly nice moment was when a story about Rusty appeared in the Telegraph and the original owners got in touch, to say how overjoyed they were to see the car still in existence - in their day it was painted Noddy yellow and red, but it still bears the original numberplate - AT1 - which was the initials of their children, Andrew and Teresa.

Training over the summer consisted mainly of working out how to go forwards, not backwards, on start-up - the pedals are longitudinally set, not in rotation, so small children, used only to pedalling bicycles, take some getting used to the J40. Mark Hales, multiple winner at the Revival, offered the following invaluable advice: "remember: pedal to the metal... followed by the other one."

We left Rusty in the race paddock last Friday for scrutineering - the 53 J40s taking part are checked for gearing, tyres, weight - there are some frighteningly competitive parents out there - and suffice it to say ours was the only car not in mint condition, which we both took a certain amount of pride in.

On Saturday morning, Josh collected smart new overalls from sponsor UBS - nothing like getting them used to the cut-throat reality of the commercial world early on, and he drew his starting number out of a hat - pole position. Not the best result - not only did it mean on Sunday he would be back of the grid, but also that he had no one to follow to get an idea of race pace or indeed how to navigate the chicane half way down the course, which runs about 100m down the pit straight on Goodwood's circuit, from the main chicane to the finish line.

We suffered the usual assembly delays and boring driver briefing, then it was out onto the track, me pushing his car as his mechanic, him waving to the crowds as vainglorious driver and chewing jelly babies.

The Settrington Cup follows a Le Mans style start - odd cars lined up on the left, even numbers on the right, drivers in the middle, anticipating the fall of the start flag. Or rather, watching their parents watching the starter flag, arms held aloft then dropping in sync with the flag. In 2012, it was the familiar dulcet tones of Murray Walker shouting "And it's Go! Go! Go!", latterly Sir Stirling Moss, but this year some bloke, which is frankly who Sir Stirling would have been to my son.

He fluffed the start somewhat, running to the far side of the car for reasons best known to himself, which lost him about four places, and had a bit of a fumble with the pedals off the line, then he was hammering it like billy-ho down the track. A commendable seventh and a UBS bar of posh chocolate, both better results than his mother's racing at Goodwood in a Caterham.

By Sunday he was a seasoned racer and, setting off from the back of the grid perfectly he flew, gaining about 30 places to finish somewhere in the 20s. That's my boy. What an event. I just hope we're lucky enough to be invited back next year, we might even give the car a lick of paint.





P.H. O'meter

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Comments (16) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Bobberoo99 16 Sep 2017

    Excellent made me smile reading that!! Really nice to see kids being involved!!

  • matchmaker 16 Sep 2017

    Loved this!

  • Jerseyhpc 16 Sep 2017

    Please don't paint it!! The best classic racers are all patinated.

  • daimlerv8 16 Sep 2017

    Would running higher tyre pressures reduce rolling resistance?

  • heebeegeetee 16 Sep 2017

    Great! thumbup

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