Herts County Automobile & Aero Club - The First 95 Years - by Steve Muir
The club was formed on 3rd December 1903 as the Hertfordshire Automobile Club. It's original aim was to band together the county’s motorists to fight the increasing number of speed limits: the first campaign was against the proposed 10 mph limit in St. Albans. The sporting side developed quickly and in 1904 the first Aston Clinton hillclimb was held. This event became a classic over the 20 years of its existence and attracted most of the famous drivers of that era. S.F.Edge (builder of Brooklands track), Raymond Mays. Humphrey Cook, Dario Resta. E.R.Hall and Lionel Martin were a few of the names. The hill's memory is kept fresh by Lionel Martin who named his car Aston Martin, after the hill. A plaque commemorating this was erected at the top of the hill in 1997 by Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd.
Motor Gymkanas were pioneered by the club on the Watford estate of the Earl of Clarendon, who was one of our vice presidents, in company with HRH Lord Louis of Battenberg. the Earls of Essex and Verulam and Lord Robert Cecil. Balloon chases were also organised, which caused the club to add "Aero" to its title in 1910. The Aero side was never fully developed, but a motor cycle section flourished until 1923. Some items of the club's silverware, which are still used as Annual Challenge Trophies today, date from these Edwardian times.
The banning of speed events on public roads in 1925 meant the loss of Aston Hill but a loyal core of members kept the club going under the chairmanship of Humphrey Cook. He was also busy financing the building of ERA racing cars, which were very successful in voiturette racing in the thirties and still race in vintage racing today. The club restarted competition organising in 1938, with speed trials at Beechwood near Markyate. Two more events ware run on this Hertfordshire country house drive in 1939.
After the second world war the club benefited from an influx of young members many of whom worked in aircraft production at De Havilland and Handley Page. They were enthusiastic organisers and competitors in the road rallying boom of the 50's and 60's. Speed events were organised again at local venues Beechwood, Tewinwater (near Welwyn) - and more distantly on the promenade at Ramsgate, at Harleyford and at Brands Hatch (in the golden days before it priced itself beyond the reach of grass roots motor sport).
The club ran the first Westbrook Hay speed hillclimb in 1953 and continued to have exclusive use of this venue near Hemel Hempstead until its closure in 1962. For the last 4 years one of its events there was a round of the British Hillclimb Championship, and attracted all the leading drivers of the time.
As road rallying became much more restricted in the late 60's, the club benefited from its long experience in organising a different style of road event - the night trial. The "Nocturne" was first held in 1951 and every year after until 1990. These "hunt the marshal" map reading events were essentially light-hearted, and ordinary family cars were able to win, as the skills needed were accurate map reading and navigation. More recently they have become known as "Navigation Scatter" events, but their popularity has dwindled.
The mainstay of the club for the last 35 years has been organising sprints. Duxford airfield was used by many clubs for these events clubs from the mid 60's until the Air Museum took over in 1975. HCAAC was specially privileged to run on dates when the main runway was not in use for gliding, and thus were able to use a longer more interesting course. Highlights of HCAAC events at Duxford were rounds of the British Sprint Championship in 1970, 71 and 73.
Better still, from 1968 until 1976, HCAAC was one of 5 clubs which ran sprints each late autumn at Silverstone, the course being 2 laps of the Club Circuit. After this, racing only was the rule, but the club's connection with Silverstone has been maintained ever since by membership of the Eight Clubs consortium, which organises races for amateur drivers there every year.
Two sprints were run at Upwood airfield near Ramsey in 1977. From 1980 until 1989 North Weald airfield was the club's sprint base. HCAAC usually managed to plan a longer and more interesting course than most other clubs while the area near the M11 was in use, but in the late 80's all had to use a smaller area on the east side of the airfield. A one off sprint was run at Debden airfield in 1982. using a 2100 yard very fast figure of eight course.
In 1990 the club returned to Debden and began the series of events on the 1.1 mile course which has been used twice every year since, always attracting a full entry of about 100 cars. HCAAC looks forward to continuing these.
The "Aero" connection is kept alive by an annual visit to London Gliding Club at Dunstable, where members enjoy a trip in a modern high performance glider.
The club's collection of silverware, old and not-so-old, is presented to its most successful members at its Annual Dinner.