JOHN GODFREY PARRY THOMAS  1884 - 1927

Those magnificent men in their aero engined monster cars ....

 

 

John Godfrey Parry-Thomas was the son of a vicar and born in Wrexham in April 1884. John was fascinated with engineering and studied the subject at college in London. After numerous jobs he became the chief Engineer at Leyland Motors. Leyland Motors investigated the possibility of building a massive luxury car. The imposing motorcar, the Leyland Eight, was dubbed the 'Lion of Olympia' when shown at the 1920 Motor show in London. The cars were expensive and only eight were built. John Parry-Thomas tested each Leyland Eight to 100 mph before delivery.

 

 

Parry Thomas at Brooklands 

 

Babs with Parry Thomas, Brooklands 1926

 


Despite the considerable reservations of the Leyland directors, Parry-Thomas raced one of the Leylands at Brooklands, a 2.5 mile banked oval circuit. Racing became important to him, and he resigned from Leyland and went to live in a cottage in the grounds of Brooklands circuit. The racing world at this time had many famous characters including Count Zborowski who later died at Monza in 1924. Parry-Thomas was able to buy a potential record breaking car, the Higham Special from Zorowski's estate. It was fitted with a 27,059 cc Liberty aero engine, Benz gearbox and featured a chain final drive.

Thomas Parry christened the car 'Babs' and after carrying out considerable amount of work took it to Pendine for a crack at the land speed record. This was in October 1925 but the weather precluded any chance of a record breaking run. To cap it all Henry Seagrave posted a speed of 152.33 mph. In April 1926 Babs was transported back to Pendine at Shell-Mex's expense for another attempt. After a couple of warm-up runs Parry-Thomas achieved a speed of 169.30. A day later he pushed the record over the 170 mph mark. Campbell was among those who sportingly congratulated Parry-Thomas and, in the nature of the challenge, he prepared his own car for another attempt on the record. In January 1927 he achieved a top speed of 174.883 mph.

 

 

Parry Thomas and Malcolm Campbell

 

Parry-Thomas and Campbell

 

As the competition for the record increased Parry-Thomas wanted another crack at it; he knew Henry Seagrave was to attempt a run for 200 mph, in Florida. He arrived back in Pendine, unwell with 'Flu', in March 1927 and with the assistance of Shell and Dunlop staff began to prepare the car for a run on the beach. After the usual start and warm up procedures had been followed great uncle set off up the beach on a timed run. The car skidded, turned over and over and then slewed round to face the sea. The scene for those first to arrive was not pretty, Parry-Thomas was still in the car, partially decapitated and burned. The car was on fire and in order to retrieve the body from the blazing wreck two of Parry-Thomas's crew had the unpleasant task of breaking the legs of the corpse before the fire prevented them reaching it. The coroner's verdict was accidental death and Parry-Thomas was buried in Surrey. The car was buried in a big hole on the beach and that could have been the end of the story.

 

Babs restored

 

Babs restored

 


Forty years later, Owen Wyn-Owen, an engineering lecturer form Bangor Technical College was keen on the idea of digging up Babs from the sand with a view to a complete restoration. This was easier said than done simply because some of the locals didn't want the car resurrected while others did.  The army who had arrived during world war two weren't too keen on the idea as the point where Babs was buried was now surrounded by buildings.  However, perseverance paid off and in 1969 the car was excavated and so began 15 years of painstaking restoration work to make Babs run again.  Worth every minute, if you ask me.

 

 

The Land Speed Record, Behind The Glory, book, by Nelson Kruschandl

 

 

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