"Bloody Mary" as it was known, is just one of many "Shelsley Specials" that were dreamt up by handy engineers and spanner-men in the 1920s and 1930s, people who were long on ideas and creativity, yet often short in funds to transform their plans into reality. Helping though was a plentiful supply of time-worn cars and motorcycles, available to pick over in scrapyards, and a refreshing lack of red tape and officialdom to get in the way of building, testing, and competing in a home-built special.
Mark was kind enough to send over this photograph some time ago, one of several that he discovered at a car boot sale of all places. There are no location or date details to go with this image unfortunately. Evidently it was a sprint meeting of some kind, and perhaps details on the car will help a diehard specials guru to put a date to this scene. Given that most of Bolster's activities with the special were pre-WW2, this scene was probably captured in the mid-1930s although it could be a little earlier as the car was put together first in 1929. Happily this very successful creation survives to this day, still with the ash chassis frame that has featured from day one.
(Please click the thumbnail to view the full-size image.)
For anyone with an interest in such matters, I can heartily recommend a book titled "Specials" by John Bolster, that was first published in 1949 and re-printed the following year, such was the interest from like-minded car builders and hillclimb devotees. All the well-known pre-war specials are mentioned, including the Becke, Dorcas, Wasp, Gnat, Jappic and of course Bloody Mary (or "BM" it was often referred to) to name just a selection.
As is the way with specials, especially those used in competition, BM's specification saw continual updates and improvements, in a bid to improve on reliability, driveability, and not forgetting speed. Many aspects of the car were developed throughout its long active life, not least in the choice of engine(s) used to propel this startlingly-rapid machine. Early doors, BM was powered by a 760cc J.A.P. unit dating to 1914 that was coupled to a Juckes gearbox by chain, with the drive to the rear by belt. This first engine detonated itself so was replaced, for the grand sum of fifty shillings, by another J.A.P. engine. Further improvements were gained by a later switch to a 981cc J.A.P. four-cam twin, built circa 1924, which prior to modification turned out 30.6bhp, not bad in a 4.5cwt ash and aluminium projectile. Wins in the 1100cc sprint classes became a regular occurrence with this configuration.
Seven pounds ten were handed over for a new Sturmey Archer four-speed gearbox, which heralded a switch to chain- rather than belt-drive to the rear axle. The car was used both by John Bolster and his brother Richard, although the latter began to tire of BM's tricky handling (even in a straight line), so built up a new car for himself and competed alongside his brother in BM, by this time at events in the early 1930s. Road regulations were but a shadow of what they are today, and Bolster himself refers to how both specials were regularly driven by road to events, although never in close proximity to one another, because of (ahem) "... some oversight on the part of the licensing authorities, both cars had the same registration number".
In 1933 further expenditure saw BM fitted with an OHV J.A.P. engine, c1925, as removed from a crashed Brough Superior motorcycle. So powered, the 1933 season saw great success, but inevitably there were still designs on the drawing board for yet more modification to increase overall speed. Supercharging was considered, but was ruled out for reliability reasons. So Bolster did the sensible thing, and bought a second J.A.P. engine and installed that into his car, once the frame had been beefed-up to suit the new twin-engine layout. Much effort was put into making this arrangement reliable and manageable, but it was worth it. Wins were soon to follow at sprints and hillclimbs, plus a ten-lapper at Donington racing circuit also saw the sprightly special and its owner reach the chequered flag first.
1937 would be BM's final season of competition prior to WW2, Bolster switching to a new car that employed no less than four J.A.P. engines in its make-up. BM would reside, disappearing under detritus in the corner of the barn, until the late 1940s when re-commissioning saw the "old girl" restored to active use once more, alongside more recent creations of the Bolster brothers. J. Bolster's racing activities drew to a close towards the end of the 1940s. Piloting not a home-built special, but ERA R5B "Remus", he had a huge crash at Silverstone in 1949 and it was shortly afterwards that he switched from racing to broadcasting at race meetings, in conjunction with writing for popular motor racing magazines of the day. Once again the car would enter a period of inactivity, until being resurrected in the 1990s and since then, exercised every now and then at appropriate meetings. Below is a video of BM being fired up at Prescott hillclimb, in 2008.
The special at a post-war hillclimb.
A collection of amateur photographs taken at hillclimbs and sprints following WW2 can be found on this page of the site. Three rows up from the bottom of the page is another shot of Bloody Mary, copied here also.