It doesn’t matter if your car is fast or slow; if you’re racing at Goodwood you really do want everything to be on your side, because simply negotiating your way around its superfast and undulating track in close proximity to a few dozen other mildly unhinged individuals is tricky enough without circumstances turning against you. I am, for instance, usually very happy to race in the wet, but when clouds start grouping above Goodwood I’ll be the one found scowling at the skies in the hope it will frighten them away.
I knew Earl Howe’s MG K3 would needlessly complicate my race even before I sat in it. Back in the 1930s pre-selector boxes were quite the thing because they provided effectively instantaneous gearshifts without the need for difficult double-declutch changes. But, as the name suggests, they also required you to select the next gear before you actually needed it, which was more than my sadly small brain could deal with in qualifying.
Every lap I’d come honking out of Madgwick in third, pleased that I’d remembered to pre-select fourth, kick the clutch to change into top and then be so distracted by the unique challenges posed by Fordwater then the right hand component of St Mary’s that, by the time I reached the left, I’d forgotten that I should have shifted the gear selector back into third some time ago. Besides, changing from fourth to third while travelling at maximum speed just doesn’t feel right; and once I’d been told of another driver who keeps his pre-selector in a carbon casing through fear of what damage might be done to his nether regions if he mis-selected and it exploded, I felt thoroughly cowed by the whole thing.
But that was only part of the reason for my poor qualifying time – the rest was that water appeared on the aero screens soon after the start of the session and I couldn’t work out whether it was coming from the sky or the radiator. As it turned out, it was the latter and once several pints of coolant had been drained from the system I presumed the problem solved.
In the race I had the worst start I can recall thanks to my complete inability to get the MG off the line. I’d been told K3s have legendarily weak half-shafts and under no circumstances should I attempt to spin the wheels off the line. So I tried to just drive away and was so inept, I genuinely feared being collected by some fast starter behind.
But, once underway, the K3 was going well and I was able to push harder and harder, until fluid started spewing out of radiator cap, only this time it was a far more concentrated and yellow solution of water, anti-freeze and rust. It covered the screens and then, when I stuck my head out into the airflow to see where I was going, my visor too. At about this time, smoke started to appear in the cockpit. First there was the odd wisp but soon there were great billowing clouds of the stuff, all coming straight out of the gear selector mechanism.
Had I been in any other car, that would have been grounds enough to come in, but I’d been told all pre-selectors smoke when raced and, hey, I’ve already had all the children I’m going to have. The car was still changing gear normally, so I chanced it and carried on. Happily the smoke was blown away by the gale in the cockpit before it could interfere with my vision and a small cloth I’d stashed away was able to keep my visor and screens clean enough to continue reasonably safely.
And, to my surprise, I was able to get past all the cars that had overtaken me on the line and wound up in 15th place, when I’d estimated I’d be bog last. And I went over 3 sec faster than I had in qualifying because, finally, the gearbox was starting to make a little sense. I am told that was also 3 sec faster than it had ever gone around Goodwood before, so I was chuffed.
It’s odd that despite the K3’s relative lack of power, its weird transmission combined with the water and the smoke meant it kept me busier even than the Lister coupe I raced in the TT here four years ago. The Lister was three times more powerful but in many very real ways, actually an easier car to drive.
I feel I only scratched the surface of the K3’s potential, which was even so a far faster car than I’d imagined before I’d climbed aboard. With some new tyres, a lower back axle ratio and a driver who’s figured out the gearbox, I think it could be a real giant killer. I look forward to finding out.