The Spiders’ Web

Author: John Bradshaw
Publisher: JRB Publishing

The Michael Sedgwick Memorial Trust supports books on a wide range of motoring subjects, but had not featured a book devoted to the niche sport of hillclimbing since 2007 when the history of South Harting hillclimb was published, until this book in 2021.

This book is the comprehensive story of just two cars:

Spider I   -   the scarred and battered looking G.N. cyclecar special that dominated all the hill-climbs and sprints throughout the 1920s and 1930s.

Spider II -   the same old broom, but with new heads and handles over the years, that still often beats MGs, Rileys, Nashs, Bugattis and even ERAs today!

This is the definitive account of Basil Davenport’s V-twin G.N. cyclecar specials: Spiders I & II - together with some of the interesting characters and machines that became caught in the web over the past 100 years.

There is a long tradition particularly in the British Isles of supporting the underdog in any contest. The idea of an impecunious amateur using whatever resources can be acquired at minimum cost triumphing over factory teams in a motorsport event is appealing to our sense of fair play and the very nature of competition. The contender with all the advantages does not always triumph.

In 1930 the European Hill-Climb Championship featured a round at Shelsley Walsh, one of England’s oldest courses, having been first used in 1905 before the construction of Brooklands. The Germans attended in force, with leading drivers Rudolf Caracciola and Hans Stuck bringing their teams of mechanics with their cars, a 7.1 litre SSK Mercedes 38/280 and a Works 3-litre Austro-Daimler respectively, on transporters. Pitted against these was a homespun hero using a modified GN cyclecar of a mere 1.5 litre using parts up to some 10 years old at a time when technical progress was rapid. Records will show that Stuck won the day but the might of the Mercedes was eclipsed by the scruffy “special” cyclecar driven by Basil Davenport.

There is a long tradition of specials in motorsport, being cars either modified from standard or constructed from parts outside of the producers of standard cars. These modifications were for particular tasks and competition at Shelsley Walsh produced more than its fair share. The process was written up in 1949 by John Bolster of Autocar in his book Specials. Bolster knew a great deal about the subject, having constructed his Shelsley Special Bloody Mary which used JAP V-twin engines and parts of a GN cyclecar amongst many other components. Davenport called his special Spider, and continued to develop it from the standard GN V-twin touring car he first competed with in 1922, until the outbreak of war in 1939. After the cessation of hostilities Spider was re-chassised and development continued. Davenport’s stock of GN parts was such that he later reconstructed the original Spider along with several other GN-based specials. There was then the confusing situation whereby the original Spider competed alongside the latest development, also known as Spider, and when the latter was hors de combat the original machine would be used instead. Those familiar with the situation referred to them as Spider and Big Spider and this situation went on even after their original creator stopped competing in the 1970s and continues in VSCC competition until the present day.

Back in 2014, John Bradshaw conceived the idea of writing a history of these vehicles and their creator. Contact with the Davenport family and the current and past owners and drivers of the machines produced a wealth of photographs, cuttings and other documents. This created a major issue as Basil Davenport used a cardboard box filing system with over fifty years of photographs and cuttings mixed in no order at all. It has been a labour of love to identify the occasion of each photograph and collate the competitions entered, results achieved and the technical developments employed. The author succeeds in bringing the cars, referred to as Spider I and Spider II, together with the characters, to life to create an entertaining account of nearly a century of competition against the odds and the clock.

The book is available by clicking on this link at £40 plus P & P

Published July 2021.

Price: £40.00

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