THE LONDON MOTOR BOAT RACING CLUB – A Short History
A group of enthusiasts came together back in the fifties to further the sport of hydroplane racing; back then the only form of circuit powerboat racing. Their efforts resulted in the formation of the London Motor Boat Racing Club in 1956. Initially based in Chertsey, Surrey, the club soon found a more suitable body of water in Buckinghamshire and re-located three years later in 1959.
Led by its founder and first Commodore, Cyril Benstead, the club went from strength to strength having over 50 active race and ski members by the late 1950s. During the latter part of the 1950s and early 1960s the sport began to change with runabout boats crewed by two people and powered by either inboard or outboard engines replacing the traditional hydroplanes. This tended to attract a number of ski boat owners who raced, caught the bug and often progressed into purchasing full blown race craft.
Cyril Benstead remained as Commodore from the club's inception until his death in 1963, when his son, Peter, took over the reins until 1969. Jimmy Baird became the club's third Commodore but only held the post for a single year as he was forced to retire due to ill health. According to club folklore Jimmy was an extremely talented commentator, many believe the best the club ever had.
Nestled in a tiny corner of Iver Heath in Buckinghamshire, the LMBRC circuit was approached by around half a mile or so of small narrow twisty lanes, lined with trees that produced mountains of conkers in early autumn. Caution had to be taken to negotiate the tiny bridge crossing the River Colne before the final approach to the aptly named ‘Woodlands Lake’, and the pit area. This small friendly club enjoyed a relatively rural position. Club events took place on Saturday and many would stay overnight to pursue more leisurely activities on Sunday in the form of Fishing, skiing, swimming and barbeques. An adequate sized clubhouse catered for racers and visitors alike with a cafeteria run by ‘Big Alf’, and a bar where members did their twenty minute stints to keep the Double Diamond flowing for the evening.
An early triumph for the club was to initiate the Manufacturer’s Trials. These trials allowed boat builders to test their equipment and to receive an exact speed certificate attained over a certified distance. This eliminated many fictitious claims made by the trade itself. The trials proved to be very successful and generated interest from sponsors who presented a trophy for the fastest craft over an endurance time of three hours. The event, known as the Regent Grand Prix, rapidly rose to become one of the most coveted events of the year, climaxing around 1966/67 with a reported 85 boats in attendance for the race.
In 1968 the club presented powerboat racing in the form of sprint racing. This captured the imagination of a nationwide audience when it was featured over 4 different events on World of Sport, for the ‘Television Trophy’. The late 1960's also saw the club take steps to introduce a junior class to the sport. This allowed youngsters aged between 11-16 years, both boys and girls, to compete at speeds of around 30mph. Many other clubs across the country soon followed suit, the idea being that this would help to ensure the next generation of UK powerboat racers. Junior classes still compete to this very day, albeit with several rule changes and the inevitably updated equipment, but the concept is still the same and its continued existence is a fitting tribute to those early pioneers. The icing on the cake is that Junior racing has indeed spawned a number of youngsters coming through the ranks and securing championship titles in various classes on the international stage.
With the arrival of the 1970's a new Commodore took the helm in the form of Len Britnell, supported by his wife Edie as Honorary Secretary. This proved to be a formidable partnership, with support from other prominent club members and generous big name sponsors they set about organising some of the largest events on the International Calendar for the next 15 years or so. Len was a former racer himself competing between 1959-1967 under the British Tourist Rules, which Cyril and Peter Benstead drew up and are generally regarded as the fore-runner of today's National series.
The LMBRC ran its first International meeting in May 1973 for catamarans under 1,000cc and this became a regular event for the Buckinghamshire based club for the next few years. In 1977 the club hosted its first major International championship event in the form of the European SE (850cc) Championship. Over 20 entries from no less than 9 different nations made the journey to compete in what turned out to be a very successful and memorable weekend; there was even time for an impromptu European football tournament between teams after the racing.
Later that same year the club held an International meeting on the river Thames in London as part of the official Queen's Silver Jubilee celebrations. The event was televised and attended by H.R.H. Princess Margaret who arrived on the Sunday afternoon to officially start the prestigious Jubilee Cup Formula One race. The event turned out to be a huge success and really helped to cement their reputation as one of the leading clubs for organising such high profile events.
The following year the club chose The National Watersports Centre in Nottingham as the venue for the European SD Championship. Once again a large entry of craft was attracted from several nations including some very quick Italian and Scandinavian boats. The venue offered superb facilities both on and off the water and the club returned several more times throughout the 1980s to stage large international events there.
Despite a dozen club races and a national championship meetings being held each year on LMBRC's home water at Iver, the club were still feeling ambitious and looking for a suitable venue nearer the capital on which to stage a possible round of the Formula One World Series. The answer came in the form of London's Royal Victoria Dock. A successful trial in November 1982 paved the way for a series of such events to follow over the next few years. The World Series was fully supported by the smaller classes, providing continued action on the water throughout the weekend. With on-shore entertainment such as BMX displays, Parachute display team and classic car shows, the event was portrayed as a festival and proved to be a popular and safe venue with both drivers and spectators alike.
On a less serious note, the club organised many fun boating events. In 1972 it devised and organised its first Round London Inflatable Marathon. This event required 2 people to circumnavigate the Northern half of London by canal and River Thames in a small powered inflatable. A lot of fun but also very physical, for most just completing the 2 day race was the main challenge, however there were those who took it a little more seriously and were definitely out there to win. Boat racers, the general public, celebrities and even specialist Royal Marine teams competed giving the event a similar feel to today's annual London marathon. These madcap events went on for a number of years and the club also helped organise similar events in Scotland, the Midlands and the south coast. Involvement in other fun boating activities throughout the community enabled the club to raise over £30,000 for numerous charities.
The mid 1980s saw the construction of the London orbital M25 motorway, this caused racing to cease for a while as it literally carved straight through the heart of the once idyllic Buckinghamshire based club. Although racing activities continued alongside the newly built 6 lane highway, for me it never really felt the same. Somehow the magic had gone along with the overnight camping, barbecues and Sunday leisure activities which were once as big a part of the weekend as the racing itself.
After Len Britnell's untimely death the club continued to operate into the 1990s under the leadership of long time members such as Bob Blyth. Sadly this wonderful club staged its final meeting at some point during this period closing the curtains on several decades of some extremely memorable racing. I'm sure there are many former members and racers out there who deeply miss this family orientated club and affectionately remember all those responsible for their efforts in contributing towards the making of many outstanding memories.