Reg Phillips 1915-2008

Reg Phillips long life came to an end on 15th May 2008. Reg was 93 years young. He was one of what is now a very small group who had experienced competitive motoring before the Second World War. Trials were his original forte and there is a picture of him in a pre-war SUNBAC Colmore event driving his Ulster Austin and looking very sober, dressed in trilby and overcoat. At this time Reg was working for the Austin Motor Company, were he had been an apprentice from 1932 to 1936 and remained a member of the Austin Ex-Apprentices Association for the rest of his life. He had succeeded in obtaining some special Austin bits to energise his Ulster but the war intervened before they could be fully exploited.

He was quickly behind the wheel again when trials revived in 1945/6 and soon built up an impressive record with many trophies and first class awards. He was very much an engineer-driver, constructing specials which were extremely effective and then driving them determinedly but skilfully to many successes. He concentrated on making them mechanically efficient and not worrying too much about their aesthetics. When he recalled the inter-war climbs he had seen as a spectator at Shelsley he reckoned the most thrilling aspect was the competition between the Grand prix cars and the Shelsley Specials, describing the latter as “cars which, with the minimum amount of money, but with maximum enthusiasm and hard work, produced the power-to-weight ratio and road holding necessary to equal, and sometimes beat, the very best that money could buy”. There’s little doubt that Reg strongly identified with this tradition of Shelsley Specials.

Post-war Reg was Chairman of Fairley Steels and all his competition cars were accordingly dubbed Fairley Specials. Until 1954 his main focus was trials and rally work but from then on hill climbs and sprints were increasingly prominent. The first hill climb car was the Fairley Ford, variously dubbed the £70 or £80 special, as that was what the components cost Reg to make or acquire. It certainly added a distinctive element to the classes catering for the larger single-seaters and more than satisfied those keen to see the driver ‘at work’ as Reg sat rather more on it than in it. It did give him some silverware but it was its successor the Fairley Cooper-Climax that propelled him into the hill climb front-runners.

Initially this car was a conventional Cooper ‘twin’, bought from Guy Arengo and for a short period Reg didn’t disturb its basic format. But for the 1957 season he fitted a 1½ litre Coventry Climax engine mounting it across the chassis with the bodywork adapted to carry this bigger unit. This car was gradually improved, initially by supercharging the engine and then finally by discarding the original Cooper chassis and replacing it with a specially constructed one incorporating wishbone suspension and coil springs. It often put Reg among the quickest half dozen cars, provided him with many class wins and in August 1960 he set BTD (Best Time of the Day) at Shelsley.

Reg’s competition career continued through successive decades though there was a shift from single-seaters to sports and saloon cars. The variety of cars was impressive, including a Mini Moke which he shared with his life long friend Raymond Baxter. In the 1970s there were Chevrons, Ferraris and TVRs; in the 1980s AC 3000s and Sunbeam Lotuses; and in the 1990s Peugeot 205s and 106s and an MG F. Reg finally bowed out of competition work in 1996 – more than forty years after his first Shelsley run. His best Shelsley time was set in a Fairley Chevron 276 in August 1976 when he just succeeded in breaking the 30 second barrier with 29.89.

Reg had been elected to the M.A.C. Committee in 1963 where he served continuously for fifteen years. On retirement from the Committee he was appointed a Vice-President of the Club. He continued to take a most active interest in its affairs and in Shelsley even when he retired to live at Salcombe in Devon. In the 1990s he volunteered the sum of £1000 to be awarded to the first driver who broke 25 seconds at Shelsley. Most appropriately in the M.A.C.’s centenary year Graeme Wight Junior duly set a new record at 24.85 and Reg wrote out his generous cheque! Also in the centenary year he penned an entertaining contribution to the M.A.C.’s celebratory book 'Ton Up!' It was very much in character as Reg’s good humour and geniality was always remarked upon and a great bonus in any company. Reg was invariably accompanied to meetings by his wife Peggy who provided support in many different ways and our sympathy is extended to her.

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