Cars

The pedal-powered cars tearing up the track at Goodwood

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One of the lesser-known races at the annual Goodwood Revival classic car racing event is the Settrington Cup. 

It’s a popular one with the crowd, though. This one-make race – named after the title given to the eldest son of Goodwood’s Earl of March – features the Austin J40 pedal cars that some of you may be old enough to remember. 

These J40s have a fascinating history. Production began in South Wales in 1949, and was paid for by the Government to give disabled coal miners employment. The raw materials were off-cuts from the Austin factory at Longbridge. 

Finding a J40 nowadays is quite a task. A quick scan of eBay shows just one battered body for £550. Our own designated driver for the 2017 Cup, 7-year-old Josh, was lucky enough to be given a car (’Rusty’) by last year’s Cup winner, who had literally grown out of it.  

Seven is a mid-range age for the race, but Goodwood motorsport content head Will Kinsman is more interested in ‘emotional range’ reducing the incidence of children getting a bit scared on the start line.

Josh spent a joyful summer practicing on his home circuit of Twickenham. When a story about it appeared in a national newspaper the original owners of Rusty got in touch to say how pleased they were to see their old Noddy-liveried yellow and red J40 reborn in such a nicely patina’ed red. They knew it was theirs as it still has the original AT 1 numberplate referring to their children Andrew and Teresa.

Driving a J40 is not as easy as you think. The pedals go back and forth, not around, so it’s easy to go backwards on ‘startup’. Multi-Revival winner Mark Hales passed on some useful advice to Josh. “Remember: pedal to the metal… followed by the other one.”

53 J40s were registered for this year’s event, and they all had to be scrutineered for gearing, tyres, and weight. You wouldn’t believe how competitive some parents are. Rusty was the only car not to be in pristine condition, a source of some pride in the team.  

On Saturday morning, Josh drew his start number out of a hat. Pole position! Actually that wasn’t ideal as it meant that he would have no-one to follow on the Saturday race and would be at the back of a reversed grid for the Sunday one. 

After the usual delays and dull driver briefing, we were out onto the track, Josh being pushed by his ‘mechanic’ as he nonchalantly chewed jelly babies while waving to the crowd. 

It’s a Le Mans start, with drivers waiting for their parents to tell them when to run over to their cars, hop in and get pedalling. Josh’s start went a bit wrong when he ran to the wrong side of the car for some reason. That cost him four places or so, and a stramash with the pedals a few more, but he finished a very creditable seventh to win some posh chocolate.

On the Sunday he used his new-found racing skills to steam through the pack, finishing in the mid-twenties somewhere. Well done lad! If he’s invited back next year, the car might get treated to a shinier paint job.

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