Charles Jarrott (1877 - 1944) - Finish At All Costs

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Charles Jarrott (1877 - 1944) - Finish At All Costs

Charles Jarrott
Charles Jarrott - Image courtesy John Olliver, Dingbat Motors UK.


That was the racing motto of Charles Jarrott, one of Britain's greatest drivers in the first decade of motor sport, who took part in just about every race that mattered, up to 1905. Yet, out of all those events, he had just one major victory, although he was often well up with the leaders Jarrott's creed, recalled Arthur Bray (one of his racing contemporaries), was that it was always better 'to race clean and lose, than to win by foul driving'.

Jarrott was born in 1877 and originally planned to make the law his career. He was articled to a solicitor, but gave this up for motoring. He started racing with a De Dion tricycle at the old Crystal Palace cycle track and drove a Panhard, fitted with a prototype Napier engine, in the 1900 Thousand Miles Trial.

He first competed in an international event in the 1901 Paris-Berlin race, driving a 40 hp Panhard. Its racing number was 13, so he had it painted green to cancel out the bad luck; he finished tenth.

The following year, he took part in the Circuit du Nord, driving a new 40 hp Panhard. For this race, the cars had to run on alcohol, which the French Government was trying to promote as a fuel; this reduced their speed by around twenty per cent, and they were further slowed by torrential rain, which caused Jarrott's car to misfire.

Nevertheless, he soon took second position behind Maurice Farman's sister car. For much of the race, he was challenged for second place by Marcellin's Darracq and the cars were run- ning hubcap to hubcap right up to the finish, when Jarrott put on a spurt, hurtled over the line at top speed and knocked the Police Commissaire of Paris for six. Fortunately for all concerned, M le Commissaire was only shaken.

The 1902 Paris-Vienna race saw Jarrott at the wheel of one of the new 70 hp, 13.8-litre Panhards built to the 1000 kg maximum-weight formula; he finished eleventh, having repaired the car's broken wooden chassis-frame with wood taken from a bedstead in his hotel room and smuggled out to the car in his trouser legs. Jarrott was now anxious to enter this car for the Welbeck Speed Trials, but the car was in Vienna with a broken gearbox and its chassis tied together with string, the Panhard company seeming not at all anxious to repair it.

The Circuit des Ardennes

Jarrott's team-mate, Pinson, suggested that if the car were to be entered for the Circuit des Ardennes, to be held in Belgium a week or so before the Welbeck event, Panhard certainly would overhaul the car. The organisation of the Ardennes race left it lot to be desired- Jarrott and his mechanic even found themselves w·ithout hotel rooms, and had to accept the hospitality of a chance passer-by and huge dust-clouds made it almost impossible to follow the road. However, Jarrott, fortified by a bottle of champagne handed to him en route by a spectator, roared through the field, eliminating the crack Mors racers one by one, to win the event - the first-ever closed circuit race - at 54 mph.

Ten Years of Motors and Motor Racing

During the following week in torrential rain, Jarrott achieved the fastest time then recorded in Great Britain - 64 mph over the flying kilometre. In 1902, Jarrott went into partnership with William Letts, acquiring the sole British agencies for Oldsmobile and De Dietrich (Crossley was a later addition). He drove as leader of the De Dietrich team in the 1903 Paris-Madrid, and finished third, after an epic drive which he vividly recounted in his autobiography Ten Years of Motors and Motor Racing (we believe this book was ghost-written by A. B. Filson Young).

Jarrott's De Dietrich failed to last more than a couple of laps in the Circuit des Ardennes, held a month after the Paris-Madrid event; a few days later, he was driving a Napier in the Gordon-Bennett held in Ireland, and crashed when the steering gear broke on the second lap, breaking his collarbone. He drove a 96 hp Wolseley Beetle in the eliminating trials to choose the British team for the 1904 Gordon Bennett - and an 89 hp De Dietrich in the French Eliminating Trials and took twelfth place in the actual Gordon Bennett Cup, held on the German Taunus circuit, driving the Wolseley.

After that, Jarrott retired from the international racing scene, although he did compete in some of the first Brooklands meetings, and also set up records for the London-Monte Carlo .run, in a 40 hp Crossley. In 1905, he was one of the founders of the Automobile Association. In fact, Jarrott's mechanic, H. P. Small, clearly recalled fitting the first-ever AA badge on Jarrott's De Dietrich. Jarrott became the AA's chairman in 1922. He was also chairman of the Junior Car Club, founder member and vice-president of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, and one of the seven men who founded the Olympia Motor Show.

He sold his interest in Charles Jarrott & Letts Ltd in 1910, but continued in the motor trade for some considerable time after that. During World War 1 he was Inspector of Transport to the Royal Flying Corps,' and was three times mentioned in despatches; he was also secretary of the Royal Society of St George. Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Jarrott died on 4 January 1944, and was mourned as 'Britain's finest racing driver of the old school'.
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