Sidney Charles Houghton "Sammy" Davis (1887 - 1981)

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Sidney Charles Houghton "Sammy" Davis (1887 - 1981)

Sammy Davis
S.C.H. "Sammy" Davis
The media is filled with ex-racing drivers that made the successful switch to journalism after their morotsport retirement. But the story of Sidney Charles Houghton "Sammy" Davis is quite different, as this is the story of a man who, as a motoring journalist, decided in his 30's to become a competition driver. The fact that he made it to international standard makes the story all the more remarkable.

'Sammy' Davis was born in London in 1887 and educated at Chislehurst, where one of his fellow pupils was the young Malcolm Campbell. The pair soon discovered a mutual fascination with wheeled vehicles, which resulted in a spectacular pile-up with a borrowed penny-farthing bicycle. Soon, Davis was enthusiastically involved with motor vehicles and, after training as an illustrator, he joined Dairriler as an apprentice, helping to build a wide variety of machines from Renard Road Trains to racing cars for the 1907 Kaiser-preis.

His artistic talents were called into play to produce a series of 'rude little pictures' showing a sleeve-valve man triumphing over a poppet-valve man, with the aim of knocking Daimler's chief carriage-trade rival, Napier. In 1910, he took up a new job, 'technical illustrator and general dogsbody', on the magazine Automobile Engineer, which was being launched by Iliffe, publishers of The Autocar ; soon he was writing about cars as well as drawing them, and laying the foundations of his motor-racing career by competing in trials with light cars, motor cycle, then in a Talbot truck, next on a Rolls-Royce armoured car and finally in a four-wheel-drive Jeffery Quad truck, the winner being the one who completed the course quickest without mishap.

Helping Aston Martin Smash 32 World and Class Records

After the war, Davis became Sports Editor of The Autocar, where he helped his pre-war motor-cycling friend, W. O. Bentley launch his new sports car. S. F. Edge invited Davis (who managed to combine his sporting activities with the deadlines of his job) to join his Brooklands AC team in 1921, then, in 1922, he helped Aston Martin smash 32 world and class records at the Weybridge track. Around the same time, he began entering trials with an ABC flat-twin light car, which at first had a fantastic ability to seize solid on hills; Waverley, Aston Martin and Frazer Nash were among other marques which he drove in contemporary road events.

Old Number Seven

In 1925, he drove a 3-litre, twin-cam Sunbeam at Le Mans with Jean Chassagne, and came within an ace of winning. The following year he was back, at the wheel of a 3-litre Bentley, which he contrived to crash 20 minutes from the end of the race while attempting to take the lead. He crashed again at Le Mans in 1927, but this time it was an accident that became part of motoring mythology. Davis was driving the 3-litre Bentley known as 'Old Number Seven' into White House Corner when he noticed that the roadside fence had been damaged during his last lap, so he immediately slowed down. Just around the corner was a tangle of crashed cars, into which Davis managed to skid sideways into, thus minimising damage.

Even so, when he extricated the Bentley from the wreckage, he found it had a twisted chassis in addition to more superficial damage, yet managed to persuade the car to stay together long enough to win. Davis was not just a Bentley Boy though - in 1927 he won the Essex Six Hours' Race at Brooklands with a 12/50 Alvis, a marque to which he transferred his allegiance for the 1928 Le Mans, coming in ninth at the wheel of a 1500 cc, front wheel drive car, partnered by Urquhart-Dykes.

Sammy also drove a Riley in that year's Tourist Trophy, while in 1929 he was in the Lea-Francis team, with a 1500 cc Hyper. He came second in the Saorstat Cup at Phoenix Park, Dublin and was also second in the Brooklands Double-Twelve and soo-mile races. In between times, he acquired an 1897 Bollee tri-car in France, his enthusiasm for such antique vehicles leading him to become one of the three founders of the Veteran Car Club in 1930.

Campaigning In Beelzebub

Davis, who wrote under the pseudonym 'Casque', and his assistant, L. V. Head ('Caput'), campaigned the Bollee-christened Beelzebub-in pre-war Brighton Runs; indeed, Davis continued to drive Beelzebub in the Brighton until the late 1960s, when he was entering his 80S, his doctor then warning him that this sort of activity was hardly suitable for an octogenarian. The Bollee was sold to the Indianapolis Speedway Museum.

In 1930 Davis co-drove a little Austin Seven with the Earl of March, winning the Brooklands 500-miles race at the astonishing average of 83.41 mph, then added to its fame by carrying off several Class H records, including a flying kilometre at 89.08 mph. On that occasion, Davis's co-driver was Charles Goodacre. Sammy's successes during the season were so numerous that he was awarded a BRDC Gold Star. Off the track, he drove a Double-Six Daimler in the Monte Carlo Rally, an event in which he subsequently entered a Railton tourer, an Armstrong Siddeley and a Sunbeam- Talbot; the Wolseley he drove in this event in 1937, won a special a ward for being the best equipped vehicle to finish.

Davis's racing career came to an abrupt hiatus at Brooklands in 1931, when the low-chassis Invicta he was driving skidded into a telegraph pole. During his spell in hospital, he wrote the classic book Motor Racing. In 1935, he was driving a Singer Nine in the TT when a ball-joint in the steering fractured, and the car left the road, rolling over on Norman Black's sister car, which had crashed at the same spot for the same reason. Despite the serious nature of the crash, Davis escaped this time without injury, apart from a scratch where his helmet had been knocked off. In 1981 Davis died in a fire at his home, likely caused by the ever present smoking pipe.

Also see: From Paris to Oblivian by S. C. H. Davis - pub. 1954.
The grand old man of motor racing Sammy Davis, in the 1930 Brooklands 500 Mile-winning Austin Seven
The grand old man of motor racing Sammy Davis, in the 1930 Brooklands 500 Mile-winning Austin Seven.
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