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WHEN LAST we encountered Henry Ronald Godfrey (in fact, only a couple days ago), his partnership with Archie Frazer-Nash of manufacturing G.N. automobiles came to an end in 1922. By then, Godfrey was merely maintaining a fleet of these rudimentary cyclecars for traveling salesmen of boot polish. Sic transit gloria mundi, how fleeting are worldly things. On the other hand, H.R. Godfrey eventually started his own car company.
Wouldn’t it be satisfying to find that the HRG sports car was named solely after H.R. Godfrey? Actually there were two others involved, Major Edward Halford and Guy Robins. Godfrey was the G.
HRG (also sometimes H.R.G., affectionately Hurg) was in the sports car business from 1935 to 1956. Ted Halford was an automotive engineer who had raced with Godfrey at Brooklands. Robins had previously been with Trojan, so he knew a thing or more about building sturdy automobiles.
Four HRGs were sold in 1936, each for £395 ($1975 in the era’s dollar, around $34,000 today). An outsourced Meadows 1 1/2-liter four cylinder produced perhaps 58 hp and gave the HRG sporting performance for its time, 0-50 mph in 11.0 seconds, for example.
HRG styling was traditional sports car, the sort of thing a whole generation of kids sketched in pre-Countach study hall. Its radiator was set rakishly behind the beam front axle. The Hurg’s handling benefited from this aft location of mechanicals, especially in that peculiar English sport of mud-plucking.
The HRG scored well in international racing and rallying too. A Hurg co-driven by Ted Halford placed 2nd in class at Le Mans 1937. Two enthusiasts with a Singer-engine HRG earned another 2nd in class at Le Mans 1938—and brought the same car back in 1939 to take 1st in class.
When competition resumed after World War II, pre-war Hurgs continued their class-winning ways. The company even assayed an Aerodynamic version, which proved potent, albeit fabricationally fragile.
At the 1948 Manx Cup around the Isle of Man, Hurgs were managed by John Wyer (he, of later light blue and orange Gulf Oil livery in endurance racing). First of their kind, the HRGs had two-way radio communication with the pits. The pair finished 6th and 7th, in class and overall.
In the Alpine Rally of 1948, HRGs did amazingly well: two team prizes, a Coupe des Alpes, a class win and three special test awards. The backstory, related in “The ‘1500’ & ‘1100’ H.R.G.s, 1935-1956” by Hurg authority Ian Dussek, is even better: “… six complete amateurs, some of whom had been hoodwinked into driving on the pretence that the event was a motoring holiday, contrived to win almost every award open to them in spite (needless to say) of incredible adventures.”
In 1949, Hurgs swept their class in the Silverstone Production Car Race, were 1st in class at Le Mans and 1st through 4th at the Belgian Spa circuit. Hurg successes continued into the mid-1950s, all the more striking in light of a production total, from 1935 to 1956, of only 241 cars. They’re seen occasionally in vintage racing today.
During HRG heydays in the late 1940s, a customer waited from six months to a year for delivery. Observed Dussek, “On the average, the total time for the production of a car was on the order of five months, three for the chassis and two for the body.”
English motoring periodicals of the era published reader controversy about the respective merits of the HRG and the MG TC or TD. Noted Dussek, “… in no case was a conclusion reached. The car still carried the reputation for being something particularly attractive to the motoring masochist—an assumption no more applicable to the Hurg than any other car of the time.”
Ah, yes. But there was probably a downside too. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015