Austen May

C.A.N. May

Claude Austen Newton May was born in 1910, an only child, his aunt was married to Chris Bird, a prominent driver at Shelsley Walsh before and after the First World War. Austen worked for the family tyre business and first ventured into competitive motor sport, as passenger for Ken Crawford in his Wolsley Hornet, on the 1933 Lands End Trial. At that time, trials were very popular, initially as tests of reliability but later in the more competitive form of sporting trials. Austen acquired his own cars, first a Jensen-bodied Hornet and then a succession of MGs. He found that he was good at trials and began to accumulate trophies. The Second World War intervened and left a gap in Austen’s life which was only partially filled by his duties in the Auxiliary Fire Service. He began to write about his experiences in trials which were published as Wheelspin in 1945 by GT Foulis.

After the war, Austen returned to trials in a Morgan and then a Ford V8, and published Wheelspin Abroad in 1949, a first hand tale of Continental competition in a 1 1/4 litre Y-type MG. Austen May also kept a close eye on the development of 500 racing and at the end of 1948, he acquired Stirling MossCooper Mk II which he debuted at the Goodwood Easter Meeting in 1949, sadly failing to finish. A month later, things improved a little with a finish, albeit last, in the Grand Prix race at Silverstone, then quite a lot with a third at Prescott out of thirteen.

Shelsley in June brought a fifth, then another third at Prescott on the 12th and a third at Silverstone. At the inaugural 100 Mile event, he took a second and a third in the two sprints, then failed in the production car race. A return to Prescott brought a second to Brandon followed by a long journey to Bouley Bay, Jersey for another second. The 50 Mile race, back at Silverstone on the 20th August was disappointing but Austen took a third in his heat then a sixth in the final at Blandford a week later and a fourth at Silverstone on 3rd September. Yet another Prescott on the 11th brought a fifth, then a sixth at Goodwood and seventh at Shelsley on the 24th. The season ended a little disappointingly with a DNF at Brough in October and eleventh at Weston, otherwise a good first season featuring both hills and circuit racing.

1950 started at Goodwood with a creditable fifth at the Easter meeting, still in the Mk II Cooper, followed by a fourth in his heat, a fifth in the Open Challenge final and another fifth in the production car final at the inaugural Brands Hatch meeting on 16th April. "Royal" Silverstone proved disappointing, a DNF is his heat followed by further troubles in the final of the International Trophy at Goodwood at the end of May.

Austen also took a trips to Monaco in May for a third place in his heat and respectable fifth in the final,  Neuchatel in Switzerland, on 10th June, for a win, Rheims in July for a DNF and sixth at the Dutch Grand Prix. He seems to have taken the rest of the 1950 season off.

May returned for 1951, armed with a Cooper Mk IV, still with JAP power, with which he competed regularly at home and abroad. Things started well with a second at Gamston in March, a fourth in his heat at Castle Combe then a trip Luxembourg for a fourth in his heat and fifth in the final of the Grand Prix .followed by a third at Prescott in June, then another third at Silverstone at the end of the month.

The Dutch Grand Prix earned May a fifth place but the British Grand Prix at Silverstone again proved frustrating. A fourth in his heat followed at Ibsley on 4th August then another DNF at at wet Gamston with a blown engine. Silverstone on 1st September brought a fourth in the heats followed by a fine second, to Clive Lones and ahead of Ken Wharton, at Prescott on the 9th then a sixth place at Shelsley on the 22nd and a third at Peplow in October to close the year.

Austen May in his Cooper Mk II at Goodwood, Easter 1950

Austen May Goodwood 49.jpg (11245 bytes)

A lovely signed shot of Austen and his Mk II, Bottom Esse, Shelsley Walsh, 24th September 1949. Courtesy  Tony Taylor.

In 1951, his fifth book, Formula 3, A Record of 500cc Racing, was published, again by GT Foulis. It is an insiders view and provides a highly detailed record of the early years as well as being an excellent read.

Austen continued with the Mk IV for 1952, in spite of it being thoroughly outclassed now by the Mk V and VI cars, especially when fitted with Manx Norton engines. The season opened with a third at Rhydymwyn on 29th March then it was off to Brussels where he failed in his heat and on to the Eifelrennen for a respectable seventh on 24th May then back to Chimay for a fine third on on the 31st. Back at Silverstone in June, he took a third in his heat and a third at Prescott in September and a fourth in the scratch race heat at Brough in early October. At the end of 1952 he acquired Eric Brandon’s Cooper Mk VI, a far more competitive proposition, and achieved second at  Rhydymwyn on 11th October to end the season.

Austen returned to Rhydymwyn on 28th March 1953 for another second, this time to Tom Leigh, then a tenth in the final at Ibsley in April and wins at Prescott on the 17th May and Staverton on the 24th. Another tour took in Orleans on the 31st May, fourth in the heats but a DNF in the final and Amiens in June for a third in the final. A win followed back at Prescott on the 14th then a fourth in a competitive final at Silverstone and sixth at Snetterton. On 8th August, at the inaugural Oulton Park meeting, May took a fine second in his heat but was unplaced in the final but the end of the month proved fruitful; a win at Shelsley on the 29th beating Ken Wharton and a second to Ivor Bueb at Westwood Park the following day. He was second at the Brighton Speed Trials, in September then third at Prescott but failed again in the final at Oulton. Back to Rhydymwyn on 10th October he won the class and set FTD to end the year on a high.

1954 started with a win at Lydstep in April, beating Tony Marsh, then a second, to Les Leston in the new works Cooper Mk VIII, at Prescott and a thirteenth at the Nürburgring at the end of May. Austen was unable to take the start at Cadwell Park on 7th June then took a second place in his heat at Oulton and failed at Shelsley. In August, he finished fourth, and fastest JAP, in the second 100 Mile race for the Commander Yorke Trophy then second to Don Parker and ahead of Leston's Cooper, at Shelsley followed by a third in the Brighton Speed Trials in early September and a moment of glory at Prescott where he beat Bueb, Parker, Boshier-Jones, Kearon and Leston at Prescott on the 18th, taking FTD. Kearon took revenge at Wirral 100 Sprint, Rhydymwyn but a fine year for a forty-four year old man in a two year old car.

Prescott, September 1954 in the Mk VI

Austen’s final 500 was a JAP powered Mk VIII which he used for the 1955 and 1956 seasons. By now his continental touring days were over and he concentrated on hills and sprints. In April 1955, he took FTD at Lydstep and again in the Alton Towers Sprint on 14th May and a win at Westbrook Hay on 21st, beating Henry Taylor and Tommy Bridger. At Snetterton he took third in the JAP race. Back to Prescott in July for a third then a second to Don Parker in the Shelsley Golden Jubilee meeting and second in the Golden Jubilee Speed Trial at Brighton in September. Later the same month came a third in his heat for the Commander Yorke Trophy but he was unable to take the grid for the 100 mile final and he took a second in the handicap heat at Cadwell Park in October.

May took a win at Barbon Hill in June 1956, ahead of Peter Procter then second at Shelsley to Taylor, returning the favour at Westbrook Hey on 21st July. A trip to Jersey brought another win then back to Great Auclum to beat Taylor and Marsh on 4th August. Austen could only manage third in the Gosport Sprint on 2nd September but a further win followed at Brunton two weeks later. Staverton, at the end of the month brought a third then a second at Rhydymwyn on 6th October, his last competitive outing in a 500 but enough to take the Autosport Trophy. At the end of 1956 he decided to retire and moved into the commentary box but after three years was tempted back into the cockpits of a Lotus 7, Lotus 18 and a Formula Junior Cooper for his final driving stint. In all, Austen May did seven years of Formula 3, largely for fun and never in the latest cars, yet he remained competitive throughout.  C.A.N. May died in October 1984.

Our thanks to the May family and Paul Barrow.