Sporting Bears Motor Club - The Early years
I feel I should write a few memories down since there are very few “Bears” members remaining from the time the Club began and many of the photo archives from those early days were taken and never returned.
My wife, Pat, and I prepared for the launch of Sporting Bears Motor Club in September 1989. I already had experience in event organising and as a joint leader of a local group of the TR Register + a few years on the TR Register committee in the early 80’s.
Why the Bear in TR logo? I imagined the TR3 to be a sporting “Noddy car” and the Bear was going to be popular with children. I know Darryl at “Racetorations” and at the time I based the SBMC logo on the Racetorations’ letterhead, substituting Darryl’s head for the Bear. Permission was granted with a smile ….and talking of smiles, the Bear’s smile had to be approved by Pat. Originally a line drawing, the logo has been modified over the years.
The strap line under the name was: Classic and Sportscars – Driving for Children’s Charities. The agreement was also that they would be charities in the UK and it was hoped that the assorted classic car owners would make SBMC their second Club.
I sent a Press Release to all the classic publications of the day and they all gave us a few lines on their Club pages. Raising funds whilst having fun on classic car events was the theme.
The initial first months of the Club attracted a number of classic sportscars, the majority being Triumph TRs. This is not surprising because I had persuaded many TR friends to join the cause and classic fun whilst fundraising and amongst a variety of cars appealed to them. As a second Club, this was never intended to cause any issue with the Camb Followers Group of the TR Register. Although I can’t apologise, I have in November 2022 heard that a number of members did actually leave the group, causing some concern. I admit to being one because now I was launching a national organisation which was to take much of my spare time. Lea Valley Group helped to support Camb Followers on some of their events.
Amongst the early members we formed the first Committee, meeting at our house and Chaired by Duncan Jolly. Thank you for helping the launch Duncan and soon after that we had our second Chairman, Colin Jarry-Ryan (a TR2 man from Norwich ….I knew him from many years of organising the TR Register – Lake District Tours). Colin worked for Norwich Union and when they were clearing out some old computers and printers, he managed to acquire a huge printer and some floppy disks. I can’t remember much more about that but very useful for the time.
Now I was seeking sponsorship or support from companies. I visited the offices of Lancaster Insurance, a new company at that time and linked with the MG Owners Club. I spoke to Roche Bentley who was pleased to promote SBMC in their Club magazine. Lancaster agreed to print a batch of Membership and Information Forms ….which gave us a professional image.
Malcolm Nash produced a newsletter for his regional MG Club and he volunteered to edit our first Club newsletters. Our Events Manager suggested we might organise a Toy Run for children in hospital. We planned this for December 1990 and after collecting a large number of toys, filling my company van to the brim, the day was scheduled for our classic car meet at IWM Duxford (more bears also filled the cars). We set off for the planned delivery to Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge. I can’t remember how many cars were in the convoy but I know we had a police motorbike escort and we didn’t stop at all. The police stopped other traffic to give us priority! One side incident; as we turned into the hospital site, a wire wheel from John Soffe’s leading TR3A decided to fall off!
Malcolm Andrews took on the role of Exhibitions Manager and Pat and I helped him set up our first stand at the NEC Classic Car Show in May 1990 ….a one car stand featuring Robert Goodchild’s 1936 Lagonda LG45R. We were there to make people aware of SBMC and also to fundraise for Children in Need (later we were to help smaller charities). It was hard work “selling” the Prize Draw raffle tickets. Prizes included a Balloon Flight, Track-day experience and more.
Pat and I organised a Tour of England & Wales (some 5 days). Hotels were booked but also we stayed in University accommodation at Aberystwyth and Lancaster and included in the tour was a drive up Shelsley Walsh Hillclimb and a lap or two of Oulton Park Racing Circuit. I remember following the vintage Lagonda up a mountain pass in the Lake District at a fair pace and breathing in the smell of Castrol ‘R’. Later on the tour, a problem for an Alfa Spider was helped by the Lagonda towing it to a garage!
Children in Need was to be our charity for the first 3 years of NEC shows and Pat and I were amongst a group of “Bears” who went down to Elstree Studios twice ….just hoping to also be seen on TV. The 3rd year we delivered our cheque to BBC Cambridge.
November 1991 saw us returning to the NEC with another one car stand, this time featuring the famous ERA racing car called “Remus” ….which just happened to be in Sporting Bears colours , a blue car with yellow wheels.
Talking of Club colours, some of you will remember yellow as the main colour for shirts and Club marquees at shows, with blue as the secondary colour. This was later reversed since it became apparent various insects were drawn to the yellow at our outside events. At this point I would like to remember Heather Mitchell who looked after Club regalia for many years and hosted many committee meetings with husband Colin at their home. Heather’s lunches were always the best reason for the meeting!
It was after our first SBMC Classic Car Show at Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire ….organised by Mike Norton, Malcolm Andrews, Andy Mitchell and team. Hundreds of assorted classic cars attended, TVR, MG, Jaguar and a host of TRs from Camb Followers and Lea Valley Groups. There was a funfair for kids and craft stalls and much more …and we raised a lot for local charities. We were also responsible for the clear up the following day and I can remember my contribution was to go round the site collecting litter. Wimpole Hall was the stage for several years and an extra attraction was an Autotest that we staged in the next field.
Probably into the third year of SBMC, we were in need of another Chairman and I approached Colin Mitchell at Wimpole. He considered it for a moment and at our next committee meeting he took up the post, which he held for many years.
By now our second Editor, Angela Norton, was in post and she launched the newly named “Bear Facts” newsletter which was published quarterly, costs being covered within the membership fee. B & W initially and sized A5 …..colour and A4 was to come years later.
The membership was growing and the majority owned classic sportscars + a few saloons and some modern sportscars. Our next major tour was in the Highlands of Scotland and looking a year ahead, Pat and I journeyed up to Edinburgh in the TR3A to meet Philip and Sally with their Alfa Romeo Spider. We planned the route and checked out places to stay ready for the tour the following September. Unfortunately the TR suffered clutch failure, so we sat by the riverside and waited for the AA to arrive. The recovery truck arrived and he took us for a 50 mile ride to Kingussie and a garage that enjoyed working on classic cars. Hopefully the leaking fluid problem could be sorted ready for morning. That evening as we enjoyed a pub meal, there was relief as we heard the distinct sound of the TR. The mechanic had fixed it and was driving it around the hills on road test. A year later, another 5 day tour of Scotland, all classic sportscars with a couple of modern TVRs and included a planned visit to Knockhill Racing Circuit. Several laps here on a wet afternoon but we had the track to ourselves and I remember a TR5 spinning off and bringing mud onto the circuit.
Day tours seemed to be the best to get larger numbers involved and some of these had up to 60 cars. They became the “Classic Bear Runs” and one of the first started at “The Patrick Collection” in Birmingham. For this tour I was also able to include a drive around the Lucas Test Track with its banked corners. The idea of these tours was that each entrant was able to get people to sponsor the Bear each car would carry, in aid of the chosen event charity. It worked and some forms came in with pledges of around £200!
Key members of SBMC at that time were Mick Bryan and Hugh Jackson who were both volunteers at “The Patrick Collection” and friends of the manager, Graham Drew. I had a meeting with Graham and he was pleased to form a link with SBMC, to help us and also promote the Collection. We held two AGMs there and a couple of tours started and finished there. Graham even took time out to drive the route with me to complete a tour plan.
It was thanks to friends and family that we had enough marshals to run the “Classic Bear Runs” and I must give Steve Chant a special mention. He and his wife Jane helped to marshal control points on many Bears tours, including Loton Park Hillclimb which I was able to include as part of a Shropshire Borders tour. Steve was also Mick Bryan’s right arm in the planning of SBMC Dream Rides and I know he is still very much involved today. Someone else who deserves a special mention is Kim Dobbs who took part in some early tours and was likely the left arm of Mick from the early Dream Ride NEC days. Kim still plays a key role in the admin of NEC Dream Rides today.
Sadly we lost all the archive photos from the early years. The person who took on the PR role sometime in the 90’s then had a falling out with his wife and vanished before one of our committee members could retrieve the photos. A mystery that the photos were never recovered but that was all many years ago.
Amongst the classic cars of the day was one supercar, a red Lamborghini Miura. I can’t remember his name but the owner lived in the village of Nobottle ….a familiar name when addressing newsletter envelopes.
Most of us will remember Mick Bryan who served as Exhibitions Manager from 1992 for many years. He launched the idea of Dream Rides® at the NEC, although I have heard that Graham Drew proposed some of the Patrick Collection cars be used for a Dream Rides idea with donations to be given to the Patrick Trust. The owner of the P.C. then withdrew the offer ten weeks before the Top Gear Classic Car Show …and Mick sprang into action and found 14 cars to take part in that first year of “Dream Rides”. Favourite cars of the time for me were the AC Cobra in BRG (7 ltrs) and the equal roar of a Metro 6R4 Rally car.
With special thanks to Derek Bell, we did see Bears taking part in the Le Mans 24 hour race. Firstly in 1994, “Saffa Ted” accompanied Derek on the final practice session where his Gulf Kremer Porsche Spyder K8 recorded a fastest lap time of 3 mins 51.75 secs at 131.26 mph (220 mph on the Mulsanne Straight …in the dark!). The following year, “Sporting Bear Molly!” took part in the full race, in the McLaren F1 GTR (No.51). Derek plus Andy Wallace and Justin Bell finished 3rd overall, covering 296 laps at an average speed of 104.34 mph. After both these events, the Bears were then auctioned for a chosen charity.
One of our Classic Bear Runs took place over a weekend in mid-Wales. It was based in Llandrindod Wells at the Metropole Hotel. We raised a good sum for Hope House Children’s Hospice and finished with a group photo of all the entrant’s Bears.
Too much to recollect. Times were changing and some members were selling their classic cars and buying modern sportscars.
After 8 years, Pat and I took the decision to resign from the Committee and I duly took the equipment and files to the next meeting. The atmosphere was strained and we took a 3 year break from the Club.
Congratulations on raising £3 million so far and best wishes to the Sporting Bears of today. Sorry not to give everyone a name check but THANK YOU, to the long serving members and those who have joined recently. The Club may have changed in format over the years but the aim to help children’s charities in the UK has grown stronger. Pat and I are proud of all those involved today and may Sporting Bears continue for many years to come.