Jean Reville was a pioneering English Midget racer.
Jean Reville was born Eric Jene Revell on 24 October 1899 in Puckeridge, Hertfordshire, the son of James Joslen Revell and Emma Cecilia. at some point he changed his name to Jean Reville and by 1922 was living in Merton near Wimbledon, London.
In 1928 he married Daisy Florence Epsom, listing his profession as a confectionary salesman, and he married her again for reasons unknown in 1929, now listing his profession as a motor engineer! Daisy was related in some way to Arthur Palmer who ran a confectionary store in Merton and in 1930 Jean and Arthur started a garage called Palmer Reville & Co.
Jean was joined by his older brother Dennis in 1931 and began to modify BSA sports cars, re-selling them as Palmer Specials. There were three versions available; the Ulster two seater, Le Mans four seater and the Brooklands a high performance two seater.
Note the packed grandstands!Racing on dirt tracks had been around for a while when in 1933 the first dirt-track meeting was held in Sacramento, California, for purpose built midget cars. The idea soon caught on in the UK and late in 1933 Jean decided to use their experience modifying BSA cars to build a single seat version for Midget racing. Called the Gnat, it was built by Reville's mechanic Ted Andrews and powered by a 992cc JAP motorcycle engine. It had only one gear and a small brake. Jean had already been racing one of his other specials since at least 1932.
In 1934 he formed the Speedway Racing Drivers Club and organised the first race meeting on March 31st at Crystal Palace, apparently filmed by Paramount. The meeting consisted of four lap races on a banked dirt track with three teams of three drivers, possibly sharing the same team car in different races. The Crystal Palace team was Captained by Reville and used Palmer Special(s), the Wembley Park team was led by Victor Gillow and used Riley(s) while Wimbledon Park was captained by Tommy Sulman with a Sulman Special (This could have been his Sulman Simplex as his Sulman Singer single seater was not built until 1936). As an aside Tom, who was born in 1899, was killed racing a Lotus 11 at the Easter Bathurst race meeting on 30th March 1970. Tom was still racing at the age of 70. A Riley set the fastest time of 38.48mph. Dick Nash did a demonstration run in his supercharged 1500cc Frazer Nash 'The Spook' and lapped in 45sec at an average speed of 40.81mph. Another race was run on April 14th.
The 5th May saw the first heats of the British Individual Midget Car Dirt Track Championship at the Crystal Palace Speedway. Once again organised by the Speedway Racing Drivers Club, the main contenders were Reville and Victor Gillow. In the first heat Reville took the win but lost the second to Gillow by 11 meters. Race three saw Reville blinded by the cinders kicked up by Gillow and despite hitting the wall twice he kept going but lost by just under 14 meters. There followed one of the semi-finals. Reville took the lead from Leon Marett, also driving a Palmer Special. However on lap 3 Reville struck a bump causing his car to get airborne and hit Marett. Marett continued and took the win but Reville was out with broken steering and a badly sprained wrist. In the final, with the absence of Reville, Gillow took an easy win.
There were other races being organised by the Speedway Racing Club but these were for more conventional racing cars. In mid May a number of races were run on the Greenford dirt track. The first was won by Arthur Baron in his T44 GP bodied 3-litre Bugatti special, the second by Vic Derrington (Of V.W. Derrington Ltd tuning fame) in his supercharged Salmson, the third by A.J. Mazengarb (Managing Director of the Gear Manufacturing Co) and the fourth by R.C. Clerk with his Austin 7 special. So quite an array of machinery. There was then a 30 lap feature race which was won by Thomas Pitt Cholmondley-Tapper in his Bugatti and a 10 lap race won by Tommy Sulman. There were also a number of record attempts and displays.
In 1935 he enjoyed considerable success at Crystal Palace, White City, the Lea Bridge Stadium and the Perry Hill Stadium in Catford.
He raced at the newly opened Wimbledon Stadium on September 1st in a match arranged by the stadium management to see if there was sufficient interest to organise a race meeting. Unfortunately the other car wouldn't start and little was gained form the demonstration that Jean put on by himself. He then travelled to Australia with Ralph Secretan, and 'Bud Stanley' (Stanley Budd), taking part in races on Saturday 2nd November at the Sydney Showground Speedway otherwise known as the Royale. Reville continued to race during the 1936 Australian season but then, after an accident that left him with a damaged hand and arm, he sold the three Gnats that he had taken with him and withdrew from racing.
Ted Andrews, nicknamed 'Ted the Speck' due to his spotless preparation, also started building the first four wheel midget however with Jean now living in Australia the car was never competed. His brother Dennis kept the business until 1937 when he sold up.
Jean did not return to the UK when the rest of the team did, choosing to settle down under in Brisbane. In 1945 he married the daughter of the mayor of Brisbane, William Jolley, and had a son named Bruce (nice original name for an Australian!). He also had two children with Daisy.
With his interest in politics stimulated by his father in law, he ran for office to represent Queensland in the Australian Federal elections in 1958 and in 1972 but without success. Jean Reville died in the early 1980s in Brisbane.