8/1/1911 - 31/8/2006
Tom Delaney was Britain's oldest licensed racing driver, and competed in the same car, on and off, for more than 70 years. Tom Delaney died 16 years ago, he was 95
Tom Delaney was Britain's oldest licensed racing driver, and competed in the same car, on and off, for more than 70 years.
He learned to drive as a schoolboy in the 1920s and caught the racing bug at Brooklands, the pre-war racing circuit in Surrey, where he was taken by his father in the school holidays; there he met many of the country's leading drivers.
His father, Terry Delaney, was a pioneer of late 19th-century racing who had competed in the famous Paris-Madrid marathon of 1903, and who had links with the Lea-Francis Company through his car radiator manufacturing business, Delaney-Galley.
Tom Delaney made his Brooklands debut as a young man in the 1930 Tourist Trophy at the wheel of a Lea-Francis Hyper; the car became his pride and joy, and he was still racing in his old age.
Often entered for events under his father's name, from the beginning Delaney was a gentleman racer. During the 1930s he became increasingly involved in the family business, but he did get the chance to compete in the first race on the new circuit at Donnington in 1932, when he passed Dick Seaman in a Bugatti. He was disappointed not to catch ER Hall in his Magnette before the end of the race.
For years the Hyper was Delaney's only car, until he could finally afford the price of a second-hand Ford V8 to use on the road. Then, when war loomed and there was no prospect of racing, Delaney sold his faithful Lea-Francis to a Dr Bomford — but soon realised he wanted it back. Bomford had taken it with him out to Aden, but was so touched by Delaney's appeal that "he wrote me a letter saying he couldn't sleep at nights and he must let me have the car back".
Cyril Terence Delaney, always known as Tom, was born at Willesden, north London, on January 8 1911. He was educated at Bishop's Stortford College before joining the family radiator business at its main factory at Cricklewood. Under an uxorial order to curtail his motor racing activities (his wife considered them too dangerous), Delaney took an interest in the hardly less hazardous business of flying; an increasing enthusiasm for aviation, a growing family and an expanding business employing (at its wartime peak) 2,000 workers at five factories, meant that time for racing was still limited.
He took over as managing director on his father's death in 1948, and the business was sold in the early 1960s. With fewer commitments Delaney was able to devote more time to racing, and began competing again regularly.
"The thing is you have to get out front fairly early on," he told an interviewer in 2004. "If you are stuck at the back, as I usually am, by the time you've threaded your way through the cars in front it's nearly finished. "
In 2004 Delaney was the oldest driver competing at the Brighton Speed Trials, which he had first entered 70 years earlier. "I can still give the others a run for their money," he insisted then. "It's just as if I was 21 again when I get into the car. It all comes back to me. My doctor says the adrenalin is good for me. "
Tom Delaney kept his Lea-Francis Hyper taxed and insured until the end of his life. On the road he drove a 18-year-old BMW 325i or, for local trips, showed his bus pass.