As time has passed I have tried to piece together the narrative and context of my grandfather’s sports car career. It now appears probable that he was, if not a founding member of the Four Cylinder Club of New Haven, at least an early adherent and perhaps the Bridgeport contingent’s most active knucklehead. The early ’50s were heady times for the sporty car set. With Bill Spears of Southport running Ferraris regularly and Briggs Cunningham (ostensibly) from Greens Farms taking his team all over the USA and Europe, Fairfield County could be considered one of sports car racing’s post-war seedbeds. Chester Griffin’s place in this milieu is all but lost to history but, using public sources and the scant records kept (albeit accidentally) by my grandmother, here is a speculative history* of my grandfather’s early racing forays with the car now known as Bridget.
May 23, 1953, Bridgehampton, NY. Chuck Couch of Norwalk went with Chester Griffin in what may have been his racing debute. Finish, unknown. Car wore #68.
August 29, 1953, Floyd Bennet Naval Air Station, New York. This was a base race sanctioned by AAA. Chester and his friend Dick Meyer set out from Bridgeport at about 4:30 a.m. to get to the airfield on time for the early races. The Bennet station was on the inland tip of Long Island, just a couple hour’s drive on I-95 today but that road was still five or six years from completion then, so they likely took the Post Road. The day was a scorcher, with on-track peak temperatures of near 120 degrees claimed. This might be why Chester opted to let Meyer drive the race that day (or he did, at least, according to the available record). It is also possible that Meyer, as a AAA member, got a cheaper entry fee than Chester could have as a member of the Four Cylinder Club, which was not a race organizer. The car wore number 67 that day and someone–Meyer or Griffin–drove it to an 8th place finish in the 43-mile Sheepshead Bay Trophy race. Not bad in a field of 28 starters. At some point mid-morning, Chester took a picture of a burning Jaguar that had slid off the track during a practice session. As he told the story to my grandmother, who related it to me, “some midwestern trust fund boy wrecked it, then bought another one in time to race later in the day!” The boy of course was Masten Gregory, one of the great drivers of the era. The burned car was XKC 015. The picture has gone missing.
May 2, 1954, Andrews AFB (near Washington, DC). Len Bastrup of Wilton CT drove #68 MG TD to 11th place overall (6th in Class F) in the 43-mile Congressional Trophy race. His was the first MG to cross the finish line. Bridget also finished 4th in the 43-mile, MG-only “White House Trophy” race. Bastrup would go on to drive Lotus cars through the late 1950s. It is unknown why Chester, having apparently driven to DC in Bridget, elected to allow Bastrup to race his car. But driver’s fatigue after the 250-mile jaunt may have had something to do with it.
May 9, 1954, Suffolk County AFB races. Bridget was dubbed an “MGTD MOD” for this race and the driver is recorded as Atkins, G. This may have something to do with Bridget’s unusual provenance as a BCW “factory”-prepped race car, though this is by no means certain. Class F-production had been limited to 1250 cc previously though by 1954 it was expanded to 1500 cc, which would have allowed Bridget’s 1330-cc displacement under the rules. The other “mods” then in Bridget were all of a type that typically passed for “stock” under SCCA inspections at the time, so it is unclear why Bridget suddenly found herself in the much tougher “MOD” class. (Perhaps Grampa had already swapped in another engine?) On the other hand, her strong finishes the previous week may have raised the ire of other competitors and caused more scrutiny this time out . . . .
At any rate, Bridget raced in the second “unrestricted” race–finish unknown. She did not run in the third race for Class F and G M, but appears again in the 116 mile 4th race, helmed by Atkins and going wheel to wheel against Maseratis, OSCAs, an Aston Martin, several Jags and Duncan Black’s now-famous Lester MG. His finish here is unrecorded.
(Guy Atkins was recorded in 15 races from 1951 to 1955, his best finish being 3rd. He ran mostly in MGs).
June 13, 1954, Chester Griffin attended the New England National Sports Car Races at Westover AFB, Westover, Mass, but his car is unrecorded there. Bastrup raced well in an MG TD number 11, but #68 was affixed to a TC that day belonging to a Rodier, R. Records being what they are, it is possible Griffin raced unrecorded, or that he did not race at all.
Sept 17-18, 1954: Chester apparently accompanied William Lloyd of Greens Farms and Bastrup of Wilton to the iconic Watkins Glen, New York. By then making plans for his ill-fated Carrera Panamericana run, Griffin apparently did not race Bridget that weekend. It is unknown what prep work was done to the car for the grueling continent-spanning race, or just how the car was shipped. Lloyd, of course, brought both an MG and his Ferrari to Watkins Glen, so it may be that Griffin raced in Lloyd’s MG on that occasion. Bastrup placed 6th in the MG-only Collier Brother’s Memorial Trophy race. Griffin’s name does not appear among the finishers.
Nov. 19, 1954: The Carrera race remains sketchy, as it was apparently a sore point to Lily for decades after–so it was simply not spoken of. Lore has it that Chester invited his wife and four children on vacation to Mexico and, once there, explained that he was actually racing. With no support team (apparently fellow Four-Cylinder Club members also thought he was daft), Chester entered Bridget in the small sports car class and proceeded to drive the first leg of the race, before he turned back to rejoin his family–which may not have had any transportation to the way stations along the course! Whatever happened, it was surely an epic waste of time and money, and he should have got the story of his life out of it–instead of this crummy poster that got folded away in a box for 55 years.
I shall endeavor to concoct some kind of story to tell about it–shame to waste it!
*i.e. totally fraudulent.