Race ace Tom drove faster than a plane

THE SPRINT Pictured at Thorney Island in 1952, here we see the Sprint fitted with a Spitfire engine.
THE SPRINT Pictured at Thorney Island in 1952, here we see the Sprint fitted with a Spitfire engine.
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Last week my colleague Chris Owen published a photo of members of the Southsea Motor Club with their cars on Southsea Common.

One of the men pictured was Tom Sprake, now 95, who lives in a marvellous 400-year-old house in Old Portsmouth. A Portsmouth man through and through he was born in Ashburton Road, Southsea.

Tom Sprake today, a very sprightly 95.

Tom Sprake today, a very sprightly 95.

Apart from eight years in the army serving in the REME before and after the Second World War, Tom was a surveyor and travelled the world.

He was a member of the club in the 1950s and ’60s.

He was an amateur rally driver and competed all over the world. At one time he was planning to enter the Monte Carlo Rally, but it proved too expensive for him.

He has competed all over the UK and told me Wales was the best area for rally driving. He has also driven around Brands Hatch racing circuit.

Tom Sprake with his Renault and some of his rallying trophies.

Tom Sprake with his Renault and some of his rallying trophies.

Tom told me that in the early days the club used to meet at Portsmouth Airport and that one day shortly after the war he was given the thrill of flying in a biplane.

He arrived as usual and a woman pilot asked if he would like to go for a spin.

There was a Fleet Review at Spithead so Tom jumped at the chance. He climbed into a Bristol Bulldog and they took off into the clear blue yonder.

He recalls: ‘We were only flying at about 90mph. I could drive faster than that!

‘Mind you, looking down on all those ships was a thrill which I still hold dear.’

Tom’s favourite car for rally driving was a Renault and he showed me some photos of his own car with the bonnet covered in trophies. ‘Better than a Mini that car was,’ he says.

He also showed me a photo of a beast of a car at Thorney Island in 1952. The Sprint was fitted with a Spitfire engine, yes, a Second World War Spitfire engine.

Tom reckoned it was not all that successful and he cannot remember how many gallons to the mile it did.

Tom gave up driving five years ago and now lives in his lovely house with the many watercolours he has painted from his worldwide travels.