In the mid-1940s a craze developed for Tethered Car Racing, in which roughly 1/12 scale model cars powered by tiny petrol engines, tethered by a wire cable to a central post, run at high speed round a circular concrete track about 20m diameter. Owners had no control over their car’s performance, except that they could cause it to stop by reaching out with a broom as it passes to operate a cut-out switch on top of the car. Otherwise, the car was just set to go ‘flat out’. Clubs were formed, tracks were built, championships were organised, and model car manufacturers flourished.
The cars and components were made at a factory in Cinderford, Forest of Dean; the company’s office address was a house in Battenhall Terrace, Worcester. This was the home of a wealthy spinster friend, Miss Millicent Bennett, who apparently financed all his operations.
In 1948 he had a sterling silver trophy made, at a cost of 200 guineas (£220), to give to the Eaton Bray Model Sportsdrome in Leighton Buzzard, Buckinghamshire, for an annual tether car competition; this is the trophy we see today. The cars depicted in relief on the plinth of the trophy are recognisable as representations of tether car models raced by well-known competitors of the day.
But the craze was beginning to fade, and although the competition series ran through 1948 and ’49, there is no evidence of the trophy ever having actually been awarded! Enthusiasm for tethered car racing was on the wane, and the following year 1066 Products ceased trading, though Hastings retained an interest in the die-casting factory in Cinderford.
Hastings and his lady friend had a second home in Falmouth where, for reasons best known only to himself, he used the name Geoffrey Prescott. Here in Cornwall he set up a number of businesses related to his new interest, the sport and pastime of fishing. He also had some connection with a fishing club in Bristol, and this may be how he came into contact with motorsport in Bristol.
In 1950, the Bristol Motor Cycle & Light Car Club started developing Castle Combe as a race track, and by its second season in 1951 the club was holding race meetings of national significance. Hastings offered to donate the, now redundant, Hastings Trophy to the club, a timely offer which was gladly accepted. For its new purpose it was proudly engraved “FORMULA LIBRE – CASTLE COMBE – NATIONAL MEETING”, and it was then awarded at the national meeting each year. Hastings himself wrote expressing his wish to become a member of the club, but due to an administrative mix-up over his application form this never actually happened.
The mysterious story of Geoffrey Hastings alias Prescott came to a sudden and tragic end when, on 12 September 1957, he was killed in a motoring accident. He and Millicent were on the road from Looe to Falmouth and had a head-on collision with another vehicle. Miss Bennett survived but with severe facial injuries.
The final twist to this story is that although the newspapers reported the accident involving Geoffrey Hastings, the death certificate recorded the death of Geoffrey Prescott, hydraulic engineer from Stafford.
So the name “Geoffrey Irving Hastings” as shown on his birth certificate never officially died; it lives on, and perhaps not only in the engraving on this distinctive trophy, which also displays the legacy of those early days of racing at Castle Combe in the well-known names engraved on the silver plinth.
During the years since then, the Hastings has been little more than a relic of the past, but with the introduction of a new format sprint at Castle Combe in 2007 came the opportunity to give this striking trophy meaning again, and it is now presented for Fastest Time of the Day at the Great Western Sprint held in March each year.
The full Hastings photo album is located here.
We are indebted to Hugh Blowers for sharing with us the fruits of his research into the history of tether car racing and the convoluted world of Geoffrey Hastings / Prescott.