The Settrington Cup Is Where The Kids Get To Race At Goodwood
From all over the world, some of the most stunning and valuable cars ever created are descending on the historic Goodwood Motor Circuit in West Sussex in England. Mechanics are busy completing final preparations in search of the perfect set-up, as drivers psyche themselves up for a weekend of intense competition at the annual Goodwood Revival…there, nowhere will the battle be fiercer than in The Settrington Cup.
And as the curtain falls on the UK’s 2016 historic motorsport season with consummate Goodwood style, held over two parts on Saturday and Sunday, the race sees a group of 30 rather young drivers participate in a Le Mans-style start, as they sprint to their identical-spec cars before pedalling off at full tilt. And we do mean pedal.
The Settrington Cup is a one-make pedal car race, and of course as this is Goodwood, the Austin J40 pedal cars that participate are rather special and of significant historical importance. Based on the Austin Devon ‘just like father drove’, more that 32,000 J40s were built and sold around the globe from 1949 to 1971.
Prince Charles became the proud owned of a rather fine example when he was four. The royal vehicle was, as you would expect, built to a unique specification. It featured additional equipment such as a windscreen, wing mirror, number plate, sidelights, and a single Monte Carlo Rally-style spotlight.
Even the standard J40 was a very special thing to find parked up under the tree on Christmas morning, for those children who were fortunate enough to have parents that could afford the £27 (plus £6 tax) ticket price. The machines came lavishly equipped too, with pneumatic tyres, horns and working headlights.
But the man whose brainchild the J40 was wanted to create something that would do much more than just give pleasure to junior drivers. And he achieved his aim.
Austin Motor Company chairman Leonard Lord recognised the need to help the huge number of Welsh coal miners who by the end of the Second World War were suffering from the lung disease pneumoconiosis, and thus were no longer to work underground. Lord persuaded the British government to pay for the assembly of a 24,500 square-foot Austin Junior Car Factory at Bargoed in South Wales, where he ran the plant as a not-for-profit organisation. There, under the supervision of a doctor, former miners constructed the J40 pedal cars using cut-offs delivered from the full-size Austin Devon factory at Longbridge in Birmingham.
The cars were occasionally raced in period, and the Austin J40 Pedal Car Club has kept the tradition alive in recent times, however since the inaugural Settrington Cup in 2012, the value of these miniature classics has rocketed. A mint-condition car could cost north of £3,000, perhaps more if it has proven Goodwood race-winning pedigree.
In the first few years that the cars raced at Goodwood, rumours abounded within the small-scale paddock that grown-up mechanics had been seen tweaking J40s when they should have been attending to daddy’s full-size racing car. Special low-friction bearings for smoother running, enlarged cockpits to accommodate older children, shortened pedal travel to enable more rapid pedalling, and even lightweight materials for greater acceleration and agility were all alleged to be in use.
This year, the race’s pint-size scrutineers will be determined to clamp down on any such anomalies. As for Prince Charles’s Austin J40, the Goodwood organisers remain ever hopeful of an entry in the Settrington Cup for Prince George. And who knows, when the king-in-waiting outgrows the cockpit, he could hand the wheel over to his younger sister, Princess Charlotte.
Photography by Matt Sills, Dominic James, Drew Gibson, Matt Ankers, Nicole Hains, and Stephanie O’Callaghan