71 years ago, the founder of TC Harrison participated in an event that would shape the entire world of motorsport, the first ever F1 World Championship Grand Prix race at Silverstone. Racing in a C-type ERA against some of the most renowned car manufacturers in the racing industry: Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Talbot. Thomas ‘Cuth’ Harrison’s ERA C-Type had 180 bhp and was in the midst of the contemporary leading racing cars offering up to and over 300 bhp. Placing seventh was a formidable victory for this plucky underdog and founder of this company.
Conditions were perfect on that morning in May, with the sun shining down on this historic moment. Silverstone was buzzing with the adrenaline of 150,000 excited spectators eagerly trying to catch a glimpse of cars that arrived from Italy, Belgium and France. The Royal family were in attendance and King George VI greeted each driver before the before the race. The motorsport world was watching this moment, and surely none of them could anticipate the success of the series and how transformative and popular it would become.
As their engines roared into life, the differences were stark between this momentous day and modern day racing. Unlike today’s run off areas, gravel traps and tyre barriers, back in 1950 there were straw bales dotted around the track at Silverstone to protect the drivers in the event of an accident. Averaging 94mph, the Alfa Romeos were head and shoulders above any of the competition so trio of Italian cars easily held the front. Behind them, trouble began. Oil leaks, faulty engines and fuel starvation called an end to the race for some of the drivers. Still, the ERAs (Cuth and his friend, Bob Gerard) ploughed ahead. With a car that had not always seen him finish races, for Cuth and his ERA to have finished and placed 7th was a remarkable success. His friend Bob was the first British driver to finish in a British car, landing him the Fred Craner Memorial Trophy for 6th place.
This success had been the result of years of hard work. The C-Type was purchased in 1946 and Cuth had entered plenty of tours before, facing adversity with seized superchargers, broken valves and hours of work attending to the vehicle after every race. The Harrison team never stopped, with the cars constantly being amended and repaired. Even Mrs Harrison would attend the races with Cuth, helping with competition timing. Hard work, determination and a passion for cars drove Cuth to this first F1 event, and beyond.
Cuth’s racing career began in 1934 with a modified Ford 8 hp touring car. This proved speedy but not sustainable for long races. The Second World War put a pause on racing but our ambitious Cuth longed for the big time: the Grand Prix.
Cuth’s son Edward Harrison, recalls the moment his father purchased his ERA C-type, describing Reg Parnell’s warehouse as an Aladdin’s cave, eyeing up the goodies in the warehouse while is father tested the R8C. Built in 1936, the car soared to success in South Africa in the late 30s. Throughout the car’s time with Cuth, it underwent many changes to improve its durability on the track. Setback after setback in previous races demanded that Cuth’s engineers replace superchargers, valves and rear axles.
Leading up to the first ever F1 World Championship Grand Prix, Cuth participated across Europe. Of course, Silverstone featured in his racing repertoire and Hope Valley in the Peak District made for a great testing opportunity. Jersey was another regular feature in Cuth’s racing career, but he also competed across Europe: in 1948 Cuth raced at both historic and beautiful venues; Monza, Lake Garda, and Barcelona to name a few. Cuth did two more World Championship Grand Prix races that year - Monaco in May and Italian (Monza) in September, crashing in the Monaco and retiring at Monza due to radiator problems. So, in total Cuth did 3 F1 World Championship Grand Prix
He also faced setbacks throughout his racing career. A broken valve collet ended his race at Silverstone in 1948. At a Grand Prix at Zandvoot, officials wouldn’t allow him to qualify – even with a push start - after rear axle shaft failure. On this particular occasion the other drivers rallied around TCH, the ERA drivers made a petition to the race organisers to let Cuth’s car into the race, but it was rejected. No race for Cuth, but a testament to the respect he garnered and the camaraderie within the racing community of the time.
Cuth was well established and respected in this pioneering moment for racing, his invitation to Lake Garda was from an Italian Count and friend. On another occasion, upon returning from a race in Barcelona, the team ran short on fuel which was still being rationed in Europe. Luckily they ran into a generous Irishman at the Calais border, who recognised Cuth’s entourage and came to their rescue to supply them with the fuel to get back home.
Modern F1 drivers aren’t running a garage in the north of England, and the game has significantly changed from the time of its inception. At 25 years old, Cuth established TC Harrison Repairs and Services on Abbeydale Road in Sheffield. Fast forward to 2021 and the company, now operating out of 14 sites across the UK, is still run by the Harrison family and is ready to celebrate 90 years in business this May. A testament to the hard work and dedicated Cuth applied to all facets of his business. Will we ever see a privateer business person take a seat in an F1 car again? Probably not. But that doesn't make the sport any less enjoyable....
Lights Out and Away We Go!