Motor Sport’s Gentleman – Charles Eyre-Maunsell, Ulster motoring’s most colourful personality.
This article is reproduced from Motorweek – 13 November 1968.
Charles W. Eyre-Maunsell is a motor-sportsman of the old school, but he is very much a man of the nineteen-sixties too.
His slightly old-world attitudes, his quiet courtesy, and his evident delight in the sporting aspects of motoring, makes it all the more surprising to discover his advanced technical knowledge, and his enthusiasm for the application of modern management techniques to his business. But first and foremost, he is a man of the motoring world, be it racing, rally-driving, or trading.
As a boy in Dublin, he often tried his hand at competitive motorcycle racing and scrambling, his Cotton and Enfield machines were normally dogged by insufficient money, and he was frequently outshone by his cousin, H. G. Tyrell Smith, who was already beginning to make a name for himself with Rudge machines.
He became seriously involved with cars when he joined the Rootes organisation, working his way up the scale through several of their English depots until, in 1946, he was sent to Belfast as their representative in Northern Ireland.
Shortly after his arrival in Northern Ireland, the Rootes distribution company, A.S.Baird, suffered a severe setback when their proprietor, Mr Sidney Baird, died. Eyre-Maunsell took over control, and for two years ran the company while on loan from Rootes.
Within the formation of the company of A.S.Baird Ltd., he was appointed managing director, a post he has held ever since. At this time he was already a familiar figure on the rally-driving scene and was also a director of the Ards Aero Club, being a keen amateur pilot.
It was the twin interests in flying and rallying which made him instigator of the first local car racing meeting on an airfield, bringing the flying club and the U.A.C. together in August 1949, an event to which he took the late Jack Barbour’s M.G.-engined 1928, Sunbeam GP.
The meeting was a great success, and another was set up for the following year, in which Eyre-Maunsell vividly, recalls, driving, Ernie Robb’s, Vale special, renamed the “Mercury”. It was a meeting in which he enjoyed a brief moment of glory – “I held the lap record for almost half an hour,” he smiles “then Chris Lindsay took it with his ERA.”
The 500 Motor Racing Club of Ireland was just beginning at this time, too, and Eyre-Maunsell remembers with affection the Talbot 90 which he drove in some of their early meetings, and a very special H.R.G. which eventually replaced it and in which he later won the Ulster Trophy.
At the same time, he was busily competing in local rallies, usually with a Hillman Minx, often to good effect. He was quick to realise that a rally success was also a sales success, a fact which his efficient business records continued to prove.
But whether racing, rallying, or just everyday driving, to Eyre-Maunsell all motoring was just plain fun, and it was this attitude which set him on the road to Monte Carlo. He had always enjoyed driving on snow, and one winter’s day, while bringing back the company’s Super Snipe demonstration car, he ran into a snowstorm and decided to put the vehicle through its paces. It behaved so well that he decided to try his hand at the Monte Carlo rally.
His first attempt was made in a year of fog, snow, and ice, the Eyre-Maunsell car arriving when many others failed to complete the course. “A very interesting drive” he recalls, “but the following year the weather was mild and the roads were dry. I was bored stiff”.
His comment on the difficulties of navigating all the way to Monte Carlo is worth recalling too. “Getting from Glasgow to London was a bit tricky. But the rest was really straightforward”.
Another Eyre-Maunsell venture of the mid-1950s was the designing and building of a car. He always had great faith in the expertise of his own staff (and still has). All his tuning was done locally, and all his special equipment made here.
The “Stubai” was the result of all this Ulster enterprise, a very business-like sports car based on the Sunbeam Rapier engine and transmission. The American press compared the car to their earlier Cunninghams, and to the writers eyes, it appears to be a close relation to the Connaughts of that period, but to Eyre-Maunsell, it resembles only one car – “it looks rather like a Maserati,” he maintains with a smile, “the 1½ litre model, which came out the year following mine!”
Of all the various forms of motoring he has tried, the one he likes best is the long-distance rally, which explains his appearance at every Circuit of Ireland Rally, with one exception, since 1947. But having amassed 264 trophies he feels at this time to stop, and will neither race nor rally again.
He wants to quit while his eyes are still sharp and his reactions fast. He has no need to worry. In his last year of Formula Junior racing, he took the Wakefield Trophy, on a pouring wet day, at a speed of 98.75 mph and his 1½ litre Crosslé sports racing car.
Asked what he has gained from his years of motorsport, and he is momentarily serious. “A tremendous amount of pleasure” he explains. “Motoring is always enormous fun”. Then, as the twinkle in his eye begins to reassert itself, he goes on “and it’s a great release too. There’s a certain amount of the teddy-boy and all of us – there certainly is in me – and this is a marvellous way of working it out.”