14th Oct, 2020 13:00

Imperial War Museum Duxford

  Lot 51

c.1930 McDowell Special Sprint Racer

Estimated at £30,000 - £35,000

Lot details

Registration No: N/A
Chassis No: Not Stated

  • Nicknamed the 'Circus Burner'
  • Deemed by previous owner Fred Sherk - a director of The Eastern Museum of Motor Racing - to be a genuine, period-built racer
  • Original c.1926/1927 Essex chassis frame and steel body tub
  • The subject of a full mechanical restoration by renowned Ford specialist Belcher Engineering Ltd
  • Much modified Ford Model A engine with a special Inlet over Exhaust Cyclone cylinder head and twin 40mm Venturi Pump carburettors developing an estimated 115bhp
  • Potentially eligible for VHRA and VSCC events

A letter on file dated February 28th 1997 from Fred Sherk who was not only a previous owner of the ‘Circus Burner’ but also served on the board of directors for The Eastern Museum of Motor Racing in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania makes for interesting reading:

‘From the body style and the fact that it was steel, it was evident to me it was a car from the 1920s / 1930s era . . . The car’s frame is from an Essex automobile. These frames were especially popular among early race car builders because of the graceful kick-up at the rear and the tapered side rails . . . As I recall, the car also had Franklin steering which would be correct for a racer of this vintage. The nose, which strongly resembles the type seen on Miller race cars, is not unusual . . . In summary, having restored six sprint cars ranging in vintage from 1933-1956, I would say the main parts of the car indicate it was a real racer’.

hibernation, the single-seater was restored with a McDowell DOHC engine and returned to competitive usage. Belonging to Jack Hansell of New Jersey thereafter, the sprint car was bought by Bill and Fred Sherk in conjunction with Pittsburgh dealer Jim Etter. The Sherks removed the McDowell DOHC powerplant for a Dreyer single-seater they were reviving and Etter sold the resultant rolling chassis to Joe Cagiono of New Jersey who fitted another heavily modified Ford engine and took the ‘Circus Burner’ racing again.

Purchased from Cagiono by Mike Holt who imported it to the UK on behalf of Ian Denny in 1989, the single-seater passed to F3 500cc authority Rodney Cummings eight years later and into Paul Hobb’s possession during 1999. Mr Hobbs obtained a stamped Vintage Sports Car Club Eligibility Form for the sprint car that July. Advertised for sale by dealer Paul Shipley in 2013, the ‘Circus Burner’ has not long emerged from a full mechanical and cosmetic restoration. As well as reworking the steel body and finishing it in period colours with hand painted detailing, renowned pre-WW2 Ford specialists Belcher Engineering Ltd of Norfolk went through the chassis, transmission, suspension and brakes not to mention building a special Ford Model A derived engine.

Fitted with a counterbalanced Ford Model B crankshaft and billet conrods, the potent ‘Four Banger’ also boasts: a vernier adjustable alloy cam gear, uprated oil pump, baffled sump, reprofiled sports / touring camshaft, lightened / balanced flywheel, aluminium front plate, right-angle distributor, Roof 101 Cyclone ‘inlet over exhaust’ cylinder head, full pressure lubrication, insert bearings and twin 40mm Venturi Pump carburettors. We are informed that the engine alone would cost £15,000 or more to replicate and there is surely something appealing about driving something with an exhaust pipe that is roughly the same width as its rear tyres!

Beautifully detailed with 12-volt electrics, electric cooling fan and Stewart Warner gauges, this glorious sprint car is potentially eligible for a host of VSCC and VHRA events (including the latter’s wonderful Pendine Sands meet). Offered for sale with large history file.

For more information, please contact:
Damian Jones
07855 493737


Auction: Imperial War Museum Duxford, 14th Oct, 2020

Imperial War Museum
CB22 4QR

About Imperial War Museum  Click here to view the E-Catalogue  


Tuesday 13th October 2020 from 10am to 8pm
Wednesday 14th October 2020 from 9am

12.5% (plus VAT @ 20%)

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