History of FGR Motor Sport by Roy Phelps

The roots of FGR motorsports can be trace back to1956

1956 – 2011

 I was 12 at the time when it all began, only 12 years on from the end of the second World War.we were a family of 3 and had just returned from an abortive emigration to Rhodesia now known as Zimbabwe

Petrol was 8p per gallon
Times were hard with all the turmoil of the times (much the same as today),and  were looking for fresh ideas and new ventures, and products made of Fibre Glass were something new and exciting.    

Having had problems with a sinking boat due to rust and wood rot, the founders of FGR decided to visit the boat works of Vosper Thornycroft, the boat builders on the Isle of Wight, the “taste“ for Fibre Glass was experienced and the story began.

From Rags to Riches
The competitive roots of FGR motorsports can be trace back to1956 when in Catford, South London; the Phelps’s were experimenting with glass reinforced plastics (GRP) better known today as Fibre Glass.

At the time the Phelps’s clothing company were still making army uniforms in the aftermath of the second World War. But a space was cleared in the factory to allow all the original experimental and development work in Fibreglass to take place in the maintenance workshop.

Composites a new word
The years following the war saw many new ideas and initiatives, with new materials and processes that were developed during that time. The word “composites” was a totally new word then, but now it has become a familiar buzz word in today’s manufacturing world.

Energy saving, durability, and light weight properties were as important then as they are today. Now we have moved on to Carbon Fibre and Kevlar all giving the outstanding benefits to their own specialised applications.

Bob Phelps, Bill Norton, Eileen Cattley and myself were four main people involved at the conception of FGR or as it was known then Fibre Glass Repairs. FGR truly saw the light of day with the demise of the clothing factory in Catford,  which was dissolved in the mid 60’s, then the Phelp's family  business moved to Martins Road, Shortlands, Bromley, Kent. A mega Halfords store now stands on the original Catford site!.

Taking a step back to the beginning, the reason the family had visited the ship yard on the Isle of Wight was with the desire to repair boats. At the time the older brothers of the Phelps family owned 2 boats moored at the Isle of Wight; one had rusted away and sunk, the other one was suffering from severe wood rot. In searching for a way to replace the parts on the damaged boat, Fibreglass was suggested as a remedy.

Fibreglass at War
The product had been used successfully during the Second World War as a replacement for the moulded plywood sections used in aircraft, and was developed here in the UK. It was derived from Bakelite and what was known as Perspex, and was later reinforced with strands of glass, thus it became Glass Reinforced Plastic.

Bill Norton and Bob Phelps experimented with the materials, and I still remember the first small piece being cured in the gas oven in the canteen of the clothing factory. This was one of the first parts we ever made in fibre glass. It was crafted in the shape of the bow section of our boat as we had planned to use it to cover the wooden boat hull before it sunk! At that time this was “ground breaking” technology.


Hated by traditional boat builders
As time progressed a 16 ft  mould was produced and a
complete boat was created in fibreglass,  we also made
one of the very first dingy’s in fibreglass.

This was given the sweet name of ‘Vanessa’ taken from
our first customer’s daughter, needless to say in those
days GRP was a material hated by traditional boat builders,
as they saw it as a threat to their livelihood. This is why
we did not continue with boats -  what a mistake !


1960 and Go-Kart Racing
In the good old tradition of the Phelps family business, Go-Karting came on the scene. Like with all new relationships it started with a look, in this case it was a day out at Camberley Go-Kart track, and as normal the words that were used were ‘that looks like fun!’, the seed was sown. As a group, which included John Bennett, another co-founder of Santa Pod, we developed the idea and finally we built a team of 5 karts that ran in the top Class 4 category. As normal we developed and built our own karts and raced successfully for many seasons

Our karts unique point was they were fitted with 4 wheel hydraulic brakes, in those days unheard of! It was a successful period for us, but time went on and Karting faded into the background

We then moved to Bromley in Kent 1966
We were making and repairing a variety of other strange things for customers out of Fibreglass. Compressors covers, repairing sherry vats, we made a car wash canopy. We also repaired scooter and motorcycle fairings for Pride & Clarke, at that time one of the biggest motorcycle dealers in the country.  We also experimented making water polo goal posts and exhibition modules the list just goes on. All types of automotive body repair was undertaken, nothing was to large or to small

Whilst all this was going on, the motor industry was developing fast, with what seemed at the time a constant flow of new and innovative small cars built with bodies made of GRP Fibre Glass, one of which was the Reliant Regal. These were 3 wheeled cars which became immensely popular as they could be driven with a motorcycle license and only had a total weight of 8cwt. The Reliant 325 Van ultimately played a big part in FGR’s  history and of course the TV program Fools and Horses with ’Del Boy’

Conversions of old cars
FGR’s business primarily started with repairing sports car bodies that  could be fitted onto old Ford chassis like a Model A, from the 50’s or such like. There was also the development of a Dune Buggy on the VW chassis or floor pan, every day there seemed to be another new car or conversion on the market.

FGR first entered into the world of motorsport, developing lightweight fibreglass replacement bonnets for Jaguar E types, since that time many fibreglass bodied cars i.e. Corvettes, Studebaker Avanti, Jenson, Simitars had all found their way through the FGR workshops in Martins Road, Bromley, Kent for repairs or modifications.

Motorsport was developing in all directions and FGR became well known for its diversity and flexibility in products, and the array of unusual projects that it was prepared to undertake for customers and their vehicles.

1975 Drag Racing and FGR
Then along came Drag Racing to add to the many various motor sports FGR was involved with. We had, at that time, a family collective motor repair business called Spa Engineering who were based at Crystal Palace next door to the football ground at Selhurst Park.

We were both heavily into repairing 3 wheelers, the Reliant, Hinkle, Messasmit, and the Isetta bubble cars, as well as varios types of sports cars, Daimlers, Lotus, Jensons lola, GT 40, GMs Corvettes, AC Cobras and the famous Austin Healey, you name them we have repaired them.

A Day out at Silverstone
We found out at this time  the American Moon Eyes Drag Racing Team were on tour in England and one of the places they were to visit for a press day was Silverstone, so FGR and Spa Engineering went along, and from that point on the rest is history and a start of a revolution in the world of RAC,& ACU Sprinting and Drag Racing which started here in England.

Three wheeler cars paid for it all
Over the next few years a combined effort to develop Santa Pod then known as National Dragways took place, and the good old three wheeler cars paid for it all !!.

A Meeting of Vision
Between FGR and Spa Engineering the monies for the first stages of building the dragstrip and the equipment only came from repairing Reliants, and Isetta’s etc, an amazing situation.

FGR as always was into building and developing new cars and the first new project was building 'The Commuter' dragster, which was some 18” longer than the Moon-Eyes car (note the size of the rear wheels!).

Around the late 60s
These were wild times then and everything had to be made by hand or from what was around, hence many parts that were used in the cars we built came from the Reliant three wheelers. These car parts are still in use today, an example of which, are the Wheelie Stingray and Wheelie Truck now originally over 40 years old!

FGR continued to concentrate on building the famous Santa Pod Raceway and “casting the mould” that European Drag Racing is today. As a tribute to this, the Drag Racing Hall of Fame awarded the Phelps family an accolade in recognition to their work and vision.

 

To be continued