'Ecurie Wild Goose'
Chassis number AN5 27277
Back in May 2009, John Poulter attended a gathering at the home of John Tizard who is restoring his Sebring Coupe 2214 UE. He was accompanied by Howard Steele, its owner in the early 60's, and Chris Cooke who owned it immediately afterwards. John had been a teenage mechanic for that car when it ran under the Ecurie Wild Goose banner of Don Balm's Wild Goose Garage of Dursley, Gloucestershire back in those early days, and he had been searching for the car for 10 years.
Another car which John is still hoping to find is Don Balm's own Sprite, YDF 140 which is the subject of this page. He says it was a "Sebring equivalent " except that the hardtop was fibreglass and there were no alloy panels. Second photo down on the right is "YDF in the Wild Goose Garage race shop in its circuit spec, probably in 1963 - no roll bars then! Engine was 995cc, flat top pistons, full FJ crank and 8 bolt flywheel. The upper photo was earlier, just after the car had been converted from its original light blue Frogeye spec. It was now French Blue and was used for road rallies fitted with a Halda Speedpilot, and John Poulter recalls you could hear it coming for miles in the quiet of the night!"
When Don owned Wild Goose Garage it had various franchises from the 60’s onwards – BMC – "I remember new Cooper S’s in the showroom and he had the first 1071S in Gloucestershire back in 1963, reg: 789 DG which was also raced and was driven as his road car. Other franchises followed, Lotus then Lancia. Things went wrong financially and Don died I believe of a brain tumour. After the Sebrings, Howard and Don ran Marcos cars – Howard with one of the very first Marcos Volvo 1800 cars in 1964 and Don with the earlier version into which we fitted an 1100cc Formula Junior ex works Cosworth Mk11 engine. Revved to 9000 and threw the flywheel off one day which thankfully went out through the passenger footwell (punching a hole through the plywood in the process)"
"Apart from a steel rear end the car had most of the Sebring modifications and was originally converted to go road rallying with Vic Turner as the navigator. Don Balm offered the car for sale in 1964 (see Autosport advert) and it was eventually sold to Dick Stratton who lived near Stroud in Gloucestershire and he continued to race it for a short while. In Don's ownership the race cars were always meticulously prepared before every race but when the car came into the ownership of Dick Stratton things were a little different. Dick was a privateer with a day job who wanted to have a go at racing and what better than a Sprite? For some reason at Castle Combe, I think the oil pressure took a dive, or there was a slight knocking in practice – either way Dick was disappointed and it was considered worth a try to replace the shells if some could be located. I have in the back of my mind that there was a frantic trip to a Motor factor in Chippenham! I, with a few tools, dropped the sump with the car on a trailer and fitted a new set of shells having to borrow a torque wrench from another competitor. I recall that a can of Valvoline Racing 40 oil was purchased and off Dick went to the race. I don’t think the shells lasted which is how the engine eventually came to me to look at. Maybe the FJ crank was damaged and Dick couldn’t afford the cost of a rebuild. As a result I fitted an ordinary 'A' series 948 and twin SU's and Dick sold the car on. I recall seeing it parked at a house on the road going from Tetbury to Cirencester in the early 70’s and went back there a couple of years ago but nobody knew anything"
It cannot have been long after the introduction of the Sprite that Don Balm, owner of the Wild Goose Garage in Dursley, Gloucestershire and a BMC dealer, became involved in the preparation of a number of customers' Sprites taking part in rallies and speed events. The original garage had been partially demolished in 1959 and the petrol pumps moved back some 15 feet, with a raised area formed for display of used cars for sale.
One of those early customers and a member of the Ecurie Wild Goose team was Paul Etheridge whose son Richard has kindly sent in his father's recollections:
"The original Ecurie Wild Goose team consisted of Don Balm (blue Sprite), Peter Ratcliffe (white Sprite) and myself (red Sprite). Photo attached of me driving at Prescott. Our mechanic at that time was Tony Kilburn - who was also part time Track Manager at Castle Combe, which gave us the opportunity for some practice. Tony also drove a very smart Lotus 7 (see photo, bottom right), followed by a Lotus 23. Somewhere I have some photographs of the three of us in the Paddock at Silverstone prior to one of our races. I only raced at Silverstone and Mallory Park.
At that time Howard Steele was quite young and worked for Don as a mechanic at Dursley Garage. Howard had some success driving the Sprite YDF140 and then his own Sebring 2214UE before moving on to the Marcos 1800 produced by Jem Marsh.
I competed twice at the Trengwainton Hill Climb in Cornwall but I think Peter did rather more. We competed in the Lands End Trial for the first part of the Bank Holiday weekend, ending up in Penzance and then competed in the Hill Climb on the Monday. Held bi-annually, each Easter Monday and August Bank Holiday, from 1946 until 1974, the Trengwainton Speed Hill Climb (grid reference SW443311) was an event organised by the West Cornwall Motor Club. The aim of the climb was for a car, motorbike, or a motorbike and sidecar to ascend the twisting course, from a standing start, as quickly as possible. Fastest times recorded include 21.79 seconds by Ron Opie of Stithians on an Ariel 500 and 22.34 seconds by W.C.Cuff in a Cooper-Daimler. The event regularly attracted 2,000 spectators".
Paul's navigators were Vic Turner (now living in the Far East) and Lou Clark. Paul left the team when he took a new job in Liverpool and moved away.
Howard Steele is still running the renamed Dursley Garage to this day (2013).
The car after its re-paint in French Blue
YDF in the workshop c.1963 with (l to r) Tony Kilburn, Don Balm, Gerald Ball and, peering over the bonnet, Howard Steel
Don Balm achieving a 1st in class at Silverstone
Don competing at Tregwainton in Cornwall, probably at Easter 1962. YDF also ran at Dyrham Park. [photo by Alan Twitchett, courtesy of Bob Kemp]
Autosport Advert from 1964
Wild Goose Garage during its partial ndemolition c.1959 - notice the Sprite on the extreme right.
and in 1968 (photos courtesy of www.dursleyglos.org.uk)
Paul Etheridge, in his '58 Frogeye, receiving an award after a time trial at South Cerney
and on another event
Paul (right) and his navigator after taking part in a London Rally in his later (1960) Sprite
Paul again, here taking part in a hill climb at Prescott
Tony Kilburn in his Lotus 7 (perhaps in the same French Blue used on YDF 140?)