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It is with great regret that we have to advise Members that Noel Cunningham-Reid passed away on 26 September at the age of 86. Although his racing career really only spanned the years 1955 to 1957, in that time Noel established a formidable reputation as a sports car driver. His day of days came in the 1957 Nurburgring 1000 Ks when he was the ‘middle stint’ co-driver for the great Tony Brooks when they gave the Aston Martin DBR1/300 its first victory in a round of the World Sports Car Championship. In a car which he had not had a chance to drive during practice, and on a circuit where he had not previously competed, Noel seriously impressed Tony with his smooth and polished performance which played no small part in the success.

Noel started competing in 1954 in a newly-acquired Aston Martin DB2/4, with which came free membership of the Aston Martin Owners’ Club. He entered an AMOC regularity trial at Snetterton, his local circuit, which whetted his appetite. In nearby Cambridge Brian Lister had just started producing a limited number of Lister-Bristols similar to the car built for Archie Scott-Brown, and Noel bought one for the 1955 season. Together with Lotus drivers Tom Barnard and Dmitri Kasterine, Noel formed the Six Mile Stable, named after the village of Six Mile Bottom where Noel lived. The cars were painted a distinctive black with a broad white stripe and enjoyed considerable success. By the end of the year, Noel had won races at Brands Hatch, Silverstone and Oulton Park, attracting the attention of George Abecassis of HWM for whom Noel drove in an international sports car race at Castle Combe, finishing third behind George’s HWM-Jaguar and Louis Rosier’s Ferrari 750 Monza and ahead of up and coming American driver Herbert Mackay-Fraser.

A deal was struck for Noel to drive full time with HWM in 1956 which brought an end of season win at Snetterton and a couple of fourth places in international races at Aintree and Goodwood. The Lister-Bristol was retained, giving Noel his only other race victory of the year at Brands Hatch whilst he also had the opportunity to drive for Tommy Sopwith’s Equipe Endeavour in a Manx-tailed Cooper-Climax T39 at Goodwood. A former Aston Martin driver himself, George Abecassis encouraged team manager Reg Parnell to give Noel a test which was impressive so that Noel became a contracted Aston Martin driver for the 1957 season.

Noel’s first outing with the team was the BRDC British Empire Trophy at Oulton Park with the obsolescent DB3S where he finished third in the heat for cars over 2000 cc behind Archie Scott-Brown’s new Lister-Jaguar and Roy Salvadori in the DBR1/300. Next came the Nurburgring as already mentioned but there were few further opportunities. In his first and only Le Mans 24 Hours, Noel was again sharing a DBR1/300 with Tony Brooks which, most untypically, Tony put into a sandbank at Tertre Rouge while grappling with a recalcitrant gearbox when running second shortly before half distance. The weekend before Le Mans, Noel had his one single-seater race, driving an Equipe Endeavour Formula 2 Cooper-Climax T43 in the Prix de Paris at Montlhery but failed to finish.

There were few further opportunities to drive for Aston Martin. With the larger-engined DBR2, Noel crashed in practice for the Spa Sports Car Grand Prix and non-started while his last race for the team was a few weeks later at the Daily Express International Trophy, postponed to September because of the Suez crisis and consequent petrol-rationing. Noel finished third in the DBR2 to the sister car of Roy Salvadori and Archie Scott-Brown’s Lister-Jaguar. His last race was the same day in the saloon car event at the wheel of a little two stroke DKW Sonderklasse with which he won his class.

Elected to Full Membership of the BRDC in 1956, and later to become a Life Member, Noel retained his interest in high performance cars but never raced again. He farmed, worked in the motor trade, the property business and in the film industry as writer, director and producer of documentaries. For many years he owned and ran what The Field magazine described as the ‘fabulous Six Mile Bottom partridge shoot, presenting stunning birds with a flair matched only by his gun-handling’. The magazine placed Noel 17th in its listing of the Top Shots of all time.

To his wife Dewny and family the BRDC extends its deepest condolences. Noel’s funeral, to which all are welcome, will be on Monday 9th October at St John’s Church, Little Wilbraham CB21 5LE at 11.30am.

The Club regrets to report on the death of Neville Hay, who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1993
The Club regrets to report on the death of Alan Minshaw, who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1984
The Club regrets to report on the death of Ray Thackwell who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1957
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