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It is with great regret that we have to inform Members of the death of Peter Browning who passed away last Sunday 14 March. He was 84 years of age and had been ill for some time. Renowned for his organisation skills in motor sport Peter was competitions manager of BMC/British Leyland and subsequently executive director of the British Racing & Sports Car Club.

Peter’s life-long interest in motor sport was instilled by his father Bill, who raced MGs and Amilcars at Brooklands between the two World Wars, was a founder member and vice-president of the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain, and the BRDC’s senior scrutineer. He became an Associate (General) Member of the Club in 1954. Browning Senior’s work included restoring church organs and the young Peter became an accomplished organist and tuner.

In 1955 Peter joined the Harrow Car Club, where he met many of the racing and rallying personalities who became friends and with whom he would deal throughout his career. He became the Club’s Competitions Secretary, serving on the race organising committee for the annual Eight Clubs race meeting at Silverstone. In 1956 he became the youngest person to qualify as a Grade 1 international timekeeper which led to invitations from a number of British Formula 1 teams to provide timekeeping services in the days when everything was done by stopwatch and paper lap charts. He was invited by Stuart Turner and Geoff Healey to work with the MG and Healey teams at a number of long distance races including the Le Mans 24 Hours, Sebring 12 Hours and the Targa Florio.

In 1961 Peter was asked by John Thornley, the General Manager of MG, to set up the Austin-Healey Club alongside the MG Car Club which had been established at the MG factory in Abingdon. He was soon co-opted to become deputy editor of BMC’s sports car magazine Safety Fast. The BMC works team was on the same site and he began his association with them attending rallies as Competitions Press Officer.

By 1966 Peter had a wider influence in the team and was instrumental in the excellent result obtained by an MGB driven by Andrew Hedges and Julien Vernaeve in winning the 84 Hours Marathon de la Route at the Nürburgring. At the end of that year John Thornley told Peter that Stuart Turner was leaving and that he wanted him to take over as BMC Competitions Manager. He accompanied Stuart on the 1967 Monte Carlo Rally to gain first-hand knowledge of the complexities of this event. Despite complicated service arrangements and tyre developments, the team’s Mini-Cooper S won the Monte for the third time.

Peter purchased one of the Austin-Healey 3000 rally cars, and re-registered it with his personal registration number PWB 57. In 1967 with the opportunity to enter a prototype in the RAC Rally, the car was re-purchased by the works and prepared as an entry in that event. Sadly, the Rally was cancelled because of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. Many rally people consider the specification of this car as the best Healey 3000 ever prepared at Abingdon.

In 1968 Peter was invited to become an Associate Member of the BRDC.

Leyland took over BMC in 1968 and the Competitions Department came under stricter financial control being forced to reduce its programme of events. Nevertheless, Peter obtained agreement from the BL Competitions Committee to enter both the 1968 London to Sydney Marathon and the 1970 London to Mexico World Cup Rally. Second places were obtained in both events – with an Austin 1800 Mk 2 driven by Paddy Hopkirk, Alec Poole and Tony Nash in the former and with a Triumph 2.5 PI Mk 2 driven by Brian Culcheth and Johnstone Syer in the latter. But it was not enough to impress Lord Stokes, managing director of British Leyland, who had little if any interest in motor sport and who closed the British Leyland Competitions Department at the end of 1970.

Peter was not idle for long. He worked behind the scenes on a number of rally projects and wrote a regular column for the sports pages of Autocar. He also completed the first of a series of well-regarded books: Healeys & Austin Healeys. That was to be followed by The Works Minis in 1971, Works Big Healeys in 1995 and Works MGs in 2000.

Rallying was put aside when, at the end of 1971, he was appointed Executive Director of the British Racing & Sports Car Club but it was not forgotten. Peter had an ambition to bring the idea of the Tour de France Automobile – an event combining races and rally stages - to the UK and in 1973 the BRSCC organised the first Tour of Britain. A year earlier Peter played a major role in establishing the Formula Ford Festival initially at Snetterton before its transfer to Brands Hatch in 1976.

Through the 1980s Peter was involved in sports promotions with a number of organisations and in 1998, Sportscene, the business he ran with his wife Sharon, organised a classic car rally with a route that included many of roads used in the Coupe des Alpes, one of the toughest events of the 1950s and 1960s. He brought in a number of ex-BMC team drivers and co-drivers as an on-event marshals’ team. A light-hearted event, not seriously competitive, the Prix des Alpes continued successfully for 10 years.

Peter’s 1973 marriage to Liz ended in divorce and his second wife Sharon died after a long illness last year. He is survived by Nichola and Oliver, the children of his first marriage to whom the BRDC offers its deepest condolences.

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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