Remembering ‘Rivers Fletcher ’

David E. Langford pays tribute to another inspiring motor sport hero

AF Rivers-Fletcher died in 1999. During that year the October issue of Motor Sport magazine printed the following obituary: 'The world of motor sport has lost one of its most charismatic and enduring stars with the death of Alec Francis Rivers-Fletcher, one of the last links to the Bentley Boys of the 1920s. Known to motoring enthusiasts throughout the world simply as 'Rivers', and a Brooklands habitué from his early teens, his big chance came in 1928 when Malcolm Campbell needed a riding 'mechanic' small enough to fit into his monoposto Delage Grand Prix car.

Rivers Fletcher driving the MGA twin cam (PRX24) at Prescott Hill-Climb course
near Cheltenham - Watercolour by Dave E Langford

The 16-year-old Rivers got a seat more on account of his size and bravery than any mechanical ability and the pair were first to take the chequered flag. (Rivers drove the same car 44 years later at Prescott, with Leo Villa, Campbell's famous mechanic on hand to assist). Signing autographs after the 1928 race decided the boy's career among cars and racing stars and Rivers became apprenticed at Bentley Motors under the tutelage of WO Bentley himself'.

Rivers-Fletcher with Val Christensen

I first met Rivers-Fletcher in 1990 after completing a commissioned painting of him driving the MGA twin cam (PRX 14) at the Prescott hill climb course, near Cheltenham.

The painting reproduced here was commissioned by Val Christensen, a local enthusiast who had purchased the car from Rivers-Fletcher some time before this date.

When I delivered the picture, Val drove me in the very same car to Rivers' house in north Oxfordshire, where he signed the painting and later gave it a good write-up in his regular column with the magazine MG Enthusiast.

We went for a drive and spent the rest of the day looking around his workshop, which housed a beautiful Alvis Speed 20 of 1934 vintage. Rivers-Fletcher had written a number of books relating to motors and motorsport and I purchased two of them: 'My Thirty Favourite Cars' and 'My Favourite MGs' which he signed.

His finest racing exploits started in 1950 when he purchased a Type 35 Bugatti Grand Prix model with the eight-cylinder two-litre engine. He had three years racing this car, which included wins at Silverstone and some success at Shelsley Walsh and Prescott Hill- Climb events. Both car and driver are immortalised on the 'Bugatti Inn' sign at Gretton, close to the Prescott venue.

PRX 14 on show at the 50th
anniversary of the MGA Register

In action

His determination to succeed at hill-climb racing saw him purchase the highly competitive Cooper JAP in 1954, his 'Mark V' gave him 15 'fastest times of day' and eight course records. Rivers had to admit that his technical work with the BRM Grand Prix team in the 1940s took priority when GP races often clashed with hill-climb events.

Working with BRM however, gave him the chance to drive their GP cars on occasion, and in 1986 at Shelsley Walsh near Worcster he drove the incredible V16 BRM.

This unique car, years ahead of its time, produced so much power that it really was not suited for the tight, narrow road course and using this power meant that for most of the time the car was wheelspinning at over 100mph. 'Rivers' was a mere 74-years-of-age at the time.

One of my last visits to Prescott Hill was in a 1977 Scimitar GTE, a three-litre V6, which I was lucky enough to drive at Wiscombe Park hill-climb in south Devon, where the Scimitar Drivers Club shared an annual event with the Aston Martin Owners Club.

Included in the Aston Martin line-up was their more-than-accomplished driver and Oxford graduate, Rowan Atkinson. Back at the Prescott meeting it was stunning to see Rivers-Fletcher driving a replica 'D Type' Jaguar at an unbelievable pace for a gentleman in his late 70s! Val Christensen was also there racing the MGA, which he still owns to this day.

All over the country, Rivers continued to give many film and lecture tours of his long life in motor racing and, around 1997, along with some friends, we were able to attend what was to be one of his last evening talks, held at the Trout Inn at Godstow. A truly memorable occasion.

• My Thirty Favourite Cars by Rivers-Fletcher, ISBN 0906428026
• My Favourite MGs by Rivers-Fletcher. Published by Abingdon Classics - a division of M.G. Enthusiast Ltd, P0. Box 11, Dewsbury West Yorkshire. WF12 7UZ
• For details of D. E. Lang ford's work call: 01865 434359
Oxfordshire Limited Edition 2006