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A Talent Cut Short

The Racing Life of an RAF Legend

The second half of the 1930s at Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb was remarkable for the dominant combination of Raymond Mays and his E.R.A.s. At the nine meetings between 1935 & 39, Mays achieved FTD eight times and broke the hill record four times: his first record in this period was 39.6 secs on 18th May 1935 and he left it at 37.37 secs on 3rd June 1939.

But, dear readers, you will notice that one meeting was won by someone else – that was by the dazzling A.F.P. Fane in the works single-seater Frazer Nash on 11th September 1937. His best climb of 38.77 beat May’s record of the time by 0.32 of a second, but Mays was not there to defend his position.

AFP Fane Agabeg Frazer NashA.F.P. Fane breaking the hill record on 11th September 1937 in Frazer Nash single-seater [Photo: The Motor]

So, who was this new star performer: those who attended the VSCC meeting on 1st July would have seen some of his cars but what of the man? Firstly, Fane was not his birth surname which was actually Agabeg, his father being a mining engineer in India. Born on the palindromic date of 11.11.11, young Alfred Fane Peers Agabeg was brought to England in 1924 by his mother for an education at Harrow. Clare College, Cambridge was to follow but it appears that sporting activities were of somewhat more interest than studying.

By 1931, the sports car bug had bitten and an 1100 cc supercharged Salmson acquired and used for a Brooklands race meeting where he finished 2nd in his first event. Significantly for his future, in the paddock, he met H.J. Aldington of the Frazer Nash company; his advice to the young driver was such that he won his second race. His mother recommended at this time that he change his surname to Fane, and, disliking his christian name of Alfred, he responded to either Fane Fane or just simply, Fane.

Leaving Cambridge, he decided to go into the motor trade and ordered a Frazer Nash from AFN Ltd, designed a special two-seater body for it and promptly entered the 1500 cc supporting race for the German Grand Prix! (This car was thus known as a ‘Nurburg’ and is still competing today in the hands of Dick Smith). Fane had already obtained membership of the BRDC owing to his Salmson successes and ‘Aldy’s’ support, so he could enter such international events.

In 1932, Fane was to enter Shelsley for the first time, bringing the Nurburg, and won the 1100-1500 cc Sports Car class by 5.6 secs, as well as the International Calendar Cup.

Married in 1932, the Fanes were to move to Hedsor Priory, near Marlow, in 1935 and the pair were a regular presence in the Brooklands paddock as well as the social scene in London – Fane’s growing capability as a driver together with the couple’s charm & elegance made them popular with the motoring press. Fane was notable for his immaculate appearance, even with matching maroon crash hat & car when racing. In that year, Fane became a shareholder in AFN Ltd and joined them full time, as well as effectively being the works’ driver.

In 1935, Fane took delivery of an appropriately-named Frazer Nash Shelsley model, complete with FN’s own twin-supercharged 1500 ohc engine, which he used on the hill several times in 1935 & 6. This car was seen again at Shelsley at the July 1st meeting this summer, but he also used other models as seen below.

AFP Fane Agabeg Ess Shelsley

Fane at Bottom Ess, 12.9.36. Frazer Nash 1936 TT replica, EMK 822. [Photo: MAC Archive]

Further support from ‘Aldy’ saw him also landing a seat with the BMW factory sports car team in 1936 (AFN were then sole UK agents for BMW) which saw him finish 3rd in that year’s RAC TT with a BMW 328, to take the 2-litre class win. He followed this with similar class wins at the Nurburgring in 1937, the 1938 Mille Miglia and the Grossglockner hillclimb, setting a new sports car record at his first attempt. In parallel with this International success, he was competing regularly at Shelsley, always in Frazer Nashes or BMWs.

AFP Fane Agabeg Kay Petre

Fane & Kay Petre at the Shelsley September 1937 meeting [MAC Archive]

Fane was already in the RAF Volunteer Reserve at the outbreak of war, as he had a pilot’s licence, but was considered too old to be a fighter pilot at the age of 28! So, Pilot Officer Fane was first given an admin job but then moved to Intelligence, interpreting reconnaissance photographs. Agitating for a more active role, after teaching other recruits to fly, he finally secured a posting to the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit (PRU) at Benson in 1941. At last, he was able to fly Spitfires, albeit the un-armed PRU versions; soon he was posted to Wick where the PRU was given the urgent task of finding the elusive enemy battleships. On one of his flights over Norway, he successfully found the Tirpitz in Trondheim, did three photo runs and headed home, only just making it back with near-empty tanks. Needless to say, this discovery very much increased his value within the RAF.

Further Norway missions followed but the whole Flight was then transferred back to Benson to conduct post-bombing photo sweeps over Germany. On the 18th July 1942, Fane had to abort his mission to Flensburg owing to bad weather and sadly crashed fatally at Great Shelford, south of Cambridge. So ended the short life of a remarkable racing driver who would surely have gone on to even greater racing achievements.

His widow, Evelyn, had his ashes scattered in the grounds of Hedsor Priory and commissioned a stone memorial seat there which, very fittingly, was later moved to Shelsley in 1992 where we can view it today as a lasting reminder of an outstanding talent.

David J Moore 2018-12-07
MAC Archivist

We thank David Moore and the Midland Automobile Club for permission to reproduce this article.

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SY 2022-03-03

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