Jean Denton / Tom Boyce
London to Sydney Marathon MGB
I first met Jean Denton when she came to my dental practice in 1964. Jean was a delightful person, highly intelligent with a steely Yorkshire determination, and an excellent patient, and we became firm friends.
I was soon introduced to her husband Tony Denton and to their Canadian friend and brilliant engineer Tom Boyce, who were both at Imperial College.
All of us were keen motoring enthusiasts and both Tom and I owned Twin-Cam MGAs. Mine (XGK 374) had previously been owned by Paul Jameson, another remarkable engineer who was at the helm of the machine tool business started by his father JL Jameson. Paul may perhaps be best remembered for making from scratch several extraordinary cars using different versions of the naturally aspirated and supercharged 27 litre Rolls-Royce engines (Meteor and Merlin).
Sadly Paul died aged 57 in 1989. A Spitfire flew over the church at his funeral and dipped its wings in tribute.
My Twin-Cam was the car I have most enjoyed driving out of all the cars I have owned, despite its flaws. It was very well
balanced, sure-footed and possessed vivid performance for its time. With the option of two differentials and a close ratio gearbox it was a highly satisfying road car, and great fun on hill climbs. I have happy memories of competing at Firle, Harewood, Loton Park, Wiscombe and elsewhere, and less happy memories of changing the 4.1 diff for road use for the 4.875 one on the hills in the paddock (and occasionally changing back again before driving home). With the 4.1 it would pull 80 plus in second gear and a good 120 or so in top.
It was essential to run on soft sparking plugs in town, hard ones on the open road, necessitating tedious and regular plug
One day heading out of town for SE Kent on a beastly wet night I failed to change plugs at the garage on the Sidcup by-pass. Fifty-odd miles later after some exhilarating motoring (roads were clearer in those far off days!) it ran on three cylinders only. Hope that this was only a minor problem was dashed when we took the head off to reveal a piston with a large hole in the middle!
Tom Boyce had bought his Twin-Cam new in Canada, one of the great majority which were exported (of the 2,111 made, only 360 stayed in Britain) and he raced it there before coming to London. He then applied his engineering skills to sorting out the basic problems, particularly with its very heavy oil consumption, and subsequently developing it into a fabulous car.
There is an excellent article by Michael Bowler in the February 1974 edition of Classic Car which gives a full description of all that Tom had done to it at that time. Tom owned the car until sold at auction shortly before his death in 2015, although sadly ill health had prevented him from driving it for some years.
Tony Denton had graduated from Cambridge in 1958 with a degree in Mechanical Science and after a brief spell with British Oxygen he was awarded his doctorate at Imperial College, and appointed a Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering. In 1963 he met Captain David Noble, master mariner and marine consultant who needed help with assessing strength and stability problems of ocean-going barges, rigs and cranes. Tony’s technical brilliance coupled with Noble’s marine knowledge led to a rapid expansion of the business which grew into a global enterprise over the next quarter century. Appointed CBE in 1997, he died sadly young in 2001 at age 63.
Jean Moss graduated with a degree in Economics from LSE and married Tony Denton in 1958, both of them from Wakefield, Yorkshire. Jean didn’t learn to drive until she was 26, but rapidly became involved in her husband’s passion for cars and motor racing. They raced Mini-Coopers, Triumphs and Morgans, and latterly the ex Jackie Stewart Formula 3 Cooper.
Tony’s business commitments left him little time for such activities, but Jean continued apace for several years in the late 1960s and early 1970s racing and rallying. The London to Sydney Marathon MGB was bought by Tony, and prepared for the rally by Tom Boyce with support from the BMC Competitions Dept. Jean and Tom completed the rally, finishing 42nd in a gruelling event, the only sports car to finish the event. It speaks volumes for the innate strength and rugged reliability of the MGB, not to mention the skill and stamina of driver and navigator.
Jean continued rallying and racing for a further year or two before taking up a post with Heron Group, then Austin-Rover, and finally became Under Secretary of State at the Northern Ireland Office. Awarded a CBE in 1990 and created a Life Peer in 1991, she too died in 2001.
It is great news that UMD 534F has been discovered and is undergoing restoration. When it is completed I shall hope to visit it in my own 1967 MGB Roadster, which following a recent major rebuild is once again running very happily and is more than capable of holding its own in modern traffic.