Exeter Civic Society

Exeter Civic Society

Weslake, Harry

Harry Weslake, 1897 – 1978, Motor engineer

The plaque is at Clyde House, 16 Prince’s Street South, St. Thomas, Exeter, EX2 9AW. It was unveiled by Mike Dalby of the Crash Box and Classic Car Club of Devon on 20 April 2016.

The inscription reads:

Exeter Civic Society, exetercivicsociety.org.uk. HARRY WESLAKE, 1897 – 1978, An inspired engineer whose revolutionary designs gave car, motorcycle and aero engines more power, lived here 1908 – 1919. Crash Box and Classic Car Club, Devon

The following appreciation of Harry Weslake was prepared by John Clark of the Crash Box and Classic Car Club, Devon. It has been slightly edited from an article that appeared in the club’s newsletter.

“Harry Weslake was born and educated in Exeter. He attended Exeter School, before joining the Exeter based company, Willey & Co, as an apprentice. His father, Henry John Weslake, was a director of the company, a firm of gas engineers.

Harry had a strong interest in motor bikes and motorsport and competed in many local events. Of course he wanted to improve the performance of his motor cycles and this is no doubt where the start of his interest in tuning began. His forte was gas flow through induction systems. His achievements in this field were legion and over the years his influence was very significant and wide-ranging covering motor cycles, motor cars and even military aircraft.

Early on he invented the WEX Carburetter which improved the performance of many a motor cycle. The name was a combination of Weslake and Exeter, before Harry moved production from Exeter to London. Later on, Harry had a keen interest in speedway racing and he had success at World Championship level where a number of machines used the Weslake engine.

When he turned his attention to motor car engines the impact was also far-reaching. His expertise contributed to the success of Bentley cars at Le Mans and later the success of Jaguar cars at the same venue. He contributed to the success of the British company, Vanwall, whose cars won the British Grand Prix with Stirling Moss driving.

Harry Weslake tastes one of 100 bottles of champagne won by Dan Gurney for clocking the quickest lap in the Race of the Champions in 1967

Later still he was involved with the Gurney Weslake Formula One engine which had Gurney Weslake emblazoned on the rocker covers. These engines powered the cars of the Anglo-American racing team, a Dan Gurney project.

Harry was involved with a range of well-known car manufacturers frequently with a view to improving the performance of their cars in competition but very often his expertise also benefited the performance of their production cars. Many makes including MG, Austin Healey and even Daimler benefited in this way.

Harry’s achievements are far too numerous to list here but his biography, Lucky All My Life, by Jeff Clew does a very good job in this respect.

It seems appropriate that the achievements of such an important and influential ‘Exeter’ man should be acknowledged. Mike Dalby, of the Crash Box and Classic Car Club, contacted Exeter Civic Society and due to his efforts a blue plaque was erected on the early home of Harry Weslake at Clyde House, Prince’s Street South, Exeter. The plaque acknowledges of the involvement of CBCCC in the project.”

There is a great deal of information, biographical and technical, about Harry Weslake on the internet, including an entry about him on the Exeter Memories website. His biography, Lucky All My Life, by Jeff Clew, was published by Haynes Publishing Group in 1979.