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The High Performance Course (“HPC”) was started as an experiment in 1962 by two very forward thinking people, Tommy Wisdom and Denise McCann. Tommy Wisdom was well known as a race and rally driver and was also very active in the field of motoring journalism. He competed with success in several Grands Prix as well as in the Le Mans 24 Hours race. He competed in the Monte Carlo Rally no fewer than twenty-three times. He also won the Grand Turismo Class of the Mille Miglia three times. On top of all that he was involved with Captain George Eyston and John Cobb in successful World record breaking attempts and wrote a number of books on road driving. Wisdom was a man with a very broad base of knowledge and experience in motoring and was one of the rare breed who could clearly distinguish between that which was suitable for the track and that which was for the road. His was an enviable motoring biography by anyone's standards.

Denise McCann, the then Chairman and General Manager of the British School of Motoring, was also influential in the creation of the Institute of Advanced Motorists. Wisdom and McCann realised there were an increasing number of high performance vehicles being manufactured but no courses for the general public to learn how to use them safely on the roads. The then Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Lord Chesham, said at the inauguration of HPC that, "High performance cars… are about the safest on the roads, as long as they are properly driven". This is as true today as it was then.

The idea was to coach drivers in how they could handle powerful cars with complete safety on the roads. That also meant high performance thinking and behaviour. It was also that the ideal HPC driver should be able to cover the miles at a higher average speed than the general motorist, yet remain totally safe and unobtrusive while doing so.

In the beginning

The first Course Manager was a man of excellent pedigree in road driving and was ideally suited to the job. John Miles was an ex-Hendon Advanced Wing Police Driving Instructor who, during his time at Hendon, also trained some of the remarkable Flying Squad drivers. A man with a great affinity with motor cars he was also well known as a competitor in a number of police and international car rallies in the sixties. John Miles was also famous for his BBC2 TV series "Master Driver" with its accompanying book. His book "Expert Driving the Police Way" is still probably one of the best around on the police system of driving and does much to allay accusations of inflexibility and pedantry which occasionally arise. It was this almost unique background which helped to set both the ethos and the renowned high standards of the High Performance Course, which was a world first when it was launched.

Originally the Course ran over four 'stages' and seventeen hours of coaching by co-drivers. The term co-driver reflected a basic precept that the course was more of a mobile discussion forum rather than a purely instructional affair. Stage 1 was a combined introductory and assessment drive. However, if you already had passed the IAM test then that was accepted as basic entry level for the Course. Work was done on the track at Brands Hatch, using it as a two way road so that high performance road techniques could be developed, explored and practised in full safety away from normal road conditions. It meant a fuller understanding of what was safe and unsafe, sound and unsound when out on the roads. A major part of this included the correct setting-up and lines through corners. On this stage standard and advanced work on skid-control was also done on the special BSM skid road at Brands.

Stage Two generally involved country and B roads and was a start in putting the basic principles together. Stage Three generally mainly involved A roads and towns whilst Stage Four was the final putting-on-the-polish day combined with motorway driving.

Eminent persons in motor racing including Jim Clark, Graham Hill and John Surtees took the High Performance Course as did such motoring enthusiasts as Prince Michael of Kent. Because of its uniqueness people even came from overseas just to be able to take the Course.


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