Cars In Books
I found nothing about motoring in “Forty Years Of A Sportsman’s Life” by Sir Claude Champion De Crespigny, Bt. (Mills & Boon) in spite of the last chapter being titled “Racing By Land And Air” – it means steeplechasing and ballooning. One ballooning item caught my eye. In 1882 Simmons made a cross-Channel ascent from Maldon, covering, it is said, 170 miles in “slightly over an hour and a half”. That seems quick, even by motoring standards. The accounts of ballooning in the 1880s are worth reading (the author broke his leg in a ballooning accident); they include a description of racing by Griffith Brewer with his “Lotus” in 1908, when aviators such as Paulhan and Grahame-White were turning the author’s thoughts towards “perhaps a little aeroplaning”. …
Yet another book in which Brooklands is referred to is “By Jupiter!”, reviewed opposite, because it mentions that Roy Fedden used “to chat to pilots and aircraft engineers at the Blue Bird restaurant on the flying field in the centre of Brooklands race track”, before the First World War. Incidentally, this fascinating book also refers to the 1914 Grand Prix Mercedes that was on show in Long Acre when war was declared in August 1914 being taken to Rolls-Royce in Derby for inspection, the cylinder construction of the R-R “Eagle” aero-engines being copied from it. Some years ago we had a discussion about this in the pages of Motor Sport, as to whether the car was driven to Derby, railed there, or examined in London, and which of the victorious team cars it was, or whether it was the spare car. The author of “By Jupiter!”, Bill Gunston, says the Mercedes racing car was towed to Derby from “the showroom in Shaftesbury Avenue” behind the car of Cmdr. Wilfred Briggs, RN, Head of the RNAS Engine Division. One wonders why it couldn’t have been driven?
Another look at “Portal Of Hungerford” by Denis Richards (Heinemann, 1977) reveals that Viscount Portal’s fierce riding of a “huge motorbike” when he was a young man was remembered by at least one local resident in the Hungerford district years afterwards. The machine was presumably the 6.6 h.p. BAT, which he renewed acquaintance with when home on leave during WW1, “coming down Folly Hill into the Bath Road and roaring round the ‘Bear’ Corner …”. But as a temporary Second Lt., Motor Cycle Section, Royal Engineers (Special Reserve) in France in 1914 Portal rode Douglases, accompanied by C. G. Brocklebank (who later raced a Peugeot at Brooklands), accompanied by “Tubby” in an old Leyland lorry. Portal later became Motor Cyclist Officer, Headquarters Signal Company 1st Corps, and was in charge of all riders in this Company. On leave he had a bad motorcycle accident on the Bath Road, when a front fork broke (presumably on the BAT) and the remarkable coincidence of his parents who were following in a car to a picnic in Savenake Forest and the arrival of another car (rare in 1915) containing a doctor probably saved his life.
The house where Portal was brought up, Eddington House, dating from 1893, which stood in some 400 acres, with about 14 servants, including a butler and his wife, with more outdoor servants, might have formed the subject of one of my “Homes of the Racing Drivers”, except that by 1923, when Portal was running his 1914 Berliet at Brooklands, he was living in a “small house in Woldingham in Surrey”. Incidentally, when I remarked that if Portal saw 100 m.p.h. on the speedometer of a Ford Pilot he had after WW2 it must have been fast I had not realised that this applied to later Fords, which he ran while on the Board of the Ford Motor Company from 1949 to 1964, so may have been possible. – W. B.