Charge of the light brigade
It wasn’t all about Outer Circuit monsters: one endurance event proved that small cars could stay the course too
Long-distance races at Brooklands were a popular feature as well-established events in the 1920s and ’30s, although before the war in 1908 a 100-mile race had been a notable contest, even if it was unfortunately marred by a fatal accident. While avoiding a Hutton, Lane in a Mercedes hit a parapet; he and his mechanic, Burt Williams, were thrown out and his mechanic was killed. Newton won in a 60hp Napier at 98.5mph.
In 1911 and 1912 respectively the RAC held 100-lap, 277-mile races for four-cylinder stock cars. In 1911 Cathie’s Star won with an average speed of 56.25mph. For 1912 the event was limited to four-cylinder stock cars not exceeding 90mm cylinder bore and not weighing over 20001b. The winner was Haywood in a Singer, averaging 57.49mph, with only three cars finishing and the third coming in one and a half hours after the winner.
After the War long-distance races were resumed at the Track, starting on October 22, 1921, when the Junior Car Club, largely due to Hugh McConnell, organised an ambitious project for their first long-distance light-car race, with a varied field of cars. There were two classes, one up to 1100cc and another from 1101-1500cc. The starters were to line up at the Fork in four lines. The first row of cars had two feet of yellow paint on their bonnets, the second row had red, the third green and the last row white. Mechanics were compulsory and were the only persons allowed to assist the driver in the pits. Many of the starters were hastily stripped and rebuilt following the earlier ‘GP des Voiturettes’.
In the 11/2-litre class there was great speculation about the Talbot-Darracqs, which were known to be very fast — over 90mph — and had proved invincible at Le Mans. Segrave, Guinness and Campbell were to be the drivers. Aston-Martins had taken the one-hour record in the 11/2-litre class, at over 86mph, and four cars were entered to be driven by Marshall, Victor Bruce, Count Louis Zborowski and Kensington-Moir. Bugatti, which had won at Brescia, sent over two cars for de Viscaya and Mones-Maury. Five ACs were entered, virtually standard three-speed sports cars to be driven by Steed, Brownsort, Munday, Davis and Davy. Bedford’s Hillman, which had come fourth in the GP des Voiturettes, was also entered, as were three Horstmans, two Charron-Laycocks, two Lagondas, two Marlboroughs, two Alvis and Gordon England in an ABC. A newcomer to Brooklands, the fast Enfield-Allday was to be driven by Bertelli.
In the 1000cc class Archie Nash was in a standard GN, with the engine which had been used at Boulogne a few weeks before. A Salmson, which had won the Cyclecar GP in the same year and was the GN’s only real rival, was to be driven by Lombard, and Freddy Dixon brought a Gregoire. A Coventry-Premier and a Deemster were both newcomers to Brooklands, unlike Ware’s three-wheeler Morgan, which had previously lapped at 80mph, and a Crouch which had had several successes at Brooklands. Topping’s Baby Peugeot was virtually standard and not very brisk. Also entered were an AV, Singer, Silent Snow, Soriano-Pedroso, Temperino and a Bleriot Whippet.
During practice troubles were rife and the night before the race saw lights burning in most of the sheds at the Track while last-minute work was carried out.
There were 28 starters although the EricCampbell, BAC, Douglas, Soriano-Pedroso, Silent Snow, Gregoire and Crouch failed to make the race. After 37 laps Segrave led but Guinness was ahead of Campbell. The GN was second in its class behind the Salmson, but when the Salmson had to fit two new wheels, this allowed Frazer-Nash to take the lead. Moir’s Aston-Martin retired after 47 laps with a fuel leak. After 60 laps the Baby Peugeot broke a connecting rod and retired, as did the Singer with a duff magneto and Davis with a broken piston. Bruce stopped after 61 laps with a failed big-end. On lap 68 Rex Munday in his AC had a burst tyre and ended up inverted in a ditch.
After 2hr 16min 26sec Segrave won this first English long-distance light-car race with an average of 88.82mph, despite having driven the last two laps on a ‘flat’. Talbot-Darracqs also took second and third places for Guinness and Campbell, averaging 88.73 and 86.50mph respectively. The Bugatti came in fourth, 5min 57sec later. In the 1000cc class Archie FrazerNash won at 71.54mph after 2hr 49min 24sec, with a closing lap at 77.45mph. The Salmson came home second followed by the Deemster. With the success of these long events the world was made to realise that long-duration reliability was within the province of 11/2-litre light cars.
The man behind the VMCC
The Vintage Motor Cycle Club has listed its calendar of events for 2011, including the full listings of the MCC local sections, marque specialists and affiliated clubs. Their most important event for this year is the ‘VMCC Festival of 1000 Bikes’ to be held over July 8-10 at Mallory Park. The Track Sessions entry form hotline is 01283 540557 or www.vmcc.net. Also available are entry forms for the Pre-65 Trial, grasstrack, trade and autojumble stands.
The VMCC was thought up in 1942 by ‘Titch’ Allen while on his way back from his home in Loughborough to his barracks in Tunbridge Wells, where he was a dispatch rider during the war. His aim was to create a club for motorcycles on the lines of the VSCC which had been formed in the 1930s. His interesting life and his love for these machines can be read about in his autobiography Titch the Founder’s Tale, published by Live Wire Books (livewirebooks.com). ISBN 978-0-9443124-3-4, £19.99
Reappearance of ‘Black Bess’
With fading memory I still recall the time when I drove the famous Bugath ‘Black Bess’ up Kop Hill in 1992. The reason I drove the car up Kop was because this was the scene in 1923 of one of Ivy Cummings’ best performances, and it was fun to re-enact the occasion. I drove it rather ineffectively up the classic gradient and got nowhere near her time of 33.6 seconds it was the first time I had sat in the car and the weather was against any heroic runs, but the experience gave me a good insight into what this four-cylinder 100x160mm 5-litre Edwardian Bugath was like.
I confess that when I had first read about a Mr LH Preston having entered a chain-drive Bugat in the 1925 Brooklands August Bank Holiday Race Meeting, I thought The Autocar had probably made a mistake.
In 1925 Ivy Cummings sold the car to Mr Preston who at that time was an Oxford undergraduate. He had entered the old car for two races, the first being the 100mph Short Handicap, starting at the beginning of the Railway Straight and finishing halfway along it. The handicapper, AV Ebblewhite, had put Preston to start only three seconds ahead of the scratch man, Douglas Hawkes, in the 15-litre Lorraine Dietrich ‘Vieux Charles Trois’. The Bugath did its standing-start lap at 79.43mph and its flying lap at 92.57mph but was unplaced in a field of 11 runners.
In its second appearance of the day in the 100mph Long Handicap, Preston was on the scratch mark, while Parry Thomas had only a five-second start in the 6178cc Lanchester single-seater. Preston lapped at 78.43mph and then 90.06mph, easing off to 81.77mph on his final circuit, when he realised that the Lanchester was about to win (at 107.10mph), but the 12-year-old Bugath must have been doing something over 100mph along the Railway straight.