Reviewed by the Editor
The scorching Saturday of July 6th was a memorable and nostalgic occasion for many hundreds of people who once took an active interest in the old Motor Course at Weybridge or the aerodrome within its boundaries, because, on that day, Vickers-Armstrongs Limited held a splendid party at the now defunct Track to celebrate Brooklands’ Golden Jubilee.
The date was entirely appropriate, because this was the 50th anniversary of the first race meeting. The B.A.R.C., Vintage S.C.C., B.M.C.R.C. and other organisations co-operated with Charles Gardner of Vickers’ Weybridge factory to bring a representative number of guests and appropriate vehicles to Brooklands on this historic occasion.
On the Friday evening some of the 57 vehicles taking part in Saturday’s parade began to arrive — Spero’s ex-Bira 2.9 Maserati snugly trussed up on its trailer, Kellow’s Type 35 Bugatti on a bar behind a Riley and the engineless Thomas-Special “flat-iron” on a string behind Ian Clarke’s Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith.
On the Saturday, before over a thousand guests had assembled, vans containing racing cars came along the road to the Paddock and light aeroplanes landed on the aerodrome just as they used to do prior to 1939. The cars and motor-cycles were placed in Paddock stalls which have weathered fifty years not at all badly, each bay labelled very much as at a pre-war race meeting. The collection of historic cars and motor-cycles was certainly one of the finest and most comprehensive ever assembled.
The Austin Motor Co. had brought the 1908 G.P. Austin with which Lord Brabazon was to head the parade and the little blue 1935/7 side-valve supercharged racing Austin Seven for Kay Petre to drive — the actual car in which she was involved in the accident with Parnell in 1935, now beautifully rebuilt. Kay came in her Dauphine. The 1908 Hutton was reported broken down but arrived in time; the 1908 Itala was late for similar reasons, to Sam Clutton’s annoyance, but sounded as hale and hearty as ever when it did appear. Dr. Pinkerton towed his 1910 Fiat down, a car around which so much Brooklands’ history revolved. R. G. J. Nash’s blue 1912 Lorraine-Dietrich “Vieux Charles Trois,” the Cross of Lorraine outlined on its vast radiator, had been brought from the Montagu Museum but was a non-runner. The Eric Milner 200-h.p. Benz was in beautiful trim, the immense cylinder blocks of its 21½-litre engine awe-inspiring to behold and its starter motor, driving through a long universally-jointed shaft, operating at the bidding of the driver, Brian Morgan. Hampton arrived calmly, in the 1913 chain-drive Bugatti “Black Bess” in which one Preston had deported himself at Brooklands in 1925.
We feared that Sir Raymond Quilter’s lap-record-breaking Napier-Railton might not arrive, but it did, behind a luckless Ford Zephyr, and the purposeful blast from the exhaust stubs of its 24-litre Napier Lion engine left no doubt as to its intention of taking part. Harris Mayes drove up uneventfully from Deal in his astoundingly beautiful Chitty-Bang-Bang II, along the route used by Zborowski in now legendary days, leaky tyres his only worry. Chitty rather stole the show and deservedly so, for it is impeccably driven and its Benz engine as gleaming as any engine ever has been. Leyland Motors brought the all-white Leyland Eight quietly into the Paddock from its overnight stay at Thomson and Taylor’s, Ken Taylor concerned lest the low sump should be damaged on the rough concrete. No. 1 M.G., not actually a Brooklands car, was notably smart, Ellis’ 1922 twin-cam Aston Martin had its one-time Brooklands driver Clive Gallop as passenger, and Attwood’s “Razor Blade,” Dudley Coram’s 1925 ex-Humphrey Cook twin-cam two-seater (which has only run some 4,000 miles in its entire life), van Sickle’s 1935 Ulster and Elwell-Smith’s 1932 team-car completed the Aston Martin contingent.
Plowman’s very fast 1924 30/98 Vauxhall was present, but Matthews’ 30/98 was as mythical as the kilometre record and 121-m.p.h. lap with which Vauxhall Motors have endowed it—the fastest official lap by a 30/98 is the late R. J. Munday’s 114.23 m.p.h. in his “Gold Star” car.
Wellsteed and his wife; in white overalls, were curing a flooding carburetter on the Morris-Oxford Wellsteed “Red Devil,” which has a cockpit very reminiscent of No. 1 M.G. [Every day you learn something and I see I was wrong in believing this car to have ½-elliptic rear suspension — it retains the Morris ¾-elliptics of the period. — W. B.] Sir Ralph Millais unloaded the famous V12 Sunbeam “Tiger” down a precarious ramp from its lorry, Morley and Robertson-Rodger arrived in great form in the ex-Birkin blower-4½ Bentley, now in two-seater form but remembered as a slim lap-record single-seater, and other fine, hearty 4½-litre Bentleys with Track associations were brought by T. L. D. Rose, J. H. Lander and H. Rose, while Gush came in the 3-litre Harry Bowler used to race and which he drove in the Parade.
Rootes brought the 1924 Sunbeam “Cub,” looking exactly as it did in Brooklands days but unwilling to run on six cylinders, even when A. S. Heal, who was course patrol in his twin-cam 3-litre Sunbeam, tried to reason with it — but the open exhaust made a nice noise! Rowley’s 2-litre V12 Delage filled the Paddock with the correct sounds! Tozer’s two little 1,100-c.c. Amilcar Sixes were present, Dunham’s 2,511-c.c. Alvis might have been there for a race and Frazer-Nash was represented by Wright’s 1932 two-seater, Lagonda by Hagens’ 1929 ex-“Six Hours” 2-litre. There were also four 2-litre Lagondas forming an appropriate “back-cloth” to the Paddock.
Alas, the V8 Harker Special never arrived, only a telegram, telling of engine seizure at Daventry en route from Derby. Clarke came in his 1912 25-h.p. Talbot, as near as he could be to the famous Percy Lambert “100-in-the-hour” model, Laurence Pomeroy was there in his well-known Prince Henry Vauxhall, Forrest Lycett, with charming lady passenger, manoeuvred his great 8-litre Bentley, last car to establish a record at Brooklands, with skill in the confined space of the now busy Paddock, and Scheinenberg brought the Barnato-Hassan Bentley which, like many mortals, has developed middle-aged spread. Roberts’ 3.8 ex-Lindsay Eccles G.P. Bugatti was a static exhibit.
Keith Dixon’s Orange Austin Seven (although more likely 1932 than 1930, which Austin hope everyone will believe) represented the type with which the Earl of March won the “500” in the latter year, and Alvis were represented by an f.w.d. T.T. car, a 1923 12/50 from the factory and Barber’s very interesting 1924 200-Mile Race car in smart green paintwork. The 1923 car was reserve car for the 1923 200-Mile Race, which Alvis won — it has the cylindrical oil tank beside the near side of the crankcase for dry-sump lubrication, a drilled frame, outside exhanst system, a big bolster fuel tank inside the tail and a polished aluminium body similar to a big-port 12/50 sports model. Rolls-Royce Ltd, sent a chauffeur with the 1907 40/50 Silver Ghost, which was overshadowed by an even finer Edwardian 40/50 from the Jack Barclay stable. That concluded the car contingent and if every make which achieved fame wasn’t present — Stanley Sears refused to associate himself with the ceremony, for example, feeling bitter over the loss of the Track, and so his 1904 ex-Brooklands 18/28 Mercedes and ex-Segrave 1914 G.P. Opel didn’t appear — those collected together unquestionably represented the former Brooklands scene in sight, sound and sincerity, and must have thrilled many people who saw them pass by, or swing into Brooklands, as well as the many privileged guests thereat assembled.
This time the motor-cycle fraternity hadn’t been overlooked, either. Noel Pope’s famous ex-Baragwanath Brough-Superior which holds both solo and sidecar lap records was ridden by Noel himself, with “Tich” Allen in the chair. Mavrogodato rode his ex-Le Vack Brough, Graham Walker the 1912 O’Donovan-tuned Norton “Old Miracle,” Reynolds a 1922 V-twin Rudge, ridden at Brooklands by Dicker, F. Williams an ex-Brooklands 1927 Cotton-Blackburn, L. Williams the fastest Scott at the Track. Fruin had a 1920 single-geared B.S.R. 490-c.c. Norton that was tricky on take-off, each explosion throwing it forward, so that its owner took a toss in the Paddock, Jones the ex-Dicker Zenith-Gradua and Griffiths a beautiful 1910 Trump with 1,100-c.c. V-twin J.A.P. engine notable for sturdy push-rod valve gear, a bicycle once owned by McNab.
Three-wheeler memories were looked after by Hill’s low, well-streamlined ex-Martin Soames’ Morgan, which competed in L.C.C. Relay Races at the Track.
Apart from getting this cavalcade together, Vickers-Armstrongs in general and Charles Gardner in particular deserve the highest praise for the rest of the arrangements — the spacious marquees wherein tea and every sort of liquid refreshment were available, the clear painted notices relating to the ceremony, the collection of historic photographs lent by myself and others, paintings, photostats from the 1907 B.A.R.C. Souvenir Programme, and exhibits from the Montagu Museum, including badges and the Montagu Cup, etc., not forgetting the excellent souvenir programme.
As the guests numbered over 1,000 it is quite impossibe to list them all — on all sides, obviously, Bronoklands celebrities were encountered, some wearing their oldest B.A.R.C. lapel badges, Brooklands Aero Club badges, B.R.D.C. badges and the like, while the writer and his wife sported 1907 members’ badge and brooch. Charles Brackenbury, H. R. Godfrey (who was at the first meeting), Mrs. Naylor (who took her Gold Star on a Norton, as Miss Shilling), Louis Giron, Granville Grenfell (in a fine white beard), Cliff Lewis (talking of finishing a motor-cycle history of Brooklands which Pope has commenced), Francis Beart, Thurston James of The Aeroplane, W. J. Brunell again taking Brooklands photographs … no list could ever recapture the pleasure and nostalgia of meeting again all these old friends, just as if Vickers had hired H. G. Wells’ time-machine for the afternoon . . .
Over all brooded the bulk of the Brooklands’ Memorial, shrouded in a vast chequered flag. Arising out of a suggestion by Whitney Straight, it was designed by Ley Colbeck and Partners and measures 31 ft. by 5 ft. by 14 ft. Of white spar cast stone, it carries the inscription “Brooklands — 1907-1939” in 2-ft.-high bronze letters, and a large bronze plaque bearing in relief a replica of the Napier-Railton, Pope’s Brough, a Club aeroplane and badges of the Brooklands A.R.C., J.C.C., B.R.D.C., B.M.C.R.C. and B.F.C. It is sited near the start of the Railway straight, where the only public view of the historic Track (or what remains of it) and flying field can be had, by passengers on the Waterloo-Portsmouth railway line! Let us hope they will not conclude that Brooklands in its motor-racing hey-day was the subtopian sprawl it has since become . . .
At 3.30 p.m. Lord Brabazon of Tara, P.C., G.B.E., M.C., who drove a Minerva unsuccessfully at the first race meeting in 1907, performed the unveiling ceremony and, in a powerful and characteriatic speech, regretted the demise of the Track in strong terms, placing the blame, some felt, on the wrong shoulders. Major-General C. A. L. Dunphie, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O., Chairman of Vickers-Armstrongs Limited, the Duke of Richmond and Cordon, Earl Howe, P.C., C.B.E., V.D., the Marquess of Camden, Capt. Duncan Davis, A.F.C., Sir George Edwards, C.B.E., B.Sc. F.R.Ae.S.,A.M.I.Struct.E., Managing-Director of Vickers-Armstrongs (Aircraft) Ltd., and an old Brooklands employee, also spoke, but from our duty-station in the Paddock we couldn’t hear these speeches; nor did the Press tent contain copies of them.
After unveiling the memorial Lord Brabazon got into the 1908 Austin which had been brought up for him by an Austin driver under the watchful eye of Depper, late of the Austin racing department, and he was followed along the 1.4-mile course by the Parade, the only part of the Track used being the Campbell circuit straight from the Fork back to the Paddock. Kaye Don drove the fierce 4-litre Sunbeam “Tiger” with complete unconcern, as if it were yesterday, but John Rowe cooked all the Sunbeam “Cub’s” plugs and it was pushed back to the Paddock in disgrace.
After an interlude for B.B.C. interviews the cars and motor-cycles went off on solo demonstration runs, described by John Eason-Gibson from notes I had written for the programme. Symondson now drove the Sunbeam “Tiger,” Allen took Pope as passenger in the lap-record Brough combination, and I enjoyed a ride in the Leyland Eight.
After tea it was the turn or the historic aeroplanes. The 1924 Hawker Cygnet biplane was a static exhibit, but Bedford flew the Hawker Tomtit, with exciting 150-h.p. Mongoose IIIc radial engine and unfaired wire wheels, W/Cdr. Pike roused the nostalgia again with the 1925 D.H. Cirrus Moth, Bootle (who had got these old acronlanes together) showed us the last of the Spartan Arrows, Wood the only remaining airworthy Blackburn B2 metal biplane, Ogilvy did a fine low fly-post in the 1932 Comper Swift he had flown over from Elstree, and a Gipsy Moth and Miles Hawk Speed Six took the air — the sight of pilots in leather flying helmets and the sun glinting off the wings of biplanes made a fitting close to an afternoon crammed with memories.
As the thunder clouds rolled up the guests departed and great cars of a past age drove from the Paddock for the very last time. Brookands has gone but is not forgotten. — W. B.