Testing Memories by Rodney L. Walkerly
It must have been 1927, when MOTOR SPORT, incorporating The Brooklands Gazette (“every month one shilling”) had been appearing for three years, that I joined the staff and by definition became a journalist, in my fashion. Editor Richard Twelvetrees had departed for pastures new and was succeeded by 23-year-old Lionel Hutchings, MA(Cantab.). His staff now consisted of himself, me and the girl typist, who seemed in a permanent state of daze at what went on around her in our basement offices in Victoria Street, London.
Our staff photographer (unpaid, of course) was a friend of Lionel’s, Walter Braidwood, BSc(Eng.) (Cantab.), who became a distinguished surgeon. Our staff artist (also unpaid, of course) was 18-year-old Roy NockoIds who had been persuaded that to have his pictures published by us was of greater value than a fee. His career subsequently proved us so right. Then we had a special contributor (naturally unpaid) in E. K. H. Karslake, who wrote us a remarkable series: “Great Racing Marques”, upon which he was an authority. He was an Etonian, possessed a splendid Alfonso Hispano Suiza and always carried a sword-stick.
One or two callers were a little sniffy about our basement premises. Such a one was a rather ducal salesman who brought a Voisin for road-test. He stared round the little, dark room and announced he had just time to run us round the block. When we explained our road-tests included a morning lapping Brooklands Track he actually snorted and stalked out.
Another, who was not dismayed by our office, was a very young William Boddy, still, I think, at school. He dropped in now and then to point out some inaccuracy we had perpetrated about Brooklands cars. His brain was like a filing cabinet with a memory bank built in. If we saw him first we hid in the loo. He was always right. It seemed only proper, almost inevitable, that in due course after other Editors failed to make any profit (with a circulation of about 3,000 I suppose), he became Editor up to the present day, building a success that was a phenomenon in motoring journalism, to general astonishment and admiration, and an unmatched circulation.
We conducted the magazine with enthusiasm and outspoken opinion that infuriated some and delighted others. Our minute readership did not attract many advertisers. And I remember a road-test of a Sunbeam that resulted in the cancellation of their booking. “Oh”, said Lionel, “in that case their advertising manager should be on the carpet —if he can afford not to advertise with us he shouldn’t have booked space at all …” As a matter of fact we used to continue the ads. on front and back covers when they had been paid for long before and not repeated. We couldn’t think how otherwise to fill the spaces.
There were a few faithful friends, however —genial Archie Frazer-Nash was pleased to let us have his cars for road-tests and booked series of ads., so did Dunlops, Russian Oil Products (barred from other periodicals), “Telamite Brake-Linings” and one or two motor agents like Boon and Porter (for the Amilcar) and good old Laystalls. But this income fell sadly short of our needs.
One day I arrived to find an authentic bailiff seated at our only table in a bowler hat, an elderly and seedy man with a walrus moustache whom we addressed as Uncle Barnacle. In no time Lionel had him helping to send out the new issue to subscribers and putting letters in envelopes. He was permanently employed in our office block, going from one rocky firm to another. It was Roy Nockolds’ father who rescued us from that crisis.
It was a splendid life for the two of us who could not even afford cars of our own: Braidwood built his own, putting a Morris Hotchkiss engine into a GN chassis, with a three-ply torpedo body covered in imitation leather. I soon grew familiar with Brooklands bankings at quite high speeds, both in cars and on fast motorcycles, such as Michael McEvoy’s 980 c.c. JAP twin “guaranteed for 100 m.p.h.” which it certainly did.
In our book a sports car was something that could exceed at least 80 m.p.h., and there were not many, even including imports like Salmson, Amilcar, Tracta (f.w.d.), a splendid American Stutz and the fabulous 36/220 supercharged Mercedes, in which we passed 108 m.p.h. across Hartley Bridge Flats on a wet road.
The motorcycles we sometimes entered for BMCRC races (if suitable) and in the rougher sort of reliability trials. Here, I discovered, petrol, oil and sparking plug firms would hand out a guinea for doing something they could advertise, and a free sample at the start so that any publicity would be truthful. Car manufacturers were understandably less than keen to lend their cars for more than a day, which consisted of a morning at Brooklands and about a hundred miles on the road afterwards. Usually they sent a chap to stay with us, who sat a little anxiously while we swooped on and off the bankings with nonchalance.
Lionel and I usually took turns at the wheel and agreed our verdicts. Looking at my oldest scrapbook for 1928 I see we tested such cars as the 1,100 c.c. Vernon Derby, a French thing marketed by Vernon Balls (who was persuaded to drop his surname for this enterprise), which did 62 m.p.h. and cooked its plugs of the wrong type; the 5-litre Stutz open “speedster” (87 m.p.h.), the 2-litre 86 m.p.h. Lagonda, the Mercedes (110 m.p.h.), the 3-litre Type 44 Bugatti saloon (85 m.p.h.), the 20-60 Vauxhall Velox (65 m.p.h.), and the smooth, silent 2-litre “six” O.M. four-seater (lapped at 80, with an 87 m.p.h. maximum). My own last test was of the 1929 Frazer Nash Super Sports (80 m.p.h. for £398).
I am a little vague about the vicissitudes of the magazine after I crossed over to The Light Car and Cyclecar at the end of 1929. It passed to owner-editors somewhat rapidly. Walter Braidwood had it when Lionel Hutchings joined the RAF (to be killed soon afterwards when he stalled and spun): he sold it for a purely nominal sum (the only way possible) when he went off to study medicine, to our friend Tom Moore, of the Isle of Man but then living in London. I think he passed it to Bill Boddy who at once began building the paper into the most resounding success in motoring journalism between the wars, still outspoken (and more accurate) and breathing enthusiasm from every page as always.
It was in that cheerful and penurious atmosphere I learned my trade—if only how not to run a magazine.
Surviving through the Twenties by W. S. Braidwood
In congratulating MOTOR SPORT on its success in passing its half century it is worth remembering that an obvious pre-requisite to success is survival. In the time of my association with the paper there was one occasion when its survival was a “damn close run thing”, as I’ll relate further on.
Though I was only Editor of MOTOR SPORT for about three years from 1929, I was considerably involved with it from its earlier Brooklands Gazette days. This arose from knowing L. A. Hutchings, who was one of my motorcycling cronies in our undergraduate days, following which he was working on it and I was often there on an odd job basis.
When I came down from Cambridge in 1926 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, which no-one wanted to know about, some facility in manipulating assorted vehicles in competitions, and very little else, this paper was an obvious magnet for an enthusiast. I also had a bit of a workshop in which to maintain my own machines and anyone else’s who was sufficiently trusting. I then progressed to a modest and not very successful garage with a like-minded friend.
Taking competition motorbikes about needed a vehicle and one we favoured for this purpose was a Model-T Ford van. It had belonged to a local chimney sweep who had prospered and blossomed forth into a new Morris van, and we got his old one, and brass radiator vintage, so you can work out how old it was, for £5.
This seemed about the going rate for lots of serviceable vehicles and the main snag was the road tax. Anyhow we had many thousands of useful miles at almost no cost in spares. Of course the Model-T had its little tricks, but one learnt to cope with them, such as using the reverse pedal as a brake when the foot-brake burnt out.. The hand-brake never worked anyway. Also the petrol tank was at seat level and fed the engine by gravity and when one encountered a steep hill with a low level in the tank, gravity ceased to operate, so one turned round and went up the hill in reverse.
Other vehicles owned in these years from about 1926 to 1932 included three bullnosed Morris Cowleys, one biggish Chevrolet, one other Model-T Ford, but not a van this time, and a Morgan three-wheeler.
You may well ask what this has to do with MOTOR SPORT, either the paper or the activity, but we had to get about and to various motoring events. The contrast between these homely vehicles and those I drove and wrote up for MOTOR SPORT and rode or drove in competitions tended to keep things in perspective. Try a day run in a 38-250 Mercedes (the one I drove was Caracciola’s Ards TT winner) and then home in a Morris Cowley. See what a 2.3-litre blown Bugatti feels like compared with a Model-T Ford, or a Phantom II Continental Rolls-Royce after a three-wheeler, and you’ll see what I mean.
In speed events, apart from Brooklands itself, this was the era of what I always think of as the “Saturday Sprint”. Either hillclimbs such as Kop, Aston Clinton, Shelsley Walsh and others, and the short, flat, speed trials.
My own enthusiasm was for road racing on the Isle of Man TT course. Here reliability was much more of a problem. I rode in seven Isle of Man TT Races and only finished in three. These ranged from the Amateur TT (now the Manx Grand Prix) in 1925, 1926, and 1927, and the June Races in 1927, 1928 and 1929, the latter including two Seniors, one Junior and one Lightweight.
My favourite car for “sporting trials”, so-called because the course included the minimum of reasonable road and the maximum of almost impassable swamp, and unclimbable hills, was the “chain gang” Frazer Nash, with its high power/weight ratio and no differential. The same machine perhaps with a more highly tuned engine was also splendid for speed trials and hill-climbs, and I still have some trophies to prove it. Some people thought I owned a Frazer Nash and used to enquire after it, but this impression, like the report of Mark Twain’s death, was greatly exaggerated. I never owned one but H. J. Aldington, who was by now running Frazer Nash, was very good about lending me suitable ones for the various events.
The nearest I got to a Frazer Nash was a few years earlier when still at Cambridge. I swapped a 350 c.c. AJS motorcycle for a GN which was of course the forerunner of the Frazer Nash. This was one of the “Grande Vitesse” GNs, of which I think only about six were built. It had an air-cooled 90 degree V-twin 1,100 c.c. engine, but unlike the standard GN had chain-driven overhead camshafts, and a very good performance when all went well. Probably the most famous was Davenport’s “Spider”, which was modified to 1,500 cc. and held the Shelsley Walsh record for long enough.
When mine was on its best behaviour very few things on four wheels could beat it over a standing half-mile or so. However, it could be very temperamental, especially in the matter of big ends. Archie Frazer Nash was still in his firm then so I went to ask his advice, as he had been very successful in earlier days in his own similar machines. He gave me very helpful advice as to what bits to get and from whom, and then asked what distance events I was aiming at. To which I replied “Oh just sprints you know, up to about a mile”.
He looked at me very seriously and said “You know a mile is a hell of a long way”. This summed up his philosophy of sprint tuning, as exemplified by his Brooklands Test Hill records. First take off the radiator to reduce weight, then drain the sump just before the run to reduce oil drag. A long way indeed!
Anyway I could only afford to keep this machine for about a year, but I still have some trophies to prove it went sometimes, I think it ended up as part of Davenport’s spare parts stock, but I’m not sure.
It was towards the end of the 1920s that MOTOR SPORT went into serious decline and to our great dismay ceased publication. I was still in touch with the then-owners and the MOTOR SPORT office still contained a fair amount of back numbers and some bound volumes. Several times one of the partners told me they wanted to get rid of it and then seriously suggested that I should buy it, take away the remains and perhaps re-start it somewhere.
Of course, I pointed out that this needed money which I hadn’t got, but he then made it plain that a quite nominal sum would give me the papers, bound volumes, goodwill, if any, and the right to publish if only they could get rid of it.
I then solemnly wrote an offer in his office of £12 10s 0d for the outfit, which he formally accepted. Why I thought of £12 10s 0d I don’t know, probably £10 sounded a bit mean and £15 was probably more than I could raise. Anyway a friend and I using the £5 Chevrolet came and collected it all and took it to our garage and put it in the store over it, with no idea what to do next, but at least I was now the proud, if penniless, owner.
The next event was when my old friend, Tom Moore from the Isle of Man, came in one day and said “I hear you’ve bought MOTOR SPORT, I’d like to get it going again”.
Well, there are no prizes for the answer to that one, and so MOTOR SPORT (1929) Ltd. came into being, with myself as Editor. Survival had occurred, at least till the next crisis. However, in a year or so it was clear to me that a personal change of course was needed, so my wife and I fitted out our ancient yacht in Essex (built 1869) and sailed off to Ireland in 1933.
We lived on the yacht for five years in Belfast while I qualified in medicine. Then a year’s hospital residence, six years’ War Service with the RAMC, more post-graduate study in surgery and then about 25 years as a surgeon.
Baladeur’s Contributions by Kent Karslake
It all started, as far as I was concerned, in 1922 at the Hotel de l’Univers in Arras. I was staying there with my parents, because my father wanted to revisit the battlefields of the First World War, and Arras seemed a convenient centre for the purpose. The courtyard of this hotel has long since been roofed over, but in those days you hove in through an archway, turned left towards the dining room and then backed into a parking place on the other side of the courtyard. Of course, you always backed in at that period, so that the starting handle was handy when you wanted to restart, and so that there was plenty of light if you needed to look under the bonnet.
We were lucky because we had a table in a window of the salle à manger, and I watched fascinated as the cars arrived. Few people by then had managed to get a new car since the war and most of them were what we would now call Edwardians. If they had chain drive, I remember, and the chains were rather slack, they juddered wonderfully as they changed over from forward to reverse motion.
“Eat up, Kent,” my parents said, “your food is getting cold”; but I was intent, in spite of all that the chef had done for us, on identifying the make of each new arrival and what wonderful names French cars had in those days . Turcat-Mery, Delaunay-Belleville, Rochet-Schneider, Clement-Baynard. By comparison, the names of English cars seemed deadly dull.
When we went to France again, a year or two later, I succeeded in acquiring a copy of Le Catalogue des Catalogues. This annual production had started life, I believe, in about 1906, and it purported to give you brief specifications of all cars available in France. Moreover, and herein lay its fascination as far as I was concerned, an historical section covered every model that had been listed in previous issues of the Catalogue. The only thing was that the specifications were not only brief but, from the point of view of the 1920s, somewhat idiosyncratic. One looked in vain for such items of topical interest as whether a model had overhead valves or front-wheel brakes. All one was told of each type was the nominal horsepower, the number of cylinders, the bore and stroke, the number of speeds and the number of “baladeurs”. But what on earth was a baladeur? The French dictionary said that the word meant a “stroller”, or a “coster-monger’s barrow”, which was scarcely helpful; adding, however, as if apologetically, “(mech.) a device for moving gears”. Even this was a bit of a puzzle until at last I tumbled to it. When the Catalogue was first issued, what its readers wanted to know about a car was not only the number of speeds, but whether these were selected by a lever moving in a gate, in the manner pioneered by Mercedes or, in the old-fashioned way, by one moving on a quadrant (as in an automatic Mini).
At about this time, too, I discovered that back numbers of our oldest motoring weekly were still obtainable from the publishers at little more than the published price. The supply covered a period of at least 20 years, and I began to amass a collection of the numbers in which the important races of the past were reported. But, as the very nice man who ran this department explained to me, the very earliest numbers, going back to 1895, had been bound up in half-yearly volumes, and were only available in that form. I suppose that each volume cost £1 or so, which, as I explained to him, was beyond my financial resources. “Well,” he said, “why don’t you borrow as many volumes as you can conveniently take away, bring them back when you’ve read them, and borrow some more?” I took advantage of this offer, more than once; but when I took back the four volumes covering 1901 and 1902, I found my friend in a state of consternation. “They’ve burnt all the back numbers,” he announced, “said they wanted the space for something more valuable. Don’t bring those back here, or you’ll get me into trouble.” “But I can’t keep them,” I said, “I only borrowed them.” “Well,” he said, “if you had not borrowed them, they’d only have been burnt with all the others, so you’re not robbing anyone. Anyhow, please don’t bring them back here.” So I took them home again. I hope I was justified, as I have had them for 50 years!
But while I could make friends readily enough with the man who looked after the back numbers, the editorial department of this august journal seemed very remote. It was at this juncture that there began to appear The Brooklands Gazette, soon to change its name to Motor Sport. The early editors of this periodical succeeded each other with bewildering rapidity, but they had in common that they were all very nice people and all belonged to my generation. “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,” as the poet put it, “But to be young was very heaven!” For a motoring historian, for the simple reason that there was none to contradict you, so neglected was the subject. I had of course read plenty about “the deadly sideslip” in early motoring literature, and this seemed a suitable title for articles which did not pretend to follow any particular line with regularity; and my continued obsession with the stroller-selector seemed to provide an ideal nom-de-plume. Thus were born “Sideslips” by “Baladeur”, and with them, I am vain enough to claim, Motor Sport re-awakened an interest in the history of motoring. If this has since become a fairly well-worn theme, one can only say, with Issigonis, that one must be proud of imitation.
First RAC Rally and Flying Recollections by Grenville Manton
It seems a long time ago when I first became associated with MOTOR SPORT. This was when I had joined a small team of hopefuls when they were completing plans to launch the magazine and I came on the scene when it was only partly in its embryo form. I had undertaken to be joint editor with Walter Braidwood, working through the late twenties and early thirties.
Those were the days when the top-grade racing cars had graceful lines, unlike those of today. Take the Alfa-Romeo, that Italian marque which was always a picture when viewed from any vantage point. Mentioning the Alfa inevitably stirs up recollections of Nuvolari. One short anecdote about him comes to mind about a remark he made to an Englishman just before the start of a race. He was getting on in years and looked his age. “They say I am too old”, said he. Then after a pause, “We shall see”. The race was run and at the completion there were several competitors who failed to finish. The winner? Nuvolari of course.
My work in the editorial room of MOTOR SPORT anchored me for most of my time of course in London, but I managed to slip away for special assignments occasionally. Sometimes I would go to Brooklands, which race track I had known since my schooldays. In later years I was there for the JCC 200-Mile Race in which I assisted in the behind-the-scenes organisation. I remember that it gave me an insight into the work entailed in operating a racing event of that kind. Brooklands track (what is left of it) fills me in a slightly melancholy way with thoughts about the happy times of yore. And when I travel by rail and on occasion move along the section adjoining the one-time “railway straight”
Flying, like motoring, has been one of the main interests in my life and I was glad when it was agreed that I should include in MOTOR SPORT a feature on aviation matters. I found that numbers of our readers were pilots or were keen to learn to fly. One of these was Mrs. Victor Bruce. She called at my office some time in 1930 seeking my advice. As a sporting motorist she was well known, had won the Coupe des Dames in the 1927 Monte Carlo Rally and had shown her stamina by covering 2,164 miles in 24 hours, single-handed.
One of the sporting events I remember well was the RAC first British Rally which took place in 1932. I was invited by Talbots to join the crew of one of their 14/45 models they had entered for the event. The Talbot company knew me well because for some years I had been employed by them as a tester. I believe I was approached by them at the suggestion of Georges Roesch, with whom I had become friendly. So for a few days I was away from my editorial chair to spend hour upon hour in the comfortable seats (driver’s and passenger) of that Talbot. We started from London and drove through the night until we reached Edinburgh. About two hours later we resumed our journey with Torquay as our final objective. We got there all right but all of us longing for sleep so I can understand that Mrs. Victor Bruce must have felt a little weary after her solitary 24 hours at the wheel.
The advice I gave her regarding her learning to fly was that she did this at Hanworth aerodrome with the flying school stationed there with a variety of light aircraft. Some days later she called on me again. She was not entirely happy with this flying business. The 45-degree turns her instructor executed she found disturbing and it seemed to me that she might not continue her flying instruction. But she did and qualified for her pilot’s licence. Within a very short time she set off on a flight to China!
Her machine was a Blackburn “Bluebird” powered with a 120 h.p. D. H. Gipsy four cylinder engine. After taking off from Hanworth she started her journey with a series of lengthy hops. She did very well and apart from a minor mishap on landing at Jask on the Indian border had no trouble. She continued and reached, as planned, Osaka in the Japanese island of Honshiu. She had done what she set off to do: the first solo flight from Britain to Japan.