Charlie Martin's Motor Racing
[Described to the Editor in a recent interview]
Even the younger generation should have heard of CEC Martin, that versatile and capable British amateur driver, who drove in the Continental Grands Prix as well as extensively in this country before the war, although it is surprising that "The Encyclopaedia of Motor Sport", with entries about such British racing drivers as TASO Mathieson, Charles Brackenbury, Arthur Dobson and George Eaton, makes no mention of him. Motor Sport, conversely, recognised Charlie Martin's worth, saying, for instance, of one of his performances at Donington Park in 1935 that he was " ... driving in his usual masterly fashion, always under perfect control and getting the absolute maximum out of his car," praise which we repeated on later occasions.
Charlie Martin always seemed to regard his motor racing as immense fun but the time he devoted to it, and the often uncomfortable experiences into which it led him, prove his great devotion to it, with cars of the highest calibre, such as 3.3-litre Type 59 Bugatti, P3 Alfa Romeo and ERA, etc. When I called on him recently at his house in Kensington he was just as I had remembered him before the war, full of gusty laughter continually using some wonderful expressions, to recall his racing days, as he recollected the fun and the disappointments of the pre-war years. What follows does not profess to be a lap-by-lap race account of Charlie Martin's entire racing career, much of which has been recorded in this journal and in numerous books, it is just a glance-back at some of the cars he raced and how it all began ....
The family-seat was at Abergavenny in Wales (the Martins were concerned with steel production), and although CEC Martin's parents were by no stretch of the imagination motoring enthusiasts they did use motor-cars, one of which was a pre-1914 Hupmobile, which Charlie Martin remembers as being "quite something". They had a green and black Hupmobile tourer soon after the war was over, before they became "Buick ridden". He recalls how they used to regard the short run out to Crickhowell as a major outing, dressing up for it, before driving over the then scarcely-tarmaced Welsh by-roads. Sometimes they would encounter a Foden or Sentinel steam-wagon taking an illicit drink from the stream that ran through the grounds.
Charles began with motorcycles, when he was only 15 or 16, and still at school, Eton. His first was a 225 cc Royal Enfield two stroke, from which he graduated to a 350 cc push-rod AJS, which was followed by a Raleigh with outside flywheel and then by another AJS with chain-driven o/h-camshaft. At this time he used to go spectating with a friend who rode in Northamptonshire grass-track races, towing his racing motorcycles behind an HE car. Deciding to graduate to four wheels, Martin found a GN with the o/h-camshaft vee-twin engine in which one long chain drove the camshafts and bought it for 30/-. This wasn't altogether satisfactory and so it was replaced by a 1922 Brescia Bugatti. He had become a fan of Ettore Bugatti's when he had discovered Malcolm Campbell's showrooms in St James's Street, in London, where he would sit happily in one of the Grand Prix cars, on one occasion actually in the Bugatti that had just won the JCC 200 Mile Race at Brooklands. His enthusiasm was further stimulated when a friend drove him at 90 mph in another Bugatti.
Alas, the Brescia he had bought in Cambridge for £27/10/-, a dilapidated car with a home-made aluminium body, didn't even get him back to Northamptonshire. A rod came out, via holes in both sides of the crankcase, at Bedford, after a mere 22 miles of bliss! He had been told by his friends to watch the oil-pressure carefully. But the vendor had fixed this permanently at the halfway mark on the gauge and, in fact, there was no pressure, and very little oil ... The bits were sold and although he was still at school Martin then found an early three-speed Lancia Lambda at Manor Motors in London and used all his savings to buy it, for £25. He persuaded various school-chums to have a ride in it when they were all going home at end of term. The car was late in arriving from the vendors but they all piled in and Martin shot off. The sugar-beet harvest was in full swing and the roads were therefore liberally coated with mud, so that at a bend he lost control and the Lancia skidded into a field and overturned, throwing everyone out. However, it was set back on its wheels and driven on in time to catch the train at Six-Mile Bottom. Alas again, the sump had been cracked in the prang and a big-end duly failed.
Eton now occupied the young Charles, where his friends kept illegal motorcycles, one of them having to ascribe two black eyes to boxing, after he had fallen off his BSA 500. Martin was then apprenticed to Austin's at Longbridge, where he had a blown Ulster Austin, bought from Sprosen's in Great Portland Street, under the guidance of his friend Noel Carr, who came with him in search of a suitable sports car. This was all right, except for the price of spares needed and purchased from Austin's. Encouraged by Carr, they took the Ulster up to Southport in the winter of 1932 for the sand racing, accompanied by a Riley Nine. It was CEC Martin's first motor race and although the engine "went onto three cylinders" he finished in second place. They returned through the night, sleeping in the Riley. As with so many of CEC's motor-racing expeditions it turned out a memorable trip, because they all developed mumps and had to enthuse over the result of the race while in quarantine. . . .
The Austin was also run in trials, including the Colmore Cup, which showed its owner that it was hopeless for this kind of competition. However, the bug had bitten, so Charlie Martin left Austin's and bought a Frazer Nash, with more trials-driving in mind. It was an early narrow-track car with rear-wheel-brakes only and three-speed chain transmission, but possessed an external exhaust pipe. It was used for one trial only, the prestigous Buxton affair. Going to the start, all the chains came off in Birmingham, and so they arrived at Buxton in reverse! They managed to start it in the event, but with only bottom and second speeds, having bought all the chain they could find in the time available. When bottom ceased to function they not surprisingly failed to achieve anything and then had to drive all the way home in second speed. Charles decided he didn't much like 'Nash motoring, so he disposed of the car in favour of a Type 37 Bugatti, found in Moseley. By this time Noel Carr had his famous 2-litre GP Bugatti, in which Martin had many exciting runs, which had revived his enthusiasm for the Molsheim product. As a tender-car to the Type 37 he bought a flat-radiator Morris-Cowley. It used to break half-shafts but "you could nearly always get home by running it along the kerb."
The Bugatti was used as a fast road car and then prepared for Shelsley Walsh, after it had been taken to Brooklands and turned down flat by the Scrutineer, Hugh P McConnell! It had the pressure-fed crank and was given a big RAG carburetter. Before this the Bugatti had been tried at the third Donington Meeting of 1933 but it kept on seizing-up. Yet on the run home it went beautifully and did 90 m.p.h. The engine had been assembled too tight, and simply required running in. It also liked to drop valves into its cylinders but it did get a third place at Southport, and was third fastest at a Bugatti Owners' Club Dancer's End hill-climb. Charles recalls that the snub of not being allowed to run at Brooklands was to some extent compensated by the meeting being washed out by rain!
At Shelsley Walsh the Bugatti's engine had again been put up too tight, and it seized-up several times. Professional help was needed and Martin got to know Symes and Brackenbury, of Byfleet Motors, not far from Brooklands. I asked what had first attracted him to the old Track. "I went there, in 1931 I think it was, in a friend's Austin 7 and saw Charles Brackenbury win a race from the Railway Straight enclosure, and I was immediately hooked". The Type 37 was sold in 1933. Martin was now 20-years-old and as a present an Aunt bought him a new F-type MG Magna. "A good car" he reflects, used at first for MCC long-distance trials. It was during 1933 that Alan Hess entered a team of MGs on behalf of the MG Car Club, of which he was then the Hon Secretary, for the LCC Relay Race at Brook.lands. Martin was asked to drive one of the L-type Magnas, and as he had ordered a K3 Magnette from the Abingdon factory (the price was £795 but I believe he got his for £780) they viewed him favourably. It was stripped for action and given a compression-ratio of 6.8 to 1, and according to the works it developed 50 bhp at 6,000 rpm. It worked out very well, because these MG Magnas driven by Martin, Hess and Wright, won the race at 88.62 mph, ahead of the Morgan three-wheeler team, and were said to have all lapped at 93 mph. This so impressed the Publicity Department of MG's that Martin was provided with a special engine for the works Magna in time for the BRDC 500 Mile Race at the end of 1933 Brooklands' season. This engine had special inlet manifolding and was supposed to have produced some 57 bhp at 6,000 rpm. It was good enough for Martin to finish second in his first important race, in which he had LF Walsh as his co-driver, averaging 92.24 mph, compared to the 106.53 mph of the winning MG Magnette driven by Eddie Hall. After this the special engine was removed and the standard one re-installed and the car seemed so sluggish that Charlie Martin lost interest in it and disposed of it. The MG was taken to Donington Park, a circuit which was to become one of Martin's favourites, for the second meeting of 1934, when it took second place to Rayson's Riley 9 in the 1,100 cc race, ahead of Cormack's Alta and Maddick's similar MG. But the green Magna retired in the 25-mile Handicap.
Meanwhile, Charlie Martin had bought, from T&T's of Brooklands, the black supercharged single-cam 2.3-litre Type 35 B Bugatti that had once belonged to Mr Keiller. It was beautifully fitted out and in immaculate order. As it had enormous silencers it was also decently quiet as a road car. On his first run in it, to Brighton, Martin reached 100 mph on the road for the first time. The compression-ratio was then raised and in stripped condition this Bugatti materially advanced Martin's racing career. It appeared at the third Donington meeting of 1934 and finished third in the 25_mile Handicap behind Richardson's Riley 9 and Lindsay Eccles' 2.3 Bugatti, in a race in which two Hillman Minx had started and Freddie Dixon crashed his Riley. At the August Donington races Martin repeated this performance in the equivalent race, again coming home in third place, this time behind Staniland's 2.3-litre Bugatti and Cyril Paul's 1.8-litre Riley, all three breaking the old lap-record.
Motor Sport commented " ... Martin's driving was first class, lacking anything in the nature of flurry and at the same time being as fast as the capabilities of the car would allow". At the longer races at the final Donington Meeting of 1934 Martin had a furious dual with his friend "Mad Jack" Dick Shuttleworth, actually passing the rwin-cam 2.3 Bugatti on one lap and finishing right up on Dick in fifth place, ahead of Dixon's 2-litre Riley, in the Donington Park Trophy race which was won by Straight's 3-litre Maserati from Penn-Hughes' 2.6-litre Alfa Romeo and Earl Howe's 2.3-litre Bugatti. For the Nuffield Trophy Race at this meeting Martin used his K3 MG Magnette, as had Dick Seaman, but whereas Seaman was second to Mays' ERA, Martin's was running badly. He finished in sixth place, beating Ron Horton, however. Prior to this the new MG Magnette had been taken to Le Mans with Roy Eccles. They had not given much thought to essentials such as stoneguards for the headlamps etc, but nevertheless finished fourth, whereas Lord de Clifford and Charles Brackenbury were only in 16th place at the end of the 24 hours, in a de Clifford Special Lagonda Rapier. That April Martin had bought a Zagato-bodied 1750 Alfa Romeo (Reg. No. AXA 758) from Jack Bartlett, for £650. He says of it that it was "terribly slow but sounded right, was geared right, and looked a picture". He believes it was the first of its kind to run at Shelsley Walsh. At that time Charlie Martin was living at Butlers Marston in Warwickshire but later he bought a house at Shere, near Dorking, in order to be in the Brooklands area.
The Bugatti, which was proving to be a most reliable motor-car, put in more competition work during 1934. For instance, it made ftd at the Bugatti OC Lewes Speed Trials, but this was disallowed as Martin hadn't joined the Club for the required time, was third fastest in the Brighton Speed Trials, and also ran at Brooklands and Shelsley Walsh, taking two fourth places over the Mountain circuit at the former course, the same place on a very wet day at Shelsley, and at the last Brooklands' Meeting of that year Martin was second in the Kingston Senior Mountain Handicap, to Samuel's MG Midget to which he had given a start of 35 sec in six miles, his Bugatti lapping at 76.03 mph. Incidentally, for some undefined reason, the car never handled safely over the outer circuit, which is why its owners used it for Mountain or Campbell circuit races. It also had the inevitable cracks in its aluminium wheels; McConnell knew this and kept paper-diagrams of them, to check how far they were creeping before passing the Bugatti for racing! This memorable Bugatti was sold to the Hon Jock Leith, who passed it on, after some more reliable service from the car, to Andrew Leitch from whom it was bought by Charles Mortimer. Charlie Martin had other plans for 1935…
He had by now a black straight-eight Railton saloon, probably due to his associations with T&T's. In this he set off for Europe in the winter of 1934 with "Charles the Brack" to look for a really fast racing car for the coming season. This proved to be a very exhausting and hectic experience. First they headed for Berlin, to see if Auto-Union would sell them one of their fabulous new Grand Prix cars. Rather like going to France at the present time and asking if you could have a F1 Renault Turbo! Auto-Union were about to make slight chassis alterations and increase the engine-size of these rear-engined GP cars for the 1935 races and they might have had something to offer. But if they had they wanted £10,000 for it, equal to some £200,000 today. They gave the two optimists a lot of lovely photographs to keep them happy and sent them on their way. So Martin and Brackenbury were back on the winter roads, now heading south for Stuttgart, and Daimler-Benz. They were very politely received but to the question as to whether there was a Mercedes team-car for sale the answer was a definite "No." But they collected some more nice pictures. The next move was to drive on to Italy, to see what Maserati had to offer in Bologna. The Railton's wet-plate Hudson Terraplane clutch expired, so a small Fiat Balilla was hired and the long journey continued. Nothing at Maserati's seemed much of a proposition so on the travellers went over the passes in heavy snow, to Strasburg, heading for Molsheim. Here Bugatti had four of the last season's Type 59 3.3-litre Grand Prix cars for sale. Martin purchased car number 1, with engine Number 3 for £2,000 being told it would be ready for him in January. (The other Type 59s were all bought by British customers (Noel Rees, for the Hon. Brian Lewis to drive, Earl Howe, and Lindsay Gales). Incidentally, the two adventurers had been away for a fortnight, had covered some 3,500 miles, and this total expenditure had been about £50 or £70. Which explains why an Auto-Union had seemed so expensive at £10,000, even had one been made available ....
The promised delivery date for the Type 59 was not kept, and as Martin had entered for the 1935 JCC International Trophy Race at Brooklands he grew anxious and bought Tim Rose-Richards Type 51 2.3-litre twin cam Bugatti as a second string. He was by now a confirmed Bugatti man, having also bought a new Type 55, which had been on the Bugatti stand at the Paris Salon. This sports 2.3 twin-cam Bugatti gave him some 15,000 miles of very pleasant road motoring, in which distance it never had anything done to it, not even a decoke. It would do 115 mph and was run on Champion R1 plugs and petrol-benzole fuel. When racing commitments became intense Martin sold it to LG Bachelier.
While awaiting news of the 3.3-litre Bugatti Martin entered his newly-acquired blue Type 51 for the opening meetings of 1935 at Brooklands and Donington. At Brooklands he had no luck, the Type S1 non-starting at the March Meeting and his old blue 2.3 retiring at Easter. But things went better at Donington, after a broken clutch shaft had been replaced. This entailed many hectic trips into Derby and in the end Austin Dobson kindly let Martin use parts from his car, after he had broken down. It was still impossible to get into bottom gear when the car was stationary but by a superhuman effort Charles got her off the line and he won the 25-mile Handicap at 67.45 mph, from his friend Dick Seaman in an ERA.
By April Martin heard that the exciting 3.3 Bugatti was at last ready and Dick Shuttleworth flew him down in one of his two Desoutter monoplanes to Molsheim, to collect it. The last time he was there he had been royally entertained, including being taken for rides, with Jean Bugatti at the controls, in the high-speed Bugatti Rail-Cars, shod with Michelin pneumatic tyres and powered by two Bugatti Royale-type engines. These had been test runs, with the points and signals pre-set for them, and the Station staffs out to salute their passage! This time Martin must have felt excited that cars of the type he had just bought had been driven by drivers of the calibre of Nuvolari, Benoist, Brivio and Dreyfus, gaining victories in the Belgian and Algiers Grands Prix the previous year. Back in England we waited expectantly to see these latest GP Bugattis in action. Unfortunately, it did not work out as well as expected.
Charlie Martin packed his belongings into a small suitcase, stowed this in the back of the car, begged a macintosh, for it was pouring with rain, and set out to drive his new possession back to England, unlicensed and in full racing trim. Alas, the works had set the mixture up far too rich and, emitting volumes of black smoke, the car had not got beyond Strasbourg before most of the plugs had expired. Stopping at a likely-looking garage, Martin told them to change all the "candles". He was surrounded by a large and very excitable crowd and in the melee he dropped a plug-terminal into one of the eight cylinders! He had visions of having to get the car towed back to Molsheim but in the end, after frantic fishing with lengths of wire, the garage man spiked it with the tang of a file. Martin then continued his drive -"one of the worst I ever had" -soon drenched to the skin. He had no horn and was thus unable to make drivers of little Citroen 5 cvs and small Renaults hear him, so that he "travelled quite a long way -in various ditches, trying to get past". The plugs continued to give trouble, although No 1 petrol was tried and part of the radiator was blanked off. That night Martin gave up at Metz, about half way to Boulogne. In the morning he had bought some new goggles and a very smart beret and resumed his hectic journey. If he stopped, the engine would only restart if he was given a push or a tow by the peasants, unless he remembered to stop on a hill. He could hardly see for the mud, his face became red and extremely painful, and he was frozen absolutely stiff. However, after a pause for lunch the rain ceased, and the sun came out, and driving the 3.3 became almost enjoyable. At Boulogne Martin got someone to help him wash the car before embarking. At the other side of the Channel he had to pay £1,000 in Customs' duty -I believe one of the other "importers" of a 3. 3 tried to avoid this, with very dire consequences ....
The 3.3 had arrived in time for the International Trophy Race of Brooklands' on Jubilee Day early in May, where it started in company with the Type 59s of Lindsay Eccles and Brian Lewis. All three Bugattis ran badly and retired with transmission maladies, Eccles' nearly crashing when he broke its torque arm, locking the back wheels. All three were dispatched to Bugatti's depot at Brixton, where Col Sorel presided, among the London taxicabs and Marendaz Specials; it is said that he had to enlist the aid of Jean Bugatti, who came over from Molsheim with some racing mechanics to put things right.
Martin, having got his 3.3 back, entered it for the Isle of Man race, Brackenbury taking the 2.3 Bugatti. This time the big Bugatti ran better, Martin finishing second to Brian Lewis in Noel Rees' Monoposto Alta. The seat of the 2.3 Bugatti collapsed, however, causing Brackenbury's retirement. Brooklands spectators were able to see Martin's green 3.3 in action at the Whitsun meeting, where it was running as his Bugatti I, as "the Brack" had his 2.3 car, Bugatti II. The 3.3 stalled on the line in the Second
Mountain Handicap, and after a lap the propshaft tore away, locking the back wheels and tearing out the petrol tank. As some compensation, Brackenbury won the Gold Star Race, lapping at 130.72 mph. After this setback with the 3.3 Martin had its transmission redesigned by Hardy Spicer and it never gave any further trouble in that department.
It was then taken in Byfleet Motors' Ford V8 van to the GP de Ia Marne. Martin had a very enjoyable time in practice, lapping at some 97 mph and reaching 154 mph down the long straight. Alas, the gearbox casing cracked, the day before the race. The Hon Brian Lewis lent Martin his Type 57 Bugatti saloon and in this he set off for Molsheim with the damaged gearbox. Arriving, he handed it over and went to bed. By 8 p.m. they had repaired it, so Martin drove back through the night, getting to Reims by 2 am. His mechanics spent the rest of the night reassembling the car. It ran very well on this occasion, qualifying in its heat and finishing sixth in the race just behind Lewis.
It was then off to Dieppe for the Grand Prix there. A piston came out during the first lap of practice in the biggest possible way. Desperate not to miss the event, Martin went into town and bought Marcel Lehoux's 2-litre Bugatti for £150. "There was no currency rubbish then, if you wanted something you just bought it". The Bugatti was not much good, refusing to retain air-pressure in its fuel tank, and Charles retired. But it was a real Englishman's day, with so many of his friends racing. The 3.3 went back to the Bugatti works for further attention. It had been entered for the Nice Grand Prix and was sent to the course direct from Molsheim, Martin having lost all interest in cars for the time being. He flew to Nice in one of Shuttleworth's Desoutters, piloted by Captain OV "Titch" Holmes. The Bugatti ran very well in practice but in the race had only done 29 out of the 100 laps when a rod again come out through the crankcase, badly smashing the entire engine. The journey back home by alr was an adventure, because Holmes, who was a good and cautious pilot, got lost and decided to land and ask where they were. Unfortunately he chose a French military airfield, close to where the Maginot Line was being built. The authorities were not amused, impounding both aeroplane and cameras for many weeks. ''I know, because I used to answer the 'phone and stall off Shuttleworth, when he was asking how soon his aeroplane would be returned to Biggleswade ... !"
This time Martin decided to look at the 3.3's engine himself. He thought the con-rods were far too frail, so he had some new ones made. (Barimor patched the crankcase and new pistons were fitted.) The car was then put together in time for the Donington Grand Prix. The race should have been in the bag but towards the end Kensington Moir, who was managing Martin's pit, called him in for fuel, which wasn't really needed. The stop took only 34 sec and the Bugatti rumbled off, still in the lead. But the worry of stopping had upset the driving rhythm, and Martin went off the road at McLean's corner. He could not restart unaided' and thought that, having been pushed off by the marshals, he would be disqualified. This was not so and he was placed third, behind Shuttleworth's 2.9-litre monoposto Alfa Romeo, which averaged 63.97 mph, and Earl Howe's Type 59 Bugatti at 63.80 mphtin having done 63.39 mph. That ended an eventful 1935 season, spent mostly on the Continent, although at Shelsley Walsh, the 2.3-litre Bugatti did very well, clocking 42 sec with single rear wheels. Also during 1935, Martin was offered a drive in Bertelli's works Aston Martin team, at Le Mans. The 11/2-litre Aston Martin Ulster (LM20) was "hard put to it to do the ton on the Mulsanne straight, unless it was tailing the winning 41/2-litre Lagonda, but it had good brakes, was comfortable, and this small Jorry was certainly tough." With Brackenbury as his co-driver Martin's car won its class and was first in the Biennial Cup, at the very commendable average speed of 72.226 mph for 1,805 .4 miles, which was not only high enough to give them third place in the race as a whole, behind the winning Lagonda and the Dreyfus/Stoffel 2.3-litre Alfa Romeo, but Martin's lap speed of 81 mph, was I believe, unbeaten in its class until 1950.
Martin had by now had quite enough of the 3.3 Bugatti. He sold it to the Duke of Grafton, for £1,000, who killed himself in it. In fact, it was an unlucky car, for after the war Kenneth Bear was also killed racing it; it has since been rebuilt again by E Stafford-East. No doubt taking a leaf out of Dick Shuttleworth's book - they were great friends and in later times Charles Martin's son was christened Richard in consequence - Martin thought about also having a monoposio P3 Alfa Romeo. It so happened that Luis Fontes, an astonishing young man, had decided to see whether he would enjoy motor racing as much as flying and had therefore hired a 2.3-litre Monza Alfa Romeo from T&Ts and with it, at the age of 21, won the 1935 International Trophy Race at 86.96 mph on his first appearance in a big race, the car, incidentally wearing the No 13. Fontes went on to further successes in 1935, bringing the old Alfa Romeo home third in the IoM behind the two 3.3-litre Bugattis, being victorious at Le Mans, partnered by John Hindmarsh in a 41/2-litre Lagonda, and winning the Limerick Grand Prix in the Alfa Romeo. He ordered a new P3 Alfa Romeo for the 1936 season but in the meantime he lost his driving licence and with it his competition licence. So he did not want the monoposto Alfa Romeo that T&T's had secured for him from the Scuderia Ferrari, a 2.9-litre car with the latest 1/4-elliptic rear springing, and supplied with cylinder blocks for converting into a 3.2-litre. So Martin bought the car, No. 50003-43 for £1,800 in February 1936. It was taken from Brooklands "down the road" to Byfleet Motors and checked over.
Martin entered this his latest racing car, for the 1936 Pau Grand Prix. He set off in his Railton with his faithful mechanics Brackenbury and Arthur Cottrell in the Ford van, containing Alfa Romeo in 3.2-litre form. For some unexplained reason Martin "had a vertical breeze-up the night before the race and couldn't sleep at all". The Alfa Romeo went very well in the event, and it should have won easily. As it was, Martin lost concentration at a corner and spun off, as he had done at Donington. He managed to shove the gear lever into reverse and restart the stalled engine, and he finished second 14 sec behind Etancelin's 4.8-litre V8 Maserati.
It was then back to England for the BRDC British Empire Trophy Race at Donington. Early in the race the scavenge-pump failed and the dry-sump engine was filled with oil, causing retirement. At Cork the Alfa Romeo ran a big-end in practice. A new one was fitted and Charles set off over about 200 miles of Southern Irish roads to run-in his single-seater racing car! It was all to no avail, because, after putting up the fastest race-lap, a piston developed a hole and the driver had to push the car over the finishing-line, unplaced. Charlie Martin now got married and for their honeymoon he took his first wife off to the Eifelrennen, for the Grand Prix. The works Mercedes-Benz and Auto-Union teams were running, so it promised excitement. In pouring rain Martin had little chance to learn the long circuit, but at least he had the Alfa Romeo ahead of Zannelli's V8 Maserati and Severi's works Alfa Romeo, when a lot of people waved to him as he was taking a downhill left-hander. He turned to glance at them and went off the road and turned upside down in the ditch. As his first wife had been informed of the accident she was surprised to see him when he walked back to the pits. She was even more surprised when they drove round after the race and saw how the car had ended up!
They went on to Budapest after this, for the Hungarian Grand Prix. They were using a Railton coupe. All the roads in Buda were of the dirt variety, apart from the autobahn where records were broken by racing cars. The Railton got so hot that they had to open both sides of the bonnet and wire them in that position, and even then they suffered from fuel vaporisation. Charlie Martin now talked of how little starting-money there was in those pre-war days. At Budapest he was paid the handsome sum of £25. "Sometimes we only got a fiver, when you would go out and get rotten on it." There had been no starting-money at the Nurburgring but "with the odd prize money, the occasional meagre starting-money, and the few ackers we got from Esso, Dunlop and Ferodo, we might make £1,000 a year, if things were going well and we were racing every weekend."
Martin was never sure of which side you were supposed to pass on at Budapest, causing Manfred von Brauchitsch to raise both hands from the wheel of his Mercedes-Benz and wave his arms above his head, after overtaking the Alfa Romeo on one lap, before it succumbed to back-axle failure.
Returning home, the Alfa Romeo in 3.2-litre form was third in a 10-lap race for cars up to 5,000 cc at Donington and then won an equivalent race at the Nuffield Trophy meeting at 68.58 mph before Martin won the 150-mile Nuffield Trophy race itself, in the Scribbans' biscuit-coloured 11/2-litre ERA (R9B), at 68.50 mph beating Arthur Dobson and the Whitehead/Walker combination in these cars, Motor Sport reporting: "Charlie Martin finished unflurried and cheerful as ever, and, being led to the microphone with some difficulty, paid a tribute to the ERA and the mechanics who had made his success possible". The Alfa non-started in the Donington 200 Mile Race with engine trouble and before the Deauville GP Martin was sailing with his Father-in-Law in the Baltic. He was somewhere off Sweden when it occurred to him that the race was imminent. He persuaded his Father-in-Law to put him ashore, wired for money to be sent to him at a shipping-line office in Hamburg and commenced a series of very slow train journeys there. He then discovered that the shipping line had five Hamburg offices and spent much time finding the required lolly. As a result, he arrived at Deauville after practice had ended. He started the race, a tragic affair, in which Lehoux was killed and Farina injured, from the back of the grid but finished second to Wimille'.s Type 59 Bugatti. They actually won a £150 prize,.and had received £20 for starting "we came away loaded with francs."· ...
For the ·1936 Brighton Speed Trials bottom gear was removed from the Alfa in order that wider gears could be put in the gearbox, for greater reliability. Always a difficult car to get off the line, this modification did not exactly improve matters, but it clocked second-best time of the day.
The preparation of the car was done at Byfleet Motors, who also geared-up the supercharger of the Type 51 Bugatti. In the Donington Grand Prix Martin was second to Dick Seaman and Hans Ruesch in the works 3.8-litre Alfa Romeo, his 3.2-litre engine pulling top gear for much of the circuit, and to end the season he drove the Alfa Romeo in the Mountain Championship, lapping at 81 mph, and would have been third had he not been penalised for allegedly jumping the start. However, it then won the Fourth October Mountain Handicap from scratch at 76.72 mph, lapping at 79.78 mph. Before this Martin had for the only time in his career partnered Freddie Dixon, in the latter's very fast 2-litre Riley, in the BRDC 500 Mile Race at Brooklands. The car was so quick that although it was losing water and boiling, and had to come in, it kept ahead, to win at 116.86 mph. Martin remembers the great discomfort - "we were absolutely black and blue from the hard ride".
He had had two full seasons with two of the leading Grand Prix cars. I asked him which he preferred, and without hesitation he said that the Alfa Romeo was the nicer car. Of the Type 59 Bugatti he wrote in the Bugatti OC magazine Bugantics: "She was a magnificent car to handle and a joy to drive when she was running properly, but she gave me endless trouble and cost me a small fortune in repairs, but inspite of all this, l shall always be grateful to her for the unlimited experience she gave me in handling a really fast car". Plans for 1937, put in hand during the winter, involved changing the Alfa's capacity back to 2.9-litres to spare the ageing transmission but to compensate for this by gearing-up the twin blowers and also raising the compression-ratio. This was done, but the car was used very little by its owner thereafter, because he had decided that the new voiturette racing might be more profitable.
For this purpose he bought from Norman Black the 11/2-litre ERA (R3A). The Alfa Romeo was used at Donington and took second place in the 100-mile Coronation Trophy Handicap to Goodacre's little Austin, its owner "driving like a master" in Motor Sport's view, after he had been placed second in a five-lap Handicap. He held the circuit lap-record at Donington at this time, until Ruesch in the works Alfa broke it. At Cork the Alfa Romeo was third, after making fastest lap, at 92.08 mph, and at Brooklands it lasted until the very last lap out of the 100, in the Campbell Trophy Race, driven by Brackenbury, but with only top gear left and no brakes at all.
The ERA was run mainly abroad, with the accompanying adventures that were part and parcel of Charles' racing. The Avus race is recalled as "the carve-up of the year". The car went down in the Ford van but for Martin there was some tedious flying there, with Luft Hansa. He used 6.00 x 19 rear tyres on the back wheels and was able to do 125 mph at 5,200 rpm instead of at the customary 6,500 rpm. The car "went so well", winning at 119.67 mph from the Maseratis of Plate and Teagin. At Picardy, "a crazy dump", Martin only got the starting money, because of piston trouble. He then had used the geared-up blower there. He was unplaced in the Swiss Grand Prix, where they used a low boost, and the car was not fast enough. At the Friburg Hill Climb the gearbox failed and he had to practice in Count Lurani's Fiat. After practice, they drove through the night to collect a spare gearbox from Frankfurt, fitted it and eventually finished second in the 1,500 cc class. At Albi the ERA went better, and there were enjoyable runs at the Crystal Palace and at Donington. At Mazaryk, where they were demonstrated to in a hair-raising fashion by a Czech taxi driver, all was going nicely leading for five or six laps until the plugs juiced up, Martin being second behind Villoresi's Maserati. It was from there that he had another long haul back to Croydon, in a DH Express, before driving off in his Lancia Aprilia. I remember that he asked me for sixpence (21/2p) with which to tip his porter, this being considered quite an adequate tip, at the country's premier Airport, in those days! He also ran the red ERA at Brooklands.
After this Charlie Martin decided to concentrate on his boats and moved down to Brighton. But there was one more motor-racing venture before he did this. They decided to build a sprint special, rather on John Bolster lines. Into an old 2-litre GP Delage chassis four brand new 375 cc JAP racing single-cylinder motorcycle engines with phosphor-bronze cylinder heads were installed, in the form of a square - not in line, as was suggested in Charles Mortimer's book. They were coupled by chain to a centre shaft, which drove an ENV gearbox. ERA-Girling brakes were used, and a spare Alfa Romeo P3 front axle was fitted. This should have added up to a very potent 11/2-litre air-cooled job. But when it was started up the vibration was so bad that "double-vision was nothing to it. The driver literally couldn't see, and anyway the chains broke". They persevered though, trying spherical-toothed dogs on the idler shafts, chains were in cast chaincases; in fact, said Martin, "the full hammer", including a Cozette blower fed from a big SU carburetter, and a fan to cool the engines. There was then less vibration but the crankpins began to break. The Martin-JAP was never raced and someone must have bought the nice brand-new engines from it! When he gave up racing Martin sold the Alfa Romeo and his ERA to Jack Bartlett. There was, however, a run in the 1937 TT at Donington, with Charles Brackenbury, in Arthur Fox's 4-litre V12 Lagonda capable of 122 mph but it ended when the o/s stub axle broke approaching Melbourne corner three laps from the finish, and the car came to a grinding halt with the front wheel it had shed jammed under the mudguard.· Martin controlled the stricken car with skill.
Boats were now filling most of Charlie Martin's time, but in the shadow of war, there was a brief return to exciting motoring before service in the North Sea and the Channel, as Charlie recalls: "In August 1939 about the 20th I think just before the war started, I was in London and went to see "Jolly Jack Bartlett" at his establishment, where I saw a black and red Type 55 Bugatti. In a mad moment I part-exchanged my Lancia Aprilia and about £200 for it. Second childhood? I kept this car throughout the war using it on leave from Felixstowe when I was there in Robert Hitchens MGB Flotilla (he still had his 2-litre Aston Martin). The last drive was from Felixstowe to Chichester on Pool Petrol. We had moved from Shere in 1941. I sold it after the war to Pedigree Cars (alias Mongrel Motors). Since 1938 I had become boat mad and had a 39 ton ketch laid up in Shoreham for the duration. If war had not come I was going to try and sail it round the world. I had four years in MGBs. Thanks to Hume Kidston, brother of Glen Kidston. I was in the Channel and North Sea all the time. Finishing up in a steam gunboat during the invasion of Europe. After which I retired to Scotland to a large armed yacht 184 ton Braemar. When war finished I got a DSC and American Legion of Merit, God knows why, I thought that I had had enough excitement. But between '52 and '72 my wife and I travelled extensively in the Med and Bay of Biscay as far afield as Rome and Lisbon, in converted Scottish Herring Drifters. It was colossal fun and comparatively inexpensive. We visited 75 different ports and met lots of interesting people, those sort of voyages could not be done these days as too many people have now got into the act."
For road use Charlie Martin has turned in recent times to the big Citroens, of which he has owned a number, running a Safari at present, and for running about town his wife uses a Peugeot 104. And, of course, he still has a motor-cruiser, moored on the Thames. - WB.