Ford at Brooklands

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Not Henry Ford but the Ford Motor Co of Great Britain, although the legendary Henry himself did visit the famous Motor Course in 1912, to watch a race devoted to Model-T Fords, the flivver with which he had opened up the outbacks of the Globe and made car ownership possible for ordinary folk. The race, over about two miles, the second of its kind at the Weybridge Track, took place on August Bank Holiday, and had an entry of 10, all the Ts having to use standard gear ratios and driving wheels. First prize was a £25 cup presented by Henry Ford.

It is said that he advised the Ford agent A. E. George to dispense with the ballast he was carrying to keep the back wheels in contact with the concrete but George thought otherwise and after winning ran over to the multi-millionaire car maker saying “what did I tell you?” The Ford occasion of which I am thinking was not this 1912 one-lap race but the great Ford invasion of 1939, when following the lead of the Alvis and Lagonda people, Ford-of-Britain decided to hold a Gala Day at Brooklands, an industrial invasion far happier than the one that is at present inflicting itself on the historic site . . . The attendance was so great that soon all roads to the Track were blocked, the numbers being estimated as up to 30,000, which would not have been achieved at most race meetings. The cars that arrived, mostly Fords, completely filled the Paddock, its approach road, and every available car-park, so that many were abandoned at the roadside without or in side streets in Weybridge.

Having finally got in, guests were able to inspect the latest Ford products in a garden-party atmosphere, on this July afternoon, with the sounds of music played by a military band and reels by (who else?) the Dagenham Girl pipers, floating to them. The Fords on display included a full range of the latest Prefects and a rather Americanised mini-racer, Ford-powered, which the Company had recently presented to Sir Malcolm Campbell and which is still around. The idea of this Gala Day was believed to have been Campbell’s and the great man remained at Brooklands until after 8 pm that day, to present the prizes awarded for a series of driving-tests and a Concours d’Elegance.

In addition, the guests were entertained by daredevil drivers who charged piles of barrels and drove their Ford V8s through sheets of plate glass and walls of blazing planks. Some of the more energetic guests indulged in a wheel-changing exercise against the clock, and boy scouts had a soap-box derby on the Road Circuit. Ford Director A. R. Smith, General Manager P. Hennessy, and Sales Manager Anthony Hall were present and the crowded day must have emphasised the popularity of Ford cars and the effortless running of the Ford V8, which for me remains the vee-eight one will forever remember for its easy acceleration with that characteristic “wuffle-wuffle” exhaust beat . . . Incidentally, by 1939, used V8s were obtainable for around a fiver, as the taxation rate was against them, and what better than a V8 coupe for such a sum, which could make an excellent mud trials or rally car even though this Ford was then seven years old.

The “Ford Bridge” over the Finishing Straight carried the slogan, in large blue and white letters, “1st For Speed & Comfort — The Ford V-8”. The kids were issued with Ford eyeshades and could buy chewing gum from Wrigley’s vendors.

Apart from the more informal frolics at this Ford Day of July 17th, 1939, car and motorcycle races were held, over the Campbell road circuit. As I do not refer to the former in my “History of Brooklands Motor Course” Grenville, 1979) you may care to add to your records the fact that this five lap event was won by Hugh Hunter’s 2.9 sports Alfa Romeo, at 68.12 mph, catching E. M. Thomas’ Frazer-Nash-BMW on the last lap of the handicap. The Hon Peter Aitken, who had been driving his ERA rather slowly, responded to his mechanics’ signals on the final lap, R11B just beating the Frazer-Nash-BMW into third place, 5.5 sec behind Hunter. To complete the record, a black 1938 Ford Ten took the Beauty Prize, a lady’s red rwo-door Prefect being runner-up, while a 1912 Model-T landaulette took the award for best car over 10 years old.

By the by, while on the subject of Fords, in reporting the last MCC Land’s End Trial I said that Threlfall and Campbell were driving Model-Bs, whereas their cars were both Model-As, the type which was awaited with World-wide bated breath when it replaced the long-lived Model-T in 1927. — W.B.