Bill Boddy looks at an ingenious pre-war event in which beginners and expert drivers alike could enjoy a taste of speed without too much risk to their cars
It was the idea of the Junior Car Club to have a high speed trial at Brooklands embracing a slice of road-circuit driving. This was a truly ambitious club. Formed before WWI as The Cyclecar Club to cater for a surprising interest in the new brand of economy motoring, by 1921 it had very successfully organised the first truly long-distance car race at Brooklands, which continued until ’28. It went on to even more ambitious projects — its 200-Mile race, those Double 12 races from ’29 to ’31, its two-day 1000-Mile race of ’32, and those ingeniously handicapped International Trophy races.
To retain some reminder of its origins this well-organised club had, post-war, changed its title to The Junior Car Club, which it retained while running the aforesaid major long-distance races at the Track as well as ordinary meetings, trials and socials. This changed after the end of WWII, when Brooklands closed, and the tide of Brooklands ARC was amicably handed to the former JCC, to become the British Automobile Racing Club.
The JCC organised a novel event at Brooklands in 1925 to appeal to both novice and experienced drivers. This first JCC High-Speed Trial was different. Somehow this go-ahead club had persuaded the BARC to let it use a 100-mile course which entailed closing the main Brooklands entrance road and taking competitors down the 1-in-4 Test Hill, and along the Finishing Straight and Byfleet Banking in the reverse, clockwise, direction. They then took the sharp lefthanded hairpin off what was normally the return road turning right from the main circuit to the paddock. The cars next went under the tunnel to use part of the entrance road, where a l0mph limit was imposed, and down the Test Hill onto the Finishing Straight Ambitious is the word! What if a car ran amok on the hill and cannoned into those in front? Not all of them had four-wheel brakes.
This remarkable idea was that of L F ‘Bunny’ Dyer, and this bold experiment proved a success, watched by an estimated 3000 spectators, who were charged 10/- (50p) to sit in the Fork grandstand.
The outstanding feature was that you could drive as fast as you liked, but if you preferred to spare your car, as many amateur entrants probably did, different average speeds were set for the three classes (for 1100cc, 1500cc cars and sportscars of up to 1500cc) which if achieved resulted in Gold and Silver awards. All had to be standard models, with at least 10 of a type already sold. That this innovative idea was popular was seen when the full 50 entries were received, comprising 11 1100cc, 23 1500cc and 17 sportscars. They had to average 33,35 and 45mph for top awards. Petrol, oil or water replenishing was not allowed.
While the JCC was at play, the main paddock entrance road was closed. Vehicular and pedestrian traffic had to use the one off what is now the Brooklands Road, from where cars were permitted to turn right onto the Track itself and follow it round to just beyond the tunnel. Those who parked just above the tunnel had a fine view of the hairpin from which competitors drove under the tunnel and up what was normally the entrance road. Pedestrians were provided with temporary steps to help them climb to the rim of the Members’ Banking, from which a view of the whole course was available, but there was some resentment when a charge of 10/- was made, as it was for using the paddock grandstand.
At around 2pm on May 2, 1925, the cars lined up in four rovvs and were flagged away at 15sec intervals. Alec Issigonis, not yet thinking of Minors or Minis, was in his mother’s Singer Ten saloon, The Autocar’s pipe-smoking Sammy Davis in a 10/23 Talbot with two passengers, and Richard Twelvetrees, Motor Sport’s editor, was in a 12/50 Alvis said, optimistically surely, to be able to lap the odd course at 80mph. Donald Healey was driving an Ariel Four, CM Harvey an Alvis, The Hon Victor Bruce and Brownsort had ACs, Aston-Martins were represented by H S Eaton and A A Pollard, while Norris had the Lea-Francis that had done well in the 1924 RAC Six-Day Light Car Trial. H J Aldington and E Hillery were in Frazer Nashes, Oates in a Lagonda, Kaye Don used a Bayliss-Thomas, Vernon Balls an Amilcar. J D Benjafield, not yet a ‘Bentley Boy’, relied on his sports Salmson, as did George Newman, and L G Homsted, of pre-war Big Benz fame, was in a Mathis. Enthusiastic lesser drivers did battle with them.
Some 80 per cent of the runners soon bunched up on the Road Hill section, but brave drivers like Twelvetrees could just about overtake on the bend before the speed limit, and with a clear run the faster cars shot down the Test Hill to the bump at the bottom. But when a car hit the tunnel wall on one side and then the other, causing other cars to be stopped temporarily, it must have seemed too optimistic to the JCC fora few moments! Bookie ‘Long Tom’ was taking money as if it was a race, the favourite being Wallgrove’s sports Riley at 4 to 1, but the ‘winner’ was Humphreys’ Amilcar.
First casualty was Ian Macdonald’s Alvis, with a broken magneto coupling on lap one. Harvey, in a touring two-seater Alvis, led on the second lap, after starting 19th. After a puncture Ely (Sénéchal) retired, and Simkin’s Salmson dived into the ditch at the 35mph Paddock Road Hairpin, its pointed tail sticking out to unnerve some other drivers. Lane had put water into his Amilcar’s petrol tank and, although he drained it, also failed to do a lap.
After the finish, cars were examined, starters required to turn engines three times, dynamos and lamps to function, after which officials worked out the results. Homsted’s Mathis’s engine just started in spite of a bulge in the crankcase!
Golds were won by 22 entrants: Finch (Ariel), Davis (Talbot), Randall (Talbot), Newsome (Salmson), Oates (Lagonda), Harvey (Alvis), Debman (Ceirano), Alan Hill (Rhode), Richards (Bugatti), Watson (Surrey), Aldington (Frazer Nash), Norris (Lea Francis), Pollard (Aston-Martin), Glazier (Windsor), Milne (Windsor), Don (Bayliss-Thomas), Havers (Riley), Benjafield (Salmson), Humphreys (Amilcar), Twelvetrees (Alvis), Cooper (Riley) and Douglas (AstonMartin). Five got Silvers, 21 no awards.
In June 1926, the JCC repeated this Trial. This time drivers had to run to their cars Le Mans fashion, and put the hoods up, then down after five laps. The girls ran as quickly as the men and, aided by her passengers, it took Ivy Cummings only 47sec to get the Frazer Nash away, compared to two minutes before Mrs Dykes’s Alvis was rigged. An extra class for non-standard touring cars had been added this year, the required average speeds now 35,40 and 45mph for these and the sportscars. The speed limit was now 15mph. Bonnets were sealed and scrutineer Hugh McConnell had the front brakes of both Gwynne 8s, the two Rhodes, the Surrey, Joyce’s AC and Newton’s Frazer Nash disconnected, as these were still not fitted on the standard cars.
Early retirements were Lorkin’s Salmson with a broken magneto brush, two Alvises, one with faulty plugs, the other with a faulty oil regulator, and Peaty’s Newton-Ceirano with petrol-feed problems. Taplow’s Lea-Francis blew its head gasket, and Dingle’s Lea-Francis ran a big-end. Meanwhile, the Frazer Nashes of Cummings and Bagshawe had ceased for good at the hairpin, watched by Frazer Nash himself. Tyres stopped many, the Surrey requiring three wheel changes. The Motor said car makes were not declared but here they are! Golds went to Chinery (Gwynne), Anthony (Salmson), Newton (Newton-Ceirano), Mrs Dykes (Alvis), Norris (Rhode), Dykes (Windsor), Finch (OM), Pollard (Aston-Martin), Deveraux (Salmson), Walter (Salmson) and Douglas (Bugatti).
The JCC held the event again in 1927, adding a left turn opposite the Vickers sheds, closely followed by a hairpin round a tub, but without lowering the speeds needed to gain an award. Refuelling was now permitted. So drivers had to go faster. This may have been why Newman’s Salmson went through the road-section’s corrugated-iron fence, the gap he made then used by two others. No-one was hurt, but later the steering failed on Calvert’s Austin 7 saloon and it overturned, the girl passenger limping back to the paddock. The hood raising rule was forestalled by Gordon England’s and the other Austin Seven, Twyford in a Singer Junior and Ellis (Amilcar), all with saloon bodies. Spectators who climbed up the banking (no steps this year) had a view of the road part of the 2.89-mile circuit. Mrs Dykes drove again but her Alvis’s clutch did not last the distance. For a time Guy Martineau (Salmson) had a close duel with Newsome’s bigger Lea-Francis, but the latter prevailed. Lord Waleran was in his Frazer Nash. Starters numbered 45, but only 16 finished, Golds going to 14 of these.
The same circuit was used in 1928. There were 59 starters, 10 of them saloon cars. The Riley and Bugatti drivers regarded it as a race although the schedule speeds still applied. Tim Rose-Richards, with a great future ahead, drove a Bugatti. A G T Gardner, later of MG fame, was in his Salmson, and Gordon England had forsaken an Austin 7 for a Triumph Super Seven. The ladies entered were Miss Pink, Miss Burnett and Miss Machonochie with Alvises, Miss Weeks in a Vernon-Derby and Miss Worsley her sports Jowett. First thrill was when G C Brown’s Alvis took the road fast and hit the bank, having to reverse out. Gardner did better, or worse, going so fast into the corner after the tunnel that his car went into the fence and it took five people to dislodge it. Then cheerful George Chaplin, in his £14 ABC, which had won him a gold in the MCC London-Exeter Trial, broke an inlet valve and caught fire, George beating out the flames.
Other retirements involved the Vernon-Derby and Urwin-Smith’s Amilcar with engine trouble, and chain breakages stopped an Anzani-engined GN. Olive, a Standard agent, kept his smart saloon of that make going for only 12 of the 40 laps, and the Rev Hall-Yarr, down from Cumbria in his 12/50 Alvis saloon, had a stuck gear lever; it was said that he used a most unclerical word when changing a tyre. Roberts burnt his hands badly in tearing out shorting wires on his Bugatti but continued, and it was too much for seven others entrants. The accomplished winners of Golds were five A7s, a Triumph, five MG Midgets, four Salmsons, eight Rileys, two Alvises, a Bugatti, a Frazer Nash and a Lea-Francis.
Although involved in 1929 with its mega-ambitious Double 12 race, the JCC managed to have its Brooklands’ members day, confined to cars of not over 1500cc, to justify its title. The Fork turns were now disused but a sandbank corner was included on the Finishing Straight, close to the foot of the Test Hill so that, having descended this, heavy braking was involved to take this new bend effectively. The Trial started in the morning, to allow for a series of special tests and a Test Hill event in the afternoon. As before, cars might stop or crash in the road section, as did S Gordon’s Rally, the rest bunched up after having to be stopped, rather like the safety car coming out in F1. On another occasion a Riley dipped the gate leading to the return road hairpin and it began to slowly shut.
In spite of all the Track activity, famous drivers included the Earl of March, Leslie Callingham and G H Dunham in MG Midgets, of which six took on five A7s, Cyril Paul (Windsor), A V Wilkinson (OM) and Mrs Dykes in her Six-Hour Race Alvis. Chinery was again in a Riley. The unlucky ones were Jellicoe, whose s/c FWD Alvis threw a rod, and Wells’s Triumph Seven with a seized back axle. This time it was Michael May (Ceirano) who went through the fencing. Gold medals: 10 MG Midgets, five A7s, five Rileys, three Salmsons, two Amilcars, a Bugatti, a Frazer Nash, an Alvis and an Aston-Martin.
At the end of the vintage era, 1930, this JCC High-Speed Trial was as popular as before. A mass of A7s and MG Midgets took part, Issigonis among the former, the Earl of March in a Double 12 version of the latter. The Autocar was represented by John Dugdale (Lea-Francis), Brian Twist (Riley) and H S Linfield (MG Midget). The scrutineer was now Lionel Martin. This time only Lester’s Frazer Nash was going well for the ‘Chain Gang’ and a Riley caught fire, while the clutch of Oxonford’s Avon Standard was too tired, after having done many MCC trials. The afternoon was devoted to driving frolics, the one-lap race won by Dennis Evans’ Chrysler, and in the Test Hill sweepstake L G Bachelier’s Bugatti was best, in 10.8sec. Gold collectors this time numbered 29.
I hope this has set the scene of these rather unusual happenings.