Cutler's first stand

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Cutler’s first (and only) stand

Answering to the best of my ability the shoals of readers’ queries which are sent to me, not you understand in competition with ‘Honest John’ of the Telegraph, sometimes gives me an idea for a piece in these columns. Thus when I received a picture of an Austin 12/4 with a rather sporting four-seater aluminium body I remembered an unlikely Brooldands car that ran there in 1925.

The picture of this unusual Austin came from the Honest John’s Mystery Motors book. As the Austin Register will agree, the 12/4 was renowned for durability and served a great many owners wonderfully well for business and pleasure motoring in the vintage years. But top speed must have been in the region of 50mph. So to run one at Brooklands appeared unduly optimistic. Of course, these races were handicapped so effectively by the one and only `Ebby’ Ebblewhite, with Dutton to help him, that all entrants should in theory have had an equal chance.

But even `Ebby’, who could calculate the time gap between winner and runner-up even in a road race of hundreds of miles, could not ensure more than a few dead heats at Brooklands. He would be cautious of new arrivals, as his treatment of this 12/4 in the 1925 August 75mph Short Handicap illustrates.

It was entered by Sam Holbrook, Austin’s Sales Manager, and piloted by Harold Cutler, a test and racing driver for the company. So `Ebby’ would be justified in perhaps thinking that this was a works car. Possibly Sir Herbert Austin had decided, since his Austin 20s had been raced successfully and his A7s run by his son-in-law Arthur Waite were satisfactorily effective, to thus further publicise his Austin 12. Otherwise nothing was known, except that the engine had a racing camshaft.

`Ebby’ set Cutler’s start at 36sec, the 1661cc ‘touring’ 12/4 being lined up against Gordon England’s very successful A7, driven by R E O Hall, and the 2.8-litre Fronty-Ford Speedsport of Alfred Moss (father of Sir Stirling) which won. Even an unknown 749cc Peugeot would have been flagged away with this mysterious Austin 12/4 had it started.

Cutler lapped at a surprisingly fast 74.33mph, but this was 10.8mph slower than the Ford and 6.91mph slower than England’s A7. `Ebby’ was clearly taking no chances with this unknown newcomer. In the 75mph Gold Plate Long Handicap he revised Cutler’s handicap to 57sec, with three well-known cars going off before him and England’s A7 with him again.

The larger Austin now lapped at 72.71mph, so must have been showing nearly 80mph along the Railway Straight, but again it was unplaced. The punters must have gasped respectfully; but at Brooklands you seldom won first time out.

This Austin never ran at the Track again. I had been pleased when I found a starting line-up photograph which included it, and Moss’s winning Ford, to use in my Brooklands history. Now a reader thinks that the picture in Honest John’s Mystery Motors could be the Brooklands car. It has the same four-door aluminium body, black bonnet and artillery wheels. The body was made by F Heam & Co of Walsall, but did it make it for Austin’s, was it a customer one-off or were several such special 12/4s made by Hearn’s? It is a puzzle that may forever remain unsolved.