Bill Boddy

Barnato at Brooklands

Woolf Barnato’s achievements with Bentleys are well documented; what’s less well known is the wide range of makes he drove at the Surrey autodrome

Woolf Barnato was one of the well-remembered ‘Bentley Boys’ who achieved fame and fortune for these celebrated British sports cars in important races, notably at Le Mans. He won in 1928 with Bernard Rubin, in 1929 with Sir Henry Birkin and in 1930 with Glen Kidston. He also won the 1929 BARC Six-Hour Race at Brooklands, with co-driver Jack Dunfee, and the 1930 JCC Double-12 Race, the Bentley shared with Frank Clement.

The Bentley Boys were newsworthy personalities, with multi-millionaire Barnato very much one of them, famed for the all-night parties at his country mansion ‘Ardenrun’, where the prizes for girls who won competitions were drives in one of the Bentleys with either Barnato himself or Birkin, the house drive long enough for exciting speeds to be reached in the light of the headlamps. I hope the ladies were lent leather coats to wear over flimsy dance frocks.

Barnato was an all-round sportsman, skilful at boxing, cricket, skiing etc. He hunted and also raced on the Thames in a boat with a Sunbeam racing-car engine.

The fame of these rich Bentley drivers was well known, the police naming the street in London’s Mayfair, where several of them had their town flats, ‘Bentley Corner’ on account of the cars parked outside.

What is less well known is that Woolf Barnato was a competitor at Brooklands from 1920-28, driving a variety of cars. He started with a 1-litre Calthorpe, entering as Capt W Barnato, his Army rank, and won the Whitsun Private Competitors Handicap, receiving a £60 cup. This was followed by another win, commendable as his handicap had been increased by one minute, but changing to a six-cylinder 5.5-litre Indianapolis-built Marmon he was unplaced in the two-mile Sprint Handicap. By August a 1.2-litre Calthorpe, either another car or an engine change, gave him two third places.

For the following season Barnato, when in America, had been impressed by a six-cylinder 8-litre Type 48 Locomobile, said to be one of the best cars, so he brought a chassis back to England and had a white two-seater body made for it. It lapped at 74.78mph, but was handicapped to lap at 77.51mph, so was outclassed. At Whitsun Barnato resorted to the Calthorpe, which after two non-starts, won the 75mph Long Handicap (78.92mph).

From August there began an astonishing run of six non-starts with a 1.2-litre Dorsey-Calthorpe, to the close of the 1921 season. Dorsey remains a mystery, whether a company, tuner, or a co-owner, and although some of these non-starts may have been due to Barnato being unavailable, they do suggest mechanical failure. He tried to race with a 5.7-litre Austro-Daimler but after a lap at under 58mph it retired.

For the 1922 season Barnato had a 2614cc Talbot, unplaced at first, and a 1954cc Ansaldo. Both retired at Easter.

At the May meeting, after a non-start, the Talbot was second in a 90mph Short Handicap and after lapping at 78.67mph the Ansaldo non-started, as did the Talbot again after an 88.62mph lap in an earlier race. But the Ansaldo then gave Barnato a third place in the Whitsun 75mph Short Handicap. The Talbot also behaved itself, to the extent of a second place and then won its next race (90.39mph), Barnato also winning another race in the Ansaldo (79.94mph).

This took Barnato, in spite of all the other engagements of a multi-millionaire and all-round sportsman, to the popular August Bank Holiday when he was at Brooklands yet again with a 4754cc Talbot but he did not race in any of its events. However, there was still the Autumn Meeting at which the big black Talbot lapped at 84.70mph, but without successes. Barnato had also intended to race a 33/180 Mercedes-Benz, which I think may have been his fast road car.

By 1923 he had one of the wonderfully quick Wolseley ‘Moths’, which I expect Capt A G Miller had persuaded him to buy. It was a good move because at Easter Moth II finished second in its first race and was then a winner in the 75mph Long Handicap (85.13mph), discreetly followed by Miller in the other Moth (84.70mph), both from the 48sec mark. At Whitsun it lapped at 83.70mph but was unplaced, and in the 75mph Short Handicap Miller’s Moth I (81.91mph) and Barnato in Moth II (83.00mph) were not “in the money”, but later Moth II lapped at 83.99mph, only to retire from its next race.

The June meeting saw the Miller/Barnato Moths battle resumed, giving Miller a four-second start, with their respective best laps 88.15 and 84.84mph, but both unplaced, handicapper ‘Ebby’ Ebblewhite not fooled by previous results. Barnato had a 1496cc Enfield-Allday in the next race, but it retired. He resumed with Moth II, and was rewarded with second place in the 75mph Long Handicap, followed by third place in the Enfield-Allday in the 90mph Long Handicap.

During 1923 Barnato gave facilities for the building of a team of new cars, perhaps expecting them to be suitable for longer races, which were designed by Bertelli who had previously raced Astons and was to go on to make the OHC Aston Martins an esteemed make. Surprisingly he used Burt McCullum’s 1½-litre sleeve-valve engines. Three of these were entered for the JCC 200-mile race, to be driven by Barnato, Douglas and Bertelli. But on the eve of this important event, in which the Fiats retired dramatically and Harvey’s 12/50 Alvis Special won, the Bertellis required new big-ends and only Bertelli’s started but did not finish. In the following year Barnato ran a Bertelli as Larubia I, perhaps to puzzle ‘Ebby’, but soon returned to his Aston Martin, which was not as fast and also retired.

In 1924 Barnato was still staunch to his Wolseley Moth, which rewarded him at Easter with a third place, then a win on the same day (84.70mph) in the 75mph Long Handicap, and another third place. He had also entered a 4.8-litre Talbot which he would have shared with the steeplechase jockey George Duller had it started. The last two races at this 1924 meeting were cancelled as Toop in Brocklebank’s pre-war Peugeot had been killed after going over the top of the Byfleet banking. So the Moth never got a chance to try for another win.

The handicap for the Wolseley was now heavy. When at the July meeting Barnato changed to a 1496cc Crouch he was given only one minute from Parry Thomas in the 6-litre Lanchester in 8½ miles and was unplaced. So for the August Bank Holiday it was back to the ageing Moth, which still provided a second place, and the Talbot, now quoted as 4.5-litre and entrusted to G A Vandervell, won for Barnato. Then, at the Autumn races, the Moth was again a winner and then second, in spite of giving a TT Vauxhall a start of 52sec in 5¾ miles. He had also entered a 3-litre Bentley for Frank Clement.

By 1925 Brooklands attracted more and more of the ‘Right Crowd’, in spite of clashes with the Henley Regatta, the Hendon Air Display and tennis at Wimbledon. After more non-starts at Easter with an 8-litre Hispano-Suiza Barnato brought out a 3-litre Bentley at Whitsun, and a 2-litre straight-eight Bugatti, with a 106.19mph lap in the French car. For the last BARC meeting he was letting motorcycle rider S S Worters and W D Hawkes drive his cars, which failed to start. Never mind – Barnato had successes with the Bentley, a first (97.65mph) and a third.

The following year Duller won a race in Barnato’s Bugatti, which was said to have had too helpful a handicap, and Barnato won in the Bentley, lapping at just over 100mph, and in his very next race it went round at 103.33mph and finished second. Frank Clement drove the Bentley while Barnato was at Montlhéry co-driving John Duff’s Bentley in a successful long-distance record onslaught.

By 1927 other pursuits kept Barnato away from Brooklands, the Bentley, described as Prussian blue and then Royal blue, being driven by Duller to a third place. At the November Charity Meeting the Barnato Cup was won by John Cobb.

After this Barnato concentrated on the long-distance races listed at the beginning of this discourse, the purchase of the Bentley Company and other business commitments occupying his time when not racing as one of the ‘Bentley Boys’. However, he had not lost interest in Brooklands; he allowed Clive Dunfee to drive his 6½-litre Bentley there and employed Walter Hassan to design and build the 8-litre Barnato-Hassan Special in which the handsome young barrister Oliver Bertram set a lap record of 142.60mph, only 41sec slower than Cobb’s later ultimate lap record of 143.44mph in the 24-litre Napier-Railton.

It is remarkable how many BARC races Barnato entered (they totalled 176, not including other clubs’ Brooklands races), as well as taking part in a number of speed trials and hillclimbs with best class times being achieved with his Hispano-Suiza at Laindon, and a second in class in a Calthorpe at Westcliffe.

March MG survivor

It is excellent news that an ex-Brooklands car has a new owner, after being unused for the past 45 years. It is one of the team of C-type MGs which the Earl of March ran at the Track in 1931, notably in the JCC Double-Twelve race. It was then driven by Norman Black that same year, winning the Irish GP and the Ulster TT. The Earl of March sold the team cars at the end of 1931. The car which has survived, chassis no. C0253, Reg RX 8623, was then bought by Randol Jeffries who was a personal friend of Major ‘Goldie’ Gardner, who had the MG in his racing team in 1932. E R Gehlken acquired this historic MG in 1933/39 and the present owner, Ron Grant, is hoping to discover the car’s history from then on, when it is believed to have added to its competition successes.

Diana Barnato, MBE

If Woolf Barnato was an exceptional racing driver, his daughter Diana Barnato Walker, MBE, was his equal as a pilot. She died recently, aged 90. Too young to see all her famous father’s racing, she loved speed, receiving the fine birthday present of an elegant 1939 Talbot-Darracq from her father on her 21st birthday.

Having learnt to fly at the age of 18 at Brooklands, she joined the ATA when war broke out and became one of its most accomplished and brave pilots. She delivered 260 Spitfires, and she landed a stricken Typhoon safely. Her list of types flown numbered 125, all this vividly described in her book Spreading my Wings, published in 1994. Her proficiency was endorsed when the RAF allowed her to break the sound barrier in 1963 in a Lightning T4, at 1262mph.

Get the works

The more avid members of the Jaguar fraternity should read with interest Cat out of the Bag! – the Jaguar Competition Department 1961-66, by Peter D Wilson, who worked there and who recalls in undramatic detail what went on at the works.

In spite of the short period covered, what Wilson remembers is important. He provides a lot of charts and diagrams, both official and his own, which are informative as well as historic. Wilson saw the inside details of the E-types from prototype to the racing Lightweights, and other competition Jaguars up to their Le Mans final curtain, when DSJ in Motor Sport noted the unfamiliar drivers but nothing more.

Wilson’s schoolboy lifeline was Motor Sport; he is full of praise for DSJ but I get criticised for having been a VW Beetle advocate! The book’s last chapter is speculation on Jaguar’s F1 plans.
Published by Bookmarque, 272 pages, ISBN 978 1 870 519755, £49.99.

Age versus breeding

There has been a recent hope among some members of the VSCC that the Post-Vintage Thoroughbred class recognised by the Committee should now embrace all cars made before 1939.

The PVT section was introduced after the war when it was feared that membership might drop after all the strife and disaster of wartime. The original PVT list accepted the thoroughbreds the Committee thought appropriate, with a few later additions, but when the SS100 Jaguar was included some members became apoplectic, denying that it was a proper sports car. But are Austin 7 box saloons, Rubys and similar cars really wanted in the Vintage Sports Car Club?

This is not invidious; it is simply that there are now specialist clubs for almost all the older cars which provide spares and technical information about the more utility vehicles, so they serve owners more than adequately. So do these cars really need to become part of the VSCC? I think not.