Racing cars at rest
Messrs. Thomson & Taylor, of Brooklands Track – familiarly known as T. & T.’s – were ever the premier motor-racing concern, and some while ago it occurred to us to enquire what had become, these unhappy days, of all the fast machinery they once cared for. The outcome of this enquiry was a visit which these times is quite unique. In short, we were invited to inspect some extremely famous racing cars all carefully stored for the duration in a safe place under one roof, an experience we would clearly like to have shared with every enthusiast exiled in H.M. Forces, albeit the shock of seeing once again all these racing cars gathered together would doubtless have vied with any experienced in the course of active service! J. Granville Grenfell kindly devoted a Sunday morning to showing us round, and we will refrain from saying in which direction we followed his special home-brewed, but very presentable, motor-bicycle after leaving the vicinity of Brooklands, except to mention that a very highly scented pig farm had to be negotiated ere the cars were located, three abreast, in their long cow-shed. Incidentally, the conveying of them all from the Track must have been a remarkable spectacle to any enthusiasts who encountered it.
Opening the humble doors of this temporary racing stable you pass a Railton saloon owned by the late Mr. Spurrier, of Leyland Motors, Ltd., and pause to admire several sports Alfa-Romeos, Bagratouni’s car amongst them. What lies beyond impels but brief inspection of these road-equipped motorcars, for here are some of the fastest and most renowned racing cars ever seen in this country. There is a twin-blower “Shelsley” Frazer-Nash with the sports bodywork, proudly bearing its maker’s name on the ribbed inlet manifold into which the two Type 260 Centrics feed.
Dual ignition with the coil set feeding plugs on the exhaust side of the head is an interesting feature, and it is pleasing to find that the four-branch exhaust system and tubular front axle are well greased against a long hibernation. Next one comes on that remarkable little car which W.E. Harker developed, first with a 1 1/2 litre V8 engine having Austin Seven cylinder blocks, later with M.G. blocks and valve gear, until he won a Mountain race with it, lapping at 69 1/2 m.p.h. in 1934. The Zoller compressor is driven by no fewer than three chains, each o.h. camshaft by two chains, and the off side exhaust pipe is on a level with the adjacent valve cover. There are two downdraught S.U. carburetters, an oil cooler is visible at the forward end of the sump, and cooling is by pump. The starting handle is offset to the near side and the mass of chains afore-mentioned is the outstanding feature of this amazing engine, the camshaft drives running from the off side of the Austin Seven timing case and having jockey sprockets. The water from the forward-set radiator enters the heads at the rear and leaves via three separate outlets in the off side block. The magneto is on this side and the supercharger hangs precariously on a mounting plate between engine and chassis. The chassis looks like Riley and has Perrot-type rod-operated front brakes, outrigged half-elliptic underslung rear springs and an I-section front axle with tubular ends.
Further along the line is a genuine monoposto Alfa-Romeo, Tipo 8C, with the traditional, delightfully unadorned cockpit, gear lever long and cranked, facia carrying merely a rev.-counter (to 6,000 r.p.m.), and, on a separate panel, an oil gauge and a thermometer. The very brief, non-underslung half-elliptic rear suspension, the twin fillers in the tail, the diminutive hand-brake lever beside the gear gate and the shield over the exhaust to protect the driver’s elbow were likewise typically Alfa-Romeo. Intriguing, too, was the cockpit detail – the big treadle-type accelerator, the tiny guard beside the pedals to prevent the foot from slipping and the footrest beside the clutch pedal.
Turning from one’s contemplation of this Alfa-Romeo, the eyes alight on the most perfect racing car we have yet seen. None other than Reggie Tongue’s four-cylinder sixteen-valve 1 1/2-litre Maserati. It is covered, not unexpectedly, by a dust-sheet, and every so often Tongue comes from his spells of duty with the R.A.F. to sit in it. It is the finish and detail inspection of this Tipo 4CL, Maserati that commend it so highly. Each of the four water outlets rising from the twin-cam head has its own diminutive hose connection. The short, ribbed casing of the Roots supercharger at the nose of the crankcase carries a single Weber carburetter, and eight compact plated exhaust pipes leave on the near side of the bonnet. The huge brake drums have generous cooling scoops front and back. Front suspension is by 2-ft. torsion bars and transverse wishbone links. Each camshaft cover is retained by 11 nuts and the proportion of every aspect of the engine is admirably gauged. A four-way fuel-line union has its own bracket mounting, extensively drilled. Rear suspension is by simple quarter-elliptics, with torque arms outside them. A very small instrument panel is set to the off side of the facia and carries four dials only – the rev.-counter reading to 10,000 r.p.m. (with a red line at “7,800”). The edges of the cockpit are heavily padded, there are streamline mirrors on either side and the radiator filler cap is internal, no break in the bonnet line being permitted. The tiny brake lever is in the centre of the cockpit and brake actuation is, of course, hydraulic, with two master cylinders. Ignition is by Scintilla Vertex magneto and what appeared to be 18-mm. plugs, and the inlet pipe from the blower is of noticeably large diameter, is unribbed and runs to the manifold centre. There are two blow-off valves. The front wheels carry 5″ x 17″ tyres, the rear 5.50″ x 19 covers. Verily, Reggie Tongue may well cause a stir in 1 1/2-litre circles with his Italian automobile when racing resumes. If the Maserati runs as well as it looks, E.R.A. exponents won’t have a dull moment.
Too obvious almost to comment upon was the contrast of the Napier-Railton. Yes, this great car is also safely stored here, the installation of Napier “Lion” into what is a very compact, if huge, car being a job of work of the greatest credit to Reid Railton. The little hand-brake looks so delightfully stupid and, as someone remarked, the rubber controller would be overawed by the 7.50″ x 20″ Dunlops on the gold-hued wire wheels. The aeroplane aspeet of the cowling panels calls for prolonged study and the cockpit is a place truly inspiring – one admires John Cobb’s courage and masterful control no less because one is examining the seat of government in an atmosphere of quiet, far removed from that which went with 145 m.p.h. exploits at Weybridge and 180 m.p.h. jaunts at Utah. Three tubular bracings to the steering column suggest extreme stresses on one of the latter, successful, record runs.
Behind the Napier-Railton rests the Barnato-Hassan, holder of the Class A Brooklands Lap Record at 142.6 m.p.h. The cockpit is a restricted affair after that of the Napier, and the offset of the steering column very pronounced. The famous tapering air-scoop on the off side, from out of which protrude the tops of three S.U. pistons, is an obvious feature. Brake and gear levers, giving away the Bentley parentage, are external, the steering wheel asks 1 1/2 turns only, lock to lock, and the driver’s view is somewhat limited to far ahead. Two thermometers, an oil gauge and a 4,500 r.p.m. rev.-counter grace the facia, while the front tyres measure 6.50″ x 20″ and those on the rear wheels 7.50″ x 20″.
Even now one has not exhausted this remarkable collection. Dorothy Stanley-Turner’s Q-type M.G. 2-seater, with four small-diameter exhaust pipes in two pairs, has to be seen, and Powys-Lybbe’s rebuilt 1926 straight-eight Talbot is most interesting, especially its inlet manifolding with its low set blow-off valve to obviate fire and its Y-shaped feed pipes, and the hydraulic brake-actuating cylinder on the off side of the car. Then Major Gardner’s 1,100-c.c. offset bodied M.G. (holder of the Class G lap record at 124.4 m.p.h.), with self-change gearbox, rev.-counter reading to 8,000 r.p.m. and very offset propeller shaft on the near side of the seat, is there, looking a little soiled but entirely complete. Its huge head fairing, very lengthy tail and twin exhaust pipes are typical of these cars. Kidston’s clumsy “36/220” Mercédès-Benz 2-seater has a similar tail, likewise offset, boxed-in dumb-irons and New Zealand registration numbers. Beside it is a closed Mercédès of similar type and, even more imposing, an 8-litre Bentley saloon, for which a doctor-owner does not get sufficient supplementary these days. Sir Lionel Phillips’s black Leyland Eight 2-seater rests here amongst these noble cars, they say awaiting a new owner, and, as excitement at being again amongst cars last met in the Paddock stalls at Brooklands lessens, one notes a coupé Alfa-Romeo, an earlier 4-seater Alfa, the ex-Arbuthnot Alfa-Romeo 4-seater, several modern Railtons, a Wolseley, even a decrepit Hillman Minx saloon and a bulbous Chevrolet. But the racing cars have it, decidedly. One murmurs thanks to Mr. Grenfell to hand on to Mr. Thomson for permitting us such concentrated pleasure this wartime; perhaps rather perfunctorily, for one is mainly aware of an intense longing to see these cars in action again, a longing which is only too evidently shared by thousands of enthusiasts all over the world. On their behalf let us hope for a speedy return to former times – and a lucky miss for this cowshed full of cars from the ministrations of stray representatives of an at present not so troublesome Luftwaffe.