A Series of Interviews with Personalities famous in the Realms of Motoring Sport No. 11 — Peter Robertson-Rodger
Peter Robertson-Rodger is a wine connoisseur and dealer by trade, but by interest he is a connoisseur of the old-type Bentley. He has a discerning palate for this fine type of vintage motor car.
He tells us that at the age of six he commenced drawing cars and designing bodywork. However, it was whilst watching the famous “Tim” Birkin driving the “Blower” Bentley in the 1930 T.T. that he set his heart on the sort of car which he regarded as his ultimate ambition. It was not until four years later that his dream was realised, and he acquired the Bentley in question. At a later date he also acquired the famous single-seater streamlined “Brooklands” Bentley with which the lap record was taken. This latter car is now undergoing a rebuild and is being refurbished with a body which bears as close a resemblance as possible to the original, but two seats and a modicum of comfort are being provided. The single-seater body provided accommodation for only one of the small stature of “Tim” Birkin.
According to a scale-drawing this new body will have a frontal area of only 14 square feet. The ex-single-seater petrol tank will be retained, and will be situated, as formerly, behind the seat squabs — there is a large cut-away in the base of the tank to give clearance for the propeller-shaft. Behind this tank the spare wheel will be situated, within the body shell. It is optimistically hoped that the complete weight will be as low as 32 cwt. When one considers the 200 odd b.h.p. which will probably he forthcoming from the engine, one realises not only that the power/ratio will be up to the standard of many racing cars, but the fact that the Bentley engine, designed in 1919 by Bentley and Burgess, does not prove a sluggard even when compared with current performances. The similarity between the top half of a Bentley engine and that of one of the Rolls-Royce reciprocating aircraft units is striking.
He also has a Type 34 1 1/2-litre B.M.W., which he has owned throughout, its 11 years of life. During this time it has covered 75,000 miles, and he says it shows no signs of needing a rebore. He considers that the use of a “Fram” filter and the addition of “Redex” in the engine oil and as an upper cylinder lubricant is essential to long life. He regards the B.M.W. as the best light car he has ever tried, with quite certainly the best steering. On a recent 420 mile run he states that he used one pint of engine oil.
When asked about his future motoring plans he told us that he will use the rebuilt, rebodied Bentley for a few competitions and also for fast touring on the road. He does not expect the car to be ready until 1947, and for that year he is looking forward to some interesting driving. The work is being carried out by Shortt, of Alfold, who is probably the greatest specialist in the old-type Bentley today.
If he ever bought a light sports car, Peter Robertson-Rodger said he would seriously consider the future product of the Gordano Company (they hope to produce high-grade 1,100-c.c. and 1,500-c.c. sports cars). Whereas they have not yet produced a prototype, the design, on paper, appears extremely attractive. Robertson-Rodger is, on principle, averse to paying purchase tax on a new car. When he recently spent £50 on having his B.M.W. made presentable he reckoned that, considering the price of cars today, he had saved, himself about £300.
During the war Robertson-Rodger was an A.T.A. pilot. He has flown, in the course of’ his duties, most of the single-engined fighters, including the latest “Seafire.” The “Seafire,” hotted up to the final degree, had to be handled very much like a racing car. On taxiing and flying, with the throttle well back, one ran the risk of oiling plugs, and even when flying at zero boost, it was necessary, occasionally, to open the throttle to 11 lb., so as to clear the head. It has always been his experience that, however fast and manoeuverable an aircraft may be, more enjoyment and sensation of speed can be obtained in a fast car.
Robertson-Rodger prefers to forget the experience which frightened him the most. However, there is an incident which he does recall with some merriment.
He was in the company of Sam Clutton in tbat fabulous piece of machinery the 60-h.p. Itala. They were on the Oxford road en route for Prescott. Presently a gentleman in a white helmet drew level in his pseudo-sporting roadster. The sight Of the Itala had amused him and he was contorted in derisive laughter. The speed was some 60 m.p.h. As the roadster started to pull ahead Clutton rapidly changed down to third gear and, will his foot hard down, vanished out of sight of the aghast scoffer.
Other than motoring, Robertson-Rodger is keen on grouse-shooting and paints nicely. But most important of all is his work. Good wine is a source of enjoyment, and we can think of no better way of combining business with pleasure.
Robertson-Rodger is a very keen member of the Bentley Drivers’ Club, and is one of the original members of the committee. We could see that he was anxious to get over a little club propaganda. The present membership, he says, is well over 200, and at each committee meeting 20 or 30 applications for membership are considered. He attributes this in no small measure to the almost Atlas-like labours of Stanley Sedgwick, the honorary secretary, whose enthusiasm and efficiency have been the moving force behind the club’s post-war recovery.