Which came first - Brooklands or Indianapolis?

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It is universally accepted that Brooklands Track, built by Hugh Fortesque Locke-King in 1906/7 and officially opened on June 17th, 1907, was the first specially-constructed motor-racing track in the World. This has always been my impression and the Americans are said to have based their famous Indianapolis speed-bowl on the British Motor Course.

However, I have recently come across a reference to Indianapolis which casts a slight shadow across previously-established history. It is well-known that the great publicist and Napier-promotor, Selwyn Francis Edge, on hearing that Brooklands was to be opened in 1907, booked it for an attempt on the World’s 24-hour record. He had made his announcement in 1906 and it was being widely discussed early in 1907. One of the points of controversy was: what was the speed and distance that Edge had to beat? This is usually stated to have been 1,096 miles, established by two Americans, Merz and Clemens, in 1905, and is what I quoted on page 10 of my book “The History of Brooklands Motor Course”, before describing Edge’s successful onslaught in detail. (Incidentally, to those who have kindly enquired, may I say that a revised edition of this book, with driver and car-indices, should soon be available, from the Grenville Publishing Co. Ltd.) Be that as it may, I now find that in January 1907 when The Motor was investigating the distance Edge would have to beat, it came up with some different information. This is to the effect that in November 1900 M. Coinilleau made a 1,000-mile non-stop run at the Crystal Palace track (this would have been the trotting-track) for Mr. Moffat Ford, driving a 5 h.p. Decauville. Next, The Motor said, A. G. Schmidt had driven the racing Packard “Grey Wolf” 1,000 miles in 29h. 53min.37sec. at Detroit, in 1905. This was apparently followed by the Englishman, Charles G. Wridgway, reducing the 1000-miles time to 25h. 50m. 37sec. using a 24 h.p. Peerless. Then, later the same year, Guy Vaughan is credited with breaking the 1,000-mile record and covering more than 1,015 miles in 24 hours, with a 40 h.p. Decauville. It was remarked that very little tyre trouble was experienced during these record attacks, and that the officials instead of being bored, found it all so interesting that many of them insisted on staying at their posts for the two rounds of the clock. The Motor announced that at Indianapolis “last season”, i.e.. during 1906, the record had been broken again and that “it was ascertaining the exact figures and whether the track was properly measured”. It gave the information on another page, as 1,015 1/2 miles, covered in 24 hours by Vaughan, but said that this had later been increased to 1,080 miles by a 40 h.p. National at Indianapolis which is the record that Mr. S. F. Edge and others will set out to beat”. However, nothing was said about the track measurements.

It seems obvious that the distance of 1,096 miles in 24 hours was established later in 1907, not in 1905, as usually quoted. Edge, of course, shattered this handsomely, his 60 h.p. Napier covering almost 1,582 miles in 24 hours at Brooklands, although he had many stops for tyres.

The point I am now raising, though, is: was there a motor-track at Indianapolis before Brooklands was opened? Apart from mentioning that the Crystal Palace track, which would have been the trotting track, was used in 1905, The Motor does not tell us where the other 1,000-mile and 24-hour records were established, except that of the National, which it says was made at Indianapolis. The thought occurs that they may have been set up over closed public roads, forming a circuit. However, there is reference to “over 1,000 people on the grandstand until after midnight”, at Indianapolis, which suggests a permanent track.

Yet it is generally accepted that the Indianapolis Speedway did not open until 1909, after America had been impressed by Mr. Locke-King’s ambitious undertaking. The first race, over 250 miles, took place there on August 19th, and was won by Burman in a Buick. But fatal accidents showed up defects in the surface and the track was quickly closed, after that inaugural three-day meeting, for the surface to be relaid with bricks, and the turns banked. The last one, the famous gold-brick, was laid on December 17th, 1909. The first Indianapolis 500-Mile Race took place in 1911, and was won by Harroun’s Marmon, at 74.8 m.p.h. But the question arises, over what track, if any, did the 24-hour record National run, in 1906? It was presumably a horse-race or cycle track and Brooklands’ proud record unsullied. But it would be nice to know definitely, and historians, especially those in America, might well give some attention to the matter….

Incidentally, Edge went so fast on his 24-hour inaugural Brooklands’ run that those who had announced loudly that they would either run with him, or against his record soon after his run was over, quietly faded away, or else were disuaded firmly by the Track authorities from further damaging the virgin Weybridge banking. They had numbered Charles Jarrott (four-cylinder 60 h.p. De Dietrich) and J. E. Hutton (four-cylinder 60 h.p. Berliet).

Finally, the thought occurs that Most race tracks are built close to populated areas, in order to attract big attendances Montlhery near Paris, Indianapolis close to a sizable city, Monza not far from a town. But Brooklands was in very remote territory in 1907 and even in the between-wars period, although it was then easy of access by road from London, down the Kingston-By-Pass, and was adjacent to a main railway line, it was still some 20 miles out, and thus it retained to the last its pastoral attractions. I was reminded of this a few minutes before writing this piece, by finding a charming photograph, in the current issue of Aeroplane Monthly, showing two Arrow Active biplanes at the Byfleet side of the Track, on the occasion of the 1932 King’s Cup Race. They are parked on grass, by the Aerodrome road where it ran before the old wooden hangars, the simple skeleton of the Byfleet bridge to their right a flat-rad. Morris two-seater in front of them, and the outside world cut off by the long sweep of the tree-flanked banking. An exciting race may have been imminent: But the scene is one of peace, and country-Isolation, which was hardly so much in evidence at other race tracks. W.B.

V-E-V Miscellany. In Ireland recently a lady died who bought her Twenty Rolls-Royce tourer in 1927 and went to the R-R training school to learn how to service it herself, which she continued to do until she was some 70 years of age. The car took part in the 1973 Mullingar rally and was used in that year to open the new showrooms in Dublin of Huet Motors, the Irish Rolls-Royce distributors. It is believed that Miss Overend was the longest continuous owner of a Rolls-Royce in Ireland. With her sister, who owns a 1934 Austin tourer, she farmed a famous herd of Jersey cattle. Last October a six-cylinder Crossley Canberra saloon was put up for auction in Australia. It was one of ten such cars imported in 1927 for the Royal Tour and used by the Duke and Duchess of York when they opened Parliament House in Canberra. Its present mileage is only 10,455. The Model-T Ford illustrated on page 1248 of the October issue was seen running on Blackpool promenade, not in the Brighton Speed Trials, and it is now in the Blackpool Motor Museum on the pleasure beach. Last summer the Railton OC took some of its cars to Brooklands and also to the one-time factory on the Fairmile at Cobham. Ken Fidgen’s MG, referred to in the October issue, is a 1951 Model-Y, not a 1960 model as stated. A fourcylinder Type N9 SCAR is being rebuilt in Herefordshire, about which information is sought. The engine number is 775 and it is thought that the car may have been raced at Brooklands, where a number of 15.9 h.p. and 17.0 h.p. cars of this make competed from 1911 to 1913.

Having criticised the newspaper format and contents of the Veteran Car Club’s Gazette we are pleased to announce that this has now reverted to a magazine, albeit of smaller page-size than formerly. One of the more entertaining Club journals indeed, that is putting it mildly, because it is full of the very stuff from which enthusiasm for proper motor-cars is made is the Chain-Gang Gazette, in other words, the official printed journal of the Frazer Nash Section of the VSCC. The last issue, for instance, contained much light-hearted material and reports of Chain-Gang activities, pictures of the GN Spider, and an article on how the Frazer Nash was developed, by Tommy Dorman, reproduced from Motor Sport. However, like so many Club magazines, this one is short of funds and in an endeavour to keep it going to its present standard it has been decided to make copies available to non-members of the Section, at £2 a copy or £6 for a year’s subscription. Those who believe in Chain-Gang activities and see this as a good cause should contact the new Editor, Trevor Tarring, at “Rickstones”, The Heath, Weybridge, Surrey KT13 oUE it even comes from the right town, you see! The Austin Ten DC, which caters for Austins of to to 28 h.p. manufactured between 1932 and 1939 has a membership of around 1,000 and its own comprehensive spares service of new and reproduction parts, so that these cars should never be off the road for long. The Club magazine, although duplicated, now has a colour cover and the 16 regional sections, including a BOAR one, hold monthly meetings. The Membership Secretary is: Peter Woodend, 3 Estcourt Drive, Widmer End, High Wycombe, Bucks. SL3 7JU, the annual subscription being £3.50. The prices of such Austins are rising but it is still possible to obtain a pre-war model in running order for less than £300. Vintage cars appear so frequently on Television these days as to scarcely merit comment but one, which appears impressively in almost every episode of the serial, is the Lincoln in ITV’s “Love For Lydia”.

Ted Inman Hunter had an interesting piece in the Autumn issue of the AMOC Quarterly on the identity of the drivers who drove each of the 1931 Team Aston Martins. Northrepps, near Cromer, in Norfolk, where Henry Royce spent some time around 1905/6 at work on the Silver Ghost, has not forgotten this, and the new village sign incorporates an R-R radiator motif. In connection with the recent controversy about the Legalimit Rolls-Royce, Michael Ware, Curator of the National Motor Museum, tells us that when he was going through R-R sales-books for the early cars, he found an entry which seemed to show that if Lord Northcliffe had a Legalimit delivered to him it did not last very long and that Rolls-Royce Ltd. were happy to delete any reference to it from its pages of their sales-books, nor were there any further references to these cars. Tony Bird continues as the popular President of the Riley Register; he also, of course, is Editor of the Riley Register Bulletin.

Out of the Past

From a reader in Naseby comes an old photograph-album passed on to him by his Aunt, a lady who, it is encouraging to learn, still drives happily at the age of 83, and for considerable distances solo, an Automatic Mini. The album is of the Muirhead’s family-motoring. It opens with their first car, a chain-drive Albion, in 1903. It is seen to have a rear-entrance tonneau body of polished wood, with red bonnet and wheels, and to carry the “G” registration of Glasgow Burgh Council. It is depicted in fine country settings and outside Argrennan mansion, and it is interesting that it first had solid tyres; then pneumatic tyres on its front wheels, and finally pneumatics all round (with a spare in the back). Next we see the then very young Aunt driving an 8-h.p. single-cylinder Darracq in Speyside, photographed beside Loch Laggan and Loch Morlish. The next family car is a fine 1907 Humber tourer.

By 1912 these had apparently given way to a big Rochet-Schneider, its bonnet and wheels, the latter with detachable rims, painted to match, of a different colour from that of the coachbuilt touring body. From 1912 to 1920 a dark green open touring Siddeley-Deasy was in use; it is photographed beside Loch Laggan in the company of what looks like a smaller Argyll. The Siddeley-Deasy is noted as having poor brakes but it was equipped with an extra-air valve to aid it when descending long hills. It still had the “G” registration of all these cars but the figures were now up to 937, the Albion having been 225 and the Darracq, James Muirhead’s first car, having the same number as the Siddeley-Deasy, which was a very quiet car, disposed of because the sleeve-valves began to be troublesome. After the war a lady friend had a 1924 Hillman, and the family bought a brown 1930 Hillman, which had a too-high centre of gravity and proved to be a “skidder”. It finally crashed on some tram-lines, turning right over and righting itself, when driven by Miss Muirhead, who was luckily alone. She was only bruised and cut, this being before Hillmans fitted safety-glass. -W.B.

V-E-V Odds & Ends. No.1 racing 12/50 Alvis, dating back to 1923, was present at the 80th,birthday party of Jack Linnell, who has owned this sprightly car since 1924. F. Wilson McComb is doing regular motoring in a 1927 Chummy Austin these days, having sold the 18/80 MG he had owned for 18 years. It seems that the leaders in 1977 for the principal trophies of the VSCC of Australia were G. Hopkins (12/50 Alvis), W. Southgate (Lagonda) and John Needham (Austin 7). Humphrey Milling has obtained the Reg. No. for his beautifully restored 1920 3-litre GP Ballot that Malcolm Campbell had in 1923. A 1922 Talbot 8/18, with a Ford back axle, changed hands recently in the STD Register and apparently it was not the ex-Eddie Wrigley car. A London antique dealer has been displaying a vintage Morris Authorised Dealer’s plaque in his window. The VSCC’s 1978 season opens on January 7th/8th, with the Measham Trophy night rally on the Welsh borders but meanwhile there will be driving tests at Silverstone on December 3rd. A reader has a badge inscribed “Beaver Motorists Union” and wonders if this registers with anyone? Another reader owns a T-head Austin stationary engine, probably of the kind made for use by the Services during the First World War. The Liverpool MC celebrates its 75th Anniversary, having been formed, as a motorcycle club, in July 1902 to replace the defunct Liverpool Self-Propelled Traffic Association of 1896, which had held an event at Everton Brow that year. The new Club held speed trials on Southport Promenade in 1903 but began to decline by 1908, to be reformed as the Mersey MC, through the enthusiasm of Frank Rees and Vic Horsman. This organisation was responsible for such events as the Pen-Y-Ball hill-climb and the Colwyn Bay speed trials. This split into three in later years but in 1915 Vic Horsman got it back to the Liverpool MC and in 1919 the Club revived. The Colwyn Bay speed trials went on until by 1928 speeds were so high that there was danger of the competitors crashing into the Pierrot Show. Other important events were the Open Reliance Trial and sand races at Wallasey Beach from 1923. Some 6,000 people attended the latter and races at Formby and Southport followed. Sir Alexander Jeans gave the Club a fine Gold Trophy, which in later years was used for the Jeans Trial. By 1926 there were 350 members, paying a 10/- subscription. The Club is as active as ever, retaining its links with the past and it even has a New York Section formed in 1959; Fangio has been an Hon. Vice-President since the end of the 1950s.

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