An oldie but a goodie

A 1912 Lorraine-Dietrich that showed real staying power at Brooklands is being restored to running order

The Brooklands Museum volunteers team are helping to return to full running order the 1912 15-litre Lorraine-Dietrich in collaboration with Richard Nash, whose father R G J Nash acquired the car in 1932. They hoped to get the engine running by the end of 2009. In later years the car was known as ‘Vieux Charles Trois’.

It had been built to race in the 1912 French Grand Prix which was run over two days, at 480 miles a day, and held over the Dieppe-Londinières-Eu triangle. The Lorraine-Dietrich team consisted of Héméry, Heim, Bablot and Hanriot, of whom Héméry and Heim both retired on the second lap with engine trouble. By the second quarter of the race Bablot had also retired with engine trouble. Hanriot’s car failed to start on the second day.

Malcolm Campbell bought the car in Paris but had some difficulty in getting it through customs, as there was an import ban at the time. When the Brooklands 1920 Easter meeting was cancelled due to rain, a one-lap match-race between Campbell and Woodhouse’s Matchless motorcycle took place. Campbell was victorious, lapping at 78.9mph. At the postponed Easter Meeting Campbell technically won the first heat of the Short Essex Handicap because Bedford, in a Hillman, forgot to turn into the Finishing Straight.

Later that year Douglas Hawkes acquired the car and won two Brooklands races. In 1921, after retiring in the Lightning Long Handicap, A B Pole became the owner with Hawkes still the driver and they had two wins with a best lap of 102.48mph, a second place with a 105.52mph lap and a third place with a best lap of 105.97mph.

By 1923 A Ellison entered and drove this now ancient car, with the name ‘Vieux Charles Trois’, and had two wins, its best lap being 103.33mph. In 1924 he had four third places, with a best lap of 104.85mph, and then a second place. Towards the end of the season, he was frequently a non-starter. Success returned in 1925 with a first place, and Hawkes also drove it to a second place.

Early in 1929 Wallbank bought the car from Ellison. He had no race successes but took the 200-mile class record, lapping comfortably at 100mph. In 1930, although entered, the old car was suspended from racing because of safety fears.

In 1932 when the old sheds at Brooklands were being demolished, I optimistically negotiated to buy it for the proverbial fiver from C S Burney, who had taken over Ken Kirton’s veteran car business, but meanwhile he had sold it to Philip Rampon. But Dick Nash, who had then taken over those premises, would not release it – a pity as I wanted to run it in the Brighton Speed Trials, long before the veteran classes were thought of. However, Dick Nash did more for this historic car than I could have done, and in 1934 he gave me an exciting ride in it along the Brooklands aerodrome road; but it was in a sorry state.

When in 1939 the Crystal Palace circuit was opened Nash had a match-race with Anthony Heal’s 10-litre FIAT, and won. In a VSCC Croydon Speed Trial it broke a piston but was rebuilt by Nash, and it showed its capability by clocking 24.5sec at the Lewes speed trials.

During the war Nash had it stored safely at his home in Weybridge and then loaned it to the Montagu Motor Museum. After Nash’s death his son Richard, now the owner, was persuaded to take it to the 1986 Brooklands Society’s Reunion; it climbed the Test Hill but showed its old troubles.

After 1988, when Richard moved away from Weybridge, he loaned it to the Brooklands Museum for display. But can anyone explain why ‘Charles’ was used in the car’s nickname ‘Vieux Charles Trois’?