GOOD OLD DAYS AT BROOKLANDS
SOME RAMBLING REMINISCENCES OF A REGULAR WEYBRIDGE HABITUE
THE other evening I had occasion to turn out the contents of an old trunk. Among them I found a photograph album which at one time was the pride of my life. The pictures in it were a mixed lot, judged by modern standards, but they brought back a rush of memories of a time which seems strangely far away.
They were taken at Brooklands in the years 1924 onwards by a schoolboy wielding a Box Brownie. He had no Press Pass, so he bad to stand behind the spiked railings and manage as best he could—and his shutter speed was a twentyfifth of a second, making speed pictures almost an impossibility. And so as motor-racing pictures the photographs in the old black album were nothing to get excited about. But it was the subjects, rather than the quality of the pictures, which kept rue squatting on the floor of the attic for a. full hour, re-living some memorable race-meetings at Brooklands.
My first visit to Brooklands was made on the pillion of a Sunbeam motor-cycle, and by pillion I mean a cushion tied on to the carrier with string. Many Surrey by-roads were made of ordinary flint in those days—it was Whit Monday, 1923— and we arrived with red-rimmed eyes and a layer of white dust on our clothes. Although I was an ardent motor-racing ” fan,” working myself into a fever of excitement about the French Grand Prix and the Isle of Man T.T., this was the first motor-race I had ever actually attended, and I was thrilled with every moment of it. Writing from memory, the star of the meeting was I believe, Duff on the ” Mephistopheles” F.I.A.T., which eventually blew up in one race and was towed in with pieces of engine lying all over the scuttle. There were also two Bentleys, a marque which was just about coming into production, driven by Clement and Barlow. The latter’s car had a very pretty ” skiff ” body made ot wood, with an aluminium bonnet. Clement’s car, I think, was all aluminium. But my hero of that day—and for many days to come—was J. G. Parry Thomas on his wonderful Leyland, which at that time had an ordinary aluminium two-seater sports body. I think Count Zborowski was there, too, with a white Mercedes. Coming away from that meeting we became involved in a ” scrap ” which I shall always remember vividly. Our opponent was a Bentley chassis, fitted with a rough test body which really consisted of a seat for the driver and passenger. I rather think it must have been one of the first experimental Bentleys. It carried a driver and two feminine passengers. On the switch-back road to Cobham we roared along with our front wheels level with their back wheels. But we could not gain an inch. I crouched behind the rider of the Sunbeam like a little jockey, and he, too, was lying flat on the tank. We approached the point where the road is joined by the main Portsmouth highway without slackening our pace—until we saw an aged motorcycle combination trundle across our path on its way North. The Bentley
driver reached for his handbrake (there were no four-wheel brakes on Bentleys at that time) and smoke came from his locked rear wheels. As for us, my rider managed to pull in behind the Bentley with a good deal of wobbling, and we both shot past the offending combination down the hill into Coblia.m, where the Bentley turned right for Epsom and we carried on towards Town. Next time I went to Brooklands I took my camera with me, the occasion being the Easter meeting of 1924. Captain Malcolm Campbell was the attraction that day, driving a six-cylinder Sunbeam ” Blue Bird ” with a round ” bolster ” tank. His chief rival, I remember, was E. A. D. Eldridge with the enormous F.I.A.T. on which he later broke the Land Speed Record at Arpajon at something like 145 m.p.h.. Captain J. E. P. Howey was also there with a two-seater Leyland similar to the one used by Parry Thomas the year before. My pictures of this
meeting were not too successful, as they were all taken from the inside of the Track. At the Whit-Monday meeting, however, I found a vantage point which Was to serve me well for several years to come. Before the start of each race I used to walk across the track at the Vickers Entrance, turn sharp left, and take up my stand beside the railings where the cars were lined up. In this way I got as near to them as if I had been actually standing on the track. Best of all, the cars were standing still. (Remember that I was confined to the Public Enclosure except after the Meeting was over.) Looking back at some of the pictures I took in this way, my chief impression is that the cars seem incredibly oldfashioned. There was ” Handy Andy,” poor Tommy Hann’s hybrid machine, with an. inverted exhaust manifold which brought the pipes out on a higher level than the bonnet. Leon Cushman’s paleblue shipped Crossley sports model was a consistent perforther, capable of lapping at over 100 m.p.h. There was a Bianchi road-racing car with four-wheel brakes
and queer front shock-absorbers, driven I believe by Captain Miller. Miller also used to drive the famous Vv’olseley Viper, one of a number of chain-driven aeroengined monsters to which Le Champion’s Isotta-Maybach also belonged.
Le Champion, by the way, used to amuse himself at Brooklands sometimes on non-race days by skidding his huge car iound in circles, with the wheel locked over, until one or more of the tyres burst. An expensive hobby.
A famous car, which still exists at Brooklands, is to be seen in my album, the Lorraine-Dietrich “Vieux Charles III.” In those days it used to be driven by a young man named Ellison. Occasionally it would develop an acute attack of back-firing, careering round the banking with its huge engine chug-chugging away, and rending the air with terrific explosions from tim, to time. It never seemed to be more than ticking over, even when it was travelling at over 100 m.p.h.
That summer of 1924 Parry Thomas used to race .Rapson’s 40 h.p. Lanchester, in addition to his Leyland. The Lanchester was an ugly car, with very angular lines, and although it was a bit slow off the mark it never broke down. George Duller sometimes drove it, when he was not handling his own neat little. Bugatti—an eight-cylinder Indianapolis car which was very quick. Thomas was very busy that season, towards the end of which he brought out his four-cylinder Thomas-Special, which was an extremely good-looking little car, in contrast to the later four-cylinder Thomas-Special, which was rather too high and narrow to be easy on the eyes.
There was great rivalry in those days among 1,500 c.c. cars. The car I was taken to Brooklauds in at that time was a Riley, and consequently I was distinctly prejudiced when it came to a race between. cars of this make and Alvises, AstonMartins and Horstmans. Victor Gillow, I think, was the first man to race a Riley ” Redwinger ” at Brooklands, and we used to watch his performances with. intense interest, dreading that he might get beaten by an Alvis 1 Of the Aston-Martins, Capt. J. C. Douglas’s super-streamlined “Razor Blade” could lap at over 100 m.p.h., and I remember a very nice two-seater, with the body used on the French Grand Prix cars, driven by R. C. Morgan. Other small cars which used to perform regularly, and with success, were the Wolseley Moths and Whale’s single-seater Cal
thorpe. At the very first B.A.R.C. Meetings I •attended, ther e were also such well-nigh forgotten vehicles as Crouches, a Charron-Laycock and an 11.9 h.p. Lagonda. Those were the days, too, when the 80/98 Vauxhall was in its prime. Major C. G. Coe used to race a very pretty ” Wensum,” which had a four-seater sports body shaped rather like a boat at the stern. Then he fitted this car with a streamlined two-seater racing body, and at the very first outing had a most appalling crash. I was in the Public Enclosure at the time (my pocket money would scarcely Stand five bob, anyway) ; and all I saw of the accident was a silver object leaping high in the air and leaving behind it a huge cloud of dust. Coe had been engaged in a great duel with Philip Rampon’s Nat (now owned by Anthony Heal), and I remember that Le Champion’s black-and-yellow Isotta-Maybach was somewhere in the neighbourhood. Coming under the Members’ Bridge on the last lap Coe got into a terrific slide. He fought it for some distance, and then the car took charge, spinning round before turning over and then bouncing along the track for all the world as though it
were made of india-rubber. It was lucky it did not leave the track, and it finished up on the near side, at the beginning of the Railway Straight. Coe and his passenger were both thrown out on to the concrete as the car turned over, but both of them miraculously managed to walk into the ambulance, which was soon on the scene. Coe himself was only very slightly hurt, but his passenger, I believe, spent several months in hospital. But Coe never raced at Brooklands again.
Another famous ” 80/98″ at that time was Ropner’s “Silver Arrow,” a twoseater with a streamlined tail, and a radiator cowl, bearing a long silver arrow on its radiator cap. This car could lap at close on 100 m.p.h., and was a regular entrant in B.A.R.C. races. E. L. Meeson was another well known Vauxhall specialist at that time. Vauxhalls of another kind also performed feats of valour at Brooklands in
those days. These were the famous 3-litre Tourist Trophy cars, built in 1922. Humphrey Cook raced one with great success. but the most sensational performer was Jack Barelay. I well remember one memorable afternoon when he burst a tyre on the Byfleet Banking, which caused him to spin round in circles at about 110 m.p.h. By a miracle the car stayed on the track, finishing up at the bottom of the banking, and by an equal miraele it didn’t hit anybody e’se. Jack Barclay earned everyone’s admiration by returning to the Paddock, changing the wheel and going out in the next race, which he won. As fine a display of pluck as has ever been seen at the Track. It was at this point, near the Byfleet Bridge, that occurred my first reminder
speakers then) that Toop was killed and the meeting was abandoned. The cause was never definitely established, I believe, but it is probable that Toop got into the slipstream of a car in front, which had the effect of permitting the Peugeot to accelerate rapidly towards the tail of the other car, and in trying to avoid a collision Toop swerved up the banking, and so over the top. I think it must have been one Sunday afternoon in 1925 that I cycled to Brooklands on the chance ot seeing some practising, which was allowed in those days. I was standing on the Members’ Bridge watching one or two private owners lapping on 3-litre Bentleys and Lambda-Lancias, when I espied a big red racing-car, towed by a sports-car, emerge from the tunnel, pass through the
that motor-racing is a dangerous game. The young man who used to drive me to Brooklands had backed Brockelbank’s 1914 Grand Prix Peugeot, which was driven at the last minute by Toop, a driver who was making his first appearance at the Track since before the War. The Peugeot was a fast car, capable of lapping at about 115 m.p.h., and we watched the black car streaking past the rest of the field on the Byfleet Banking, Suddenly it swerved upwards and was gone, over the top into the trees. A moment later a huge column of black smoke told its tale, Cars dashed along the Aerodrome road, people swarmed up the steep banking like ants, and after what seemed like an interminable delay the news got round (there were no loud
Paddock without stopping, and so out on the road to the Aerodrome. By the time I had pedalled after it, the two men in the sports-car had their sleeves tolled up and were working on the engine of the racing-car in the lee
of the hangars adjoining the track. I recognised the car as Philip Rampon’s 10-litre Fiat, with a new coat of scarlet paint and wire, instead of artillery wheels. The new owner of the car was, of course, Ward, but he did not drive the car in races himself to begin with. This task was assigned to his companion, who made his first appearance in a motor-race at the wheel of the Fiat in a B.A.R.C. race-meeting the following week-end.
His name was John Cobb. (To be continued)