Recent correspondence has brought to light some new facts about the Rolls-Royce aero-engined car constructed by the late Col. G. L. P. Henderson of the Henderson School of Flying at Brooklands. Everyone is agreed that the chassis was a pre-1914 Napier, which apparently served as a Staff car during the First World War. One letter writer says it was a chassis specially prepared for a “Double-Twelve” record. Now this is rather interesting, because memory could have been at fault and the reference intended to read “for a 24-hour record”. Because before the first race meeting at the newly-built Brooklands Track in 1907, S. F. Edge set a new World’s 24-hour record on a 60-h.p. six-cylinder Napier of 1,581 miles, 1,310 yards, or 65.91 m.p.h. It was quite an affair, the full details of which occupy pages 10 and 11 in my book about Brooklands (Grenville, 1950). Suffice it here to remark that Edge changed 24 tyres, steered at night by the light of 352 road-menders’ lanterns and additional Wells’ flares, and that his green Napier was accompanied by two others of identical type, a red car driven by Newton and a white one driven by Tryon. It could well be that some 14 years later Henderson chanced on one of this trio of Napiers and proceeded to turn it into a hybrid.
On the other hand, the correspondent who refers to a “Double-Twelve” may mean just that. Because in 1922 the irrepressible Edge set out, again at Brooklands, to better his 1907 twice-round-the-clock record and as by then the stockbroker belt had engulfed St. George’s Hill on the opposite side of the Brooklands road to the old Track night racing was unpopular, indeed was disallowed by the BARC, to appease the residents, rather as modern ears are sensitive to racing at Castle Combe, Thruxton and the Crystal Palace circuits. So Edge was out not to run for 24 hours without any but replenishment breaks but to set a “Double-Twelve” record, his car being locked away under official observation when night settled over the Track.
The car he selected for this task has always puzzled me. Edge had left the Motor Industry in 1913 after an altercation with D. Napier & Sons, whose cars he had sold, and publicised in prolific fashion, from 1899 onwards, on the understanding that he would keep out of the commercial side of motoring until 1921. Having busied himself with the scientific breeding of pigs under conditions of clinical cleanliness during the war, Edge joined AC Cars Ltd. in a managerial capacity in the year of his reprieve.
It was no doubt Edge who, remembering the widespread limelight his 24-hour run had brought him years earlier, set AC to attempt a “Double-Twelve” record in 1921, using a 2-litre o.h.c. six-cylinder car. He was originally billed to drive it himself but in the event Brownsort and Noble shared it. Although giving away 5.7-litres to the 1907 Napier, had it been as reliable it would have been able easily to better Edge’s record, as it averaged 70 to 72 m.p.h. for the first day. On the second day, however, fog, a leaking fuel tank, and finally a piston seizure which broke a con.-rod, put paid to the attempt, although many Class B (as they then were) records had been established.
The following year the British “Double-Twelve” light car record was established by Alastair Miller’s Wolseley Moth at 61.06 m.p.h., as detailed in these pages some years ago, and then Edge set a 1 1/2-litre specially-prepared AC-Anzani to go for the “Double-Twelve” record, driven by Joyce and Day, which it took at 71.23 m.p.h. in spite of ceasing to motor 40 minutes from the end of the second spell, when its engine and clutch disintegrated.
It was soon after this that Edge, goaded, it was said, by a bribe of a copper medal from The Motor if he was successful, had a stab at bettering his 1907 distance. Edge may have felt that his fame in this direction was being too frequently diminished by the new breed of light cars. But one might have expected him to use a 2-litre AC with Sidney Smith-designed engine for his attempt. Instead, as I have implied, he used a most unusual car. For he chose for his personal “Double-Twelve” a Dutch Spyker, with a 5.7-litre six-cylinder side-valve engine. Edge virtually ran AC Cars. Some time later he was to be associated with the Cubitt Company. So why he went to Spyker for his record bid is to me a profound mystery. Edge never offered a satisfactory explanation, merely saying the car complied with the requirements of his challenge.
If you consult Edge’s own book of “Motoring Reminiscences”, written for him by the late St. John Nixon (who makes the classic mistake of explaining how Edge steered his Napier in 1907 past the Vickers sheds, which were not built until 1915), you will find only a very brief reference to this run, in a chapter strangely headed “Amusing Experiences on the Road”, and giving the year of the run as 1921!
Coming back to the subject in hand, which is the chassis used by Col. Henderson for his exciting hybrid, how does it fit in with Edge’s second stab at a 24-hour record? Although it was said The Motor persuaded Edge into this feat by offering him a copper medal, in fact, it was he who proposed to The Motor that they should offer him this, and that if he were unable to beat his 1907 mileage he would donate £100 to the Motor Trades Benevolent Fund. Thus we may assume that Edge, the expert self-publicist (whose biography I hope someone will one day write), would be looking for a suitable car for his self-imposed task. Is it too much to surmise that as he had used a Napier very successfully in 1907 that he might have liked the idea of using one again, and that he began preparing for the run the chassis later employed by Henderson? We are told that its engine was damaged when Henderson acquired it, so this might either have deterred Edge from proceeding, or he may have blown up the power unit during tests.
If that was the case, Edge would have had to find a car somewhere else and he may have turned to Spyker as a Company anxious at the time to export cars to this country, which Edge might have seen as a future business development. (I toyed with the idea that the Napier chassis might still have been used, although called a Spyker, rather as Alastair Miller was at the time racing a Napier chassis powered by an Hispano-Suiza aero-engine which he called a Wolseley Viper for diplomatic and commercial reasons. However, the car in which Edge actually accomplished his “Double-Twelve” run was so typically Spyker in its dimensions, radiator shape and such like, that I think this ingenious theory can be discounted.) The Spyker’s engine is quoted in some sources as a Mercedes, in others as a Maybach. This is another of the mysteries surrounding this record bid; in 1966 T. R. Nicholson was telling us that Spyker supplied engines to Maybach but two years later he was writing that it was the other way about!
If Edge never so much as contemplated using a Napier for his 1922 run we can only conclude that our correspondent intended to imply that the Henderson chassis was one of those used for the 1907 24-hour run, although this is put into doubt by the picture of the car at Bo’ness which Motor Sport published, which shows it to have bolt-on disc wheels, whereas Edge specified Rudge-Whitworth detachable wire wheels to facilitate those two dozen wheel changes in 1907 and his Spyker also had splined wire wheels.
Whatever the true situation, and for whatever reason, Edge suddenly became associated with the old Dutch firm of Spyker. His run was successful. He covered 74.27 m.p.h. in the two rounds of the clock, a distance of 1,782 miles 1,006 yards. This ranked as a British and Class record and The Motor made Edge’s medal of gold. He was 54 years old and drove the entire distance himself.
To rank as a World’s record the run needed to be for an unbroken 24 hours and Edge’s feat in that category, the 1907 record, was not bettered until 1925, when Gillett in a 2-litre AC put it to 82.58 m.p.h., at Montlhéry. Edge’s Spyker record was short lived, being broken in the year in which it was established, first by Miller’s 2.8-litre Wolseley at 80.10 m.p.h., then by Duff’s 3-litre Bentley at 86.79 m.p.h. At this time Edge was driving a Lanchester Forty single-seater at Brooklands, with the object of recapturing his lost record, but although the British car was faster than the Spyker the Lanchester was abandoned after alarming steering failure. Whereas Edge’s association with a Lanchester can perhaps be explained by his interest in Rapson tyres (although his Spyker was Dunlop-shod, and, incidentally, used Shell petrol and Castrol oil), his sudden allegiance to Spyker remains, for me, one of motor-racing’s minor mysteries.—W. B.