Life at Thomson & Taylor's - 1927 to1939

Mr. R. H. Beauchamp, AMIME, continues his account of life at T & T’s of Brooklands under the great Reid Railton

In the December issue of Motor Sport, R. H. Beauchamp concluded his article with a description of John Cobb’s Railton Land Speed Record Car of 1938 and his journey to Bonneville Salt Flats prior to Cobb’s successful record attempt. In the accompanying article Mr. Beauchamp takes up the story during the run-up to the attempt.

We were soon installed in the Wendover garage on the south side of the road with sleeping accommodation in separate holiday cabins. The Dodge truck driven by Eddie Madsen, an easy-going American, was used not only for transportation of material and men to the Salt Flats but also to provide a gangplank at the rear of it so that John Cobb could step down into the driver’s seat of the Napier Railton. The truck was also fitted with a tube and bar prong, swivelling but attached to the front fender, for push-starting the LSR car, and a towing eye at the rear for towing the car to and from the Flats.

Several trial runs were made, the first with much black smoke, necessitating altitude control, jet and plug changes by the Napier representative Joe Coe with Bob lending assistance, remarks being made about the accessibility of the inboard banks of cylinders. To assist gear changing the throttles were also set to give approximately 1,000 r.p.m. running light in neutral. Some trouble was also experienced with the cork floats being affected by the fuel used but it was not long before a high-speed run of some 250 m.p.h. was made. This resulted in noticeable air flow pressure dents in both the top and underside of the tail of the car. I was rather disappointed to see this, but R.A.R. seemed quite unperturbed saying that this showed that the attitude of the line of maximum body width to the ground must have been absolutely right as otherwise the denting would not have been so equally disposed. P.T. and I then extemporised with internal wooden fillers located with external but flush-fitting screws.

It was whilst this preparatory work was going on that the garage on the north side of the road became occupied by George Eyston and his crew headed by Bert Denly. The small town of Wendover was now becoming quite crowded with visitors and timing officials and Press, and it was at about this time that the Sheriff, a six feet four man called “high pockets”, had his Indian motorcycle stolen. He was – to us – a friendly soul, so I thought this a good time to ask for the loan of his Colt .45, and during a lull in the work one early evening, Bob and I took it with a band of shells, into the mountains for practice. The trick seems to be to sling it not aim it or use both hands, but at least no damage was done, in my case not even to a tin-can, except that one or two rocks were spattered with lead.

It was also whilst Capt. Eyston was making a run that I heard a woman visitor say to a friend when they were both looking at the front of the Napier-Railton. “Let’s go round the back and look at the front!” The garage being open ended and shielded from visitors’ entry by wire screens. These were light-hearted asides in pretty busy times, but at last we were ready for a timed run. To our dismay a very fast run was declared void as the car being of a similar shade to the background salt it had not been registered on the timing gear and the timing officials insisted that the car have a black band painted along its sides. This was done and in addition an asbestos-backed, sheet-steel-faced plate was added to the tail to protect the light alloy body tail from the central exhaust flames. These modifications usually entailed trips into Salt Lake City for parts, but the Hudson cars performed wonderfully well in making the 130-mile journey in about two hours. Jimmy Rand once ran out of fuel and was offered a push by another car into Wendover by two later to be discovered merry men, which he reached in much faster time than he had intended even with surreptitious brake applications of the car he was driving.

Capt. Eyston, who already held the record which he had taken in 1937 at 312 m.p.h., was now ready to go again and we were all rather taken aback when his two-way timed run was announced as 345.50 m.p.h. I knew that Mr. Railton considered that 350 m.p.h. was the terminal speed of the Napier, and this left a pretty small margin for taking the record from Eyston.

On September 15th, after a 3 a.m. call to allow plenty of time to get everything ready for a timed run (before the sun reached its 100º in the shade), the south to north run was completed successfully. The turn around was also within time and I hurried off in the Hudson at maximum speed about 100 yards west of the course line. I had almost reached the end of the mile timed section when with a woosh the Napier-Railton sped past, with a really shaking bow wave of air rocking the Hudson. Everyone was jubilant when the speed resulting from these two runs was given as 350.20 m.p.h. This completely vindicated Mr. Railton’s work and prediction, John Cobb’s driving and all the team’s work. So everyone was happy for a while, but it was not long before it was known that Capt. Eyston’s crew were fitting their spare engine. I suggested to one of his team that the only way now for them was to seal up the front air entry – hoping that this would blow up the remaining engine. This was exactly what they were doing and R. A. R. and I called at their garage when the work was in progress. I was very amused when he asked if they would like a set of blueprints which he could supply! Unhappily this ruse was successful as the record was taken back again when Capt. Eyston recorded a two-way run for the mile of 357.50 m.p.h. I’m not quite sure who had the last laugh but I know that everyone who saw the Captain emerge from the cockpit at the end of this run could not have resisted a spontaneous laugh which his appearance gave of a “black and white minstrel” effect with his white overalled back but soot coloured face and front from the dust from his disc brakes being sucked through his driving compartment.

R. A. R. had further notions for increasing the speed of the Napier-Railton but John Cobb could not spend more time away from his fur broking business so it was decided to give up any further attempt for that year. A very good evening celebration was given to both teams, and shared and chaired by both John Cobb and Capt. Eyston showed that the local Americans appreciated the friendly rivalry that existed between the two teams in much the same way that we appreciated their friendly co-operation and hospitality. We had also had wonderful help from the Dunlop crew as usual headed by Mr. Fletcher, Dunlop “Mac” and “Sid” as well as the Shell representatives Ralph and Dave who also gave unstinted help with local supplies of ice for the project in addition to the help from local cafe and garage personnel. I’m not sure that the garage assistant appreciated us pointing out that the main garage building had a large notice stating “Rest Room”! The Press were also helpful, their photographers handing out many photographs gratis.

Now commenced the clearing up and here I was again to be given another boost when given the choice of either a trip to the Californian coast or a visit to the canyon country with Mr. Railton and his wife with a friend Mrs. Clayton. P. T. had chosen to remain with the car and crew and we arranged to meet in New York before sailing home. After some delay in getting the right set of ignition keys we set off and met R. A. R. about 50 miles away lunching by the wayside. Yellowstone Park was interesting with its geysers and after seeing our third brown bear I said “I suppose we’ve seen them all now” but it was not to be as upon stopping at a comfort station I was followed, but into the adjoining compartment (presumably by a female bear). This same bear later clambered onto the roof of the building in search of her cub, which she promptly knocked off with a swipe to the ground. I beat a fairly rapid retreat – R. A. R. saying that he “would not like a pat like that.” The Colorado gorge has to be seen to be believed with its 14-mile-wide eroded valley up to a mile deep in places. The rock colouring and formation of canyons such as Zion are also truly remarkable. After several days R.A.R. was due for a pre-arranged trip to California and I was to leave his party to go by bus to Las Vegas. The young choir who sang me away from the hotel that we were departing from must have wondered why I did not respond as cheerfully to their departing cheer but did not realise, as I did at that moment that Mr. Taylor had my return ticket from Salt Lake to New York, so I was thrown on my own resources more than 2,000 miles from our meeting point. However the bus duly deposited me at Las Vegas for a flight to Salt Lake City and the airport people could not have been more helpful in that they traced Ken Taylor by radio and even rerouted my flight via Detroit, where I was to visit the Hudson factory before flying on to New York via the Niagara Falls. Jimmy and Bob were met at the Times Square Hotel and due to the uncertain conditions of the European political scene Mr. Taylor became busy for a while in rerouting our return to England via the Olympic – a 10,000 ton British ship instead of the German Bremen. After another good crossing with only one rough day we were met and transported back to Brooklands by Jock Pullen through what now seemed to us to be narrow twisting country lanes, but welcoming all the same, as a conclusion of a truly memorable trip.

John Cobb was determined not to let the matter rest there and we were soon working on details to improve the performance of his LSR car. The chief of these was a replacement of the gearing driving the supercharger impellors of the Napier engines and this work of increasing the blower speed was undertaken by the Napier Co. Practical experiments were undertaken in the shops to check the effect of the increased loading on the suspension and detail modifications made to the packing pieces under the composite coil springs and rubber discs, that were included in the original design, to balance the overturning torque on the axle and so equalise the positive and negative accelerations during driving and braking with the resulting effect of more equal wear on the tyres. The top links on the rear suspension were also fitted with a limited spring controlled movement to avoid fight between the propeller shaft coupling and the five points apart from the springs by which the rear axle was suspended, and so reduce the possibility of synchronous vibration.

Mr. Taylor and crew duly left for America and on August 23rd, 1939, the modifications made were justified when the record was raised to 369.70 m.p.h.

Much earlier in the year I had been introduced by Mr. Railton to an individual from a private firm who was keen to get his special transmission fitted to a cross-country track-laying vehicle and this unhappily in a way was to lead to six years of good war-time co-operation between T & Ts and Her Majesty’s Fighting Vehicles Design Establishment, amongst other branches of HM Forces.

Sadly it was now that I was to say good-bye to Mr. Railton who was to go to America with his wife and young family – Tim and Sally – to stay in California. Fortunately our contact was to be maintained throughout the war years, to the advantage of the Allied war effort, and also in the following years of peace to my own gratification.

Specifications of the Railton LSR Car (1938)

Designer: R. A. Railton, BSc, MlAE, MSAE.

Builders: Thomson & Taylor (Brooklands) Ltd.

Engines: Two Napier 22-cylinder 5½” x 5½” (23,936 c.c.), 1,250 h.p.

Gearbox: Three speeds top gear ratio, 1.35 to 1.

Final Drive: Back axle: bevel; shaft to front axle (four-wheel drive).

Tyres: 44″ Dunlop.

Suspension: Independent at front, normal at rear.

Fuel capacity: 18 gallons.

Oil Tank: 15 gallons

Water tank: 75 gallons.

Wheelbase: 13′ 6″.

Track: Front, 5’6″; rear, 3’6″.

Overall length: 28’8″

Overall width: 8′.

Overall height: 4’3″.

Weight: 7,000 lb. (dry). Body: 4 cwt. Total: Approx. 62½ cwt.

Weight/h.p.: Approx. 2.8 lb.

Air brake gear: Sir G, Godfrey St Partners Ltd.

Ball & roller bearings: Hoffman Mfg. Co.

Body material: Northern Aluminium Co. Ltd. (18 s.w.g. aluminium).

Brake & shock-absorber linings: Ferodo.

Brake-operating gear: Lockheed.

Cockpit window: Triplex.

Chassis frame: John Thompson Pressings Ltd.

Fuel: National Benzole.

High-tensile steel: Firth Derihon Stampings Ltd.

Instruments, thermostats & fuel pipes: S. Smith & Song Ltd.

Magnetos: Lucas.

Oil: Shell-BP.

Oil-seals: Super Oil Seal Mfg. Co. Ltd.

Plugs: KLG.

Special controls & wheels-nuts: Simmonds Aerocessories Ltd.

Steel tubes & light-alloy extrusions: Reynolds.

Steering-gear: Burman.

Steering-gear links: Automotive Products.

Springs: Tempered Steel Co. Ltd.

Gears: David Brown.

Universal joints: Laycock.

Campbell-Eyston-Cobb LSR’s, 1931-1947

Campbell, Bluebird, Daytona, 1931 . . . 246.09 m.p.h.

Campbell, Bluebird, Daytona, 1932 . . . 253.97 m.p.h.

Campbell, Bluebird, Daytona, 1933 . . . 272.46 m.p.h.

Campbell, Bluebird, Daytona, 1935 . . . 276.82 m.p.h.

Campbell, Bluebird, Bonneville, 1935 . . . 301.129 m.p.h.

Eyston, Thunderbolt, Bonneville, 1937 . . . 312.000 m.p.h.

Eyston, Thunderbolt, Bonneville, 1938 . . . 345.500 m.p.h.

Cobb, Railton, Bonneville, 1938 . . . 350.200 m.p.h.

Eyston, Thunderbolt, Bonneville, 1938 . . . 357.500 m.p.h.

Cobb, Railton, Bonneville, 1939 . . . 369.700 m.p.h.

Cobb, Railton, Bonneville, 1947 . . . 394.200 m.p.h.