One Whale of a Calthorpe

Amongst the Brooklands competing cars which particularly interested me was A Whale’s single-seater Calthorpe, which in the early days had a 65x95mm (1261cc) four-cylinder engine and an exceedingly narrow body, so tight that the scuttle had to be fluted out to better protect the driver. The chassis was high and not much wider than the 28-inch maximum body width. The twin exhaust branches were on the near side, leading into a single pipe and cylindrical silencer, external brake and gear levers were on the off-side, with artillery wheels and a stumpy tail.

In 1921 J P Hillhouse, the managing director of Calthorpe’s, had spent £2000 on developing this specially built car which was driven by H Humphries. In his hands this machine achieved a first and a third placing, with a fastest lap of 88.94mph.

By 1923 A Whale had acquired the car and during a club meeting it struck a barrier at the end of the straight; this must have been exciting as the car had suffered bad wheel-wobble at low speeds, so much so that before one race the officials had Whale demonstrate it up and down the Finishing Straight to convince themselves that the car’s affliction vanished at high speeds. He had one first and one third place, with a best lap that year of 84.56mph.

In 1924 he had one first and two third places, fastest lap being at 81.24mph. In 1925 he had two second places, with a fastest lap of 82.04mph and after the Easter meeting he also led with 60 points.

In 1926 he had achieved a first and third placing, with a fastest lap of 84.56mph.

For the 1927 season a new two-port 1496cc Meadows engine was installed, and eventually the body lines were much altered, with a dumb-iron cowling, wire wheels etc, being fitted and the car re-painted. However, the Meadows-Calthorpe did nothing of note, and had various troubles, such as a sheared axle shaft and the magneto and carburettors continually being changed, but the speed got lower and lower. The trouble was only discovered after the engine was dismantled and a soft cam was found. The car was laid up in Whale’s loft over his showrooms in Camden Town, up to the outbreak of war.

Some time during the war, when I was passing through Camden Town, I saw the notice ‘Whale for Calthorpe’, so I got permission to enter the premises, hoping to see the car, but the loft was only full of Government bales of paper and no car.

After the war I was able to meet his daughter whom I took to see Brooklands; she told me how as a child she and her mother would picnic on the Members Hill and when her father was in a race they would go to the bridge over the banking. If his car was well up they would stay to watch but if he was well behind they would return to their picnic.