Invariably, when I am permitted to borrow old motoring photograph-albums, browsing through them reveals all manner of fascinating reflections on the old days. So it was with the several such albums on which I based last month’s account of the motor-racing of Oliver Bertram. So much so that a few further items deserve to be set down, for the edification of those who do not mind learning a little more about, or being reminded of, those distant days. . . .
In the first place, there is that interesting Bentley which Bertram drove in the appropriate class at the 1935 Inter-Varsity speed-trials at Syston Park. It is interesting because this Bentley, entered by Woolf Barnato himself, was an historic car. With it Oliver Bertram was placed second in the appropriate sports-car class, beaten only by JF Cardno’s supercharged Mercedes-Benz (presumably a 38/250), which was 0.68 sec faster, the Bentley coupe having made slow starts. It was, by the way, a wet day and Cardno had motored onto the grass at the fast corner, in beating Bertram. Bertram had driven the Bentley to the circuit and he made ftd (28.86 sec.) on a courageous ascent, in the old 101/2-litre V12 Delage which, after being fitted with twin rear wheels, had been towed up from Brooklands through the night, presumably by Robin Jackson’s mechanics.
At the time, the Barnato Bentley coupe was said to have the 8-litre engine out of the single-seater Bentley in which Clive Dunfee had been killed during the 1932 500 Mile Race. One report said this red coupe had a 4-litre Bentley chassis. But unless there was a number-plate fiddle — and why should millionaire Barnato need to do that? — this, It was, in fact, the actual car, the first competition Speed Six, the famous “Old No 1” Bentley, which had taken Barnato and Birkin to victory at Le Mans in 1929, had been placed third in the Six Hours Brooklands’ race that year, driven by Barnato and Jack Dunfee, had set up the fastest speed at Phoenix Park in Rubin’s hands, but was crashed by Glen Kidston in the TT. Using the same chassis, it was given a two-seater body for the BRDC 500 Mile Race, in which it was second behind the winning 41/2-litre Bentley, driven by Clive Dunfee and Sammy Davis, setting the fastest race-speed. It ran again in 1930, securing Bentley’s fifth Le Mans’ victory, driven by Barnato and Kidston, and then winning the “500” for Jack Dunfee and Cyril Paul, now with a single-seater body. It was given an 8-litre instead of the former 61/2-litre engine for the 1932 “500”, in which Clive Dunfee was killed.
Consultation of the records compiled by Stanley Sedgwick for the BDC shows that MT3464 was delivered to Barnato in May 1929 with a Vanden Plus four-seater body on an 11 ft. wheelbase Speed Six chassis. According to the Bentley racing statistics kept by Darell Berthon, MT3464 kept the same 61/2-litre engine and the same chassis, inspite of its long racing career, until an 8-litre power unit was installed in 1932. It seems that the Dunfee crash did not damage the car to an extent that it could not be rebuilt, and that Barnato had decided to have it turned into a road-going car by 1935. The coupe body was a close-coupled coachbuilt one with dummy hood-irons, suitable for a short Speed Six chassis and not to be confused with the more streamlined, four-light 61/2-litre Bentley Gurney Nutting coupe with which Barnato had beaten the Blue Train from Monte Carlo to London in 1930.
It is said that, when Walter Hassan built up the outer-circuit Barnato-Hassan Special for Bertram to drive under Woolf Barnato’s ownership, parts of the ill-fated “Old No 1” were incorporated therein, so it is possible that a 4-litre frame was used for the coupe, and as by 1935 an 8-litre engine was substituted for the 61/2-litre in the Barnato-Hassan, this may also have come from the coupe (possible as a month elapsed between the coupe’s speed-trial appearance and the first race as an 8-litre by the Barnato-Hassan) in which case one wonders what was the ultimate fate of MT3464? At Syston it carried RAC, AA, BRDC and BARC badges and a big spot-lamp. In the photograph, the blower-41/2-litre Bentley behind the coupe is the car supplied new in October 1929 and owned at one time by J Weston Adamson.
Incidentally, the start-line at Syston was roughly where the main road now runs. During the meeting Richard Bolster, who was to be killed in WW2, was very pleased when the 30/98 Vauxhall he was driving tied with Richard Marker’s Railton (33.39 sec.). And those who organise such events today may care to note that 258 runs were successfully timed between 11 am and 4.30 pm, the efficient organisation being under the aegis of — Hugh Conway, no less.
Another thing of which I was reminded, when studying the aforesaid albums, was the extent of the daily press coverage then given to racing at Brooklands. Banner headlines were common such as: “Brooklands Lap Bid At Top Of Banking — Barrister Risks Death Today”, “2 Miles-A-Minute Swoop in Car Race”, “Bertram Leads By Four Points” (comparable with today’s obsession with championships) and “Brooklands Ace Reprimanded”. The last-named concerned Freddie Dixon, who had got in the path of the Barnato-Hassan at the Fork during the Gold Star Handicap race in 1935. By this time Brooklands relied very much for its prosperity on the attraction of the very fast cars that competed there, and the officials were worried about the overtaking problems their drivers encountered — and if these super-fast outer-circuit cars didn’t get through to win much of the attraction of Brooklands might diminish. So to facilitate the passage of cars such as the Napier-Railton, the Barnato-Hassan and the big Delage they decided to have coloured lines painted at the Fork, only the very fastest cars being permitted to run between the black line and the Vickers sheds, the others being required to pull off the Byfleet banking in such a way that they ran in the channel allotted to them, leaving a late run off the banking and the subsequent passage clear for the scratch cars. This black line should not have been confused with the older dotted black line along the banking, intended simply to give an indication of how close to the top of the banking a competitor was driving, and which the fast cars straddled or even went above — but in the judiciary findings, it was.
Anyway, when it was seen that all cars, except Bertram’s, were to keep the Chronograph Villa side of the Fork black-line in that Gold One race, six drivers Staniland, Paul, Dixon, Monday, Marker and Brackenbury — asked the Clerk-of-the-Course, Percy Bradley, to rescind this. Bradley told them he had no powers to do this and referred them to the Stewards, who agreed that the rule could be ignored (thereby creating a “situation” between Bradley and themselves) asking Bradley to give each driver concerned a written memo, to the effect that they were not to obstruct a faster car and that unless their speed warranted it, they were not to cross the black line. As it happened, Dixon, whose 2-litre Riley, a lightweight car able to lap at around 122 mph, got in the way of Bertram’s Barnato Hassan which had given it 42 sec start in 20 miles. (My records show that Dixon was lapping at 116 to 118 mph, perhaps himself baulked by slower cars.) Bertram, lapping at 137.20 mph, came up on the Riley at the Fork and swerved to the left of it in order to overtake it and finish third, a tactic he said was quite safe but which must have thoroughly alarmed the safety-conscious Observers, as they saw the two cars close in a cloud of dust . . . Dixon was reprimanded by the Stewards, which resulted in letters to Sporting Life, and at one time it seemed in doubt whether Dixon would ever race again at Brooklands. The mercurial Freddie was never popular with the authorities but fortunately the matter blew over, Dixon, for instance, winning the following year’s 500 Mile Race with Charlie Martin, although that was a race organised by the BRDC.
The splendidly enlarged photographs in the albums certainly emphasise how high up the banking some drivers went. The Bernato-Hassan, for example, is seen closing on Cyril Paul’s Monza Alfa Romeo that is far higher, in that controversial Gold Star handicap, and in another race Richard Marker’s Bentley has had to go within halfa-car’s width of the banking top to pass two slower cars, although normally driving lower than Bertram, while the earlier version of the Barnato-Hassan had to put its off-side wheels over the dotted-line to pass cars like MG and Alvis.
There is no doubt that, although most of the Daily Press now devotes space to F1 and other motor-racing happenings, the column-inches are nothing like those about these lesser Brooklands’ races of 50 years ago. This sometimes led to amusing errors, as when those two manly and tough drivers, Tim Rose-Richards and Oliver Bertram, were mistaken for women by one British paper. . . Bertram, by the way, was made a member of the Brooklands Racing Committee, and he gave the Barton Trophy for the CUAC Exmoor Trial, helped his Cambridge friend Brian Twist with journalistic work, gained a certificate confirming that the big Delage, running with single rear wheels, had averaged 72 mph. over the Brighton ss-half-mile in the rain, and did an official 122.91 mph in the same car over a ss-kilometre on Southport sands. On a more informal note, he apparently ran out of road and overturned his Chrysler 65 fixed-head coupe near Bradford-on-Avon. These days, if this kind of thing happens, according to reports in local papers, the Police get on to computerised Swansea, trace the driver, and charge him with dangerous driving. In those happier times you just went back with a friend the next day and retrieved the errant vehicle — indeed, there is a snap of the Chrysler being pushed into Jay’s Garage at Box in Wiltshire, where Bertram was then living, for repairs. As I said, most of his road cars carried the BARC badge, and his Essex saloon of 1935 (FR 4012) had this and a BRDC badge on its cross-bar.
Finally, for Brooklands fans, there is a picture of the green woodpecker that splintered the aeroscreen of the V12 Delage while it was lapping the Track in 1935. . . .
Incidentally, two errors may have caused confusion. Bertram worked in the Judge Advocate General’s Department of the British Army and after his old Delage had nearly gone over the Brooklands banking it was the two front-wheel bearings that were found to be broken. The registration number of his first 30/98 was incorrectly given; it was KC 4569. As registration numbers are helpful to historians, it may be of interest that Bertram’s Brooklands-model Riley 9 was VC 834, that of the 8-litre Bentley mentioned in last month’s article DV 9354, his Lancia Lambda saloon was YT 2648, the RAC Rally Packard XT 3401 and his Lancia Dilambda saloon MY 4615. The 1934 Singer Nine was MG 3199 and the L-type MG Magna coupe was JB 3635.
Some of the ordinary vehicles seen as a background to the racing cars in the photo-albums are interesting; two aged Fiat 501s side-by-side in the Brooklands Paddock and Robin Jackson’s Luton-bodied Ford van at Branches Park. I mentioned the Continental tours Bertram enjoyed — in his PI Rolls-Royce he did 5,250 miles in six weeks, taking in the Nice GP.
I append another photograph omitted last month, showing the old 101/2-litre Deluge at Syston in its JRDC two-seater form. Bertram did well in it at these speed-trials — FTD in 1935 (28.86 sec), second-fastest in 1936 (27.4 sec), in two-seater form, using twin rear wheels on both occasions. Reggie Tongue was 0.2 sec quicker than the Delage, in an R-type MG Midget, in 1936 up his own drive . .
Bertram was, as I said, a keen Continental tourist. Apart from the fine cars used for the holidays already mentioned, he went abroad in a Morris-Cowley saloon and his Aero Morgan in 1928, later that year in the Fiat 501, and he used a Standard Nine saloon in 1930 to go to Ventimiglia and back. In 1933 he was off to the Paris Motor Show, and the Lancia Dilarnbda was driven to Venice and back in 1936, with a visit to the French GP at Montlhery, by air, in between. — WB.
V-E-V Odds & Ends.
The British Commercial Vehicle Museum which covers such vehicles from 1896 to 1983, horse-drawn as well as steam and petrol, has opened in King Street, Leyland, Preston, Lancashire. It is open from 10 am to 5 pm six days a week up to September, including Bank Holidays, admission costing £1.00 per adult, OAPs and children half-price. The exhibits include the 1902 Thornycroft steam-lorry, Model-T Fords, that 1908 Leyland X-type lorry, the only (1912) McCurd 5-ton van as restored by Tate & Lyle, and other Leyland commercials, including an RAF-type 3-ton truck and a 1921 fire-engine, etc. Steam is represented by a 1918 F5 Leyland lorry, a 1922 6-ton Foden waggon with centre-pivot front axle, and an 1898 Leyland steam lawn-mower. A 1930 Bean 30 cwt truck, and a 1924 Morris T-type truck, are among the many other exhibits. — WB.