A Mystery Solved

A call from Mr Angus Clark, who has been rebuilding a Thomas Special “Flatiron” over a long period — I remember being towed in it, a then engine-less chassis to Vickers-Armstrongs’ Brooklands Memorial Meeting in 1957 behind his father’s Rolls-Royce Wraith — has solved the mystery of Parry Thomas’s 1927 aero-engine and the association of the Welsh racing driver-designer with the inventor F L Rapson (of puncture-proof tyre fame) to which I referred last month.

Mr Clark reminded me that in his book 25 Years at Brooklands Track (available from the Brooklands Society) Mr R H Beauchamp recalled working on this 30-litre V16 supercharged sleeve-valve two-stroke aero-engine at the time of Thomas’s fatal accident in “Babs”, an engine perhaps intended to re-vitalise this old car, until Reid Railton said “Well, we are going to stop that!” He also kindly sent me a copy of the Patent issued in respect of this Rapson-Thomas aero-engine, which was intended to be of petrol or diesel type and differed from other sleeve-valve engines in having a separate crankshaft to operate the sleeves via rods and levers, and exhaust ports around the top of each cylinder. Rapson’s association with Parry Thomas is also made plain. He, together with Ken Thomson (who was Thomas’s legal representative) and Reid Railton, of the Thomas Invention Developments Company, had added his name to the provisional patent specification, filed in 1926 and completed in September 1927, for this aero-engine.

That was obviously the engine in question, not proceeded with after the “Babs” accident. Another reader has sent a cutting about the recent death of Lionel Rapson’s son, Lt Col “Robbie” Rapson MC, aged 84, who had a distinguished military career. He is said to have been the youngest holder, at 17, of a World’s 50,000-mile record and to have raced at Brooklands; but I think there is confusion here with the aborted Miramas record bid.