Experiences at Brooklands and Elsewhere
The time should have come to look ahead, but to some of us the future seems so confused as to justify prolonged consideration of “The Good Old Days.” Thus we hope, before it is too late, to recapture some of the atmosphere of earlier times by occasionally publishing reminiscences of those who were active participants in the Sport years ago. In the article which follows, E. Shield looks back nearly forty years, to the time when he assisted the late Warwick Wright at Brooklands and elsewhere. — Ed.
The recent death of Warwick Wright was a real loss to the motoring world, and as an employee of his in the days gone by I can recall a happy association.
I have mentioned elsewhere the fine running of the Minerva cars in the Circuit des Ardennes of 1908, in which “Mr. Warwick” and a present peer of the realm played great parts. Warwick Wright and his motor-racing companions were fearless sportsmen, and I marvel now at the risk involved in handling the cars of those days at 100 m.p.h.
At Brooklands the “bumps” were very much in evidence and “Mr. Warwick’s” handling of his 100-h.p. Darracq, acquired from Huntley Walker, was masterly. This car had a large phosphor-bronze cone clutch, which allowed of very little slip, and he used to get away to a flying leap.
The transmission stood it well (it had a live axle). Altogether, this was a fairly efficient car and the low-tension magneto, with make-and-break contact inside the cylinders, gave good results. I remember “Bosch” Bennett, of happy memory, undertaking to fit a high-tension magneto, with advantages, but we did not get the results expected, and reverted to low tension again.
One of our troubles with this car was to keep the engine oil-tight as the pistons were so large and crankcase pressure difficult to keep down, with the result that “Mr. Warwick” (as we knew him) and his mechanic used to have an oil bath at high speed.
The experience of lapping Brooklands at round about 100 m.p.h. and perhaps passing or being passed by the roaring black Fiat “Mephistopheles,” was in those times something to be remembered.
The Darracq finally broke a camshaft which pierced the crankcase, and although we made a good repair in those early days of aluminium welding, it was never the same again.
This car had cast-iron pistons of approximately 6 1/2-in. dia., hollow connecting rods, overhead valves, comparatively small tyres and, of course, rear-wheel brakes only. Tyres were poor at that time and only frequent changes made continued high speed possible.
About this time (1908) Warwick Wright, Ltd., changed from Minerva to Metallurgique, and he and Oscar Cupper drove these last-named cars at Brooklands, notably in a match with Napiers, entering cars of 26 and 40 h.p. I think we would have walked away with these events but for a last-minute change of axle ratios. These hurried changes were a whim of Oscar Cupper and more than once caused failure.
To use a present-day phrase, “it can now be revealed” that the 40-h.p. racer was camouflaged as a touring car and entered as such in a Tourist Trophy race in the Isle of Man, but without success, as another last-minute axle change was made.
We entered three Metallurgique cars for the “Four Inch” race in the Isle of Man, but had real hard luck, Oscar Cupper turning over at speed and injuring himself and his mechanic Brandt. “Mr. Warwick” had timing gear trouble, but what happened to the third slips my memory.
A Hutton (Napier) car was victorious in this race after a magnificent performance, and I have always thought it regrettable that Napiers abandoned car manufacture.
The only damage to Oscar Cupper’s car was a broken steering wheel and change-speed lever, and after changing the wheel I was towed back to Douglas after the race by “Mr. Warwick” in the 40-h.p. camouflaged racer, at a hair-raising speed, and on pulling up he said: “Good God, Shield, I forgot you were there!”
By the way, one of the Hutton cars was the subject of a remarkable repair, which was successful in that the car started in the race, but with what result I could not now say. A pair of cylinders broke off completely just above the holding-down studs. This was probably due to the abnormally long stroke and high compression, and happened during practice. The Hutton mechanics set about what appeared to be an impossible job. They tapped the crankcase approximately 1-in. Whitworth at an angle, and fitted diagonal studs on either side through a top plate with suitable taper packings to hold the cylinders down. This proved quite successful, and it was the finest emergency repair I have ever seen, considering that under those circumstances sleep was always an unknown quantity. I would like to think that at least some of those concerned see this 36-year-old appreciation.
The race, later, for touring cars provided some queer happenings, as the bodies, in some cases, were so very “touring” that at least one was disqualified for dropping its lead “makeweight” ballast through the floor of the car.
These events were always accompanied by the greatest good humour and assistance was always mutual.
It can be gathered that these were wonderful times, and I hope the spirit which prevailed will be recaptured in the future.
Later on Warwick Wright entered a special Metallurgique (“Billiken”) for a race meeting on the sands at Saltburn in Yorkshire, and we put up a good show, but at that time the Talbots were outstanding and took the honours.
At that meeting, the car which was most striking was actually a “hotted-up” model-T Ford, and to see that car, with its central steering, streaking across wet sand at 90 m.p.h. was unforgettable. The extraordinary howl of the exhaust from its obviously special engine was remarkable.
One great difficulty was to keep the cars from sinking in the sand when stationary, and a car like Aspinall’s huge De Dietrich had to be kept on the move. With the lighter cars, boards under the wheels were sufficient. Here again assistance was mutual, although it appeared at one time that the De Dietrich would have to be abandoned to the incoming tide.
The Talbots at that time were extremely fast and their speed of 102 m.p.h. on wet sand a great achievement.
Looking back, it seems remarkable that we experienced so few mechanical failures, and it should be remembered that all engines had to be hard-started. This speaks well for the Bosch magneto of those days, which was almost universal, with the notable exception of the low-tension ignition of the old Darracq.
It is intetesting to recall that we had some sparking plugs with small air-valves incorporated, which under some circumstances undoubtedly gave better results.
Our Metallurgique had four exhaust valves per cylinder, with one very large inlet. The engine also had steel pistons (very light), steel connecting rods, and was capable of very high speed.
The experience of clinging to the tail of this car, with Oscar Cupper driving at speed, up the Zig-Zag at Saltburn, remains with me yet. Names come out of the mists: Percy Lambert, Dario (“Dolly”) Resta, who, magnificent driver though. he was, was killed at Brooklands (which is perhaps as he would have liked it), and poor Herman, badly mutilated by the spokes of his broken steering wheel when he turned over and off the track.
They were great men . . .