Book Reviews, June 1949, June 1949

The Story of Brooklands, The World’s First Motor Course, Vol. II, by W. Boddy, Editor of Motor Sport. (Grenville Publishing Co., Ltd., 12s. 6d.)

When I received the first volume of this book last year, I expressed the view that “it would not have been very difficult to write a racy book about Brooklands which was a no value as a record, nor to compile an unreadable catalogue of facts; but to combine the two objectives as well as Mr. Boddy has done unquestionably demands real artistry”; and after reading the second volume my first comment must be that he has done it again. How he manages to describe that seemingly endless series of outer-circuit handicap races without becoming a bore, I frankly do not know, but he does it, and those many readers who will re-live in his pages those Brooklands days of a happier age will be duly grateful to him.

The first volume covered the period from the opening of the track in 1907 until 1924; and in this one the author carries on the story from 1925 to the end of 1932. I do not know that there is any particular significance in the stopping place, and indeed the author explains in his Preface that it was primarily limitations of space that decided him to call a halt when he did. But broadly speaking, his first volume covers the “Edwardian,” and his second the “vintage” periods. His readers will look forward to the third, which will inevitably be the tragedy of the trilogy, since it will end with the demise of Brooklands Track. If, apart from that, he can make the tale of the ‘thirties, in many ways so depressing, as absorbing as that told in the first two volumes, it will be indeed an achievement.

Of the two periods so far covered, the first is to me the more romantic, and not even the presence in the later ‘twenties of the Leyland-Thomas, the Sunbeam “Tiger,” or the “blower 4 1/2” Bentley can quite atone for the absence of the Napier, F.I.A.T. or “Chitty-Bang-Bangs” of the Augustan Age. But against this Mr. Boddy in his second volume is covering a period of which many more of us have nostalgic recollections, which are delightfully recalled. We even have a picture of the revered editor of Motor Sport himself, setting out to walk from school for his first glimpse of Brooklands, and on his first race-day there, being warned away from his vantage-point on the Hill, because “they go by in a blur like shells.” And there is little doubt, I think, that the racing in this second period was far better than in the first. At last the organisers had realised that there were other possibilities at Brooklands besides handicap races round the outer circuit, and a succession of more or less ingenious “chicane courses” culminated in that inspiration of genius that “discovered” the Mountain Circuit. The era of front-wheel brakes had come, and with it the urge to show that even racing cars could stop as well as go.

Moreover, apart from the new courses, there was at last something other than sprint races. Hitherto there had been nothing else, except the J.C.C. 200-Mile Race, which, having dealt with it elsewhere, Mr. Boddy virtually ignored in the first volume. But now we have arrived at the era of the British Grand Prix, the Six-Hour Endurance Race, the Double Twelve and the B.R.D.C. 500-Mile Race. These were real races, and Mr. Boddy does them ample justice in his pages; but still I think that his real achievement is the way in which he conducts his readers through the historical jungle of the shorter races, noting the speeds at which individual cars lapped, and of how they improved or disappointed from year to year and from meeting to meeting. The official figures which he uses will settle countless arguments about the real speeds of various cars, but if, like Oliver Twist, I may ask for more, I should like a dissertation in the third volume, on how the intricate Brooklands handicapping system really worked. Was it based on any sort of theory, or did the handicappers work purely by rule-of-thumb?

Mr. Boddy has some most intriguing descriptions of some of the cars which figure prominently in his story, of the big V12 and six-cylinder Delages, the Laystall Special, the 4-litre Sunbeams, 4 1/2-litre blown Bentley, the 17.8-litre Mercédès, and of how a “Brescia” Bugatti was made to lap at over 100 m.p.h. Personally, I could have done with a good deal more of this sort of thing, as well as with some comments on the relative performances of comparable cars which met at Brooklands, and nowhere else. There was a period, for instance, when the 3-litre T.T. Vauxhall was racing against the 3-litre Grand Prix Ballot, which it had never met elsewhere because the former was built a year too late, and the 3-litre Austro-Daimler, which it had never met elsewhere because the latter was of “ex-enemy origin.” But, I reflected, this is primarily a history of Brooklands, not of the cars that raced there; and, thus reflecting, I felt entitled to a slight grievance that the date, in 1930, of the J.C.C. “Double Twelve” is not, as far as I can see, given either in the text or in the appendix. (I wanted to know, because I was wondering why I myself was not there to witness it.) Mr. Boddy has been good enough, in the first chapter of this second volume, to deal with the points I raised in my review of the first; but I fear that there is little with which I can supply him as matter for correction in the third. In fact one of the very few apparent mistakes which I have been able to spot concerns, curiously enough, John Cobb, who has written the Foreword to both volumes. Writing of the 1926 Easter Meeting, Mr. Boddy says “Cobb was to have his Brooklands baptism at the wheel of the 1910 F.I.A.T., entered by Warde,” but a few pages earlier we have had recorded the victory of John Cobb in Warde’s F.I.A.T.” at the West Kent M.C. meeting on July 11th, 1925. It is a small point, and one which would pass unnoticed, did it not come from an author who is usually so meticulously accurate that he even knows that the hearse which carried Parry Thomas’ coffin to Old Byfleet Church was a Lancia!

The period is one for which it is easier to find illustrations than it is for earlier days, and the author has made the most of his opportunities. This second volume of “The Story of Brooklands” remains indispensable to the student as was its predecessor, and will, I predict, have an even bigger success with those who are in search of entertainment.


“Miniature Car Construction,” by C. Posthumus (Percival Marshall and Co., Ltd., 7s 6d.).

At first sight this little book on how to build “solid” model cars appears expensive, but as one reads it one realises what an enormous amount of data and useful hints and tips are contained therein. The author writes with real cars in mind and illustrates his 91-page work with photographs of some of his excellent sports, racing and veteran-car models. He is remarkably thorough, even to giving diagrams, for instance, of the correct shape knock-on hub-caps for Alfa-Romeo, Austin, Bentley and Bugatti cars. The emphasis is on constructional methods for all kinds of 1/24 or 1/25 scale miniatures, and anyone intending to spend a few pounds on equipping a workshop for building such models should include Posthumus’ honest little work in his or her equipment. The Foreword is by W. Boddy, Editor of Motor Sport.

“The Measham Register of Motor Index Letters and Numbers,” by Eric J. Comes (Measham Motor Sales Organisation, 7s. 6d.).

This well-bound little book of 186 pages will be found of value to those wishing to “date” cars by reference to their registration numbers, as the dates when given registration letters were first and last issued and also when the first serial number was issued against these letters, is given. In addition, the area to which such letters apply, and a Directory of British Licensing Authorities, is included in this useful book. Incidentally, it is issued free to subscribers to the Measham Magazine (two guineas per annum), which gives monthly details of car sales at the Measham auctions and values the later secondhand models of well-known makes, giving, also, distinguishing features by which such models can be recognised. From one of these magazines we find that 34 cars sold for under £100 between March 24th. and April 21st this year, their average year being 1933 and their average value £71. So it would now seem folly to offer more than pre-war prices for the lesser vintage cars.