[Before his death in 1977 this very-well-known and successful Brooklands driver and lap-record holder was prevailed upon by his wife Jane to set down some notes intended to pave the way for a book about his packed motor-racing career. It now looks if the book may not find a publisher, but I am deeply indebted to Mrs. Bertram for allowing me access to Oliver’s reminiscences, from which this factual article has been compiled, and for making available to us his carefully-kept photographic albums, from which the accompanying illustrations have been taken. It is also opportune in view of the fact that another Brooklands Re-Union is due on the last Sunday in June. — Ed.]
Born in 1910, Oliver Bertram was brought up at the family-seat in Derbyshire, where his first driving lessons took place at the age of 12 in one of the fields, at the wheel of a 1914 Humberette. Bertram’s instructor was Slow, the family chauffeur, who had been promoted from the stables after the First World War. Slow obviously disliked cars but was persuaded to look after the family’s 1924 24 h.p. Durant tourer, in which they covered 12,000 miles in two years, replacing it with a 1925 Fiat 501 tourer, and later with a 1926 Essex, while there was a 1929 Ford one-tonne lorry for estate-work. Needing a larger, more dignified car, an old 1922 24 h.p. Wolseley was acquired in 1929 and used until it was supplemented by another Essex. In 1931 these cars were changed for a 1927 14/28 Morris-Oxford saloon. Four years later a 1929 Chrysler 75 was obtained, which was given away after serving the Bertram family throughout the war. Bertram’s grandmother possessed a 1909 Delaunay-Belleville, which she had had imported from France with a chauffeur-mechanic from the factory to see that it ran properly. It had two bodies, an open tourer for summer motoring and a landaulette for when the owner was in residence in London, rollers on the chassis-frame facilitating removal and substitution of one or the other. The body not in use would he slung in the garage root-. Bertram scarcely remembered this lady but did recall that on her death the old car passed into his parents’ hands and wasn’t disposed of until 1924, when it fetched £20.
The young Oliver’s interest in cars was fostered by being able to cover a considerable “unofficial” mileage in the Humberette, on the deserted Derbyshire roads of the 1920s, until he was old enough to qualify for a driving-licence. It was also kept alive by the cars of visitors on social occasions. For example, Bernard Shaw used to visit the Bertrams’ house, Shardlow Hall, where Oliver’s grandfather. Sir Richard Sutton, was a keen huntsman with the Quorn. Shaw’s car is recalled as a pale-brown AC Six coupé. The young Oliver thought this one of the better, typically English cars; for his mother the famous playwright’s calls were less pleasing, because his vegeterianisrn was a source of anxiety at mealtimes. Another visitor was Cherry Garrard who had been to the South Pole with Capt. Scott and was author of the book “The Worst Journey in the World”. He used to arrive in a fine 30/98 Vauxhall polished aluminium two-seater. Then there were the Wilkinsons, who ran a 1921 Vinot tourer. So, before he went to Stowe School, Bertram was brought up in an atmosphere of cars and high adventure.
Oliver Bertrarn bought his first real car from Lesley Wyse of Barclay St Wyse in Great Portland Street, spending £150 in the winter of 1928 on a 1923 OR 30/98 Vauxhall. This was fairly expensive at this time but Bunty Scott-Moncrieff told him the sex-appeal of the exhaust-note was alone worth the money! Bertram had never driven such a powerful car before and he found that it had poor brakes and was very prone to skid. On his first run out of London he spun round at least twice on the wet tramlines of the Edgware Road. She was remembered as a car aggressive, rugged and violent, a real challenge. The Vauxhall was source of constant thrills, and it taught the young driver many things, such as never to use the brakes unless proceeding in a straight line, or the starting-handle with the ignition advanced. It was this 30/98 that instilled in Oliver Bertram a taste for power and the first beginnings of his ambition to race. By the time the next term at Cambridge started, where he was reading Law, car and owner were on polite terms. . . .
Prior to this, Oliver Bertram had tried his hand with a 1927 Aero Morgan three-wheeler, the Fiat 501, and the Essex, and had used a 1925 18 h.p. Overland for a while in 1929, before seeing the light! There was also a 1922 18 h.p. Overland, used for a time in 1930, but it was the faster cars that appealed to him. In all, he drove six 30/98s in competition events. His first one was KC 4559, followed in 1930 by a 1922 E-type (TC 5918), run stripped in some speed-events. He kept a Wensum-bodied 30/98 for four days in 1931, before acquiring a 1925 OE Velox tourer. Bertram also borrowed cars from the 30/98 specialists, Crackington Motors of Welwyn, and was lent another by M. P. Reilly (YU 1414).
As first-year students were not allowed to drive or keep cars in the precincts of the University, the Vauxhall was garaged in Royston and only used at weekends. However, encouraged by people like Oscar Botina, who ran an elegant Delage reputed to enable him to keep nights in both Oxford and Cambridge, and Prince Chula who was driven by his chauffeur in a Voisin, Bertram entered for the 1929 Inter-Varsity speed-trials at Branches Park. Opposition to the 30/98 was not formidable and, as it ran well, Bertram had little difficulty in winning the unlimited sports-car class and coming second in the racing-car class. He and his passenger returned home with a slight feeling of anti-climax.
Bertram said this feeling was unjustified and short-lived, because at Shelsley Walsh hill-climb that year, although the 30/98 was placed third of the Cambridge team in the Amateur climb, it was well down in the list of good times. Then, at the September Open Shelsley Walsh the 30/98 burst a tyre, causing what The Motor described as “the first excitement of the day”. It was unplaced (72 sec.), but its owner was beginning to learn that driving ability was an essential part of success in motor-racing. The next three years were to drive this lesson home.
On returning to Cambridge in October 1929 Bertram encountered a fellow-undergraduate who had spent a large sum of money buying a new crankshaft for his Bugatti from Molsheim. Horrified by the cost of repairs and haunted by the fear of further expensive mechanical calamities, he was quite willing to do a swap for the 30/98, on which Bertram had also spent quite a lot of money. Each thought he had out-done the other and shortly afterwards the Vauxhall’s engine blew-up in a big way. . . The Bugatti was a 1924 / 25 2-litre with the roller-bearing crank and cast-alloy wheels. Bertram found it to be the exact opposite to the Vauxhall — with its wonderfully-smooth straight-eight engine (non-supercharged) and superlative brakes and road-holding. It was also sure-footed and tractable, fast and safe. He entered it that November for the CUAC speed-trials, again at Branches Park near Newmarket, and took second place in the unlimited racing-car class, to W. B. Scott’s GP Delage. It was now time to think about racing at Brooklands.
But first there was, in 1929, the start of some memorable Continental tours. It began on the Boulogne boat, where they met Segrave with his Renault 45 Weymann coupé. The famous racing-driver invited the two undergraduates to run with him as far as Paris but when Bertram enquired as to the speed of the Renault and de Hane replied “About 112 m.p.h.”, they declined, because the 37.2 h.p. Hispano Suiza Labourdette boat-decked fabric four-seater they were using was not happy over 90 m.p.h., although it cruised easily at 60-70 m.p.h. Well-sprung and nicely taut, it was safe in the wet, with “a dull 3-speed gearbox but servo brakes”. Taking it easily to Paris they never saw Segrave again after disembarking. There they spent a few days with Don Allen and his friends at the “Maison Rolls”, dining with M. Priere at the Escargot d’Or and discovering in the workshops an open Rolls-Royce Phantom I that frequently did 90 m.p.h. on the road to Marseilles, the Phantom II with glamorous Hibbard & Darrin coachwork belonging to Barbara Hutton’s brother Frank, and other fine Royces with bodies by Binder, Chapron, etc., among the Silver Ghosts and Twenties. In this Hispano, which belonged to Bertram’s fellow-undergraduate friend R. H. Mallock. they went on to Tours, Biarritz, San Sebastian and Barcelona, returning via Cannes, Grenoble and Lyon, Bertram driving over all kinds of roads, thus increasing his driving experience.
Bertram, who already had a professional approach to the Sport, wearing crash-hat, etc., now joined the BARC, and was intrigued to observe, from a respectable distance, the “greats” like Eyston, Cobb, Campbell, Don, Birkin and Howe, etc. One of his earliest impressions of Brooklands was seeing Campbell and Howe lunching in the Clubhouse deep in conversation, one the holder of the LSR, the other President of the BRDC. It wasn’t all that long before Bertram joined the exclusive ranks of top-line Track drivers, although his first three seasons at Brooklands he calls “a catalogue of nondescript failures”, largely due to not sticking to one car and getting it properly prepared, the result of not enough knowledge or money. He ran the Bugatti, a Phoenix Park Brooklands model Riley Nine and a 30/98 Vauxhall. The latter two were slow and taught Bertram nothing. The black Type 35 Bugatti was the fastest and best and taught him a lot about the Track, although it was unplaced in its five races, its best lap-speed being at 104.35 m.p.h. The Riley, blue but later painted black to Oliver’s taste, was a failure, retiring from all but its last 1930 race, when its fastest Mountain circuit lap was at 50.87 m.p.h., its best over the outer-circuit being a mere 62.87 m.p.h., nor was it any more use at the Skegness sand races. Bertram also shared The Hon. A. D. Chetwynd’s Lea-Francis in the JCC “Double-Twelve” Hour race that year but it broke its chassis frame, though not before he had been made vividly aware of the dangers of racing, when the tragic Talbot collision occurred when he was travelling at some 90 m.p.h. about 200 yards behind the cloud of dust denoting it. . . .
As some compensation for these Brooklands disappointments, early in 1930 Bertram had run his Bugatti in the CUAC speed-trials at Branches Park and come third in the unlimited racing-car class, behind Scott’s little Delage and Spottiswoode’s Bugatti and that November his 30/98 won a 1st class Award in the Inter-Varsity reliability trial. This must have encouraged Oliver to enter for the MCC London-Exeter, in which the Vauxhall got a gold medal.
The following two Brooklands seasons were little better than the first. After the 30/98 had managed to win the Resident Members’ class at the 1931 CUAC open speed-trials, placing fifth among the racing cars, and had taken the big sports-car class at the Inter-Varsity Ewelme Down hill-climb, it was entered for the Easter Brooklands races. The black OE Vauxhall had non-started at the previous meeting, but now managed a fourth place in the Mountain Speed Handicap, lapping at 56.91 m.p.h. After an interlude at Lewes, where it took a bronze medal for 2nd place in its class in the speed trials, it was unplaced at Brooklands at Whitsun 1931, but got “round-the-Mountain” at 59.32 m.p.h. Taking it to the BOC Chalfont speed hill-climb, Bertram was 2nd in the big sports-outclass. He then ran a 4.9-litre Sunbeam in the next Lewes speed-trials, and was beaten only by Conan-Doyle in the Frazer Nash “Slug”. S. C. H. Davis was then able to get Oliver Bertram a drive in the BRDC 500 Mile Race, in an MG Midget, belonging to Lt. Clover, RN, which starting first on handicap, had the Track to itself for what seemed a very long tirne, running at around 85 m.p.h. on or well below the 50-foot line, until it retired after 39 laps, with back-axle trouble. Bertram rounded-off the 1931 season with 1st class Awards in the BOC Night Trial, the Inter-Varsity Trial and the London Exeter, in the 30/98 and ran it in the November CUAC Kimbolton speed hill-climb, taking 6th place in his class. There was another Continental tour this year, too, in a lime-green 8-litre Bentley Park Ward two-door convertible, which Bertram and Mallock took to Paris from Dieppe and on to Cannes, Rome, Naples, Venice and back via Geneva and Lyon.
In 1931, a 1926 Morris Oxford Tourer joined the Fiat 501 and the family Morris Oxford saloon as more staid road-transport.
In 1932 Bertram had a shot at the RAC Rally, buying for the purpose for £16.10/- 37 h.p. straight-eight Packard, with which he finished in 106th place, out of 340. He had now graduated to the rare 2.3-litre single-seater Bugatti, the Campbell car, borrowed from T&T’s, and was third in the CUAC Heston Speed Trials behind a big Mercedes and Fotheringharn’s 2-litre Bugatti, after getting away well but having some trouble sorting out the gear-change. Back to Brooklands at Easter, the blue-bodied, yellow-wheeled Bugatti, a pig of a car to handle, lapped at 108.57 m.p.h. but failed to finish in the first three. In fact, Bertram was reprimanded for getting in Cobb’s way at the Fork. However, the stalwart Vauxhall secured a 1st-class Award for its driver in the Inter-Varsity Trial of 1932, a bronze-medal in the London-Gloucester Trial and a Premier Award in the London-Exeter. A barrister building up a practice had less time to devote to motor racing but next year the tide would turn for Oliver Bertram. Meanwhile, he had acquired a 1926 Phantom I Rolls-Royce Gurney Nutting Weymann saloon and took it on an ambitious tour lasting six weeks. Hs drove to Cannes, thence to Venice, Fiume, Belgrade, Bucharest, and on to Budapest, before returning home via Freiburg and Paris. One day it took some ten hours to cover about 80 miles, without seeing another car. After the Rolls had slid into a ditch near the Bulgarian frontier it was pulled out by oxen. It also had to cross the river at Orsova on a makeshift raft and in Bistritz it took 24 hours notice to get a bath, in one’s room, behind green basic curtains, whereas the Athenee Palace Hotel in Bucharest was very comfortable.
Desiring to become a top-class Brooklands driver, Bertram set about looking for a car that would be too fast for him to blow-up, yet be a potential winner on the Track and in speed-trials. Road-racing cars were deemed too expensive, so he concentrated on the most speed for the least money. Several less exciting cars were available but when John Cobb put the old 10½-litre V12 Delage up for sale at £400, Bertram felt it was the only possible choice. The price was raised by selling the PI Rolls to a hearse-converter. (It was replaced by a 1927 Lancia Lambda saloon.) The Delage was collected with a number of parts and spare wheels, from T&T’s and taken to Oliver’s Cambridge friend Robin Jackson in the Paddock. It only remained for him to learn to drive it. It was tried out in the 1933 Varsity speed trials at Gopsall Park and put up f.t.d.
With this very fast car Bertram proved his worth as a skilled and brave driver. There is no need to detail his many successes with it, because these have been set out in my “History of Brooklands Motor Course” (Grenville 1979). Suffice to say that taking the Delage to the opening Brooklands Meeting of 1933, Bertram was second in two of the March Sprint Handicaps. He was second in the Whitsun Gold Star Handicap, second again in the Senior Long Handicap at the Club Meeting, but retired from the BRDC Empire Trophy Race. The August Brooklands racing saw Bertram win the Senior Short Handicap and come home third in the Lightning Short Handicap. To prove his versatility, and that of the old monster, Oliver Bertram took the Delage to the Lewes speed-trial, where he made 2nd f.t.d., to the Brighton speed-trials, where he was second-fastest, tying with Earl Howe’s Bugatti, and to the Southport Championship Meeting, where he set up a record fastest speed on the sand, of 122 m.p.h., winning the s.s. one mile race and the Championship race. It was during the Whitsun Gold Star race that Bertram came to realise the hazards inseparable from driving such a quick motor-car as the Delage. He came up to pass Wisdom in the Leyland-Thomas on the Byfleet banking at over 130 mph, at a closing speed of some ten m.p.h., and there was very little space to overtake. As Bertram did so the slipstream from the Leyland shot him to within feet of the top of the banking and only his instinctive action of pulling down saved an accident. His friends were very alarmed and Cobb thought Oliver had had it. Afterwards, both front bearings were found to be broken!
Thc 1931 season was an excellent start in this difficult motor car (the 10½-litre V12 Delage), but 1934 was even better. Bertram again won both the half-mile sprints at the first BARC Meeting, was second-fastest at the Eynsham speed-trials, took two “thirds”, one of them in the Gold Star Handicap at the Whitsun Brooklands Meeting, and really cleaned-up at August, winning the Lightning Short race and being second in the “Lightning Long”, third in the Brooklands Championship Race, always with astute Handicapper Ebblewhite to beat, as well as the other competitors. The aged Delage also managed third-f.t.d. at Brighton. Bertram had now arrived as a recognised leading racing motorist but his sportsmanship was such that he had a go at the 1934 Varsity Trial in a Singer Nine, taking a 2nd-class award. The 1935 season commenced with Bertram driving an L-Type MG Magna coupé in the CUAC “Jack & Jill” trial, finishing 25th out of 66 in the general classification.
He had also shared Kaye Don’s 4.9-litre Bugatti in the 1934 “500”, a fast but not a very easy car to drive, in Oliver’s view. He kept it going at over 120 m.p.h. but it had a habit of occasionally jumping out of top-gear and after the gear-lever had broken off it was found impossible to hold the gear in, and they retired. But as the car had a tendency to boil Bertram did not think they would have finished, anyway.
Between the exciting and rewarding first two seasons with the Delage there was relaxation in the form of yet another trip with his friend Mallock, this time to Orleans, Macon, Geneva, Andermatt, St. Moritz, Merano, Vcnice, Trieste, Fiume, Split, Dubrovnik, and back through Milan, Stresa to Lausanne and Paris, this time in a 38/250 h.p. Mercedes-Benz with an English two-door drop-head coupé body. High-geared, it would do about 105 m.p.h., at six to 12 m.p.g. according to how much the blower was used, compared to the approx. 12 m.p.g. they had got from the Hispano and ten m.p.g. from the 80 m.p.h. Rolls. They shipped the car to Trieste to avoid the very slow road along the Dalmatian coast, after being in third gear for some 400 miles on the run out, had to reverse at every one of the 47 hairpins on the Stelvio, both up and down, and managed Geneva to Dieppe in about ten hours for the 500 miles. On the first tour Mallock had run into a horse-drawn vehicle near Naples, which resulted in an altercation with armed police and the Mercedes now ran into a bullock cart in Italy and later knocked over five schoolgirl cyclists when they turned across its path, they being luckily unhurt. Player’s “Gold Flake” cigarettes were found to constitute useful “tips” on these travels!
Summing up the four fine cars used for the tours, Bertram thought his Rolls-Royce the best in terms of quality. The Mercedes’ performance was not particularly good unless the supercharger was used, the Bentley being the fastest, but it was fairly useless in the Alps. The Hispano possessed the best road-holding and it and the Rolls required the least effort to drive.
While Bertram was using the big Delage at Brooklands he had three 14/28 h.p. Morris-Oxfords as hacks, a 1927 two-seater, a 1928 tourer, and a 1929 saloon, as well as a 1929 Essex coupé and a 1930 De Soto saloon. The following year (1934) he owned another Packard, in the form of a 1930 saloon (GU 832), a Chrysler 65 coupé of the same age, a 1929 Chrysler roadster (XV 500), and he hired a Singer Nine four-seater for the Inter-Varsity trial.
In 1935 he got a 1930 Lancia Dilambda saloon, and for 1936 he had a one-year-old AC Six coupé and a new Ford Ten saloon. Most of his cars, even the racing Delage, carried BARC and BRDC badges. By 1937 Bertram had changed to his British Salmson d.h. coupé (DYW 122). He sold this on the outbreak of war in 1939, which also caused him to get rid of a new Cord saloon. A Ford Ten Prefect saloon (FXB 179) served the ex-racing driver throughout the first year of the war and while he was in the Army he also bought the first of three Ford Eight saloons, selling the first one after a year but retaining the second one for five years, until 1946, having acquired his third Ford Eight the previous year. The return of peace was celebrated by buying a Rolls-Royce Twenty Salamanca cabriolet-de-ville.
Incidentally, as a change from Brooklands, Bertram went with his Cambridge friend Andrew Fairtlough, whom he used to help with the organising of CUAC events, on the 1937 VCC Brighton Run, in Dick Nash’s 1904 Panhard-Levassor, wearing “toppers” — for this November outing was not taken as seriously in those days as it is now; they got there first of their group.
Reverting to Bertram’s motor-racing, in 1935 he took the Delage to Brooklands, and was fourth in the Short Handicap, and then ran it at the Syston speed-trials, where by taking it comparatively gently off the line and opening up round the curve he was rewarded with f.t.d. in 28.86 sec., on his afternoon run after a little gearbox bother in the morning, a very fine show from a purely track-type car, which was using twin rear wheels. Bertram also competed in Woolf Barnato’s smart-red 8-litre Bentley saloon. Starting slowly, it was fast and steady at the bend, making 4th-best sports-car time (33.78 sec.).
Woolf Barnato who had been entering the Bentley-engined Barnato-Hassan Special after closing down his Bentley Motor Company, now asked Bertram to drive this formidable Brooklands car, another step forward in Oliver’s career, as well as being a signal honour. At the Easter Meeting he won the “Senior Short” with it, and the “Lightning Short” in the Delage, and by June had the Class-B lap-record at 137.7 m.p.h. in the Hassan. As all this is recorded in my Brooklands book and elsewhere, there is again no need to detail Bertram’s very considerable continuing successes with both cars. He took the outright lap-record to 142.6 m.p.h. for Barnato in 1935, being the first driver to get round in under 70 sec., until it was broken by Cobb’s Napier-Railton, which was 16-litres larger. In the 1935 “500” the Barnato Hassan was leading until the rough track split its fuel tank. There was an Empire Trophy race when Bertram got a drive in Prince Leningen’s ERA but was delayed by oiled-up plugs, finishing twelfth.
Reverting to the 1935 lap-record, Bertram had gone down to the Track early for the August Bank Holiday Meeting and on a practice spin in the Barnato-Hassan, now running without front-wheel brakes, found it smoother than usual and never easier to drive. Before the Byfleet banking was reached, the tachometer showed 4,000 r.p.m., which had never happened before. This represented well over 145 m.p.h., a lap of over 140 being confirmed by several of Oliver’s friends. When racing started the car gave Bertram an exciting ride, and as it came off the Members’ banking a tyre tread came off the o/s rear tyre, causing a swerve to the outer edge of the Track, in a cloud of dust. But the lap-speed had been 142.7 m.p.h. (The lap record stood at 140.93 m.p.h., to Cobb). It had to be attacked on a clear course, so it was decided to scratch from the rest of the Meeting, and go only for the record. Hassan filled engine, gearbox and back-axle with fresh hot oil and off Oliver went, with Barnato and Andrew Faitlough stationed at the Fork to signal when the record had fallen. It fell on the first flying lap and after one more Bertram returned to the Fork, picking up Barnato, who perched himself on the tail for the ride back in triumph to the Paddock. Bertram found the Barnato Hassan Special a contrast to the Delage with its smooth twelve-cylinder engine and precise handling. Initially it felt ponderous, almost primitive, docile admittedly at a crawl with the exhaust note a rumble, but becoming alive at speed, and although giving a sense of working well within its potential, being hard on the arms due to the front-end weight and big wheels. But it “really sat down on the bumpy concrete surprisingly well” and never gave Bertram a bad moment. He recalled its failures with as much affection as its successes — as when, shared with Richard Marker in the 1936 “500”, a con-rod broke. . . .
Driving the Hassan at lap-record speed was a feat of determination and skill. I wrote at the time that it was “A very brave achievement, for the car required driving the whole way round Brooklands and called for unerring judgment and considerable physical strength if disaster was to be avoided.” And Oliver Bertram was quite a slight figure. He must have been very fit. He said that one of the difficulties was getting onto the Byfleet banking. Starting a race from the Fork he would be in top gear before the end of the Home banking and usually travelling at maximum speed by the end of the Railway straight. After his first season’s experience with the Delage, and later with the 8-litre Hassan, he could drive onto the Byfleet banking without lifting his throttle-foot a fraction. It was then possible to keep flat-out until the tricky part after passing the Vickers sheds, and even then it was again possible to go onto the banking at full-throttle, but in the Hassan you had to let-up for a fraction of a second. Following the 3.3-litre Bugatti Bertram could tell from its exhaust note that Howe also lifted-off at this point. Taking the Fork was also difficult. In a very fast car you had to drive so close to the sheds that Bertram felt he could touch them if he had put a hand out. Baulking was a major problem, which the painting of lines at the Fork didn’t altogether cure. Freddie Dixon was called before the Stewards for having put his 122 m.p.h. Riley over the black line and in the position Bertram wanted for the Hassan in the 1935 Gold Star race, causing Oliver to have to swerve to overtake on the left before regaining the intended path, in a slide and cloud of dust. Dixon was very annoyed, saying he thought he was going to be given a cigar, not a reprimand! He had been told he could cross the black marker-line and under those circumstances there was no way of avoiding baulking between cars of lap-speeds varying by some 20 m.p.h. Bertram concurred with this and wrote to Sporting Life to say so. The bumps were another Brooklands’ hazard and the concrete dust rnade goggles essential and aero-screens desirable.
How did Bertram view his fellow drivers? He thought Kaye Don was the best he came up against, sometimes taking Oliver by surprise by overtaking at the entry to the Byfleet banking, with what looked like mere inches to spare from the edge. Birkin he linked with Don, closely followed by Eyston, Cobb, Froy and Staniland. He thought Horace’s quote “Justum et tenacam propositi virum” applied to John Cobb, who was calculating and shrewd, knew what his cars would do, taking no chances but fully prepared to exploit their perforrnances. John was no courtier of public adulation and was believed to dislike Campbell because he was. He rather liked the image of a phlegmatic giant that he acquired, enough to show slight irritation when little Kay Petre more than equalled his speed in the Delage! Bertram was not sure Cobb altogether approved of his acquisition of the Delage, although Cobb wrote him long letters of advice about how to run it. Cobb was remembered as a large, unflappable, genial character, dignified without being pompous and with an air of authority. Bertram also adtnired greatly Mrs. Poste. After he had sold the Delage to the JRDC a slim two-seater body was put on it, for instructional purposes. Kay would let Oliver drive her round at over 135 m.p.h. without any apparent alarm. After she had herself raced the old car so effectively she received a letter of congratulation from Louis Delage.
Bertram always expressed deep gratitude to Capt. Woolf Barnato for allowing hint to be “jockey” to the Barnato Hassan Special and to Walter Hassan for building it and making it go — Bertram having little mechanical expertise. Barnato wired him asking if he would drive the Hassan in the 1934 “500” but was committed to sharing Earl Howe’s Bugatti and the Hassan wasn’t ready anyway. Bertram then wrote enquiring if he might drive for Barnato and was delighted to be accepted. He got to know the millionaire very well. He was generous, unflappable and a brilliant driver. He was also a marvellous host, at Grosvenor House and his villa in the South of France, where Oliver met the most glamorous people in and outside the world of motor racing. On the Riviera Barnato provided a fast ChrisCraft motor-boat to transport his guests to neighbouring islands, where swimming-parties were held. It was accepted that swimsuits need not be worn but it was the absolute “rule-of-the-house” that personal remarks were not allowed, as Barnato made clear to all his guests . . . He gave Oliver a magnificent silver cigarette-case to commemorate the lap record. Incidentally, the big cars required about a mile to slow down before a pit-stop and Barnato arranged signals on the Byfleet side of the Track in long races.
Bertram also knew Earl Howe, who “brought an air of the MCC and the House of Lords” to every meeting he attended, a “blue”, not a “yellow”, Lonsdale! Meeting after the war, Howe confided in Bertram that his V12 Lagonda was “an old-ladies’ car”. Bertram’s parents, by the way, having been told that if he took care of his cars they would probably take care of him, regarded his racing with surprised but indulgent resignation.
Bertram’s further fine performances in the Hassan can be summarised as a first and a third in 1937, and two seconds and a third in 1938, broken con. rods intruding. He was also third in the 1938 BRDC Trophy Race in the Hassan, hampered by a gusty wind, and fourth in it at the Dunlop meeting. In 1937 he had been unable to resist the call of the Experts’ Trial, and drove a 1½-litre Singer, gaining a Finisher’s Award. While the Hassan was being refurbished he also raced the Bentley-engined Bowley-Hofman, winning the 1938 Easter Short H’cap with it. Bertram also shared the Napier-Railton with Cobb in the 1937 BRDC 500 km. race. He drove it for the first time a week beforehand, finding it quite unlike either the Delage or the Hassan. It was much bigger and heavier, and uncannily quiet at speed, only the rush of the wind being heard at 2,000 r.p.m., equal to some 140 m.p.h. The lack of deceleration on closing the throttle, due to the low c.r., was disconcerting and you could not swing it about like the other cars, but the ride was more comfortable than on any other racing-car Oliver had driven. They won the race at the dangerously high speed of 127 m.p.h., but Bertram found it “not particularly exciting”. Twenty years later he “drove” the car again for the BBC TV programme about Brooklands.
Then there was the Match Race. It was to be staged (the right word, as it happened!) at the 1936 Brooklands August Meeting, between Bertram in the 8-litre Hassan and Cobb in the 4-litre V12 Sunbeam, over three laps for 100 sovereigns. Cobb was to have nine seconds start, and he suggested that to provide a good spectacle they should fake a close finish, splitting the prize money. However, the Hassan developed trouble the day before. Marker offered Bertram his 6½-litre Bentley. He was told of the decision and agreed to take a third of the money. Ebblewhite having reversed the handicap, Bertram now had to ease up at the line to let Cobb win. He confessed he had overlooked the “punters”, and that he had to tell his friends not to place bets on him! The ploy worked, fooling the commentator and the Press (including me) and Bertram was praised in the next day’s papers for sportingly pulling over to let Cobb win. . . (Some years later he told the story of the race at a Club dinner, to the consternation of certain members who had organised this Match Race). On the same day he proved his track-driving ability by covering two successive laps at 119.43 m.p.h. in Jackson’s 1½-litre Alta when finishing third in the Locke King Trophy race.
By this time Bertram was a legal luminary and he successfully defended Kay Petre at the RAC inquiry under Lord Cozins-Hardy, after Parnell’s MG had collided with her Austin at the Track. After 1938, with the Hassan always out-handicapped and its tyres costing up to £1,000 a season, Bertram gave up racing.
During the war he worked in the Generals’ Department of the Army, with the rank of Major, and had a part to play in the Nuremburg Trials. And he afterwards went to live in Leicestershire, hunting with the Quorn. Oliver Bertram will be remetnbered as one of Brooklands’ finest amateur drivers, who twice won the BRDC Track Star and qualified for the BARC 120 m.p.h. and 130 m.p.h. badge (in the Delage), an intelligent man who enjoyed this exciting relaxation, often in the company of beautiful girls, and who was always impeccably turned out. He was one of only three drivers to officially lap Brooklands at over 140 m.p.h. It is nice to know that today his stepson has similar ambitions — when I called he was hard at work on his Weber-carburetted Mini.
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