Historic Scene - Gordon Cruickshank

Saying goodbye to one of the good guys in the old car world, and investigating a possible new race circuit – seven decades ago

Most people sit back and relax when they retire. Not many take on an entire new challenge like running a major museum, but that’s what Allan Winn did. You may know him as the indefatigable director and CEO of Brooklands Museum. But not any more. After 15 years of involvement with the Members Trust and more than a decade steering the ship, he has finally decided to step down and retire all over again

To celebrate his tenure the Members Trust held a packed ‘Au Revoir to Allan Winn’ evening in the clubhouse in April, where with Simon Taylor as compere Winn talked about his time not only at Brooklands but also earlier years. Though trained as an engineer in New Zealand he shifted sideways into technical journalism, eventually becoming editor of Flight International, and on the little stage Andrew English of the Daily Telegraphrecalled the days they worked together, including a lucky redundancy that enabled Allan to buy his beloved 3-litre Bentley.

Then the Trust’s vice-chairman Mike Bannister, BA’s chief Concorde pilot and the last man to land one before they were mothballed, described Allan ’s efforts obtaining one of the six examples that British Airways had to dispose of. Success was a massive boost, particularly as there were 87 rival applications for the redundant supersonic airliners. Allan ’s proposal declared there would be a 20 per cent uplift in visitor numbers if a Concorde returned to where large sections of it were manufactured (when British Aerospace was still on the site). In fact the rise was double that; just as well as the museum had no cash at all when Allan arrived.

Purchasing the John Cobb Napier-Railton was another challenge. To the racing world there is nowhere else that car should live but at the site of its Outer Circuit triumphs, yet there was every chance of it going to Germany or France. Thankfully the museum had first option and Allan headed another campaign to raise the shortfall from the Lottery fund contribution.

Perhaps the greatest project of all has been the £8m ‘Re-engineering Brooklands’ masterplan which centred on dismantling the wartime Bellman hangar from the Finishing Straight, revealing the huge expanse of concrete where Brooklands races started and ended, and moving it wholesale to a new position. That was completed last year – after Allan had persuaded the local MP to approach the Chancellor of the Exchequer to close the funding gap. Which he did, from the LIBOR banking fines.

Now the hangar is the Aircraft Factory, with part-assembled aeroplanes including the Loch Ness Wellington, and adjoining is the new Flight Shed housing the complete aircraft. This complex has been short-listed for the national Museums Heritage awards, to be announced in mid-May.

Meanwhile the reopened straight regularly hosts events and competitions – bringing competitive motoring back to the Track being another achievement of Allan’s time. The Double Twelve is a big draw, while every weekend features some special event.

Allan was quick to point to the immense support he’s had from staff, the Trust and especially the museum’s hundreds of volunteers, but there’s no doubt that he has overseen a remarkable shift in Brooklands’ profile and its ambitions. Replacing him is Tamalie Newbery, who unlike Allan when he arrived has extensive museums experience and has been working with Brooklands for a while. But as the outgoing director joked, the Track itself, poorly and hurriedly built 112 years ago, is crumbling and will need extensive repair. “That is my gift to Tamalie,” Allan grinned. Given that it’s a listed ancient monument, this is one of the biggest challenges facing the place.

Altogether it was an enjoyable evening, especially the film of Michael Portillo’s attempt to crash Allan’s Bentley on the banking by catching his cuff in the hand throttle – echoes of Elliot Zborowski’s 1903 accident.

I expect we’ll see Allan Winn around the Track in future, perhaps this time as a competitor, or a marshal – his off-duty hobby. There’s no doubt his achievements as director have pitched the museum to a much more adventurous level and made it a thriving, active attraction. “I hate seeing rows of dead things lined up,” he explained. “Cars only come alive when they’re driven.” An excellent mantra. Au revoir, Allan.

SEVENTY YEARS AGO we published a road test in which Bill Boddy decided to investigate a proposed new race venue – “the disused aerodrome perimeter track at Goodwood which, with the permission of the Duke of Richmond and Gordon, is likely to become a useful racing circuit”.

Climbing into the test car, a 3½-litre Jaguar saloon, WB and an unnamed companion headed south by Leatherhead and Dorking, happily recording 91mph on the two-way roads of the time before “turning into what we profoundly hope will soon be Goodwood’s motor-course”.

Boddy reports the surface as being “rough and loose in places, but by no means badly surfaced” before trying some standing-start laps in both directions. Seemingly anyone could pitch up and once they had notified the control tower (“Telephone Mr C W Fisher on Lavant 7”) a red flag was raised and no-one else was allowed on, so you could drive it either way. Boddy does report that he met a lorry and a tractor, though, so maybe the red flag wasn’t big enough. Their best lap was 2min 21.6sec with a top speed a bit over 70 – 20mph less than they achieved on the road down…

Others had already discovered it: “The previous day a Cooper 500 had been down, and there were plenty of black lines to be seen on the surface”, though Boddy adds that “no firefighting or first-aid facilities were available and you should make your own arrangements for food”.

WB describes an anti-clockwise lap, so we can’t read much into his impressions, but he comments that the course “suffers to some extent from lack of definement of its corners, but as cornfields come to the edge of it for much of the distance, this is not too serious and could doubtless be improved if some white lines were laid”. Ah, the simplicity of the age.

Heading home, the Bod muses “News of the RAC track near Northampton somewhat overshadows the Duke of Richmond’s venture, but we sincerely hope it will be developed, for this course is delightful to drive over”. It was not to be long before WB’s hope was granted.

I’m amused to see that Boddy the traditionalist says of the upright Jaguar saloon that it “remains distinctive, in the traditional British manner, in the midst of fully-faired, anti-drag, aerodynamic streamstylers”. He obviously had no inkling of the about-to-be-announced XK120. To read WB’s full report go to http://bit.ly/GoodwoodFirstDrive

IF YOU’RE HEADED for Hampshire and the huge Beaulieu Spring Autojumble on May 19/20, you are in line for an aural treat. The National Motor Museum’s BRM V16 is due to be woken up after a long and painstaking rebuild of that complicated supercharged engine. Last heard running in public at the 2014 Goodwood Revival, the car went to BRM specialist Hall & Hall in Lincolnshire for the work which was funded by contributions to the museum’s BRM Preservation Appeal. With over 1000 stands, the autojumble draws large crowds and this year celebrates 70 years of the Morris Minor with over 300 of the model on show. Autojumble tickets give you access to the museum and Palace House as well.

I SEE THERE’S a Kickstarter fund to produce an illuminatedsign you can sit on your dash to say ‘thanks!’ or ‘you’re welcome!’ or other messages to other drivers. I could do with that, I thought – there’s a few messages I would like to convey to cars around me. But I see they add “All the messages will be positive”. Huh. I’ll have to go back to my regular fantasy of guided missiles fore and aft for tail-gaters and middle-lane hoggers. Or perhaps what I saw on a Mini Moke history website – wheeled outriggers for a soldier packing a bazooka. Yes please. www.carmalight.com

Long-time staffman Gordon Cruickshank learned his trade under Bill Boddy and competes in historic events in his Jaguar Mk2 and BMW 635