BROOKLANDS REMINISCENCES By Capt. A. G. MILLER
No. I. EXPERIENCES WITH THE WOLSELEY VIPER In the following article Capt. Alistair Miller takes us back to the early pineteentwenties, and his experiences at Brook lands with the Wolseley-Viper. Capt. Miller raced probably more cars than any other driver in the early post-war days of Brooklands, nearly all of them essentially outer-circuit jobs typical of the Weybridge
venue. Quoting only from memory we recall Wolseley, Bianchi, Voisin, Buick, Napier 40/50, Benz, Delage, Sunbeam, Nazzaro, Donnet-Ledel, Lombard and A lvis.
The Wolseley Viper first appeared at the 1921 Autumn B.A.R.C. Meeting, and gained its last win in a Long -Handicap at the 1926 Whitsun Meeting. It had, we believe, a 120 mm. x 130 mm. 11,702 c.c. V8 Hispano-Suiza ” Viper” aero engine, of the type built at Wolseleys during the War, installed in an old Napier shaftdrive chassis. It was able to lap at over 112 m.p.h. and although we do not know what became of it finally, it was for sale at £25, in good order six years ago. For some years before the War, Capt. Miller was with the Betz Company and during the latter part of the War was chief Inspector of Transport, Eastern Training
Brigade, R.A .F. He was appointed Competitions Manager to Wolseley Motors Ltd. in 1920. During that period he broke 124 records at Brook/ands and won some 800 prizes, cups and medals.
His last Brooklands success was at the 1930 IV hitsun meeting, when he won the Cornwell Junior Short Handicap with one of the old Wolesley ” Moths ” at just over 71 m.p.h., lapping at ouer 84 m.p.h. He is now general manager of Messrs. Gauntlett and Miller Ltd., Brompton Road, S. W.3, who specialise in Rolls-Royce cars, supplying every type at prices from 1:50 to £2,000. We hope subsequently to publish snore articles from his pen. Incidentally we may emphasise that this really is Capt. Miller’s Work—it is doubtful if anyonc else could supply the information that follow c.—Ed. Good Heavens ! ‘rime has flown, for it only seems yesterday when I bring my memory back to Brooklands just after the War, when the really big racing cars were at their zenith. Naturally, owing to the War, there was only a limited number of racing-cars available and practically no new ones were being built, when Brooklands track was reopened, so it meant that enthusiasts had to build their own cars, and in conSequence a lot of very amusing and ex
citing incidents took place. For a” ” where improvements in design and in fact everything connected with it is so rapid, one can only look back at the old (lays and the formidable racing-cars as they were at the time, monsters, with alarmingly huge aero engines fitted, highly dangerous and untrackworthy compared with the racing-cars of to-day.
These monsters were built by several sportsmen, and they certainly put up some astonishing and hair-raising performances. What fun they were 1 And what an attraction to the crowds who flocked to see the Big Fellows run ! Yet, in their days they were the machines of the moment and produced thrills galore. although, through the amazing development Of the smaller powered machines of to-day and the colossal speeds they do, I doubt, very much, if they create the intense excitement, interest and terrific thrills which the grand old Bolides pro
duced in their time. I am convinced that they were the biggest public” draw” at BrOoklands that there has been. The mammoth cars which could always be relied upon to put up a real show were the late Count Lou Zborowski’s two Chitty-ChittyBang-Bangs, the big twelve-cylinder
aero engined Sunbeam driven by Kermelm Lee Guiness, the late I.,;rnest Eldridge’s
200 h.p. and 300 h.p. Fiats. Douglas Hawkes on the big Lorraine de Dietrich. Dick Warde’s big Mathis Fiat. Brocklebank’s big Peugeot (this and the de Dietrich were actually pre-war Grand Prix cars). and last, but not least, my own dear old and famous 200 h.p. Wolseley Viper, also a little later my big 200 h.p. Benz and the late Parry Thomas’s big Leyland and his Liberty engined ” Babs,” on which poor Parry Thomas ultimately met his death, when attempting the world’s Land Speed Record at Pendine Sands. The big Peugeot ultimately came to grief in one of the important big car races at Brooklands, when poor Toop was killed, just past the Byfleet Bridge, when driving for Brocklebank. Ir was a nasty accident and I witnessed every detail of it, as I happened to be Watching from the Byfleet Bridge, I went there particularly to watch the late Norman Norris, whom I was trying out on the Viper with my partner Desmond Fitzgerald, and so was watching this .race very carefully. It seemed to me that Toop was far too high an the banking for the speed he was doing approximately a lap speed of 110 m.p.h. and coming under the Bridge he found himself with a bunch of cars in front all more or less wanting the same position, and it appeared to me that he momentarily slackened his speed too acutely for the height on the banking and in .consequence his tail dropped and his nose went up which caused him to lose control and he and the Peugeot dashed over the top of the banking amongst the trees, mowing them down
like ” nine-pins.” Toop was killed instantaneously.. He had been staying with me for a few weeks just prior to this, and we all missed him frightfully. In ,addition to the Cars already mentioned, there was the big Blitzen-Benz, which came over with a German driver, but he did not remain long and subsequently the late Bill Barlow re-appeared with it, and did his best to burn himself to death during a race on one occasion. Luckily he came off unhurt, but finally, he was not so fortunate and whilst careering up the Finishing Straight could not pull up, and went over the top of the banking through the trees near the Members’ Bridge and got some first hand information about the subject of “Forestry.” For tunately he was comparatively unhurt,
and I do not know what happened to the car after that, but I believe it returned to Germany. What more thrilling sight could there possibly be than to see two of these enormous cars thundering round the track at 120 to 130 m.p.h. roaring and swaying, tearing through the field of smaller cars from scratch, everybody holding his breath wondering if the tyres would burst or fling their treads (and they did too in those days) or the machines themselves fly to pieces in the super-human efforts of their drivers to keep them on the track ; mechanics, pumping up the petrol pressure frantically. What heroes these mechanics were, grappling to get every ounce of speed they could and to see these big fellows neck and neck plunging through the field and ultimately winning. I can so well remember ” Bill Gunners” heading the laps record in the old aero-engin.ed twelve-cylinder Sunbeam at 122 m.p.h. which seemed an incredible performance and speed at the time, and it still is an incredible performance. Although this record has been surpassed many times since on much more track worthy cars of later design and improvements. I doubt if there are many men of the present generation who would tackle the job, assuming all the conditions were the same; it really was a star performance. My own car, the 200 h.p. Wolseley-Viper had a reputation of being the most dangerous car on the track for it had a habit of plunging from the top of the banking to a lower part, which looked both alarming and exceedingly dangerous. This it .so happened was a complete and absolute fallacy. The Viper was as safe as a house, and so long as one kept one’s head, she always pulled out of it and got her dear .old nose in a proper direction again, and always none the worse. I have tried dozens of times to let her full out but never succeeded, but I had always that delightful extra speed to play with, which on so many occasions gave me the chance I was looking for to pop through and win. The photo used in this article will show myself and the Viper with Colonel Bobby Stewart as mechanic, just about to turn into the old Finishing Straight to win an easy race. You will
notice that we are both looking back to see where our nearest rival might be. If you realise the car must have been doing well over 120 m.p.h. at the time, how could this car have been considered so unmanageable ? One meeting when I had to drive in several races with other Wolseley cars, I had to give the Viper to Kaye Don to drive, and it was in this race that the Viper disgraced itself, but in all fairness to Don it was owing to his lack of experience of the car. Kaye Don could always be relied upon to get every possible ounce out of a car and on that occasion made the mistake of keeping his foot down well past the
Finishing Post, which in the old Finishing Straight was highly dangerous as there was quite insufficient space to slow down. When he came to pull up finding he was going miles to fast, he tried to brake, Instead of switching off the ignition, and in trying to find the side brake he inadvertently bumped the gear lever and put it cut of gear, and then found instantaneously that he had rot time for the brakes to be sufficiently. effective, and with that enormous weight travelling at colossal speed he had no alternative but to charge and slither along the sand bank of the Members’ Hill, to avoid going straight over the top of the banking ahead of him, like Wilkinson on Gray’s Prince Henry Benz before the War, and Bill Barlow in the Blitzen Benz
after the War. After this, the best sportsman I have ever driven for, A. J. McCormach, the big White Chief of Wolseleys, forbade me to enter the car again, but I had set my heart on records, which were easily within my reach. So Colonel Stewart and I decided we must get round him somehow and finally, sportsman that he was, he gave in, and we made preparations to annex the flying mile and kilo records. Our difficulty was that we had to lap the track to get up sufficient speed to attack the records on the Railway Straight. It was a fearfully hot summer day, the sun was blazing down and the concrete
simply scorched one’s feet, and we feared the tyres.
After two attempts, which were not quite good enough, we made certain adjustments and had another “go.” and this time we managed to get both the class mile and kilo records by a sufficient margin with only one tread left intact.
My last impression of the Viper was in the Gold Cup Race, which I won on the Indianapolis six-cylinder Sunbeam, and I only just managed to beat Kaye Don and the Viper by a bonnet’s length. I shall never forget that exciting moment when it was touch and go if I managed to overtake the Viper in time, it was a near thing and really exciting, and I was cursing myself all the way round for ever having parted with it.