The VSCC at Brooklands

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The Vintage Sports Car Club held driving tests, in today’s parlance Autotests, at Brooklands, or what is left of it, on February 5th, thereby adding a little more history to this historic site, inasmuch as this was the first RAC-authorised event to be held there since the old Track was closed in 1939. The VSCC thus did what the Bentley DC had hoped to achieve in 1945 but in which they were frustrated by the Brooklands’ ARC’s refusal. What is more, the VSCC event was traditional, because the late-lamented Junior Car Club used to open the season with similar driving tests at the Track before the war. Tony Bird was aware of this and contrived to use the same capacity classes as the JCC (up to 1,500 1,501-3,000 0.0. and 3,001 c.c. and over) and to have a frolic up the Test Hill. But he did not charge the entry fees in Sov’s.! Nor did he send competitors down the Test Hill, as the JCC used to do, as it is now reduced in width by unsightly vertical tubing that has grown up out of its left-hand side. But it was all delightfully traditional, nevertheless, and it was good to be back. Entries were restricted to 70 and were soon over-subscribed.

What I did not know was that, at the last moment, through the generosity of Robbie Hewitt, I should be able to compete, using her 1928 Amilcar. I had driven this car in driving tests at Thruxton some years ago. Then it had a “cooking-engine” and had to to hand-started. Now this smart blue-and-white type-CGSS Amilcar has the larger M-type side-valve Ricardo-head engine, which gives admirable torque and, with the solid back-axle, makes this a useful car for such capers, especially as it now has a very effective electric starter. So I was in for some fun. What is more, if ever my daughters pull their fingers out, I will now be able to tell my grandchildren that I drove competitively at Brooklands!

The snag is that you cannot both drive and report. So I hope that, having done the latter critically as a mere onlooker for years, the sparcity of the following notes will be compensated for by those competitors who saw me muff part of the Tests. Like making a cornplete rounder of Test 6, when the Amilcar should have been doing decreasing circles, preparatory to disappearing up its own exhaust-pipe, and coming into the narrow “box” at the end of Test 5 at the wrong angle…

The whole event was well run, except for a lapse of Marshall Aid at the close of the first session, which resulted in our Continental Correspondent, who was sharing the 1934 4 1/2-litre Lagonda TT Team car with its owner, doing the first test and then arriving to find that Tests 3 and 4 had been dismantled before he could get to them. This was a pity, because they were held partly up the Members’ Banking, about which it was fun to be swerving. But the Test Hill was the best of them, a re-start being incorporated on its less-steep lower reaches, after which it toot straight ascent against the watch, over the summit. Few cars emulated the pre-war high leaps into the air at the finish, having been subdued by the re-start. But Hugh Conway in his Type 43 Bugatti did his best. His son failed to make it, because two plug leads came adrift—the first six-cylinder Bugatti to run at Brooklands? The Amilcar, in spite of its 3-speed gearbox, had no trouble, even trying to spin its Portuguese 4.50 x 19 tyres on the moss that has grown out of the concrete. The big Lagonda, from the same stable, stopped too soon, as Robbie mistook the end of the Hill for the finish line.

This was not the only car the famous 352 ft. 1 in 5 hill defeated. Gledhill’s Ulster Austin 7 refused to to much as start, with what sounded like fuel-starvation, and Hayward’s 1929 Hillman 14 tourer had to be towed up by a recovery vehicle, due to a lack of power—there being no other way to get to the rest of the Tests. Yet Ryder-Richardson’s 1910 Adler two-seater, the only small Edwardian competing, got up in spite of its under-floor fuel tank starving the carburetter on the 1-in-4 bit, and Mrs. Fricker’s left-hand-drive 1924 7.5 h.p. Citroen Cloverleaf had no difficulty—”it would have looked at something steeper”, she said.

After we had recovered from the shock of seeing two identical 1935 Ulster Aston Martins, one of them LM21, arriving on trailers, we had another shock, for there was Douglas Fitzpatrick on his fearsome 21-litre Maybach-engined Metallurgique, which he had driven down from Norfolk that morning—the first aero-engined car to take part in the driving tests? Or did the Scarisbrick run in sooty, at Southall, before the war? The Metallurgique did not treat us to an ascent of the Test Hill as it was feared its flywheel would have grounded on the concrete. Dudley Gahagan dropped to valve into tho engine of his Type 37 GP Bugatti early on, but as some compensation was able to park it in what used to be the Dead-Car Park for the Campbell circuit. There were several interesting cars present, including a newly-constructed blue sports Austin 7, Riddle’s GN, using its o.h.c. Vitesse engine, which had to be side-cranked after the “reverse-under-gravity-into-a-garage” part of Test 7 (gravity being supplied by the right-hand bend at the end of Campbell straight), and Bullett’s 1926 Austin 7, with its polished aluminium Burghley pointed-tail sports two-seater body rebuilt, and wearing the correct mudguards, which were anything but, being the most flared of all such wings. The Raineys had their 1936 and 1937 blown Alfa Romeos —all the cars were pre-war, again in the Brooklands spirit—Bayne-Powell that K3 MG Magnette which has some “Nuvolari” about it and Cox a blown FWD Alvis. Rushton had to water leak in his M-type MG but trouble generally seemed to stay away, and even the weather behaved. That the tests were possible is a credit to members of the Brooklands Society who have cleared rubbish and trees from the Test Hill and the Members’ Banking, and thanks go to the British Aircraft Corporation for granting entry to the site.—W.B.