I was hopeful that you would find space in Motor Sport last year for a rather more worthy obituary notice for Reid A. Railton than the brief note that appeared in the October issue. After all, he was the leading British designer of racing and record breaking cars in the 1930s.
His first solo effort was the Arab, built on a shoestring which, unfortunately, proved to be a little too short; But a good try. Next came the “Brooklands” Riley. Fathered by Parry Thomas but almost entirely Railton’s work. Then on to the big stuff; the Napier Railton and Malcolm Campbell’s “Blue Bird”. Incidentally there has been much talk recently about who and with what car could have broken Cobb’s Brooklands lap speed record made with the Napier Railton.
However, no one has mentioned that when Cobb set his record the Napier Railton had plenty in hand to raise it further as and when necessary. (And the track was damp! Ed.)
The next major job was the ERAs designed for Humphrey Cook in the autumn of 1933. Railton was responsible for the entire chassis and transmission, the cars being despatched from Thomson & Taylor’s workshops to Bourne ready for the engine to be dropped into position and the body mounted. If this surprises anyone they have only to look at any of the original drawings of the chassis. They will be on Thomson & Taylor drawing sheets and probably will carry my name as draughtsman. While the design of these chassis was conventional for the period it is worth mentioning that after testing the first car, only two design changes were called for. A change in the rate of the rear springs and a shortening of the steering box jack shaft, to decrease torsional flexing. From then on the cars were a complete success.
The climax of Railton’s career, as far as cars are concerned, was John Cobb’s land speed record car, an amazing tour de force of design. Neither Cobb’s nor Campbell’s land speed record cars ever gave their drivers a moment’s worry on their mechanical side, which fact is a tribute to the genius, it was nothing less, of R. A. Railton. No one could wish for a better man to work for, he never “balled you out” for an error and allowed even I, his most youthful assistant, to have full scope for working my ideas into his schemes. He never lost his cool even when arguing some design point with that most volatile of engineers G. H. K. Taylor.
His work was often hampered by the need to meet a tight budget as there was little sponsors’ cash to be had in those days, so his designs needed to be, and were, right at the first go.
Unfortunately, he always suffered from bad health and at the height of his career was obliged to emigrate to California where the more favourable climate enabled him to continue working on a variety of design problems.
St. Austell. JOHN B. PERREIT