On non-race days . . .
It may be the imminence of the publication by Grenville of a revised edition of my “History of Brooklands Motor Course” that has caused me to feel more acute nostalgia than usual for the happy days I used to spend at the old Track. It wasn’t only on race-days, either. At one time I was there daily, travelling down by train, on journalistic pursuits, and before that I had enjoyed other non-race days at Brooklands, when admission cost a shilling (5p) in spite of the fact that there always seemed to be many interesting things going on. Indeed, I am rather proud of the fact that doing this probably cost me my first job. I had decided one fine week-day that Weybridge would provide more fascination than London-town, and had telephoned my place of employment, saying I had a sick-tum, but would be in the next day. I then got on a train to Weybridge. Arriving at the entrance to what was, without any question, the most desirable place on this earth, I tendered my “bob” to the attendant, only to be asked for another half-crown (12½p). It was then that the truth dawned; the BMCRC motorcycle race-meeting intended for the previous Saturday had been rained-off and they were having it on the Wednesday instead . . .
I paid up and walked to the Paddock, conscious that the owner of the establishment where I was supposed to be toiling was a prominent “Beemsee” member and also that, as he had two sons who raced, one a gold-star holder, the other cutting his teeth on a 172 c.c. Excelsior-Villiers that was forever burning a hole in the deflector-top of its piston, he might well be present. He was! And although at first I managed to keep out of sight, when all those magic noises indicated that racing was about to start, I had to come out into the open. Later, at the time of the financial slump I found myself on the short-list of those “made redundant” by the firm, and always thought that having been seen curing a bilious attack on burnt castor-oil and dope might have precipitated it. . . Which is how I was forced into writing about motoring for a living.
One could fill a book about the happenings, both tense and hilarious, that went on down at Weybridge on those non-race days. I have, in fact, put some of them into the aforesaid book. Apart from hanging about in the Paddock, sooner or later, perhaps, after a race-meeting itself, one would drive or walk along the Aerodrome road under the shadow of the banking, to peer into the mysterious sheds over on the Byfleet side. Apart from the aeroplanes, lots of racing cars were stabled there. I remember once shading my eyes to see what A. G. Miller’s shed contained and discovering a big red car I hadn’t seen before. Little did I realise that it must have been only hours afterwards that he had a flaming row with his wife and locked her in this very shed, as the papers were quick to disclose. Unaware of this domestic drama and too late to retrieve my enquiry, I had written to Miller asking what the car I had seen was. I got a polite note back, telling me it was a 1914 200 h.p. Benz that he had found behind a country pub and intended to race at the next meeting. Non-race days were full of things like that . . .
The accompanying picture shows an assembly of cars in one of the T. B. Andre sheds, or the long shed extending from it, some years before I first went to the Track. I would think that it was taken in 1924, at a time when the country-estate atmosphere of old Brooklands was well in evidence, with little or no advertising hoardings about the place, and fewer buildings than in later days, so that in the summer evenings after the racing cars had been locked away and the last aeroplane had landed, it was all very peaceful, with the vast expanse of the grass landing-ground on which to stroll or exercise the dogs, the outside world cut-off, unless one used the rickety Byfleet pedestrian-bridge. Anyway, the place beyond was largely open country and sleepy villages, and although the fast train from Waterloo took only 32 minutes, Brooklands was still quite a good drive for those who motored down from London, especially those in the light-cars then popular, which usually didn’t cruise at much over 30-35 m.p.h. . . .
The picture of the interior of one of those sheds captures the feeling of the period rather nicely, I think. At that time those who wanted to keep their racing cars and motorcycles at the Track were permitted to do so free, presumably in the hope that they would avail themselves of the services of the “skilled mechanics”, when these chaps were not busy fitting Hartford shock-absorbers to other customers’ cars. There were machine-tools driven, electrically I suspect, from overhead belting, and benches along the side of the shed, equipped with vices, etc. T. B. Andre not only sold these shock-absorbers, he occasionally raced a Marlborough light-car, and he had given the great Andre Gold Cup to the Junior Car Club, for its ambitious 200-Mile Race. His big hangars, set back from the Aerodrome road at right angles to the final row of sheds, had previously been the Martin Handasyde aeroplane sheds and presumably it was here that the rare 2-litre six-cylinder Marlborough Grand Sport was assembled.
That sad character, Tommy Hann, was in charge: he lived in Butts Lodge, just along from Parry Thomas’ bungalow “The Hermitage”. Hann had served in the Royal Navy and came to Brooklands after the war, where he raced with some success an improbable car in the form of a 1911 25 h.p. Lanchester, formerly a landaulette, but then endowed, first with a tandem-seated all-enclosed body (“Hoieh-Wayaryeh-Gointoo”), and then with a more normal single-seater body.
In the latter form the Lanchester answered to the name of “Softly-Catchee-Monkey”. Hann also raced occasionally a 1911 Coupe de L’Auto Delage disguised as the HP Special, “Handy Andy”. He then vanished for some years, but returned in 1934 with an aged 16/60 supercharged Mercedes to which he had fitted a racing two-seater body, painted in dazzle-stripes of orange and black, like his former racing cars. It had a 60-gallon fuel tank, apparently devised from a domestic cistern, in its tail. This, again, was disguised as a Hann Special supercharged Grand Sport, and after it had failed by a large m.p.h. margin to qualify as a starter in the BRDC 500-Mile Race it disappeared; I have often wondered where to (the racing exploits of these cars are described and illustrated in the aforesaid Brooklands book).
Hann seems to have been a car-fan all his life, starting with a 2¾ h.p. Benz Victoria, preceded by motorcycles such as a front-drive Werner, a Singer Autowheel, a 3½ h.p. Rex, a 3½ h.p. Quadrant, and then early cars like a tube-ignition Daimler, a 1906 Coventry-Humber, and an Argyll voiturette, later having experience of an AC Sociable, an early Rover, and a home-built JAP-engined cyclecar, etc.) While he was at Brooklands in 1922-24 he formed Hann Partners (Hann Partners tuned racing cars and fitted AT speedometers and rev-counters, etc.), with short-lived offices in Albemarle Street W1, was engaged in designing a single-track two-wheeled car, for safe fast lappery of the Track, and he also contributed pithy news-items and comic comments to The Brooklands Gazette, Motor Sport‘s fore-runner. Later he formed the Motor Service Club, intending to buy cars for clients and equip them.
These ventures all quickly petered out and when Hann returned to Brooklands in 1934, he was reduced to running an old 7.5 h.p. Citroën Cloverleaf as a tow-car and for personal transport. Among cars he had apparently been closely associated with were the Pinnace light-car in 1908, a 1912 car he termed the “Roaring Forty”, a 35 h.p. Hann-Ace Monobloc, evolved in 1918, his two Brooklands racers, for which he claimed an improbable 100 h.p. for the pre-war Lanchester engine, a 1922 Amilcar, a sports HE, various Marlboroughs, and a 1930 1½-litre Hann Special, the last maybe on paper only. He was also consulted by Automobiles Berliet about the possibility of selling him their 4-litre 23/70 engine in their lighter 2-litre chassis.
The identities of the cars in the shed, seen in the picture at the time of Hann’s management, present something of a poser! Starting from the left of the photograph, there is a racing Horstmann, of the kind raced in short and long Brooklands events. But what is that next to it? I think it might be a Berliet, perhaps Philip Rampon’s racing 9-litre Berliet-Mercedes, “Whistling Rufus”, or could it be the big Locomobile that Woolf Barnato brought back from America and ran at Brooklands, although that was somewhat earlier? Hann called one car he knew, a 135 h.p. “Shilling Shocker”, and this may have been it? On the other hand, another picture I have seen shows another large, more ungainly car, with a big square radiator, the make of which defeats me, but to which Tommy Hann may well have given this uncomplimentary name. The next car along, with its immense pointed radiator, is another puzzle. It could be a Martini but if so it wasn’t raced. And who did it belong to?
We now come, in that line-up, to a 1912 Coupe de L’Auto Sunbeam, Ivy Cummings’ I expect, although I thought hers had a dark radiator honeycomb, Perkins was driving one of these cars for Coatalen at the time but I would have thought they would have kept that car in the Sunbeam sheds. . . The next car along is Capt. Douglas’ Bertelli “Laurubia”, with Andre’s own Marlborough-Anzani beside it. Then we have Hann’s ancient Lanchester, what looks like a Talbot, perhaps one of Campbell’s, a road-equipped car it is diflicult to see. Hann’s HP Special, “Handy Andy”, and lastly, Le Champion’s giant 20-litre, 120 m.p.h. aero-engined Isotta-Maybach.
It was a long time ago, but what a sight they must have made; and I believe there was sometimes an old Martin-Handasyde biplane thrown in, for good measure. — W.B.