Aero-engined racing cars at Brooklands

Aero-engined Racing Cars at Brooklands, by Bill Boddy. GT Foulis & Co (Haynes Publishing Group plc). 160pp, £20.00.

In those glorious motoring years between the two world wars, the ‘right crowd’ thrilled to the exploits of racing drivers round the Brooklands saucer. And few quite captured the public imagination as those who drove the behemoths powered by engines originally intended for aircraft. The fastest racing cars of their time, they steadily upped the lap record to the 143.44mph at which John Cobb finally left it. As I computed for our October 1992 feature on the quiet record breaker, that would be the equivalent today of a 276mph lap at Indianapolis.

Clearly these were seriously quick projectiles for all their bulk. Filling a gap in motoring history, our founder editor Bill Boddy has produced a fine book detailing the aero-engined racing cars that ran at the Weybridge track. Few writers could be so well qualified to produce this work, for WB was there at the time, and has since spoken with most of the characters concerned with the cars.

Accordingly, this history delves deeply into the past, exploding a few myths here and there, pointing the way to fresh research opportunities.

Ernest Eldridge was the last man to set the Land Speed Record on a public road, when he took his gargantuan Fiat Mephistopheles to the narrow strip at Arpajon in France and averaged a bold 146.01 mph. He did not do so without falling foul of the regulations first, however, and an initial clocking of 146.8 was subsequently disallowed when previous holder Rene Thomas sportingly pointed out that the black car did not possess a reverse gear. It has generally been accepted that Eldridge rigged up a reverse by crossing the driving chains, but Boddy probes deeper and comes up with fresh solutions. It’s worth £20 of your money just to discover what they are ..

Speak of WB and of course Parry Thomas’ Babs springs instantly to mind. Sure enough, the ill-fated record car is also covered, in a selection ranging from the 1913 Sunbeam V12 (an excellent colour painting of which by Terence Cuneo graces the front cover) through to the Napier Railton via other gems such as the Chitty-Bang-Bangs and the Wolseley Viper. A final chapter wraps up those other aero-engined machines, including lsr giants such as Sir Malcolm Campbell’s Bluebirds and Cobb’s Railton Special, which appeared but never actually raced.

The erudite text is backed by some wonderful monochrome photographs to produce an excellent book well worth the modest cover price.