THIRTY YEARS OF BROOKLANDS
Thirty long years have elapsed since the late Mr. H. F. Locke-King built Brooklands Track for the British Motor Industry, an undertaking paid for privately by this far-sighted sportsman, and for which he never received any congratulation or compensation by the Government, either of that day or the years that followed.
This year the new road circuit designed by Sir Malcolm Campbell is the primary attraction and obviously it will from now on provide unrivalled thrills for the tens of thousands who spectate at each big Brooklands Meeting, and provide, too, extremely instructive racing for the everincreasing number of competitors. More than that, it will constitute a remarkably valuable testing ground, over which every part of a normally-constructed car can be tried to destruction if needs be, whereas in the past such testing could only be done when artificial barriers had been planted on the concrete saucer, and then only to a limited degree.
But useful as the new road course must prove in a variety of ways, the outside circuit of 13rooklands will continue to see active service and at this period of casting back on meritorious achievements, I wish to devote this article to a brief consideration of the part which the Weybridge course has played from its earliest days in the wonderful evolution of the automobile.
If you except the German Autobahn and the splendid motor roads of Italy, which are of quite recent origin, you must concede that very, very few roads exist where cars are habitually held at full throttle for a distance anything like equivalent to five or six laps of the Brooklands full circuit. Even on the long, tree-lined straights that abound on the Continent there is usually some reason for a driver every now and again to ease his throttle-foot, with all that that means to a hard-driven power-unit. Not so at Brooklands . . . Which is why the old Track constitutes such a very notable testing-ground, at which, over a period of nearly thirty years, divers masses of tortured machinery have given their clue to the designer, fitter, metallurgist or chemist in search of knowledge.
Certainly S. P. Edge rather confounded that view when he so sensationally opened the Track in 1907 by driving his 60 h.p. Napier round for twenty-four hours at an average speed of over 60 m.p.h. But if this performance was a colossal attribute to Napier design and construction, I still believe that many valuable lessons must have been learned in preparing for the attempt, and I think S. P. Edge would be the first to concede that he chose a powerful six-cylinder car having a maximum quite a deal higher than the average he set out to maintain. The tyre makers, too, had their products’ failings clearly pointed out to them, and this very first piece of potted research witnessed at Brooklands might well have been productive of even more extensive lessons had Edge not damaged the newly-laid surface of the Track sufficiently to prevent Charlie Jarrott having his return match, with a four-cylinder car, in the form of his beloved de Dietrich. At all events, when the Brooklands meetings themselves were held much trouble was rife amongst competitors. Entries were confined to Grand Prix road-racing machines, such as the 120 h.p. 175 x 150 in.m. four-cylinder Mercedes with which J. E. Hutton won the Montague Cup Race at the opening meeting, and to ordinary touring chassis running practically unmodified and stripped of lamps, wings, screens, even their bonnet sides, in an endeavour to find more speed. Is it any wonder. that many weird troubles developed, the like of which had never been encountered before in racing over roads ? Consider the power these early power-units had to pour out to propel these totally unstreamlined care round the course at full speed and it is easy to picture the failings common amongst the inefficient, T-head, splash or dripfeed lubricated touring engines of that period. In particular, attention was early drawn to the inadequacy of cooling and lubrication systems—and faults that developed therein at Weybridge could accordingly be forestalled from occurring under conditions of more leisurely motoring in the Apennines or the Alps. In these very early days, too, scratch races were staged for cars of one particular make or type, which must have directed attention to the possibilities of speed increase by ordinary careful assembly and toning, as distinct from drastic modification. Speeds of over 100 m.p.h. were already being realised by special cars, and in 1908 Nazzaro’s Fiat bettered 121 m.p.h. for a lap. Even for the very first Brooklands meeting someone had fitted an airship-shaped nose to his racingcar, and between 1907 and 1910 it was commonly realised that streamline bodywcrk was of vast importance for racing
at Weybridge. Consequently, by the latter date very narrow, single-seater bodies were the vogue, and included such extreme examples as the racing Austin. which had a bonnet narrower than its. radiator, faired axles and side-members,. a streamline exhaust system, narrow disc wheels, and an open-ended tail, and Percy Lambert’s Talbot with its narrow radiator cowl and extensively faired front and rear dumb-irons. It is doubtful whether many of these bodies approached very closely to the ideal streamlined shape,. and it must not be overlooked that lightweight construction was not nearly so far advanced then as it is now, but certain it is that by 1912 touring bodies were beginning to benefit from these racing endeavours and those historic wing-resistance tests carried out with a 40 h.p. raicing Napier at Brooklands in 1907.
Road-holding, or, more properly, trackholding also forced itself onto the notice of the technician, and ” snubbers ” of divers sorts were experimented with, forebears of our present-day drivercontrolled friction and hydraulic dampers.
Research in the engine department also had its part in pre-war Brooklands racing, though there is insufficient space here to go into things at all fully. You will recall that Laurence Pomeroy was getting exceptional results from the big 25 h.p. side-valve four-cylinder Vauxhall units, that Coatalen was doing big things with eight and twelve-cylinder Sunbeams, and that Tuck’s normal, T-head Humber developed quite surprising speeds. Water-spraying of the exhaust valves assisted the late Percy Lambert’s ordinary T-head, four-cylinder 25 h.p. Talbot to achieve the first 100-miles-inone-hour run and about the same time Robert Brewer was busy with his remarkable experiments with corks stuck in inlet-tracts, that culminated in his book on inlet manifolding which directed many designers’ attentiou to the possibilities of curing distribution ills on production
multi-cylinder engines. Yes, there is a whole heap of experiment and research evident in the records of pre-war Brooklands, and remember that even lines of investigation that never merit universal development add just a little more to our growing store of knowledge. Even in these pre-war times the small car had its place at Brooklands. Indeed, at that fateful August Bank Holiday Meeting held on the very day when war was declared, a Light Car Handicap was won by Mr. Lambert’s 1,327 c.c. Bugatti, while this Bugatti and Lionel Martin’s much-tuned Singer Ten between them won the two 75 m.p.h. handicaps.
With the outbreak of war Brooklands was handed over to the Government and became the haunt of heavy lorries that played havoc with the surface and of Vickers, Sopwith and Martinsyde aircraft. On May 24th 1920 it was re-opened to the public and the B.A.R.C. races were revived, in the form of 75, 90, 100 m.p.h. and Lightning Long and Short Handicaps, that, indeed, still figure in the present Bank Holiday programmes, though they are now more limited in variety. Immediately after the Armistice two distinct trends were evident, one, the steady development of the small car, the other the popularity of aero-engined monsters. The latter did not, perhaps, add very much to the quota of useful knowledge amassed from Brooklauds racing, but it is interesting to note that some very sensational speeds were attained
by this means. Thus Chitty-Bang-Bang I lapped at 113.45 m.p.h.., the WolseleyViper at 112.08 m.p.h., the IsoltaMaybach at about 118 m.p.h., and the Thomas ” Babs ” at 125.77 m.p.h. These big cars were heavy on tyres and difficult to cool, but they were cheap and reliable, and it is one of the writer’s pet theories that most of them would have been faster still had they been even higher geared. That the trend has not altogether passed is evidenced by the 23litre Napier-Railton which won the Broadcast Trophy Race at Easter at 136.03 m.p.h. Pre-war Grand Prix cars such as the Lorraine-Dietrich Vieux Charles -Trois ” and Warde’s Fiat were likewise in demand on account Of their high lap and low engine speeds, and usually they ran poorly streamlined, ” Vieux Trois ” actually Sporting a faired front axle beneath its immense expanse of fiat-fronted radiator. Generally, bodywork took on a more sober outline, but streamline experiments continued, such as that of the amazing A.C. which could be driven flat out over a newspaper without moving it, on account of the mulershield formation, the late Tommy Harm’s tandem-seated, all-enclosed Lanchester ” Hoieh-Wayareh-Goointotoo ” with tail of compressed air, and the very razor-blade Aston-Martin with bodywork designed by the De Havilland Aircraft Co. Ltd. Much experimenting went on in the early post-war days. Parry Thomas achieved a .speed of 100 m.p.h. with a practically standard Leyland Eight luxury car, and thereafter set about development work that resulted in the evolution of one of the fastest track cars in the world. The Sunbeam people developed the ultra-large engine idea by experimenting with an 18 3-litre V12 boat engine in a simple shaft-driven chassis carrying a single-seater body, with which the late Lee Guinness covered the half-mile consistently at 135 m.p.h.. while racing at .a 1921 meeting and the following year achieved over 140 m.p.h. on the Track. These increasing speeds found new weaknesses in tyres, and the late Air. Lionel Ropson had a special 40 h.p. Lanchester built, with which he conducted a series of long-distance tyre tests, Paul Dutoit doing. the same thing for Dunlop at a later date with an Alvis. In those times Thomas used twin rear tyres on the record-breaking Leyland and even so often had to wait for a shower of rain to cool the Track before he started his attempts. To-day Dunlops last the dnration of a 500-mile outer-circuit race on heavy and fast cars. In 1923 two supercharged Fiats came over for the 200-Mile Race and both retired, but in the following year supercharged Darracq cars finished first, second
and third. Brooklands contributed its share of supercharger research, H. Hagens of the British Anzani Engine Co. having supercharged Horatm anus running there in 1924-5, of which Major Coe’s example lapped at 103 m.p.h., while in the previous year a blown Austin Seven successfully broke records. Amherst Villiers did much experimenting there on the supercharging of the 4i-litre Bentley and with a curious ” New Phantom” Rolls-Royce that had an A ustin Seven engine driving the supercharger.
Perhaps most remarkable of all has been the development of the small car. Immediately after the War there were two schools of thought, one of which raced hotted up editions of production light cars, such as the late B. S. Marshall’s Hampton, Oats’s Lagonda and Cushman’s Brescia Bugattis, while the other maintained that it was desirable to build entirely special cars, such as the Hillmans raced by Bedford. and Mays, and the 1.2-litre razor-blade Calthorpe built by Calthorpes or the Wolseley ” Moth ” cars of the Wolseley Co. In the days when the cycle-car was struggling for supremacy against the conventional light car the type was well represented at Brooklands, Capt. Archie Nash’s G.N. being one of the fastest, with a maximum of around 90 m.p.h., while Eric Longden, Crouch, Douglas, Morgan, S. & C., Little Carden, and A.V. were well represented. In those times there was much competition as to who would first exceed 100 m.p.h. in an hour, with a light car, which honour eventually went to A.C. in 1922, while in the same year an Aston-Martin actually took a world’s, or unlimited capacity, record. In October the J.C.C. organised the now famous 200-Mile Race for cars up to 4-litres, for which a remarkably fine entry was secured. A Talbot-Darracq won at 88.82 m.p.h., with a G.N. victorious in the 1,100 c.c. division at 72 m.p.h., and by 1924 the speed of the winner, a Darracq, had risen to 102.27 m.p.h., and that of the 1,100 c.c. class winner, a Salmson, to 85.70 m.p.h. In 1925 the J.C.C. introduced artificial corners into the 200-Mile Race, and they have since figured in the 1926 and 1927 British Grand Prix, the Double-Twelve Races, the 1000Mile Race, the Empire Trophy Races, International Trophy Races, etc. The speed increase of small cars at Brooklands
is appreciated by comparing the fastest lap speed Of the winning 1i-litre Darracq in the 1924 200-Mile Race with the present 750 c.c. class lap record held by Austin106.65 m.p.h. and 121.2 m.p.h. respectively. Reflect, too, that the Darracq averaged 102.27 m.p.h. for the race, whereas a 1,087 c.c. M.G. won the 1933 500-Mile Race at 106.53 m.p.h. G-outte startled everyone in 1926 by lapping at 114 m.p.h. with a Salmson—the present 1,100 c.c. lap record is M,G.’s at 124.4
m.p.h. And in 1931 a Delage lapped at over 127 m.p.h. Another aspect of Brooklands racing has been the remarkable development of particular makes of car, such as Felix Scriven’s 94.99 m.p.h, from an Austin Twenty, Woolf Barnato’s lap at 91.3 m.p.h. with a Wolseley Ten, R. J. Munday’s 115 m.p.h. 30/98 Vauxhall and Freddie Dixon’s 132 m.p.h. from unblown 2-litre Rile vs. Nor has production car racing been neglected. Selling Plate races figured in some of the early fixtures, and in 1926 the J.C.C. Production Car Race with artificial-turns in the circuit, was won by a Salinson at nearly 63 m.p.h. In the following year the same club ran a Sporting Car race won by an Alvis at over 63 m.p.h., and the now defunct Essex M.C. held a Six Hour sports-car contest, won by an Alvis at 62 m.p.h. This latter event was repeated in 1928 and in 1929
the J.C.C. introduced the ” DoubleTwelve ” for production style cars, which race was continued in 1930 and became the 1,000-Mile Sports-car Race in 1931. Recently races for pukka racing-cars have been more popular, such as the J.C.C. International Trophy, B.A.R.C. Campbell Trophy and B.R.D.C. “500,” but it seems likely that we may see the Tourist Trophy classic run at Weybridge this year. Quite apart from the outstanding technical experiments and advancements very briefly touched upon in this article, Brooklands has been the scene of countless long-duration test runs conducted by petrol, oil, tyre and accessory companies, R.A.C. observed special tests conducted both from the viewpoint of publicity and research, not to mention the use made of the Track by Motoring writers in obtaining test-report performance figures, including those that appear in MoToR. SPORT. That quite apart from actual world and class record attempts, which, representing. higher speeds under given conditions than have ever been achieved before, are certainly a highly concentrated form of research, whether you are considering the long-distance records by Argyle before the war, when pit-routine was used seriously for the first time, or Major Gardner’s short
distance figures established at Brooklands last year with the supercharged. singleseater M.G.
It is, I think, a reflection on the study and preparation that have marked Brooklands endeavours spread over thirty years that at the few small workshops within the Estate is done some of the finest work to be found anywhere in the world—Sir Malcolm Campbell’s 301 m.p.h. Rolls-Royce engined ” Blue Bird,” for example, originated at the Track. What is true of the motor-car is equally true in respect of the motor-cycle and the aeroplane, and I can only conclude with the hope that to a modern public the sporting aspect of Brooklands does not entirely overshadow its value as an exhaustive and unequalled testing ground. Very definitely has the enterprise of the late Mr. Locke-King been justified down those decades since curiouslooking cars first rolled along the dusty Surrey lanes to turn in at the entrance to the new and then still very mysterious concrete saucer. We are apt to take all successful undertakings too much for granted, but any grumbles you may have respecting the Track should be aired in the knowledge that its sponsors intended it to function primarily as a provingground. Though now the new roadcourse is open those grumbles should evaporate . . .