The second Motor-Racing Brains Trust

The second Motor-Racing Brains Trust went off successfully at the Rembrandt Rooms on March 28th, and every credit is due to Messrs. Capon, Rivers-Fletcher and Peter Clark for organising it. The 150 tickets which were available were all sold, and everybody who is anybody in our world who could attend did so. At the luncheon preceding the brains session, Capt. A. W. Philips was in the chair. Rivers-Fletcher addresses the assembly and said that “this organisation” (apparently referring to the panel of advisers who now guide the three organisers aforesaid), existed to keep alive the spirit of motoring sport during the war, and particularly to stimulate good ideas concerning post war planning, which they feel to be an important job. He said, “There may be a job for us in the re-organisation of motoring sport generally and perhaps improving the lot of the sporting motorist on the road”. He announced the advisory panel as comprising Percy Bradley, H. J. Morgan, Eric Giles, and A. S. Heal. Other names may be added later, he explained, and if the approval of motoring enthusiasts is forthcoming after the war, particularly the approval of those released from H.M. Forces, of the R.A.C. and of clubs, the panel might be delegated an important post-war job in the re-organisation of motoring sport. He could now announce that Capt. Phillips, secretary of the R.A.C. Competitions Committee, was on the panel and in the chair of this meeting. A toast to Capt. Phillips followed.

Capt. Phillips said a name was needed for “this organisation”, and he did agree that the panel may be called upon to do a good job of work when the war is over and that its existence may be almost essential to the continuation of the Sport. Clubs have generally shut down and will not find it easy to pick up the threads as quickly as they would perhaps like. He paid tribute to Capon, Fletcher and Clark for organising the Brains Trusts, and he did think there should be some official status for the encouragement of the Sport. [The greatest official blessing should, of course, be from the R.A.C. itself. – Ed.]

He thought that Rivers-Fletcher and his confederates would be advised to put their panel on a rather more solid foundation and give it an entity. The R.A.C. was just as deeply concerned in the future of the Sport as the Brains Trust organisers and those present, and would work and strive to give them what they needed.

Capon then opened the Brains Trust, explaining that, very unfortuntely, Mr. McCullough, Question Master of the B.B.C. Brains Trust, could not be present, but that Capt. R. L. de Burgh Walkerley would kindly deputise. He also announced future 750 Club meetings.

Arising out of a suggestion made in Motor Sport when reporting the last Brains Trust, a stenographer took down the questions and answers and a complete report was sent out to the press within four days of the meeting. This is a creditable arrangement, but the report appears to miss some of the better points brought out by the assembled brains and has an irritating habit of changing from the third to the first person in reporting statements of the individual brains. The stenographer also appears to have mis-fired somewhat and to have misconstrued some of the brains’ findings. The editor of Motor Sport was motoring on the day of the meeting, but we arranged for J. Lowrey to report the proceedings for this paper. We prefer his report, which follows, to the official account sent out to the press. Amongst those present were Robin Jackson, Mike Couper, Robert Waddy, Bill Humphreys, H. J. Morgan, John Bolster, Prideaux-Brune, H. J. Ripley, B. Gibson, John Cooper, George and Peter Monkhouse, Douglas Tubbs, Marcus Chambers, Eric Findon, Austin Partridge, F/O. Donald Parker, R. D. Poore, P/O. Mallock, J. V. Bowles, Leslie Ballamy, Alan Hess, Peter Clark, Trowbridge, Gordon Woods, P. J. Baker and the “Scuderia Impecuniosa” in force.

March 28th and the Rembrandt Hotel were the time and place of the second Motor Racing Brains Trust, and compared with the earlier effort there was certainly a “bigger and better” trust.

The Rembrandt rooms were suitably decorated for the occasion, mainly with drawings and photographs loaned by Klemantaski and The Motor, and formal proceedings commenced with a belated lunch. On this occasion speeches were few and brief. Rivers-Fletcher stressed the importance of organising now for after the war, Capt. Phillips, of the R.A.C., sought a name for the self-appointed committee which is attempting this organising and concluded with the slightly blue story considered suitable for these occasions, and Capon put in a few words concerning future 750 Club meetings.

The Brains Trust session proper followed lunch and took place in a lower room. O/C Brains was Capt. Walkerley, lately “Athos” and “Grande Vitesse” of The Motor and one time Assistant Editor of Motor Sport. The Brains were provided by Raymond Mays, artist Roy Nockolds, designer Peter Berthon, photographer Louis Klemantaski, motoring journalist Laurence Pomeroy and designer Georges Roesch.

The first question to be put before the Brains Trust concerned the prospects of making motor racing pay. Mays expressed the opinion that if racing can be popularised so that a good gate means 20,000, but 200,000, then racing can certainly pay, at least from the promoters aspect. Pomeroy opined that a manufacturer could not make racing pay, for a man willing to spend £50,000 to win £60,000 will inevitably be beaten by a man willing to spend £100,000 to win £60,000. Q.E.D. Roesch expressed the opinion that if racing is used to develop cars, as distinct from wingless aircraft, it can offer value for money as a form of technical development.

How to make the public appreciate motor racing was what the second questioner wished to know. Pomeroy said hold races in prominent places like Hyde Park, and maybe the worst objectors will die of apoplexy. Klemantaski said race roadworthy cars, not Grand Prix freaks. Berthon, on the contrary, said the public must have a spectacle, and sports car racing just didn’t offer that. Mays considered the essential was a live organisation to foster the interests of those desiring to motor rapidly either on or off the race track.

Two interlinked queries concerned the most asthetically satisfying era of racing, and the best racing car to illustrate. Klemantaski regarded the 1938 G.P. cars as the most beautiful, but preferred illustrating earlier Bugattis and Maseratis. Nockolds also favoured the Bugatti as a subject, owing to the amount of interesting external detail to be portrayed. Pomeroy thought the 1938-39 G.P. cars were the easiest on the eye, but the Le Mans Bentleys were good artists’ subjects-because they filled the picture and you could always wonder why the hell they were ever built like that! Brains-Boss Walkerley venturing a personal opinion, liked the looks of the “monoposto” Alfa-Romeo, but regarded the dusty 1900 era as the racing artist’s heyday.

A question from B.O.A. Pilot Whincop concerned the ban on supercharged sports cars in the T.T. race and the effect it had on development. Roesch thought that it was no more illogical to classify cars on the basis of whether they were blown or not than to classify them on a cubic capacity basis, so what? [Thank you, Mr. Roesch; we always did want to classify cars by piston area rather than swept volume.- J.L.] Pomeroy, who was once closely concerned with the Zoller compressor, suggested measuring the blower size and gear ratio rather than the size of the engine, putting an unblown 4.5 litre on a par with a 1.5 litre blown at 30 lbs. [A nice idea, till some poor scrutineer is faced with a centrifugal or exhaust driven supercharger]. Berthon approved Pomeroy’s scheme, and Klemantaski put forward the view that all the best sports cars were continental and unblown anyway. Delahaye and Talbot-Darracq being examples. As unskilled lip-readers, we feel sure Pomeroy said “Alfa-Romeo” under his breath!

Next came a sticky question as to the why and wherefore of those subtle characteristics, understeering and over-steering. Roesch said a little of either passed unnoticed, but a lot of either was bad. Barthon said oversteering, caused by rear axle steering, was a trouble on racing cars: understeering he thought best, since in racing power can always be used to swing the tail round. Mays thought the best characteristics were a matter of the driver’s personal taste. Pomeroy said the real “aces” do best with understeering cars, which they corner in four-wheels slides, but normal mortals are safest with oversteering cars which turn round fairly harmlessly when overdriven. Walkerley added a personal reminiscence of the way in which the Brooklands Riley would suddenly fly off the handle without warning – conversely, a Ford V8 lets you know when you corner too fast !

An agent provocateur of the name of McDonald sent in a query, or suggestion, that photographers should have a monopoly of action pictures in racing, artists working only on drawings of pit scenes and the like. Nockolds, with great restraint, merely pointed out how a (licensed) artist can give an impression of speed. Klemantaski said he wished he, like artists, could portray scenes without being there! The camera cannot lie (?), and the artist shouldn’t. Pomeroy drew an analogy between the artist-photographer matter and the old saying “If it’s in The Motor it never happened; if it’s in The Autocar it isn’t news”. Berthon thought the impressionistic drawing and the factual photograph were complementary, and not comparable to each other.

Following on the “surprise” questions, the Brains Trust replied to a pair of open questions, whether modern G.P. racing has served to advance touring car design and what the next G.P. formula should be. Mays thought touring cars had learnt from racing cars, but not as much as they should have done, and he instanced hydraulic shock absorbers as a racing development applied to touring cars. [ ? The hydraulic shock absorber was standard on all American automobiles by 1932, and was not adopted on G.P. cars until 1934]. Berthon said G.P. racing cars wanted speed at any price, and the only useful development was of accessories. For the future, the public must have its show, so speeds of 150 m.p.h. are essential: he suggested a 1,500-c.c. formula, with no limits as to blowers, weight, or fuel. Pomeroy said racing develops cars for fast long-distance touring, not for Saturday afternoon journeys to Southend; it has certainly shown up the value of the De Dion axle, soft springs, tubular frames, etc. A new formula should lead to cars capable of about 160 m.p.h., fast enough to be spectacular but slow enough for plenty of drivers to be able to handle them. To obtain a varied entry of large and small cars, a 4.5-litre blower capacity limit would have merit.

Roesch said just compare the production and racing Mercedes and Auto-Union models, and’ you will see that modern G.P. racing is of little direct value. [But the excellent handling qualities of the continental cars surely admits a subtle, if not immediately apparent, association between racing and catalogue cars. The late R. J. B. Seaman and George Monkhouse have expressed written agreement with this view.—Ed.] His suggested formula would call for a car having a “kerb” weight of under 1 ton, complete with fuel for 200 miles, room for 4 people, with lights, starter, mudguards, etc. Walkerley said the Roesch formula would produce some very fine sports cars, but the only real Grand Prix formula was formule libre, open to all and the fastest car wins.

A few remaining minutes were devoted to questions from the crowd, requested to be “remotely associated with motor racing”.

On the subject of the future of Diesel touring cars, Roesch said the diesel and petrol engines were tending to converge. [We presume he was thinking of such things as the Hesselman spark ignition oil engine and the German petrol injection aero engines]. Pomeroy said that he thought it desirable to point out that Dr. Diesel committed suicide.

Asked whether women should race, Mays said yes, but not against men! With a bunch of cars jostling one another into a corner, it was too natural to see a woman and give way. Berthon said racing is a man’s job, and no woman had ever reached the top. Pomeroy said he seemed to recall Madame Junek leading in the Targa Florio, while Doreen Evans was a faster driver than either of her brothers, but he thought men and women should race separately. Walkerley recalled a ladies’ race in Picardie when a lot of identical Renault saloons were used: one driver got ahead at the start, and stayed there by wig-woggling all over the road.

John Bolster enquired how the Brains Trust would stop the daily Press writing up motor races as events in which dukes, earls, millionaires and blondes try to have the bloodiest accident. Klemantaski thought the job almost impossible—only after the Donington G.P. did a popular daily normally show a racing picture other than one of an accident. Mays thought this was one task for “the organisation” of which so much was heard during the afternoon. Pomeroy said suppress the motoring papers, who get all the best writers working for much too little cash, so that the dailies just can’t compete. Berthon didn’t say how it was to be done, but motor racing would have to get a good Press before it could succeed in a big way.

So the Brains Trust session concluded, and the company adjourned for tea and talk; probably the party has finally broken up by now, but when racing enthusiasts get talking…..!