The Missing Link

The most successful Brooklands cars were the Leylands designed and raced by J G Parry Thomas. Thomas himself scored 26 first places, 20 second places and 10 third places with them at the Weybridge track between May 1922 and October 1926, apart from successes at other venues and many new records, such as the world’s one-hour at 121.74 mph, the 1/2-mile at 134.35 mph and the lap-record at 129.36 mph. J E P Howey in the second Leyland-Thomas added to this impressive list.

After Thomas had been so sadly killed in “Babs” at Pendine in 1927 there was naturally much interest in the future of his other racing cars. Not all that long after Thomas’s death, “Bummer” Scott and his wife Pill took over Leyland-Thomas No 1, changing it from white and blue to their own racing colours of black and green. John Cobb would take Jill as a passenger, and he won a 1927 Lightning Short Handicap for her and later lapped at 127.05 mph in taking second place in the “Lightning Long”. But the Scotts had several other racing cars to look after and not long afterwards the car was fitted with a black Vanden Plas 2/4-seater body and front-wheel brakes and offered for sale at £625 by T&Ts at Brooklands, its top speed modestly set now as 110 mph, with the rather glib claim that it held “the world’s speed record”. Jill had left W B Scott and married E M Thomas, and it was they who had the Leyland-Thomas rebodied, probably thinking it would be a useful road-car, then deciding otherwise and getting T&Ts to put it on the market. It was acquired by E L Bouts, the Wolverhampton Sunbeam exponent, who, after some races with it, passed it on to Reg Munday who had been racing a very fast 30/98 Vauxhall.

The end of this famous car came at Brooklands on Whit Monday 1936, Munday had raised the c r, and after a lap at 128.77 mph the old 7.2-litre engine had had enough. It blew up and fell onto the concrete, causing a mild fire. I saw the undershield go first, followed by the crankcase. Munday was unhurt and watched the fire being extinguished. He took the remains to his contractor’s yard in the Battersea Bridge Road, where a German bomb finished it off during the war.

Howey had grown tired of motor racing after 1926, his brother having been killed in the Ballot at Boulogne, and with his interests now directed to the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch narrow-gauge railway, he decided to have a coupe body by Bligh Bros of Canterbury put onto Leyland-Thomas No 2, together with FWB as on the other car. (Were these designed by Thomas before he left Leyland’s, after he had pioneered Clayton Dewandre vacuum-servo rear-wheel brakes for the 1919 Leyland 8, or of another make?) That appeared to close the racing career of Thomas’s sister Brooklands car. The conversion seems to have been made, if a photograph is any proof, Whatever, in some mysterious way Dudley Froy contrived to return Leyland-Thomas No 2 to racing trim, using, it was said, the body from Leyland-Thomas No 1, which had probably lain at T&T’s since the Vanden Plas coachwork had replaced it. The front brakes were retained, and the car painted a biscuit yellow.

Froy found it tricky to handle, but won the Prince of Wales’ Gold Cup race at the 1930 BARC Whitsun Meeting with a lap at 120.88 mph, after which the cylinder block was damaged. At this time the versatile racing driver and journalist Tommy Wisdom and his wife Elsie (“Bill”) Wisdom were anxious to have a crack at the ladies’ lap-record, held by Jill Scott with a GP Sunbeam. So they relieved Froy of the Leyland-Thomas (no doubt obtaining a spare block from T&T’s) and in 1932 “Bill” Wisdom achieved her ambition, with a lap at 121.47 mph; she modestly said the big car was quite easy to handle. . . However, by 1934 Mrs Wisdom found a Dixon 2-litre Riley a faster proposition with which to defend her record. According to Hugh Tours’ Parry Thomas biography the Wisdoms “sold Leyland-Thomas No2 in 1934. Its subsequent history fades until its last hour, during the war, when it was reduced to scrap metal in a breaker’s yard in Eastbourne”. Well, I was able to tell him that, because in 1939/40 a postcard to Motor Sport had informed me of it; as soon as I could I drove to the place but the breaker told me, although only a few days had passed, that nothing was left. And I believe the Wisdoms had previously sold the old car to Bill Black for £40 or £45. He had it in his Chalworth St premises in London before finding a customer for it.

What happened next, I had no idea. . . Until the missing link! It came in a photograph from Graeme Simpson’s big collection of motor-racing negatives, taken by my friend of pre-war days, Jim Brymer, at the 1938 Brighton speed trials, of the old ex-Wisdom Leyland-Thomas, still apparently with the four low-hung Zenith carburettors of the racing L8 engines. The entrant was E Sidebotham, who appears to have done one run in 35.27sec, slowest in the unlimited racing car class. Even Anthony Heal’s 30/98 Vauxhall, pitted against these out-and-out racing cars, managed 31.24sec. (Geoffrey Taylor set a new course record in his s/c 2-litre Alta of 22.45sec.) But if this was Sidebotham’s first event it was a suitable one, several old Brooklands cars having been exercised over the Madeira Drive s s half-mile, from the “Razor Blade” Aston-Martin to the Napier-Railton. But whether Parry Thomas had regarded the heavy Leyland as a sprint car is uncertain; the only such records he broke with it were the s s kilo and mile, the latter at 88.26 mph, 11.49 mph quicker than the former, suggesting that the car required time to build up speed… I found this missing link very exciting; if anyone knows more about Mr Sidebotham, please tell me. The fact that the Leyland-Thomas was at Brighton a year before war broke out, not perhaps running very well, makes its trip along the coast to the Eastbourne breaker’s logical.