Bill Boddy

Speed at Brighton

A recent novel having used an accident at the Brighton Speed Trials as a theme, it seems opportune to recall happier aspects of this important event. The idea dates back to 1902, both the Sussex resort and Blackpool seeking to follow the lead of Bexhill. Brighton had the Madeira Drive, along the sea front, which, as Corporation property, could be closed for the purpose.

By 1905 the idea became reality, as a four-day speed festival. The course had been Tarmacadamed at astronomical cost, and the start was from the opposite end of the course to later years, a standing mile and flying kilometre being available.

Exciting cars with famous drivers came, Earp’s 90hp Napier made FTD at 92.88mph, a British record, from Sir Algemon Lee Guinness’ 100hp Darracq. Miss Dorothy Levitt won on handicap on a Napier. It had been a good event, but the organising club took the profits, leaving the expense to the Corporation, and trouble ensued when it tried to recoup these from the town’s rates.This resulted in an abandonment until 1923. The Brighton & Hove MC then held a standing-start ¼-mile speed trial for 1500cc cars, FTD made by J A Joyce in the AC with advanced ohc engine. Next year it was much the same, but now over a half-mile, Joyce again making FTD in 28.0sec. After which this classic contest lapsed until 1932, to resume as a top event, with fast cars of all sizes up to the 24-litre Napier Railton (78.44mph in 1935), Edwardians like the 21½-litre Benz, and some sprint motorcycles. I used to find breezy Brighton a tonic after the drive from Hampshire, and there was the memorable occasion when my Press pass was made out to Waddy’ instead of to `Boddy’ and a bystander congratulated me on my having built my little 4WD racing car `Fuzzi’…

By 1932, the Brighton Club had abandoned Brooklands, and the entry list was a mix associated with the Shelsley orchard, Brooklands Paddock, and the Lewes speed-trial field. The half-mile course (1km after the war) ran west to east and cars returned via the main road, mingling with the traffic until some busybody complained and the police intervened. Two cars ran at a time, the main excitement being the duel between Sir Malcolm Campbell’s 4-litre Sunbeam and John Cobb in the old LSR Delage, the Sunbeam just getting FTD — 23.7sec.

In 1935 George Abecassis drove the big Delage well (72.0mph) and in 1937 it won Mrs Roy Eccles the Ladies’ class, in 26.04sec. The following year FTD went to Whitney Straight’s 2½-litre Maserati — 24.2sec in the rain.

Pre-war FTD then ran: 1934 and ’35, R Shuttleworth (Bugatti), 75.63mph and 79.41mph; 1936, G Cummings (Vauxhall-Villiers), 78.60mph ; Femihough (Brough), 90mph (the m/c record); 1937: G Taylor (2.0 Alta), 22.84sec; 1938: G Taylor (2.0 Alta), 22.45sec (80.18mph). So designer and constructor Geoffrey Taylor held the pre-WW2 record and Femihough the motorcycle record.

Brighton really was good value, with an entry ranged from GN Specials to top GP and track cars, and the fastest motorcycles. The war brought the long run to a close but afterwards Brighton resumed its speed trials and the event continues, and should not be missed, next September 10.