Remembering Chris Staniland
A number of competitors both rode motorcycles and drove cars at Brooklands, such as Freddie Dixon, Vic Horsman, Wal Handley, Pat Driscoll, Bert Denly, Mike Couper and Charles Mortimer, etc. One of the truly outstanding ones was Christopher Stainbank Staniland, who was also a skilled pilot.
He was born in 1905, in Finchley, North London, of a previously Lincolnshire family which had lived at Abbey House, Keddington. His mother was a JP, whose husband was killed in action in 1915. When Brooklands Track was discovered they moved south to be near it. Staniland rode there first in 1923, winning a scratch race on a 248cc Velocette. A good start! The following year he won three times on an OHV 490cc Norton. Then in 1925 he joined Nigel Spring and Pat Driscoll to take a first and second place and long-distance records, and won the 200-mile sidecar race, still as a private owner, on a 588cc Norton, at record speeds.
Staniland then joined the RAF, and in 1930 was made a member of the High Speed Flight which prepared and flew the Schneider Trophy racing seaplanes. Still with Service rank, he joined the Fairey Aviation Company at its countrified aerodrome, since obliterated by the complex of Heathrow Airport. Following the resignation of Capt Norman Macmillan and the death of McMullin while flying a Blackburn Bluebird light aeroplane, Staniland took over the position of chief test pilot, testing and demonstrating such renowned aeroplanes and seaplanes as the Fairey Fox torpedo-bomber with a Curtiss engine, which caused consternation by being faster than the RAF’s latest fighters.
Staniland had a narrow escape while he was spin-testing a Bristol-engined TSR1 biplane. At 14,000ft it refused to respond and he decided to bale out. The g-forces threw him back into the rear cockpit but he fought his way clear and watched the aeroplane crash at Langford. The story goes that, having discarded his ‘chute, he walked back to see that the wreck was guarded. Two policemen had already got there and asked, as policemen do, if he had seen the crash. “Yes,” replied Staniland, “I had a very good view of it.”
He did not neglect motorcycle racing, winning the 1000cc Sidecar Handicap with the larger Norton, then having two easy first places and setting a few more records. Now riding professionally for J S ‘Wooly’ Worters on Excelsior machines, CS won a great many races. Worters also tuned his Bugatti.
His prowess as a bike rider can be judged by the fact that in the classes for which the BMCRC gave Gold Stars to those lapping Brooklands at over 100mph, Staniland gained these in 350, 500 and 750cc brackets, and by 1929 he had won four BMCRC 200-mile races. CS was now an RAF Flight Lieutenant, and had entered a Simmonds Spartan (G-AAGN) for the 1929 King’s Cup Race.
From 1926 Staniland was racing solo and sidecar ‘bikes and cars. He was second in his very first car race in his 2-litre straight-eight Bugatti with a lap at 103.3mph, and he then won the all-Bugatti Handicap for the Ettore Bugatti Cup and took two further third places and Class E records. In 1927 CS got a second and a third place and in 1928 in a supercharged 1-1/2-litre Bugatti he won four times and had one second, gaining his 120mph badge. The following season CS was third in four races but the Riley in the Double-12 broke its crankshaft. The spectators admired this proficient, professional, fun-loving driver in his white overalls and matching linen helmet who in 1930 won in both a s/c Bugatti linered down to 1092cc (lap speed 111.67mph) and the 1-1/2-litre Bugatti, broke more class records and was fourth in the 1931 Mountain Championship race. And he was fifth in the 1932 BRDC 500, sharing a Riley with Malcolm Campbell.
There was now less time for racing but CS shared one of the 4-litre Sunbeams with Campbell during the 1933 JCC International Trophy race until the supercharger drive failed, and in 1934 drove a T51 Bugatti in the Isle of Man and Dieppe road races, but it retired. His T51 also retired from the 1935 International Trophy, but at the Track he lapped at 133.16mph in the Gold Star Handicap in a 2.3 GP Bugatti. He also went out to Utah with Bert Denly to drive as part of George Eyston’s team which took the 24-hour record to 140.42mph with ‘Speed of the Wind’.
CS then acquired the ex-Sommer 2.9 Alfa Romeo but the differential failed in the British Empire Trophy race. Otherwise engaged in 1937, CS returned in 1938 for Dunlop’s Brooklands Meeting and won the first outer-circuit race in his ‘new’ Multi-Union (a highly modified P3 Alfa), lapping quickest in the road circuit handicap. In October he won again, with a 141.49mph lap and was second to Raymond Mays’ ERA in the 10-lap Mountain Championship in the Multi-Union, a car as versatile as its driver. He also won a scratch race at Phoenix Park. At the final Track season Staniland rested the Multi-Union, ready for his attack on John Cobb’s lap record. But the modified 3-litre Alfa Romeo engine was sick, so Cobb’s speed in his 24-litre Napier Railton was unbeaten by 0.98sec.
At Donington Park he drove the Bugatti (two thirds), the Alfa Romeo and Mays’ Riley Six. Staniland had driven in a total of five Ulster TTs, finishing first in class and fifth out of 19 finishers in Victor Riley’s 1931 Riley 9 team.
This very versatile rider, driver and pilot was killed in unexplained circumstances on June 28 1942, testing a Fairey Firefly monoplane.
The battle of the babies
To cope with the post-WWI increase in the number of people able to indulge in the new motoring boom, an astonishing selection of cyclecars were on offer, many of them crude, among which one does not include the GN and Morgan three-wheeler. Some makers took halfway steps, with specifications combining those of both simple and conventional cars, of which the flat-twin air-cooled Rover Eight was one of the best.
However, a few manufacturers went for big-car technical make-up but baby-car proportions. Peugeot and Austin both took this line. This is no ‘chicken or egg’ problem; the long-established French company had its example out in 1919, whereas Austin’s now immortal baby was not fully weaned until 1922.
There are some who believe that Sir Herbert Austin looked toward the Peugeot Quadrilette for inspiration; others disagree. After all, it was commonplace for manufacturers to look at other makers’ cars in planning their own, from Rolls-Royce downwards, and we know that Herbert Austin had a Hudson Super Six to study while drawing up his Twenty.
Incidentally, I have no compunction about referring to the A7 in Motor Sport. That erudite enthusiast Sandy Skinner once said that everyone should have at least one of these cars in their possession (we have four in the barn) and anyway, look at the very successful and prolonged history of these little cars in the fields of racing and record-breaking.
Those who cite the Peugeot’s transverse front spring and its tiny four-cylinder engine as being likely to have influenced Pa Austin’s conception of his Baby might, in my view, have added the half-torque tube, half-open shaft transmission of the Quad. Indeed, this may have steered Austin, a racing driver himself in the pioneer days, away from crudity towards a proper small car in miniature. He said that this would spell the death knell of the motorcycle and sidecar and it did indeed partly do that, and brought devastation to those half-and-half productions, challenging even the admirable Rover 8.
Peugeot had raced a baby before the war, when it made the Peugeot Bébé under licence to Bugatti, this 850cc four-cylinder miniature car being another of Ettore’s individual designs. But the Quadrilette was Peugeot’s own. It was very ingenious, being tandem seated for two, and thus so very narrow that it could be garaged in a small shed or even in an alleyway between blocks of flats, like those found in the poorer districts of French towns.
To this end it had parallel punt-type side members whereas Austin went for side-by-side seating with a narrow shelf behind for luggage or two small children, and so used his distinctive channel-section A-frame.
By 1921 the Pug’s tandem layout had been changed for conventional side-by-side seating, the passenger’s seat set back, which the long-legged must have appreciated, and with a small locker behind the driver’s seat. The Peugeot’s wheelbase was 7ft 7in, the Austin’s a mere 6ft 3in, though eventually increased to 6ft 9in.
Peugeot’s Quad was intended for the 1919 Paris Salon but, for some reason never explained, it wasn’t there. Whatever the problem, it was soon rectified, enabling demonstration cars to be stationed outside. The Quad’s engine size, 50x85mm (667cc, £7 tax) may or may not have influenced Austin’s 55x75mm (696cc), soon changed to 747cc (£8 tax) either for more power for the production cars or to compete in 750cc-class record bids and racing; we shall never know.
The Peugeot had a ball-bearing crankshaft, Austin used a ball and a roller bearing. Peugeot had big-end lubrication by trough, Austin used jet oil-feed to the big ends. The French baby’s cylinder head was non-detachable, its two valve caps covering a pair of minute valves. Peugeot avoided a differential by having a 2ft 6in rear track, with a worm back axle incorporating the gearbox; Austin used a conventional bevel back axle. Peugeot increased its engine size to 51x88mm (719cc) from 1924 for the 7/12hp model, later named the 7/17.
It survived to 1929, needing by then a 7.25 to 1 top gear to row it along; the A7 managed with 4.9, later 5.25:1. Sir Herbert had led the way with four-wheel brakes, which would have been greeted as a notable innovation had they not been disappointingly ineffective. Peugeot didn’t give its baby fourwheel brakes until 1928.
By 1925 Peugeot had a racing twin-cam version and was even experimenting with supercharging. At Monza Camuzet had set class records of up to 24 hours, but in 1927 Boyd Carpenter and Chase retook all but the 24 hours, with the twin Solex-carburettor A7 ‘Mrs Jo Jo’. Peugeot’s supercharging experiments may have prompted Austin to follow suit, claiming to get 43bhp at 5000rpm to the French company’s 42bhp at 5600rpm.
Perils of photo-fakery
Lots of motor racing history is being written nowadays, but beware of what some photographs appear to be telling you. Jenks, who described himself as an enthusiast, not a journalist, warned me of this. He pointed out a picture of a Bentley stuck onto a cut-out of the Le Mans pits, another of a T59 Bugatti with left-hand steering (as its race number was 1, the print could be reversed without the number giving things away) and a left-hand-drive TT Talbot when both cars had RHD. In this picture the number had been touched up to show the winner’s number.
He told me also of a shot of an Alfa Romeo 159 with its supercharger on the right, and another showing a 250F Maserati with left-hand carburettors. Told of this, those responsible said it simply could not happen, and never with colour printing!! could see DSJ’s eyebrows rise and his beard turn white…. Especially when he discovered a picture of Whitney Straight’s 2-1/2-litre Maserati cornering at Brooklands Fork hairpin followed by an exactly similar car, both drivers wearing exactly the same helmets. A scissors-and-paste fake, of course.
I had proof of this when I once ordered a fine shot of two famous cars on the Brooklands banking, to frame for my study, but was supplied with a fine print of just the banking. The cars had been cut out and stuck on, as with those Maser twins! All of these counterfeit pictures appeared in top motor magazines, but I will be decent and won’t name them.
To emphasise how easily misleading errors can happen, DSJ told me about sitting beside Patrick Head, the Williams designer, on an aeroplane when he noticed that Head was reading his magazine upside down.
“Are you alright?” asked DSJ. “Yes,” came the answer, “but the picture of the new Brabham gearbox is upside-down”. In this case I will be honest it was in Motor Sport, but this was long ago, in 1979.
Dixon’s ‘Mongrel’ unleashed
I have a special liking for cars built for track racing. Because Brooklands was used for such events for so many years, the ‘Mountain’ and Campbell road circuits (from 1930 and 1937 respectively) calling for hard braking and good acceleration, pure outer-circuit cars abounded. I am not proposing which was the best, but I do find Freddie Dixon’s Riley Nine ‘Red Mongrel’ high on my list.
After racing Rileys in the TT, Freddie decided to build a single-seater for the 1932 BRDC 500 Mile Race only 32 days before the event.
He set about this with his usual exacting standards. Jonas Woodhead made quarter-elliptic back springs to FD’s specifications; they were anchored inside the chassis side-members and to a normal back axle by simple anchorages in order to avoid welding. Only two crossmembers braced the chassis, but the engine, supplied by Percy Riley, was specially mounted.
A 22in wide stressed-skin body was fitted, and to reduce drag Dixon’s mechanic Les Ainsley was given the unenviable task of counting the holes in a normal Riley radiator. Dixon then enclosed the rad entirely, except for a 22×1-1/4in base opening, the cooling area equal to a normal one. The rear track was reduced to 3ft and a 30gal tank made up and held down by steel straps.
The cockpit was so cramped that a handlebar control replaced a steering wheel, and Dixon sat on motorcycle saddle springs strung across the chassis. The spare TT engine was given an SU carburettor for each cylinder, with Freddie’s secret special mounting and throttle arrangement. It gave 70 (later 77) bhp at 6000rpm on 11:1 compression, and 14mpg of alcohol fuel.
Finished just in time for the ‘500’, it is a fallacy that Freddie drove it illegally from Macclesfield to Brooklands — it had temporary mudguards and number-plates.
Dixon had a terribly hard ride in the ‘500’ and was glad when the petrol tank began to leak. However, with the compression now raised to 13.5:1, he took long-distance Class G records up to the 200km mark at 110.67mph in pouring rain — timekeeper ‘Ebby’ asking “how long will you run?” and getting the answer “until the bloody thing bursts.”
In the 1933 ‘500’ a faulty piston stopped the ‘Mongrel’, and again in the International Trophy race, now with four-wheel brakes, but it was second in a BARC race with a lap of 113.19mph. In ’34 ‘Mongrel’ had two wins, but in the British Empire Trophy the plunger oil pump failed. It was not seen again after that.
Speed in the dock again
I have sometimes wondered where owners of cars costing six figures and capable of speeds of around 200mph can enjoy the top pace of their costly possessions or do they buy them for their other qualities? Whatever, the high top speed must surely appeal: and remember, years ago a good E-type Jaguar would do 150mph.
The Daily Mail has answered my curiosity about where such pace can be tested, reporting that the driver of a Porsche 911Turbo had been timed by a police radar gun at 173mph between junctions 8 and 9 of the M25 (approximately six miles).
This caused Brigitte Chaudhry of Roadpeace to say that this was totally reckless and that it was a miracle that no one was killed or injured.
She was not in the car, so how does she know? Without in any way condoning law-breaking, it does seem to me that if the fast lane of the motorway was visibly clear all the way ahead, and as the Porsche’s speed was such that no other vehicle would catch it from the middle lane and try to cut dangerously in front of it, and as pedestrians, foolish or otherwise, are prohibited from motorways, her criticisms were quite unjustified.
Foolish, yes: defying the legal speed limit, yes, but criminally dangerous? The case was thrown out of court, the Porsche driver not called to give evidence. But this did not stop the Roadpeace lady from contributing her opinion to the prevailing war on motorists…
Prima donna of the track
Lady racing drivers have gained praise in recent times, with the book Fast Women and my own references to their achievements in Motor Sport. Not so well recorded has been the race and rally story of Nancy Mitchell. Denis Jenkinson referred to her as the prima donna of the 1956 Mille Miglia, in which she drove the whole race herself, never having seen the course before, in pouring rain behind a tiny aeroscreen in an MGA. She came fifth in class, the only all-women equipe to finish, her passenger Pat Faishney.
Gilberte Thirion, the Belgian girl driving on her own in a Renault Dauphine, beat many male drivers, and Annie Bousquet in a Triumph TR2 was so cold and stiff she could not get her keep-awake pills from her pocket or change gear in the later stages of the race.
Those were the days…
Among the motoring and motor racing books from Veloce Publishing, apart from their histories of cars from AC to VW, are those devoted to competition.
Of these I have enjoyed 1950s Motorsport in Colour by Martin Wainwright, with its wide range of photographs of British racing from a period of which we are used only to seeing black-and-white shots.
Also very useful as well as being fine pictorial records of the events described are Motor Racing at Brands Hatch In the Seventies by Chas Parker, The Brighton Speed Trials by Tony Gardiner, concentrating on the 1960s to the ’80s but listing all the car FTDs from the event’s beginnings in 1905, and Motor Racing at Goodwood in the Sixties, also by Gardiner. The colour illustrations in these books are of absolute top quality.
Austerity Motoring from Armistice until the Mid-Fifties by Malcolm Bobbitt, featuring low-cost motoring through the first half of the 20th century, is another tonic for those who like recalling the motoring of those days. Indeed. Veloce combines these welcome ‘look back’ books under the label ‘Those Were the Days’.
Enduring love of the 911
The Porsche 911 in all its manifestations has been an extremely popular car, as Denis Jenkinson used to remind readers of Motor Sport. To endorse this, Motorbooks has published Porsche 911 — Enduring Values (ISBN 0 7603 2121 5, £24.99) in an English edition, suitable for coffee tables with sturdy legs. In 157 large pages it depicts all manner of illustrations intended to enhance love for the 911.
Authors Jutta Deiss, Elmar Brümmer and Reiner Schloz have called up every kind of publicity puff. In one instance the 911 is likened to a lady’s black dress, and we are told that a 911 is tuned to six beats in the bar and also appeals to the human senses of touch and smell, 220 workers under Detlev Hans taking deep breaths in the factory to ensure that a Carrera’s ‘saddlery’ has the desired scent.
A girl with splendid legs has her car’s door open, presumably before closing it to enjoy inhaling. Readers are reminded that while Daddy is selecting his new Porsche, his son may ride home on a Porsche bicycle, with a Porsche computer game strapped on behind, and that a 911 owner is ‘lord’ of a car ahead of its time yet owing a debt to tradition. And it goes on… But Stefan Warter does his best with the photographs…