A Series of Interviews with Personalities famous in the Realms of Motoring Sport No. 10 — Charles Follett
With the facilities that Charles Follett has at his disposal for sampling the latest sports cars, selecting for himself whichever shows the greatest promise and having such cars expertly tuned, it is only right and proper that he should take advantage of such a happy position, as he has in the past.
He achieved his first racing car in 1930. It was a specially-built 1 1/2-litre “12/50” Alvis intended for the last “Double Twelve” race. Unlike the production “12/50,” it had steel connecting-rods and a special fly-wheel. A new type of French bearing material was used for the big-ends which was so satisfactory that these were not renewed during the life of the car. Running on alcohol fuel this Alvis lapped Brooklands regularly at over 98 rn,p.h. Follett used it intermittently until 1938.
His favourite sport has always been to compete with a car which is basically a production sports model, such as the 4 1/2-litre Lamas Graham, the 1 1/2-litre Lea-Francis, and the Railton. All these cars performed well and won numerous awards. The Railton in standard form, and running on Discol pump fuel, actually lapped Brooklands at 115 m.p.h., and in 1938 broke the sports-car record at Shelsley Walsh, clocking 44.40 sec.
Perhaps his most famous sports car was a modified Alvis “Speed Twenty” which, with a standard touring body and quite a lot of touring equipment, would lap Brooklands at 107 m.p.h. running on “dope.” It was the famous R. F. Oats who was responsible for all the modifications and tuning on these vehicles.
Since the war Follett has not been actively engaged in any racing. However, he has been a prominent figure on the organisation side. His own personal car is a 1936 4 /41-litre Bentley.
We asked him what car he would choose to take with him, if he was to embark on a long continental tour, having consideration for the poor condition of the roads, the necessity for reliability, and his own particular preference in what would give him the greatest pleasure. Without hesitation he selected the post-war Bentley. Having driven such a model for a number of miles, he is of the opinion that he has never handled a more superb motor car from the point of view of ride, cornering ability, ease of control and unobtrusive performance.
Follett has numerous plans for the future. Track-racing, his favourite form of the Sport, is unfortunately out of the question at the moment. However, he intends to form a team of three cars to compete in rallies, high-speed trials and sprints. For this purpose the new aerodynamic H.R.G. will be used. He hopes to continue organising events — he has been on the council of the J.C.C. and is a member of the B.R.D.C. committee. In pre-war days one would often see his large form officiating at the start of Donington races. Standing over 6 ft. high, he appeared the back-bone of English sporting respectability.
His attitude to racing is easy-going. He enters for events more for the pleasure of the racing than the possibility of winning a prize. Motor racing, he says, helps one to meet a lot of very nice people; the Sport seems to attract a likeable type. Other hobbies are shooting wild fowl and photography.
As one who has sampled so many different types of cars, we were impelled to ask him his opinion about independent front suspension. He replied that he is not necessarily in favour of it. There are many cars with i.f.s. which are considerably worse than some with solid axles. A good solid-axle arrangement can come very near to perfection. It is a great mistake to fit i.f.s. just to conform to the prevailing fashion.
Has Charles Follett ever had a terrifying motor experience? Yes! He contends that all drivers should at all times be a little bit frightened; it keeps them on top form! As soon as one gets over familiar with a car one becomes a danger to oneself and everyone else. He recalls an incident at Brooklands in 1936. He was driving his “Speed Twenty” Alvis and was fairly close behind a Bugatti, and on his tail was Col. Gardner driving a K3 M.G. Gardner was about to pass when the engine of the Bugatti completely blew up, the bonnet became air borne, and pieces of engine flew in all directions — there was smoke everywhere. With the defunct Bugatti on his left, and Gardner, now almost level with him, on his right, he charged into the smoke. It was only the knowledge that the other two drivers concerned would do the right thing (continue on a straight course) that prevented Follett from having a very uncomfortable moment. Motor-racing, he remarks, is a perfectly safe recreation in the company of experts.
When asked what advice he would put forward to the less experienced, he strongly advocated spending a considerable period watching others in advance of starting oneself. Commence with trials and relatively unimportant sports-car events, where one quickly gains experience under the watchful eyes of practised club officials, The J.C.C. have catered very well for the beginner. Always carefully read the rules for events in which one intends to participate. Also learn not to be a nuisance to others. Follett regards hill-climbs as a most specialised and skilled form of racing. So much endeavour and preparation are crammed into those few seconds at Prescott or Shelsley Walsh that they equal a whole afternoon of normal club events.