Hassan Specials

The Editor talks with Walter Hassan, OBE, AMIMechE, until his recent retirement Chief Engineer of Jaguar Cars Ltd., about his Successful Pre-War Bentley-based Brooklands Outer-Circuit Specials

Walter Hassan’s association with motor racing goes back to 1922, when at the age of 17 he acted as riding mechanic in the works racing Bentleys. He had joined the original Bentley Company at Cricklewood in 1920, when it was a very small outfit indeed. Hassan remembers that they had only two cars in the factory that September, W.O.’s personal all-weather (irreverently known as “the hearse”) and Ex-No. 2, the racing two-seater in which he was to ride with Frank Clement at Brooklands. The first 3-litre of all, ExNo. 1, had been scrapped and its chassis was stored in the rafters.

Before he went to the Track in his official capacity Hassan had been told about this fascinating place by a cousin and in 1921 had cycled there from Finchley, coming home fully convinced. The other riding mechanic from the works was Wally Saunders, son of Arthur Saunders who had ridden with Burgess in the Humber in the 1914 TT. Arthur Saunders, a Birmingham ‘man, joined the Bentley Company and was responsible, among other things, for preparing the special Show chassis for the 1921 Olympia Motor Show. Incidentally, Hassan was the 14th person to join the then struggling Bentley Company.

His reminiscences of those early days are extremely fascinating but they have been well documented elsewhere and it is good news that a book is being written about Hassan’s entire career, which will no doubt cover his work for ERA, Coventry-Climax and Jaguar, etc., as well as his long association with the racing Bentleys at Brooklands, Le Mans and elsewhere. So on this occasion I propose to concentrate on the special outer-circuit Track cars for which he was responsible and which he evolved himself.

When Woolf Barnato was advised to withdraw his financial support from Bentley Motors at the time of the Wall Street slump he had a fine record as a racing motorist behind him. After dabbling with a Locomobile, a Calthorpe, a Wolseley Moth and the Bertelli sleeve-valve Enfield-Alldays at Brooklands he had driven a Jarvis-bodied 3-litre Bentley there and later drove the Bentleys he sponsored in many important races. In spite of being the boss-man he was amenable to team discipline and was a very good driver. His successes included victory at Le Mans in 1928, partnered by Bernard Rubin, in a 4,1/2-litre Bentley, a repeat in 1929, driving a Speed Six Bentley with Sir Henry Birkin, winning the Brooklands Six-Hour Race that year with Jack Dunfee in this Speed Six, finishing first in the 1930 JCC DoubleTwelve Hour Race with Clement in another Speed Six, and gaining his third Le Mans win that year, with Glen Kidston, in the old Speed Six, a formidable performance.

Although he had many business commitments and had decided not to race again, Barnato was anxious not to sever all connections with one of the sports with which he had been so prominently associated. What he did was to commission Wally Hassan to build a special, very fast Brooklands outer-circuit car. At the time of the Bentley Motors closure the 6.1/2-litre and 8-litre six-cylinder Bentleys had been extremely well-contrived fast luxury cars, and W.O. had always thought this route to higher performance was preferable to Birkin’s desire to supercharge the fourcylinder 4.1/2-litre. It was probably partly the threat to sales by the 8-litre Bentley which prompted Rolls-Royce Limited to purchase the old Bentley Company by rather questionable methods. And no doubt Woolf Barnato wanted to see how the last unfettered design of W. O. Bentley could be developed.

So a 6.1/2-litre engine was installed by Hassan in a 4-litre Bentley chassis with out-rigged springs and this green off-set single-seater was entered for Barnato for the BARC Easter Meeting of 1932, for jack Dunfee to drive. It lapped at fractionally better than 120 m.p.h. in the Norfolk Senior Short Handicap, on both its flying laps, without being placed, but was a non-runner in the equivalent long handicap. The project was then shelved until the end of the season, when an 8-litre engine was used and the Bentley entth-ed for the BRDC 500-Mile Race. Clive and Jack Dunfee were to share it and it was comfortably in the lead, lolloping ’round at 126 m.p.h., when Clive took over from his brother. Soon afterwards the car plunged over the Members’ banking and Dunfee was killed instantly. Various theories have been put forward as the cause of the accident but Hassan is certain that what happened was that Dunfee made a mistake. He was an experienced driver, having driven at Brooklands, notably with the handsome crimson 3-litre Austro-Daimler, for a remarkable number of years, and as a member of the works Bentley team he had finished second in the 1929 500-Mile Race with Sammy Davis, and second with the same partner in the 1930 “Double Twelve”. But before this fatal “500” he had not done any fast work for about a year. He came down and drove a few practice laps, expressing himself satisfied with the car. Now there was a dip in the banking beyond the Vickers sheds from which the faster cars had to be steered up as they dropped into it and then steered downwards, otherwise they were apt to shoot up the banking. The accident happened while Dunfec was concentrating on overtaking Howe’s Bugatti and Hassan is certain that he forgot to cope with the dip in the track, causing the Bentley to go over the top. Dunfee’s body was flung out and the Bentley slid upside down along the rim of the banking, as grooves worn in the carnbox proved, before plunging to the entrance road below. (It is obvious that the bonnet must have been torn off in the crash; I have in my possession a macabre reminder, in the form of a piece of the car’s bonnet strap, given to me by Edgar Russell.)

At this time the Brooklands Mountain circuit was in regular use and demanded high qualities of acceleration and braking. Having seen cars equipped with twin wheels to aid rear wheel grip, Barnato conceived the curious idea that if these were used at both ends of a car he might have the answer to success on the demanding Mountain course. Wally Hassan was by no means convinced when asked to construct a new car on these lines, and he may have felt that as Bentley components were to be used, it might be too heavy for this kind of racing. But Barnato was the boss and, like a certain Works Foreman, he was saying in effect, . “I’m not arguing with yer. I’m a-tellin’ yer”.

Fortunately in time Barnato dropped this idea and the new car became yet another Bentley-based outer-circuit car, known as the Barnato-Hassan. It was built in Barnato’s private garage in Belgrave Mews, WI, during the winter a 1933 and spring of 1934. The 6.1/2-litre engine came out of the “Old No. 1” Speed Six with which Jack Dunfee and Cyril Paul had won the 1931 500-Mile Race at 118.39 m.p.h. The chassis of this car was found to be broken after jack Dunfee had just missed third place in the 1932 BRDC BE Trophy Race, following a tyre burst. This gave Hassan the excuse to design a new frame, very narrow and underslung beneath the back axle, with deep side-members. Although this was a single-seater the steering was not centralised, so the driver sat on the ois of the slim body. This had an oval cowl enclosing radiator and dumb-irons and the tail fell away, so that in spite of its size, the Barnato-Hassan in this form looked smaller than it in fact was. Hassan carefully polished the combustion chambers and ports, and used hour-glass pistons giving a c.r. of 7.5 to I. The exhaust pipe and Brooklands silencer were neatly faired into the nis of the body, which had been made by a small firm in Camden Town. The four-wheelbrakes were replaced by Lockheed hydraulics.

After mudguards made from strips of timber were fitted the Barnato-Hassan was driven to Brooklands, doubtless to the relief of Barnato’s London chauffeurs, who had never been happy with a racing car in their midst and the possibility of scratches being inflicted on the road-going cars in the garage.

Hassan worked during the winter, at Thomson & Taylor’s, the car ever after living at the Track, installing an 8-litre Bentley engine with triple SU carburetters supplied with air through a long ram-pipe alongside the bonnet on the Ns. The improved car, green with black wheels, was entered as the Barnato-Hassan-Special by Capt. Woolf Barnato for the Easter races. The driver was the handsome young Barrister, Oliver Bertram, who was to attain lofty heights in the Legal branch of the Army during the war. He was a very good driver, who had been racing the ex-Cobb 10.1/2-litre V12 Delage after cutting his teeth at the Track on Riley and Bugatti cars. Quite how he became associated with Barnato is obscure but it seems likely that he gave his services as the new car’s driver out of enthusiasm, with no thought of financial gain. Starting from scratch in its first 1935 race, the Easter Senior Short Handicap, Bertram won, with a lap speed of 134.97 m.p.h. His s.s. lap was accomplished at 109.46 m.p.h. This earned a re-handicap to “owes 15 sec.” in the long handicap and Bertram was unplaced. But he got the Barnato-Hassan round at 137.96 m.p.h., after a step-off lap at 110.43 m.p.h. The lap-record, then held by Cobb’s 24-litre Mapter-Railton at 140.93 m.p.h. was in Barnato’s sights, and Hassan had some tricks up his sleeve.

Thus the appearance of this car, accompanied by multi-millionaire Barnato and the blonde young Bertram with his fashionably dressed lady friends, Hassan in work-soiled overalls in close attendance, was one of the outstanding features of the Brooklands Paddock at this time. Hassan would take the car round very quickly in practice but says he was quite willing to leave the greater risk of racing to Bertram.

At the 1935 Whitsun Meeting Bertram came out for the Gold Star 20-mile handicap, on the scratch mark and giving the next fastest car 19 sec. start. He opened with a lap at 113.97 m.p.h. and then did a best flying lap of 138.34 m.p.h., fmishing third behind Brackenbury’s Bugatti and an MG Midget.

By removing the front brakes Wally got the dry weight down to 29 cwt. and discs on the back wheels aided streamlining, and at the BARC August Meeting Bertram took the Barnato-Hassan round even faster, lapping at 142.70 m.p.h. during the Short Handicap, with an astonishing first lap, from the Railway Straight start, of 117.74 m.p.h.—very accelerative! He was, however, unplaced from scratch and did not start in the Long Handicap. However, he later came out for a solo attempt on the lap-record. In this he was eminently successful, the new record being at 142.60 m.p.h. It was a magnificent achievement, to have bettered Cobb’s record by 0.83 sec. with a car of one-third the engine size, apart from which the Barnato-Hassan-Special was a decidedly difficult proposition to control, having to be driven all the way round Brooklands and calling for considerable physical strength in the process. Cobb in his bigger and heavier car not only had a safer ride on such occasions but a more comfortable one. Incidentally, Bertram was still racing the old Delage, for Louis Klemantaski, at this time.

The presence of tIte lap-record Barnato-Hassan in the 1935 500-Mile Race aroused much interest and it fought a gallant battle on handicap with Cobb’s big Napier-Railton until the fuel tank, which was part of the neat tail of the body, developed a serious leak and the car had to be withdrawn. In September Cobb had regained the lap-record, with a time 0.41 sec. quicker than Bertram’s, this being the never-beaten 143.44 m.p.h. record. At the Autumn Meeting the Barnato-Hassan lapped at 141.89 m.p.h. in the Long Handicap, as ever from scratch, and was unplaced. Cobb suffered likewise, at considerably lower speed, in the next race.

During the winter Barnato resolved that something drastic must be done. Ilassan evolved ir slimmer body for the car, the driver now sitting centrally, as the steering was raked, and a streamlined tail with head-rest and fairings were used over the frame and springs. The funnel air-intake was elaborated. Painted blue, the car looked very impressive and exciting but in retrospect Wally Hassan wonders whether there was really much improvement in streamlining and thinks they weren’t getting all that much extra power. The first lap-record had “come rather easily”, although the attempt was postponed from Whitsun to August for some reason unknown to me. But improving on it officially was to elude them.

In its new guise the Barnato-Hassan-Special was entered for The Star Gold Trophy Race at the 1936 Whitsun Meeting. Bertram was on scratch with Howe’s Type 59 Bugatti and all his flying laps were at over 137 m.p.h., the best at 140.29 m.p.h., but he failed to obtain a place and on the last lap a con.-rod broke, which put paid to the intended later attempt to re-gain the absolute lap-record, and Marker’s Bentley had to be substituted, in Bertram’s intended Match Race against Cobb’s 4-litre Sunbeam at the August Meeting. Earlier in its career the pistons had shown a tendency to crack round the gudgeon-pin bosses but this had been cured by changing from hour-glass to Martlett pistons with larger gudgeon-pins. Hassan prepared strengthened rods during the winter of 1936/37, the previous ones being prone to breaking below the littleend, a trouble which had put the car out of the 500-Mile Race that year, in which Marker shared it with Bertram.

The days of the outer-circuit Brooklands cars were thinning out, Mountain and Campbell circuit racing being more popular, and Oliver Bertram had begun to race an Alta. However, he brought the re-assembled Barnato out for one meeting during the 1937 season. This was right at the end of the year and the old car was in very good form, Bertram finishing third in the Second October Short Handicap, after lapping at 133.52 m.p.h., and then winning the Second October Long Handicap at 128.25 m.p.h., its lap speed up to 137.68 m.p.h., a performance for which it is given no credit in “A Racing History of the Bentley”, incidentally.

Thus encouraged, Wally Hassan decided to seek even more speed for 1938, although the car had failed to start in the previous year’s BRDC 500-kilometre race. It was a non-runner again at Easter, another con.-rod having come out. This was rectified by putting in tubular rods, and they were now using triple Slis, and a c.r. of 8.7 to 1, with a 20/40/40 mix of Ethyl petrol, benzole and alcohol. At the August Meeting Bertram was second behind Mike Couper’s famous Talbot in the Long Handicap and second again, this time behind Follett’s Lea-Francis, in the second of these races, his fastest lap being at 141.49 m.p.h. Barnato’s entry was unplaced at the Dunlop Jubilee Meeting but Bertram achieved the distinction of a lap at 143.11 m.p.h., or only 0.33 m.p.h. below the absolute. As this was accomplished during a race it was not recognised as a new Class-B figure but the car’s former 142.60 m.p.h. speed stands as this for all time, never having been bettered.

As the big car was consuming a set of the very large, thin-tread special racing Dunlop tyres at every meeting, the sort of outlay the very rich dislike, and Barnato, in spite of his influence, was unable to get these free, and as there were so few races left for this type of car and when it did run it was out-handicapped, he decided to withdraw. The Barnato-Hassan survived many vicissitudes during the war years and it is nice that it has survived and is occasionally raced with great verve by Keith Schellenberg, its present owner and last re-builder, in VSCC: events.

Another Brooklands car for which Wally Hassan was responsible was the Pacey-Hassan-Special. Hassan had set up in business on his own after the collapse of the Bentley Company, in partnership with Wally Saunders, tickling up Bentleys and undertaking general tuning work. Saunders was now Hassan’s brother-in-law and they used a workshop in an orchard at Wembley where Hassan’s wife’s mother lived. Pacey, who had a retail car-sales business in a row of lockups at Guldens Green, had been racing a Bentley at Brooklands, a 3-litre with a 4.1/2-litre engine, without any joy. The car was heavy and generally a poor proposition. So Paces, wrote to Barnato, asking whether he might approach Hassan and ask him to tune it.

Permission was willingly granted hut the two Wallys could not see much future for the car as a racer, with its unstreamlined coach built body. When Pacey said he wanted to Win races they suggested building him a special outer-circuit single-seater. They had learnt a bit while preparing the Barnato-Hassan and reckoned they could devise a lighter and cheaper car. Pacey had already lapped at 113.45 m.p.h. in this black four-seater Bentley without gaining more than a second place,so something drastic had to be done. The same 4.1/2-litre engine was bored out to 101 mm., giving a capacity of 4,487 c.c.., and fitted with new Martlett pistons and stronger rods. Under the cylinder block Hassan fitted a number of Compression plates, so that the c.r. could be easily varied from 6.1/2 to 1 to about 10 to 1 when using alcohol-benzole fuel. Rubery Owen Made new, stiffer side-members, under slung at the rear, to Ilassan’s design and to these new tubular cross-members were attached, incidentally Using a hand-brace to drill the necessary holes! Those very excellent body-builders, George and Jack Grey, who worked fis T& T’s, made a narrow single-seater body with cowled radiator and faired-in dumb-irons for the revised chassis, Which had out-rigged Woodhead springs. A normal Bentley back axle was used, but with straight-cut teeth for the 3.0-to-1 final drive but the front axle was a brakeless one from one of the 1922 17 Bentleys. The rear brake drums were reduced to the thickness of a single shoe.

Pacey had a reasonable handicap, as a result of his poor placings, and by using the former engine and chassis numbers on the entry forms, Hassan reckoned that he would have a good chance of realising his ambition to be a Brooklands race winner. The car was naturally painted black and kept in a shed at the Track beside ‘I’ & T’s premises.

It was ready for the 1936 Brooklands Easter Meeting, when the Ilassan predictions of success were thoroughly justified. In the second race, a short handicap, the Pacey-Hassan-Special made by far the fastest standing and flying laps, at 98.23 and 117.46 m.p.h. respectively, to win by 3.2sec., from Windsor-Richards’ 30/98 Vauxhall. Promptly rehandicapped, Pacey came out for the next race, a long handicap, and got his lap speed up to 119.72 m.p.h., but to no avail. However, he had won a race and no doubt he watched the rest of the racing with a glow of pleasure.

At Whitsun he held his speed down slightly in his first engagement but in the the Star Gold Trophy 20-mile handicap he pulled out the stops, lapped at 128.03 m.p.h., and won at 122.53 m.p.h. from Cobb in the V12 Sunbeam and Marker’s 6.1/2-litre Bentley. The Pacey’s opening lap had been at exactly the same speed as that of Hamilton’s blown 2.3 Monza Alfa Romeo.

It seems that the compression plates were doing their stuff! As Hassan says, if he forgot to replace all of them when re-assembling the engine, would he be likely to show himself up as a rotten mechanic by declaring this trifling item on the entry form ? By this means he hoped to keep the handicappers at bay. By the August 1936 races “Ebby” had the car on Scratch but its driver was able to accelerate away faster than ever and to do his flying lap in the -short handicap at 128.36 m.p.h. This brought him home second, the Paeey-Ilassan ‘having made up 11.4 sec. on Major Gardner’s very fast 1,100-c.c. MG which had started 20 sec. earlier, while the famous Couper Talbot, to which Pacey .gave a nine sec. start, had been caught in the 61 miles. Pacey.was then re-handicapped behind scratch in the long race, so a lap at 129.03 m.p.h. did not bring him more than a fourth place. ‘The season closed with a go in the “500”, in which the Pacey-Hassan went splendidly, the driving shared between the owner and Bentley exponent Baker-Carr, to finish second, at 115.96 m.p.h., with a best lap of 128.03 m.p.h., behind the winning Dixon Riley. Alas, this had done the old engine no good and the car was entered but non-started at the October BARU Meeting.

Nevertheless, this was a magnificent opening season for a car which had ‘cost a modest £600 or so. l’acey had wisely not entered for too many of the remaining outer-circuit races during the season and there were no doubt still a few .compression-plates to go! But the demise of the 4.1/2-litre engine in finishing so high up in the 500-Mile Race made new tactics necessary for 1937. The ploy was to bore out a 3-litre Bentley cylinder block from 80 to 82 mm. (capacity — 2,956 c.c.) and persuade this to attach itself to a normal blower-4.1/2 crankcase, so that there was an ample margin of safety, by employing blower-4.1/2 crank and rods, to use a Zoller supercharger. This vast blower was driven off the nose of the crankshaft and fed with two Zenith carburetters. Fuel tank air pressure was maintained by a small propeller-driven pump obtained from Coley’s store of surplus RAF material at Kingston.

The blown Pacey-Hassan wasn’t able to run at the Easter 1937 Meeting, nor was it sorted out by Whitsun. After that Pacey gave the thing a mks, until the BRDC 500-kilometre race, when he again put in an entry, either because he was determined to try the car, or because he was encouraged by his fine showing in the previous year’s race. It began well enough; lapping at 120 m.p.h., but eventually began to break up. Pacey, who was a tough-egg, decided to press on. “He always wore a shiny black wind-breaker”, Hassan recalls, “and it was certainly shiny that day, with all the Castrol that was finding its way into the cockpit”. However, Pacey’s determination paid off, for he finished eighth, having averaged 108.9. Dubtless he was glad the race had been reduced in length!

In its original guise, though, the Pacey-Hassan-Special was a fine tribute to the two Wallys„ and it was once timed over the Brooklands flying kilometre at 139.96 mph., which was very quick indeed for a rion-supercharged 4.1/2-litre Bentley. It is a further tribute to Hassan that the car has survived and is raced in original 4.1/2-litre trios today in VSCC races by Peter Morley, who has carefully restored it.—W.B.