Half-buried treasure

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The material amassed over 80 years by Bill Boddy forms a fascinating, jumbled archive of motoring’s past
By Gordon Cruickshank

It is more than a year since our Founder Editor Bill Boddy died, at the age of 97. He left behind not only an unmatched legacy of writings on motor cars and racing, having written on the subject since the 1930s and been Motor Sport’s editor from 1936 to 1991, but also a diverse collection of books, magazines, photographs and motoring artefacts of all sorts. They accumulated over the years in the old house in Wales where WB moved in 1963 and while Bill seemed to know roughly where everything was, and more to the point what everything was, he did not record, index or label the growing mountain of material amassed through eight decades of motoring writing.

As that mountain grew the house itself declined, and after the death of his wife Winifred WB retreated to ever smaller sections of the rambling building as wallpaper peeled and damp spread. Some rooms were abandoned to become storehouses which WB called his “muddle rooms”, a mixture of books, ancient magazines, treasured mementos of interesting cars or people, gifts from manufacturers, car models, and accessories sent in for review by long-defunct companies. Cylinder heads, gear sprockets and rusting pistons crowd shelves alongside aircraft models, crash hats and the accumulated press passes from decades of race meetings, including the Donington Grands Prix. Elsewhere, mouldering albums of Edwardian trials photos lie on tables, while thousands of photographs spill from boxes and files. In one cupboard are notebooks containing WB’s earliest known writings – Brooklands race reports he compiled purely for his own satisfaction, in 1925 at the age of 12 – and a log book of all his early Motor Sport road tests.

Then there is the Brooklands material. We’ve known for a long time that WB possessed some first-hand records from his beloved Track, but it seems that far from ‘liberating’ them from the Clubhouse when the circuit failed to reopen after WWII, he purchased them – from the Weybridge police. During the 1950s the constabulary found a shed full of Brooklands material in the garden of a local burglar, and as it had no obvious owner after the circuit was wound up, they were pointed towards WB. The story as he told it is that he took away three Austin 7s-worth of stuff – in exchange for buying £20-worth of tickets for the local Policemen’s Ball. Those items include the barograph from the Brooklands Clubhouse and many thick leather-bound volumes recording the club’s doings, of which one is the book of certificates given to drivers who had broken a record of some sort at the Track. Each page comprised duplicate forms, of which one half went to the driver and the other stayed in the book. It remains in perfect condition, filled with the names such as Cobb, Don and Staniland, their achievements sealed with the signature of Brooklands handicapper ‘Ebby’ Ebblewhite.

While some of the magazines have suffered from their storage conditions, WB’s most precious editions, his earliest copies of The Brooklands Gazette and Motor Sport, are in fine shape after almost 90 years in a favourite tin box. These include the first Brooklands Gazette he ever bought, No2 from August 1924, and of course Issue 1, ordered as a back number at the same time. WB’s copy may be the single most precious issue of the magazine that exists. Although we photographed it in situ, this and the other valuable material is now in safe-keeping elsewhere.

It will take a long time to disentangle and identify exactly what Bill Boddy has left us. Meanwhile, we offer a visual selection from this remarkable feast of racing relics.

[1] Not issue 1, but even more significant in Bill Boddy’s life. This is the second issue of the Brooklands Gazette, the copy that WB bought from the bookstall at Waterloo station. He immediately ordered the first issue, starting his life-long collection. He carried them from house to house in a tin box which remains in his study.
[2] Part of Boddy’s collection of what he insisted should be called sparking (not ‘spark’) plugs. There are hundreds of them, ranged in two huge wooden cases.
[3] The Source… WB depended on manual typewriters for almost all his working life. Latterly new ink ribbons became extremely hard to find, and when Bill complained about this in the magazine, helpful readers would send in old ribbons. They never fitted.
[4] Garaged in a cardboard box for years and years, a tinplate model of the 1000hp Sunbeam on a pile of unmade plastic car kits.
[5] The barograph which sat in the Club House at Brooklands. This helped the Secretary to assess the forthcoming weekend’s weather.
[6] The book which inspired WB – Motor Racing, by S C H Davis. Both a motoring writer, as Sports Editor of The Autocar, and a Le Mans-winning racing driver, Sammy Davis combined all the elements WB admired. Later on WB would get to know Davis, but in 1932 when the book was published, making a career as a racing journalist was still a vague hope in the 19-year-old Boddy’s mind.
[7] WB was always very keen on the Model T Ford and has carefully preserved this souvenir booklet, produced in 1910 even though the Model T was only two years into what would be an astonishing run. The booklet’s colours are still vibrant and the fragile cut-outs are almost perfect. Inside, the makers offer the Tourabout, convertible from two to four seats – “the car that does not require a $10,000 income to maintain”.
[8] Dangling vine of race passes, badges and armbands WB amassed visiting hundreds of sprints, races, hillclimbs and trials from the 1930s on.
[9] On a shelf in WB’s study sits a row of small, neatly bound volumes. They contain mint proof copies of Brooklands programmes from the early years, their colours undimmed and corners unchipped. This one advises that “flying can be witnessed daily at Brooklands” for a cost of one shilling. Note that refreshments are offered on the flying ground at the ‘Blue Bird’ tea room – a converted hanger.

[1] WB’s very own portion of The Track itself – a lump of the concrete surface from the Members Banking at Brooklands, lovingly mounted on its own wooden stand. Brooklands was the place where Bill Boddy spent some of his happiest times, and as we know he never forgot the delight he found within its precincts.
[2] Brooklands programmes (or race cards as they were always known), motoring part-works and assorted magazines.
[3] BARC minutes volumes contain such gems as “Tapper’s entries not to be accepted in future”.
[4] Found just lying on a dusty shelf in WB’s study, this silver plaque records a major feat – world speed records set on Blackpool’s Promenade in 1906. It was inscribed for Algernon Lee Guinness, who broke several records on the day with the V8 200hp Darracq, though it appears never to have been attached to anything. Brooklands ‘official measurer’ badge alongside.
[5] Notebook containing reports on Brooklands racing – written when WB was 12 purely for his own interest, long before he commenced his career. Yet they are as articulate, thorough and grammatically correct as his later professional writings – barring the word on the cover!
[6] Banner denoting first place in the 1937 500 Mile Race, the BARC’s most prestigious event, won by John Cobb in the Napier-Railton.

[1] This hand-written log records all of WB’s drives from early in 1936. During the year the words ‘road test for Motor Sport’ start to appear, as it was in 1936 that Bill became editor of the magazine. At the beginning WB states that he learned to drive in 1932 but did not continue with driving again until 1935, after six lessons in Brixton. Thereafter, every drive is detailed with car, destination, passengers, stops along the way and figures about speed and fuel consumption. But since he never showed this book or quoted from it in the magazine, just whom was he writing it for?
[2] WB called these his “muddle rooms”. He knew more or less what was here and where it was; no-one else did. Among the piles of magazines and first-edition books lie huge pistons from Edwardian cars, con rods, camshafts and cylinder heads, crash hats, goggles, models, badges – and a four-bladed propeller from a First World War fighter.
[3] Model of Leyland-Thomas No1, first record car of Boddy’s childhood hero J G Parry Thomas, and Brooklands cup.
[4] Corgi, Dinky and Matchbox models often came to WB for review. Thereafter they were put aside; many seem never to have been taken out of their boxes. Ditto a number of white metal kits, still unbuilt after 50 years.

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