Of all the delightful characters who helped to make Brooklands what it was, one should never forget the late Tommy Hann. In 19341 interviewed him for MOTOR SPORT at his Albermarle Street, W1, office where I was ushered into a large room furnished with club armchairs, where Hann sat before a blazing log fire. On the walls were big framed pictures of Tommy’s former racing cars, like the 1911 25/100 Lanchester converted into the single-seater saloon ‘Hoieh-Wayaryeh Gointoo’ and ‘Handy Andy’, a re-bodied 1911 Coupe de L’Auto Delage. Hann had a penchant for constructing odd motorcars, including the 1912 ‘Roaring Forty’, 1923 136hp ‘Shilling Shocker’, and 1930 1 1/2-litre Hann Special.
As for the enclosed body of the 25hp Lanchester, Hann told me that air passing through the radiator and through ducts beside the seat and exiting via the open-ended tail formed a streamlined blast of air, enabling a shorter structural tail to be used!
The odd car was moderately successful, young Tony Bellingham-Smith sometimes driving it. Its best-ever lap was at 80.59mph, suggesting good work at the Hann Partners and Andre sheds. Hann scrapped the closed body because, he said, of the awful exhaust noise. But I suspect the BARC officials did not like it, as being too restrictive of driver vision. Anyway Hann put an open single-seater body on the car, renaming it “Softly-Catch-Monkey”.
Tommy Hann went on to tell me of his plans for a return to racing after a 10-year absence, with a Mercedes Hann Special ‘Softly-Catch-Monkey II’, in his black and yellow vertical stripes. It was all very impressive but when I rang his office to check a detail, I was asked if I knew where he was, as he had gone and there was rent to pay. One amusing incident from the previous racing appearances was the offer, by the Mile End cinema, of a drive around Brooklands for those drawing two lucky tickets while the film ‘Sporting Youth’ was being shown.
The editor of the Empire Mail was there to see the lucky pair, Miss Sady Levy and Mr B Berman, driven around in ‘Handy Andy’, subsequently reporting on ‘how a smiling dark-eyed girl described the excitement of lapping Bmoklands at 100mph, beside one of England’s pre-eminent speed kings’. Mr Berman said doing three laps at 100mph was ‘the thrill of his life’. In fact the fastest lap by the Delage in 1924 was 79.05mph. See where flirting with publicity can get you…
In 1934 the Mercedes duly appeared with a crude racing body, while a simply enormous long yellow board erected above the Paddock car shelters proclaimed “Tommy Hann is back” or words to that effect! The new ‘dazzle-painted’ car was, in fact a 1926 16/60 3.2-litre Mercedes with the accelerator-controlled blower boost, practically standard but with cowled radiator. The white overalled driver bought his new racer out in August but it went woefully slowly before retiring from both its races. I offered to help and was asked to paint the front axle; seeing spots before my eyes I thought was passing out, but it was the effect of the lead paint.
I was ‘taken round’ as a reward, but this was an interesting rather than exciting run, the fastest lap I timed being at 70.6mph. The heat from the blower made the inlet manifold terribly hot, the cockpit likewise, and when Hann asked what the oil-pressure was I had to swing a mirror forward and peer through the hole in the dash.
Poor Tommy. For the BRDC 500 he had to qualify at 100mph, of which the new car was quite incapable. Going to the garage to commiserate I was told that he had left — with some of the furniture and a bill for the car. I was distressed to learn later that he had ended his life in a Bayswater boarding house.