Hann’s solo efforts
Brooklands racer Tommy Hann’s self-made specials weren’t quite the race winners he boasted about
In 1932 Tommy Hann announced that he was making a return to motor racing so I went to interview him. I was shown into a vast office in which sat his secretary, and then into an even bigger room occupied by Hann. On the walls were large framed pictures of the cars he had once raced. Pointing to them he implied that these were advanced and successful racing cars of his design which had many race victories, not realising that I was aware they depicted two cars which Hann had driven, appropriate to the varied entries that entertained the spectators in Brooklands handicaps, but hardly ones of top-class race-winning calibre.
Soon after my interview I was asked if I knew where he was as he had not paid the rent for the premises he had hired!
A closed cockpit was not liked by the BARC as restricting driver visibility. When Hann had revealed such a car back in 1911 the officials had watched him assemble it and then refused to let it race! In 1922 Hann produced a car at Brooklands based on a 3334cc Lanchester Type 25 sold by Fay Compton’s family after its landaulette body had been transferred to a new Type 38 Lanchester. Hann endowed this with an enclosed cockpit body and named it ‘Hoieh-Wayaryeh-Gointoo’. He lapped Brooklands at 72.81mph to 76.30mph, then at 76.39mph. Finding the enclosed cockpit very noisy and too warm inside, Hann replaced this with a rather handsome open two-seater body by 1923 and named it ‘Softly-Catch-Monkey’. It was driven for Hann by Tony Bellingham-Smith, who took a first and third place at Brooklands with a best lap of 80.59mph.
For his final racing in 1924 Hann drove his No5 ‘Handy Andy’ at Brooklands with no success. This car was based on one of the 1911 3-litre Coupe des Voiturettes Delage cars with which Paul Bablot won the Coupe de l’Auto at 54.80mph, with high-set valves necessitating a nearside exhaust pipe higher than the side of the cockpit. Bellingham-Smith in the old Lanchester secured a first place with a fastest lap of 79.9mph. All these cars were in vertical orange and black stripes. I believe the BARC charged two guineas to permit car nicknames.
After my 1932 interview I left without any idea what occupied Hann, except that he had a picture of a small boat in which he implied that from 1924 he had been away sailing, before returning to motor racing, when he contacted me again. This return took the form of the acquisition of a 1926 supercharged 3.2-litre 16/60 Mercedes, which he took to a small garage in London to have the coupé body removed and a two-seater racing body and radiator cowl made for it. He was residing in London and contrived to tow this large car to Brooklands behind a tiny 7.5hp Citroën. Always keen to associate myself with motor racing I went to the Track to help Hann with this improbable car, painted, of course, in his old colours.
There were a number of obvious shortcomings, such as the supercharger drawing air from under the bonnet so that the inlet manifold became abnormally hot. Also the exhaust pipe melted the grease in the water pump so that it leaked, and much heat was transferred to the cockpit.
This did not stop Hann entering for the 1934 BRDC 500-mile race. He prepared for this by fitting out ‘Softly-Catch-Monkey II’ with a 60-gallon fuel tank which I think had been a domestic water cistern, and a spare oil tank under the scuttle which allowed oil to be fed to the sump if required. I helped to black-lead the front axle, and other minor items were added including the car’s name and dazzle paint.
I rode with Hann round Brooklands and the best lap I timed was 70.64mph. Alas, competitors in the ‘500’ had to qualify with a lap of at least 100mph. Hann was bitterly disappointed. The garage which had his Mercedes told me he had left with the girl typist and the office furniture!
Hann later committed suicide in a Bayswater boarding house. Poor Tommy Hann.
It paid to study your ABC…
I have been asked what was my first car. It was an ABC, found in a breaker’s yard for a fiver. In the 1920s these cars, designed by Granville Bradshaw, with 1200cc flat-twin air-cooled overhead valve engines, were good performers and raced at Brooklands.
But my find was far from new. For some reason it had twin carburettors, but on the inlet manifold, not one for each cylinder. A snag with all ABCs was that the fuel filler was on the dummy radiator so might be topped up with water in error.
The oil pump was not working on my car, but for a run to Prescott a friend rigged up a funnel and periodically fed this with Castrol, which worked. The gearchange was vertical, lever down for first and second, up for higher gears. Not conversant with it, I was in reverse for our push-start which set us on fire at the petrol station. Not popular, Tom Lush and I set off and all went well until I was passed by an Austin saloon with children in the back who put their tongues out at us. I accelerated uphill to shouts from Tom not to be a fool. With a loud bang the ABC put a conrod out; I recall the smoking rollers running down the hill…
We coasted to a closed garage where Tom removed the crippled engine and put it on the back seat covered with a coat. When the garage opened we said we had trouble. They opened the ABC’s bonnet and actually looked up the road for our engine. Not amused, they refused us attention and we had to leave our stricken motor at another garage.
They were fun days alright.
Cradle of British Motor Racing and Aviation
by Nicholas H Lancaster
As an excellent introduction to the history of the famous Surrey racing track and aerodrome this Shire publication describes very effectively this important and fascinating subject, with a wonderful selection of illustrations. One shot of the Track’s instigator, Hugh Locke-King, with his wife Ethel and their favourite poodle is new to me.
For those who do not have my Brooklands – the Complete Motor Racing History (MRP, 2001), which is still selling well, this new little work is an effective if temporary substitute guide to the celebrated Track and aerodrome from 1907 to 1939.
Published by Shire Publications, ISBN 978 07478707070, £5.99
The first steam races
As a schoolboy I read not only the car magazines but also Commercial Motor and Motor Transport, so I was aware of the steam wagons and traction engines which were seen frequently on the roads of the 1920s and earlier. Today there are innumerable traction engine rallies to enjoy. It started after two traction engine owners staged a friendly race between their engines, which I attended.
Now such events have cheerfully multiplied, and Steaming, the magazine of the National Traction Engine Trust, records it all, a magazine the equal of the best one-make car club journals, competently edited for so long by Roger West. The front cover of the current issue depicts the colourful Sentinel DG6 wagon once used by Lyons Tea, now restored.
I twice went on steamers in the annual London to Brighton Commercial Vehicle Runs. In 1963 I had a comfortable ride in the cab of Broughton’s (above), which took 3hr 5min, while in 1970 I went on a 1916 Foden wagon. As the cab was full I sat on a pile of coal behind, getting smuts from the chimney in my eyes. The five-tonner did another trouble-free run.
Pre-war Track cars honoured
The Brooklands Society has introduced a new trophy for the best performance by a car which has competed pre-war at the Track. It was awarded at this year’s VSCC Shelsley Walsh hillclimb to Mark Brett driving the Ballamy Ford V8 special built for H C S Symonds in 1937 and raced in ’38. Similar awards were made at the VSCC’s Prescott hillclimb and at Donington.