ON THE FINISH OF THE ” 500 “
THE title of this article does not refer to a thrilling finish of a 500-mile race, but to the fact that this B.R.D.C. classic will no longer be held. The B.R.D.C. has announced that this year, on September 17th at Brooklands, the ” 500″ is to be replaced by a 204Mile Handicap Race over the International Trophy road circuit and an outer-circuit handicap race of 50 miles only. That the old 500-Mile Race is no more is indeed regrettable ; it was always an interesting race, it was the fastest long-distance race in the world, and it was track racing par excellence. Of recent times it has attracted all too poor entries, on account of the mechanical damage that can result from so long and fast a contest. Last year the organisers sought to save the situation by reducing the distance from 500 miles to 500 kilos., a move which, as MOTOR SPORT pointed out at the time, seemed rather pointless, inasmuch as the distance was still considerable and race-speeds were likely to be still higher than ill. the previous races of the series. Some people have put the demise of the ” 500 ” down to the lack of proper track-racing cars. Actually, analysis of entries for, past events shows that the field has always been a very mixed one, in which pure road-racing cars, modified road-racing cars, stripped sports-cars, and genuine outer-circuit cars have lined up together by the Vickers Sheds. Even if you consider the successful cars out of the varied entry, I do not know that it can be considered that the purely track-car has had things terribly exclusively to itself. The 4i-litre Bentley which won the first race of all was hardly a racing-car, as such. The 6i-litre Bentley which was second certainly was of track-type, while the Sunbeam that came in third was an exland speed record car, with bodywork a cross between G.P. and fully-faired styles. The little blown Austin Seven which won the 1930 race you would be justified in classing as just an all-purpose racing job, the 41-litre blower Bentley that was second was a four-seater sports-type car and it was a 2-litre G.P., or roadracing, Sunbeam that took third place.
In 1931 one might safely class the first three cars-44-litre Bentley, 3-litre Talbot and blown 750 c.c. M.G.—as cars adapted to outer-circuit racing. Horton’s longtailed 750 c.c. M.G. which won the next of the series was a track motor right enough, but an ordinary 1,100 c.c. Riley was second, with an adapted sportsTalbot third. I feel inclined to call the blown M.G. Magnette, unblown M.G. Magna, and unblown Riley Nine that were placed in 1988, all-purpose racers. and I really cannot consider the 2-litre and 11-litre Rileys of 1934 as proper track cars, even if we class Gardner’s M.G. Magnette as such. Very definitely a track-type won in 1935, in the shape of the Napier-Railton, a car expressly built for this race and long-distance record-work. But the Riley which was second was similar to successful road-racing cars of the marque and a sports-type Bugatti got third place. The same applies to the Riley which won in 1936, though the essentially tracktype Pacey-Hassan was second and a sports 4k-litre Lagonda bearing some resemblance to an outer-circuit type was third. Last year, in the last of the series, the Napier-Railton scored another point for the type of car which ought to win a race of this nature, but Rileys, of the kind which I prefer to term all-. purpose racing jobs, filled the next two
places. So that it can hardly be said that the ” 500″ has been a race in which only purely outer-circuit type cars have been able to do any good. On paper it is, of course, extremely difficult to define an outer-circuit car, as opposed to a roadracing car, or a racing-car that can be usefully run in almost any form of contest. Naturally, you would not start in a 500mile outer-circuit race with road-racing gear-ratios. But a true outer-circuit car is something far removed from a roadwith a nice high axle-ratio.
In the first place the engine is only required to develop its full power at high track speed, which means that it need not give many horses at low revs., yet, on the other hand, it need not have a high rev, limit, and, indeed, will peak at moderate crank shaft speed. One naturally thinks of large unblown motors. The transmission can be quite light, from the viewpoint of drag, and both sprung and unsprung weight, because the gearbox is used only for starting from the line and from the
pits. Front brakes can be dispensed with, resulting in a tiny reduction in wind-drag, and a much happier front axle. The engine gets no useful respite in the form of over-run, and air flow to water and lubricant must be greater than on a road car. Streamlining becomes of vital importance, but fortunately the driver needs only forward vision, and a mirror to show him overtaking cars, which will pass close only on his off side, so that he can be really well enclosed. Albeit he will be more comfortable in a properly designed track body than in many road cars with additional fairing hastily tacked on. As he is full bore, or nearly full bore, throughout, easy to read. instruments and pit-signals are important. Quite different tyres will be used and of recent times the Dunlop Co. has developed the ” balloon ” type of cover for track work, in which there is an appreciable side area in contact with the cooling stream of the air-flow. In brief, therefore, difficult as it is to define the track type of car, it will be seen that outer-circuit work, and particularly 112 laps of the Brooklands outer-circuit, calls for some highly specialised qualities. I do. think that the demise of the great 500Mile Race can, to a very large extent, be explained by the shortage of tracktype cars, for, although the field in these
events has been composed of rather less than 50 per cent. of cars of this type, year by year, the race has gained its reputation_ for destruction of good machinery on account of the unsuitable cars which have been set to complete the course, against handicap speeds imposed with outercircuit type entries in mind. In this connection I have a theory that the strain of outer-circuit racing is bound up with the complete lack of periods when engine revs, drop back from maximum, with consequent momentary easing up of heatflow and pressure-loadings, as must happen after gear-changes in a road-race, quite apart from the suction-lubrication of pistons at minus pressures in the induction tract, lacking, of course, at full bore. The only type of engine that the outer-circuit might favour seems to be a very small fast-revving unit, in which the stresses imposed by the upward movement of the pistons are greater on the over-run than the gas-pressure. Round the outside over-run, as such, vanishes, while the use of high-axle ratios will reduce mechanical loading from reciprocating sources, while, rapid acceleration not being called for, connecting rods may be appreciably heavier than in a sprint or road-circuit motor. If these perhaps elusive points are less easy to trace out in practice, we do, at all events, know that at the very first Brooklands Meeting, away back in July 1907, famous and successful road-racing cars were suffering from cooling, lubrication and valvetroubles after a limited amount of outside lappery. Incidentally; if the above specification items set down as essentially those of the track-type car are criticised as not to be found, en bloc, in any One car, that is only because purely outer-circuit cars have been a declining interest for several years—due, one supposes, to the ratio
of road and road-circuit contests to track races in the present International Calendar and the greater driver-fun to be had from such contests ; we would like to add the need for using racing as a means of learning useful lessons about brakes, steering, suspension and stability as well as about engines and streamlining, but, in this country, have any utility cars benefited from their makers recent participation in racing, in these respects ? The decline of the track-car is sad, inasmuch as British racing has for years been developed in an outer-circuit tradition. Before the War we had only Brooklands, barring the few T.T. races in the I.O.M., and there you only went round the outside in those times. By 1911 low-speed engines, wonderfully faired and very narrow bodies, isolated radiators and high-ratio axles figured on hosts of cars at Brooklands. Sunbeam, Austin, Vauxhall, Talbot, and our other great marques ran as typically track cars. The .25 h.p. Talbot with which Percy Lambert covered over 100 miles in one hour for the first time in history, at Brooklands In 1918, is a very excellent example of the outer-circuit car of the period. After the War the trend continued. There were the narrow V12 single-seater Sunbeam, doing 140 m.p.h. in Guinness’s care in 1921, Rapon’s narrow Lanchester Forty used for tyre-testing and later speeded up by Parry Thomas, Thomas’s own immortal Leyland-Eight and Leyland-Thomases, the six-cylinder StrakerSquire, Henn’s curious Lanchester and his “Handy. Andy” with 5-litre Delage engine, Miller’s Napier 40/50 and WolseleyViper, Felix Scriven’s Austin Twenty, the Wolseley “Moths,” the A.C.s and lots more—all cars built in the best track tradition. The big aero-motored cars like the Chitty-Bang-Bangs, the HighamSpecial, Isotta-Maybach, Sunbeam-Napier, Martin-Arab, and the rest, were not so carefully streamlined, but were very
much the track-type. Amongst the smaller cars there were the four-cylinder Thomas-Special, that razor-blade AstonMartin, the A.C.s, Whale’s narrow singleseater Calthorpe, the Eric-Campbell, Prodier’s Charron-Laycock, the G.N.
Kim,” and many others built expressly for the outer-circuit. To-day, when we can visit road-circuit races at Brooklands, the Crystal Palace and Donington, it seems incredible that up to 1925 we had only the Brooklands outer-circuit races to attend—until the ever-go-ahead J.C.C. introduced artificial corners into the circuit for the 200Mile Race and ” road” racing took hold in this country. Yet I think it can be said that, in spite of this so plain pre-1925 fare, in those clays the ” gate” at Brooklands on a good day could equal anything they get there now, although I am not going to say that attendances throughout the season were as good. All this outercircuit racing developed the engineering side of racing, especially the engine
tuning aspect, in a manner which, to-day, is evident in sprint events amongst the more serious exponents of ” quarter-mile racing.” The B.R.D.C. ” 500 ” carried. on for eight years the tradition of real track racing, giving something for which. those who ran proper outer-circuit cars at B.A.R.C. meetings could .aim, as a justifiable conclusion to a season’s racing with cars of specialised sort. Now that the series has been announced as withdrawn, I think it is fitting to go just briefly over the history and interesting features. of which will probably be the last series. of long-distance track-races held in this country. The B.R.D.C. was formed in 1926, after Dr. Benjafleld had successfully brought the better racing drivers together by a series of informal dinners, seal being set to the idea by a suggestion made by Ebblewhite in a speech he made at a send-off dinner before one of Sir Malcolm Campbell’s Daytona visits, Later Lord Howe was elected President, which office he has held ever since. And Head designed the badge. In 1929 the Club held the first ” 500,” rather a curious race, some thought, for a drivers’ club—actually you ” drive ” quite a deal at present-day speeds, even round the outside of Brooklands. There were twenty-two starters and only nine finishers. For a while Vernon Amilcar led, until a valve broke and Eyston’s 2-litre G.P. Sunbeam took the lead. Paul, partnered by Cobb, held second place with the 4-litre Sunbeam, until the frame cracked and caused Paul to tour Eyston retired with a broken spring and Clement brought the 41-litre i:entli.v home at 107.32 m.p.h., partnered }.. Barclay. Sammy Davis. driving the
-litre track Bentley at short notice,. after some excitement with flung treads, was second at 109.4 m.p.h., and Cobb, and Paul got third place., A 2-litre AlfaRomeo, another Bentley, Holbrook’s Austin Seven at 80.25 m.p.h., a Lea-Francis, a Riley and Lord Howe’s Lea-Francis all finished, and two Bugattis and Noel’s aero-engined chain-driven Mercedes were still circulating at the end. Kaye Don’s 4-litre Sunbeam broke a back spring, and. Birkin’s blower Bentley caught fire. In 1930 S. C. H. Davis and the Earl of March won after a splendid run with the T.T. Austin Seven, stripped and with. a large fuel tank. ” Bird’s” Riley, the Dunfees 2-litre Sunbeam and Scott’s G.P. Delage were dangerous rivals, but ” Bird” retired, the Sunbeam lost a rear wheel complete with its half-shaft and the Delage lost 80 mins. when the front axle collapsed. Then lienjafield and Hall became dangerous and Davis urged the Austin to still greater feats. Brian Twist was running third with an Amilcar Six. In the end the Austin just won, at 88.41 m.p.h., and the blower four-seater Bentley, lapping at times at over 122 m.p.h., was a wonderful second at 112.12 m.p.h., a tread going just as it finished. Purdy and Cushman’s 2-litre G.P. Sunbeam was third at 104.74 m.p.h., and Lewis and Howe fourth in a Talbot at 104.26 m.p.h. Only Twist’s Amilcar finished in the 1,100 c.c. class and no 11-litres finished at all. Birkin’s single-seater
blower Bentley went sick at the end, but was brought home by Duller, its early Upper), at 120 m.p.h. Froy’s big six.cylinder Delage, with. manx tail, went up in flames.
Only seven cars finished in the 1931 race, and Jack Dunfee and Cyril Paul brought the old 61-litre Bentley home victorious, at 118.89 m.p.h. The single-seater ” 105 ” Talbot of Brian Lewis and Saunders-Davies ran silently and very efficiently into second place at 112.98 m.p.h. and E. R. Hall drove his blown M.G. Midget single-handed into third place at over 92 m.p.h. This year Birkin bandied an Alfa-Romeo with special track body, which lapped at 122 m.p.h. until delayed by electrical troubles. Benjafield had the blower single-seater Bentley, but it functioned dismally and stopped with valve maladies. Howe’s Bugatti broke a piston, and the Austin Seven team, of which great things had been expected, suffered from cracked radiators. Hindmarsh got a four-seater Talbot round at 118 m.p.h., Oates was flagged in because his O.M. smoked excessively, and Zehender’s 38-250 stripped MercedesBenz two-seater, amazingly steady and using its blower, finally retired with undiscovered trouble. Humphreys had wretched luck when his Amilcar Six broke its stub axle when in fourth place. Amongst the non-starters was a special single-seater 41-litre Invicta, prepared for Wisdom and Froy. The 1932 race was marred by the fatal .crash to Clive Dunfee, when the 8-litre Bentley went over the top of the Members’ Banking. Friends of mine have told me that Dunfee had mask-goggles upon his forehead at the time and it seems possible they either slid over his face, • or that he put up a hand to prevent them from so doing, losing control in the process. The new entrance road, well away from the banking, evolved from this sad accident. Capt. Barnato later ran the rebuilt 8-litre as a saloon, arriving in it for the Press function at which the .31-litre Bentley was officially released. Nuvolari and Borzacchini with Alfas were non-starters, but Count Czaikowski ran a 2-litre Bugatti. R. T. Horton and J. H. Bartlett won a splendid race with the 750 c.c. Magic Midget M.G., at 96.29 ‘m.p.h. Dixon’s Riley retired with broken shock-absorber brackets, Ashby’s flatiron Riley had lots of plug trouble, and Evans’s M.G. Magic Magnette broke a piston. Lewis’s Talbot was delayed with. a fractured front hub, and Czaikowski’s Bugatti died after averaging about 118 m.p.h. Hamilton put Howe’s Bugatti round at 126.09 m.p.h., badly shaken in the cockpit, until a broken fuel tank put the car out. Dunfee lapped at 127
m.p.h. until his accident. Cyril Paul and ” . Phillip” were second at 99.61 m.p.h. with a Riley Nine and the Lewis-Cobb single-seater Talbot third at 111.6 m.p.h. The single-place Invicta was again .a non-starter, being crashed in practice by Hebeler. The 193$ race drew an immense crowd. Thirty-eight cars entered and thirty-one started, and E. R. Hall brought his blown M.G. Magnette in first, 20 mins. ahead of Charlie Martin and Welch (M.G. Magna), at 106.53 m.p.h. The Magna averaged 92.24 m.p.h. Paul and Turner (Riley Nine) were third at 88.87 m.p.h. Bartlett’s Riley smashed its engine so completely in practice as to crash into the ditch beside the Byfleet Banking, and the two-stroke Jamieson F.F. engine could not be put in a chassis in time to run. Frank! (Bugatti) and Zanelli (Alf aRomeo) were Continental starters, and Kaye Don had. the 4.9-litre Bugatti. The Austin Sevens gave unexpected plug trouble, and poor Eyston retired when the Magic Midget’s magneto fell to bits, after leading the Alfa and running to win. He had lunch at the Aero Club ! Dunham’s Alvis had various troubles, Evans had much bother with his M.G. Midget, but the L-type M.G.s were lapping nicely at 90 m.p.h., likewise Aldy’s Frazer-Nash. The Alfa was cutting out round the Members’ Banking and Frank! stopped several times for water. Whitney Straight had much bother with the T.T. Magnette, Dixon’s Riley blew a gasket, the McEvoy-Special broke its camshaft drive, and right at the end the unstable 4.9-litre Bugatti went out with rear-axle trouble. Poor Watson was killed when Elwes’s blown M.G. Midget, which he was driving, rolled over and caught fire near the Fork. In. 1984 Freddie Dixon won a very wet ” 500 ” with his famous silver tuiblown 2-litre Riley, which lapped at 125 and averaged 104.8 m.p.h. Thirty cars started and seven finished, with Von der Becke and Maclure (Riley) second at 101.65 m.p.h. and Gardner and Benjafield (M.G. Magnette) third at 97.85 ni.p.h Straight lapped at about 137 m.p.h. with the Duesenberg in practice but did not start, and Hatm’s Merc6des “Softly-Catch-Monkey “could not qualify at 100 m.p.h.. So bad was the weather that Cobb withdrew the Napier-Railton. Hindmarsh lapped at 100 m.p.h. with a 2-litre Singer before retiring, and Black’s 2.3-litre Alfa was the last big car to retire, with a cracked chassis frame. Oliver Bertram broke the 4.9-litre I3ugatti’s gear-lever and Pat Fairfield skidded his Riley through the Railway Straight fence. In 1935 Cobb had an epic ride from scratch, winning with the Napier-Railton at 121 28 m.p.h. Von der Becke and Maclure followed him home with an unblown 2-litre Riley at 112.49 m.p.h. and Earl Howe and Brian Lewis were third with a 3.3-litre sports-engined Bugatti, at 115.08 m.p.h. The race was notable for severe tyre trouble that was quite unexpected. Dixon suffered badly thus, after 130 m.p.h. lappery with the unblovvn Riley. Connell’s Vale cracked its head, Munday did 90 m.p.h. for half an hour with the eight-cylinder Thomas-Special before retiring, and Bertram led for a while
with the Barnato-Hassan. Seaman’s Duesenberg went out with a smashed fuel tank and Froy’s 4.9-litre Bugatti never ran well. Divo did a steady run with the record-breaking Hotchkiss, and Mrs. Petre handled a 2.6-litre Alfa. Tim Rose-Richards shared the honours with Cobb. The 1936 race had only four finishers. Dixon well deserved his win with the 2-litre Riley at 116.86 m.p.h. E. W. W. Pacey upheld track-car prestige with the Bentley-engined Pacey-Hassan-Special, by finishing second at 115.96 m.p.h., and Howe and Brian Lewis got a stripped sports 41-litre Lagonda in third at 118.02
m.p.h. Hamilton’s 2.8-litre Alfa ran well for fourth place. Mrs. Stewart and Duller were going at the finish with the Duesenberg that is going so well now, but Evans’s Magic Magnette cracked its cylinder bead and the Barnato-Hassan broke a con-rod. Last year’s race is too recent to merit detailed comment. Bertram and Cobb got the Napier-Railton home first at 127.05 m.p.h. for the curtailed distance of about 300 miles. Dodson’s Riley was second at 118.9 m.p.h., and Maclure’s
Riley third at 109.5 m.p.h. The old 4-litre V12 Sunbeam was fourth and ” Bira’s ” sports Delahaye, winner of last month’s Sports-Car Race, averaged 1141 m.p.h. to finish seventh, ” Bira ” burnt by accumulator acid in the process.
Yes, the ” 500 ” was ever a great race and it is sad that it is over. We can but hope that the 50-Mile Outer-Circuit Handicap on September 17th will prove as exciting as the B.R.D.C. Empire Trophy Race of 1932, when the big fellows, in the form of the blower single-seater Bentley, the 61-litre Bentley, Eyston’s wooden-bodied 8-litre Panhard and Cobb’s twelve-cylinder Delage, did mighty battle over the outer-circuit, Cobb finally winning at 126.363 m.p.h. to Eyston’s 126.354 m.p.h., the result being the subject of an appeal, and the Panhard lapping at the Class Record speed of 131.76 m.p.h..
If we get racing like that for only fifty miles on September 17th, we shall feel somewhat appeased for the finish of the great” 500.”