The Racing Cars of Jack Bartlett

Described to the Editor in a recent interview
Before the war Jack Bartlett was well known in the sporting motoring circles as the London used-car dealer who supplied the better-class, properly turned-out, sports cars, from his premises at 27a Pembridge Villas, Notting Hill. Some very exciting machinery passed through his hands, and his clients numbered many famous racing personalities and fast drivers. Jack made a practice of turning out these cars he sold in clean condition, both under the bonnet and externally, and he took them out on test to ensure that they were in good order before disposing of them. Not surprisingly, therefore, his business flourished – to the point where he and his partner Pickthorne used a DH Tiger Moth to look for cars –until the war temporarily put paid to it-and in time Jack was able to go motor-racing on his won account. This is a brief story of the cars he raced. It does not purport to be a complete record of his activities, as these are well documented in my books of Brooklands and Montlhéry, and elsewhere.

Even while he was dealing in used cars in the notorious warren Street, behind the Euston Road, Jack Bartlett kept his own personal cars. The first was a belt-drive Bleriot-Whippet cyclecar, and this was followed by a Brooklands-model Austin 7 known as “Holy Smoke” on account of the cloud of blue oil-haze it always trailed behind. That was sold rather quickly to pay for the long-overdue rebore and replaced with a sports ABC aluminium-bodies two-seater. Then came a sports AC with a pleasingly large-bore copper exhaust pipe and a sports-tourer 12/50 Alvis with a searchlight fixed to its running board. But Jack had started long before this, with motorcycles, around the year 1920. His first was a pre-war NSU, bought for him for a fiver by his father (who incidentally, not long ago celebrated his 100th birthday and who was driving his tuned Triumph Vitesse up to the age of over 90). Bartlett used to learn to ride this NSU by pushing it up and down Petersham Mews. Outside the family garage, vaulting into the saddle if it fired. But it took him some time before he was sufficiently proficient to ride down to Queen’s Gate, turn round, and return. His enthusiasm had been fostered while at St. Paul’s School, where fellow pupils had included Harold Purdy, who actually owned a 1902 Triumph and before going up to Cambridge had a long-stroke Sunbeam, and Green, who possessed an American Harley-Davidson.

Bartlett began to trade in motorcycles while still at school, after the NSU had been replaced by a belt-drive vee-twin Centaur with a 3-speed Sturmey-Archer hub, which was bought for £20 and sold for £40. The youthful motorcyclists held impromptu hill-climbs and speed-trials in Richmond Park when the keepers were not looking and, his appetite for speed suitably whetted, Jack purchased an ex-Tucker 498 c.c. o.h.v. 3-speed RS Norton and joined the BMCRC. His first racing appearance at Brooklands was in a 200-Mile Sidecar Race, for which a light Watsonian racing “chair” was attached to the Norton.

At school and afterwards Bartlett had read all the motoring and motorcycling magazines and gained sufficient knowledge of cars to take a job with university Motors in Brighton. Earl Howe was a Director and used to arrive in his chauffeur-driven 30/98 Vauxhall with Barker touring body, on his visits to the RNVR depot. Bartlett’s interest in the sporting game was increased when their Lt.-Comdr. Havers took Jack to local speed trials in which he was running a Riley Redwing four-seater and a Gwynne up to the line while Havers was driving the Riley and sometimes he competed himself, on the Norton. His first lappery of Brooklands in a car was in the ex-Jack Dunfee GP Salmson with a 4-speed gearbox. The rear shock-absorbers were conspicuous by their absence and even at a best lap speed of only 69 m.p.h Jack succeeded in throwing his luckless passenger onto the bonnet, at the famous bump.

By 1930 jack Bartlett was in a position to indulge in more serious racing. He duly bought a couple off 1½-litre straight-eight supercharged Type 39 GP Bugattis and took them to Papworth to have them prepared for racing at Brooklands. The charge was £500, thought to be quite reasonable, although in those days the value of each car was in that region. Anyway, Papworth informed Bartlett that one of his cars given a suitably high axle-ratio, would be able to capture the 1½-litre Hour record, which George Eyston then held, at 115.55 m.p.h., unbeaten since 1927. Thus encouraged, Jack entered these two black Bugattis for the Sussex Short Handicap and the Bedford Long Handicap at the 1930 BARC Easter Meeting. Alas for this hopes, they did not leave the line and 10-sov. Of entry fees went down the drain. But there was a second-string. Barlett had bought from George Newman’s Brighton premises a green supercharged twin-cam Salmson, for £130. It had never been raced and was as good as new. So in this age when Sir Henry Birkin, Bt. was the Brooklands star-turn with the blower-4½ single-seater Bentley, Jack had also put this Salmson in for the Mountain Racing Handicap. He started from the same mark as Vernon Balls’ Amilcar Six. The Amilcar retired but Bartlett had the satisfaction of doing his best lap at 62.87 m.p.h. to finish second in his first car race at Brooklands, behind W.B. Scott’s Grand Prix Delage, having passed Gardner’s Amilcar Six which was much slower and had retired, and Capt. Waite’s “works” Austin 7, which finished third. Bartlett now sold the Bugattis and concentrated on the Salmson. It lapped faster round the Mountain but was unplaced at Whitsun, non-started in August, and wasn’t quite so quick at the Autumn Meeting. But it was worth developing and this Bartlett did. To defeat the handicap, which was the aim of regular Brooklands competitors, the car was made increasingly lighter and more power was extracted from the 1.087-c.c. engine, by substituting a No. 8 Cozette supercharger for the original No. 7 size. The BARC entry forms made no enquiries as to a car’s weight, so it was possible to obtain useful performance increases by reducing avoirdupois, although in the end this made the already lightweight Salmson dangerously skittish and it was confined to the Mountain circuit.

This did not matter to Bartlett, as he liked racing over the Brooklands Mountain course with its two challenging corners per lap. Even when Donington Park racing started he did not compete there, but he did like sand racing at Southport in Lancashire, with cornering somewhat the same as that experienced round the Hill at the Weybridge Track. His first taste of Southport was with a Riley 9 in 1929, and later he was to win the Southport 100-Mile Race twice and he only just failed to make the hat-trick. Jack recalls driving the Salmson up there one year, accompanied by his racing mechanic Hayes, whom Charles Brackenbury always referred to as “Middlesex”. They were proceeding lawfully, the Salmson followed by Hayes in a Lagonda carrying all the tools and equipment. The racing car was on Trade-plates and at Stony Stratford it was noticed that a policeman was standing on the pavement looking at the racing cars. There was another car just ahead, which Bartlett overtook conveniently placing it between himself and the policemen. He carried on, enjoying the drive and admiring the scenery but when he looked back there was the Lagonda with the Constable sitting beside the driver. After fifteen miles Jack could stand it no longer and stopped. The policeman came to him and wanted to know why his car was unlicensed. Eventually he was convinced that all was in order. Jack still wonders how he got back on his eat and whether anyone else has ever been chased by a policeman, in their own car . . . ?

The Salmson was not always on form but it won the Racing Short Handicap at the 1931 BARC Meeting by a very narrow margin, from Lindsay Eccles’ 2-litre GP Bugatti, lapping at 93.44 m.p.h. from Baker’s similar car and the scratch GP Sunbeam driven by Bouts, his friend Charles Brackenbury delighted, as he had told Jack that he would win if he put his foot down and had had a fiver on the Salmson. Those races must have made up for an unsuccessful foray with one of the 1,750-c.c. TT Alfa Romeos.

By 1932 Bartlett took his racing more seriously, turning out with well-prepared cars and wearing white racing overalls. The Salmson had been bored out to 1,090 c.c. and painted red. At the Whitsun BARC Meeting it started four seconds behind Horton’s MG Midget in the Sprint Handicap and finished second to that car, exactly four seconds in arrears, both having lapped at the same speed, of 89.58 m.p.h. after which, rehandicapped 5 sec., it ran with the bigger cars in the Nottingham Lightning Mountain Handicap coming home third behind the scratch cars, Howe’s Bugatti and Straight’s Maserati, and relieving Sammy Davis’ Riley of the Class G Mountain lap-record, at 67.93 m.p.h. It did even better in the August Lightning Mountain Handicap, finishing in third place behind May’s Invicta and Shuttleworth’s Bugatti and improving its own class lap-record to 68.38 m.p.h.

The Salmson continued the good work in 1933, now entered as a Bartlett-Salmson, in deference to its somewhat altered appearance and no doubt to complement the advertisements that Bartlett’s firm took in the Brooklands race-cards. It opened with second place at Easter in the Addlestone Junior Short Handicap, lapping at 99.61 m.p.h., and only failing to catch Dunham’s Alvis speed 20 by 2/5th of a sec. Although unplaced in the Mountain Handicap, Bartlett again improved on his Class G lap-record, taking it to 69.05 m.p.h. It is amusing that for two seasons the car had raced with the chassis cracked on both sides, due to the cross stress of the scuttle fuel tank. The Scrutineers would have been alarmed and furious had they known, but repairs were effected satisfactorily by plating, with the precaution of chamfering the ends of the plates.

Bartlett had two nasty moments in the Salmson. On one occasion he went very high on the Members’ banking during a Mountain race and nearly finished up where S.C.H. Davis had crashed the 4½-litre Invicta not long before. On another occasion, the supercharger picked up a stone when Jack was flat-out along the Railway straight. Everything locked solid and the Salmson slid into the next available tuning-bay with a lurch and loud scream of tortured tyres. Alastair Miller looked up and shouted “Never seen such bloody awful driving in my life”, quite unaware of the seizure!

The Salmson was taken on tow to Southport, where its solid back axle was very suitable for sand racing. On one such visit it cleaned up every class except Class H, for which it was not eligible, and won the coveted 100-Mile Race. Its vulnerable parts were protected with wire-gauze and the car never suffered, as some did, from racing on the churned-up sands. Naturally, Bartlett was anxious to win the 100-Mile Race again and the next year he took the Salmson up again. It was now faster than ever and he stood a good chance. It was agreed that Jack’s ADC and cheery friend “Charles the Brack.” should signal from the pits how Jack was to drive, a special signal having been made for the purpose. As Bartlett came round this signal always read “Faster”. He responded by staying in the gears for an extra 200 r.p.m. and taking the corners on the very limit, sliding as never before. Still that signal said “Faster”. Jack could not understand it, because he had been leading easily for 20 laps. As he pulled in to be congratulated for winning by Brackenbury, he naturally queried the reason for the “Faster” command. “Oh”, said Charles, “I know you never overdrive and blow up your engine, old boy, so I just hung the signal out and went off to find some grog.” He never saw anything except the last lap. . .

In 1931 Bartlett had experience of long-distance racing. With Hope-Johnson, who was entered as “Lockwood”, they had a stab at Le Mans. The car was a supercharged six-cylinder Arrol-Aster, with a fabric four-seater body. The single-sleeve-valve Burt McCollum engine might not have seemed very suited to 1 23 hour race. But Birkin & Couper prepared the car at their Welwyn workshops, charging £1,000. As soon as they tried the car the drivers noticed that braking was very poor, due to whippy brake-shafts. However in the race the Arrol-Aster went quite well until it boiled its radiator dry. As it was not permitted to come in and replenish until a minimum distance had been covered the engine seized solid, in spite of slow driving. Conveniently, the car came to the rest at Les Hunaudieres on the Sunday morning, where the restaurant was situated, which, as Jack Bartlett is a connoisseur of good food and wine, seemed appropriate. . .

In 1932, the year he was elected a member of the BRDC, which you can only join on merit, Bartlett drove in another long-distance race, the BRDC “500” at Brooklands. He was co-driver to Ron Horton in the of-set Jarvis bodies MG Midget single-seater. They won the race at 96 m.p.h., in spite of the engine mis-firing almost all through, due to icing-up of the fuel in the long induction pipe between the blower and the engine. But the intended cruising speed of 6,000 r.p.m. could be held, and right at the end of the race a plug-change seemed to cure the mis-firing. Jack could never find the wire which dropped the flap on the side of the cockpit to let him out at pit-stops. The fatal accident to Clive Dunfee in the big Bentley marred the race, Bartlett having to swerve round his body as it lay on the banking. Apart from that, the main impression was the loneliness of driving for two-hour spells on what seemed a deserted track. The exhaust pipe broke away but was fixed during the last pit-stop and Horton drove on to an impressive victory. As the MG was his he took all the prize money and Jack got just a souvenir plaque. (This was not as disappointing as what happened to Julius turner, who had paid Cyril Paul £100 for a drive in a Riley in this same race. Not only was he obliged to disguise himself as “j. Phillip” for family reasons, but he was called in after about 100 miles and had to sit on the pit-counter watching Paul reel of the remaining 400 miles . . . !)

In 1933 there was to have been another crack at the BRDC “500”, Bartlett had teamed-up with Dennis to drive a Brooklands-model Riley 9. But in practice there was a flash up front and the engine seized up solid and the car, on locked back wheels, slid up the Byfleet banking. Jack steered as well as he could, looking over his shoulder, and just before it got to the lip of the banking the Riley slid down again and finished up in the ditch. While Bartlett was standing there, rather shaken, along came George Eyston, who remarked “Dear dear!” and took him off to the Aero Club for a large brandy. Returning to the wreck, it was discovered that the crankshaft had broken. The engine and gearbox had disintegrated and among the hot metal fragments it was seen that the pedals had been carried away. The car non-started!

Although the Bartlett-Salmson was still being raced in 1935 it was by then a bit long in the tooth. So in 1934 Jack began to use a 2.3 Monza Alfa Romeo. He had always preferred Alfas to Bugattis. This Monza was the car that the Triumph Company had dismantled in order to… its design when planning their 2-litre straight-eight triumph Dolomite. I have heard that it was re-assembled in a hurry and afterwards did not steer too well, this possibly being he cause of it moving up the baking when driven ay A.P. Hamilton in that sensational race in which the ex-Horton MG Midget, which had been sold to Fleming after it had won the aforesaid 500-Mile Race, went over the top, its driver, Clayton having a remarkable escape. Be that as it may, jack never got much out of it, perhaps for that reason. But he shared it with Brackenbury in the 1984 British Empire Trophy Race at Brooklands. They finished 7th, but made fourth fastest average speed over the artificial road-course, of 77.2 m.p.h., behind Cobb’s Monza. The car had hung together in spite of Brackenbury reporting that he had got 139 m.p.h. along the Byfleet banking, which represented 5,000 r.p.m. a good 650 r.p.m. above the specified safe limit. The only criticism recalled is a difficult gear-change and brake drums with steel liners that distorted with the heat.

Jack Bartlett was, as I have said, a great Alfa Romeo enthusiast. He found the Monza even more flexible than a 1750 and always liked the elegant Italian bodies on these cars and considered that they had the best road holding, performance, and reliability in the business, especially when compared to Bugattis. Incidentally, Jack remembers that when the Triumph Dolomite appeared at Olympia H.J. Aldington went round telling people to go to his stand to see Britain’s reply to it – in fact, the German 328 BMW with a Frazer Nash label added.

Bartlett’s cars were now prepared by T & T’s and Reg Tanner of Esso mixed the special alcohol fuels they required. For 1936 he turned over to the Alta, at first using it as a 1½-litre then as a 2-litre, the capacity being altered by using different liners and pistons. He scored two thirds with the car evolved by Geoffrey Taylor, in the 1936 October Mountain Handicap, lapping at 73.89 m.p.h. with the 1½-litre size engine, and in the 1937 coronation Mountain Handicap. Then it was back to a find red 2.9 monoposto Alfa Romeo, for 1937. This was a 1934 model with a ½-elliptic from suspension. Jack also had a 1½-litre ERA, the ex-Charles Martin car, in which Brackenbury tried to persuade him to install an Alfa Romeo engine. The result would have been spectacular but Bartlett demurred and sold the ERA. There was also another 1½-litre ERA, bought direct from Bourne, a car intended originally for Lilley & Skinner, but never used, as it did not match up to Jack’s idea of a properly-prepared racing car.

Then there was a blown 2.3 Bugatti, once raced by Glen Kidston, with which Jack cleaned-up every possible class in the Lewes Speed trials, good starts being ensured by carefully anointing the clutch with a little paraffin to give a modicum of slip on the line. Which reminds me that Jack used to run-in his racing engines meticulously and light a little fire beneath the Alta’s sump to make sure the oil was warm before revving-up. His friend Humphries had the opposite idea and believed that full-throttle running of a new engine from the start did no harm; he probably learnt this theory from Parry Thomas. Admittedly this never seemed to harm the engine of his very quick Amilcar Six but the joke was on Humphries, and much enjoyed by his Warren Street cronies, when he recounted the story of how he had re-built the car very carefully during the winter in a special little workshop at his Hampstead Road premises only to discover, with a Brooklands Meeting imminent, that it would have to be taken to pieces to get it out again.

I think perhaps Jack returned to racing a Bugatti because he was a close friend of “Mad Jack” Shuttleworth. He told me of the day when Shuttleworth rang him up and invited him to go shopping for a new Roll-Royce with his mother. The party duly arrived in Conduit Street, where the salesman was disgruntled to be told that Shuttleworth had one fairly new Rolls but as it was used for muck-spreading he needed another. Lady Shuttleworth tired of the discussion and said to Bartlett, “Come, we will go on to lunch at the Savoy.” There Lady Shuttleworth was ceremoniously escorted to her usual table by the head-waiter. Later “Mad jack” turned up and menus were promptly brought over to him. “I’ll have fish-and-chips,” said “Mad Jack”. This was quickly served, by a waiter whose nose was high in the air with distaste. But who other than Shuttleworth would have got his favourite dish at the Savoy?

Space is running out, and as Bartlett is contemplating a book about his motoring activities, it is only fair not to reveal all his adventures. I will close by recalling that having won the Southport 100 twice, he was anxious to do so a third time. He entered his Alta and would have won again, if he had not miscalculated the effect of the cut-up sand on fuel consumption, which increased by some 20% from this cause. Replenishment had to be made from a two-gallon can, which was sufficient for band-leader Billy cotton to take the lead. This was a big disappointment but it can be said that Jack Bartlett has led a very full life of motor trading and motor racing. Today he has retired to the South of France. He still drives far and at times fast, in a 1969 Porsche 911 which with a Weslake-tuned 2.7-litre engine gives Carrera acceleration to 100 m.p.h. and 25 m.p.g. it is his proud boast that never has he run a bearing or thrown a rod on his own cars, thanks to proper preparation and careful running-in. His favourite course was undoubtedly the Mountain circuit at Brooklands, where Jack took the For hairpin so fast that on three separate occasions he received letters from Percy Bradley, the Clerk-of-the-Course, informing him that he was “driving too fast”. As the Observers and Stewards had made no complaints at the time, Jack thought this very odd-and still does. He could only reply that he thought the whole purpose of motor-racing was to go faster than anyone else . . . !

Jack Bartlett had his last taste of motor racing in 1949, when he and Nigel Mann entered for Le Mans with one of the first 2½-litre Riley-engined Healey saloons. Bartlett took the first spell at the wheel, and was disappointed to find that after a very few laps the water and oil temperatures were above normal. No pit-stops were permitted until a certain minimum distance had been covered and Jack was further dismayed when he found that to get the temperatures back to normal meant running at a mere 60m.p.h. He crawled round for an hour or so and handed over to his partner. Mann shot off after replenishing and decided that if the car was going to blow up he might as well have some fun first. He used 5,500 r.p.m., which was 700 r.p.m above the stipulated safe maximum. The engine made no objections, so when he took over for the night stint, Jack used the same rev.-limit. They finished in 13th place and were presented to President Auriol, who had been watching the race. The unburstable Healy went on to run in races like the Hyeres 12-hours and at Nice, etc., always turning at the forbidden 5,500 r.p.m., although Freddie Dixon had made a concession to keeping the rods inside by fitted special big end bolts.

Today Jack Barlett, in retirement at Cannes, enjoys his Porsche, good food and wine, and looking back on a long career with cars. – W.B.