The things they say

I find it incredible that we are invited (Motor Sport, August 1987) to treat “with the contempt it deserves” Mr Paul Sheldon’s comment that “In retrospect it may be concluded that the building of the Track (Brooklands) was not in the long term interests of British motor racing”.

By his contribution to historical research through the Formula One Register, of which he is a co-founder, Mr Sheldon deserves, at the very least, a degree of respect, and he is not alone in his view of Brooklands.

Many contemporary historians share the view and it was widely held by the truly knowledgeable (ie. those who had experience of racing abroad) in the late Twenties and early Thirties. Sir Henry Birkin in particular was outspoken in his condemnation of the track, and that at a time when there was no alternative venue on mainland Britain. Those who dismiss the view “with contempt” merely demonstrate their narrow-mindedness and, worse, ignorance of motor racing in an international context.

While Brooklands existed, there was a ready-made excuse not to permit road racing. While it remained the only racing venue in Great Britain, it put a skew into the development of the sport, taking us away from the European tradition and leading only to the construction of specials which might beat the handicapper but which were useless anywhere else.

Far from encouraging the popular spread of the sport, it channelled what interest there was into a narrow format. If we refer to William Boddy’s history of the track, we find that fields were pathetically small and the racing, since it mainly consisted of handicaps, was incomprehensible to all but the most dedicated fans. Nobody cares who wins a handicap. Consider Brooklands’ slogan, “The Right Crowd And No Crowding”. Why was there no crowding? The answer is simple, the crowds were small. Why were the crowds small? People did not go. And when you read accounts of what was on offer, you understand why.

In Europe, the annual road race in a town was the centre of a weekend’s festival. It may only have happened once a year but it led to a broad-based popular support of motor racing. Such support only occurred in Britain after WW2, when airfield circuits allowed the sport to be taken to every comer of the kingdom. Only when that happened did the great British motor racing tradition begin, even though the term “airfield circuit” became almost a term of abuse in blimpish circles.

Brooklands contributed nothing to motor racing after WW1, by which time it was out of date. All it did was to encourage insularity. It is utter nonsense to suggest that without Brooklands there would have been no racing on mainland Britain until Donington opened in 1933.

Had the concrete white elephant not existed, the arguments for real road racing would have been irresistible, and that would have been to the advantage of both the sport and the British motor car industry. Brooklands served only to thwart the growth of motor racing as a popular sport in Britain.

Since Brooklands represents the whole of British motor racing history from 1907 to 1933, it is right it should be commemorated with a museum, but to suggest that its influence was other than disastrous is to demonstrate a peculiar reading of history. William Boddy’s history does detail all the facts, and the facts fully support Mr Sheldon’s comment.

Mark L Wheeler, Chichester, Sussex

Mr Sheldon’s Formula One research may be commendable, but he has no right to denigrate Brooklands. Birkin was critical chiefly of the heavy handicaps imposed on him; he had to withdraw other remarks about the Track as they were libellous.

It is nonsense to say that if Brooklands had not been built we should have had road racing on mainland Britain. This requires the passing of an Act of Parliament, which is why the the Phoenix Park GP, and IoM Mannin Beg and Mannin Moar races were run elsewhere. Many of the cars raced at Brooklands were usable on the road or were modern GP cars, and the Mountain and Campbell circuits perhaps tested roadholding and braking as effectively as road circuits, as to a lesser degree did other special courses devised at the Track.

Short handicap races were certainly not incomprehensible to the spectators, because first past the post was the winner, and the expanse of the place was as much responsible for the “no crowding” slogan as its attendances. Photographs show the Fork Stand and the railings alongside the Track overflowing with spectators at 1930s meetings. In comparison, what were the attendance figures at post-war airfield circuits?

Of course track racing is no substitute for road racing, as the 1937 and 1938 Donington GPs proved, but to say that Brooklands contributed nothing to motor racing and car development after WW1 is, to say the least, an extreme view. It should be remembered that Brooklands was in use for 27 years, whereas road raring still does not take place on mainland Britain, Birmingham’s SuperPrix apart. WB

Hidden talent?

Just a thought, triggered by the article “Looking back with Alan Brown” (Motor Sport, July 1987), and words I heard Jackie Stewart utter on TV recently. He said that motor racing today is better than it has ever been. Is it?

In some respects yes, but isn’t it sad that so many vested interests have structured the sport in such a way that the path to the top is tortuous and constrictive, leaving no opportunity for sheer talent to burst upon the scene, as did John Michael Hawthorn on that long ago Easter Monday of 1952?

Alan Brown was so right in recognising Hawthorn’s talent, after seeing him testing the Cooper-Bristol before that day, as were the organisers, the BARC, after the first two winning drives of the young man from Farnham. Not only did he win, against, admittedly, less than the strongest opposition, but he was also fastest in practice, thus dominating these races. As a result the BARC added his car, entered by his father Leslie Hawthorn, to the starters in Event 8, the Richmond Trophy race for F1 cars (entry by invitation only), where using Alan Brown’s allocated race number, 10, Mike finished second to Gonzales in the Thinwall Special. This international meeting of short races gave our first World Champion the opportunity to display his brilliance, leading him rapidly into the world of Grand Prix racing. That couldn’t happen so quickly today when “motor racing is so much better”, could it?

DJS Rowlands, Newcastle Emlyn, Dyfed

Thank you, Silverstone

Having attended the British Grand Prix for a good number of years now, I feel! must write and congratulate Silverstone on the running of the Grand Prix this year.

On recollection the whole attitude of the staff, stewards, security guards and police is totally more relaxed and friendlier than the other place. The car parking and traffic arrangements again seemed to go nice and smoothly, and the day was made all the more enjoyable by a great race (better than Carlos slipping by Niki in ’78) won by our Nige.

D Wilcox, Bath, Avon

No thanks Silverstone

On July 12 I attended the British Grand Prix at Silverstone at tremendous expense, which I would repeat for what proved to be a successful day’s racing — more so in the light of Mansell’s well deserved victory which confirms his position as number one driver of the day.

My friend and I thoroughly enjoyed an excellent day out, only spoiled by the gross inefficiency of Silverstone Officials, or should I say lack of officials, in organising the flow of traffic from the car parks.

I was unfortunate enough to be in the “red” car park, where the only notice of exit was a painted board at one end of the field which was indistinguishable from a distance. This led single-file traffic, would you believe, through an empty field into another car park (each with approximately 20,000 cars). You can imagine the chaos. Traffic was stationary for hours, and not an official to be seen.

This is further confirmation that Silverstone is not a suitable alternative to Brands Hatch. The Silverstone officials certainly lacked expertise in catering for a large-scale event which Brands has managed successfully for years. For my part I would be very reluctant to return to Silverstone for an experience I could certainly do without.

AG Taylor, Redhill, Surrey


I hope this photograph will stir the memory of one or more of your readers. It is a 1932 Continental PII Rolls-Royce belonging to an Indian prince living in Paris, and originally wore a Windover body. In the late 1930s he had it rebodied by Figoni & Falaschi.

Jack Bond bought it in 1952 and shipped it to the States. It passed through a number of hands there going downhill at the time, and when the present owner Geoff Davies of 21 Regency, bhoiwada Road, Bandra West Bombay bought it ,it was in very poor shape indeed.

He is having it completely rebuilt by Gurney Nutting in Abingdon and is desperately anxious to build up a history for it.

A key witness is Jack Bond, but he seems to have vanished without trace. Can anyone put us in touch with him?

David Scott-Moncrieff, Leek, Staffordshire

My old Morgan!

It’s always a surprise to pick up a magazine and see a photo of a car you have owned and the article “60 Years of Motoring” (Motor Sport, June 1987) produced a photo of a Morgan 4/4 (CTR 918) that I bought from a trader at London’s Staples Corner—I knew no better then — in about 1959-60.

It was some while before I found out it had a Standard engine, but it served me well in spite of discovering two cracks in the chassis on the way home. In fact I used the car quite a lot in around Cornwall and for returning to Sussex on leave from the Fleet Air Arm base at Culdrose.

By the time I bought it, the Morgan had the most curious water injection device fitted, and removal made not one ounce of difference to any aspect of the performance. I sold the car to a fellow Royal Navy officer who never checked the oil, as a result of which he blew it up — in Liverpool! think—and I know not what happened then. Yes, there was an oil pressure gauge fitted , but some people never look, I guess.

In the July edition, whose inspiration was it to run an ad for Lorus watches—address Vanwall Road, Maidenhead — next to the article on Alan brown who was the first Vanwall works driver? Do we know any more of Vanwall Road? When was it so named, I wonder?

Mic Comber, Andover, Hampshire

Registration letters

Is there anyone alive who remembers how county registration letters were chosen? Driving around, I am puzzled by the apparent random allocation of many of them, so much so that I feel I should like to know the background to it and should be grateful if you or any of your readers could give me a lead.

UM Goulding, Eynsham, Oxfordshire

This is a very interesting query, can anyone provide information? WB

Role reversal

I was fascinated to read in the eulogistic write-up of the new 12-cylinder engined BMW in The Times: “BMW has restricted the 12’s top speed to 155 mph to emphasise its role as a luxury grand tourer and not as a road racer.”

Robin Howard, Titchfield, Hampshire