Bill Boddy

The day Rolls-Royce won a GP
The Spanish Grand Prix of 1913 was suggested by King Alfonso of Spain, and ran in baking heat

It cannot be disputed that when Henry Royce (later Sir) introduced the 40/50hp Silver Ghost Rolls-Royce to the world in 1906 those motorists who appreciated quality, style, and the uncanny ability, in those days, to function in almost complete quietness it justified the slogan ‘The Best Car in the World’. But though the Ghost’s reputation has lived on, few realise that it once added a grand prix victory to Rolls-Royce’s many achievements.

The Ghost’s worth had been proved by various RAC-observed tests and by competing in the 1907 Scottish Reliability Trial and then continuing for a total distance of 15,000 trouble-free miles, after which the Ghost was stripped down for an RAC inspection; the only new parts needed cost £2 2s/7d.

In 1908 Rolls-Royce entered two somewhat special cars for the RAC 2000-mile International Touring Car trial, in which their chief tester, Eric Platford, won his class by such a large margin that he was able to tour at 55.8mph in the concluding 200-mile Brooklands race. Later, both cars were driven there at just under 66mph lap speeds. A stern test came in the famous Austrian Alpine Trials. In 1912 Radley’s Ghost had stopped on the 1-in-4 Katschberg hill; to counter this momentary disgrace, three Ghosts were entered for the 1645-mile 1913 trial, which they completely dominated, although Audi took the Team award. Radley had entered his own Rolls-Royce, which also performed impeccably, cruising at 70mph.

The company preferred tests to racing, but in 1911 they took to Brooklands with a Ghost with a single-seater body and high axle ratio. It did 101.8mph. This has to be compared with the 103.84mph for one hour by a 41/2-litre Talbot with a more agricultural four-cylinder engine, to the Royce’s 7.4-litre six-cylinder power unit, but the smaller one may have been race-tuned.

Before 1915, the new privately owned 1906 TT car won a Brooklands race and scored three second places. But had the Hon Charles Rolls, who became Royce’s partner, not been killed in an unnecessary accident, there might have been more Rolls-Royce racing, because Rolls had won very easily the 1906 TT on a 20hp Royce.

Rolls lost his life when flying his Wright aeroplane at a Bournemouth flying meeting in 1910, when this pioneer pilot and balloonist had too much faith, with others, in the flying machines of those days, and the tailplane broke away while turning too steeply when competing a landing contest.

The Prince Henry Two-Thousand Mile Trial organised by the RAC and the SMMT included five notorious Scottish passes and six English ones. Platford competed with a 40/50hp Ghost. It was fastest on the hills and managed 20.2mpg in the fuel consumption test, but the outright winner was a Vauxhall.

Apart from the official performances, private owners were sometimes seen with their very dignified Rolls-Royces in competitions. In 1909 W Blamire’s Royce won a race on Saltburn sands, and in 1910 S Barber’s Rolls-Royce made FTD at the Aston Clinton hillclimb. In 1914 Miss Cooper’s Rolls-Royce won its class at the Porthcawl sand races.

Two Rolls-Royce were entered for the Spanish GP of 1913. The event was suggested by the monarch King Alfonso, who started the race. It was a very, very strenuous long-distance touring car trial for which the cars were required to have four-seater bodies with mudguards, lamps, hoods and two spare wheels. Bonnets were sealed and coolant could not be replenished.

Moreover, the loads to be carried were based on rpm at full power (did the officials rely on makers’ figures?). The English Talbot was thus heavily handicapped, with 3000rpm compared to 1850 for the Rolls-Royces. There were time controls and fuel-consumption checks.

Hispano-Suiza did not enter – did they fear that His Majesty, who favoured their cars, might turn to another make, even briefly, if they did not win? Did the King ever have a Rolls-Royce?

The race distance for the three laps was 192 miles, not comparable with that of the French GPs – the 1906 French event was 970 miles over two days, and 477 miles in 1907 and 1908. But the Spanish course was of Targa Florio severity, with the 1886ft-high, eight-mile long Navacerrada Pass in the Guadarrama mountains to be tackled twice, and another 2460ft, 10.5-mile pass in addition. But the road surface was described as very good.

As the 17 starters lined up at 10am at La Granja about 60 miles from Madrid, the heat was 90deg in the shade. The winner, after 3hr 34min 12sec at an average of 54mph was Don Carlos de Salamanca, the Spanish representative for Rolls-Royce, as he would be up to 1926. Second was the Marquis de Aulencia, driving a Lorraine-Dietrich, 3hr 37min 4sec in arrears, and Eric Platford brought the other Rolls-Royce home third in 3hr 39min 56sec. The varied makes they had defeated were, in finishing order, Theophile-Schneider, Minerva, Th. Schneider, Panhard, Mercedes, Opel and Delaunay-Belleville, the last taking more than five hours.

Two more Marquises and other titled people had taken part, but they were hardly racing motorists, yet there were few accidents and no serious injuries. The well-known French driver Rigal crashed his Sunbeam in practice and non-started. The Talbot was going well until it developed lubrication trouble, and a Humber, the Excelsior and the SCAR also retired. The race was never repeated in this form, in spite of the King’s hopes, and Spain did not have a proper grand prix until 1923.

Audi isnt the first firm to make history with a diesel
Heavy oil and heavy weather

Diesel engined competition cars are news, with Audi winning the Le Mans 24 Hours with one for the first time, and also finishing third with its compression-ignition R10 Tdi cars, Peugeot preparing a diesel racer for next year's Le Mans, and the bid for 300mph in the JCB Dieselmax at Daytona in August proceeding, for Wing-Commander Andy Green to drive.

It was a pouring wet day when I went to Brooklands in 1933 to see George Eyston demonstrate a Vanden Plas saloon powered by an 8.8-litre AEC diesel engine as used in London buses. In front of this odd car George stood getting soaked before a sea of open umbrellas, having driven it at 104.86mph over a kilometre, 101.98mph over a mile, with a best run at 106mph. That beat the American C L Cummings's diesel speed of 100.75mph. Such records were not really recognised then, but George knew they soon would be, and he and Bert Denly then took long-distance compression-ignition records at Montlhery with this AEC 'Safety Special' of up to 24 hours (2329 miles) at 97.05mph, until a wheel fell off.

The diesel car had achieved useful publicity, and by 1936 Eyston's 9.2-litre Rolls-Royce V12 sleeve-valve Ricardo-engined 'Flying Spray' had the compression-ignition speed up to 159mph on Bonneville salt flats.

I had wanted to know what chassis was used for the AEC saloon, and going to some function Eyston got into the lift with me, so I asked him shyly. He said: "A Chrysler". Years later I lunched with this very charming gentleman and was told a lot about his long spell of record-breaking, including his successful Land Speed Records. Unlike Campbell and Segrave he was not given a knighthood. "I didn't mind," he said. "The French knew what I had achieved and awarded me the Legion d'Honneur."

Long after this I wanted a copy photograph of the 1933 saloon and was told of a reliable photocopier at Lambister Common in the depths of Wales. The old chap astonished me by recognising the largelyforgotten car. He had worked at AEC's when it was being prepared there, which seemed to confirm the bus engine aspect.

Thus did diesel-engined cars receive early publicity. But let's not forget that Mercedes-Benz was first with acceptable sparkless cars you could buy in the 1930s.


The versatility of Sir Stirling Moss OBE has been covered in Motor Sport recently, and his great racing accomplishments likewise. He was also not averse to taking a primitive veteran car through the celebrated Brighton Run (date this year November 5), as this picture him on Fred Bennett's 19 Cadillac reminds me.

Those interested in all aspects of Brooklands may like to know of research by Tony Hutchins and Denis Corley in Airfield Review. Track buildings from 1907 to 2006 are shown and the developments described, with large maps. There is a picture of how the Track was camouflaged during WWII, but despite that, 87 people were killed in a raid on Vickers Airfield Review is obtainable from Raymond Towler, 33A Ea St, Thefford, Norfolk IR24 2AB.

The ERA Club's informative Newsletter covers the activit' of those racing these excitin cars, from the commencem of Raymond Mays' venture in 1934. The ERAs may have started as 1 1/2-litre cars, but th were highly impressive, as th remain today. It is good that so many have survived. The competition results of 2004-5 occupy 13 pages of the Spring 2006 issue. Other articles cover ERA rivals, Ron Flockart's ERAs, the G-type failure, and a list of all ERA owners from 1934-2006.