The excellent Brooklands Relived event

Posted by Chris Graham on 28th February 2022

The Old Glory team reports from the excellent Brooklands Relived event, held at the Brooklands Museum at Weybridge, in Surrey.

Brooklands Relived event

Excellent Brooklands Relived event: Getting ready for the day ahead is the mighty 24 litre Napier-Railton with its marine engine.

Remarkably there were two cars here that took part in that very first GP and we came across the 1925 Halford Special first. The chassis of this car, No. 1916, started life as a Bamford & Martin (later Aston Martin) that was crashed in 1924 and bought by Major Frank Halford, who rebuilt it as firstly the AM Halford and later the Halford Special. Amazingly the Major designed and built two 1.5-litre six-cylinder engines with twin overhead camshafts and started off with a Roots supercharger, later changed to a Berk supercharger.

It ran in the JCC 200 mile race at Brooklands in 1925 with 95bhp under the bonnet and the following year it won two Brooklands Outer Circuit races. It made a fastest lap of 109.94 mph.

Frank Halford raced this car at least 12 times at Brooklands during 1926 where he achieved three wins and various places; his only retirement was in the 1926 Grand Prix, after 270 miles when lying fourth. Halford sold the car to later World speed record holder Captain George Eyston (Mr Castrol Oil) who drove the car at the French Grand Prix where it came 4th. However the car was dismantled in 1930 by its next owner, Viscount Ridley.

Brooklands Relived event

1929 Bentley UL4471 – the company were three-time Le Mans winners in 1927-29.

The second engine was modified to keep the magnetos dry and put into a speedboat that sank not long after! The boat with its famous engine lay on the bottom of the water for two years. The present owner of the Halford Special traced the original parts in the 1970s and re-assembled the Halford Special back to its original condition, a remarkable feat. It was involved in a bad accident at Silverstone in 2008 and has since been totally rebuilt. It was demonstrated at the ‘Relived’ event and is on long-term loan to Brooklands.

The other car that took part in that first GP was the 1926/7 Delage 15-S8. In 1926 the Grand Prix formula changed, out went the riding mechanic but the seat space remained and 1.5 litre engines were required.

French Delage designer Albert Lory came up with an engine that was still competitive ten years later in the hands of Briton Dick Seaman of course, in the then voiturette class (what we would call F2 these days) that was dominated by the British ERA cars at the time.

Brooklands Relived event

The 1911 Napier Colonial model was exported in some numbers and a London-built car.

The 1926 engine featured twin Roots supercharges in the straight-eight, double OHC engine with integral cast iron twin-valve cylinder head with aluminium crankcase. The con-rods feature roller bearings as do the nine main bearings. All told the engine ran at 8,000 rpm and produced an amazing 170hp. It ran on methanol/petrol and does not feature any gasket joints whatsoever.

  In 1926 Robert Sénéchal ran away with the race in one of these cars which were extremely hot in the cockpit thanks to the centre exhaust, with Louis Wagner finishing third in a similar car. During the following winter Albert Lory substantially modified the cars making them cooler to drive by moving the exhaust arrangement and making them 25 percent lighter at the same time and they now featured a single supercharger out front on the engine.

The Delage 15-S8 cars were the ones to beat in 1927 and took five GP wins and the World Constructors Championship.

Brooklands Relived event

The superb Brooklands Clubhouse with the late model 1968 BMC WK40 FYY584H tanker on the right most of this model with Austin connotations was exported.

Robert Benoist won the 1927 British Grand Prix in the Museum’s actual car. Newspaper owner and journalist Sir Malcolm Campbell purchased it in 1929 before moving it on quickly to W B ‘Bummer’ Scott. He took a number of records with this car at Brooklands and Montlhéry, France.

Later on it was owned by Prince Chula of Siam who ran his relative’s ‘B Bira’ racing team, but this car was not a success compared to Dick Seaman’s much-modified example and was dismantled. In 1964 the cars’ remains passed to Alan Burnard who rebuilt it with an ERA engine and ENC pre-selector gearbox. However, it eventually ended up with the correct type of Delage engine. It was in this running condition when it was bequeathed to the Brooklands Museum in 2012. Sadly while at Goodwood the engine self-destructed and it’s hoped that something can be sorted out so that the car can be running for its 100th birthday in five years time.

Standing next to the engine-less car was a brilliant scale model of the 1927 car’s engine by renowned model engineer Mike Sayers. So far this working model has taken him 3,000 hours to make over four years. It was a wonderful sight and it was an honour to talk to him.   

Brooklands Relived event

How to build your arm muscles up as the lap record holding 1933 Napier-Railton is taken around the finishing straight.

Have you been to Brooklands before? On the day we were there it was celebrating the Brooklands Trust’s 30th birthday, if motoring and aviation is your ‘thing’ then this is a great place to visit.

As is well known, Brooklands was the world’s first purpose-built motor racing circuit with 30ft high banked sections on the 2.75 mile, 100ft wide track. It was designed by Colonel H C L Holden and built by local landowners Hugh and Ethel Locke King on 330 acres of their estate at Weybridge, Surrey. Work commenced in late 1906 using Fowler single-cylinder ploughing engines clearing the land and it is known that Locke King even owned a David Roberts-designed Hornsby oil-engined tractor, of which only two exist in the world today.

It took nine months to build, but the costs escalated and Hugh Locke King’s health declined as did his personal fortune (worth £16 million in today’s money). His wife Ethel Locke King had to take control of the project and the debts were swept up by the family. The track was opened on 17 June 1907 when Ethel Locke King led a parade around the track with her powerful Itala car.     

Sussex’s Selwyn Francis Edge, racing driver and director of D Napier & Son, whose car works was at Lambeth where they made approximately 100 cars in 1907, gave the track and Napier great publicity in June 1907. He set a 24-hour record when he covered 1,581 miles (2,544km) at an average speed of 65.905mph (106.06km/h). The L48 60hp 9.6 litre six-cylinder engined car was called Samson and the record he set amazingly lasted some 18 years.

Brooklands Relived event

The Halford Special went like a dream at the Relived event on 7 August.

Napier’s racing success had started before 1907 when S F Edge won the first ever  Gordon Bennett race in Ireland in 1902. However people forget the first race winner at the Brooklands circuit was Napier engineer H C Tryon in a 40hp car on 6 July 1907, when all the drivers wore jockey silks in line with the idea that motor racing should emulate horse racing!

Besides the motor racing Brooklands was a major centre for aircraft design, construction and flight testing for most of the 20th century. From A V Roe’s first trials here in 1907-08, through many decades of manufacture by such companies as BAC, Bleriot, British Aerospace, Hawker, Sopwith and Vickers, no other place in Britain, possibly even in the world, had so much going on in this area. Some 18,600 new aircraft of nearly 250 types were first flown, manufactured or assembled at Brooklands; the place was just full of technology.

In June 1908 A V Roe made significant taxiing and towed flight trials in his Roe 1 biplane at Brooklands and in the Lea Valley in 1909. He became the first Englishman to fly in a powered aeroplane of his own design. In 1909 the middle of the track was cleared to create one of Britain’s first aerodromes, enabling Louis Paulhan to give Britain’s first public flying demonstration that October.

Soon other pioneers were attracted to Brooklands. The best known of these was Tommy Sopwith who learned to fly here in 1910 and subsequently formed and led the Sopwith Aviation Company at Kingston. The WW1 Sopwith Camels, Snipes, Pups and Triplanes that were all test flown and delivered from Brooklands.

In 1915 Vickers started manufacturing aircraft at Brooklands and progressively extended their premises with the growing demand from military contracts. The first true Vickers fighter to go into production at Brooklands was the Gunbus, said to be the world’s first aircraft specifically designed to mount a machine gun. This was followed by the more successful twin-engined Vimy, a long-range bomber.

Brooklands Relived event

The 1926/7 Delage 15-S8; parts of it took part in the first British Grand Prix and won the 1927 race.

In September 1939 when WW2 began, the Vickers-Armstrong and Hawker companies had exclusive use of the Brooklands site for military aircraft production. The Sydney Camm-designed Hawker Hurricane fighter was first flown here in November 1935 and some 3,012 Hurricanes were built. Of the 11,461 Vickers Wellington bombers built by 1943, 2,515 were built at Brooklands. All 18 variants were developed and test flown here too. In fact some 5,748 military aircraft were built here during this period but unfortunately the track was damaged by Germany bombing.

In 1946 Vickers purchased the site for £330,000 and proceeded to design and build a new range of civil and military aircraft at Brooklands, including Britain’s first post-war airliner, the Vickers Viking. In 1962 the prototype VC10 plane was built here. The 53 production VC10s were flown out of Brooklands for completion and test flying at Wisley.

In 1960 Vickers-Armstrongs became part of the newly formed British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) with its HQ at Brooklands. Work continued on such aircraft as the ill-fated TSR2, designed in the climate of the Cold War but cancelled in 1965, and the popular BAC One-Eleven.

Moving on, in 1969 the world’s first supersonic passenger aircraft made its inaugural test flight at Toulouse but it was at Brooklands that the first preliminary design meeting was held in chairman Sir George Edwards’ office and more Concordes were built at Brooklands than at any other manufacturing site.

Something different – Tyrrell 001 that Jackie Stewart debuted at the non-Championship Oulton Park F1 Gold Cup races on 21 August 1970. It set the fastest lap, but retired.

Then in 1977, British Aerospace was formed by the merger of BAC with Hawker Siddeley Aviation but the factory at Brooklands was already contracting in size and no longer built complete aircraft. In July 1986, the factory’s closure was announced and demolition took place in 1989-90. Today The Heights Business Park and a housing estate occupy the site of the former East Works.

The last motor race meeting ever to be held here at Brooklands was on 7 August 1939, remembering there was not only outer circuit racing here by then, with the mountain circuit and other road circuit variations offered  – the Brooklands management having noted the success of Donnington Park and more locally at Crystal Palace.

However the most famous and fastest outer circuit racing car still exists today and thanks to lottery funding is part of the collection – it was demonstrated with some gusto on Saturday 7 August for all to enjoy.

The Napier-Railton was funded by fur trader John Cobb, designed by Reid Railton and the 24 litre Napier-engined car was built by Thomson & Taylor on this very site. Its first race at Brooklands was in August 1933. On 7 October 1935, Cobb set a Brooklands lap record of 143.44 mph (216.36 km/h), never to be beaten. Cobb won a number of high profile races with this unbelievable car including the JCC 200. After being heavily handicapped its time at Brooklands came to a close in 1937. By then the pioneering concrete track was in poor condition there is some spectacular original b/w film shown of this car in action at the track in the museum complex.

The Museum has two MGs, a 1932 M and a 1935 PA. You can see the outer banking in the background.

The car became a film star when in 1949 Romulus Film Company hired the car from John Cobb and used it in cinema films Pandora and The Flying Dutchman, featuring James Mason, and the later film was recently shown on Talking Pictures TV. Some of the car sequences are speeded up!

In 1951, the car was sold to the GQ Parachute Company from Woking, who used it for parachute testing at Dunsfold airfield. The car then passed through many private owners including Rt Hon Patrick Lindsey who commissioned Crosland Engineering (later Crosthwaite & Gardiner of Buxted) to rebuild the car and he actually raced it at Silverstone – what a handful of a car even for Patrick! Eventually the car came home to its rightful place at the Brooklands Museum thanks to Heritage Lottery Funding.

After WW2 everyone hoped motor racing would come back to its original home, but as we explained earlier Vickers-Armstrong purchased the track in 1946 from the shareholders and that was that.

Thanks to Bill Boddy, the editor of Motor Sport, and others in 1957 Vickers-Armstrongs was persuaded to organise a Brooklands Golden Jubilee Meeting in association with the BARC, VSCC, BRMCC and others. It was a wonderful occasion for the surviving drivers and riders of those pre-war days. Lord Brabazon of Tara unveiled the memorial, which is still in place today. We then move to 1969 when Godalming Round Table organised a ‘Brooklands Reunion’ which was very well attended.

Racing bikes are very much part of the museum with the 1928 Earl Cotton JAP replica the ultimate outer circuit racer.

From this event the Brooklands Society was created with formidable members including Lord Montagu of Beaulieu and Bill Boddy of course. The Society held reunions annually and helpers spent many hours removing the undergrowth around what was left of the circuit and the famous Test Hill.

In 1977 Weybridge Museum staged an exhibition ‘Wings over Brooklands’ curated by Morag Barton with help from British Aerospace Weybridge, the Vintage Aircraft Flying Association (formed in 1965) and the Brooklands Society. The exhibition highlighted the uniquely important role that Brooklands had played in the history of International aviation and motoring. Following its success, Morag led a move to establish a museum dedicated to the history of Brooklands.

Following British Aerospace’s announcement that they were going to sell off the most historic 40 acres of the original Brooklands Motor Racing Circuit in 1983, a 99-year lease was entered into between Elmbridge Borough Council and Gallaher Ltd for 30 of the 40 acres of the site, to create a museum at Brooklands.

In 1985 the Brooklands Clubhouse and 100 metres of the track were restored by Gallaher and Elmbridge Borough Council, and the Vickers Wellington bomber ‘R’ for Robert that had been recovered from Loch Ness came to Brooklands.

The well known Ivan Dutton (81), who set up a Bugatti sales/repair business in 1980 and started racing in 1983, was bedding in the Bugatti Type 51 which his son Tim has just built up, it went like a dream.

In 1987 the Brooklands Museum Trust was launched, with Sir Peter Masefield as its first chairman and Morag Barton was appointed Museum director. Many major features of the site were restored or recreated, with Test Hill re-opened and Members’ Bridge reconstructed in 1988. The end of that year saw the final closure of the British Aerospace factory at Brooklands. Throughout the 80s and 90s the collection of Vickers and Hawker aircraft continued to grow.

July 2001 saw the official opening of the ‘Grand Prix Exhibition’ in the Jackson Shed and just next door in 2006 saw Mercedes-Benz World open and the main visitor car park for the museum moved off-site to the other side of the river.

One of the most significant acquisitions in the Museum’s history was in 2003 when Concorde G-BBDG arrived. After extensive restoration, it was opened to the public in 2006 and has been welcoming visitors to the half hour ‘Concorde Experience’ ever since.

The oldest Aston Martin in the world, the 1921 A3 seen in its 100th year having been recently refurbished by the Aston Martin Trust. It had been a winner at Brooklands in the 20s and was one of six prototypes and carries an oil clutch.

In 2009 the replica Vickers Vimy arrived on site. This aircraft been used to re-enact the first Trans-Atlantic flight, and long distance flights to Australia and South Africa. The Concorde simulator was opened in the same year and being taught how to fly Concorde is as popular as ever.

The freehold of the Museum site was gifted to Brooklands Museum Trust by Japan Tobacco International in January 2010. In August 2011 the new London Bus Preservation Trust’s ‘Cobham Hall’ Museum opened and houses a remarkable collection of approximately 35 buses and coaches. About two thirds are owned by the Trust and the remainder by individual members. Many of the collection are fully restored and are used to give rides around the site and local locations, as was happening on 7 August.

Allan Winn’s time as director here saw the relocation and re-interpretation of the amazing ‘Aircraft Factory’, which has turned out to be a big hit. The event programme on 7 August told us that over the next 10-20 years the Museum is to transform its experience by heavily investing in preserving and restoring its buildings, collections and circuit. The Brooklands ‘Masterplan’ will see new interpretations right through the site, including new workshops in the ‘Motoring Village’ which will be more user friendly. All aircraft will be placed under one roof and a new café and ‘play room’ is to be created, before hopping on the new ‘Land Train’ taking people around the site. These then are just some of the exciting things for the future that are well in the planning stages already.

Going well during its demonstration run is the 1928 Morris-Commercial MC UD419 of the London British School of Mines.

Volunteers have been instrumental in the success of the Museum since its earliest times, in restoration, research, fundraising and engaging with visitors and that continues today as seen at the ‘Relived’ event, particularly the 95th anniversary cake.

Why not become a Brooklands member and support the Museum? Membership has some great benefits with some excellent events for members only, including high-calibre evening speakers. See: brooklandsmuseum.com/brooklands-members for more details.

The 1916 White & Poppe-engined Dennis fire engine that can easily do 40mph. It belongs to the London British School of Mines.

Don’t forget you can see more of the Museum on Yesterday TV’s ‘Secrets of the Museum.’ The second series is being filmed right now.

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