Brooklands sets up the new scoreboard, a fresh glimpse of 1935
The scoreboard, situated at the edge of the paddock on the finishing straight, was constructed originally after the opening of the track in 1907. Since this was the first purpose-built motor racing circuit in the world there was no template to follow. Instead, the contractors turned to horse-racing convention and borrowed the distinctive design lock, stock and rivet. It wasn’t the only hint of an equestrian precedent. Drivers were originally decked out in jockey colours until the numbering of cars took over.
The circuit’s finishing straight, too, has been refurbished for the occasion. Over 75 years ago, when the circuit was taken over for wartime aircraft production, an ugly corrugated hangar was plopped dead centre on the finishing straight. It has now been removed — and a new aircraft hangar constructed nearby — so that the finishing straight, which saw so many triumphs up to 1939, is once more intact and usable.
Yesterday’s event was one of the most popular I’ve attended in recent years and the crowds were reminiscent of the old photographs of Brooklands on race days. Just the clothes have changed, although several brave souls went to great efforts to don period gear for the day. There was no doubting the heritage of the pre-war cars on display, however. Again, it was one of the largest gatherings I’ve seen, with some pristine examples of Rolls Royce, Lagonda and, of course Bentley which is almost synonymous with the name Brooklands. Not to be outdone, just in case we run away with the thought that everyone owned a Bentley, more humdrum names such as Austin, Morris and Ford were in evidence. One, the utilitarian Trojan, was the humdrumest of the lot, but wonderfully presented for all that.
While Brooklands is known mainly for car racing, it was also a major venue for motorcycle racing during the 1920s and 1930s. It was also not the sole preserve of the rich playboy racers of the day. My old friend and colleague on "The Motor Cycle" magazine, Vic Willoughby (long since departed for the great workshop in the sky) used to tell me about his pre-war racing exploits at Brooklands.
With little cash to spare, he transported his racing bike from his home in East London to Brooklands, south west of the capital, on a ramshackle wooden sidecar attached to an elderly 1920s Scott twin. These two-stroke Scott engines had a reputation for coughing during idling and reversing the crankshaft. On more than one occasion Willoughby found himself, and racing ensemble, careering backwards as he accelerated from traffic lights on the way over to Brooklands. Fortunately, as he told me, he usually managed to get his 350cc KTT Velocette moving in the desired direction round the banked circuit.
On another occasion, as recounted by Artrhur Bourne in his book "Behind the Scenes in the Vintage Years", Willoughby— wearing his racing leathers — pushed the Velocette seven miles to Waterloo Station in London, took the train to Weybridge and then pushed the bike for another mile (up and down a couple of hills as I know from walking the stretch) before arriving at the track and competing. They don't build 'em like that any more.
Vic Willoughby was a prolific writer on motorcycle racing and design and you can find some of his books here.
John Cobb legacy
But without doubt the most famous vehicle to have mounted the Brooklands banked circuit was the monstrous 24-litre Napier-Railton. Commissioned by John Cobb and designed by Reid Railton, this car was built at Brooklands by Thompson and Taylor in 1933. In 1936 the car set a 24-hour record of 150.6 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats in the USA and, a year earlier, John Cobb established a lap record of 143.44mph on the Brooklands Outer Circuit. It has never been beaten. It was in this car that John Cobb won the 1935 BRDC 500-mile race which is featured on the new track scoreboard. In 1997 the museum trust was able to buy the Napier-Railton with the help of funding from the National Lottery. Yesterday, the legendary racing car was fired up and driven once again — it gets an outing several times a year. In the photograph you can see it being polished prior to the demonstration by young mechanic Ethan.
Above: Not everyone owned a Rolls or a Bentley. This Trojan convertible is totally frill-less, and, no doubt, thrill-less judging by the rivets and the utilitarian lamp bracket (12-60mm Leica DG Vario-Elmarit) Click to show full size.
The photographs in this article were taken with the Panasonic Lumix GX80 which I am currently reviewing. I also took along the 42.5mm f/1.2 Leica DG Nocticron and the 12-60mm Leica DG Vario-Elmarit. The monochrome post processing is a tribute to the marvellous legacy of the world's first purpose-built banked motor racing circuit.