Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Brooklands Centenary

The Centenary (100 years since the track opened) celebration at Brooklands racecourse took place last June, I'm finally posting some pix of the collection of racing cars and motorcycles which were present, all of which (with the exception of the works MBZ's) had raced at the track from 1907-1940.
Mercedes-Benz now 0wns the bulk of the land on which the track is found, and have built a large 'Mercedes World' facility, plus their own test track on site, which in fact connects with parts of the original, bumpy and badly decomposed concrete track. One the day, the MBZ presence was heavily felt, as their new facility dominates the landscape, and under an attached marquee pit area was a mouthwatering selection of their factory race cars, from an '07 big banger GP car to the Carrera winning 300slr. The track was full all day with cars and (briefly) motorcycles, with the Brooklands cars taking pride of place. Curiously, the center of the test track has a smaller track on which AMG-tuned Mercedes were sliding and roaring around all day, taking passengers willing to pay £20 for a few minutes of thrills (or terror!). My favorite was the slithering silver station wagon, just like mine, but looking a lot quicker around the corners.

The motorcycles and original Brooklands clubhouse sit on the other side of a branch of the river Wey, across a bridge, past the autojumble dealers under their own marquee tents. Top pic shows the infamous Copperknob, a 1930 Chater-Lea racer with JAP 500cc ohv engine, which had a great run of wins at Brooklands.

Second pic shows a Zenith-JAP (owned by Chris Illman). Freddie Barnes owned the Zenith marque and can be seen hovering over many Brooklands racers in period photographs - he certainly had a personal interest in their success. Zenith had in fact the greatest run of wins at Brookland in terms of Gold Stars earned by its riders (lapping at over 100mph during a race was rewarded with a 'Gold Star', a small medal to be worn on the lapel. A few riders won 'double Gold Stars' for laps at over 120mph during a race. For a pic of the medal, click here). Like Copperknob, it has a JAP engine, but of 350cc ohv capacity - JAP provided many manufacturers with their engines during the 'teens thru the thirties, and during the twenties especially were at the forefront of engine tuning, using the talents of Bert LeVack and others to build the fastest engines in England.

I have a soft spot for Sunbeams, pic 3 shows a rare '23 Sunbeam race car against the bricks of the Clubhouse. No doubting the make.

Pic 4 shows a green Morgan Beetleback sportster, with a twist. A close look at the engine by shows two Scott twin-cylinder two-stroke engines doubled up with a common crankcase. A very unusual car; I didn't see it fire up, but I'm sure it's a smoky affair.
Pic 5 gives the paddock lineup (one of them anyway) with a set of GP cars ready for a lap of the track. Closest car is a blue ERA.

Next two pix show an oddity, a Francis-Barnett Brooklands machine. F-B are best known for their lightweight two-stroke commuter machines, so this bike was quite a surprise, and very purposeful looking. Separate tanks for fuel and oil (plenty of both, from the looks of it), and the engine closeup shows the exhaust pipes which bulge out in a crude form of resonance chamber, still with 'Brooklands Can' mufflers on the end (the 'Cans' were required of all cars and motorcycles racing on the track). I didn't catch the history of this machine, but will add details when I know them.
Next pic shows a real survivor, an original/unrestored Brooklands Cotton, again with JAP engine. It lives in the Brooklands museum, and I love the disc wheel covers, fork shrouds, and battered large-capacity fuel tank. Note the huge car-style Andre fork damper sticking out of the nose shroud.
An Excelsior-JAP with interesting Bowden carb looked clean enough to eat from. The Bowden has a butterfly-type throttle, and gives a nice clean intake tract. I have one which is waiting for an appropriate bike - the mechanism is very simple, and apparently they give good performance.
Next is a Grindlay-Peerless, with, again, 500cc ohv JAP engine. It looks to be an original machine, ca 1930, with an early-style saddle tank for long-distance racing. The most famous rider/tuner of G-P's was Bill Lacey, who was known for his meticulous preparation for racers, to the point of nickel-plating almost every item on the motorcycle, and turning in regular 100-plus mph laps at the track. The factory built a few Lacey-tuned Replicas, and this machine may be one. If you click on the pic, you'll see that the entire frame and cycle parts are nickel-plated, which was only found on the Lacey machines. Lacey himself used a plated petrol tank as well. Also note the 'square' ML magneto, AMAC track carb, Pilgrim oil-metering device on the timing chaincase (total loss oiling - the oil was dripped into the crankcase, spun around, then ejected through a breather, usually to lubricate the primary chain), and most unusually, a rev counter, which is probably an addition from the 30's, as only a few individual machines used tach's when this G-P was made.
Nice lineup of 30's race cars in front of some of the workshop sheds behind the Clubhouse. A Bugatti, two Amilcars and another red hotrod, with some vintage-looking drivers!
A lovely Norton International model30 caught my eye; love the heavily drilled steering damper knob, complementing the heavily drilled engine plates, and everything else drillable.

Two pix of Simon Miles' Brough Superior SS100, looking distinctive in nickel and mauve (click on pix for better color resolution, and to see the striped fenders). Again a JAP 1000cc ohv engine, type KTOR, ca 1926. Simon is a B-S expert, having restored many of those in the National Motorcycle Museum, post fire. A close look reveals a large AMAC carb with twin floats, George Dance type kneegrips rotated from their typical position (Simon is quite short), purple brake hubs, and twin nickelled Brooklands Cans. I don't know the history of this machine, or whether the odd color is original.
Last two pix come from the event sponsor, Mercedes Benz, showing two sports racers from the 50's.