The Hill.

I went to the Motor Cycle Day at Brooklands last weekend; which gave me an opportunity to see how the Martinsyde would fare for its first time on the Test Hill.

(thanks to Perry Barwick for track pictures)

Brooklands was the World’ first purpose-built motor racing circuit.  While it was intended to be a racing feast there was a sub-text. Since the UK Government was a bit frosty about the whole petrol-engine thing (and frightening the horses in particular) back in 1907 – and indeed, incredibly, right up until 1930, the National Speed Limit was a blanket 20 mph – anyone trying to test a speedy vehicle was in what might be described as ‘a spot’. This was one of the catalysts that created Brooklands; since Johnny Foreigner tended to be a bit more laid back about closing roads for speed testing, dear old Blighty was falling behind in the performance race. Consequently Sir Hugh Locke-King decided to dig up a few acres of his Home Counties pile and create a place where not only could people actively compete but Britain’s infant motor industry could test its products at speeds in excess of tick-over. History tells us that this ultra-modern, concrete super-highway went way over budget (nothing changes) and virtually bankrupted poor old Sir Hugh, so it’s just as well that, 110 years later, a fair proportion of it still survives for us to enjoy; there’s more of it left than there is of our motor industry at any rate…

Part of Sir Hugh’s largesse was the provision of a Test Hill; this had a double purpose, evaluating power going up…and brakes coming down. it survives intact and is the most complete surviving part of the circuit and consequently provides the focus for most of the active events there. It’s a fairly stiff climb, steepening toward the summit and can catch people out. Some years ago I tore up there on my newly acquired Rex Acme and had a bit of a heart stopper at the top where the track abruptly turns right. I related this to my octogenarian mate Frank who enthusiastically responded “I know! I hit the wall!” He’s a star!

I decided to take the Rex Acme as well as the Martinsyde; the Rex has crested the hill on a few occasions and is currently geared for hillclimbs so I knew it would sail up. The ‘tinsyde was less certain. It has been here before of course, in September 1939 Chris Tait took it for a timed flying lap of the outer circuit, recording an 82mph average; it wasn’t a race, sadly, more like a track day really but at least it went round in the day.

Back then the circuit was bisected by the start/finish straight. During the War, a hangar was plonked onto this providentially useful concrete slab, indeed much of the circuit provided good founds for buildings – and not all of them real. It was deemed prudent to attempt to disguise the outline of the circuit, which was rather obvious from the air, since down at far end of the straight was a rather large Vickers munitions factory. So the track was concealed by any means possible, buildings dummy trees… If you see shots taken at The Fork in 1939, the giant ‘Vickers Brooklands’ lettering has been daubed over with black paint; that should fool the Hun…

Anyway, the big news this year is the completion of the work to move the hangar (in itself an historic building) so that now, from the Members Banking down, there is a fairy uninterrupted view; admittedly into a car park rather than the Byfleet Banking but at least the car park follows the line of the original circuit.

Impressive, huh? If you have never visited Brooklands, you should. It is one of those places where the history is so understated you sometimes miss it; for example, here – for our lady readers, who would otherwise miss it – is the original urinal, preserved in the gents toilet.

Bu Leaving aside historic architecture and plumbing there was a great spread of bikes outside. I liked this Indian-alike Board-tracker with a SV JAP engine…

Or What about this crazy thing?

It’s a 100cc model 9-cylinder radial Gnome Rhone engine in a Peugeot lightweight chassis…surely that came third in the 1907 Paris-Madrid? Top effort for eccentricity, not sure if it made it up the hill or not but it certainly ran well and provided a huge amount of interest, summing up what’s best about the custom/vintage scene.

Martin Squires was there scribbling away, this time drawing the museum’s Tommy Meeten Brooklands Francis Barnett. Meeten was a staunch ambassador for Villiers and Fanny B who later headed up Meeten and Ward the Villiers specialist who were still going in the mid 80s when I entered the strange world of the British Two Stroke.

as The car park was overflowing with Rex Acmes, mine, the Museum’s Dave Whitworth bike and this one, which is Steve Elston’s 1925 model.

Steve also brought along his cracking Model 18 Norton. While Peter Lancaster pulled his fabulous Brough out of the Museum for the day…

This is the legendary factory racer, known as the ‘Works Scrapper’ and ridden by wild Freddie Dixon among others. Pure class and great that Peter leaves it on display at Booklands, where it’s something of an old friend.

Speaking of which, I was delighted to find Frank (the sprinter) Clarke enjoying the sun in the paddock. Frank’s retired from racing his original, Bill Lacey-built, Norton JAP now,not because of hittingthat wall a few years ago but because he’s been officially declared past his sell-by date by the ACU but at least that hasn’t stopped him displaying the bike. Frank is a man who won’t be beaten by age – or his profound hearing loss. He always has a plan; “If I lived nearer here,” he confided, “I’d come here every day; I’d sweep up, whatever; I don’t care. Better than sitting at home!”

I’m proud to call him my friend, Frank’s a great inspiration to all of us who are beginning to realise this doesn’t go on forever.

That said there is one person who seems to be getting younger every time I see him. I remember watching popular hit parade combo ‘The Damned’ on Top of the Pops as a spotty teenager when front man Dave Vanian was clearly older than me, so how come he still looks the same but I now look old enough to be his dad? There’s plainly something in this Dorian Gray business… Dave is a CB reader and all round good chap, just back from a US tour he was enjoying a day out on his bike.

So how did the Martinsyde fare in the event? Very well, it ripped off the line in first and set off up the hill with a will; a bit over halfway up it started to rev out but I wasn’t sure – going into the steep bit – that it would pull second. As luck would have it, it jumped out of first and by the time I got it back in the speed had dropped enough to lower the revs. The main thing was it was powerful and the head gasket held so hopefully it will be alright from now on. There’s a few events I hope to run it at this year and it would be nice not to have to mend it each time!

All In all a great day and thanks to the team for making it all run so smoothly. Speaking of the team, I had a quick peek at volunteer Perry Barwick’s project Triumph on display in the McEvoy Shed, he’s putting together a replica of Freddie Carke’s Brooklands Tiger 80 and I have to say its coming along really well!

 Looks like that might be going up the hill before too long, Perry!

Cheers Rick



Comments (4)

  1. Raymond Albeson

    Judy not have a go on the Scott, or was she tied to the stall? Looks like it was a great day!

  2. Alan Sargent

    Hi Rick,
    On the subject of the pop combo singer,
    drinking blood and sleeping in a coffin normanally does the trick for eternal youth.
    Dave should really know better than being out in the sunshine.

    It was a great time to be a spotty herbert.
    Long live the Damned…..

  3. Andy Orton

    I have to get to brooklands, my mate lives right by it, i have no excuse, great article Rick, hope to see you at the manx

  4. John Brookes

    Hi Rick, it looks like a great day out. I do have to say that whilst I haven’t been to all of the motor museums in the UK, of the ones I have been to Brooklands is by a long margin the best one. I wish I lived closer because then I could visit it more often.



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