Brooklands was the first stop on my ‘Bucket List’ trip earlier this year. Actually I had to Google what a Bucket List was – although I assumed that it was a list of things to do before you ‘kick the bucket’, I was still curious. Turns out the expression is linked to kicking the bucket that you stand on when you hang yourself. Seeing as that isn’t on my list of things to do, I’ll stick to my trip to Brooklands.
I had just got off the plane after a 14 hour flight from Singapore overnight, and by 9am I had driven the half hour to Weybridge, Surrey, crossing about fifty roundabouts on the way. Oddly, the museum is located next to the enormous Mercedes World dealership, which has a huge skidpan and a handling course on it. As I headed inside there were some hapless customers trying out their best Ken Block impressions with their new C Class coupes. Yawn…I moved on.
The whole place has a ‘time has stopped’ feel to it, and is not at all over presented. The longer you spend here the more you realise how carefully the place has been preserved. Walking past the rudimentary pits, you read names like Seagrave, Railton, Capt George Eyston, Earl Howe, Malcolm Campbell, John Cobb, Woolf Barnato, Prince Bira, and so on. Quite the company to be keeping.
Inside the various buildings, it is hard to absorb the full collection that is stored here. Eclectic is not the word. In one glass cabinet in one corner is a display of Innes Ireland paraphernalia, and just as venerated is the curcuits longest serving timekeeper. For hours I stared at programmes and intricately filled out time sheets, read race reports, and gazed at the trophies of the twenties. They were proper pieces of silverware, not some postmodern abstract shape glued to a plinth with the sponsors logo cynically printed on the base to “maximise exposure” as it is today.
This is Yours Truly next to a life size Denis Jenkinson. Needs no introduction. If you think he does, well, he won the World Sidecar Champion as a passenger with Eric Oliver, rode with Sir Stirling Moss in the 1955 Mille Miglia, and was hands down the best motorsport writer ever, and a world class curmudgeon. Fearless? This little bloke who looks like something out of a movie about Middle Earth had more courage in his left pinkie than I had as a mad teenager. I was more than happy to be in his company. Even if it was a cardboard cut out. Oh, and that’s a Duesenberg crank he’s standing on.
Never been so tempted to break in to a cabinet as I was that day….
Not at all in keeping with the rest of the place, a McLaren simulator was set up, pre loaded with the original Brooklands track as it was run in the 20’s. A couple of brash Germans had set a 46 second time before this overweight Aussie slipped his shoes off and dropped in and beat that by 4 seconds. Take that Hans und Karl!
The museum is littered with Specials – crazy concoctions that only those with loony tendencies would dare to put on the banking. This one, the ‘Nanette Special’ is typical. One Felix Scriven decided to commission this two seater from a Yorkeshireman, who put a 6 cylinder Sage engine in it. Hence the Mother Goose moniker – get it? Mother Goose…stuffed with Sage. Anyway, it went bang, so Mother Goose got a Hooker engine in it, and it was renamed the Nanette Special. I don’t think I want to try to understand that one…. Anyway, it won the 90mph long distance race, but had an unhelpful habit of spraying hot oil all over the driver and catching fire. Damned inconvenient. The last time it did this, only the front wheels and engine was serviceable. No worries, it was rebuilt and had a supercharger fitted to it. Nutcases, the lot of them. You have to admire these pioneering gentlemen racers. I can’t see a Rick Kelly doing this….
I don’t know much about bikes, but I can sure appreciate this Brough Superior.
This is the John Cobb, Napier Railton Special. This aero engined car broke 47 speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats, at Montlhery, and at Brooklands. It is the car that Darth Vader would drive around the Death Star. It didn’t catch fire and try to kill anyone, but at 24 litres and 12 cylinders, and with rear brakes only, it doesn’t need to. It would scare you to death well before anything else. As it sat there, I asked for a sneaky sit inside the car. Denied. And looked scornfully upon. Almost asked to leave. Drooled on it instead.
It’s not all cars and bikes here. Brooklands is also the home of some serious aviation history. The curators in this section of the museum are rather more nutty than the car boys. Probably frustrated that they can’t scramble before breakfast and have a crack at the Hun before a cup of cha and a soft boiled egg I suppose.
This big green keg is one of the Barnes Wallis bouncing bombs that 617 Squadron used to turn the Ruhr Valley into a surf beach in 1943.
This was always going to be as close as I would get to a flight on Concorde. Lot smaller than you might imagine, but the whole idea was not to make you hang around.
Nowhere around here somewhere is the famous bump on the Banking where all of those famed shots are taken by brave souls with all four wheels in the air at 120mph. I couldn’t find it for the life of me.
Just as I had finished the descent from the top of the surprisingly steep banking (you get a gentle warning about this beforehand from the polite little man who sells you the entry ticket), a cloth capped lady chunters past on the banking.
This is what is left of the banking. Despite the sadness of this image, it is nonetheless understandable that in these modern safety obsessed risk managed times, we really couldn’t faithfully re create the Brooklands of old. You can’t have an aero engined fire breathing missile thundering through the banking, overtaking some petrified bloke in an E.R.A, where there are no fences at the top, no run off areas, and certainly no telemetry and pit radio to tell you that you are 2 psi down on your right front. Still, it would be quite tempting….
So, if you go the land of Curry, Beefeaters, Cornish Pasties, and roundabouts, get yourself to Brooklands. Leave the gawkers behind at Buckinghuge Palace, and get some motorsport history into you.
And P.S – the curators are all mad historians of the place and are more than happy to regale you with all sorts of tales (in the Queen’s English of course)!