Life in The Fast Lane
by Coco Marett / Images: Courtesy of Brooklands Museum
Established in 1907, Brooklands’ unyielding passion for all things engine-powered hasn’t aged a day. From one of the most legendary racing tracks, it now stands as one of the finest motor and aviation museums in the world.
In the world of motorsport and aviation, Brooklands is something of a legend of a legend. Built in 1907, the racing track at Brooklands was about 4.5 kilometres around; a large oval with enormous banked angles at each end that stood at about 10 metres high. At 30 metres wide, it was the largest concrete structure in the world at the time it was built. The whole circuit complex covered a total of about 150 hectares just outside of Weybridge in Surrey, England.
Brooklands was a place where man made machines, but also where machines made the man. In 1908, A.V. Roe made pioneering powered flight trials with his first full-size aircraft, and Tommy Sopwith built and flew the Sopwith Pup
When it came to cars, the finest tuners in the country built some of the fastest cars at Brooklands, where records were set and broken by the likes of Malcolm Campbell and John Cobb. Brooklands enjoyed its roaring heyday through the
1920s and 1930s – the first British Grand Prix was held there in 1926 – where the purr and presence of magnificent cars by Bentley, Bugatti, Mercedes, and Delage drew crowds beyond motoring enthusiasts, making it the place to be seen for the
upper echelons of English society – who dubbed Brooklands the ‘Ascot of Motorsport’.
Today, many of the remaining original buildings have been repurposed into the Brooklands Museum, a loving tribute to a time in motorsport when the only thing that mattered was going fast.
“In the heyday of Brooklands, you could do pretty much anything you wanted to make your car go faster and be more superior than anyone else’s,” says Museum Director, Allan Winn. “These days, motor racing tends to be very driven by regulations and formulae. So if you’re building a Formula 1 car, it has to have a specific sized engine, a specific sized electric motor, specific dimensions, and it must be a certain weight.”
He continues, “That’s what those of us who still play with vintage motorsport really love about it. You can hear each vehicle as having a distinct exhaust note, they all
look different; you don’t need to look at the number or the sponsor. You take one look at a car and you know that it’s a vintage Bentley or it’s the 1933 Napier-Railton.”
It’s near impossible to go into iconic motorsport vehicles without mentioning the 1933 Napier-Railton. Commissioned by John Cobb, the aero-engine racecar was designed by Reid Railton and between 1933 and 1937 broke 47 World Speed
records at Brooklands, Monterey and the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.
The Napier-Railton also holds the all-time Brooklands lap record (143.44mph or 230.8 kph), which was set in 1935. This stands in perpetuity as the circuit was repurposed during the Second World War, and never used as a racing track again.
“When John Cobb commissioned the Railton, he decided that the best way to create a really fast car would be to put an airplane engine into the chassis and develop it with very special suspension,” says Winn. “Motor racing was obviously
much less safe back then, but it was far more individual and had a great deal more character.”
The original 1933 Napier-Railton can be found at the Brooklands Museum amongst its stunning collection of vintage racing cars, alongside modern Formula 1 cars, which Winn says are “used to tell the story of motor racing from that era all the way up to the present.”
“The vehicle is all about excellence at the very highest level; it was the best car in the world of its time,” says Winn who also cites the 1933 Napier-Railton as his all-time favourite car. “I’m very privileged to be allowed to drive it, to take it out and
demonstrate it. The enormous excitement that the car brings to other people is what makes the experience all the better...”