Home Features Brooklands 1973 and the last of the Bentley Boys

Brooklands 1973 and the last of the Bentley Boys

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  Sammy Davis, the last of the famous 1920s Bentley Boys, on this special outing at Brooklands in 1973
Sammy Davis, the last of the famous 1920s Bentley Boys, on this special outing at Brooklands in 1973
  The start of the Reunion Parade of pre-war exotica on the ancient 1907 banked circuit
The start of the Reunion Parade of pre-war exotica on the ancient 1907 banked circuit

I have always had a fascination with Brooklands still love to visit as often as possible. It invariably brings back floods of memories.

Mike’s article on the air booking office earlier this week set the old brain cells whirring and I recollected a day many years ago when I was asked to do a picture feature on Barnes Wallis for The Guardian. The occasion was, I think, the 30th anniversary of the successful Dambuster’s raid on the Ruhr-valley dams on May 16/17 in 1943. If I’m right that places the story in 1973. The raid made use of the special bouncing bomb which had been developed at Brooklands in 1942 by Barnes Wallis.

  Boys and their toys: The Barnes Wallis-designed  Grand Slam bomb  propped up against his office in the old clubhouse. The dambusting bouncing bomb, which resembles an oil tank, is not in evidence but there is an example on show at the Brooklands Museum today
Boys and their toys: The Barnes Wallis-designed Grand Slam bomb propped up against his office in the old clubhouse. The dambusting bouncing bomb, which resembles an oil tank, is not in evidence but there is an example on show at the Brooklands Museum today
  My son Peter (centre) propping up the 1911 air ticket office in its original location, well before it was declared an Ancient Monument.   On the left is Bob Dicker who not only won over 100 races at the track, but also worked for Vickers and was the aircraft rigger for Alcock & Brown
My son Peter (centre) propping up the 1911 air ticket office in its original location, well before it was declared an Ancient Monument. On the left is Bob Dicker who not only won over 100 races at the track, but also worked for Vickers and was the aircraft rigger for Alcock & Brown’s first ever successful transatlantic flight. On the right is Jim Young, a well-known restorer of Riley racing cars who brought along the pre-war Riley racer for the use of Charley Dodson (see below)
  Charley Dodson (right) in the passenger seat alongside an unknown driver.   Charley was a famous works motorcycle racer and TT rider for Sunbeam before switching to cars. He then worked at Vickers during the war on aircraft fuel systems
Charley Dodson (right) in the passenger seat alongside an unknown driver.  Charley was a famous works motorcycle racer and TT rider for Sunbeam before switching to cars. He then worked at Vickers during the war on aircraft fuel systems

Sir Barnes Wallis was a director of Vickers and still worked several days a week in his office, which was the old timekeepers tower above the club room. At that time the museum had not even even been thought of.

  Pre-War Bentley racer, Dudley Froy (centre left) with Bob Dicker and their respective daughters. It
Pre-War Bentley racer, Dudley Froy (centre left) with Bob Dicker and their respective daughters. It’s hard to think that this was taken nearly 50 years ago

This was also during the Cold War and the Vickers factory and Brooklands itself were top-secret places shrouded in all sorts of security. However while doing the photographs for the newspaper I discovered that Vickers were allowing a small number of great Brooklands racers of the past to hold a very private reunion that coming weekend. With help from Barnes Wallis I wangled a pass to go to it for myself and my youngest son, Peter. In a twist of fate, incidentally, Peter ended up marrying a German girl and he now lives in Germany not all that far from the targeted dams. 

  The unique ca.1939 500 cc works V-Twin New Imperial racer which, I believe, held the pre-war lap records at both Brooklands and Donington Park. It was infamous for its evil handling but looks serene enough in this 1973 shot
The unique ca.1939 500 cc works V-Twin New Imperial racer which, I believe, held the pre-war lap records at both Brooklands and Donington Park. It was infamous for its evil handling but looks serene enough in this 1973 shot

The track was still complete 44 years ago when these pictures were taken and the gathering turned out to be a truly wonderful occasion, with characters such as the 1920s ‘Bentley Boys’ and other blasts from the past. The rather poor low-resolution scans are all I can find now, but they serve to create atmosphere and give us a taste of what Brooklands looked like in the days before it became a museum.

i am not exactly sure, but I think these pictures were taken with an Olympus OM1.

  Bob Dicker and Jim Young on the Brooklands banking. Bob is wearing his Brooklands Gold Star which was awarded for lapping a Zenith motorcycle at over 100 mph. While it was called a
Bob Dicker and Jim Young on the Brooklands banking. Bob is wearing his Brooklands Gold Star which was awarded for lapping a Zenith motorcycle at over 100 mph. While it was called a “gold star” it is bronze and not even star shaped
  A couple of modern (that is, early 1970s) cars attempting the banking. The further one appears to have overdone things a bit. Definitely not a Bentley Boy at the helm
A couple of modern (that is, early 1970s) cars attempting the banking. The further one appears to have overdone things a bit. Definitely not a Bentley Boy at the helm

Editor’s note: The Brooklands banked circuit near the town of Weybridge in Surrey (and approximately 25 miles south west of London) was built in 1907 as the world’s first dedicated motor racing track. Between the wars it was synonymous with car and motorcycle racing but also had a long heritage in the world of flying. It closed on the opening of hostilities in 1939 and was never reopened. The track and grounds were commandeered by the Government and became a top-secret aircraft and bomb development centre. Eventually a small portion of the track and the area around the old clubhouse and start/finish straight were turned into what is now the very successful Brooklands Museum. The rest of the area has become an industrial park — there is even a Tesco superstore with yet another section of the famous banked track looming over the carpark. The video below, courtesy of Brooklands Museum, shows what is left of the course after 110 years.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Wonderful photos Don. I love that ‘film look’ from ‘real film’ which is difficult to replicate with digital. Nowadays Fujis are probably the best at giving that with their embedded film profiles. Getting on to more important matters, I have always been a great admirer of the Bentley Boys, even though they pre-dated my life span and were, essentially, rich young men who could afford to drive great Bentley cars in the 1920s and 1930s. There was something pioneering about motor racing in those days which is totally lacking in today’s high tech world. I have a photo of Sir Henry "Tim" Birkin in a Bentley chasing a Mercedes SSK on the main road in Dublin’s Phoenix Park in 1929. The watching crowd are behind flimsy railings and the police and some boy scouts are sitting on the ground on the road side of the railings. It is one of my favourite motor racing photos, along with one of Nuvolari at Monaco in the 1930s and two shots of my two boyhood heroes, Stirling Moss and Graham Hill, also at Monaco, in the 1960s. Birkin did not win the race in 1929, but he won it two years later in (ahem!) an Alfa Romeo. He did, however, win at Le Mans in 1929 along with fellow ‘Bentley Boy’ Woolf Barnato in a Bentley Speed Six

    There is also a wonderful photo of Birkin leading a race in a Bentley on the embankment at Brooklands with a steam train going by in the distance with a full head of steam. I will send you (via Mike) the 1929 photo of Birkin, which I don’t think has been published outside of Ireland. I will also send you photos of a wonderful display at our National Classic Car Show 3 years ago which featured a Speed Six and a Mercedes SSK.

    Sorry for going on so long about Birkin and the Bentley Boys, but your photos have certainly stirred my enthusiasm.

    William

  2. Dear William, thanks for the kind comments I now mostly use a Fuji X-Pro 2 outfit as you probably know, but have something like three quarters of a million colour trans going back to when I first started off as a Pro during the early 1950’s and always loved Kodachrome to the exclusion of all other films, such a pity it is no longer available, and such a pity no call for my old pictures either. Never mind they all bring back happy memories. Best wishes, Don

  3. This article along with all the others are a view into history, which should not be lost ! That is what makes this so educational to all the followers. Whether it is gear related or inside history, I go rereading many, enjoying the photos . On this side of the pond we get an I site to things that aren’t in the history books, or in any documentary! Paul Harvey a deceased national radio host had a closing that sums it up for me , "THE REST OF THE STORY" thank you all contributors.

    • Much appreciated, John. One of the strange quirks of England is the vast number of places like Brooklands and its museum that are not contrived "attractions" but are rooted in history. Places such as the Crich Tramway Museum, where you can take a ride on dozens of old trams, or the many resurrected steam railways dotted about the landscape. All of them are staffed by volunteers, mostly of a certain age, and all are superb subjects for photography. Anyway, thanks for your continued support.

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