World's oldest motor circuit wakes its ghosts
Brooklands opened it's gates in 1907 as the world's first purpose built motor racing circuit. The banking on the 2.75 mile circuit rose up to 30ft high in places and was later extended with a finishing straight. Just days after the circuit opened Brooklands held the world's first ever 24hr motor event. World records were set on 2 wheels and 4 as the circuit played hosts to some of the biggest legends ever to have sat behind a steering wheel, including one Malcolm Campbell who prepared his Bluebird land speed record cars in workshops at the site.
It seems criminal that a site of such historic importance should have fallen into disrepair but it was the circuits significance as an airfield and site of aircraft manufacture that ultimately spelt its downfall. The war office requisitioned the site during World War 1 for aircraft manufacture. The last motor race to be held there was in 1939, just before World War 2 when it was again used for the production of war planes. This however made it a target for the Luftwaffe who bombed the factories. Following the war the circuit was in very poor condition. It suffered further indignity when Vickers-Armstrong purchased the site and removed a large section of the banked track, to create a longer runway for its planes.
It's not all bad news though, thanks to the efforts of the Brooklands Heritage Trust, and the local council, large parts of the circuit have been preserved. The aircraft factories and motoring workshops have been transformed into a museum showing the history of the circuit and displaying a wide selection of the cars and aircraft which made Brooklands home in their heyday. Although circuit racing is off the menu, if you time your visit right, it's still possible to catch some vintage machines going through their paces. As I did on Sunday.
The old test hill is still in use; it was originally developed for motor manufacturers to test the hill climbing and downhill braking of their vehicles. Modern petrolheads use it in a similar way with timed ascents in their vintage vehicles.
The VSCC hosted a series of speed and agility trials last Sunday. Only cars built before 1931 can compete, which drew an interesting selection of vehicles. Some, like the tiny 3 wheeled Morgan flew around the cones, while the elegant Rolls Royce Silver Ghost had the turning circle of a London bus. Both were thrilling to watch in their own ways though and it was great to see a large percentage of lady drivers competing.
My personal favourite was this Fraser Nash, the driver just made it look so chuckable and fun that I wanted to jump in and have a go! Coincidentally I just discovered the Fraser Nash also managed the best score of the day across all the tests.
My oldest car is the 1969 Baja Beetle I've driven across the world. My newest, and latest purchase, is a 2005 Nissan 350z which is a huge amount of fun to drive. Both are great cars and I still have a Sebring Healey awaiting restoration. So why is it I find myself browsing the classifieds for cars built before my dad was born? Something with the kind of presence that upstages the latest supercar, something like . . . Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which incidentally raced here too.
As I watched vintage cars race around cones I overheard a man telling his son about the inspiration for the movie car which raced at Brooklands in the 1920's. Perhaps that is the attraction of vintage machinery, the hint of an exotic past, a racing pedigree, or famous owner. Imagine the stories some of these cars could tell!