Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Brooklands History in Postcards

Dai sent me scans of some old postcards depicting Brooklands in use and under construction. You'll have to click on them for a better look, but they show very early scenes of the racetrack. The top photo shows the bridge near the Test Hill, which is still extant, and the cars look like 'teens models to me - they aren't going fast enough to utilize the banking.

When the course was built in 1907 by Hugh Locke-King (on his own property, using his own money), the speeds possible for cars and motorcycles would barely top 60-70mph, not enough to justify the near-vertical banking at the top of the track. Clearly someone envisioned higher speeds necessitating the banks - it took until 1913 for a car to reach 100mph on the track, and 1921 for a motorcycle. Too bad they hadn't built the track in a manner to ensure it remained smooth - the track was notoriously bumpy on the joins between the concrete paving. There is a good timeline on the construction and history of Brooklands here.
The second photo shows the Clubhouse with its charming green bell-dome, which now holds a museum and the offices of the Brooklands Society. Those low lean-to sheds to the left of the clubhouse are surprisingly still there as well, and now shelter racing cars before they enter the track on demonstration days. Third photo shows the 'public enclosure', which nowadays is overgrown or built over with new construction. If you click on the pic, you'll see the Victorian outfits (those hats!) and a sporting runabout parked on the grass. Anyone for a picnic? By 1909, an aerodrome was built in the middle of the track, but I don't see it these color postcards, so they must be ca. 1908 - certainly they're pre-WW1. The trees have grown considerably since then as well, and now a shiny Mercedes Benz delivery center/test track sits across the river, just behind the Clubhouse, which would sit right between those two trees.

The construction of the track was a feat in itself, as the banking was created by moving earth to create huge berms 30' high. The concrete track is 100' wide, and the circuit was ~2.8 miles long; all this cost £150,000, representing an enormous sum in those days. The bottom 3 postcards show the method of constructing the banking and laying the concrete, which was mostly done by hand, although a small railway was installed temporarily to help remove or create earthen hills. Clearly the name 'Brooklands' hadn't been applied to the nascent circuit, as it's still called 'Weybridge Motor Track' in these 1906 postcards. (As an aside, these photos look incredibly bleak to me, as do many from the turn of the century - is it the muddy hard work and animal smells which show through, or crude photographic composition, or?).

All this is in total contrast to the construction of the Montlhery circuit in France, which rivalled Brooklands for speed events. Montlherys is an engineered concrete and steel structure - no earthen banks, just a lot of reinforced concrete beams and posts holding up the banking (ah, another post subject). Not enough of Brooklands remains to give a riding impression, but I've ridden the Montlhery banking at speed on a mkVIII KTT, and I'll write about that another time.

The bottom photo was recently sent to me, showing some of the serious horsepower used to haul material and grade the banking here as the Railway Straight. This part of the track, while badly decomposing and covered in moss, can still be seen across the road from a new shopping mall in Byfleet.

And here, for a bit of contrast, is a modern simulator of the Brooklands track, which gives a decent idea of a lap of the Outer Circuit, ca. 1930's. The sound isn't nice, and needs to be changed to a basso profundo

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