The heritage of motorsport
From the early days of motorsport, owners and manufacturers alike were eager to showcase the speed and reliability of their machines. As a result, speed trials prospered across the country from 1901 onwards.
Explore some of the personalities, venues, cars and manufacturers involved in the pioneering of these early speed trials.
Early motoring associations
In whose footsteps do we follow here at Vintage Speed Trials? Become familiar with the motoring clubs whose legacy we strive to uphold.
Sir Hickman Bacon, president of the Lincolnshire Automobile Club, a position he held until his death in 1945.
Lincolnshire Automobile Club
This pivotal assembly was formed on the 4th January 1901, by a group of early motoring enthusiasts. By the end of that year, they comprised 53 members, and would become recognised as the oldest motoring club in Britain.
C. W. Pennell, the Mayor of Lincoln, was elected as Chairman.
Leslie Johnson’s E-Type, GP2, displayed at the Donington Grand Prix Exhibition museum.
English Racing Automobiles (ERA) - Manufacturers
English Racing Automobiles (ERA) was founded by Humphrey Cook, Raymond Mays, and Peter Berthon in November 1933. It was established in Bourne, Lincolnshire, next to Eastgate House, the family home of Raymond Mays.. Their ambition was to manufacture and campaign a team of single seater racing cars capable of upholding British prestige in Continental European racing.
But the cost of aspiring to Grand Prix racing was out of reach. Instead, they aimed their efforts towards the smaller voiturette—1500cc supercharged—class of motor racing, the Formula 2 equivalent of the day. Humphrey Cook financed the operation using the wealth from the family drapery business, Cook, Son & Co. Berthon was responsible for the overall design of the cars, while Mays became its principal driver, having already successfully raced several other models including Vauxhall, Bugatti and Riley.
The unveiling of the first ERA—chassis R1A—to the press and public took place at Brooklands on 22 May 1934, following testing at Syston Park. After initial chassis handling problems, which required a number of modifications, soon ERA had a winning formula. By the end of the year, ERAs had scored notable victories against many more established marques. In 1935, in a major race at the Nürburgring, ERAs took first, third, fourth and fifth places.
Through the remainder of the decade, with drivers of the calibre of Dick Seaman in the team, ERA dominated voiturette racing, with the original A-Type design being developed into the B-Type, C-Type and D-Type designs over time.
Legends of pre-war motorsport
The drivers whose stories inspire us.
Pictured here in 1929, driving an Oméga-Six, she won an all-female Grand Prix race at Autodrome de Montlhéry in the process setting a new world land speed record for women. Capitalising on her fame, the following year she toured the United States, racing at a variety of tracks in an American-made Miller racing car. Through mutual friend Philippe de Rothschild, Nice was introduced to Ettore Bugatti, who swiftly added her to his all-male driving force. In 1931, she drove a Bugatti Type 35C in five major Grands Prix in France. Hellé Nice was easily recognisable in her bright-blue race car. Although she did not win a Grand Prix race, she was a legitimate competitor, and frequently finished ahead of some of the top male drivers.
Kay Petre was a star at the legendary Brooklands track, and the exploits of this 4′ 10″ lady caused a media sensation at the time. The abiding image of Kay is a tiny woman seated in a huge 10.5 litre V12 Delage. This was the car in which she battled for the Women’s Outer Circuit Record at Brooklands with Gwenda Stewart. At Brooklands, Petre achieved three lap records. In 1934, first in a Bugatti at 124 mph then in a Delage at 129.58 mph. In 1935, she used the Delage to achieve 134.75 mph.
Raymond Mays was one of the principal people behind the development of the motor racing stables of English Racing Automobiles (ERA). His lifelong ambition was to see his country succeed at the top level of international motor sport. He raced for some thirty years, and was renowned for competing at Shelsley Walsh. Mays raced there in the early 1920s with a pair of Brescia Bugattis, known as ‘Cordon Bleu’ and ‘Cordon Rouge’.
After watching the races at Hillberry during the 1921 Isle of Man TT Races, Stanley Woods told his friends that “I can do that.” He was able to persuade the Cotton motor-cycle company to provide a machine for the 1922 Junior TT Race. The Isle of Man Examiner newspaper described Stanley Woods as an “enthusiastic amateur”, and he finished the race in 5th place in a time of 3 hours, 55 minutes and 33 seconds.
Historic motorsport venues
The courses which set the stage for early speed trials.
Brooklands was a 2.75-mile (4.43 km) motor racing circuit and aerodrome built near Weybridge in Surrey, England. It opened in 1907, and was the world’s first purpose-built motor racing circuit, as well as one of Britain’s first airfields. The circuit hosted its last race in 1939, and today part of it forms the Brooklands Museum, a major aviation and motoring museum. It remains a venue for vintage car, motorcycle and other transport-related events.
In 1926, a circuit was created in Syston Park from the estate road, and motorcycle races were held there until the 1930s. At first, these were unaffiliated but soon Syston Park became a Grand Prix venue, attracting crowds of up to 30,000. Legends such as Stanley Woods, C. J. Williams and Tommy Cann drove its course.