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Record Breaking at Brooklands 1920-1939

Dramatic speed record breaking attempts continued in the 1920s, from the hundreds of class records and time trials to the more glamorous world records. The last Land Speed Record achieved at Brooklands was when Kenelm Lee Guinness, a member of the famous brewing family, drove the 350hp single seater Sunbeam at a two-way average speed of 135.75mph. This car, powered by a V12 Sunbeam 'Manitou' aero engine was soon after acquired by Malcolm Campbell and became his first 'Blue Bird' Land Speed Record Car.

Based in their Brooklands workshops, Thomson & Taylor went on to design and build several Land Speed Record cars including three of Malcolm Campbell’s ‘Blue Birds’.  It was Campbell that called in Reid Railton to re-design the chassis and transmission of his 1931 Napier-engined Blue Bird. The body shape resulted from testing in the Vickers aircraft factory’s Wind Tunnel at Brooklands supervised by R.K. Pierson, Vickers’ Chief Designer, as he had with Campbell’s first scientifically streamlined Blue Bird in 1928.  In 1933 Thomson & Taylor made more major changes to accommodate a supercharged Rolls Royce ‘R’ type 36½ litre V12 engine giving 2,500 brake horse power.

Campbell’s ultimate Land Speed Record car was the 1935 Blue Bird using the same engine but a new chassis designed and built by Thomson & Taylor at Brooklands. The body was built in the Paddock shed once used by Malcolm Campbell as his showroom. In this car Campbell took his eighth and final Land Speed Record on the 3rd September, 1935 on Bonneville Salt Flats and achieved his longed for target, averaging 301.13mph.

By the end of the 1930s Brooklands was dominating the Land Speed Record in every way with the exception of actually being the venue itself.

Another Land Speed Record Car simply called ‘The Railton’ was a technological masterpiece designed by Reid Railton and built at Thomson & Taylor’s Brooklands workshops. It was commissioned and driven by the Brooklands ace, John Rhodes Cobb, who took the Land Speed Record in it in 1938, 1939 and again in 1947 when he became the first man to exceed 400 mph on land.

John Cobb in the Napier-Railton 1935The Brooklands Outer Circuit Record was the most prestigious at the track. In 1930, The Daily Herald put up a trophy for the fastest driver round the track. Up to 1935, this trophy was won by just four drivers, Kaye Don, the first winner, battled with Tim Birkin to achieve 137.58mph in his Sunbeam ‘Tiger’. In 1932, Tim Birkin took the record to 137.96mph in his famous red blower Bentley.

It was, however, John Cobb who finally took the record to 143.44 mph in his Napier Railton. Regarded as the ultimate Brooklands Racing Car, it was designed and built by Thomson & Taylor in their premises in the Brooklands Aero Village. Powered by a 24 litre Napier Lion engine, the car’s Outer Circuit record remained unbeaten when racing and record breaking finished at Brooklands in 1939.

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