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LGBTQ at Brooklands: Hugh Hunter

26 February 2021

This month we are exploring and celebrating the LGBTQ+ stories of Brooklands for LGBT History Month. This week we’re looking at Hugh Hunter, who was an avid motorsport fan, collecting memorabilia, cars and trophies for twenty years.

Born in March 1911, Hugh Curling Hunter was the son of Hugh Nathaniel Hunter and Dorothy Lakeman Florence Hunter. Hugh Nathaniel and his brother were the founders of the Sun Engraving Company, which later became part of the Maxwell empire.

The success of the Hunter family business meant Hugh was able to pursue his passion for motorsport. He began competing in motoring events from an early age, starting out in 1929 at the age of 18. He took part in all types of motoring events, racing at Brooklands, Donnington and Crystal Palace, speed hill climbs like Shelsey Walsh, the Welsh and Scottish Rallies and even the Monte Carlo Rally in a 4 ½ litre Bentley in 1937.

It wasn’t until 1937 that serious motor racing started for him, with the purchase of a single-seater Alta and a Frazer Nash-BMW 328. He is best remembered though for his racing in the 2.9-litre twin super-charged Alfa Romeo. The car had been brought over for the Motor Show at Olympia to publicise Alfa road cars. Although not for sale, Hugh pestered Thomson and Taylor (the main Alfa distributors at that time) until they sold it to him.

This car was so fast, with a maximum speed of over 130mph, that it was soon dubbed ‘the world’s fastest road car’ by the motoring press. In it he lapped the Brooklands outer circuit at over 122mph and won all but one of the eight races at the 1939 JCC Member’s Day meet.

The car and Hugh were put to the test during the 1939 BARC Whit Monday ‘Fastest Road Car’ race. The two-part race matched Hugh against seven other well-known drivers in their powerful cars, including Arthur Dobson in Rob Walker’s 3 1/2–litre Delahaye. Hugh won the first part of the race, 3 ½ laps of the Campbell road circuit, but gearbox trouble bought him to a standstill during the 5 lap mountain circuit segment. The controversy of the fastest road car was never settled on the track or in the motoring press due to the outbreak of the Second World War.

Hugh Hunter in the 2.9-litre Alfa Romeo (N0. 4) competing in the 1939 BARC Whit Monday race meeting.

The war brought a grinding halt to Hugh’s racing career. By the time the fighting was over Hugh’s interest in competing had lessened, but he continued to be active in motorsport, taking part in the 24 hours Le Mans in 1950. From 1946 he also began taking part in the RAC Veteran Car Rally from London to Brighton in the 1904 Siddeley ‘Daisy’ which he had bought from Brooklands track co-founder Dame Ethel Locke King in 1939. He continued to take part in the rally in Daisy throughout the 1950s and 1960s as well as driving classic cars until he was forced to give up due to ill-health.

Hugh is remembered as a great character, kind and generous to all the met with a wonderful sense of humour and was highly regarded by all those who knew him. On his death in 1990, he left his estate, including Ethel Locke King’s Daisy, to his long-term partner Derek, who placed on loan with Brooklands Museum, before bequeathing it to us himself a few years ago.

Hugh Hunter in the Single-Seater Alta before the 1938 JCC International Trophy

Related by marriage to Price Chula of Siam, Hugh was good friends with Chula’s cousin Prince Bira. They were both fans of the Fiat 500, and this photo features then on Holiday in Polzeath, Cornwall with their cars in 1941.

Hugh Hunter taking part in the 1962 London to Brighton Veteran Car Rally in Ethel Locke King's 1904 Siddeley 'Daisy'