Goodwood 1914

Goodwood had a 1914 French Grand Prix Mércèdes at Bonhams in Bond Street in the run-up to the Festival of Speed. A hundred years ago WO Bentley purloined one of the works team cars in an obscure piece of espionage worthy of Hannay in The Thirty-Nine steps. The great racer had shown such speed and stamina over a 23 mile course near Lyon, that Bentley believed its secrets should be revealed. The race took place on July 4th 1914, a bare six days after the fatal shots that began the Great War had been fired at Sarajevo.
By the outbreak of war Bentley was effectively out of work. His family firm had been selling cars but trading soon ceased. Cars still had to be serviced but with his business in ruins for as long, it seemed, as the war lasted, WO wanted to make the most of his great secret scoop. He had been one of the first to adopt aluminium pistons in the DFP in which he set ftd for his class at the Aston Clinton hill-climb. He set a ten-lap record at Brooklands for a 2 litre car at 66.8mph (107.5kph) and a year later, with L8 aluminium pistons, raised it to 81.9mph (131.9kph).
He now wanted to put this breakthrough at the disposal of the nation. It would be just the thing, he was sure, for high performance aircraft engines. He sought out Commander Wilfrid Briggs, head of the Air Engine Section, which liased between the Admiralty and the engine industry. Briggs operated from a small wooden office on top of Admiralty Arch and captured WO’s attention at once. “The only officer in the navy as clever as Briggs was the man who appointed him,” wrote WO, recounted in The Complete Bentley.
By June 13 1915, less than a year after the grand prix, Briggs had WO Bentley gazetted as a Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR), an elite bunch of civilian volunteers who obtained quick promotion for wartime officers into the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). Briggs sent WO to Derby, where Rolls-Royce was making air-cooled Renault aero engines, to meet Ernest W Hives (later Lord Hives) with whom WO formed a friendship that lasted 20 years. Engineer Hives soon had Rolls-Royce’s new 200hp water-cooled Eagle engines equipped with aluminium pistons.
Henry Royce was adept at meticulous improvement rather than radical innovation. WO was determined he should get to know more of his adversary’s engineering. WO recalled that in 1915: “…a friend of mine tipped me off that one of the Mércèdes racing cars, which had swept the board at the 1914 French Grand Prix, had got stuck in England at the beginning of the war and still rested at the Mércèdes showroom in Long Acre. I thought it ought to be investigated. So I told Briggs about it and together we went along, representing the British Crown so to speak, with a ‘search warrant’. The place was in a fine old mess, but down in the basement lay a 4½ litre Grand Prix Mércèdes. We had it dug out, and soon it was being taken to pieces by Rolls-Royce at Derby.”
There was no search warrant of course and accounts of the legitimate wartime larceny differ. In one WO towed the Mércèdes to Derby behind Briggs’s Rolls-Royce. In another he recruited his old school friend Roy Fedden, later a distinguished engineer at Bristol Aircraft, and the pair raced along empty wartime roads from London to Derby, before towing the 1914 racer into the Rolls-Royce factory.
The precocious young Lieutenant also recommended that Rolls-Royce examine the contemporary double overhead camshaft Peugeot racing engine.
Lord March promoting the world's best motoring garden party

Veteran Cars

Veteran cars. Nice in their way but would you buy one? Bonhams’ catalogue the other day had Lord Llangattock’s elegant 1902 Panhard Levassor at an estimated £550,000 to £650,000. You need a lot of cash-in-hand to shell out so much for something to drive on the London to Brighton. Don’t misunderstand me; I like the London-Brighton. I did it in 1992 and fared better than Prince Michael that year - but only just. He failed to finish but the Benz I borrowed from Stuttgart got a finisher's plaque, passing the pylons at Brighton with five minutes to spare. I was cold and wet but the experience helped understand a little why people do it. I had a minder and an entourage of back-up so it was easy enough, yet the driving needed concentration. Doing 12½ mph could be scary. Uphill was painfully slow. Downhill alarmingly fast.
Somewhere near Cuckfield I was unable to shift down to get engine braking. The transmission brake was never very good and it seemed to get in the way of the gearchange lever, so we were suddenly quite out of control. At breakneck (literally) speed we passed a bunch of policemen and cheering bystanders who little realised I was hurtling to disaster in a double-fronted shop. Happily Herr Benz's steering and stability was up to the job, so we teetered across mini roundabouts and went on our way, but it was an anxious moment. Braking was indifferent in the dry, precarious in the wet, and almost non-existent when hot. An accident on a Veteran with no seat belt, no crush zone, no airbag and a long way down if you fall out was not to be countenanced.
The right pedal on the Benz was the brake, the middle one a combination of gearchange lever and transmission brake, the left one did something obscure I never discovered. A handbrake of sorts acted directly on the rear tyres and my minder pointedly told me it was a parking brake only. You changed gear by preselecting 1 2 or 3 (there is also a reverse - this was one of the first cars ever to have one), then engage it by a lever on the vertical control column. Steering was by tiller - logical in an era when only horses or boats were ever steered. A pointer shows which way you are about to proceed and final drive to the back axle is by chain.
The ride turned out surprisingly smooth with two lots of front springs, a small transverse leaf and two fore and aft elliptics. The single cylinder engine could be retarded to teuf-teuf astonishingly slowly and I stalled it only once. It produced great pulling power at idling speed almost from rest, like a steam engine. A tidy flap at the back provided access to engine and lubrication points, which had to be attended regularly. Cooling is by gilled-tube radiator, notably good that boiled a couple of times on long climbs. With no fan and certainly no rush of cooling air, it was a wonder it didn't more often. The fuel is pure refined spirit - pioneer motorists bought it at chemist's shops.
The charm of a Veteran, which so thrilled pioneers of 110 years ago, is that it represents such a triumph over being stationary. It scarcely matters how well it goes - the clever thing is that it goes at all. If I had a spare half million – I just might.
Top: Ruth and Eric at the start, Hyde Park, early morning. 2) Joanna started the Run in the Benz. 3) Charlotte rides towards Brighton. 4) Joanna inside a wolf fur in the backup Benz - it was a cold day. 5) Anne, Charlotte, Jane and Joanna at the start.


Lancaster at Scampton, BBMF Spitfire and Hurricane, heated debate in The Telegraph about which was greatest. Yet they all relied on the Rolls-Royce Merlin. It is 70 years since the dambusters and 80 since drawings for the Merlin were completed the very day Sir Henry Royce died.

WO Bentley was instrumental in getting Rolls-Royce into aero engines. Working under Commander Wilfrid Briggs, head of the Admiralty Air Engine Section, he was sent to Derby, where Rolls-Royce made air-cooled Renault aero engines. WO recalled, “…a friend of mine tipped me off that one of the 1914 Mercédès racing cars, which had won the French Grand Prix, had got stuck in England at the beginning of the war and still rested at the Mercédès showroom in Long Acre. I told Briggs about it and together we went along, representing the British Crown so to speak, with a ‘search warrant’. The place was in a fine old mess, but in the basement lay a 4½ litre Grand Prix Mercédès. We dug it out, and soon it was being taken to pieces by Rolls-Royce at Derby.”

Ernest Hives (later Lord Hives) studied the Mercédès cylinder design and WO persuaded him that the resulting 200hp water-cooled Rolls-Royce Eagle engine should have aluminium pistons. In 1919 two Eagles with Bentley’s pistons were used in the Vickers Vimy that made the first non-stop crossing of the Atlantic.
Merlin in a Spitfire, Duxford
Henry Royce set up drawing offices with teams of technicians at St Margaret's Bay Kent, and later West Wittering, creating a dynasty of aero engines of the 1920s and 1930s that culminated in winning the Schneider Trophy races outright. In 1931 Royce accepted a baronetcy in recognition of his design but it was soon apparent that the RAF needed something that could be made in large numbers.

In 1932 the ailing mechanic (Royce preferred “mechanic” to designer or even engineer) persevered with a new V12 in the face of Air Ministry indifference and prevarication. Rolls-Royce could see the need for it, calling it PV for Private Venture because the government wouldn’t pay for it. Developed from the Kestrel, and the R-type that had been successful in the Schneider Trophy Supermarine S6 seaplanes, the Merlin was not named after King Arthur’s wizard, but was one of a series designated by birds of prey. A merlin is a small falcon but as an engine it was straightforward, upright, of a sort with which the Derby firm was already familiar.
Merlin in a Hurricane, Brooklands
Later ones were developed to produce substantial power increases at high altitude, and by the end of the war specialist versions produced 2640bhp (1969kW). Rolls-Royce did not have capacity in its factories at Derby, Crewe, and Hillington Glasgow to meet the demand. Four times as many Merlins were needed to equip bombers like the Lancaster, so Packard made them in America and Ford set up a plant at Urmston, Manchester, not far from Trafford Park.

Rowland Smith of Ford guessed it would cost £7million, telling chairman Lord Hives that Ford could not possibly build engines from the drawings Rolls-Royce supplied. The tolerances were much too wide. Ford production machinery would work to much closer limits than Rolls-Royce, whose hand-finished engines were often widely different in power and reliability.

Drawings for the Merlin were completed on 22 April 1933, as Royce breathed his last. Yet weak and frail as he had been, the engine (after teething troubles had been fixed) was a masterpiece. The first ran on 15 October 1933 and Royce’s vision resulted in one of the most significant aircraft power units of the Second World War. Besides Spitfire, Hurricane and Avro Lancaster, Lincoln, Manchester II, Tudor and York, the Merlin powered de Havilland Mosquito, Handley Page Halifax and North American Mustang X as a replacement for its Allison. The Mustang continued to use Merlins in the Korean War of the 1950s.

SPEC: 12-cylinders, 60deg V; front; 5.4in (137.16mm) x 6in (152.4mm), 1,648.8cu in (27,021cc); compr 6.0:1; 1030bhp (768kW) @ 3000rpm @ 16,250ft (4940m) Merlin I to 1480bhp (1104kW) @ 3000rpm @6000ft (91830m) to 12,250ft (3740m) from Merlin XX; weight from 1385lb (629kg) Merlin I to 1450lb (647kg) from Merlin XX; 1640lbs (744kg) for 1565bhp (1167kW) Merlin 61 on.
STRUCTURE 4 inclined 45deg KE965steel valves per cylinder (4 valves parallel from Merlin G); sodium-cooled exhaust valves; Stellited ends to inlet valves; double valve springs; Silchrome valve seats screwed into heads; one shaft and bevel gear-driven 7-bearing overhead camshaft per bank; two two-piece cylinder blocks cast in RR50 aluminium alloy; detachable cylinder heads; wet high carbon steel cylinder liners; aluminium crankcase split horizontally; twin choke updraught R-R/SU carburettor with anti-ice heating; gear-driven centrifugal supercharger, 2-speed from Mark X; liquid-cooled intercooler; two mechanical fuel pumps on quill shafts; two magnetos; one-piece six-throw chrome molybdenum steel 7-bearing crankshaft; dry sump lubrication; 70 per cent water 30 per cent ethylene glycol cooling; centrifugal pump; electric starter; air compressor take-off for aircraft services
TRANSMISSION single plain spur 0.477:1 or 0.42:1 reduction gears to propeller from front of crankshaft.
PRODUCTION over 30,000

Back to the Future

Drivers in cars will seem bizarre. Future generations will never understand why we put up with the congestion, danger and inconvenience of cars driven by people. Allister Heath, editor of City AM points out presciently that the £35 billion HS2 will be obsolescent almost as soon as it is built in 2032 or so, as driverless cars develop. Driving as we know it will be relegated to a leisure pursuit rather like riding or carriage driving with horses. Motor racing? It has already become so far removed from the real world of cars that, like the Grand National or the Derby, it will survive in its own anachronistic way. (Above: Fisker had the vision)

Nothing’s new. On 30 April 1989 I wrote in The Sunday Times: An automatic pilot for cars is practical. Prometheus, a pan European research and development programme now in its third year looks like getting into the driving seat by the end of the Century. "Driving along motorways without electronic controls will be seen, in years to come, as savage and dangerous," according to Sir Clive Sinclair in a report on traffic published last week by the Adam Smith Institute. "Fighter aircraft perform in ways which would be inconceivable if a human brain had to regulate them. Cars under electronic control could travel at 100 miles per hour, closer together and in great safety. I envisage motorways where the control of the vehicles is taken over by the road," says the inventive Sir Clive.

One of the pioneers of Prometheus (PROgramme for a European Traffic with Highest Efficiency and Unprecedented Safety, not a catchy title), Dr Ferdinand Panik of Daimler Benz agrees. "Present day traffic with individual elements will evolve into an integral system of co operating partners." He regards the electronic revolution in cars as analogous to typewriters. "Twenty years ago, as a purely mechanical product, the typewriter had reached a very advanced state of development. Everyone was satisfied with it. Yet within a short time, computers and communication systems had brought about a change from independent typewriters to interlinked word processors, and conquered the market."

Jerome Rivard, former chief of electronics at Ford, now Vice President of Bendix Electronics in the United States believes we are entering the final phase of handing over control of the car to electronics. "Phase 1 was from the mid 60s to the late 70s, when we saw the solid state radio, electronic ignition, and digital clocks. Phase 2 brought integrated circuits and microprocessors which started to link components together. This included electronic engine controls, instruments, and anti lock brakes, now familiar to many drivers. Phase 3 began in the mid 1980s, in which we will see the total integration of vehicle electrical and electronic systems."
(Jensen and successors will survive)
What this means is that with developments such as anti lock brakes, and its corollary, electronic traction control for preventing loss of grip through wheelspin, coming into use, the stage is set for electronics to take the wheel. "We shall drive on to motorways, but once we are there, control of the vehicle will be taken over by the road," says Sir Clive. Rivard puts it another way, "The skills required in handling an automobile are, in some cases, beyond the capacity of the average driver. The advances in steering, braking, and suspension technology during Phase 3 will allow him to employ the full performance potential of the vehicle even in exceptional situations like avoiding accidents." The immediate safety related task of the new systems will be to create an electronic field round the car with ultrasonic, radar, or infrared beams, to measure the distances and speeds to other vehicles. Approaching a parked lorry at night or in fog, the driver will be alerted to the danger of collision. Before the invention of anti lock brakes (ABS) he would have put the brakes on, or swerved by himself. Now the car can do the job better than the most skilled driver, and on the Sinclair motorway, will apply its own brakes. The same applies to unwise overtaking. The on board computers calculate the speed of the lorry ahead, the speed of the car overtaking, decide there is danger of an accident, and over rules the driver's decision to pull out. Research chiefs such as Professor Dr Ing. Ulrich Seiffert of VW see measures of this sort as a solution to the problem of congestion on motorways. "With electronic controls regulating the cars, you could double or treble the capacity of a motorway," he told me during a meeting at this year's Geneva Motor Show. "And automatic traffic will also be more fuel efficient, and so less polluting."

At the inception of Prometheus in 1986, Professor Werner Breitschwerdt, Chairman of the Daimler Benz board of management defined its target as cutting road traffic casualties by half before the year 2000. At a meeting in Munich earlier this year by the participating companies which include most of Europe's principal car manufacturers (Jaguar, Rolls Royce, Renault, Peugeot Citroën, Fiat, Volvo, Saab Scania, VW, BMW, Volkswagen Audi, and Daimler Benz), the research and development phase of the programme was officially inaugurated. "It was a meeting to provide the project's board of management with a progress report," according to Daimler Benz, the prime mover and still the principal co ordinator of Prometheus. "The first year, 1987, was taken up with defining the programme, in 1988 the participating companies were discussing how to do it, and research proper starts this year."

I rode in road trains of vehicles on test tracks 25 years ago. (Below - Nissan Leafs at a Silverstone demonstration - imagine them driving like this on the motorway at 100mph without drivers) I marvel now at Google’s vehicles that have covered 400,000 miles without an accident. With 360degree sensors, lasers, GPS and learning algorithms everything is in place to make driverless cars practical. Public transport, except in close-packed cities, is doomed. People will travel by night, dozing off and waking up at journey’s end. Commuting, along with everything else, will be transformed.

Good drivers

Aptitudes run in families. Ours was driving. Passing driving tests first time was obligatory. The requisite gene, I am sure, was my mother's. She rode motorcycles in the war. Father wasn’t very good, but my eldest brother had whatever visual acuity or sense of balance that makes a natural driver. He never lost the keen spatial awareness and skill he showed in a rally car. Or a Challenger tank I put him into in his 70s. Son Craig shows the same sort of natural talent, masterminding yachts at Cowes or in Atlantic races. Daughter Joanna showed it as a teenager on horses. Daughter Charlotte? Well, she kept her head tumbling out of aeroplanes, much as eldest brother did a generation ago.

The gene is on show again. Teddy is only four but, just as you can tell racing drivers with natural class within four laps, he took to driving as naturally as walking. Mercedes-Benz put him in an electric at Brooklands last Friday. Before setting off the kindly man-in-charge asked him what would happen if another child’s car got in his way. Teddy’s appraisal of the danger was instant. “We’d crash.” He observed.

He didn’t crash. Kind man showed him the reverse switch only once and he backed up, counter-steering, as though he’s been doing it all his life. He leaned into corners, obeyed the traffic light and was totally unafraid. His great-grand-mama would have been so proud. But she’d be completely unsurprised. It was as natural as riding a motorcycle.

I started driving seriously aged about 12. All my family did, and I have long been convinced that the foundations of a long and safe career at the wheel are laid long before you are 17. Great credit then, to Mercedes-Benz for giving 118,000 under 16s their first drive at Mercedes-Benz World. These young people have driven around a million miles since the scheme was launched in 2007. The only requirement is to be tall enough to reach the pedals of an A-class. There is guidance from professional driving coaches in 30-minute or one-hour Driving Experiences, which extend to dynamic handling and skid management.

The youngest under-16 to drive at Mercedes-Benz World was a tall-ish seven year old. What a great use for the historic Brooklands track.

Dear Teddy. You could be behind the wheel again inside three or four years.

There was, of course, some serious road-testing to be done. Above is the S600L in Magnetite black metallic with Passion Sahara Biege and black leather. It was, not unexpectedly, superbly smooth and quiet and worth £137,810 (with all the accessories) of anybody’s money. The girls Joanna (Teddy’s mother) on the left and Charlotte were collected from school in press test cars so took in their stride the Bang & Olufsen rear seat entertainment package, Beosound AMG sound surround system with 15 speakers and covers in aluminium and illuminated tweeters. Below is another picture of them I took earlier, with another test car. Charlotte on left this time, Joanna right.

Mercedes-Benz and Brooklands

Motor racing history. Mercedes-Benz World towers cliff-like over a corner on the Campbell Circuit at Brooklands. The circular skid pan fits inside the old Aerodrome Curve of the road circuit, built inside the old banked track in 1936-1937. You can see in the picture below, where the new surface joins the old concrete in the foreground, the line of the historic corner, which continues parallel with the fence line to top centre. Mercedes-Benz allowed hacks to try the latest anti-skid gizmos on the skid-pan the other week, although with minders in the car it wasn’t being very reckless. It showed that you have to do something pretty crass to lose control of a Mercedes even in the slippery wet.
The only surprise was how remote you feel. Electronics now act as fail-safes for drivers who no longer need rely on their own reactions to get out of skiddy trouble. There really was little chance of coming to harm at 20mph. You just slithered to a stop.
Mercedes-Benz World has loops of demo track beside the Campbell Circuit’s long straight on the road circuit laid down in 1936-1937. Brooklands is best known for the 1908 bankings, but a change of regime, competition from Crystal Palace and Donington, and a conviction that road racing was more realistic than the old oval prompted change. The result was 2.25 miles of roadway, 32ft wide on the straights, 40ft on the corners, laid down between the aerodrome and sewage farm. There was a new bridge over the River Wey, pits in ferro-concrete, and a concrete road surface on 6in Expamet mesh. Building was entrusted to the Demolition and Construction Co Ltd and the circuit, which used a portion of the banked track, was opened by Dame Ethel Locke-King on 20 April 1937. SF Edge drove round it in a 1903 Gordon Bennett Napier, now at the National Motor museum, Beaulieu.
Other bits of the Campbell Circuit can still be found. We photographed the E220 Estate (above) on the sharp left-hander, now blanked off where it joined the old Members’ Banking.


Mercedes-Benz cool? Apparently it is. I’d always thought it distinguished, high status, the epitome of engineering achievement. But cool? Maybe it’s me. Not absolutely sure what cool is. Asked number one daughter: “Are you trying to hang out with the cool kids?” She identified, “Sock hop Red Bull trendy enjoyed by youff and up-to-the-minute.” Number one not much help.
The Centre for Brand Analysis put 1200 brands in order of innovation, originality, style, authenticity, desirability and uniqueness - or cool - and Mercedes-Benz is delighted at coming 16th. Aston Martin was third coolest after Apple and YouTube. Rob Halloway of Mercedes-Benz came to the rescue: "Coolness is in the perception of others. Cool things have a certain style, elegance and swagger. Cool people have these and cool brands blend a timeless quality with absolute topicality. It sounds like an oxymoron, but that’s what makes cool “cool”. Like style over fashion, cool endures where trendiness tends to be transient.”
Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT Official F1™ Safety Car saw a lot of action in Singapore

So that’s OK then. Other coolies were Twitter, Google, BBC iPlayer, Glastonbury, Virgin Atlantic, Bang & Olufsen, Liberty, Sony, Bose, Häagen-Dazs, Selfridges, Ben & Jerrys, Mercedes-Benz, Vogue, Skype, Nike and Niko. Liberty? Selfridges? All those ice-creams? I suppose they have to keep cool. Vogue? I will keep Mercedes distinguished, high status etc., and remember 1950s motor racing when it was über alles, 30 years before Vorsprung durch Technik. Now it is only a front runner by virtue of supplying Mclaren with engines. Red Bull Renault leads the constructors (297). McLaren Mercedes (261), Ferrari (245), Lotus-Renault (231), works Mercedes-Benz (136). That’s not cool.
Sebastian Vettel takes second successive Singapore Grand Prix for Red Bull Renault

Silver Arrows land on Goodwood

So, the Second World War is really over. Goodwood welcomes the Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union grand prix cars to the Revival in September. It is really about time. Westhampnett, satellite to Tangmere during the Battle of Britain, will echo to the noise of engines made by its adversaries and 75 years after their first appearance in the UK, it promises to be one of the most spectacular historic vehicle events ever.
(Top, Nick Mason drives the V12 Auto Union, above and below, W 125 Mercedes-Benz of 1937-1938)
It is 75 years since their first time in Britain and 74 since their second. This was 1938 for a Donington Grand Prix arranged on 2 October, but the teams had to pack their cars back into their transporters and retreat to Harwich for a ferry back to Germany as the Munich Crisis deepened. Only after Mr Chamberlain brought back his piece of paper was the race rescheduled for 22 October.

Although effectively British Grands Prix the 1937 and 1938 races were called the Donington Grand Prix. Dear old RAC, member of the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus (AIACR founded 1904), was chary about allowing provincial Donington to use the title. Even though Fred Craner, of the Derby and District Motor Club, and JG Shields, landowner, managed to persuade Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union to race against what were essentially local amateurs, the RAC couldn’t quite persuade itself that it should be a British Grand Prix.

Auto Union won both races, Bernd Rosemeyer in 1937, Tazio Nuvolari in 1938 after some disarray in the Mercedes camp.

D-type Auto Union, reconstruction of Nuvolari's winner.
There could be ten Silver Arrows at Goodwood. There were only six at Donington in 1937, eight in 1938 and they will compete with some of the also-rans, ERAs, Maseratis, Rileys, Bugattis and MGs. They will overwhelm them just as they did three quarters of a century ago. The German cars have appeared occasionally in Britain since then, John Surtees drove an Auto Union at Silverstone in 1990, along with Neil Corner in a Mercedes-Benz, but the prospect of seeing - and hearing – them all together is a heady one. Mercedes-Benz W25, W125, W154 and W165, plus the extravagantly rebuilt Auto Union Types C and D will take part

Perhaps it will make the Revival a touch less jingoistic. Motor racing at Goodwood was, essentially, a creation of the 1950s; it was only happenstance that it took place on a wartime airfield. Douglas Bader (below) and his brave contemporaries would be agreeably entertained by the most spectacular grand prix cars of all time on their old “perry track”.