Birkin biopic back in circulation

Rather terrifyingly, it is now more than 20 years since the BBC screened Full Throttle, a film that many people have fondly remembered as an excellent biopic of the celebrated Bentley Boy and Brooklands ace, Sir Henry ‘Tim’ Birkin.

Birkin was played with some panache by Rowan Atkinson: a (relatively) straight role for a lifelong fan of all things on four wheels… who was doubtless drawn to the part like a moth to a flame. There is also the a strong presence for Michael Burn, Birkin’s ghostwriter. But for two decades this little gem has been a mystery to all but those with a grainy VHS recording stashed away somewhere because Full Throttle simply vanished.

Now it is back.

It is an enormous pleasure to report that, for its time, Full Throttle, has aged very well… the lavish lighting makes it look like modern digital quality in a lot of places and in general few corners were cut, save travelling to Le Mans of course.

Somewhat nervously, we put it on the S&G laptop half expecting it to be nowhere near as good as we remembered. Fortunately it was, if anything, even better. The newspapers at the time called it ‘Blackadder goes racing’ but that does the film – and themselves – an enormous disservice.

Enjoy!

Brooklands Reunion – A Racing Anniversary

Brooklands hosted a celebration of pre-war motoring enjoyment to mark 75 years since its last race

The air around Weybridge was ripe with the scent of Castrol R this weekend as Brooklands marked the 75th anniversary of its last competitive race meeting (albeit a little early – the last meeting was held in August 1939). With the aid of some fabulous weather, a bumper crowd turned out and many of them brought some delightful vintage motor cars along to play.

With only pre-war cars permitted within the grounds of the Brooklands Museum – the occasional Jaguar XK120 and kit car notwithstanding! – and with visitors invited to wear period clothing if possible or practical, the aim was to bring to life the lost days of motor racing in front of the right crowd for which it was renowned in the 1920s and 1930s. Certainly the addition of a little light ukelele in the paddock helped with the ambience…

There was much to see aside from the regular attractions of the Brooklands Museum and its incredible collection of artefacts and cars housed in the original buildings of the world’s first purpose-built racetrack. Mostly it was the selection of pre-war cars that had been driven to the event, of which a small selection can be seen here:

There were Bentleys aplenty

If you’re not a Bentley person…

There were quite a few Rollers…

…of many shapes and sizes

MGs by the horde…

A rare beauty of a K3 among them

Baby Austins almost outnumbered the MSG

Every corner was crammed with pre-war beauties

Plenty of ACs at their spiritual home

Aerial view of the paddock

Of course the principal stars of the show were always going to be the gigantic aero-engined Outer Circuit cars – and the event produced a memorable collection. As always, the Museum’s own 24-litre Napier-Railton took everyone’s breath away. As the outright lap record holder in perpetuity, John Cobb’s silver machine deserves such awe but it was given a close run for its money by the Leyland Thomas Special and 350hp Sunbeam – better known as Bluebird.

Outer Circuit cars drew the biggest crowd – quite rightly so

The day really took off when the organisers set about staging the ‘race starts’ to bring at least a little of the original Brooklands spirit back to life. Although the wartime Wellington Hangar continues to block the museum’s section of the start/finish straight until its lottery-funded relocation to the infield, there is still a good few hundred yards available before the Members’ Banking.

A modern day ‘Ebby’ Ebblewhite was on hand with the Union Flag to usher the runners and riders away. For most part this was at a fairly sedate pace, with cautious owners of cars and motorbikes now well into their eighth decade at least, but made for many wonderful moments. For each ‘race’ the starters would bound away to the foot of the banking, turn sharp right as though heading onto the Mountain Circuit, and disappear from view… only to return shortly afterwards, lest they thunder into Gallaghers’ car park!

The track surface is incredibly rough, but then it was hardly much better 75 years ago. Brooklands was made out of concrete – a relatively new invention in 1907 and one of which there was precious little understanding at the time. The concrete was simply set upon earth with virtually no coursing beneath, and thus regularly needed to be patched up from weather damage and racing wear and tear. This resulted in the famous film and photos of cars with all four wheels off the ground at 120mph and upwards.

Speeds were much more modest for this celebration event, but certainly produced a crowd-pleasing spectacle.

Some starts were livelier than others!

And then finally the Big Bangers of the Outer Circuit came and had a go. Given that it has taken 12 years and many, many man hours to get the Sunbeam running again, it is hardly surprising that a cautious approach was taken to its run:

Nevertheless, the sight, sound and smell of these evocative racing machines – coupled with an enthusiastic crowd and still more enthusiastic drivers – meant that the runs began to resemble motor races before long. This was the second attempt at running the big cars, resulting in the big Napier-Railton smoking its tyres in fine style to settle the hash of an impudent Voiturette!

It was a remarkable day carried out with all the dedication, good humour and style that sets the Brooklands Museum apart. Hopefully it has sown the seeds of an annual event worthy of sitting alongside the Revival. A few more ladies, gentlemen, boys and girls in pre-war attire are required to achieve this – but one imagines that all who came away from Brooklands this weekend did so looking forward to the next such event. Well done to all involved and many thanks to the volunteers who, as always, bring the place to life for visitors, be they regular or new arrivals.

A day’s racing at Brooklands

Who would have thought that some 70 years after the likes of Prince Bira and Earl Howe set the pace around the Byfleet Banking, the opportunity would arise to go racing at Brooklands. Well, back in 2009, the offer of taking part in a race for cars which used to thunder round the banking and skitter round the infield circuit seemed too good to miss – even in 1/32 scale.

On the balcony of the Brooklands clubhouse with the lovely Alfa Romeo 8C/35

This was to be the Feature Race of the Slot Car Festival at Brooklands. BBC Top Gear presenter James May was there making his Toy Stories programme about Scalextric, setting a world record for the longest track in the world by running around the full length of the old Outer Circuit. There was drag racing and a massive Airfix stand where kids of all ages could have a go at building and painting something exciting and a gigantic swapmeet to enjoy.

The Feature Race rules insisted that a full-size version of the car you intended to race must have raced at Brooklands in period. My collection is not huge but fortunately the Swiss racer Hans Reusch campaigned an ex-Ferrari Alfa Romeo 8C/35 in the Mountain Championship of 1937 – the same car with which Reusch and Dick Seaman won the 1936 Donington Grand Prix, so this was to be my mount for the occasion.

Bright and early on race day, I joined a trail of grown men carrying boxes of toy cars past the somewhat bewildered-looking staff. The race was being organised by Pendle Slot Racing, from where Sean and Nic were to be found Concorde as an imprmptu workshop to plumb the regulation Scaleauto motor. Everyone was required to have the same powerplant – a rorty little number capable of spinning up to 25,000 rpm – so they were doing a roaring trade.

Sean from Pendle was busy with the soldering iron while sitting under Concorde

Then came to mounting the body and, lo and behold, the end of the new Scaleauto motor was fouling the front body post. With the clock ticking towards the end of scrutineering and little progress being made chipping away at it, I gave up and pulled the mount out of the body completely, leaving me with only the rear mount. Nevertheless the big Alfa sailed through scrutineering – aided by my first edition copy of Bill Boddy’s History of Racing at Brooklands, whereby our eagle-eyed ‘scroots’ could find, on page 316, provenance that Reusch had in fact campaigned it here.

The scrutineers pass their eagle eyes over the assembly

Next up was the concours. Among the scratchbuilt drivers, clothes, chassis, bodies on display my efforts were very much on the average side. Victory in the concours ultimately went to the fabulous Morgan 3-wheeler.

Concours d’elegance taking place as the builders show off their creations

The Alfa scrubbed up rather well but was still a long way behind the standards of other builders…

A gaggle of beauties including a Bugatti, streamlined Bentley and pair of Napier-Railtons

Beautiful Talbot T700

Concours-winning Morgan – it ran rather nicely too

Then came the track action. The Alfa suffered some serious overheating problems in the heats, but mustered a couple of fourth place finishes which weren’t too bad. The problem was fixed by a seasoned hand, Steve Francis, who walloped the motor with a screwdriver – whatever it did worked a treat.

This in turn, however, meant mastering new cornering speeds, and there were a few too many incidents before I managed that, including terrifying several small children who were standing at the end of the main straight and had to duck as the big Alfa whistled past their ears. Little by little the Alfa shed its finer detail parts and by the end of my running was held together with gaffer tape.

Having endured a few issues in the heats, my Alfa was rather sorry-looking for its last few races

I was looking carefully at all the other entrants on the track and in the ‘paddock’ and feeling rather like the new boy. Steve Francis came to my rescue again, talking me through his fabulous Alfa P3: balsa body, ride height the lowest permissible and weighty rattle pan chassis. It seems one can build a winner on the track or a winner in the concours but there is a degree of mutual exclusivity! Steve’s car was a joy to watch, poised, driftable and kart-like in its responsiveness. That’s what everyone needs to aim for – as his deserved victory proved!

Steve Francis’s extremely rapid balsa Alfa Romeo P3

All in all it was a fantastic day’s racing with plenty of camaraderie among the builders and racers. Hopefully there will be more of the same before long – Team S&G is ready to go racing again! Meanwhile here are some more of these glorious little racing cars to enjoy…

Barnato Bentley in fine fettle

Beautiful Bugatti T35

Bentleys were very popular

Another lovely Bug

And another Talbot is ready to race

 

A gaggle of entries showing the different shapes and sizes on show

 

The name’s Bond…

Life evokes art... Fleming in a Bentley

Life evokes art… Fleming in a Bentley

If you enjoy The Scarf & Goggles Social Club then it’s highly likely that you enjoy the books of Ian Fleming. Of course, since the first four movies – Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger and Thunderball – Fleming’s 007 has existed in a separate universe from his cinematic namesake. More’s the pity.

Fleming ensured that the literary Bond drives Bentleys, and although his pre-war car was written off in the novel Moonraker while in pursuit of Sir Hugo Drax’s white Mercedes-Benz 300SL, it was evidently felt to be a suitable icon. That’s why this example was chosen – complete with the Amherst Villiers supercharger – by Life magazine when photographing Fleming. Splendid stuff.

It’s safe to say that if the Scarf & Goggles were a pub, Daniel Craig would have considerable difficulty in getting served!