A splendid enterprise

Christmas shopping need be a chore no longer, thanks to Marlon Foakes. Well known in the model car racing world for his exquisite scratch built Grand Prix machinery, Marlon is now letting people share in his glory by producing a range of kits and ready-to-race slot cars representing some of the finest cars of the 1920s and early 1930s under the name Shadowfax.

For those not versed in Tolkien, Shadowfax was Gandalf’s chosen steed: the Lord of all horses from the race of the Mearas, the greatest horses of Middle-earth, who was said to run faster than the wind. So there you go.

The bare bones: a Shadowbox Alfa Romeo P2 in kit form

First out of the blocks are a trio of Portello’s finest offerings: the Alfa Romeo P2 in both 1929 and 1930 guise and, for fans of the Thirties, there is the 1938 Alfa Romeo 308 – sleek, streamlined and the best non-German car of the 3-litre era.

Not only has Marlon carved and cast the bodies, details and drivers but he has also developed an adjustable chassis that can allow the models to sit correctly and steer with the front wheels turning in harmony with the guide. As a result, your miniature Varzis and Nuvolaris will be able to drift correctly around the track.

The Shadowbox chassis can be adjusted to fit various cars

A raft of new types is expected to follow shortly – these include Bugattis, Delages and Maseratis of the kind that graced grids from Brooklands to Buenos Aires. For further information, contact Shadowfax here.

The finished product! Achille Varzi’s 1929 Alfa Romeo P2

The real thing to compare with its new replica

Ferrari and Alfa Romeo – 80 years on

Today saw the launch of Ferrari’s 2015 Formula One contender, the SF15-T. At this stage in its life it simply looks like a prettier version of last year’s car, but what’s this on its flanks? Why! It’s the Alfa Romeo badge!

The 2015 Ferrari - complete with Alfa Romeo badge

The 2015 Ferrari – complete with Alfa Romeo badge

While of little overall consequence, the badge does offer some hope that the Scuderia might embrace a little more of its pre-war past. For too many years the boys and girls in red have been keen to impress upon us all that the world began in 1947, when Enzo first set about building cars in his own name.

Yet by doing so, they have cast aside the many triumphs achieved through the 1930s, when Scuderia Ferrari was first a customer team for Alfa Romeo and later the effective works squad.

Each year around the world there is undoubtedly more excitement surrounding the birth of a new Ferrari than can be whipped up by any of the other teams. Perhaps in 2015 this is because they remain scarlet in a sea of grey colour schemes (perhaps ‘Fifty Shades’ should be the new tagline for F1), but more often it is because of heritage and tradition, the pageantry and sheer Italian theatre that surrounds the team.

The twin-engined 1935 Alfa Bimotore was designed and built by Ferrari

The twin-engined 1935 Alfa Bimotore was designed and built by Ferrari

Well, the Scuderia provided bucket loads of the latter throughout the 1930s. This year, for example, marks the 80th anniversary of Tazio Nuvolari’s victory at the Nürburgring. That race – when the Maestro wrung the neck of his underpowered Alfa P3 to beat the Germans on home soil – is about as big a chunk of Grand Prix folklore as you’ll find and an anniversary that is well worth Ferrari’s time to celebrate…

…particularly when the Germans are stomping all over the sport now as they did then.

So, with this in mind, here’s a lovely little film of Nuvolari winning the 1935 Pau Grand Prix. The event, in February of that year, was Nuvolari’s first after returning to the fold at Ferrari, having previously believed that he would be better off in privately-entered Bugattis and Maseratis.

The race doesn’t look particularly well-attended, but at the front of the field the two Ferrari-entered Alfa Romeos of Nuvolari and René Dreyfus put on a show. Ferrari’s all-stars traded the lead throughout 75 of the 80 laps before the ‘Flying Mantuan’ asserted his authority to lead Dreyfus home nearly four minutes clear of the competition.

Such was the stuff of the 750 kg Grand Prix formula – until the Germans arrived and rewrote the rulebook for the glory of the Reich. So enjoy the clip and let’s hope that the good people in Maranello break open the archives on this earlier partnership with Alfa Romeo.

 

Founding the Monaco Grand Prix

‘They have the most astonishing audacity in some parts of Europe. For instance, there is going to be a Grand Prix at Monaco – a Grand Prix, mark you, in a Principality which does not possess a single open road of any length, but has only ledges on the face of a cliff and the ordinary main thoroughfares that everyone who has been to the Casino knows so well…”

The Monaco circuit in its earliest form

The Monaco circuit in its earliest form

So reported The Autocar magazine early in 1929, after the founding father of the Monaco Grand Prix, Antony Noghes, defied both convention and the disbelief of the AIACR – fore-runner to the FIA – in order to stage a motor race.

It was the previous year when Noghes, the president of the Automobile Club de Monaco, decided that top-flight motor racing was an essential addition to the prestige of the Principality if it were to hold its head high in Europe. Regional grands prix were being held in nearby Cannes and Nice, and just a few miles away lay the celebrated La Turbie hillclimb – and Noghes was determined that the Monegasques should not be overlooked.

The Automobile Club de Monaco had grown from the Cycling and Automobile Club of Monte Carlo, which itself had founded the Monte Carlo Rally some 17 years earlier. This celebrated run to the Riviera from all points of the compass was one thing, but clearly the sport’s governors thought that this grand prix idea was preposterous.

“Your rally is a large-scale event, we quite agree,” said the letter from the AIACR. “But you need the whole map of Europe for it… you cannot do anything in Monaco.”

Noghes was not a man to take 'non' for an answer

Noghes was not a man to take ‘non’ for an answer

An indignant Noghes protested that Monte Carlo could and indeed would hold a grand prix – even if he himself had no idea where at the time. In a tremendous state of Gallic high dudgeon he wrote back to the AIACR stating that he could: “inform you, sirs, that next year you will be present at an international race which will be held on the territory of the Principality and which will excite world-wide interest.”

In the stunned silence that followed his reply, Noghes busied himself with driving around the whole of Monte Carlo in search of suitable roads – a search which time and again drew him back to the streets of the capital, Monaco.

“For days on end I went over the avenues of the Principality until I hit on the only possible circuit,” he recalled, almost 40 years later.

“This skirted the port, passing along the quay and the Boulevard Albert Premier, climbed the hill of Monte Carlo, then passed around the Place du Casino, took the downhill zig-zag near Monte Carlo station to get back to sea level and from there, along the Boulevard Louis II and the Tir aux Pigeons tunnel, the course came back to the port quayside.”

With his route fixed, Noghes presented this outline for a small but challenging street circuit to the great Monegasque racing driver Louis Chiron – who declared the course ‘stupendous’. It was also impossible to drive around at that time, because the route Noghes had worked out included the great stone steps next to the Bureau de Tabac which linked the Quai Etats Unis with the Quai Albert I.

The run to Tabac was the sticking point in Noghes' design

The run to Tabac was the sticking point in Noghes’ design

Between them, Noghes and Chiron managed to generate sufficient interest among the hoteliers and stakeholders in the city that the track was indeed approved. The old stone steps were demolished in favour of a smooth incline – or, in other words, the heart of Monaco was reshaped for the race, under the approving eye of His Serene Highness Prince Peter. The race would be on.

A mildly incredulous AIACR duly sanctioned the inaugural Monaco Grand Prix to take place on April 14 1929. Their feelings were amply covered in the press leading up to the race, with The Motor declaring that “…there is no doubt that the course is exceedingly difficult and calls for a first-class car and a really expert driver…”

Although none of the 16 cars which arrived for the race had been built in England (the field numbering eight Bugattis, three Alfa Romeos, two Maseratis, a Corre-la-Licorne, a Delage and a Mercedes-Benz), the whole idea struck a chord with the madcap British motoring fraternity – as The Autocar attested:

“That capital little affair, the Monte Carlo Grand Prix, which is to run wild through the streets of the Principality, has received twenty-three entries, all of which the promoters appear anxious to start. This affair should be the nearest approach to a Roman chariot race that has been seen of recent years…”

'Chariots' at the ready for the first Monaco Grand Prix

‘Chariots’ at the ready for the first Monaco Grand Prix

If the Brits felt that the idea of tonking around the streets of Monaco was all rather jolly before the race then their ardour was only enflamed by a British winner – in the form of William Grover, racing under the name ‘W. Williams’.

Grover was not a member of the Brooklands fraternity – indeed he was half French, had lived virtually his whole life in France and was a member of the works Bugatti team. Yet while he was not a member of the coterie of Campbell, Segrave, Birkin et al the blue paint on his Type 35B – the only works car entered – was nevertheless over-painted in British racing green before the race. Certainly his victory was eagerly accepted as being 100% British among those back home…

The victory of 'Williams' was quickly claimed by the British

The victory of ‘Williams’ was quickly claimed by the British

After 85 years the Monaco circuit still leaves people agape and chuckling with amazement at the idea of threading grand prix motor cars through its narrow, vertiginous streets. Its remarkable creator, Antony Noghes, lived long enough to see the likes of Nuvolari, Moss, Lauda and Prost earn their spurs on his circuit. Much has of course changed in the name of safety, commerce and outright greed but one suspects that the likes of Chiron and ‘Williams’ would recognize the event in a heartbeat – and be extremely proud of their ongoing legacy.

The first Nürburgring Grand Prix

A great debt is owed to Dr. Otto Creutz, once the councillor for Germany’s sleepy Eifel district. It was he who had the bright idea, some 90 years ago, to build a race track in his constituency.

Dr. Otto Creutz - the man who sold a million boot stickers

Dr. Otto Creutz – the man who sold a million car boot stickers

The idea would require national government backing and Creutz achieved this through the offices of Konrad Adenauer, the then Oberbürgermeister of Cologne, who would end up as Chancellor after World War 2. With Adenauer’s support a budget of 15 million marks was amassed in order to construct Creutz’s 28.265km (17.58 mile) test track for the German motor industry – the Nürburgring.

The ‘Ring was not yet completed in 1926 when the inaugural Grosser Preis von Deutschland was due to be staged, so instead the event took place on the tree-lined duel carriageway of the AVUS in Berlin.

The Mercedes team always travelled in style to Grands Prix

The Mercedes team always travelled to Grands Prix in style

A road race within the Grünewald, right within the nation’s capital, must have seemed like a bright idea… but it was not a great success. The turn-out among non-German teams was small and the race was marked by a crash in which Alfred Rosenberger’s Mercedes ploughed off the circuit at the densely populated North Turn; demolishing the timekeeper’s hut and killing three people.

It did, however, bring victory to the precociously talented young man who had become the darling of the Mercedes squad: Rudolf Caracciola.

It was Caracciola who would lead Mercedes in to the second Grosser Preis a year later – and this time it would be held on the Nürburgring. On this occasion absolutely no concession was made to potential overseas entrants and the race was held for sports cars rather than thoroughbred grand prix machines.

The mighty Porsche-designed Mercedes S, star of the 1927 Grosser Preis

The mighty Porsche-designed Mercedes S, star of the 1927 Grosser Preis

It was also the case that Mercedes had just merged with Benz, with both factories closing their racing departments in the interim. This meant that a suitably competitive production car would have to be found – and it was.

The supercharged 6.8-litre Mercedes S, designed by Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, was light years ahead of any comparable car. As a result seven of them arrived at the Nürburgring, dominating a field of 21 cars and putting the result beyond doubt in many minds even before the race began.

The action was to take place over 18 laps of the complete circuit for total distance of 509.4km or 316.5 miles (compared to the 308km of the modern Grosser Preis which is held over 60 laps of the little 5.1 km circuit laid out around the original start/finish straight). A total of 75,000 people arrived on the morning of 17 July 1927 to witness the spectacle and celebrate the almost inevitable Mercedes victory.

The field lines up for the first Grand Prix at the 'Ring

The field lines up for the first Grand Prix at the ‘Ring

But which Mercedes? Caracciola was notionally the top dog but it was an all-star team and at the start it was Rosenberger who surged off the line from the second row of the grid and through to take the lead for the whole of the first lap while the rest of the squad battled in his wake.

Caracciola headed the chase but was soon passed by the sister car of Willy Walb and was soon under increasing pressure from Mercedes stalwart Christian Werner. On lap 5, after running neck-and-neck for the full length of the mighty run down from Dottinger Hohe, Caracciola suddenly pulled off into the pits claiming engine problems and retired from the event.

Paul Reich comes to grief behind the imperious Mercedes fleet

Paul Reich comes to grief behind the imperious Mercedes fleet

Walb meanwhile caught and passed Rosenberger, whose engine sounded off-colour and would let go completely on the ninth lap. By then Walb was coming under pressure from yet another of the Mercedes entries – this time that of Otto Merz.

The Swabian giant Merz, known among the team as Kolossus, was usually the reserve driver but he rose to the occasion in style. Despite repeatedly being forced to pit for new tyres, he was able to hold his team-mates at bay to the finish in a time of four hours and 59 minutes to enjoy the adulation of the crowd.

Three minutes behind Merz came Christian Werner and then Walb completed the longed-for 1-2-3 finish for Mercedes a further eight minutes later. It was a fine performance from a man with plenty of stories to tell outside the world of motor racing, whose position as reserve would remain despite taking the biggest prize in Germany.

Kolossus! Merz takes the plaudits as the first man to win a GP at the 'Ring

Kolossus! Merz takes the plaudits as the first man to win a GP at the ‘Ring

Crossing the line in fourth place was the Bugatti of Franz Baader but he was disqualified from the results. Thus the popular Czech driver, Madame Elisabeth Junek, claimed fourth overall and first in the 3.0 litre class in her own Bugatti.

The first Grand Prix to be held on the Nürburgring was far from its most dazzling in terms of entertainment, but it nevertheless delivered exactly what Otto Creutz had envisioned: a challenge stern enough for motor manufacturers and drivers to show their class around the world.

Long may it remain so.

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

 

A dark and distant start to the season

This weekend a new season of Formula One blasts off many miles from home in Melbourne’s Albert Park. Seventy-five years ago the Grand Prix crowd also ventured a long way to commence battle… to the Italian protectorate of Libya for the Tunis GP and what would prove to be another titanic outing for the silver cars of Germany…

Today's distant races are 'flyaways' but they were 'sailaways' in 1938

Today’s distant races are ‘flyaways’ but they were ‘sailaways’ in 1938

After the ‘anything goes’ years of 1934-37 when pretty well any car weighing less than 750kg was eligible to compete in top flight grands prix, the 1938 season saw a limit of 3.0-litre engines for supercharged cars and 4.5 litres for unblown machinery in an attempt to curb the excesses of the German teams.

Fat chance!

Auto Union, still rocked by the death of Bernd Rosemeyer in the impromptu record attempts made at the start of the year, didn’t have its new V12 cars ready in time to catch the boat to North Africa, but Mercedes-Benz had four of its new low-slung W154 machines available for Rudolf Caracciola, Manfred von Brauchitsch, Hermann Lang and Dick Seaman.

The Italians took one look at the potent silver cars and, fearing a whitewash, promptly capped teams to a maximum of three entries. The offer was made to paint Seaman’s car British racing green and enter him as a ‘privateer’ but this was turned down flat by the race officials. Hence German dudgeon ran pretty high when Alfa Romeo was allowed to enter its fourth car as a ‘privateer’ entry for Raymond Sommer!

Alfa Corse had been reinstated to prepare and enter the scarlet cars from Portello after five unsuccessful seasons with Scuderia Ferrari in charge. A somewhat mutinous Enzo Ferrari was initially retained as team manager but that relationship was doomed to failure and he had already abandoned the team which arrived in Tripoli with Sommer,  Giuseppe Farina and Eugenio Siena in the new V12 cars and Clemente Biondetti who, during practice, tried out a remarkable V16 that was made from two 158 Alfetta engines lashed together. He reverted to a humble 308 for the race.

Elsewhere there was a Bugatti for Jean-Pierre Wimille, a trio of Delahayes for Laury Schell, Gianfranco Comotti and René Dreyfus plus a pair of new Maserati 8CTFs for Count Trossi and the returning Achille Varzi, who was a shadow of his former self in the depths of his addiction to morphia.

The Tripoli Grand Prix required 30 starters in order for the celebrated lottery to take place, based on the race numbers of the cars and the order in which they crossed the finish line. As a result a raft of 1.5-litre Maseratis was brought in to make up the numbers.

In the end it was this decision which gave the race its mark in history. The Alfa Romeos were frustrated in all their attempts to hold back the Mercedes and Latin tempers ran high in the African sun. Siena thundered up behind the little Maserati of Franco Cortese, who hadn’t seen him coming and held his line into the next corner, forcing his compatriot to swerve. The Alfa hit one of the sand banks that lined the course, took off and hit the side of a house – against which Siena was killed instantly.

Cortese drove on, unaware of the disaster in his wake. Later in the race a similar situation arose when Farina found his progress hampered by the Maserati of Hungarian driver László Hartmann and began lunging impatiently at him with the long nose of the Alfa. Eyewitnesses said that the contact between the cars looked deliberate, from which Hartmann’s car skidded and flipped over. The Hungarian was thrown out and broke his back, dying in hospital the next day.

Meanwhile the Mercedes team swept home to an unopposed 1-2-3 finish with Lang heading home four minutes clear of Brauchitsch and Caracciola for the second of his hat-trick of victories in Tripoli. Marshal Balbo, the patron of the event, forwent the opulent post-race celebrations that usually accompanied the completion of his Grand Prix, with Farina said to be ‘inconsolable with grief’ in Lang’s recollection of the day.

László Hartmann’s grave in Budapest is somewhere that a handful of contemporary F1 folk have sought out over the years. In an era when so many drivers escaped from the very real dangers of the sport, the pride shown in Hungary’s first and only Grand Prix driver of the 20th Century remains touching. My photos were a bit grainy and fuzzy, taken on a cheap old camera very late one day, so here is a better one:

Hartmann's grave in Rákoskeresztúr Cemetery

Hartmann’s grave in Rákoskeresztúr Cemetery

Britain’s first Grand Prix

At the highest level of the sport, Grand Prix racing remained largely a French affair from its inception in 1906, with only the American Grand Prize achieving anything like similar status internationally. In the aftermath of World War 1, however, Italy and Spain both inaugurated their own Grands Prix and in October 1923 the possibility of a future world championship for Grand Prix racing was discussed at the annual conference of the sport’s governing body, the Association Internationale des Automobiles Clubs Reconnus (AIACR), in Paris.

Alfa Corse won the inaugural world championship with its brilliant P2

Alfa Corse won the inaugural world championship with its brilliant P2

In January 1925 a world championship format was duly agreed between the sanctioning bodies of the sport in France, Belgium, Great Britain, Austria, Italy and the USA. It would be contested by manufacturers for cars of 2.0-litre engine capacity weighing no less than 650kg. These cars must be two-seaters but riding mechanics were banned, while the championship they entered would be staged over four rounds of a minimum 500 miles each, these being the Indianapolis 500, the European Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, the Grand Prix itself at L’Autodrome de Linas-Montlhéry near Paris and the Gran Premio d’Italia at Monza.

The Royal Automobile Club in Britain had initially signed up to organise a 500-mile race on the Isle of Man, but the rigours of the 50-mile circuit were felt to be too great by the AIACR. A secondary plan to race at Brooklands circuit was thwarted by noise regulations and Britain was thus absent from the inaugural world championship season when Alfa Romeo powered to an emphatic victory in the inaugural points standings.

For the 1926 season Alfa had withdrawn from Grand Prix racing but the British had got themselves organised and the English Grand Prix at Brooklands was duly added to the calendar with a race date of August 2nd. The large kidney-shaped oval at Brooklands was nevertheless felt to be unsuitable for the overseas cars, designed to race on twisting public roads, and so two chicanes were made at vast expense on the home straight, made from a huge amount of bright red sand, which effectively cut off the right-handed fork bend outside the Vickers aircraft shed and most of the steeply-raked Members’ Banking.

Further development of Brooklands in readiness to host a Grand Prix included installing more sand banks to protect the crowd from errant machinery, the construction of covered race pits on the Home Straight and both a scoreboard and footbridge, the latter being sponsored by J. Smith & Co. the London-based import agents for Delage cars.

Henry Segrave tries out the newly-installed chicanes in practice

Henry Segrave tries out the newly-installed chicanes during practice

Although there was considerable interest surrounding the 110-lap race, the Brooklands motto of ‘the right crowd and no crowding’ was enforced by setting the ticket price at five shillings per person and a further ten shillings to bring a car through the gate. Entry to the paddock meanwhile was subject to an astonishing levy of £1 per person – fees which, in the context of the day, even Bernie Ecclestone would blush at demanding!

A total of 15 entries arrived for the big event, led by the trio of works Talbots for Albert Divo, Jean Moriceau and British hero Henry Segrave. Three more entries came from the works Delage team for the bright new French talent Robert Benoist and the old stagers Louis Wagner and Robert Senechal. Bugatti did not send any works entries but their British importer – and land speed record breaking hero – Malcolm Campbell privately entered a Type 35.

Segrave (seated in car) in a pre-race photo opportunity

Segrave (seated in car) enjoys a pre-race photo opp with ‘the right crowd’

Elsewhere six of the British entries did not arrive, leaving only the Major Frank Halford’s ‘special’ with a 6-cylinder engine of his own design mounted in an old Aston Martin, and Captain George Eyston in another Aston Martin, this time fitted with an Anzani side-valve motor. So it was that nine cars took starters’ orders from ‘Ebby’ Ebblewhite and as his celebrated red flag fell Divo’s Talbot got away cleanest to lead Cambell, Moriceau and Eyston into the first lap.

One unexpected effect of adding the chicanes to the circuit was however the toll taken on brakes and suspension as the cars, flat-out for most of the 2.6-mile lap as they screamed down Railway Straight and round the long, low loop of the Byfleet Banking, were slowed to almost walking pace. At the end of the first lap the front wheels of Moriceau’s Talbot collapsed under the strain but his team-mates Divo and Segrave powered on at the head of the field, with the Delages in pursuit.

And they're off: the 1926 RAC Grand Prix d'Angleterre

And they’re off: the 1926 RAC Grand Prix d’Angleterre

It soon became clear that if the Talbots suffered from worrisome frailty, the Delages presented their drivers with a rather more pressing problem: burnt feet. Heat from the engine was turning the firewall and pedals incandescent, forcing the drivers to stop and bathe their feet in ice water and wrap wet rags around their shoes.

Eventually Wagner’s car picked up a misfire and retired, but after he had cooled his roasted soles suitably the grand old man was called up to replace Senechal at the wheel of his car, as he could no longer sustain the agony. The youthful Benoist had also reached breaking point and it was fortunate that Delage had brought another ‘ace’ – Andre Dubonnet – along to entertain its corporate guests. Resplendent in a pristine lounge suit, Dubonnet abandoned his post in the hospitality tent and hopped gamely into the car to complete the race.

While all this drama unfolded for the Delages, the Talbots were also coming unstuck as their superchargers gave out and both Segrave and Divo were forced to retire – although a barnstorming performance by the British star did at least secure the fastest lap in consolation. Both of the homespun efforts of Halford and Eyston also failed, leaving Campbell’s Bugatti as the lone challenger to the Delages and their long-suffering drivers.

After four hours the result was victory to the Delage of Senechal/Wagner with Campbell Second and the second Delage of Benoist/Dubonnet the only other finisher. It had been a remarkable event in so many ways, and one which unknowingly set the tone for world championship Grands Prix in a distant future that none of those in August 1926 could possibly have foreseen. Britain, meanwhile, was at long last on the Grand Prix racing map.

Here’s a video of the event, please feel free to turn the volume right down, though!