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“THE CAMPBELL TROPHY,” E.P. LEIGH-BENNETT WROTE in the late 1930s, “was to be raced for at Brooklands on the morrow, 226 miles, and Malcolm, the donor and predominating factor in this pulsing pastime, would have me drive down with him the day before in one of his new 4 1/4-litre Bentleys….”
Leigh-Bennett’s article was in On the Road, No. 8, published by Bentley Motors; his title was “Motoritis.” And Malcolm was Sir Malcolm Campbell MBE, British racing motorist and journalist, father of Donald Campbell of land-speed-record fame. Brooklands, of course, was the famed British race circuit located in Weybridge, 25 miles southwest of London. “The right crowd,” it was said, “and no crowding.”
Here are tidbits of Leigh-Bennett’s adventure.
Sir Malcolm’s Motoring Prowess. Leigh-Bennett enthused, “You to whom petrol vapour is as the breath of life will envy me, no doubt, when I tell you that this highly-strung blue eyed man, who has been through the whole gamut of the motoring emotions, and then some, spoke of his ‘blue bird’ open Bentley with the enthusiasm of a child with a new Meccano.”
“Our progress through the congested London traffic,” Leigh-Bennett said, “was as a silk handkerchief slipping through a wedding ring…. During this drive there were never any contrasts. Never a sudden spurt, a sudden diminuendo. We proceeded as if we were water running from a tap—with the world’s surest hand turning it.”
Leigh-Bennett “saw it done a dozen times with the acme of smoothness and tranquillity by one who has traversed the earth’s surface at a speed of over five miles a minute.”
Indeed, as noted in Wikipedia, Sir Malcolm “set his final land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah on 3 September 1935, and was the first person to drive an automobile over 300 mph, averaging 301.337 mph (484.955 km/h) in two passes.”
The Campbell Estate. Leigh-Bennett noted, “Malcolm’s lovely old Georgian house, set four-square in its utterly peaceful park, is really no place … for a would-be pedestrian on the eve of motor racing. For herein men assemble and lounge in deep nicotine-brown leather, under the silver glitter of trophies that line the library walls behind great glass cases; and their talk is of conically geared differentials, freely shackled half-elliptic springs, hemispherical formations and front suspensions.”
The Campbell Trophy Circuit. “We must, of course,” Leigh-Bennett said, “go round the new road circuit he had designed for to-morrow’s race—just to see that everything is O.K.”
“And this blue bird skimmed away with us towards the banking, and we were at 90, silkily again, before I had done up coat buttons; and round one of the many corners at an unruffled 40, soundlessly.”
Race Day. Leigh-Bennett reported, “Brooklands on a racing day, in the ineffable loveliness of a warm spring afternoon, is strangely quiet at 2.20 p.m., with ten minutes to go. The silence is broken only by the bray of bookies in the distance, and the announcer’s voice as it ricochets off the loud-speaker…. One senses the worried working of those twenty-four brains under the crash helmets: for these are the moments of great decision: when to start up the engine: too soon and you oil up the plugs: too late—and you are left at the post….”
The Race. “There is a thunder-clap,” Leigh-Bennett wrote, “of opened throttles, a bedlam of crashing sound, and the whole covey of cars is upon us at the hill corner. The noise is as if giant hands were tearing tough canvas.”
“Meanwhile,” he continued, “the earth and seemingly the sky are beringed, beset with the high-pitched wail of motoritis in the agonies of lap endeavour…. Men speak to me. I don’t hear them. I bellow to men: they hear me faintly and nod—or not.”
Leigh-Bennett observed, “A dark, hatless girl at the railings, with a swashbuckling face and carmine finger nails, has stood stone still for lap upon lap of screaming progress…. I bend to a man’s moving mouth. He says, ‘I believe some people do this for fun!’ ” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022
If in London, you’d do well to visit Bluebird Restaurant in West Chelsea. It’s dedicated to Sir Malcom and the age, and the food is superb. I had the pleasure of sharing a table with Denise McCluggage and Dr. Tony Brooks, whom I believe was the last survivor of the front engine Formula 1 era.
Their aluminium ashtrays depict Campbell’s Bluebird land speed car, perpetually circling the rim.