Pebble Beach Week 2007: The beasts of Brooklands shake up Pebble

Exactly five score years ago, 200,000 tons of gravel and cement were arranged in a 2.75 mile, high-banked, egg-shaped loop in the English countryside. The land was was called Brooklands, and the track laid on it -- the first purpose-built race track in the world -- would share the same name. The speed limit throughout the land at the time was 20 mph, and racing on public roads outside of things like hillclimbs was forbidden. When Brooklands was completed, in June of 1907, there was a place where drivers could -- and did -- go faster than 100 mph.

At Pebble Beach this year, there were some of the greatest racers that Brooklands has ever known, from the world record holding Napier-Railton pictured above to the world record holding Blitzen Benz. It was a fantastic display of ancient motoring monsters, some having airplane engines and capacities measured by dozens of liters. Click Read to get the full story.

Click the gallery to see hi-res images of the Brooklands Centenary race cars at Pebble Beach .

Not only was Brooklands the first closed circuit race course in the world, it had an electric timing system that measured all the way to thousandths of a second. They even experimented with pit-to-car communication via shortwave, but that would be another fifty years to get working properly. Many auto racing terms and formalities, like Clerk of the Course, paddock, and the cars lining up in the pits before the race, came from horse racing which, of course, was the only other template available. Early drivers at Brooklands were even asked to wear different colored pants instead of putting numbers on their cars. That, thankfully, ended rather quickly. A bit of bonus trivia: there actually was a sewage farm at Brooklands (and a runway), and some pilots did end up in it, just as the one in the movie Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines.

The cars on display represented some of the greatest achievements at the at the track whose motto was "The right crowd and no crowding." Bentley built two cars for racing, one of them being the Speed Six which won the Brooklands Double Twelve Hour Race, a 24-hour challenge held over two days. There was the Blitzen Benz that took the land speed record back when race cars were faster than airplanes. The Chitty Bang Bang II was, naturally, the successor to Chitty Bang Bang I, both created by a wealthy Polish Count. The first was a stretched Mercedes chassis with a 23-liter, 6-cylinder Maybach aero engine. Chitty II was a shortened version with an 18.8-liter Benz BZ IV aero engine. Unlike Chitty I, it never won a race, but both of them did give us a classic film and novel pursuits for more ardent hobbyists. The record holder for the fastest lap of Brooklands, the Napier-Railton single seater, holds the record on Brooklands' Outer Circuit (there are three Brooklands circuits) at 143.44 mph. And it always will, since only portions of Brooklands still exist.

Brooklands, the track whose motto was once "The right crowd and no crowding," is now home of Mercedes World, where you can get your automotive jones satisfied as well as indulge in a 5-star spa and resort.

The eight Brooklands racers on display were:

1909 Benz & Cie "Blitzen Benz" that held the world land speed record.
1921 Mercedes "Chitty Bang Bang II" Bligh Brothers Tourer
1925 Sunbeam land speed record Open Wheeled Race Car
1930 Bentley Speed Six "Old #2"
1930 Mercedes-Benz 710SS Rennsport
1931 Riley 9 Brooklands 2 Seater Sports
1933 Napier-Railton Special Gurney Nutting Single Seat Race Car
1934 ERA A-Type Single Seater

All Photos Copyright (c) 2007 Frank Filipponio / Weblogs, Inc.

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