The MG Tigress, or to give it its full name, the Mark III 18/100, was MG’s first production race car. Based on the road going MG 18\80 it, like the tiny MG M type midget, was build to compete in the 1930 Brooklands Double 12 Race.  The car had many advanced features including a six cylinder, 2.5 L overhead camshaft engine, dry sump lubrication, twin spark heads and improved suspension.  However they proved unreliable during the race with all cars retiring due to engine failure. In contrast the Midgets beat much more powerful machinery to win the team prize.  Due to their comparative lack of success and high price, only five Tigress’ were built. Two survive including one that visited MG Era at Brooklands in April. 

Originally owned by Lord Victor the Rothschild, GH3501 is in beautiful condition

  

The Tigress mascot on the car is said to have inspired Jaguar’s famous leaper

  

Beautiful fishtail exhaust and enhanced shock absorbers show that this car is no ordinary 18 / 80

  

…As do the fine set of Jaeger instruments

 

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The annual Brooklands driving tests brought a good collection of Vintage Sports Car Club cars to the old circuit last weekend.

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Morgan three wheelers lining up for one of the driving tests

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A cycle car (GN?) taking part in a fiendish test. The driver needs to drive at a constant distance around the Christmas tree (to which he attached by a line). On the line is a rubber duck. Get too close and the duck touches the ground and you are penalised. Drive too far from the tree and you will pull it over. This driver did the latter! Note terrified bear tucked behind nearside headlamp.

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An immaculate M Type MG Midget navigates the cones by the old pits with the clubhouse beyond.

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This gorgeous Grand Prix Vauxhall TT racer was on display in the old balloon shed. A reminder of days before Vauxhall became a mere franchise for GM rep mobiles.

Whilst the weather was little better than it was at last year’s wash out, this year many more classic car owners made the journey to the birthplace of British motorsport for the first major classic car event of 2015.

Porsches, Model T Ford hot rods and Riley 1.5 on the start finish straight at the 2015 Brooklands New Year's Day meeting

Porsches, Model T Ford hot rods and Riley 1.5 on the start finish straight at the 2015 Brooklands New Year’s Day meeting

I took along my MG YB, out for its first run since the Mini Tour Britannia last May. It performed faultlessly although it’s less than inspiring reward on arrival was to be parked on some muddy waste ground between the Bus Museum and the old circuit banking. Apart from the somewhat variable quality of the parking spaces available, the other disappointment was the lack of catering provision which meant waiting 15 minutes, even for a cup of tea. But these logistical problems highlighted what a popular event Brooklands Museum now have on their hands. They must have made a lot of money, which is excellent news as every penny of profit will go towards their work to preserve Britain’s first motor racing circuit and aircraft factory, and the machines that raced or were built there.

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This immaculate Lea Francis is a rare car. Lea Francis were a high end car manufacturer based in Britain’s Detroit, Coventry. Like so many other motor companies, they started making bicycles at the end of the 19th Century before moving on to motorcylces and eventually cars in the 1920s. Known for hand building exquisite well engineered cars, their products also had a reputation for being expensive and exclusive. This Lea Francis is a 2.5L Sports. Only 77 were built between 1950 and 1953 when Lea Francis ceased car production. The low build volume is explained by the fact that whilst the 2.5L Sport possessed good performance, it was slower than its contemporary, the Jaguar XK120, which was also substantially cheaper.

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Oozing quirky Gallic charm, the Panhard PL17 was a development of the revolutionary Dyna Z1 launched in 1953. Like a modern day McLaren or Alfa 4C, the Z1 was built without a chassis, the front and rear subframes bolting on to a central tub. Rather than being carbon fibre, the Z1 tub was all aluminium – equally revolutionary in its day. The rest of the structure of the car, including its aerodynamically efficient bodywork, was also aluminium. This resulted in a car that was much lighter than its peers with consequent performance and fuel economy advantages. Years before “ground effect” in F1 Panhard made sure the underside of the Z1 was as flat and smooth as possible to further enhance efficiency and performance. Powered by an 850cc flat twin engine the car was remarkably fast (95mph) and fuel efficient (50mpg claimed). Sadly, by the time this PL17 was built (in about 1961) Panhard had changed to steel construction to reduce production costs and therefore sale price.

A new feature this year was the open day held by the Brooklands Motor Company whose works occupy the old Members Restaurant at the top of the Test Hill. This historic building had been decaying until BMC acquired and restored it. Where well-heeled BARC members once took tea, BMC now fettles and restores AC cars.

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Aston Martin DB3 and 5 with a Facel Vega on a lift and assorted dismantled AC’s in the old dining room of the Members Restaurant – now Brookland Motor Company’s smart works.

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Mille Miglia AC Ace at Brooklands Motor Company

Below are some of the more interesting cars that caught my eye.

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This Daimler Ferret scout car was built in Coventry in 1953. It served in the British Army for the next 40 years spending time in Jordan, the UK, and West Germany and seeing action in Aden, Northern Ireland and Kuwait and Iraq in the First Gulf War. Powered by a 4.25L Rolls Royce engine, top speed is only 56mph but as a driver you would be protected against small arms fire. And you’d have a machine gun – or two..

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This immaculate 1992 Rover 800 Vitesse is a rare survivor of the Honda / Rover cars that resurrected the brand when it was owned by British Aerospace. These Rovers successfully combined Japanese reliability with British design flare into a pretty compelling package.

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The Chevrolet Corvair was America’s answer to the Porsche 911. Rear engined and air cooled it was sporty and handsome. Unfortunately, due to cost cutting its rear swing axle rendered it liable to often fatal understeer. This was highlighted (amongst other industry faults) by crusading lawyer Ralph Nader in his classic 1965 book “Unsafe at Any Speed”. Rather than address the car’s design shortcomings the initial response of GM to Nader’s book was to try and smear his name. Nader was systematically harassed, his phone bugged, he was threatened and there were even attempts to entrap him with call girls! GM eventually had to apologise to Nader and pay him substantial damages. They also redesigned the suspension of the Corvair to make it safer but by then it was too late. It wasn’t Nader’s reputation that was destroyed by the furore but the Corvair’s.

Brooklands, the birthplace of British motor racing, is home to a fascinating museum and the very impressive Mercedes-Benz World. Every October the Museum with Autoitalia Magazine organise a motorsport day at the Museum and on the test track at Mercedes-Benz World. All sorts of competition cars are invited to the event and this year I took along my MG SV.

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Queuing up for some hot laps on the MBW test track. The broken concrete circuit is part of the original Campbell road circuit. Note the variety of other competition cars. Not sure the standard F Type and Testerosa count!

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In the paddock the variety continues. Note the top fuel dragster. When the engine is running the pit crew need to wear gas masks.

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This fearsome Fiat 500 Abarth looks like it is on steroids. It has a 1.8L 220 bhp engine!

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A very smart MG M Type Midget Le Mans. A similar car won the 500 Mile Race at Brooklands driven by Lord March’s grandfather, Freddy.

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Alfa Romeos 8C and 4C

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TT Legend Joey Dunlop’s Ford Transit complete with smart looking BSA

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Two more Fiat 500 Abarths, one luke warm and the other hot!

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MG SV in front of the iconic Brooklands Club House

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JPS Team Lotus transporter. The stock car isn’t quite a Lotus 72.

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A team Lotus JPS Motorhome, former home to Mario Andretti and Ronnie Peterson.

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A miraculous survivor of a time when Fiats rusted to oblivion in 5 years! This 128 is immaculate. My Grandad had a green one which I remember with fondness. In production from 1969 to 1985 it was European Car of the Year in 1970 and its front engine front wheel drive design became the standard for most other manufacturers.

The first breakfast meeting after the New Year’s Day washout was thankfully a much drier affair. Along with the usual mix of MGs, Jags and Porsches there were some interesting gems, in particular this gorgeous Lancia Flaminia GT.  The body is all aluminium and was made by Touring of Milan. The engine is Lancia’s sweet triple carb’d 2.8l V6. Only 1700 were built. This car was built between 1962 and 1965.

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The Brooklands Museum New Year’s Day classic car breakfast has gone from strength to strength over recent years. Last year over 1000 cars attended providing a useful boost to the Museum’s finances.

After an absence of several years I was looking forward to getting my ’52 MG YB out and spending a relaxing morning in the company of fellow old car enthusiasts. Unfortunately the weather conspired against both me and the Museum. For over a week prior to New Year’s Day the rain fell and the wind howled. On Christmas Eve the nearby River Wey burst it’s banks and parts of the Museum, including the Club House, were flooded. Mindful of the big event coming up Museum volunteers and staff worked hard over Christmas to tidy up the site in time for the meeting. They did a magnificent job and there were no traces of the flood water come the big day.

Unfortunately the weather had not finished with the Museum. Whilst New Year’s Day dawned dry but overcast, the forecast was for heavy rain. I decided not to risk the YB and instead took my Jaguar XKR. On the way to the Museum, on early morning deserted roads, I was shamed by my cowardice when I passed a 1920’s Alvis, with little in the way of lights or weather protection, gamely heading for the meeting. But when I turned up it became apparent that I was not the only coward. Instead of the expected 1000 plus cars there were barely 100. This must have been a real blow to the Museum as they clearly catered for many more people than had attended. To try and help them, and to make up for my lack of moral fibre, I had two bacon butties and three cups of tea. I doubt it helped the Museum or my waistline much but it was vital insulation once the rain started hammering down shortly after I arrived..

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Depleted selection of cars on the Members Banking. The blue twin cam convertible Morris Marina has been restored to perfection. But why?

The weather had deterred many of the more interesting cars but there was still the odd curiosity to be seen. In particular there was a good showing of American Muscle. A bout of rain wasn’t going to put off those good old boys!

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Imposing and massive Big Mean and Green Chrysler

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American Muscle

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Tasty Dodge Hot Rod in grey primer. Looks (deliberately?) a lot like the 55 Chevy, also in grey primer, that stars in seminal 70’s road movie “Two Lane Blacktop”.

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Subtle manifold exhaust pipe combo – has to dump the gasses somewhere I suppose..

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Not quite American Muscle! The star of “Wayne’s World” (“excellent”) and Cars 2 bad guy, AMC Pacer. Nearly as ugly as neighbouring rust coloured Citroen van.

I suspect the Museum made a substantial loss on the day. So please, if you can spare the time, pop in and see them. Brooklands is a fantastic place, reeking of the history of motor sport and aviation. It’s well worth a visit. For details see their website http://www.brooklandsmuseum.com