Allan Winn - Breathing life into Brooklands By Eoin Young     August 2003

 Allan Winn is the new director at Brooklands, a New Zealander ideally qualified to guide the ongoing establishment of the circuit and museum as the birthplace of British motor racing and aviation.  He left the University of Canterbury in Christchurch with a degree in mechanical engineering and a diploma in journalism, would become editor of Flight International and enjoy vintage motorsport in Britain at the wheel of his splendid 3-litre Bentley.  His brief at Brooklands could have been designed especially for him, to bring the sprawl of the old buildings to life, to finesse the important new link with DaimlerChrysler and to get the excitement back into the display of cars that cover the history of the track and beyond.  One section displays a selection of ‘moderns’ including formula 1 and Indianapolis cars but the famous Napier Railton, holder of the Outer Circuit lap record, commands centre stage.

 In the ‘twenties and ‘thirties there was a contemporary version of a high-tech motorsport business park within the banked Track as car-builders, racing drivers and general fettlers worked in various sheds and garages now used for display. 
The Napier-Railton is the thundering star of the collection.  The big Brooklands special car is powered by a 12-cylinder 23.9-litre 500bhp Napier aero engine laid out in a ‘broad arrow’ arrangement like a vee-8 with an extra bank of four cylinders in the centre of the vee.  Winn was chatting with two of the engineers who work on the exhibits.  They wondered tentatively if the big car might be displayed with the engine cover removed so that museum visitors could fully appreciate the might of the machine.  Winn agreed enthusiastically.  He wants to bring Brooklands to life.

His 3-litre Bentley is parked outside the original Clubhouse and I parked my road test supercharged 230 SLK beside it to underline the new accord between Mercedes Benz and Brooklands.  Winn enthuses over a new deal with Mercedes-Benz who will take over much of the old circuit to build a showroom and a centre of engineering excellence.  The company will present 60 acres to the local council as a public park.  There will also be an 80-bed hotel and a small office block.  They will lay out a new evaluation circuit using a stretch of the original Campbell road course.  "This won’t be for competition but we will be able to use it for demonstrations at events like the Brooklands Society Reunions.  We can take the Napier Railton out where we can use it safely and where people can see it going past several times instead of disappearing down the runway and eventually coming back.  We’re talking about putting up temporary grandstands when we’re running a big event and Mercedes are happy with that, so we can actually demonstrate cars on at least a bit of the old circuit, that was there from 1937 onwards.

"The arrival of Mercedes is the most important development from our point of view.  We will get a new entrance for the museum that will incorporate an admin building, and an entrance hall and ticket box as well as the shop.  A new road, Wellington Way, was built across the infield from Brooklands Road some years ago and our new entrance can be approached from there or from Sopwith Drive which comes in past Marks & Spencer and Tesco on the Byfleet Banking side.
"Among the various agreements that Mercedes are entering into is to assist us in raising funds to rebuild the Hennebique Bridge which was the world’s first pre-stressed concrete bridge."  Winn’s engineering background comes alive.  "It was the most outstanding structure because it carried the track across the river on a curve and with a varying degree of banking.  The amount of banking at one end is different to amount of banking at the other end.  Large concrete struts support this steel shuttering which in turn supports the cast concrete track, all pre-stressed concrete beams and the track itself sat on these steel shutters.  Restoration of the bridge could cost up to £10-million.  The bridge actually existed until 1968 when its footings were washed away in a huge flood and because the track was in disuse, BAC had absolutely no incentive to do anything about it and they demolished it because it was a dangerous structure.

"They also cut a hole in the Byfleet Banking after the war because they were getting bigger and bigger aircraft out, so they chopped the whole thing.  By then they owned the whole circuit so they could do with it what they wanted.  From their point of view it was an awkward chunk of concrete surrounding their perfectly good airfield."

What’s in it for Mercedes?  "They will build a giant showroom which allows them to show more than motorcars.  They’ll be telling the history of Mercedes Benz but also showcase the technology that goes into how the cars were built.  They will have mocked-up parts showing how they are put together by robots, the technology, the electronics and so on.  They’re building one of these showpiece sites in every European country.  They have 15 planned but this one at Brooklands will be the only one built outside a city centre.  What they’re getting is association with an historic site, building on Green Belt land which was why it had to go through all these planning processes, but they’re all agreed now that the amount of green that comes out of this compared with the amount of green that was here with our scruffy old runway and a few hangars…this is going to look really good."
Mercedes is the ultimate Fairy Godmother arriving at a time when the Brooklands organisation was paddling hard to stay afloat with a staff of a dozen and nearly 400 regular volunteers.  "If we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t exist."  Now Winn can look forward to exciting projects working with Mercedes.  Winn calls them ‘good neighbours’.  "From our point of view it’s just the best thing that could have happened because it finally takes that central area out of the hands of people who were just property developing and whose aim was to maximise their return."  

Winn is the ideal visionary to head a group that triumphs the development of motoring and aviation in Britain.  He shows how the car parks of the new office buildings shadow the line of the old straight.  "If you half shut your eyes and open your imagination wide enough, you can stand up on the Test Hill and see the line of the old finishing straight running down through those car parks."

And there’s more.  Also coming out of the Mercedes deal there is a little L-shaped strip of land covered in shrubs at the moment and two little tiled roof buildings which are the Esso petrol pagodas from the original circuit.  "We get those back with the land they stand on, which allows us to restore the pagodas and also re-create a second double-sided set of racing car bays so that we will then have about 60 racing car bays under cover and the three petrol pagodas back in our control – Esso, Shell and BP."

Denis Jenkinson bequeathed his Duesenberg to the museum to be restored.  This was the car raced by Whitney Straight when he set the fourth fastest time round the Outer Circuit.  Crossthwaite & Gardner are building a new Clemons engine for the Duesenberg, in an arrangement whereby they are building a short run of these re-created engines for owners of Clemons-engined cars in the USA, and Brooklands Museum will get the first.  Winn hopes the car will be mobile within two years.  They will give the gallant old charger a static airing at the Goodwood Revival meeting, alongside the very mobile Railton Special.
Crossthwaite & Gardner did the sensational re-creation of the Grand Prix Auto Unions, building them literally from the rubber up, in a mega-deal commissioned by Audi.

Winn makes the point that aviation is as important to the future of Brooklands as the motoring side.  "The great challenge for someone like me is to keep those two histories running side by side.  There are purists who would love to rip all the aviation stuff out so that we could show the motor racing track, and there are aviation purists who can’t understand what all the fuss is about with this banked concrete that gets in the way of aviation, but the two things are inextricably linked.  As well as the banked track and the cars, we’ve got 80 years of British aviation history here from A.V. Roe doing his first trial hops on the finishing straight with his experimental plane in 1908, to the closure of the BAE factory in 1988."

Harry Hawker was a racing driver at the Track and workshop manager and chief test pilot for the Sopwith Aircraft Company.  Tommy Sopwith would re-name his company after Harry and the Hawker Aircraft Company went on to assemble aircraft where the Marks & Spencer and Tesco supermarkets are today.  The first 2000 Hawker Hurricane fighters were assembled and flown from Brooklands until bigger and better factories were required.  Winn points to a huge photograph of Harry Hawker in the 350hp Sunbeam on the wall of the tea-room, as an example of the link between the cars and planes.

The next major project is to lobby for one of the eight Concordes that are coming up for presentations to museums around the world.  We were talking in his office in the old Clubhouse and Winn pointed out that it was actually the office where Barnes Wallis designed and developed the bouncing bombs in the 1940s and where he investigated supersonic and hypersonic flight from which grew the Concorde project.  "We’re in line for a Concorde and I think we’ve got a good chance.  When you think about it, the whole supersonic transport thing started off here in this room and all the original Concorde meetings happened here at Brooklands.   
"When Concorde became a live project a lot of the original design work was done here and the original forward and aft fuselage and the tails were built here for all the aircraft.  The ‘British 8’ were actually assembled at Filton (Bristol) from bits dragged either from France or from here, but the actual fabrication for the British built parts of the aircraft was all done here by the British Aircraft Corporation as then was and when the aircraft were in service, all the spares were made and stored here."

There is another major project for four classrooms as a centre of excellence for education engineering for primary school children.  "The County Education Service has decreed that they want every school kid to visit this place at least once in an organised party during their primary school career, so every kid in Surrey between seven and eleven will come through."  Currently they get 8000 through but next year they are looking for 20,000.  "It’s reinforcing the fact that it isn’t just a museum with a lot of old dusty exhibits in a corner, it’s also teaching the next generation about engineering and technology and science."
"Brooklands College has a motorsport course and we are getting them to come over here to our display of Grand Prix cars from the 1920s to the end of the 1990s.  Brooklands Technical College is based on the old Locke King mansion going back to the days of Hugh Locke King who built the circuit and lived in Brooklands House…so it’s a brilliant connection."

The circuit centenary comes up in four years and they are working on a ‘series of centennial bashes’ and a re-creation of the opening ceremony to be staged in January 2007.  "We’ve got Ethel Locke King’s 1904 Siddeley and we’re starting to track down what other cars from the original pageant may exist.

The museum displays in the original workshop buildings cover the period from the Track opening in 1907 and Winn wants the exhibits to be a must-see.  "The whole thing is to get the museum more active, get some more life about the place.  I want the Paddock full of interesting cars every day of the week and we’ve got to achieve that by encouraging more people to come and bring their old cars, use them around the site.  If I could get a 50% increase on the number of people coming through the front gate every year and get them to spend more money, to be more supportive of us, we could really make this place hum."

You don’t often hear a museum director say he wants his facility to hum but then Allan Winn is not your average museum director.  He is uniquely placed in being able to visualise the thrilling future for  Brooklands in the air and on the Track, rather in the manner that Hugh Fortescue Locke King must have done when he first proposed the idea to his wife a hundred years ago.

Previous Features:
To save your poor machine having to download all the images from the articles you've already read , these pages are now stored separately. Click below to recall them...

1.      Le Mans Diary 2000  Five Go Mad at La Sarthe

2.    Gentlemen and Cads  The Terrible Turbo versus the Sublime Supercharger.

3.    Hidden Brooklands.  Poking around in the undergrowth.

4.    The Mysteries of  the Lucas Wiring System Explained. Well, you've got to have a system....

5. The Petrol head's Pilgrimage.  USA  Road Trip summer 2001

6.    Brazilian Car Stereo. Choose your weapons.- Bob Marley at 50 Paces.

7. Restoring a Constellation. Never mind cars,  Mike rebuilds airliners. - (admittedly not single-handed.)

8. Allan Winn - Breathing Life into Brooklands. Eoin Young interviews a fellow Kiwi

9. Son Of Mindless. The legends are true! A 4WD monster lurking in the Fens

10. Brooklands Double Twelve 2008. Event of the year.- Or how to compete against your own car..

11. Farewell to the QE2. Last voyage of a great liner