Winn - Breathing life into Brooklands By Eoin
Young August 2003
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
"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
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
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
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
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.
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