Text and photos: Martin Philippo
Imagine: you have an estate near London and you like car racing. What are you doing then? Hugh and Ethel Locke King in the county of Surrey knew it. They had a race track built on their 133 hectare estate.
Pounded from the ground
Car racing was still in its infancy, most races were held on the beach or on the street. There was not yet a circuit specifically for motorsport. The Locke Kings were huge car enthusiasts and decided to do something about that loss. Colonel Holden of the British artillery was asked to design and build a circuit. The man advised his clients to create a track where higher speeds could be achieved and where it was also safer. Two straight sections with connecting curves were the result. Brooklands Motor Circuit was born. Almost four and a half kilometers of racetrack in the desired bowl shape with steep sides of 10 meters high. An architectural and technical miracle that was created in nine months. It cost Hugh Locke King his fortune, the construction costs amounted to around 16 million pounds in current currency. Hugh even died of the effects of the stress that the new circuit brought. His wife Ethel finished the job, helped by family loans. On 17 June 1907 she was in the lead in the procession that officially opened the circuit.
Just like the equestrian sport
The first real race was held in July and was announced by the press as a Motor Ascot. There was no terminology related to motor racing. People simply used the terms that were known from equestrian sport. We still use 'Paddock'. Riders were weighed for a weight handicap and had to wear clothing with recognizable color combinations, just like the jockeys on horseback. Between 1907 and 1939, Brooklands Motor Circuit was the basis for countless races and record attempts. Malcolm Campbell did his laps there, as well as Major Henry Segrave and Henry 'Tim' Birkin. Bentley celebrated successes there and the Brooklands 500 Miles Race was a highlight on the calendar for the motorcycles.
Aviation experienced the same development as motoring. It was also almost logical that the circuit in 1908 was expanded with an airport. Several aircraft manufacturers, such as Vickers and AVRO, built their products there. That eventually became the end of the circuit as military equipment was made here during the war years. There was no more room for car racing. After the war the circuit turned out to be in such a poor state of maintenance that it was decided to stop and sell it to manufacturer Vickers Armstrong. In 1951, parts of the illustrious galley were demolished to facilitate the take-off and landing of aircraft. It was the definitive end of Brooklands Motor Circuit.
Parts of the site were sold to property developers and the airport was purchased by Mercedes-Benz, which expanded with a test track and conference center. Many buildings were preserved in a typical British style, albeit in poor condition. The Brooklands Museum was opened here in 1987 and that is still a hotspot for car enthusiasts. There are various racing cars and motorbikes that caused a furore in the years that Brooklands was a leader. There is also much to see for those who love planes. There is a real Concorde on display. Located close to the London bypass M25, it is an ideal museum to visit for those on holiday in Britain. In terms of atmosphere and design, it is unique in the world of the automobile and highly recommended.