STAR CARS / WH 7238 ‘Old Faithful’

“The introduction of an entirely new car, built at Nottingham under the direction of so famous an engineer as Mr. George Brough, is a motoring event of special importance.”

Chassis development had been handled by Freddie Dixon, a famous motorcycle racer who had turned to cars in 1932, racing his independently prepared Riley’s to a third place finish at Le Mans in 1934. It was to be distributed by Freddie, Earl of March (grandfather of the current Earl of March and founder of motor racing at Goodwood), who had won the Brooklands Double Twelve Race in 1931, and who was also a board member for the new venture. Finally, World Land Speed Record holder Malcolm Campbell was also there, having broken his own record in March of that year at Daytona Beach. All three men posed for the press photos with George Brough, who wore his signature offset flat cap for the occasion.

Photo via the Brough Superior Club
The Brough Superior 8 Cylinder launch at Hatfield Aerodrome in 1935 with Freddie Dixon, George Brough and Malcolm Campbell

 

Having sold all 25 of the initial run of cars, Brough was denied access to the Hudson Straight Eight engine which gave the car such effortless performance. He continued production by modifying the design for the slightly less powerful Hudson 6 cylinder, but when given the chance to purchase one of his original 8-Cylinder models from the first owner just before WWII, he leapt at the opportunity. He cherished the car for the rest of his life.

In 1939, WH 7238 was a 1935 8-cylinder Drophead which had nearly 78,000 miles on it. At the outbreak of the conflict, Brough Superior switched to war work, undertaking the manufacture of aero engine components for Rolls-Royce – chiefly crankshafts for the V12 Merlin engines destined to power Battle of Britain Hurricanes and Spitfires. As 1939 became 1940, and the phoney war became deadly serious, George Brough decided that speed was of the essence, and that he needed really high speed transport to deliver crankshafts to factories in Crewe, Glasgow and Bristol, and WH 7238 was conscripted.

Spitfire LF Mk IX, MH434. Photo by Wiki Commons
Spitfire LF Mk IX, MH434 being flown by Ray Hanna in 2005. Many fighters such as this Spitfire used the Merlin engine, as did the Lancaster bomber.
Rolls Royce Merlin V12 Aero-engine.
Rolls Royce Merlin V12 Aero-engine.

Brough converted the handsome body to a pick-up configuration by removing the rear seats and installing a hardboard freight platform which could carry Merlin crankshafts at high speed between factories. To cope with the extra weight of such a load, stronger road springs and a lower ratio rear axle were fitted, and WH 7238 became a C-licence goods carrier.

Packed tight, the car could carry nine Rolls-Royce Merlin crankshafts, each weighing about 1 cwt. Brough’s drivers covered long distance at high speed – 85 to 90 miles per hour for day after day, all the way through the long dark years to Churchill’s ‘broad uplands of victory”.

Rolls-Royce factory, Nightingale Road, Derby.
Rolls-Royce factory for Merlin engine production during WWII – Nightingale Road, Derby.
Hillington Merlin production line in 1942.
Workers assembling cylinder blocks on the Hillington Merlin production line in 1942. The crankshafts may have been supplied by Brough and delivered in ‘Old Faithful’.

By the end of the war ‘Old Faithful’ had covered 197,480 miles with only one brief interruption from service, for new exhaust valves – pool petrol having done its worst.  For their effort, Brough Superior workers received a letter of commendation from the Minister of Aircraft Production, and Brough’s works manager, Ike Webb, received the O.B.E.

WH7238
1965 Archive Photo: WH 7238 and “G.B.”: The 1936 Brough Superior, coming up to its 30th year, gleams brightly, while George Brough looks remarkably youthful, too, for one who began competition motorcycling in 1910, and manufacturing in 1919.

As for WH 7238, George treated the engine to a rebuild, although it was found that the internals were in good order other than those exhaust valves. The wings were resprayed but otherwise the black and chrome bodywork remained original. He kept the car until his death in 1970, at which point it was sold by George’s widow to Peter Beynon of Coytrahen, Glamorganshire with 362,000 miles on the clock.

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