Reid Railton, Man of Speed

Author: Karl Ludvigsen
Publisher: Evro Publishing

Winner of the Michael Sedgwick Award 2018. Presented by the Society Of Automotive Historians in Britain for the best motoring book in the English language demonstrating excellence in research and writing, published in the previous 12 months.

2018 review by James Loveridge.

For much of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s the World Land Speed Record was held by British drivers in British cars and that predominance was in large measure down to an extremely gifted Motor Engineer, Reid Anthony Railton (1895 – 1977).

Railton’s life and achievements are now the subject of a magisterial two-volume book entitled “Reid Railton, Man of Speed” (ISBN 978-1910505250) by SAHB member Karl Ludvigsen, published by Evro Publishing in a slipcase and available at £150.

The story gains immeasurable depth from the close involvement of Railton’s daughter, Sally, who was able to provide a good deal of background information on family history and truly personal details of this quite amazing man. His achievements are all the more remarkable as he suffered from some physical problems, nearly blind without his spectacles and only passing his 1915 Pilot’s Licence tests, which required good sight without glasses, by memorising the Eye chart when the examiner left the room briefly, and being a martyr to crippling migraines.

Educated at Rugby and graduating from the Victoria University of Manchester, now part of the University of Manchester, he entered the Motor business by taking a short apprenticeship with Leyland Motors. There he met Parry Thomas and so started his involvement with high-powered, very fast vehicles in the form of the Leyland Eight.

After WW1, in which Railton was deemed unfit to fly though he did serve in the RNVR for a period, Thomas left Leyland to concentrate on racing cars and on “Babs” with which he set a Land Speed Record. Reid also left and he and a friend did create and sell a handful of very sporty cars, the Arab. When Thomas was killed at Pendine his works at Brooklands were re-named Thompson and Taylor and they needed a good engineer. Railton was asked to join them and so started his very successful association at the forefront of British motor sport.

Railton worked closely with Sir Malcolm Campbell on Bluebird cars 111, 1V and V as well as his similarly named Water Speed Record Boat and with Goldie Gardner on his indecently fast MGs. However, perhaps his most famous achievement is the collaboration with John Cobb on the Railton Mobil Special, all of which Railton designed, as well as his ill-fated “Crusader” boat. Another of his projects, still in full working order, is the Napier Railton, which currently delights, and deafens, visitors to Brooklands. Railton’s versatility is shown by his many other activities such as the design of the immortal Brooklands Riley, the V12 Daimler which fans of Dorothy L Sayers will recall was the car favoured by Lord Peter Wimsey, a major role in the design of the ERA and the Hudson-engined Railton Specials. He worked on these latter cars with Lance Macklin and during WW2 continued that association with the very significant fast Naval “Fairmile” boats.

Living in the USA from 1939 after the war he continued to be involved in engineering, particularly with the Hudson Motor company and with various High Speed boats including some input into Donald Campbell’s Bluebird.

The book is lavishly illustrated to a very high standard and each of Railton’s activities, put into the context of the time, is comprehensively covered in the 842 pages of the book.

This title has now won no less than 5 awards. Its fifth award is the Nicholas-Joseph Cugnot Award (English) 2019 by the Society of Automotive Historians, the premier US-based organisation in its field. The other US award was Best Automotive Heritage Book 2019 presented by the Automotive Heritage Awards. In the UK the book has been awarded the Mercedes-Benz Montagu of Beaulieu Trophy 2018 presented by the Guild of Motoring Writers, the Royal Automobile Club’s Specialist Motoring Book of the Year 2018, and the Michael Sedgwick Award 2018 (sponsored by the Michael Sedgwick Memorial Trust) presented by Society of Automotive Historians in Britain.

In addition to the initial financial support from the MSMT, the author also received the 2018 Michael Sedgwick Award for this book. The award, presented annually to the best book on a motoring subject, is decided by an independent committee, organised by the Society of Automotive Historians in Britain and includes a £250 cheque from the MSMT.

842 pages, 2 hardback volumes in slipcase. This book is available from Evro Publishing

Published 2018

Price: £125

ISBN: #978-1910505250

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