The remarkable Reid Railton
Reid Railton: Man of Speed by Karl Ludvigsen will be published in November as a two-volume set in a slipcase retailing for £125. Ludvigsen, one of the world’s foremost automotive historians, tells Railton’s personal and professional story in superb detail and fascinating depth, with special focus on the engineer’s unique insights — amounting to genius — and his technical accomplishments.
Railton created an extraordinary range of cars. He rose to renown during the 1930s as chief engineer at Thomson & Taylor, Brooklands-based racing-car builders. There he realised the dreams of that era’s top men of speed, including Tim Birkin, Malcolm Campbell, Whitney Straight, John Cobb, Raymond Mays and Goldie Gardner. His great cars powered them all to sensational racing and record-breaking success.
“I’ve always considered Reid Railton’s land-speed-record car for John Cobb to be the best-engineered automobile for its purpose ever created,” says Karl, who is pictured with the car. “Forty years ago I first wrote about the life and career of Reid Railton, during which I had the pleasure of speaking with him. Now I’ve been honoured by the chance to take a deep dive into Railton’s creations, motivations and inspirations, thanks to the respect of his daughter Sally for her father’s achievements. It’s been the joy of a lifetime to research and write about the amazing scope and depth of Reid Railton’s career as a creative engineer. Now I’m even more convinced of the merits of Cobb’s Railton, the first car to reach 400 mph as long ago as 1947.”
Other important Railton achievements covered in depth are the Blue Bird cars for Sir Malcolm Campbell, the famous 24-litre Napier-Railton (holder of the all-time lap record at Brooklands), design of the ERA, and his Crusader boat for John Cobb, who exceeded 200mph in it on Loch Ness in 1952 moments before crashing fatally.