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Reid Railton, Man of Speed

By Karl Ludvigsen.

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 978-1-910505-25-0) 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.

It is worthy of note that this book is published with the assistance of the Michael Sedgwick Memorial Trust.

Publisher: Evro Publishing,


Price: £125.  842 pages, 2 hardback volumes in slipcase.

ISBN: 978-1-910505-25-0

One response to “Reid Railton, Man of Speed”

  1. PETER MacDonald-Card says:

    An excellent review of the book. Indeed, as chair of the MSMT, I can tell you that the Trustees were very enthusiastic about supporting this book, and will not be disappointed by its quality and erudition.
    Peter W. Card

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