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Reid Railton


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#1 MPea3

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Posted 19 April 2004 - 23:03

It's my understanding that after Cobb's death, Reid Railton was so upset that he quit doing any more LSR or WSR design. DId he stay out of the design field forever, and whatever happened to him?

Also, I'm a bit confused as to his nationality. Was he a Brit or a Yank? I know the Railton road car was soem sort of Anglo-American affair, but that marque was (I think) already gone by the time Cobb died. In reading about Cobb's attempt in Crusader, I find mention of Railton going back to his home in California.

As usual, I'm hoping TNF can shed some accurate light on this.

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#2 Milan Fistonic

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Posted 19 April 2004 - 23:37

Reid Railton



Reid Anthony Railton’s accomplishments were many. This painfully lean, bespectacled man who invariably wore suspenders, and prescription sunglasses designed and built a complete car of his own; designed “the ultimate car” – a car produced without regard to costs; designed several Land Speed record cars; and designed a Water Speed Record boat. Yet he was a man so incredibly shy, so softspoken, so unpossessed of vanity that his efforts were almost unknown outside the motoring profession until other people started putting Railton’s name on some of his creations, thereby gaining him a measure of the public recognition he deserved.



Railton was born June 24, 1895, at Alderley Edge, England, 3 years before the Land Speed record was officially born, and obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from Manchester University. As a truck design assistant at Leyland Motors Ltd. he worked for none other than John Godfrey Parry Thomas, the Welsh wizard; the thought of these 2 men working on trucks is ludicrous in light of their subsequent achievements. This was 1915, however, and Railton’s great achievements were more than a dozen years away.



He left Leyland in 1923 to design and build his own car at Brooklands with Thomas. It was a 2-litre, 4-cylinder, inclined valve o.h.c. design, and by 1927 – when Parry Thomas died at the wheel of Babs at Pendine Sands, and Railton gave up the independent effort – only 10 had been sold. Thomas’s old company was restarted as Thomson & Taylor Ltd. in premises that later became the Cooper factory. Railton was T&T’s chief designer, his first task to produce a sports version of the Riley 9, introduced in 1926 in its standard form.



Railton was also racing, and in the Brooklands meeting of 1927 he won the one-mile handicap race, in what was to become the Brooklands Riley when replicas were sold. In 1928 he was married, and the following year he initially met Malcolm Campbell who had a 1,400-h.p. Napier Lion airplane engine and needed a car designed for it.



A full-scale model of Railton’s design was completed in 1930 and extensively tested in the Vickers Aircraft wind tunnel. When all the design modifications were completed, the actual building of the car took 36 days and nights; it was delivered in December 1930. The car was never defeated in its 5-year life. By the time it was retired in 1935, other Railton’s were in the capable hands of Campbell, based on a 2500 b.h.p V-12 Rolls-Royce airplane engine. John Cobb’s Napier-Railton was so named by Cobb himself, who thus gave Reid credit for its success.



Railton’s name was also on an Anglicized version of the American Hudson, starting in 1933, and when production ceased in 1950, some 1,460 of these had been sold. Whitney Straight, the American expatriate who later headed BOAC and served as an aide to King George VI during World War II, had Reid rebuild his 2.5-litre Maserati Grand Prix car around 1933. He was so happy with the results, that he had 3 more Railtonized for his private team. Reid also worked with Raymond Mays and Peter Berthon on the ERA project, based on the Rileys Mays raced, and Reid served as a continuing consultant not only to Riley but to MG.



It was Railton who told Cobb about the Bonneville Salt Flats and started the parade of LSR contenders to the Utah salts (then known as Salduro Salts). The year 1937 was a busy one, for Reid not only designed a Water Speed Record boat for Campbell that went 129.30 m.p.h, but an LSR car for Cobb based on 2 combined 1,250-b.h.p Napier Lion engines. The Napier-Railton captured the record in 1937, 1938 and 1947, and was the car that held the record longest in history, until the American assaults of the mid-sixties. Reid himself was at these runs; in fact, in 1939 he stayed in America, settling in Berkeley, Calif., and opening his new career by joining Hall-Scott Motor Co., makers of boat engines. He stayed with that concern, working on defense and war projects, through 1945, then quit to become a consultanr again. Among his first projects was readying Cobb’s pre-war car for the 1947 LSR attempt.



In 1948 Reid became a regular Hudson consultant, an association that lasted until 1956. He helped Cobb with the Water Speed Record design in 1949, and was with the burly Britisher when Cobb was killed in a WSR attempt at Loch Ness in 1952. That, plus an aversion to jet propulsion for cars or boats, pretty much ended Railton’s involvement with speed.

From Cutter & Fendell

#3 f1steveuk

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Posted 16 February 2009 - 14:21

Sorry to bump this, but...................


I've been approached by Railton's daughter as to the possiblity of a biography.

I'd be interested to hear any anecdotes, stories, rumours etc

I do have to say I am puzzled by the remark "That, plus an aversion to jet propulsion for cars or boats, pretty much ended Railton’s involvement with speed."

It was Railton that suggested the use of the jet engine in a purpose built craft, that is to say Cobb's Crusader,(although he had an aversion to put one in a boat designed for a prop, e.g Malcolm Campbell's K4), and later to Ken and Lew Norris when designing Donald Campbell's Bluebird K7.

Where did the statement originate?

I look forward to a long long thread!!!!

#4 Dutchy

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Posted 17 February 2009 - 13:40

"He left Leyland in 1923 to design and build his own car at Brooklands with Thomas. It was a 2-litre, 4-cylinder, inclined valve o.h.c. design, and by 1927 – when Parry Thomas died at the wheel of Babs at Pendine Sands, and Railton gave up the independent effort – only 10 had been sold"

Would that be the Arab?

A small point about the Straight Maseratis. The first car was a 2 seater 8C-3000. The 3 others you refer to were 8CM monopostos

#5 Vitesse2

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Posted 17 February 2009 - 13:55

Originally posted by Dutchy
"He left Leyland in 1923 to design and build his own car at Brooklands with Thomas. ...."

In a letter quoted in Hugh Tours' biography of Thomas, Railton says they went their separate ways after leaving Leyland, although maintaining their friendship. Railton was present at Pendine when Thomas died.

#6 David McKinney

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Posted 17 February 2009 - 16:33

Originally posted by Dutchy
A small point about the Straight Maseratis. The first car was a 2 seater 8C-3000. The 3 others you refer to were 8CM monopostos

Not so. Milan was right. The first was car a 2½-litre model

#7 Dutchy

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Posted 17 February 2009 - 16:58

Apologies - my mistake in calling it an 8C-3000. I should know better and for some strange reason was thinking of Birkin's car.
I was trying to remove the inference that the later 3 cars he had were the same as his first Maserati.

#8 Allan Lupton

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Posted 17 February 2009 - 21:57

Originally posted by Dutchy
"He left Leyland in 1923 to design and build his own car at Brooklands with Thomas. It was a 2-litre, 4-cylinder, inclined valve o.h.c. design, and by 1927 – when Parry Thomas died at the wheel of Babs at Pendine Sands, and Railton gave up the independent effort – only 10 had been sold"

Would that be the Arab?

I think it would.
Tim Nicholson's account in Georgano is uncertain about Parry Thomas' involvement, but everyone else agrees with the above version. Arab seems to have co-existed with Phoenix in the latter's works here in Letchworth. Accounts of how many were built vary, but ten is about right I think.
In a talk I gave which referred to the Arab, I mentioned that there was perhaps still a Leyland connection as a supercharged Arab was made for Henry Spurrier jr., son of the Leyland MD.
Mrs Joslin (RR's daughter) happened upon a transcript of that talk on t'internet and telephoned to tell me that Henry Spurrier was Reid Railton's oldest friend, and to ask if I knew any more as she was hoping a biography would be written. Sadly I didn't.

#9 f1steveuk

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Posted 18 February 2009 - 10:40

Ah, tis a small world Allan!