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Whitney Straight

Whitney Willard Straight was born to American parents in 1912, the elder of two sons and a daughter. His father as killed in the war and when his mother later re-married to an Englishman the family moved to England.

Like a lot of other wealthy young men of his generation, he took up motor racing while at Cambridge, first racing at Brooklands in a Riley in 1931 and an 1,100 c.c. M.G. Magnette. He bought the 1931 two seater 2.5 litre 8C Maserati which Tim Birkin had originally imported and caused a stir when on the 16th May 1932 he broke Birkin’s Mountain Circuit record of 56.00 seconds, reducing it to 55.60 seconds and then bettering his time ten days later to 54.00 seconds at 78 m.p.h. To take two seconds from Birkin was quite an achievement and of course everybody sat up and took notice.

He was not entirely happy with the 8C and the following year he bought three single seater 2.9 litre 8CM Maseratis from the factory (the M standing for monoposto) and retained Thomson & Taylor to set about modifying them to his own specifications. The Maserati crash gear boxes were replaced with Wilson pre-selector boxes and along with various other modifications new bodies were constructed.

Straight’s philosophy was to make racing pay and his commercial set-up was impressive with administrative headquarters in central London and a base in Milan which was convenient for the Maserati factory in Bologna and central to the major European Grand Prix circuits. He employed a number of top people including the ex-Scuderia Ferrari Giulio Ramponi and Birkin’s chassis man Billy Rockell. Dick Seaman who was at Cambridge with Straight entered into an arrangement to buy the M.G. and race it to gain experience and the ultimate outcome of this was that he joined the team. The Straight philospophy of making motor racing pay was one which Seaman maintained for the rest of his career.

Straight’s team was very successful, winning and taking good places in many Grands Prix and one of his later very interesting acquisitions was a 4,376 c.c. twin-ohc Straight Eight Duesenberg which now resides in the Brooklands Museum. This car had been built for Count Trossi of Scuderia Ferrari for European Grand Prix but was a disappointment. Straight brought it to Brooklands and on the 13th October 1934 wrestled it round the Outer Circuit to take the Class C record to 138.15 m.p.h. Considering that only two months previously John Cobb’s record in the Napier Railton had stood at only 139.71 m.p.h. this was an outstanding achievement. Straight returned to the paddock, announced that he could not possibly make the car go any faster and later sold it on to George Duller who raced it with Gwenda Stewart after modifying the rear suspension.

Whitney Straight was captured twice by the Germans in World War Two, released once on medical grounds when he managed to deceive them into believing that he had a serious ear infection and later re-captured.

He went on to become the Chairman of BOAC and later joined Rolls-Royce.

 

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| Performance Parameters | General Data |

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