Fringe Box



Parke’s People No.4: Bentley Boy Sammy Davis

Published on: 21 May, 2012
Updated on: 21 May, 2012

Sammy Davis. Picture courtesy of Brooklands Museum.

In the fourth of an occasional series about people who are now sometimes forgotten, but who have a connection with Guildford in one way or another, Bernard Parke recalls Sammy Davis, one of the motor racing Bentley Boys.

Sydney Charles Houghton Davis.

The night of the January 9 1982 was a typical dark and cold winter’s night. On that night the death occurred, on his 94th birthday, of one of perhaps the more colourful residents of Guildford. He was Sydney Charles Houghton Davis. He lost his life in a fire at his home in Tormead Road. It is believed that his death may have been caused by a large tobacco pipe, which was his constant companion.Sammy, as he was known by his friends, was at one time editor of Autocar magazine. But he became known as one of the Bentley Boys, who, with sports car designed by W.O. Bentley, won the Le Mans race in 1927. Sammy’s co-driver was Dr Dudley “Bengy” Benjafield, whose family also had close ties with Guildford. W. O. Bentley lived in Bramley.

In those days Guildfordians could go to Brooklands near Weybridge, where the Bentley Boys’ iconic sports cars were raced with many other British cars, all of which have long since disappeared into history,

The MG was one such make, raced by the popular band leader of the day, Billy Cotton.

Many celebrities went to the races at Brooklands, such as the writer Barbara Cartland.

It was in the late 1920s that the name of Bentley came to the fore, winning three Le Mans races in succession.

The first win was in 1927, when Sammy Davis with Dr Benjafield nursed their stricken Bentley home to victory.

Their main competitor was the Buggatti. A car which had, perhaps, more finesse than the heavily built Bentley, which was referred to as “The World’s Fastest Lorry”.

It was a time when people in general were trying to forget the horrors of Flanders and the First World War. It was also a time of pushing the boundaries of society. It’s true to say that back then “speed was king”.

In his later life, Sammy often gave talks in Guildford of those halcyon days and the fun loving Bentley Boys.

When asked if Brooklands was haunted by the ghosts of drivers who were killed on the track, he related his own experience of driving at speed as darkness was falling. He said that he suddenly felt what could have been a cold and clammy hand come over his goggles, which obscured his vision.

Fortunately, before he crashed, he discovered it was an oily rag left of the bonnet of the car by a mechanic.

Sammy Davis and Lord March celebrate winning "the 500" in an Austin 7 in 1930. Picture courtesy of Brooklands Museum.

When he died in such tragic circumstances on that dark night, so passed away an interesting man who did much to establish Britain’s name in the fledgling sport of motor racing.

As for Brooklands, it became a victim of the Second World War as Vickers Armstrong became established there making aircraft such as the Wellington bomber.

As a manufacturer, Bentley was a victim of the the depression of the 1930s. The company was bought out by Rolls Royce in 1931. Those were the days – if you had the money!

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