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Photographic Portraits by Lafayette from the Collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London


copyright V&A
Neg. No: Laf 3512

He was a brother of Claude Grahame-White, the famous aviator, but he himself was also acclaimed as an adventurous racing driver in the pioneering days of motor cars. During the Edwardian era (1902-1910), Montague channelled his energies into becoming a successful car, yacht and aeroplane broker. As well as members of the British aristocracy, his clients were to include an array of Indian rulers after he successfully arranged for and launched the first three cars in India upon a commission from the Maharaja of Cooch Behar.

He is pictured here in the Wolseley racing car with 4-cylinder horizontal engine, which had been designed by Herbert Austin – at the time head of car production at the Wolseley Tool and Motor Car Co. It was one of the three racers Austin was preparing for the Gordon Bennett Cup of 1902. Due to the Gordon Bennett Cup’s strict rules, which admitted only cars made wholly in the country of the entrant, Austin had to replace all the non-British parts in his vehicles, including his favourite Bassée et Michael coil (made in France) with one manufactured locally in Birmingham. Although Austin had also been working on a powerful 45 hp model, it was not ready in time and he and Grahame-White set off to join the race in a 30 hp car. However, on their way to Paris the car stopped and had to be repaired, when the less-than-perfect British-made coil inflicted damage to the crankshaft.

The Automobile Club of France arranged to have the 1902 American-sponsored Gordon Bennett Cup (a 565 km route between Paris and Innsbrück) held in conjunction with its own Paris-Vienna race. Late with their start, hungry and tired, Grahame-White and Austin took in turns to drive the car through “the fearfully dusty, hilly, and tortuous roads” in Switzerland. Yet still they managed to overtake several cars in trouble, and surprised themselves by reaching the top of the Arlberg Mountain (5,800 feet). However, soon after their descent the Wolseley stopped again – the coil being the culprit once more!

Another English competitor, SF Edge, won the 1902 Gordon Bennett Trophy for Britain on a 44 hp, 4-cylinder Napier. His victory was of immense value to the future of the British motor industry.

Not all was bad for Wolseley as the other British-manufactured elements - the Dunlop tyres, the Coventry and Renold chains, and the springs made by Richards, went through the race without a hitch and Wolseley quickly seized the opportunity to adopt the patriotic slogan “Designed and Built throughout in Britain” in its car advertisements. The 30 hp racer and its famous driver, Montague Grahame-White, were filmed and the film was shown at the Palace Theatre in London for several weeks. During one show, Grahame-White met his future wife, the popular actress, Miss Birdie Sutherland. She introduced him to her many friends from the world of theatre, among them the matinee idol Julius Knight who is seen with Grahame-White in the photograph.

This image was reproduced in The Car Illustrated on 5 November 1902, and was later also used by Grahame-White in his 1935 autobiography At the Wheel, Ashore and Afloat.

All texts copyright Barbara Borkowy and Russell Harris 2007