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This is a popular set indeed. Wills, Speed [1938]. I am not surprised either, the artwork is good and varied, the subjects shown are thoughtfully put together and the general subject matter is always of interest. It does not harm its cause by being very good value for money. If you are not sure what cigarette cards are about and want to know you can do a lot worse they buying a couple of sub £15/$25 sets to check them out. This is one such set.

You can admire grace and form but be awed by sheer brutal power.

This is not to confuse the set with the earlier Wills, Speed set which was issued in 1930 which costs about 4 times as much. This is a darn good set the artwork is better, but too all intents and purposes its the same sort of thing but it might not be the cigarette card equivalent to a starter home at over £60/$100.

The 1930's hark back to a golden time of things 'speedy' the machinery was brutal and simple, huge engines were the way ahead, monstrous machines were what it was all about. An oily rag and a large spanner were the mechanics friend. A computer was something you had never heard about and jet power was but a distant rumble in future skies. I am always impressed by the rawness of power a lot of these machines posses. You can admire grace and form but be awed by sheer brutal power.

The two Wills sets together make a nice progression of speed from the late 1920's to the late 1930's. There was quite some difference as well as by 1938 war was demanding a re-evaluation of technology.

This is immediately obvious with the first 14 cards of the series. These are dedicated to aircraft in general and from 8 through to 14 detailed the planes which were going to fly in combat over the coming years. The Hurricane, Spitfire appear on card 8 & 9. It always surprises me just how much information a cigarette card was allowed to reveal. Although it is unlikely to reveal anything anybody could not find out it is hardly the issue really. However card nine on the Spitfire does say 'no exact performance figures can be quoted.' It also mentions the Schneider Trophy which England were hoping to regain with a specially adapted Spitfire.

Card 10, BFW Messerschmitt Bf 109 Fighter was the German aircraft that held that trophy. The base of the card notes these aircraft climbed to nearly 10,000 feet and dived to about 500 ft in the space of two minutes in 1937. I am glad they were not taking passengers.

These were the lone wolves of the skies, the pilots of these aircraft were the 'glamour' boys. Cards 11 to 14 deal with the bombers that were going to cause so much mischief and misery over the coming years.

These aircraft are of interest and as a lad I was mighty interested in them but commendably the set does not just go through the list of war machines which happened to go fast and from card 15 onwards it settles down to the subject in hand.

Yes, I know that record is darn close to the end of 1938 and I have just re-examined my records and the best I can tell you is this set was issued in October 1938. Cigarette cards were famous for being accurate and up-to-date and rightly so.

As such it makes a very complimentary set to Churchmans, Kings of Speed which concentrated on the personalities of Speed rather than the machinery. Now for me this is when the set hits it stride. Cars bulleting across alien landscapes with tremendous speed lines flying off them. Artistic impression giving far more detail than a photograph ever could. Card 15, 'Thunderbolt' was the fastest car in the world at the time, Capt, GET Eyston, being the nut holding the wheel. 7 tons in weight, 30 foot long, 2 12-cylinder Rolls Royce engines fitted behind the driver going through a three speed gear box. It went to 357.53 mph (Sept 16 1938) breaking John Cobb's record of 350.2 mph.

The illustration (which is part of the banner title of this page) shows ever single mph of that record.

The card does mention Capt ET Eyston was something of a speed fiend and they underline the point with card 16, 'Flying Spray.' a 'heavy-oil' engine (diesel) which the good Capt. drove to a record for this type of car in 1936 when he got the beast to 159.1 mph It took 17 litres of engine to do that.

This man was obsessed, card 17, 'Speed of the Wind' the good Capt and his chum, A Denly attack the long distance record. They travelled 1964 miles at an average speed of 163.68mph in one round of the clock as the card describes it (we might say 12 hours nowadays I suppose). They managed it despite the fact the track they were using (Bonneville Salt Flats) was cutting up badly because of an unusual rainy season. The track was described as soggy so you can imagine how dreadful it was.

Now I could just keep going like this because I just love this sort of ridiculous derring-do from this period. A time when the technology of speed was available to all manner of lunatic.

Ab Jenkins, foot to the floor, bell ringing

One round of the clock was for the part-timers by the look of Ab Jenkins in his Mormon Meteor. Which really looks like something Noddy would be driving around in so fantastic is the colour scheme. None the less he drove for 24 hours (the card does not say two rounds of the clock which is a disappointment) at an average speed of 157.27mph. Driver protection was limited to a very tight fitting helmet by the looks of it. He broke 14 World Long distance records and 115 class records in the process, which makes you wonder who keeps track of all these records and just what they were. The car only weighed 2.5 tons and was a 12 cylinder air cooled engine producing 725 hp.

Anyway I really could keep going on this but reluctantly I pass over John Cobb (hero-worship) and Major Gardener.

The next three cards show the racing cars of the day including the incredible Auto-Union (card 23). Unusual because the 6000cc engines was at the rear of the car and the driver fits so tight into the cockpit that the steering wheel has to be removed to get him out. All sounds pretty standard today but that is after another 50 years of development. The card is pretty much dedicated to B, Rosemeyer who lost his life driving one of these vehicles on the Frankfurt-Darmstadt Autobahn early 1938.

Then for some reason a high speed coach (travels over 70mph with an average of 50mph) manages to get into the set.

It only temporarily gets lost though as card 25 is motorbikes.

I have never been a fan of these things. I like things to be scary but eye-bulging terror is something quite different.

Card 25, the 499cc Norton. It notes since the first TT of 1907 a Norton bike has won 19 times. HL Daniell winning in 1938 pushing the lap record to 90.99mph (doesn't that annoy).

The set also shows a BMW & DKW and a Veloce. The Japanese domination of the market could not even be imagined when the set was produced.

The set then moves onto Railway engines, which is interesting and a very popular subject but there are plenty of cards of trains floating about. Still they are well-drawn record breakers. The most radical of these being the Streamlined Propeller Railcar (card 36) which attained 143 mph the fastest speed attained on rails. The speed attained on a trial run between Berlin & Hamburg. 85 foot long weighing 18 tons. It had a four blade propeller at the rear. A plane without wings really. I have never seen any footage of this thing at all.

The remaining cards are related to things which float, albeit moving at pretty high speed. Although again there is a military angle involved with such things as the Hood, Graf Spee etc. Actually the Graf Spee is interesting in itself as it was a development from the fact the Treaty of Versaillies did not allow the Germans to build any ship with a displacement of over 10,000 tons. The result something of a technical marvel. A lighter steel electrically welded rather than riveted and aluminium used wherever possible (a trick some of our ships could have well done without in the Falklands conflict). Invention being the mother of necessity.

However Sir Malcolm Campbell, 'Bluebird' makes an appearance on card 48 (hero worship once more I'm afraid.) For once though the artist has let me down on that one, which is hardly fair.