On Sunday night’s episode of Downton Abbey, former chauffeur Tom Branson revealed that one of the few groups of people of whom he’s jealous are those Royal Automobile Club drivers who got to race at Brooklands. And, looking at these photos of real 1920s Brooklands racers, it’s not hard to see why.

“In no other country are motorists so admirably self-disciplined,” TIME declared in 1934. “Over 5,000 neatly uniformed service men of the Automobile Association and Royal Automobile Club ceaselessly patrol the Kingdom’s roads. They informally direct traffic when necessary, supply information, carry first aid kits and minor spare parts, change tires and make small repairs for members of the A.A. or R.A.C. and salute smartly whenever a member’s car flashes by.”

But not everything was law and order at the R.A.C.: as one reader pointed out in a follow-up letter, that “smart salute” was not mere courtesy, but rather a pre-radar way to warn drivers about approaching speed traps.

More Must-Reads From TIME

Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com.

You May Also Like