Continental notes, April 1965



One of the most interesting occurrences in the opening of the 1965 racing season was the win by the Ford GT coupé at Daytona in the 2,000-kilometres race. Two cars were entered and they finished first and third, and though they were not the pace-setters, Gurney and Surtees doing that, the Fords showed reliability and sufficient speed. Now that Eric Broadley and Lola are no longer associated with the project it is justifiable to drop the name Lola and refer to them simply as Ford GT Prototype, and, as we saw last year when they first appeared, they really are GT Prototypes, always assuming that mid-engined GT cars are going to catch on for everyday use, which is a doubtful assumption. Whereas most Prototype GT cars are either thinly disguised sports cars, or stark competition coupés, the Fords were beautifully finished, completely instrumented and trimmed in the cockpit and were to production standards. To some people they looked squat and ugly, but to me they looked terrific and represented everything that a competition GT coupé should be.

Unlike any other challengers to Ferrari supremacy in Prototype GT racing the Fords really gave the Maranello cars a run for their money last season and but for mechanical troubles they could have won a race last year. Richie Ginther’s searing pace in the opening stages of Le Mans last year was no fluke or flash in the pan and though the Ferrari drivers scoffed and said “… we knew it couldn’t keep up the pace, so we let it go,” I personally did not believe them, I think Ginther had them sweating. Again, in the Reims 12-hour race Ginther was really in amongst the two fastest Ferraris and there was no fooling, they couldn’t afford it, especially as the race started in the dark. I can accept most situations in motor racing without turning a hair, but on that opening lap at Reims as the stream of headlights poured down the Soissons straight to the Thillois hairpin I was overcome by a dreadful feeling of apprehension. Then the leaders went by, wham, wham, wham past the pits at 150-160 m.p.h. in a blaze of headlights, the two red Ferraris and the white Ford with its blue stripe, and excitement overcame any fears.

After failing again at Nassau in the cocktail-party races, they have now achieved not only their first race-finish, but they won in the bargain, the leading car being driven by Englishman Ken Miles, long time resident in the U.S.A. and Lloyd Ruby a real professional American track racing driver. In third place was the faithful Ginther, with Bob Bondurant as co-driver. Bondurant is the American who first appeared on the European scene at the Targa Florio last year, and drove a Cobra so well, and again at the Nürburgring, and other races, as well as hill-climbs. He showed commendable enthusiasm for his job and tackled European circuits with a seriousness that was refreshing. For example, he went to the Hanseat driving school on the Nürburgring purely to learn the circuit, prepared to accept his position as a novice pupil with all the others even though he was a far better and more experienced racing driver than the instructors. At the end of the season he had a try-out in the rebuilt A.T.S. Grand Prix car, after the Italian G.P., but an unfortunate mechanical breakage caused him to have a livid crash and write the car off, though he got away undamaged. 

With the amalgamation of the Carroll Shelby Cobra racing activities and the Ford GT racing team at Slough, as arranged last autumn, Shelby Racing now looks after the running of the Fords, and for the Daytona race they were fitted with wet-sump 4.7-litre iron Ford V8 engines, driving through modified Colotti 4-speed gearboxes and as with all Shelby’s Cobras, they were running on Goodyear tyres.

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On the European scene of GT racing the Belgian Ecurie Francorchamps are planning an active season with Ferrari cars, which will be painted the Belgian national colour of yellow. One-time racing driver Jacques Swaters will continue to manage the team and the drivers will be Willy Mairesse, Lucien Bianchi, Gerald Langlois van Ophem and “Beurlys.” They will be using LM and GTO Ferraris and will no doubt be among the higher placed private-owners, especially in the long-distance events, while Mairesse will no doubt mix-it with any GT driver whether the race be long or short.

Last year there were some beautiful little Alfa Romeo GTZ coupés running in the GT races and they were notable for their fantastic speed, reliability and noise, short exhaust pipes with megaphone ends sticking out of the side under the door. In the pits there were numerous familiar Italian faces that one used to connect with Alfa Corsa, the works racing team, but if “factory entries” were mentioned they would all say “oh no, customer service, nothing more” and put on dead-pan looks. However, the cars sounded, looked and went like real works cars, even though they were entered by a private Milan Scuderia, but now Alfa Romeo have come out into the open and announced that works cars will be competing this year, operating from an Alfa Romeo agent in Milan known as Auto-Delta and Carlo Chiti from the ill-fated A.T.S. team will be working with them. These Alfa Romeos excel on circuits like the Targa Florio or the Nürburgring, or on really fast ones like Monza or Le Mans. It’s a pity we have no real circuits in this country where they could be seen at their best, for I doubt whether they would show up too well on an acrobatic circuit such as Brands Hatch. If we ever get a race round the T.T. circuit in the Isle of Man then these Alfas would excel, for that is just their type of country.

Mention of A.T.S., which is now completely wound-up, recalls that one of the backers in the early days was young Count Volpi and after leaving the A.T.S. group he set in motion a GT Prototype project that was out on test recently, just about 18 months after starting. This is one of the neatest and sleekest of mid-engined coupés known as the Serrinissima and has a 3-litre V8 engine with 4 o.h.c. designed by Massimino. Where the Ford GT looks fierce and functional, this Serrinissima looks smooth and elegant, but not flamboyant and it will be interesting to see how it performs. What is interesting is that two of them have been entered for Le Mans, the entrant being Rob Walker. At least one should appear in the Targa Florio in May, as a preliminary gallop, so we might be able to judge its worth then.

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On the Grand Prix front the first of the European Formula One races will have been run and won by the time these words appear in print, and as suggested last month this season looks like being a good one, which is very fitting for the finale of the 1-1/2-litre Formula. Time certainly goes by very rapidly, for it seems only last year that the British Grand Prix car builders were shrieking their heads off about “this stupid Formula for little 1-1/2-litre cars.” It was actually at the end of 1958 and we have had four years of 1-1/2-litre racing and now everyone is saying how marvellous it has been. Ferrari has won the Manufacturers’ Championship twice, Lotus once and B.R.M. once, and it remains to be seen who wins this years’ Championship, but one thing is certain and that is that the Formula is going to finish on a note as high as the beginning was low. This must surely justify the whole point of Grand Prix racing, for it has produced a rate of development in design of engines and cars that is really praiseworthy. The old 2-1/2-litre Formula may have been successful in as much that it finished with Britain on top, whereas it had started with Britain not even in the running, but technically it failed for it started off on a high-rate of technical development and this dwindled until the last year of the Formula, in 1960, was a bit of a doldrum in design and development. Next year starts the Formula for supercharged 1-1/2-litre and unsupercharged 3-litre-engined cars and when announced everyone was saying “How splendid, big powerful cars to sort the men from the boys.” Now, at the last minute, some of the British car builders are screaming to have the Formula delayed or modified because they are not ready. Those concerned are Cooper, Lotus and Brabham and they are what I call the “Special-Builders”; the real Grand Prix car manufacturers, such as B.R.M. and Ferrari, are not making a fuss, they have been getting on with the job.

The “Special-Builders” are blaming the withdrawal of Coventry-Climax for this scream, but it is rather a weak excuse. Everyone knew a long while ago that the new Formula was starting in 1966 and some of them seemed to have just woken up to the fact that 1966 is next year. If Cooper, Lotus and Brabham have to drop out of Grand Prix racing it will be a pity, but it was a pity when Gordini, Maserati, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, H.W.M., Mercedes Benz, and Connaught dropped out of Grand Prix racing ; it certainly wasn’t the end of Grand Prix racing, so there is no reason to suppose that the loss of Cooper, Lotus and Brabham will mean the end of Grand Prix racing. It may well develop into a straight fight between B.R.M. and Ferrari, and anyone who thinks that will be dull should look back to the days of Ferrari and Alfa Romeo in 1950/51, they were far from dull.

There have been no suggestions as to the layout of the 3-litre Ferrari engine, but B.R.M. have a 16-cylinder 3-litre well under way, and they are prepared to sell these engines to chassis builders, even though they will be using them in their own team cars.

Just when the British national season was about to start we suffered a short sharp return visit of the ice-age, so that it was rather appropriate that the latest bulletin from the Federation Internationale Motorcycliste should contain a report by the Secretary-General on visits to three ice-track speedway-type meetings in Russia. A normal Speedway 440-yard track was flooded with water and the ambient temperature of 17 degrees below zero Centigrade soon provided an ice surface. The speedway bikes used spiked tyres and could be laid over so far that riders wore metal skids on their left knees, while engines were warmed up with blowlamps! One of the meetings was run at night under powerful floodlights and the hardy crowd were out in the open at minus 17 degrees, while it is difficult to imagine what it was like for mechanics having to handle spanners in those conditions. In this country a few degrees of frost and a bit of snow causes havoc and we hardly think about racing, but presumably if all the winter months are rugged the people develop an immunity to the conditions, but pity the poor “visiting firemen.” At the meetings in Leningrad there were riders from Russia, Sweden, Austria, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Mongolia. I wonder sometimes if there is a country on the Earth where no mechanised racing of any sort takes place. Yet there are people in this country who still won’t accept that racing is as much part of twentieth century living as electricity, radio or television.

In an Information Bulletin published by the Federation Internationale Automobile there was an interesting extract from a Swiss report on a speed comparison test carried out near Lausanne on a main road. Two Vauxhall Vivas were used, one keeping in the general traffic flow and not exceeding 55 m.p.h. and the other doing plenty of nipping in and out, using all the performance and overtaking wherever possible and doing 75 m.p.h. as much as possible. Observations were made over a total distance of nearly 1,700 miles and the time saved by the dicer was 2 hours 48 minutes, and while the steady one overtook 230 cars and 262 lorries, the fast one had to overtake 531 cars and 313 lorries, but most remarkable was that the steady one made seven unexpected heavy brakings while the fast chap had to anchor-up severely on 184 occasions. Their average speed difference was just under 2 m.p.h. and tyre wear was 50% more on the dicer and fuel consumption showed an 18% difference.

All very interesting, but I bet I know which driver was enjoying his motoring, and after all the whole point of driving is to enjoy it, otherwise you might as well go by public transport. What a nice thought – if everyone was honest with themselves and those who said “I don’t enjoy motoring or driving” were to retire from the roads, and leave them free for those of us who really enjoy motoring. It may sound selfish, but on the other hand I don’t enjoy fishing so I don’t do it and I leave the lakes and rivers to those who do. It is interesting to stand at the roadside and watch the traffic go by and see how many drivers are not enjoying themselves; some of them are positively hating every minute of it, if their facial expressions are anything to go by, while others look petrified and I often wonder why they go on, it must be some form of masochism. Of all the European countries in which I have motored extensively Switzerland is one of the worst for people who don’t appear to enjoy driving and who disapprove of anything they aren’t actually doing themselves while Dutch people when they are outside of Holland are the slowest drivers. For a good dice you can’t beat certain regions of France, and most of Italy, although Italy is getting bogged down with economy minicars. Surprisingly, the country that has improved enormously over the past 10 years is Great Britain, or at least England, for nowadays there are more people belting along than ever before, and lots of them really do get a move on. At one time England was 99% mimsers and basic-clots of five cars nose-to-tail at a snail’s pace. Today things are very different and you continually come up against people tramping along in the 85/90 m.p.h. bracket on the main roads. Unfortunately, many of them haven’t the skill or experience to be doing such speeds, while others do it in cars that aren’t really safe at such speeds, but at least they all seemed to be enjoying their motoring.

Before leaving the F.I.A. and the F.I.M. it is nice to see that they are getting together to ratify a classification for vehicles attempting the ultimate in land speed, constituting an out-and-out Land Speed Record, irrespective of how it is driven or how many wheels it has, the main stipulation being that it must travel on the ground and not over it, and must be controlled by a man on board. This rules out aeroplanes flying low and rockets fired horizontally. A boffin friend of mine estimated that a Bloodhound rocket fired horizontally along a drag-strip would do the standing-start 1/4-mile in about two-and-a-half seconds! – D. S. J.