Continental Notes, April 1968

When the entry list for the Le Mans 24-hours race was published recently the full impact of the C.S.I. dealings last year came to light and the 3-litre limit on Prototype cars and 5-litre limit on Group 4 Sports Cars has produced the most mediocre entry for this classic event that one has seen for many a year. If the works Porsche team do not win then it is quite possible that a private owner entry could. There are four T70 Lola coupés entered, which will no doubt set the pace while they last and the only sports Ferrari entries are from America, presumably LM models, though many people still think Ferrari will relent and send special works cars under the American entries. Matra have entered one V12 prototype coupé with 3-litre engine, but I wonder how far it will get, and Alpine have entered four of their 3-litre V8 engined cars. The Healey Motor Company have entered a single Prototype, which is a mid-engined coupé powered by a 2-litre Coventry-Climax V8 engine, and Marcos have an entry for a similar Prototype powered by a V12-cylinder B.R.M. engine, but I cannot see any of these being the winning car. This year’s Le Mans race is certainly not one to get excited about, but no doubt the usual vast crowds will turn up, if only to hear the two Howmet Turbine cars running. If the racing is not enthralling at least there will be time to enjoy some of the side-shows and amusements for the Le Mans Circus will no doubt be in full swing. It all takes place on June 15th-16th.

For once it looks as though Enzo Ferrari is going to stick to his word and give Le Mans and all the other long-distance races a miss. He has never been enthusiastic about sports car racing, preferring Grand Prix racing, but his co-directors on the board of S.E.F.A.C. Ferrari have always maintained that victories at Le Mans and Sebring have done wonders for the sale of Ferrari road cars, so he has been forced to support the races. Now, at the age of 70, it looks as though he is going to have his own way. In the past his team have never been able to get down to serious development on the Grand Prix cars until after Le Mans, by which time the Grand Prix season is half way through. When John Surtees was with Ferrari he was always complaining about this and if he and Enzo had had their way they would have concentrated on Grand Prix cars only, but the Ferrari firm had expanded beyond the old Scuderia Ferrari into an automobile manufacturer where profits have to be watched. This year they are concentrating on single-seaters and already the 2.4-litre V6 Dino has given a good account of itself in the Tasman series, and a new Formula Two car has been built, very much like the Tasman car, with four valves per cylinder and single sparking plugs, with conventional inlet ports in the vee and exhaust ports on the outside. No doubt the Monza 1,000-kilometre race on April 25th will indicate whether Ferrari is sticking to his word about abandoning sports car racing or whether he is showing lukewarm interest.

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The F.I.A. have sent out a notice justifying the homologation, as a Group 4 sports car, of the Lola T70, for a lot of people were convinced that Lola have not made 50 of these cars, and certainly not with 5-litre Chevrolet engines. The F.I.A. have carefully explained that people did not understand the real interpretation of the rules and that it was not necessary to have built 50 identical cars, but 50 similar cars, so that open T70 models count as well as coupé models, and also Can-Am cars as they are basically the same vehicle as the homologated sports car. In view of the hasty change to a 5-litre limit for Group 4 cars the F.I.A. have waived the engine rule and count all the 5.7-litre and 5.9-litre Lola cars. This was done to soften the blow that Lola suffered last year, when, having got set up to build 50 cars with 5.9-litre engines, the 5-litre limit was suddenly slapped on without warning. The F.I.A. reckon that by January, 1968, the required number of Lolas had been built and sold, so it was homologated as a Group 4 sports car as from February 1st, 1968.

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At the Geneva Motor Show Mercedes-Benz introduced a new saloon known as the 300 SEL 6.3 and it should set new standards of road motoring on the highways of Europe. What the Stuttgart engineers have done is to put the V8-cylinder 6.3-litre fuel injected engine of the 600 Mercedes-Benz limousine, into the body shell/chassis unit of the smaller 300 model. The compact 5-seater saloon was a fast touring car in its 300 SEL form with the six-cylinder 2½-litre engine, but now with the 6.3-litre V8 giving 300 SAE horsepower (250 DIN) in the same car it should embarrass a lot of sports and GT cars. It is claimed to do 137 m.p.h. which is not beyond the bounds of possibility, for the V8 engine in the vast 600 limousine would propel it along at over 120 mph. What is interesting is that last year when there were rumours of Mercedes-Benz returning to racing it was a known fact that some special cars had been doing some very fast testing on the Nurburgring. At the time Mercedes-Benz admitted that it was more or less true, saying that they had been trying different combinations of engines and chassis units, because you have to make experiments. One experiment was obviously very successful and the 6.3-litre V8 saloon 300 SEL model is the outcome.

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In the colour centre spread and on this page as well there is depicted the new Group 6 Prototype Ford coupé, powered by a Cosworth V8 Grand Prix engine. The body/chassis unit is a bonded and riveted structure and the all-independent suspension follows conventional Grand Prix practice, with wishbone and coil spring i.f.s. and wishbone and single transverse link with twin radius arm i.r.s. at the rear. The Prototypes have been built by Alan Mann Racing in conjunction with Ford (Great Britain) and it is hoped that Graham Hill and Jim Clark will drive one. Races of up to 1,000 kilometres in length are envisaged and some people have shown surprise that the cars are not entered for Le Mans. They seem to have forgotten that Ford won Le Mans last year and the year before, last year at a fantastic record speed with their 7-litre Mk. IV car, so what would be the point of trying to improve on that performance with a 3-litre car, and the chances of a brand new design winning Le Mans first time out are too remote to bother with. Last year Ford (U.S.A.) restricted their racing to Le Mans in Europe, so this year Ford (G.B.) intend to have a go at all the other long-distance events, starting with the B.O.A.C. 500 race on April 7th at Brands Hatch.

This new Ford Prototype is a really good looking car, small and compact and its progress in European events will be closely followed, for the intention is to take part in five or six events. The design has been in the charge of Len Bailey, of the Ford of Britain Research Engineering Centre, and the construction has been carried out in the Alan Mann workshops at Byfleet.

The overall height of the car is 35.3 in., the wheelbase is 87 in. and front and rear tracks are 55 in. Goodyear Grand Prix tyres on 15 in. wheels will be used and Castrol will lubricate the 400 b.h.p. Cosworth V8 engine and the Hewland five-speed gearbox. Until now Ford of Britain have been supporting racing through the media of established teams and cars, but now they are coming into their own with this exciting Group 6 Ford 3-litre coupé. In addition design is going ahead on an all-Ford Grand Prix car with 4-wheel drive, and this should appear on test before the end of the season. How long will it be before Ford of Britain produce a sports/GT type car to challenge the F-type Jaguar?

—D. S. J.