A famous Vanwall victory

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Reader JA McCaul has written to say that in 1957, when he was nine years old, his mother and father took him and his two brothers on holiday to Italy. By chance they had gone to Pescara, on the Adriatic coast, in August, the main factor being that they were able to rent a flat belonging to the family of their au pair. On Sunday August 18 mother took her youngest son to the beach, while father took the two older boys to a motor race. It was the day of the Pescara Grand Prix, a round in the 1957 World Championship, starting at “about 9.30 am” in order to get the three-hour race completed before the sun made conditions unbearable.

While mother found the beach almost deserted, father and the boys joined the happy throng heading for the 25 km-long circuit that ran inland from the edge of Pescara town up into the mountains, to Spoltore, and back down through Cappelle to join the coast road at Montesilvano and along the coast back into Pescara. The McCauls stationed themselves near the corners at the end of the main straight, and were well outnumbered by happy Italian enthusiasts eagerly awaiting a Ferrari or Maserati victory.

Enzo Ferrari was having one of his tantrums and at first said he would not send his team to Pescara, but eventually Luigi Musso persuaded him to change his mind, for the honour of Italy, and the fact that Musso was keen to win the Italian national championship. A single Lancia/Ferrari was dispatched for Musso to drive, so the Italians were happy and certain that he would win. Maserati was there in full force, and if Musso could not win a victory by Fangio in a Maserati would be the next best thing.

Tony Vandervell was there with his three-car team of Stirling Moss, Tony Brooks and Stuart Lewis-Evans, and there were two little rear-engined Cooper-Climaxes cars driven by Jack Brabham and Roy Salvadori. Like many lads at their first motor race, young McCaul did not remember whether he saw a Ferrari, Maserati, Vanwall or Cooper first of all. It was all too exciting, but he clearly remembers seeing the Vanwall win the race and afterwards was in the crowd around Moss, and saw him disappear into a saloon car to leave the circuit.

It was this day in 1957 that started Mr McCaul’s interest in motor racing. When they got back home to London it was not long before he was attending races at nearby Crystal Palace. By 1961 he was a regular MOTOR SPORT reader and is still with us. He recently took his young children for a walk round the grounds of Crystal Palace and looked at what is left of the old racing circuit, in the heart of South London. Needless to say memories came flooding back to him, back to that day in 1957 when it all began for him. Reading my book The Vanwall Story he realised that I had been there at that Pescara Grand Prix, reporting for MOTOR SPORT and championing the cause of Vanwall.

My memories of that 1957 race are ever with me because it was the first real proof that Tony Vandervell’s team had got the Italians well and truly on the run. Until 1955 it looked as though a British car would never win a Grand Prix, but that year Connaught showed that it was possible, by winning the non-championship Syracuse Grand Prix. In July 1957 the Vanwall team won the British GP at Aintree, but it was more due to failure of others than a clear-cut, dominant victory. One month later, at Pescara Stirling Moss and Vanwall were disputed victors on a real Grand Prix circuit, which caused me to use the headline in A Real Grand Prix Victory for Vanwall.

The race was run over 18 laps and it was Luigi Musso who led the first lap, much to joy of the populace, with Moss second, Fangio third, Brooks fourth, Behra fifth and Masten Gregory sixth. Lancia/ Ferrari, Vanwall, Maserati, Vanwall, Maserati and Maserati. On lap two the sun went in for the Italians, for Moss sailed by into the lead, having closed on the Lancia/Ferrari on the climb up into the mountains. The brave Musso tried all he knew and hung on to the green Vanwall, but Moss was on brilliant form and during the third lap he began to pull away. Fangio and Behra in the works 250F Maseratis were totally out-classed, and after the Lancia/ Ferrari had retired on lap 10 with a split oil tank, Moss was untouchable.

At the end of lap 12 Moss made a quick pit-stop to top-up with oil and ran out a very comfortable and confident winner in a time of 2h 59m 22.7s, with a record speed for the race, and a lap record at close on 100 mph. Domination of the most convincing sort. It wasn’t dull and boring, as today’s media people and TV watchers complain, it was exciting and enthralling and history was in the making, as nine year-old McCaul was to appreciate in later years. It was interesting that in practice Fangio and Behra in the works 250F Maserati were very fast, but in the race they could not match the Lancia/Ferrari or the Vanwall. When it was suggested that they had been using a nitromethane laced alcohol fuel, in place of the more normal methanol/benzol/petrol (there were no silly fuel regulations in those happy days) in order to get a good grid position, they hotly denied it. They were not infringing any rules or regulations so nobody got hot under the collar and rushed off to protest, and the media made no song-and-dance. In the Vanwall team we just smiled to ourselves, because it was a sure sign that the British cars had got the Maseratis well and truly beaten. That they had been forced to use nitromethane in order to make a showing said it all, for no racing engine in those days was going to last for three hours running on a ‘brew’. The Vanwall team was well into special fuel mixes for research purposes.

Like most letters I have received from readers relating their first sight and sound of a racing car, many of which will be following in this series, Mr McCaul’s holiday in Pescara brought the memories flowing back to me.

D S J

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