Letters, April 2016

The spirit of Swallow

My thanks to Gordon Cruickshank for his fine review of the memorable Flywheel story. I covered the 1987 launch of the title for Motor Cycle News and the stories of the men who were incarcerated with Tom Swallow in Stalag IVB caught the atmosphere that had them on the edge of suicide, such was the change from the relatively carefree life as bomber crew and summer days at the village pub to the cruel discipline of life as a prisoner of war. One man recalled how depressed he was until he wandered into a hut to find Tom Swallow giving a talk about his 1930 motoring experiences; it was an inspirational experience that lifted him from his pit of despair.

I later interviewed Tom, who told me his mother had written via the Red Cross to say how tough life was in his native Oldbury, where the motorcycle dealer had closed. Tom used his one monthly letter allowance to write to BSA to say he would be interested in becoming their local agent once hostilities ceased. Despite being busy with its war effort, BSA replied.

In 1948 Tom Swallow Motorcycles, BSA agent, opened for business. Doctors forbade Tom riding in competition because of apparent ill health, but he competed in defiance of that advice. The indomitable spirit that saw him through the war clearly remained unquenched.

Jim Reynolds, Cleobury Mortimer, Shropshire

Slow, quick, quick, Stowe…

Derek Linner’s March 2016 letter about an impromptu drive around Silverstone brought back a surreal memory.

Staying in my friend’s caravan for the GP weekend in the early 1970s, we’d been in the paddock late one night when we realised people were doing laps of the track. I persuaded him to take us out in his almost new company car, a 2-litre Ford Cortina Mk3 GT.

He did a sedate lap and I twisted his arm to let me have a go. Coming down the Hangar Straight the weak headlights couldn’t pick out the track edges clearly and I piled into Stowe much too quickly.

I vividly remember understeering towards the grass while my mate was having kittens, thinking how he’d explain this at work on Monday.

Luckily our momentum diminished enough for the tyres to regain grip and we were off down to Club unscathed. My mate thought it was down to my great driving – if only he’d known!

Arthur Bayley, Tyldesley, Greater Manchester

Beware the rides of March

Derek Linney’s recent letter reminded me of an illicit circuit excursion.

In the early ’70s I was a boarder at Seaford College, near Petworth, and our local circuit, although closed except for testing, was Goodwood. In the sixth form one was allowed to keep a car or motorcycle, and trips into Chichester were common on a Saturday.

The drive took you near Goodwood where I would usually stop and see if anyone was testing – usually McLaren.

Once, I think in 1972, there was nothing going on and the place seemed deserted. I couldn’t resist. With the circuit gates open I revved up my Honda CD175, rode onto the circuit and blasted off to Madgwick.

Thoroughly enjoying myself and scraping the footpegs around St Mary’s for the third time, I heard a noise behind me. It was a Land Rover whose driver obviously wanted to stop me for a chat. I thought my 17bhp would be enough to outrun the Landie but it was cutting corners, driving across the grass and gaining on me. Not fair, but I did eventually complete my escape.

Sorry, Lord March. I’ve been back frequently since and bought many of your burgers, which I hope helps redress the balance.

Phil d’Arcy, Cheltenham, Glos

Recording records

I enjoyed Simon Taylor’s Lunch with… Juan Pablo Montoya article in the March 2016 issue. It was disappointing, though, not to see mention of a couple of his records. Driving for Williams in 2004 he set the fastest-ever Formula 1 lap average – 162.95mph at Monza. One year later, at Monza with McLaren, he set the highest F1 top speed at 231.523mph. Those records still stand. 

Don Trantow, Buford, Georgia, USA

Bangers and smash

Simon Arron’s piece about the possible demise of Wimbledon Stadium reminded me of the time I raced against James Hunt in a charity meeting during the mid-80s. The banger boys supplied cars and Hunt was in the same heat as me. There was much speculation about how good he’d be, as Hunt the Shunt had earned something of a reputation for contact during his early career.

His approach was masterly. He drove quite slowly on the inside line and no one dared go near him. He returned his car to the paddock without a scratch, in contrast to my Austin Westminster, collected by a London taxi that landed on its roof, ending my evening’s racing there and then.

In the same issue Nigel Roebuck’s quotes from Tyler Alexander also sparked memories, particularly the suggestion that Alexander’s attitude to racing fatalities was “callous”.

At an event many years ago a one-time GP driver was sharing a car when his co-driver crashed fatally. During the clear-up the GP veteran came past us, still in his overalls and eating an ice-cream. Someone asked how his chum was. The old racer gave us a thumbs-down and proceeded along the pits. As LP Hartley wrote in The Go-Between: “The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.”

Frank Barnard, Shapwick, Somerset

Money for nothing

It’s wrong that the Porsche 935/2.0 (Motor Sport, February 2016) participated in only two races – Norisring and Hockenheim, despite that being what you’ll find written in all Porsche books.

In fact the car also participated in another Norisring event, the so-called ‘Geldrennen’ (cash race) with both DRM divisions running together after their main race. Jacky Ickx qualified 16th for this race and finished seventh.

Reinhard Halbgewachs, Remseck, Germany

Off the invite list

I just want to compliment you on your Alastair Caldwell podcast, after hearing what he had to say about the era during which I started my 50-year love of F1. I was at Brands Hatch in 1966 and every British Grand Prix thereafter.

Alastair’s comments about how McLaren ‘won’ with such a small team in 1976 were incisive. Drawing the comparison with how many hundreds of staff contributed to such a spectacular failure in 2015 ensures that he will not get an invitation to McLaren Technology Centre any time soon!

Alan A Warwick, nr Newmarket, East Anglia 

Short but sweet

Your Alastair Caldwell podcast? Brilliant! How motor racing should be.

John Clegg, Chadderton

Giotto and me

I was fascinated by your article in the March issue about my Bizzarrini. Bizzarrini and his college student pit crew were very nice to me, to the limit we had of not speaking each other’s language. They changed the brake pads and didn’t think it was necessary to tell me, so I’m roaring down the Mulsanne with traffic all over the place and I realise that I’ve got no brakes. Furious upping and downshifting didn’t quite do the trick and I went up the earth bank on the outside of the turn, sure that I was going to get stuck, but the car sort of surfed off the top of the bank and came down smack on the road.

There were no seat belts, no fire bottles, and in those days you still had the White House turns to terrify you. As for the disqualification, I hadn’t been told about the drivers’ meeting and didn’t know what I was supposed to do coming into the pits. In any case, the car was overheating, the gauge was just pegged, and we just made it around that last lap.

Giotto wasn’t a bad guy, but he was struggling for survival and grasped the opportunity to let the disqualification be the cause of retirement instead of the car. It would’ve been easy to accept some sort of penalty but stay in the race – Mr Chinetti would just have had a few words with the stewards and that would’ve been that.

I want to thank everyone involved with the article, which is just superb.

Sam Posey, by e-mail

Escort ahead of its time

I was interested in your article about the 1966 Monte Carlo Rally (March issue). However, I am not surprised the Ford Escort was disqualified from fourth place in view of the fact it wasn’t built then, let alone homologated!

Roger Gullen, Walkern, Hertfordshire


My slip, I’m afraid. I was thinking Cortina but typed Escort. Mea culpa. GC

Right letter, wrong number

In Doug Nye’s excellent recent article on BRM engines, one minuscule detail caught my aviation ‘anorak’ eye.

He referred to H16 aero engines and mentioned the Napier Sabre. In fact that was an H24 configuration, as was the earlier Dagger.

Mike Higton, via email

Medical counsel

I was somewhat disappointed to read, in an otherwise excellent interview (March 2016), the virtual glamourisation of Gerhard Berger’s driving exploits as a child – probably not the sort of behaviour you should be sharing with the impressionable younger generation.

I realise that most of your readers are from my rather mature age group, but hopefully not all, for the sake of Motor Sport’s future.

Dr Richard Thompson, via e-mail

Devoid of personalities…

Andrew Frankel’s piece about driverless cars at the Detroit Motor Show – and rumours regarding a possible race series for these exciting machines – had me thinking. Maybe for once I will be first in the queue at the autograph session before the opening race.

Andrew Hodgson, Bury, Lancs

That’s entertainment

I just picked up your March issue, with Gerhard Berger on the cover, and sat down with a cold beer (it’s hot in Australia). I was entertained again as Berger spoke about the people and personalities of his time. Plus, I agree with his thoughts on the current F1.

In closing, it’s always good to see images of Chris Amon driving any car…

Raoul Merten, Tapitallee, Australia

Winning formula?

What a terrific magazine I receive from you every month – it is beyond terrific.

I have been a huge Formula 1 fan for more than five decades, having been swayed in the early 1960s by one of my father’s friends – he raced a British Racing Green Lynx Formula Vee in SCCA club racing and wore Jim Clark driving gloves.

I first watched a GP at Watkins Glen in 1970, Emerson’s maiden win, and I’ll always remember seeing Jacky Ickx at the airport after the race.

I have to admit that I have occasionally lost interest in F1 through the years, during periods of domination by such as Red Bull and Michael Schumacher. After attending Spa, three US GPs and Canada over the past five seasons, I am entering another period of declining interest due to the recent predictability of the races.

My simple suggestions are to give the cars an additional 50 per cent fuel allocation, provide tyres that are good for 50 miles, keep the aero as it is (including DRS), eliminate all communication (other than for safety reasons) and see what the best drivers on the planet can do with what they have when the lights go out.

Thanks for your thorough coverage of what is still often the most fascinating competition on the planet.

Skip Hudson, Singer Island, Florida