LES 124 HEURES DU MANS

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In case any of my readers leap to the conclusion that we have been guilty of a misprint before getting further even than the title, I would explain that the above is not my estimate of the time for which the cars were racing at Le Mans, but an approximate assessment of the time I myself spent in the vicinity on the occasion of the Grand Prix d’Endurance. I say in the vicinity advisedly, because I did not actually sleep in Le Mans at all, unless you count an odd hour or two of slumber snatched in a car behind the pits while I ought to have been reporting the race. We lay instead at Loué, some 30 kilometres away, chez Monsieur Ricorderiu, of the hotel which bears his name, and very comfortably we lay too. Bon souper, bon gite et le reste, as the French Say. But as this is not a romance or anything of that sort, it was really of the bon souper that I wanted to write, not forgetting, of course, a passing word for the bon déjuner. The Hotel Ricordeau has two stars for its bonne table in the Guide Michelin, and very richly, in my opinion, it deserves them. It is perfectly easy to eat badly in France at the present time as well as to eat well, as we ourselves discovered to our cost when we were confronted, after an interminable delay, with a perfectly filthy dinner in a very well-known establishment in Le Mans itself : but chez Ricordeau we were not once disappointed. M. Ricordeau, as well as being an hôtelier, is himself a chef, which means not only that he is a very good hôtelier, but also that the quality of his table is as unlikely to decline as is that of the rest of his establishment. Do not, for all that, make up your mind here and now to go and stay there for the next Grand Prix d’Endurance, for M. Ricordeau already has a number of faithfuls who go back to his hotel year after year on this occasion and you are likely therefore to be disappointed of accomodation. But, equally do not forget this lodestar when next you are travelling along the road from Le Mans to Laval. Two stars in the Guide Michelin indicate, with regard to une bonne table, that Bibendum considers that a meal at it mérite le detour ; and in this case you will probably have to make one, for Loué lies off the main road. The detour in question, however, is not nearly as long as the virtues of the table would merit, and about 30 kilometres from Le Mans you will see a picture showing you exactly how to make it, painted on the side of a house.

When you get to 1,011,6 yoa will find a rather undistinguished little Frenelt town. but the I rote! Itivordeau with its porle I:odic:N.e and venerable cotteli-tiouses, now used as garages, in the yard behind it. looks as if it had served long-distance road traffic since before the days of motorcars. One is tempted to wonder, in tact:, whether Lone always lay back front the main road as it. does today, or whether the by-passing of the town is (-timpanitively modern. There are indeed several mysteries connected with the .1.avalLe Mans road, the end section of which by KENT KARSLAKE we got to know pretty well during our stay at Lone. Soon after one gets on to lit, it makes it wide sweep to the right, While the line of it is carried straight on in the form of a broad green ride. This, so M. ltieordeau told us, represents

road-straightening scheme which was embarked on soon after the liberation. but.vwhielt has never been brought to fruition. Nearer Le Mans, however, the road again makes several wide sweeps away from its general direction, but at. these places the straight. line is continued by obviously older, narrow roads, cutting off the loops, which are still usable by wheeled traine. In these pluees the windings of the modern road somewhat ease the gradient, and if one came across this sort of thing in England one would guess that an older road, used perhaps by pack-horse traffic, had been modified in the Cr-melting era to avoid the hills. But this sort of thing is. I think, coinPartitively rare in Framer!, and in any ease the gradients on the disused sections of road are not particularly severe. I remain mystified. In my previous journeys abroad since the war I have used a variety of cars, ranging in date Over a span of twenty years—from 1908 to 1928. This time, however, my transport was something rather different, in the shape of a Silver Wraith Rolls-Royce, in which I was a passenger on the outward journey, but Which was entrusted to me to bring back to Ftriglantl. What I diO in these cirmunstanees was to bring it back to England, which just shows how honest I ant I do not know whether I shall ever again iii RI myself in charge of a Silver Wraith with the roads of all Europe before me (subject, of course, to the fact. that some of these roads involve the risk of pranging the Iron Curtain). The car goes so tirelessly, and is so effortless to drive, that anyone who likes motoring could not but be tempted. say, to take a little trip round by Rome, instead of coming straight home. I have never sat in a more -comfortable driving, seat., and the degree of silence attained by the Silver Wraith can bear comparison even with that of a car in which I had spent the previous week-end but. one–whielt was a 1910 Silver Ghost! Instead of tlw Ghost’s long gear-lever on to which one drops one’s hand With a move/tent of only a few inches front the steering wheel, the NVraith has ‘.t tiny little lever.–still on the right-lettal side or t 1w driver, ttless them -which seems to grow out. of the bottom of the seat.; :Ind instead of the fair degree of skill, amompanied, its thinly Scott-naleriett used to say, by mystic murmurings of the words ” Rolls-Royce-car,” which the Ghost requires it’ ehanges are to be made successfully, the’ Wraith is lilted with it

synchromesh utechanisiii which shows one what other synchromesh mechanisms ought to be. Instead Of the somewhat zigzag path, too, that the Ghost’s lever traces as it rounds the notches -which retain it in each several speed, the Wraith’s moves so slickly, over such short distances, that one’s only difficulty, until one is used to it, is to avoid hamhandedly touching first as one comes out. of seeond. The present-day car’s third speed, moreover, is so silent. and its engine so inaudible, that; having selected third. say at low speed in a village, one must be careful not, to forget to eluinge up into top when the obstruction has been passed: Finally, while every driver of the older model knows how, in the morning, you pays your penny to the carburetter and takes your choice cold start, if you want, to start the Silver Wraith front cold you merely get in, switch on and press the starter. Just that,. In fact. if there is any critieisin which we diehards can make, it is that it is all just. too easy. Every day before the races ‘we used, between M. Ricordean’s meals, to go into he Mans to visit the racers in their various garages. (We did not have to go anywhere to visit Count Johnny Lurani and his Lanvin. Aurelia, because they were lodged at the Hotel Rieordeau and if one leant out of one’s bedroom window in the morning one could very easily imagine oneself in Italy.) One day when we were halted in a rather obscure street of Le Mans, asking the way to. Guillon’s, the emichbuilder, where the Cunninghams were housed with their 17 tons of spares, I espied my son Antony, who is at present resident in the vicinity of Tours, proceeding in the opposite direction in his Type 503 Fiat of 1998. I expected to find him elated at the prospect of witnessing the motor races ; instead he seemed, for the Moment-, somewhat dejected. It appears that, on the last lap of his journey (I suspect while he was seeing whether the MulSanne leg of the course was fast enough for his Wide) he had run a big-end. We repaired to the Simeit garage which. we were assured, had represented Fiat for more than thirty years, and interviewed the foreman (only I prefer the French equivalent — counlerinasler). Did the engine, he asked us, use much oil ? No, we replied proudly, practically none. Did it, he persisted, use much petrol ? Yes, we admitted, it did seem to use rather it lot. “‘ Alta!” exclaimed the countermaster triumphantly, ” I thought so. With this type it arrives often that you get a little flight of petrol from Bic carburetter or its connections, which descends into the Carter (an English word used by the French for what the Englislt call a crankcase) and–with shrug of the shoulders—you rim a bigend. With t his type we always placed a little tray under the carburetter to pre vent this nuisance.” I pass on t his hint and tilt for those automobilists,

is of the Vintage Sports-Car Club, Light Car Section, who operate Fiat Types 501. 502 and 503.

Anyhow, as a result Of all this, when we wanted to go. to the MuSee de Tesse to visit the exhibition entitled L’ Auto el L’Art, we had to walk, and as we started in quite the wrong direction, we had to walk quite a long way. The exhibition proved to be .quite small and we were unable to find some of the things we had been promised, such as ” the Bugatti prototype of 1910—which was to give birth, under a licence, to the extraordinary pre-1914 midget, the • Bebe Peugeot’ “.-; but our long walk was fully compensated for by such exhibits as there were, particularly by the Panhard et Levassor of 1890, With a horizontal engine, placed at the back, and belt drive—in fact with all the features which Levassor is famous for eschewing. And, my word, the French do know how to stage these things._ Each of the old ears shown stood on its little plot of-gravel, symptom of the roads on which it ran, and by this simple means the realism of the whole thing was enormously enhanced. A radiator and front axle, stood separately on the floor, might be expected to have no more than a somewhat specialised technical appeal, even when they belong to .a Bugatti Royale ; but when they are backed by a large mural photograph of the columns of the Parthenon, the whole exhibit does appeal to 1’44 as well as to l’Auto. Apart front this there were a series of photographs and drawings on the walls which were of absorbing antiquarian automobile interest, as was a four-cylinder engine of 1912 by Anted& Bollee fits, not so much for its mechanical features as for the evidence it provided that Amedee ‘BOIL& fits was still building engines in 1912. After this Pomeroy pointed out to me that in a show-Case on the square in front of the Cathedral there was a collection of photographs of former races at Le Mans, the first Grand Prix of 1906 (or what I call the first Grand Prix), the Grand Prix de France of 1911 and the voiturette races of the early ‘twenties. There was

the address of a shop on the show-case and we went off in search of it, which involved our climbing -steps and crossing bridges and losing our way ‘in a network of alleys round the Cathedral. At last we came to the address we sought, which proved to be that of a very dingy antique shop. I am, interested in antiques, apart from those Of -an .automobile nature, but this shop contained singularly little that I coveted. We enquired about the photographs, and drew attention to the show-case down on the phwe. Alt! replied the proprietor, that was just an advertisement for his chimoiseries and hoe luid no photographs for sale. That is what is known as drawing a blank. Of course we had some drinks in between times and discussed the prospects for the race with the drivers, the team managers, the hangers-on and our fellow journalists. One of these last, wellknown in the English motoring world, reported having just informed London that Stirling Moss had covered a practice lap exceedingly fast in his Frazer-Nash. ” But,” we objected, ” Stirling Moss is not

driving a Fraser-Nash.” ” Well, it couldn’t matter less,” replied the journalist blandly, “they never put in anything I send them, anyway.” Which, of course, is the way that journalism should be treated.

As to the way journalists are treated that could not be nicer at I,e Mans. We repaired to the offices of the Automobile Club de rOuest, bearing our letter from Melva SPORT, requesting, as a Passport might say, if not, requiring, in the mune of the Editor, that we be given all the assistance of which we stood in need. We were ; and having ‘assured the official that we were satisfied, we were about to go when he remarked “then I hope, Sir, that you will permit an old journalistto ask you to remember this when you return to England, where journalists are treated like dirt.” Race organisers in this country, please note.

The proprietors and editors of The Motor are So exceedingly hospitable that they not only invited Me to witness the motor racing from their pit, but even tolerated my scribbling my copy on their premises. This copy, incidentally, was; by prior arrangement, to be handed to a most helpful member of the Bentley Drivers’ Club immediately after the race, to be delivered. to the Editor of MOTOR SPORT as soon as his aeroplane reached England ; but as, unfortunately, the Bentley Drivers’ Club’s aeroplane, Owing to stress of weather, never even reached Le Mans, the plan went awry, and the unfortunate Editor was kept hanging about at Blackbushe aerodrome half the night-4 waiting, like General Gordon, for the help, or at least the copy, that never came. (It went, in the end, by other means, but that is another story.) The only slight return that I could make to The Motor was to agree to act on occasion as interpreter. although I have before now given public warning, in these columns, of the dangers of employing use in this capacity. At any rate, on this occasion I was engaged to order the drinks, an activity which is at least no novelty to use. I thought I was getting on pretty well, when Suddenly I was asked to provide the French for “the thing to take off the tops of the beer bottles with.”

” What,” I said, unabashed, to the man who was taking the order, ” is the French for the thing to take off the tops of the beer bottles. with ? ” He pondered for a moment ; then, with some elation, replied, or so I thought, with the resounding word ” Ddcapitulateur.” Of course I tried it out on ,somebody else very soon afterwards, but he only looked puzzled. ” Pecapitu/akar, Monsieur?” he said—” ah ! you ..mean ddeapsulateur I”

I think I still prefer ‘decapitulateur; but if you ever want to know what it is -called in English I suppose the answer is decapsulater.

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