Miscellany at Monza, August 1956

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Having a few days to spare I paid a visit to the Monza Autodrome and during the course of a week there was almost continuous activity. The Monza Autodrome is a very permanent fixture and is always available for testing and practice, it being possible for any firm or individual to reserve the track for their own purposes or for record breaking. When it is not booked it is open to the public, who can drive round the banked track or the road circuit on payment of a small fee. The usual arrangement being that the banked track is open in the mornings and the road circuit in the afternoons, though the combined road-track circuit is only available on special request.

I had heard that Maserati were going to do some intensive testing with various cars, but on arrival I found that there was a lot ol activity by other firms in progress as well, so that the first day was very full. A continuous humming noise proved to be the little 750-cc streamlined single-seater Abarth record-breaking machine out on test, in preparation for attacks on the 24-hour Class H record. This beautiful little machine is built around Fiat 600 components suitably modified by Carlo Abarth in his factory in Turin where he specialises in “hot-rod” sets for all kinds of Italian cars.”Christmas tree” sets for making Italian cars look like American cars and the building of Fiat-based specials. The little record-breaker uses Fiat 600 front and rear suspensions attached to a special light tubular frame, with the normal 600 engine/gearbox/transmission arrangement at the rear. The engine had undergone an Abarth transformation, which includes new crank, rods, pistons, camshaft, carburetter, inlet and exhaust manifolds and so on, resulting in an increased capacity to 747 cc giving 47 bhp, while softer versions giving 42 bhp are sold over the counter to put into your normal Fiat 600 saloon, which make them go nearly as well as a TV Fiat 1,100. The bodywork on the rear-engined record-breaker was built by Bertone and was fully enclosed with an excellent profile as the accompanying photograph indicates.

After looking round the Abarth I turned my attention to Maserati, who were arriving with a fuel-injection Grand Prix car, to do fuel consumption tests, and 1,500 cc and 2,000 cc sports cars in preparation for a forthcoming race. The Grand Prix car was the long-nosed ducted-radiator car that had appeared at Spa, while the 1,500-cc was a normal 150S. The 2-litre car, however, was a new one with a much lighter chassis frame built of smaller diameter tubing, though not a pure space-frame, and it was fitted with the latest type of four-cylinder engine and a five-speed gearbox, suspension being normal Maserati, with wishbones and coil-springs at the front and de Dion with low-mounted transverse leaf-spring at the rear. The bodywork was much lower and smoother than previous four-cylinder cars, while the nose was extended forwards and down and incorporated ducting to the radiator with the air-outlet under the car. In attendance as road transport was a very lavishly-finished Gran Turismo 2-litre A6G that was so luxurious and well trimmed that the total weight took away some of the Gran from Gran Turismo. During the course of the day there was an opportunity to try this car and, though the six-cylinder engine was delightfully smooth, it could not do justice to the weight of the car and needed quite a time to work itself up to 110 mph. With a 2-litre engine fitted it would be a most pleasant fast road car.

While Maserati were unloading and preparing to start work a very fierce-looking coupe Alfa-Romeo appeared and did a few laps round the banked track. This was a works version of the newly introduced Sportiva which is the latest step from the Super-Spinrt 1,900. This special 1,900 coupe had a very neat de Dion rear end mounted on coil springs, with the de Dion tube formed in one piece with two long radius tubes running forwards to a ball joint in the centre of the chassis. This structure forming an enormous triangle. and the centre of the de Dion tube was located by a Watts linkage. Inboard rear brakes were mounted on each side of the chassis mounted differential unit and they had transverse finning of turbine form, as had the very large front brakes. The engine was a twin-cam four-cylinder 2-litre with twin carburetters as used in the 1,900 Sportiv, and the car was very much a racing/sports coupe with aluminium body of minimum size and weight. Although Alfa-Romeo are not actively doing any racing, the experimental department are still hard at work and one-off models such as this one keep appearing on test, much of the knowledge gained going into such projects a,the highly successful competition version of the Giulietta Sprint.

Not long after the arrival of the Maserati team, the Scuderia Ferrari arrived and they produced a very dirty and rough-looking Syracuse D50 Lancia Grand Prix car fitted with 17-in wheels in place of the normal 16-in ones and a rather amateurish-looking “streamlined” nose cowling running the full width of the car. In direct contrast was a brand new 2-litre sports car with very sleek body by Carozzeria-Touring. This was a works version of the 2-litre four-cylinder “Testa Rosa” sports car which has replaced the 2-litre Mondial and has a one-piece rear axle on coil springs instead of a de Dion rear end. The four-cylinder twin-cam engine is an improved version of the old Formula II Ferrari engine and the car gets its name (Red Head) from the fact that the camboxes are painted red. Normally the production Testa Rosa models have bodies by Scaglietti of Modena, but this new factory car with touring body was reckoned to be more aerodynamic. It was interesting to note that it was fitted with a fabric tonneau over the passenger seat in preparation for Le Mans, for it was the prototype of the Ferrari Le Mans car to be fitted with a 21/2-litre engine eventually.

After everyone had rushed round the banked track, which proved to be a little less bumpy than last year, though still giving a very rough ride to the faster cars, especially the Grand Prix ones, the full road-track circuit was opened and Maserati and Ferrari kept an eye on each other’s performances. By the end of the day Ferrari proved to have the fastest Grand Prix car, but Maserati the fastest 2-litre sports car, so everyone went home fairly happy. Admidst all this dicing there was a lone Osca 1,500 going round, driven by Maglioli and Villoresi and, though it was unchanged from the Mille Miglia and earlier races, still having a one-piece rear axle and its very unpretentious four-cylinder twin-cam engine, it became obvious during the afternoon that it was going very fast. On many occasions the 2-litre Ferrari and Maserati made very little progress when following it round the banked portion of the circuit. Bearing in mind that Fangio, Castellotti and Moss were driving for their teams the lone Osca was making people look sidewaya at it.

The next visit to the Autodrome saw Maserati out again, this time on their own and towards the end of the afternoon they brought along the all-enveloping Grand Prix car that they used last year at the Italian Grand Prix and the Syracuse Grand Prix. It had been recently overhauled, having lain in a corner of the racing shop all winter, and was now fitted with a fuel-injection engine and a set of Dunlop disc-brakes for the personal edification of Moss. It had been prepared in a rush and the brakes were far from right so that it only did a few laps before it was put away, while in addition the streamlined body was sucking fuel-fumes into the cockpit so badly that two laps was all Moss could cope with. When both the big firms had finished with the track the little Abarth went out on test again, lapping at comfortably over 100 mph, and two days later it set off at 8 pm to attack the 24-hour class record, driven by Maglioli, Thiele; Poltronieri and Cattini. It ran like a clock all through the night and all next day, making routine stops for fuel and oil and tyre changes. As it was using normal Fiat wheels it had to run on standard tyres, there being no track tyres available in such small dimensions, so they were changed pretty regularly as a precaution. While this little,car was going round and round Taruffi arrived with his large “Tarf” record-breaker with an eye on the 2-litre Class E hour record. This was the twin-boom car he built some time ago, fitted with a two-stage supercharged 4 CLT Maserati engine enlarged to 1,750 cc. It was one of the engines built by Maserati for a Formule Libre race at Buenos Aires some years ago. Briefly, the Tarf consists of two stressed-skin tubular fuselages coupled together by two aerofoil sections. In the right-hand one is the driver and fuel and oil tanks, and in the left-hand one the engine and gearbox, this latter component being a Lancia unit grafted onto the Maserati bellhousing. Bevel gears drive a cross-shaft fitted with a differential and duplex chains drive each rear wheel independently. These wheels are suspended on trailing arms and sprung on coil springs, while Lancia Aprilia brakes are fitted. At the front the wheels, fitted with early Ferrari brakes, are suspended on forward facing swinging arms, again with coil-spring suspension. The front aerofoil section between the two fuselages carries the steering connections and fuel pipes etc, while the rear one contains the cooling radiator and the transverse drive shaft. Control of the machine from the narrow cockpit is by two levers in place of a steering wheel, the movement being rather like a motor-cycle. Piero Taruffi has a similar machine built around motor-cycle components, containing a four-cylinder Gilera motor-cycle engine for record-breaking in the 500-cc class, though naturally it is much smaller than the Maserati-engined car.

After the Abarth had finished with the banked track, taking class. records for 3,000 and 4,000 kins. as well as 24 hrs.. Taruffi tried the Tarf and the day alter. at 7 a.m., he set off to -attack thehour record. The car proved to be much too fast for the track and the bumps, and he had to keep lifting his foot, with a re-suit that a plug oiled and put a stop to the run. Some softer plugs. were fitted and he tried again, lint the car was still not running properly and the ,ittempt had to be abandoned.

A brief lull descended on Monza so I made a visit to Modena to see Maserati and found feverish activity in progress preparing sports cars for the Supercortemaggiore race. While I was there the newly acquired Lotus Mark XI arrived and the factory Maserati 1,500 cc engine and gearbox was fitted. It was tried out round the perimeter track of Modena aerodrome and was impressive round the corners but weaved about on the straight in an alarming manner so it was hurriedly put away under a dust-sheet to await further investigation. It was amusing to see the Italian reaction to the Lotus chassis, for their idea of a piece of tubing is something the size of a drain-pipe, while Chapman’s idea of tubing is about the size of a piece of sphaghetti. The ill-fated Mille Miglia 31/2-litre sports car was still lying undeveloped, through lack of time, though the 41/2-litre V8 engine destined for it was approaching completion. This is a very compact 90 deg vee eight-cylinder with two overhead camshafts to each bank, but as with all racing firms time is a big factor and progress on new projects is not as fast as they would like.

Returning to Monza for a final visit saw Taruffi out once more with the Tarf and this time he was successful in raising the hour record from 202 kph, to 212 kph, as well as taking the 100-mile and 200-kilometre records at the same time. When he had finished the Abarth appeared again and set off on further long distance class records, so while it was circulating on the banked track I went over to the far side of the road circuit where Moto-Guzzi was trying out a set of 350 cc motor-cycles preparatory to going off to the Dutch motor-cycle Grand Prix. Like the Italian car teams, the motorcycle teams have been forced to employ British riders, and equally British riders have been forced to ride foreign machines due to the lack of suitable British ones. Lomas and Kavannagh were testing these 350 cc machines and it was an impressive sight to see them laid well over round the long curve on the back leg of the road circuit at over 125 mph,

With the approach of the French Grand Prix at Reims, I eventually tore myself away from the Monza Autodrome and headed north for the Alps. The visit had been well worth while, and the facilities at Monza are such that there is always something interesting going on, either from Formula I, sports cars, touring cars, motor-cycles and even 10 cc model cars, for near the paddock is a large concrete circle for these little 100 mph projectiles to race round. Monza Autodrome is always worth a visit when in Italy, and even if the activity is not so great as I have just described, it is worth seeing just what can he done by a motor-racing-minded nation in the way of providing a permanent test and racing track.—DSJ.

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