Monza Mutterings

Anyone who missed seeing the Monza track lapped at 175 m.p.h. missed a rare sight indeed, and an occasion unique in the history of European motor-racing.

Amongst those present to watch this high-speed motoring were Maurice Trintignant, Roland Bugatti, Alfred Neubauer, Phil Hill, Villoresi, Farina and many others.

The track temperature was higher than ever recorded at Indianapolis, yet no one experienced the slightest difficulty with tyres.

Although the Indy cars fell to bits this year, the designers and mechanics insisted that now they know what Monza is all about it will not trouble them next year, when they return.

On arrival at the Autodrorne the noise of the big four-cylinder Meyer-Drake engines was something new and exciting to European ears. The Novi engines took one back to the days of real hairy Grand Prix cars with a vast surplus of power over the road-holding ability; hairy cars that needed hairy men to drive them.

In spite of bar-room rumours to the contrary, none of the American drivers received any starting money; however, they did have their return air-fare paid by the A.C.I. and those that raced won a great deal of money.

The face of Sir W. Lyons must have been very red after the race for he had been making deliberate attempts to stop David Murray entering his cars.

Due to being run under F.I.A. permit the American cars had to be fitted with mirrors, a thing not used at Indianapolis or any of the other tracks in America. The drivers were very puzzled about this, saying “We are not interested in who is behind, we are only interested in who is in front of us. If a guy wants to come by, you soon see his front wheel by your elbow” — just like the motor-cycle boys race over here, in fact.

Notes on the Cars at Monza

The most outstanding thing about the Indianapolis cars that came to the Monza Autodrome to compete in the 500-mile race was the high degree of finish to all parts of the chassis, body, suspension, engine and so on. Every one of them could quite easily have been placed on a stand at the Earls Court Motor Show without causing the S.M.M.T. the slightest concern. Unlike European racing, where cars have to be painted National colours, the American racing cars are painted to the choice of the owner, and many and varied were the colours chosen, making a pleasant change from the usual Italian red cars intermingled with various shades of dark green, that one sees at races these days.

Of the ten cars that came over, eight were built to a fairly orthodox Indianapolis pattern, using four-cylinder Meyer-Drake engines of 4.2-litres capacity. The other two were the Novi Specials having supercharged 2.8-litre V8 engines, though they both followed the general run in chassis layout. Considering the four-cylinder cars first, they all used a variation on a tubular space frame, fitted with rigid-axle suspension back and front, having the engine coupled to a two-speed gearbox, with the drive taken by torque-tube to a one-piece rear axle without differential. They all used torsion-bar springing, had the driver seated low-down on the right-hand side of the torque-tube, the engine being offset, and had magnesium wheels and disc brakes. At first glance these cars appeared to be identical from the mechanical standpoint, but closer inspection revealed a remarkable variety of detail work, and showed a high degree of individual hand-building and designing. If we consider the disc brakes, for example, we find that they are all manufactured by the Halibrand Component Company, who specialise in racing bits and pieces but whereas the Dean Van Lines Special had double pads on each front disc and single ones on each rear disc, the Meguiar Mirror Glaze Special had the reverse layout, and the McNamara Special had double pads on all four discs. Some cars had the pads mounted at hub level forward of the centre line, others had them behind the centre line, while some even had them at T.D.C. The question of shock-absorbers saw an equal amount of variation, the Dean Van Lines having a pair of piston-type units mounted vertically to each wheel, while the John Zink had similar units leaning inwards at 45 deg. and the Sumar Special had one vertical and one leaning inwards for each wheel. The Agajanian and the Novi Specials used a combination of a piston shocker to each wheel together with a Ford-Houdaille vane type, this latter having a needle valve adjustment, so that the final settings for any given track could be done by the turn of a screw, leaving the piston ones to do the major work. Without exception the fore-and-aft axle locations for both front and rear were by Watt-link parallelogram linkages, these too showing a great deal of variance as to construction and layout. Some were simple fore-and-aft layouts, while others, such as the Novis had the forward running arm mounted at an angle so that it had to twist as movement occurred and this gave a degree of anti-roll to the system. In all cases transverse torsion bars were coupled to the forward links, being contained in bearings across the front of the chassis, and all of them had screw adjustment at the end of each torsion bar for altering settings. A similar layout was used for rear suspensions, with the torsion bars mounted in the extreme end of the chassis frame. The chassis frames themselves came from four sources, the Sumar, McNamara, and Meguiar, Jim Robbins and the Novis using Kurtis frames, though not all identical, the Novis in particular having been specially built to order, while the Agajanian used a Kuzma frame, as did the Dean Van Lines, the Bob Estes used a Phillips frame and the John Zink used a Watson frame, and as the last three types of frame were the only ones not to suffer breakages, it will be seen that Kurtis by no means have a monopoly in American racing. Steering gears and layouts also showed variations, though most of them used a Halibrand Elektron steering box, but the Dean Van Lines had an outside drag-link, as did the John Zink, while the Agajanian had the drag-link mounted inside the body.

Just as chassis components showed a great variety of interpretations, so did the Meyer-Drake four-cylinder engines, for though all of them were using Hilborn fuel-injectors, one to each cylinder, the variations in inlet manifolds, and ram pipes and bell-mouths, as well as exhaust systems showed the signs of a variety of different engine tuners. All these engines were twin-overhead camshaft units, with a train of gears up the front of the engine driving the camshafts, while a right-angle drive turned a Bosch magneto. Each cylinder used a single sparking plug, but four valves and the ports were of a remarkable size, even by Italian standards. The head and block sat on a barrel-type crankcase and the crankshaft was inserted from one end, the crankcase having detachable side-plates for working on the internals. In all cases these engines were mounted on the left-hand side of the chassis frame, though the latest Indianapolis developments are to mount the engine on the right-hand side or to lay it on its side almost horizontal; unfortunately none of these versions were present at Monza. With the Meyer-Drake being a dry-sump unit, oil tank positioning showed great variation, the Sumar and Agajanian having them mounted outside the chassis frame side-members, the Meguiar being alongside the engine, the Bob Estes in the cockpit and the Novis behind the driving seat. An outstanding feature of all the cars was the oil tightness of the whole system, for there is a rule at Indianapolis that forbids any surplus oil in the pits, and any car showing signs of leakage is immediately disqualified. This rather harsh ruling results in superb engine fitting, all the joints being metal to metal and hand-fitted, while pipe lines and unions are of the highest aircraft standards. Even after three hours of 160 m.p.h. motoring the winning car showed only the merest film of oil mist at some of the engine joints. This year the Indianapolis regulations lowered the unblown engine limit to 4.2 litres, and there were two versions of the Meyer-Drake engine at Monza, one with a stroke of 114.3 mm., as used by Sumar, Agajanian, McNamara, Bob Estes and Jim Robbins, and the other with a stroke of 111.12 mm., used by John Zink, Dean Van Lines and Meguiar, all of them having a bore of 109 mm. In spite of these “vintage-like” dimensions they all ran at 6,500 r.p.m. and developed between 330 and 340 b.h.p. depending on the individual tuner, though absolute power was not of such interest to the engine men as torque, a quantity for which these big engines are remarkable.

The rear axles used by all these cars were interesting to study, all being of Halibrand manufacture, and consisted of a single large-diameter tube running in magnesium hub carriers at its extremities, and having the wheel hubs bolted onto the ends. At the transmission centre-line a flange was welded to the axle tube and to this is bolted a Ford truck crown-wheel; the pinion shaft points rearwards and the end of it drives the upper of a pair of reduction gears, there being a vast variety of ratios available. The lower pinion is on the end of the propeller-shaft which runs forward under the axle tube and up the torque-tube to the gearbox, this two-speed unit also being of Halibrand manufacture. Surrounding the crown-wheel and pinion and the reduction gears is an Elektron housing, and the axle tube itself revolves in the open air. As already mentioned the fore-and-aft location of the axle is by Watt-link geometry, while the side location is by a short geometrical linkage known as a Jacobs-ladder, from whence was derived the Connaught de Dion tube location. The Halibrand company also make the 18-in. wheels used by all the cars, with the exception of the Novis who used 20-in. on the rear, and Firestones supplied the 7.60-in, front tyres and 8.00-in. rear tyres.

In most cases fuel tanks occupied the tail of the cars, a notable exception being the Novis who had an additional one alongside the driver. Bodywork was by simple detachable panels, but the panel-beating and paintwork were of a high order. It was also noticeable how well finished were the engines and gearboxes, while vital suspension and steering parts were more often cadmium plated than chromium plated, it being well known in metallurgical circles that chrome-plating can weaken some high-grade steels. The cockpits were all tailor-made and the seats were obviously meant to be sat in for 500 miles, and had a great deal of padding in the right places and gave excellent driver support. All the drivers wore shoulder straps, of a design that allowed slow easy movement but resisted any short sharp jerky movement, while other aids to control at 180 m.p.h. on bumpy circuits were accelerator pedals like open toed sandals, padded knee supports and steering wheels nearer the horizontal than the vertical.

Having dealt with the Meyer-Drake engines, let us now consider the Novi-Winfield engines, one of which holds the unofficial lap record for Monza, made in practice, at 177 m.p.h. These are 90 deg. vee engines with two banks of four cylinders, each bank have twin-twin-overhead camshafts gear-driven from the front of the crankshaft. Single plugs are used, fired by an eight-cylinder Bosch aircraft magneto driven off the rear of the left-hand cylinder head. From the camshaft-drive gear train is driven a centrifugal supercharger, blowing at plus 28 lb./sq. in., and this draws from a Holly aircraft carburetter, with a double vane-type throttle valve, giving the effect of a variable choke. These engines now have a bore and stroke of 80.2 by 66.7 mm., giving a capacity of 2,762 c.c. and at 8,000 r.p.m. they develop in the region of 550 b.h.p., thus being the most powerful racing engines in use today. Mounted in special Kurtis chassis frames, with large-diameter tubes as bottom rails of a space-frame, and smaller diameter top ones, the rest of these cars follow normal Indianapolis practice, with the usual multitude of variations in detail design work.

It will be seen from the foregoing that though the Indianapolis cars may appear to be stereotyped, there is actually a great deal of individuality amongst them, and in all cases it was very obvious that the people concerned in the design and building had a great deal of know-how. Built for a given purpose, namely to go fast on speed tracks these cars all have a rugged bearing about them and the efficiency and skill of the people behind them made one hope that they would not get interested in European Grand Prix racing, for the whole set-up, financial, workmanship, skill and ability, and the serious-minded approach to the problem of motor-racing was reminiscent of a German firm. Particularly appreciated was the ease with which the engines were started by means of portable aircraft-type electric inertia starters, compared to some of the devices schemed-up by European Grand Prix entrants. However, due to the high gears being pulled, and only having two-speed boxes, they all had to be assisted away from a standstill by mechanics pushing at the rear, but once rolling the clutch could be let in and then the big four-cylinder engines made the cars really surge forward. It was interesting that the heaviest of the four-cylinder cars weighed 1 cwt. less than a D-type Jaguar and the supercharged Novi Specials weighed the same as the Jaguars.

Of the Ecurie Ecosse cars little need be written for their specification is well known, but it is worthy of note that Fairman was driving the car that finished second at Le Mans the week-end before, and Lawrence the fuel-injection winning car, and that neither of them had the engines touched between the two races. The only things done to the cars was the fitting of single-seater wrap-round screens in place of the Le Mans full-width ones, the removal of all the electrics, the ducting of air onto the tyres and a check of valve clearances, and routine servicing such as oiling and greasing. Other than that the cars were as they finished at Le Mans, which speaks highly of Jaguar’s design and especially highly of Ecurie Ecosse preparation. The third car, driven by Sanderson was one of the last year Scottish team cars, and like Fairman’s car was a standard Le Mans D-type of 3.5 litres.

While the mechanical components of the Indianapolis cars interested European eyes, to which the details were unfamiliar, the speed and reliability of the sports-Jaguars drew cries of acclamation from all the Americans. At a guess one would say that the result by the Ecurie Ecosse in finishing fourth, fifth and sixth, behind the Indianapolis cars, a known quantity to all Americans, would have a far greater effect on Jaguar sales in America than the Le Mans win. It is ironical that the Jaguar factory were strongly opposed to David Murray’s courage, to say nothing of his three drivers, and yet the Coventry firm are going to reap the benefit.

Having dealt with the cars that competed it should be put on record that Maserati did a few practice laps with a G.P. car fitted with a 3.5-litre V12 sports engine, and a V8 sports car of 4.2 litres capacity, while Bornigia did a great number of laps with an old and tired 4.1 litre sports Ferrari but failed to qualify. — D. S. J.