Continental Notes, August 1959

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Regular readers may recall that in 1957 I wrote up the story of the 4.5-litre Maserati, and included a picture of one of the cars with the chassis designer standing alongside. A student of Modern Technical College, Valerio Colotti spent a number of years with Maserati, principly (sic) on chassis and suspension design with Alfieri, being responsible for the 250 F, the 3-litre and 2-litre sports cars and the 4½-litre and also working on transmission designs. When Maserati retired from racing Colotti was turned to Gran Turismo design, but it was not long before he tired of this, being 100 per cent. keen on racing and principly (sic) Grand Prix cars, and at the end of last year he left Maserati and started his own design studio in the centre of Modena, forming a small concern, with one good draughtsman and titling it Studio Tecnico-Meccanico Industriale or Tee-Mec for short. It was not long before he became inundated with requests for design work of pure racing quality and one of his first and most important customers was R. R. C. Walker who went to Colotti at the recommendation of Moss and Alf Francis. Having driven all types of Maserati Moss was convinced that Colotti was the man to design a 5-speed and reverse gearbox for Walker’s Coopers, and Francis confirmed this, having worked on Maseratis for many years. Consequently Tee-Mec set about designing the required gearbox and when finished, examples were fitted to all of Rob Walker’s Coopers. Thanks to excellent connections in and around Modena, Colotti was able to get castings made very quickly in Bologna, machining done in Modena and gears and shafts and such-like also made in small rnachine shops in Modena. An ex-Maserati mechanic, Georgia Neri had started his own racing workshop in Modena and he collaborated by allowing Francis to use his workshop to do the assembly work. Some idea of the speed of Tec-Mec’s design ability and the speed at which things can be made in Modena can be gained from the fact that the idea of the gearbox was started around last Christmas and the first one was used at Syracuse in April. The gearbox has the crown wheel and pinion and limited slip dilferential all in one casing and this is bolted to a bell housing to which a Coventry-Climax, B.R.M., or Borgward engine is attached by an adaptor plate. The drive from the clutch goes through a pair of step-up gears, which enable quick changes of ratio to be made, and then past the crown wheel by means of a torsion-shaft into the gearbox proper, through the various constant-mesh gears and back out to the pinion. The torsion shaft allows a dry clutch to be used, which reduces possible clutch bother, and a smooth torque to the gears is ensured by the slight wind-up allowed by this torsion bar. On the rear of the gearbox is a starting shaft dog and an oil pump which pressure feeds the gears and shafts, the crown wheel picking up its oil from a sump.

Until now the success of this gearbox has not been outstanding, not due to design faults but due to hurried assembly or preparation, but the F.2 race at Reims saw Moss first and Trintignant fourth both using Tee-Mec gearboxes, while Moss also won the Syracuse F.2 race, which was the first outing for the new gearbox. At Aintree with the Cooper-B.R,M. a tab-washer locking a nut on the end of one of the gearbox shafts broke and allowed the nut to come undone and the shaft to move and thus the gears to come out of mesh. At Monaco, in practice the Cooper-B.R.M. again failed because a locking groove in the rod mechanism from gearbox to lever had been cut inaccurately and no gears could be selected. In the Monaco G.P. itself the Cooper-Climax failed because the bolts holding the crown-wheel to the differential housing had been threaded down into the bearing surface and not surprisingly some of them broke. At Zandvoort a ball race in the bell-housing which supports the clutch shaft broke up and caused retirement. In all these cases retirement was blamed on gearbox and Colotti took the responsibility whereas, in fact, at no time had the actual design of the gearbox failed. The win at Reims did much to alleviate past errors. In addition to the gearbox project Tee-Mec have been working on the design of a new chassis frame for the Walker Coopers and recently Colotti was visiting London to discuss a new gearbox for one of our better Grand Prix cars.

Last winter Tee-Mec had another serious customer in the form of Jean Behra, who produced a brand new RSK Porsche and the idea to make it into a single-seater F.2 car. Using all the Porsche components Colotti designed a single-seater space-frame, which another ex-Maserati mechanic built and Neri’s workshop was used for assembly, and a further connection in Modena produced a small body-builder to beat aluminium sheets into Behra’s idea of a single-seater racing car. The wheelbase and track dimensions were altered very slightly from standard RSK on this Porsche Special and whereas the sports car has a wide two-seater chassis with gaps in the space-frame for doors, the Tee-Mec chassis top side-rails run along at shoulder height. This Porsche Special finished second in the F.2 race at Reims, driven by Herrmann, and beat the works Porsche, so that Behra, Herrmann and Colotti were overjoyed. Porsche were not too unhappy for it proved that the cars they sell are pretty good, for there is no better advertising than for the factory cars to be beaten by a customer. With Tee-Mec gearboxes finishing first and fourth, and a Tee-Mec chassis finishing second Valerio Colotti is beginning to feel justified in leaving Maserati and starting up on his own and meanwhile there are many other projects under way, for good racing car designers are hard to come by.

*

The intense heat at the Grand Prix of Europe last month was the most outstanding thing of the whole weekend, the temperature on race day being the highest recorded at Reims for 86 years. In general, high temperatures are recorded “in the shade” but on the Reims circuit there is no shade and drivers and technicians alike are more concerned with temperatures “in the sun” and in particular actual surface temperatures on the track. In an article in the French sporting paper “L’Equipe,” who by the way sponsor the Tour de France in September, Henri Lallement the racing chief of Dunlops in France, revealed some interesting figures. In practice the ground temperature was 48 deg.C. and tyre temperatures were rising as high as 94 deg.C. and on race day the ground temperature on the starting line was 54 deg.C. which meant that tyre temperatures on the getaway, with cars fully loaded and wheels spinning furiously must have been over 100 deg. or 212 deg.F. When it is realised that the fusing temperature for the Nylon used in Dunlop racing tyres is around 110 deg.C. it can be appreciated that conditions were pretty extreme. The fact that not a single tyre change was made throughout the Grand Prix or the F.2 race says much for the advancement of racing tyre design, and as all the cars except the two factory Porsches were using Dunlop tyres it indicates that Dunlop have a good hold on racing and tyre building, which is a fine thing for the sport.

Another interesting aspect of this racing in intense heat is the cockpit temperature and the blood heat of the drivers for directly coupled with this is the “sweat rate” of the human body. At the moment insufficient knowledge is available on this subject but it is known that there is a very definite maximum limit to the “sweat rate” and already supersonic aircraft are causing designers great headaches for some designs get so hot in the cockpit that this limit is surpassed and in such conditions the human being can only survive for a very short time. A supersonic aircraft may be perfect from all aerodynamic and handling qualities but if the cockpit temperature rises above a pre-determined maximum the Air Ministry will reject the design. My guess is that many of the drivers at Reims came perilously close to the limiting “sweat rate,” in spite of taking such things as salt pills, and it was the reason why many of them lost their sense of judgment and found themselves practically driving in a trance and had to stop before they succumbed to the heat. The wonder of it all was that there were no bad crashes due to this factor.

*

As this issue of Motor Sport appears the German Grand Prix should be in progress on the Avus track on the edge of Western Berlin, on a circuit which consists of two long straights formed by the two sides of an Autobahn, joined at one end by a fairly tight bottom gear hairpin and at the other end by a very steep 110-120 m.p.h. banking built of small set-stones. To hold the German Grand Prix on such a circuit, when for years it has been held on the wonderful Nurburgring seems idiotic. The reasons are many and varied, but mainly it is a question of finance for the past few Grand Prix races at the Nurburgring have not drawn big crowds, and it is felt that the Berlin track should attract 300,000 customers or more. German motor sport is split up into two factions. the A.D.A.C. which is a southern club and the A.V.D. which is a northern club and the mutuality is like we used to have with the R.A.C. and the A.A. or occasionally have now between the B.R.D.C. and the B.A.R,C. The governing body of the sport in Germany is the O.N.S. comprised of members of both clubs, and the A.D.A.C., run the German Sports Car World Championship event, the 1,000 kilometre race, and the A.V.D. run the F.1 German Grand Prix. Both clubs hire the Nurburgring for running their races and both maintain they lose money on every race because it is difficult to get to and the crowds have lost interest. The last 1,000 kilometre race refuted this claim for 230,000 people turned up, admittedly mostly to witness a hoped-for Porsche victory.

In Southern Germany almost literally at the end of the tram tracks out of Stuttgart, and a bare half-mile from the Autobahn, lies the Solitude circuit, a truly magnificent natural road racing circuit, not unlike a smaller Nurburgring and which would be perfect for the German Grand Prix. The A.D.A.C. know this and have had 300,000 people there for a motor-cycle meeting, while a national sports car meeting will draw 100,000. It would be difficult to find a more suitable venue for a Grand Prix from nearly all aspects, but especially from the business point of view, so naturally one wonders why the German Grand Prix is being held at Avus. In England almost any racing driver you ask will tell you that our finest circuit is Oulton Park and that with some money spent on it for widening and providing paddock facilities etc. it could be one of the best road racing type circuits in Europe. If you tell the Germans about this they ask why do we go to Aintree or Silverstone for the British Grand Prix and not Oulton Park. I may be in error, or I may be biased and cynical but my guess on both the German and English problems is that “big business” is behind it all. If certain people in England were to “give” a bit more and “take” a little less, and they got together for the benefit of the sport of motor racing instead of the business of “operating” we could have Oulton Park transformed into a circuit the equal of anything in Europe. If the same spirit of co-operation could be attained in Germany the Grand Prix could be held at Solitude to the benefit of the sport as well as the organisers pocket. — D.S.J.