Letter from Europe

[By means of which the Continental Correspondent, while he is motoring abroad, keeps in touch with the Editor.]

Dear W. B.,

I had an interesting trip across to the far side of Germany to the town of Nürnberg, not to be confused with Nürberg and the Nürburgring, for a mixed sports car race on the Norisring. In English we called the town Nüremberg, and it is where Adolf Hitler built his vast parade ground for his Nazi rallies when he was putting over his party politics to the multitudes. The gigantic concrete plinth on which he appeared, to make his speeches surrounded by bowls of fire, is the centre-piece in a concrete grandstand that holds 30,000 people, while the surrounding assembly area must have held 300,000 people. It is all still standing and the Norisring runs around this great concrete centre-piece, and it was packed with enthusiastic spectators, at least 100 being packed on to the railed-off balcony on which Hitler used to stand alone. I first visited the Norisring back in 1952, for the Nürnberg club’s first International motorcycle meeting, and the recent race meeting was just as friendly and enthusiastic, providing a splendid race for the private-professional drivers and private teams, there being people from all European countries taking part, so that it really was an International event, not like some of the British race meetings where there is only one non-British driver taking part.

I only recently discovered why the circuit is called the Norisring. In German the word “ring” is used as we would use “track” or “circuit”, added after the town name or district, such as Nürburgring, Hockenheimring, Schottenring, Grenzlandring, and so on. Obviously the Nürnberg circuit could not be called the Nürnbergring, as it would get confused with the classic circuit in the Eifel mountains, so the old medieval name of Nürnberg was used, which is Noris.

While in Germany I made some enquiries about the W125 Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix car that Colin Crabbe has acquired. It seems likely that it escaped from the Dresden museum, for in 1939 Daimler-Benz gave four Grand Prix cars of various types to the Dresdener Automobile Museum, and that was the last that was heard of them. During the war most of the town was destroyed and it was assumed that everything in it was destroyed. As Dresden is in the East Zone of Germany, no one knows what really happened. It now seems likely that much of the museum material was removed before the bombing by British planes, and it is very likely that the W125 was hidden away somewhere. This would also explain where the W163 Mercedes-Benz came from in 1946 or 1947, when Reg Parnell produced it in England and passed it on to America. This is the one that ran unsuccessfully at Indianapolis and was eventually hacked about and had an Offenhauser engine installed. The original V12 cylinder 3-litre engine had the two-stage Roots supercharging removed and a centrifugal supercharger fitted. The American Hawk model firm made a good plastic kit model of this car, but, of course, made it with the centrifugal blower layout and called it a 1939 Grand Prix car.

To return to Crabbe’s W125, it would seem that it is a 1937 car, with straight-eight 5.66-litre engine, that Manfred von Brauchitsch drove in the Vienna Hill-climb in 1939. On June 11th, 1939, Mercedes-Benz entered two cars for the event that was known as the Wein Höhenstrasse, which was near Kahlenberg, and it was 4.3 kilometres in length. Hermann Lang drove a 1939 W163 V12, with stub exhausts out of each side, a small vertical radiator grille, and twin rear wheels, and von Brauchitsch drove a W125 straight-eight 5.66-litre, with a high level exhaust manifold ending just forward of the cockpit. Their opposition came from H. P. Müller in an Auto-Union and, although he made the best time with 2 min. 18.7 sec., the event was decided on the total time of two runs and Lang was the winner with 4 min. 38.6 sec., his best single time being 2 min. 19.0 sec. The old 1937 car was third overall, behind Lang and Müller. As the event had racing classes for “up to 3-litre” and “over 3-litre”, von Brauchitsch naturally won the “over 3-litre” class, so no doubt if Crabbe ever gets his W125 running it will be lauded as the “winner of the Vienna Hill-climb in 1939”. It didn’t win, it was third. But still an exciting car. I understand that there are some problems with the supercharger, a single vertically mounted Roots-type. Nineteen thirty-seven was the first year that Mercedes-Benz passed fuel/air mixture through the supercharger, previously they had used blowers to pressurise the carburetters, so that they were purely air-blowers. They had a lot of trouble with the 1937 superchargers, and, while they built some 12 engines, they manufactured some 70 superchargers. The engine of the W125, known as the M125 (M for motor, W for wagen), was immensely powerful, giving an average of 570 b.h.p. at 5,800 r.p.m. running on a very potent fuel-mix, on the test-beds, some engines giving as much as 606 b.h.p. During races 5,300-5,500 r.p.m. seemed about the limit, but they still had a lot of power, and most of the engines seemed to develop about 100 b.h.p. per 1,000 r.p.m., i.e., 300 b.h.p. at 3,000 r.p.m., and so on. I should think 2,500 r.p.m. will be enough for V.S.C.C. racing!

With the French Grand Prix being at Rouen on the splendid Les-Essarts pure read circuit, I naturally stayed with our friend Jackie Pichon, at his Hotel le Cheval Noir at Cleres, across the road from his automobile museum. In the hotel yard was an early aeroplane, about 1931-32, with a radial engine, which he has recently acquired, and there is always something interesting to do at Cleres. This time I drove around the village on an 1894 Panhard, with single-cylinder Daimler engine running at constant speed, a 4-speed gearbox, chain drive, tiller steering and solid tyres. For its controllability, I thought it went much too fast, especially when notched up into 4th gear, with the engine pulling well. At 15 m.p.h. it felt completely out of control when I was in charge of the tiller and the lever that frees the clutch and applies the brake. As in any good period motoring drawing we were attacked by a fierce barking dog, who took great exception to our passing. Oddly enough he did not bark at a Peugeot that was following. In the workshop a very nice little s.v. Amilcar is being rebuilt, the chassis and mechanical parts all being finished, and the body now being attended to. I am sure that at some time or other every member of the V.S.C.C. has passed through Cleres, and the atmosphere is just like the Phoenix at Hartley Wintney on the first Thursday in the month, except that the Hotel le Cheval Noir is like it all the time.

I understand that at the end of July, on the 29th I think, there will have been shown on BBC-TV a play about the Mile Miglia 1955. By the time this is being read, the play should have appeared, and, while the idea is fair enough, it is the usual Television hotchpotch of “near-accuracies” and “the semblance of the truth”. From what I saw when it was in the making there is a load of old rubbish in the dialogue and the chronology is hopelessly wrong and almost fictitious, but at least Mercedes-Benz lent them a 300SLR sportsracer. It was not the Mile Miglia car, but the 1956 prototype that never raced and that came over to Silverstone for the “has-beens” parade before the British G.P. last year. Some of the conversation that I am supposed to have had with Stirling Moss while training for that race is just laughable, and the producers did not even bother to find out the correct “hand-signal sign-language” that I used to convey my “pace-notes” to the driver, preferring to make up some fancy ones of their own. Some of the Moss “philosophy” that came out was taken straight from the Moss books by Purdy and Pomeroy. When he was racing at the top of his career Moss was a happy, simple chap, who did not know the meaning of “philosophy” or “introspection”. He was a full-time hundred-per-cent racing driver. What a pity you and I worry so much about truth and accuracy!—Yours, D. S. J.