A Motoring Jamboree
Silverstone, July 19th
An evening out at the circus is always pleasant, a full day at the circus is really enjoyable, but three whole days of circus is almost more than anyone can stand. The Royal Automobile Club and the British Racing Drivers’ Club combined with Silverstone Circuits Ltd. and put on the greatest spectacular of all time. With practically every motor club in the country providing marshals and helpers the RAC were able to take the credit for organising this mammoth motoring jamboree, the greatest, most spectacular, gigantic, colossal, never-seen-before, three-day circus in the green fields of Silverstone; and it was a sell-out, with the spectator attendance at such astronomical figures that the quoted 77,000 must surely have been an “accounts estimate” for the tax man. In the centre of the airfield was the biggest and friendliest motoring-orientated garden-party that has ever happened, involving more than 10,000 “in” people, and it was such a gathering that there was hardly time to look over the fence to watch the super circus acts that were being performed for the benefit of the paying customers, to say nothing of looking up in the sky, for it was all happening up there as well. The feeling was that there must have been someone who wasn’t at Silverstone, but it was very difficult to think of anyone. As soon as you did, there he was walking through the crowd, and people were continually saying “I’m sure I saw so-and-so just now”, to which the answer was “indeed you did”. If ever there was a dull moment pending during the three days of Thursday, Friday and Saturday the heavens would open, thunder would roar and lightning flash, and Silverstone would disappear under torrential rain. It really was the greatest spectacular of all time, making Le Mans and the Nurburgring look like rather dull old ladies’ tea parties. There was something interesting or exciting taking place the whole time and I felt very sorry for some of the long-suffering enthusiasts who were helping on the administration side of the show, shut away in an office or in charge of a machine to keep it all going, and could only hear it all and not see anything. At least those manning key posts on gates or barriers to control the movements of people and vehicles had an ever-changing scene, while those who were on duty around the arena, soaked through one moment, baked dry by a blazing sun the next, and lifting the performers out of the catch-nets the next, were seeing all the action.
For three solid days people were saying to me, “Come quickly, you must see this”, or “Come to this gathering”, or “to this meeting”, and unlike some Grande Epreuve gatherings everything was pleasant and enjoyable, there were no Union Meetings, no Protest Meetings, no Decision-making Meetings, no Strike Meetings, no Policy Meetings ; it was all mid-summer madness and terrific fun, and I am certain I saw a White Rabbit looking anxiously at his watch and hurrying off to meet a Prince, or a Duke or an Earl. The Mad Hatter was actually selling Hats, to those who had got ahead, alongside the T-shirts and Rally Jacket stands, and Alice and all her delectable sisters were there, disappearing instantly when Thor flung a shaft of lightning in their midst, to re-appear again completely unruffled when the sun came back.
We all rushed off to the stately home of m’Lord Hesketh, to drink champagne in the stables and look at the lovely new Hesketh racing car which Harvey Postlethwaite had designed. It was all brand new, with rubber suspension front and rear, a narrower, sleeker, lower car than before, with no great drag-conscious air intake over the driver’s head, but instead a sleek fairing behind his head with “nostrils” on each side. Then it was off to a beer-party to celebrate or commiserate with Graham Hill over his official retirement from acting as a racing driver, and to officially inaugurate him in his new role as team-owner and constructor. He decided to give up when he saw how quickly the Hill car could go when driven by young Tony Brise. It was a nice informal party put on by his sponsors, Embassy cigarettes, and Jackie Stewart put in a guest-appearance.
Away we had to go to see another new racing car, a Formula Two March powered by a 2-litre Renault-Gordini V6 engine, a delightful little power unit with four valves per cylinder, four overhead camshafts driven by exposed toothed belts, fuel injection, and a bark that Ferrari would have been proud to be associated with. The French racing driver Michel Leclerc took it for a run round the arena and it looked to be a nice little racing car. It is the prototype for next year’s Formula Two, in which engines can be of pure racing design and not developments of production engines. I was just thinking about exhaust-driven turbochargers on a 1 litre version of this Gordini engine when “whoosh”, the Red Arrows Gnats went over at zero feet under a very low cloud base, and proceeded to put on a death-defying display with very little vertical space in which to do it. Meanwhile the Goodyear airship cruised serenely round in the background in virtual silence and helicopters were hopping about over the hedges bringing people to the jamboree and avoiding the enormous traffic queues stretching for miles in all directions as people sought in vain to join in the fun.
Off in a flash we went to applaud Regazzoni for being the most unlucky driver in the recent French Grand Prix, though I am not sure why, and then back to the arena to cheer good old Graham Hill as he set off on a farewell lap in GH1/4, the newest of his Embassy-sponsored racing cars, disdaining a helmet (och, Graeme, it’s not safe !) so that he could smile and wave to his public, and there certainly were a lot of them. A rousing cheer for another very popular English driver, as Derek Bell did a lap of honour in the Le Mans-winning Gulf car, with Cosworth V8 power. While some people turned away for a drink, thinking the gardeners had moved in to mow the lawns, the incredible sight was presented of a chap arriving on a two-stroke motorcycle, running on the back wheel with the front wheel some five feet off the ground. Not only did he arrive, but he roared off round the arena, changing up through the gears as he went, and disappeared at some 50 or 60 m.p.h., still up on the back wheel.
It was all beginning to get too much and the time came to join the happy throng in the paddock lavatory, where you meet all the best people and so many old friends that you have to tear yourself away for fear of missing the next act. “Saloon cars”, said someone, and I felt I could afford to miss them, but in passing looked into the bonnet of what appeared to be a Ford Escort. Now I knew the whole jamboree wasn’t real; in place of the four-cylinder push-rod 1,300 c.c. was a 2-litre V8 BRM engine. Then another saloon arrived that had obviously started life as an Escort and I couldn’t find an engine in it at all. “It’s under there”, said the chap in charge, pointing to a large box almost between the front seats. “It” turned out to be a full racing 2-litre Brian Hart engine. Then a DAF fired up with a noise like thunder, which was not surprising as the tiny little Renault engine had been replaced by a highly-tuned V8 Oldsmobile engine, while a beautiful blue Chevrolet-Corvair shook the ground as the driver started up its 8.1-litre Chevrolet V8 Can-Am engine, which had replaced the air-cooled flat-six Corvair engine. And so it went on, every saloon that arrived was an exciting riot of fun and ingenuity, to say nothing of the effort and inventiveness involved in building them, and underneath were Grand Prix suspension, wheels and brakes. Holding my head and thinking it must be mid-summer madness, I staggered away. “But, but, I thought saloons were rather dull production things like Broadspeed Triumph Dolomites or Toyota Celicas or Hillman Avengers ?” I cried. “Oh yes, they are”, said a great hairy monster, “these are Super Saloons, and we are a friendly lot. We can cheat as much as we like, and quite openly, providing the engine remains more or less at the same end of the car as on the original production model. We don’t reckon to move it beyond the centre-line of the driving compartment.”
Hardly had this lot of performers returned to their pen than the air was filled by tiny flies as the RAC let off a great swarm that had become captive in race control. As Dean Delamont rode across the paddock on the back wheel of his bicycle and Basil Tye gave a rendering of “Abide with me” on a Southern organ, a group of evil-minded marshals let a swarm of tiny racing cars onto the track and 33 budding World Champions roared away in their Formula Three cars to contest the challenge of qualifying for the super act. Before the next batch of 33 could appear, thunder and lightning swept the airfield, there was a blinding flash and all the lights went out and the electric power disappeared, which brought everything to a grinding halt. But not for long, the homo sapien is not easily beaten by natural phenomena, and next morning it was all in full swing again. As fast as one batch of beetle-men were swept out of the arena and picked off the catch-nets, the next lot arrived and there never was time to lunch with the Vandervell group, or take tea with ELF, or coffee with John Player or beer in the Penthouse or visit Duckhams, Shell, Champion, Ferodo, Goodyear, Texaco, Lucas, or even take a quick aperitif with Martini.
After two days I began to wilt, “. . . and that was only practice . . .”, I thought. “Tomorrow is the real thing”. And I nearly forgot; the British Grand Prix was taking place amongst all this enjoyment and fun. Putting on a very serious air I sharpened my pencil and prepared for work, but it didn’t last, I soon found that Bernie Ecclestone, Max Mosley and Teddy Meyer and their cohorts were joining in the spirit of the thing. As someone said, “We know Mosley’s father, and we know Meyer is an American lawyer, but who is Ecclestone ?” “Oh, he’s the chap who runs modern Grand Prix racing”, said a bystander, “but don’t tell the RAC, the CSI or the FIA, because they all think they run it.” The Formula One actors really did join in the fun, Jacky Ickx had decided it was all too much for him and had opted out of his contract with Lotus and Chapman had put Jim Crawford (Jim who ?) in his place, and Oberfuhrer Ecclestein had permitted Chapman to bring along a third Lotus as it was a John Player Jamboree. Into this Chapman had put Brian Henton (Brian who ?) and poor old Peterson was wondering what was happening, not that he ever really knew. Just to add to the fun the cars of the new boys had the rear torsion bars replaced by coil-springs and they both had the lengthened wheelbase as first used in the French Grand Prix. It was all too much for Peterson and he had his Lotus put back to the 1973 specification, not that it made any difference, but it made him feel better. March produced a thing like a fork-lift truck palette on the back of Brambilla’s car, which appeared to transgress all the rules about aerodynamic devices. “You may have known who Max Mosley’s father was, but you obviously didn’t know that Max is a brilliant barrister” smiled Robin Hood and his merry men as they wheeled the car through the scrutineering bay. “Ach, zo, ist sehr guht”, muttered Max to the tall blond young man by his side, but young Hans Stuck was looking longingly at some of the Super Saloons and thinking “8-litres, turbo-charged 4-litres, even Hart 2-litres, they call it saloon-car tracing ?” He was driving Lella Lombardi’s March 751, while she had the prototype test-car, and as Max pocketed a fistful of First National City Bank Travellers’ Cheques, Roger Penske wheeled out a brand new March 751 for Mark Donohue to drive. It was heavily disguised by “bull” to make it look like the Geoff Ferris-designed Penske PC1, but Donohue soon showed that it wasn’t a bad buy, by keeping up with Mario Andretti in the other “All American Formula One Kit Car”.
Most of the runners and riders were unchanged from when last seen and some, like Hesketh, were using a spare car and conforming to the rules of the game by having 24T on it, while others like Brabham had a row of cars all with number 7 on them and the Oberfuhrer told the RAC to ignore any cars with T on them and merely list their practice times under the number. Now, the timekeepers, who only know how to do things the right way, carried on listing drivers like Hunt with a time for 24 and a time for 24T, or Brise with a time for 23 and another time for 23T. “Dear, oh dear”, said Dean Delamont, “there really isn’t time for T, we’ve got so much to do, just list them all under 24 and 23”. Apart from picking Scheckter out of the catch nets and collecting Reutemann and Watson, who had broken their Cosworth mainsprings, this part of the Jamboree began to drag. “But we are practising”, said the young heroes as they went round and round the arena as many as eighty times. “What are you practising for?” we asked. It turned out that they were hoping to hold the British Grand Prix on Saturday, if space could be found in the very full programme planned to keep the arena occupied from dawn to dusk.
Just as we were thinking it was getting a bit dull the man of the motorcycle went by on his back wheel and the fun began again and Lord Tomnoddy and the Earl of Such went off to take tea with the Prince. “We’ve been behind the scenes long enough”, said some of the Formula One mechanics, “let us have a go in the arena”. So six Tyrrell men and six McLaren men brought all their gear out in front of the grandstands and Scheckter and Fittipaldi drove their cars slowly around and then stopped side-by-side. The mechanics fell upon them and changed all four wheels, and Scheckter was gone in 12½ seconds, while the boys in blue fell back gasping and clutched at the £600 wager-money. The McLaren men were beaten, having lost time through faulty equipment, but it was their turn to laugh later when the Tyrrell chaps had to do the same thing “for real” in the pits and it took them 35 seconds. But that was with the wheel-nuts done up properly and fully tight and the safety pins in place. The “real thing” was nothing like so entertaining as the entertainment.
I was just going off to the paddock lavatory once more, to meet more old friends, when someone grabbed my arm and said “Come quickly, they’re going to hold the British Grand Prix”. The daring young men were coming out to do their high-wire balancing act, and do it they did in a very impressive manner until all but one of them slipped off the wire and fell in the catch-nets. The odd man out was the careful Emerson Fittipaldi who had stopped at the pits to let the McLaren mechanics show the Tyrrell boys how a wheel-change should be done when it was important. With no more riders and runners the RAC decided to scrub the whole event and award Fittipaldi first prize, but as they had a lot more prizes to give away as well they gave them to the unhappy band of Pace, Scheckter, Hunt, Donohue and Brambilla, the first four being in the ambulance at the time and the swarthy little Italian driving on because he doesn’t speak English and no-one could explain to him that the party was over.
It had been a lovely garden party until the Grand Prix aces were allowed into the arena and the weather Gods took a disliking to the scene. The trouble was that Lauda was not leading in his Ferrari, so the best thing was to put a stop to the whole affair. Out came the chap on his motorcycle again and as he disappeared away round the arena on the back wheel, the circus warmed up again and carried on until dusk. As darkness fell the airfield was dotted with open fires burning and the aroma of sausages and steaks cooking drifted across the fields. There were still many merry revellers about and who knows when the last one departed. Tired and happy the spectators trudged their way home, while all those who had worked so hard to put on the three-day spectacular were just tired and those who had taken part were completely overcome. Over the hill the organisers of the National Pop Festival could be heard asking Billy Butlin, “Who are these people RAC and BRDC?” The RAC and the BRDC were saying to themselves “That was a splendid Jamboree, but what a pity that Formula One lot nearly messed it all up. Perhaps next year we can run it again and not invite them to come along”. One consensus of opinion was that a three-day Jamboree like that, held once a year at Silverstone, would be very popular and while it was on we could quietly take a handful of Grand Prix drivers and cars away to Donington Park and run the Bntish Grand Prix before a selected audience. The only problem would be that it would get no coverage in the Press, the Jamboree would over-shadow it. MOTOR SPORT could always tell the story a month later, as all their stuff is history anyway. If we ever find out what happened to the 1975 British Grand Prix we’ll tell you next month; somebody said it took place somewhere in the Midlands on July 19th, but I am sure they were mistaken.
Forty-eight hours after the Grand Prix results remained unofficial after a protest from Max Mosley.
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