The HMSO and Motor Racing

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I remember what a surprise it was, back in 1948, when I received an unbound, gestetnered publication with the title of Investigation into the Development of German Grand Prix Racing Cars between 1934 and 1939 (Including a description of the Mercedes World’s Land Speed Record Contender) by Cameron C Earl. The other day I came upon this publication among a pile of other historic bits and pieces.

The reason that it was quite a shock, albeit a pleasant one, to receive this document at the time was because one did not associate such things as racing cars with civil servants or government departments. Yet here it was, published for anyone to acquire from HMSO for 25/-(125p). The surprise was cemented further because none of us knew who Cameron C Earl was, or how he had been able to secure the intimate technical information which these rather crudely-produced 141 pages revealed. I wrote in MOTOR SPORT at the time “That a Government Department should issue a publication dealing with racing cars is pretty staggering; the report is truly absorbing and brings to light many hitherto unrevealed aspects of this great period of motor-racing history”.

The German domination of GP racing over those years had been devastating, and although efforts had been made to describe the successful Mercedes-Benz and Auto-Union cars that had shaken us by their sheer speed and power, neither company was keen to open their racing departments to journalists. Nor was it clear where the finance that motivated them came from, although Hitler and the Nazi Party were known to regard domination of GP racing as part of the overall German military plan. I knew, from having been at Donington Park for both the 1937 and 1938 GPs, how far-reaching and impressive this was. Auto-Union won both races, and it seemed to me that the British cars should have had a sort of cycle-path provided for them, as their drivers eyes were mostly on their mirrors as they sought to keep out off the way of the flying German cars! It was an exercise of near-military efficiency by Mercedes-Benz. They brought a cavalcade of trucks to each circuit and Neubauer controlled every detail — why, when, after lunch at Donington Hall Dick Seaman remarked that he had forgotten his goggles and was about to fetch them, Neubauer said sternly “No, no, ze Seaman stays here, his mechanic will go for his goggles”. . .

So this unexpected revelation from HMSO was exciting, to put it mildly. Now, after 48 years, it has been reissued in book form, again by HMSO, at £40, titled QuickSilver, Earl’s findings and illustrations are unchanged, even to the print method, and because they were already known to me it is Karl Ludvigsen’s 11-page Introduction which I find so fascinating. From it we learn that Earl was not a civil servant, but a keen engineer who, remarkably, got permission to go to Germany to investigate motor-racing secrets for the British Government. I had forgotten, if I ever knew, that he worked for Bob Gerard when that driver was racing ERA R14B to good effect, and that it was in this car, driving it late one evening in 1952 at MIRA’s Lindley airfield, where Gerard tested on the pen-roads, that Earl crashed and was fatally injured. The inventive Cameron Earl had been backed by Bob in experiments which included an infinitely-variable hydrostatic transmission system. There was a suggestion that this was on R14B when it crashed. But as Gerard was due to race it at Boreham five days after the accident and no mention was ever made of this mod, I think this is unlikely. R14B was bought in 1955 by James Stewart but Bob never raced it again. Earl’s girlfriend moved away from Leicestershire and Joan Gerard suffered a serious nervous breakdown, after his death R14B is now owned by Donald Day.

Back to the book; although much has been revealed since about the German GP cars, as Ludvigsen says there is much in QuickSilver that is worth study, for example Earl’s sparkling passages about each team discussing their rivals, the front-v-rear engine controversy, and whether Auto-Union’s three-litre V12 engine was more powerful than Mercedes’. The original offering of 750 copies sold out in ten days. I advise all serious researchers therefore to order the new edition without delay.

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