Letters, August 2022

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img_68-3.jpg

Pitting at Sebring: this is the moment when Tony Brooks lost the Formula 1 title in 1959

I’m writing to thank Gordon Cruickshank and Mark Hughes for their spot-on tributes to Tony Brooks in the July issue. As a 17-year-old getting interested in motor racing, I devoured The Motor and its grand prix reports at the local newsstand despite them being a couple of months old by the time they got to the States. Somehow I got onto Tony Brooks, and he remained a favourite for all these years.

I was lucky to attend the 1959 United States Grand Prix at Sebring (the venue was Sebring and not Watkins Glen in 1959 as stated!) and was standing across the track from the Ferrari pits at the start. Away they went, but, much to my surprise and especially that of the Ferrari pits who weren’t ready, Brooks came in after just one lap to check the damage inflicted by team-mate von Trips. As the confused Ferrari members scurried around the car, I hurriedly refocused and snapped this photo. Fast-forwarding 30 years, I saw Tony at the Monterey Historics at the Aston Martin Tribute in 1989.

I showed him the photo, and he simply nodded and said, “Yes, that’s probably the moment I gave up the championship.”

Jeff Allison
Ken-Caryl Calley, Colorado USA

Sad to hear the news of Tony Brooks’s passing. Hopefully this might be of interest to you.

I have pleasant memories of meeting this modest yet highly talented race driver, and indeed his charming, equally sporting wife.

On various occasions I travelled to his amazing home in Surrey to have a few photographs signed. He asked how much Stirling Moss charged, which I told him and he replied, “I’m not as good as Stirling so my charge would be a pound less.”

In those far-away days of very inexpensive enclosure tickets it was quite easy to meet and chat to the top drivers.

John Olliver
Folkestone

For the fans of Didier Pironi and for his family, I continue to hope that someone will pen a more balanced portrayal of Imola ’82, and his career in general. It was disappointing that Messrs Roebuck and Hamilton repeated familiar tropes of the Imola weekend [Villeneuve vs Pironi, June] but ignored widely available comments by actual Ferrari insiders like Piccinini, Postlethwaite and Marlboro’s John Hogan that show the situation wasn’t perhaps quite as clear cut.

A photo exists of Pironi walking back to the Zolder pits, carrying both his and Gilles’ helmets. No one can imagine what demons he had to live with after that, especially the various journalists who have effectively dined out on the story ever since.

Without doubt he would have won the ’82 title, and potentially ’83. Then what? You have to think he’d have been a firm target for McLaren-TAG for ’84… so what then for the glittering career of Alain Prost? Or that third title for Niki Lauda? Had he raced on, many of the results of that whole period would probably have been rather different.

Jon Elson
Caldecote, Cambridgeshire

Recently in Memorabilia you mentioned mechanics selling off items in the pitlane. After the 1976 US GP at Watkins Glen I was watching in the Kendall Tech Center when the Brabham mechanics announced they would auction off this BT45 nose cone that had been damaged when Larry Perkins went into the catch fencing. I was the high bidder at $40.

My friend and I then drove back to his apartment in Ithaca, New York, 40 miles away, in my Alfa Spider. It was a chilly night and we wedged the nose cone in the back of the seats with the hood down. I was then able to finagle it into the front seat with the hood up for my eight-hour drive back to Boston. It adorns my garage wall to this day.

Mark O’Day
Kensington, New Hampshire, USA

I was very interested in your article about the 1952 Le Mans race [Keep on running, July] which was iconic in so many ways. I was always intrigued as to why, when it was obvious to Jaguar during practice that the slippery body on the C-type was no good, they didn’t revert to the original body, which was slippery enough to win at record speed in 1953. I ran this past the curator at the Jaguar museum, and he did not know either. However, I used to work as a volunteer at Haynes Motor Museum and 11 years ago they had a special exhibition to celebrate the launch of the E-type in 1961. Jaguar sent down Norman Dewis to open the show, and I was charged with looking after him during his visit so I took the opportunity to pick his brains. Despite being in his nineties Norman’s recall was pin-sharp, and two facts came out which astounded me.

img_68-1.jpg

The nose cone from Larry Perkins’ damaged Brabham BT45. A steal at $40 in ’76 (£170 today)

Firstly, the story about the Mercedes overtaking the Jag during testing for the Mille Miglia. Norman was Stirling Moss’s co-driver, and he was adamant that Moss panicked and was on the phone to William Lyons as soon as they stopped, despite Norman telling him not to as the Jag was still accelerating at the time.

Secondly, much to my amazement, as a result of the very short timescale available Jag went to BRM for some advice on the design of the cooling system (this was the BRM who had trouble getting a car to last a sprint at Goodwood) and they completely re-engineered the system with a different pump. So changing back was not just a question of swapping the bodies as I originally thought.

After the race Dewis did a test on the Le Mans engines (he was the development engineer as well as a driver) and ascertained that at racing speeds the new pump was cavitating and therefore not circulating the coolant correctly. This problem was sorted in 1953, and with the aid of disc brakes and the old body the C-type won at a speed over 7mph faster than the winning Mercs in 1952, thus proving that the body shape was fine.

Tony Condon
Chilton Polden, Somerset

The letter from reader Richard Price in April mentions the commentary box-on-stilts at Goodwood used by McDonald Hobley, and it reminded me of one of Russell Brockbank’s cartoons.

Adam Going
Somerset


Reading your Details Matter comment regarding the homologation of the MG Metro 6R4 [July] reminded me of a tale I was told years ago when I was the competition secretary of The Imp Club about the homologation of the Hillman Rally Imp. In 1965 Rootes had developed this car with a 998cc engine and suspension modifications and with it Rosemary Smith had won the Tulip Rally. However with a change in regulations the car needed to be homologated into Group 3 for 1966, which entailed producing 500 cars.

When officials came to check the car out there were 250 cars lined up at the Rootes Stoke Plant in Coventry. Having satisfied themselves that there were indeed 250 Rally versions of the Imp they were told that after lunch the second batch of cars would be assembled for inspection. While the inspectors were being wined and dined every apprentice in the place were gathered together and given the task of swapping over the chassis number plates on the cars and shuffling them around a bit and, hey presto, 500 “genuine” Hillman Rally Imps! It was whispered that not all the cars were genuine Rally Imps anyway. The story perhaps sums up the way that many cars received their homologation back in the day.

Rod Hunt
Seaton, Devon

Ian Oswell’s letter [July] referring to the Birmingham Post newspaper brought back happy memories. For a few years starting in 1969, I was one of a small group of enthusiasts who met every Wednesday evening during the motor sport season to plan which meetings we would visit at the weekend to provide a report for that newspaper. Events ranged from international races to small local autocross meetings.

img_69-1.jpg

Headline news at the Birmingham Post in 1971, with long-serving marshal Dave Orchard in the frame

No email or internet back then. Reports had to be telephoned in to a copytaker on the newsdesk, speaking slowly and clearly as he typed out what we were saying, in real time – spelling out any unusual names. If the event was fairly local, it made sense to drive home first then phone in; otherwise one had to find a public telephone box and, with a good supply of coins, phone the report in.

We also contributed reports and/or photos to both Motoring News (as it was called then) and Autosport, which back then covered even fairly minor events like sprints at Curborough.

This involved driving back home after the event, typing out a report then driving to Birmingham New Street station to put the report plus an undeveloped roll of 35mm film (with a separate sheet of paper listing frameby-frame the car/driver combination so that the mag could caption it correctly) onto an overnight train down to London using their Red Star parcel service.

The Birmingham Post also used my photos occasionally if they were deemed to be spectacular enough to generate interest from casual readers. The attached images were used on the front page in 1971. My caption mentions clerk of the course Dave Orchard arriving on the scene. It is interesting to note that Dave was last year awarded a Lifetime Achievement commendation by Classic Sports Car magazine to celebrate 65 years of marshalling.

Mike Dodman
Bromsgrove, Worcs.

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