1929 IN RETROSPECT
E. K. 11. KAR5LAKE.
ANOTHER year has come to an end, another succession of epic battles has been fought out on road and track, and once more we may look back on the year that has passed and see how we stand for the future. There is no doubt that the 1929 season was eminently sucessful ; we must see to it that the future is equally well filled with scope for the racing enthusiast.
In the first place the point which stands out is that the race for standard cars has swept everything before it. Starting as almost a local affair in 1923, the Le Mans race has now become the cardinal event of the year. We have got our own Tourist Trophy on an assured footing. Ireland has started her own race, and the Italians in typical fashion have set the seal on their own idea of reviving almost the town-to-town races of the young years of the century. On the other hand, races for real racing cars have practically vanished from the calendar. The French Grand Prix has become an affair of very little importance, and the 200 Miles Race has faded.
There is no doubt that the new type of racing has provided excellent sport. Entry lists are very much better filled than they were in the latter days of the Grands Prix, while the public are definitely more interested in comparing the performances of various cars which they can buy than they were in noting the success or failure of some novelty in design. The fact, however, remains that as a result of this situation, no special racing cars at all are now being built. In Italy alone have any successful races of the old type been run—the Targa Florio and the Grand Prix at Monza. Neither of these events, however, occasioned the building of new and special cars. The Targa Florio became a battle between the standard type Bugatti and the equally standard Alfa-Romeo ; while the Monza race united a collection of sports models and old racing cars. Finally the Brooklands 500 Mile Race organised by the British Racing Drivers’ Club witnes.sed a battle between modern production models and special racing
cars two or three years old. This race alone showed how quickly things still move in the automobile world, for it was the modern sports car and not the racing car of yesterday which carried off the prize in a straightaway track race of 500 miles.
This situation, however, is one that must give us pause. There is, without doubt, no better way of finding the weak points in a production model than in racing it against its rivals. No one can deny that the sports car race is an excellent idea, and ought never to be abandoned. On the other hand, one may ask how well we are going to get on without any races of the old type. What is going to be the effect of running no races for special cars ?
Take the outstandingly successful cars of this year— the 4i-litre Bentley, the big Mercedes, and the AlfaRomeo. The last-named especially may be taken as a good example of how we are using the lessons of the post-war Grands Prix. Would Alfa-Romeo now be building a car with a supercharged multi-cylinder double overhead camshaft engine, had it not been for the firm’s experience in the Grand Prix races of 1924 and 1925?
During those years the most advanced type of engine in the modem sports car was tried out, its weak points eliminated and the whole design brought to perfection. But this development of the modern engine could never have taken place with the same rapidity, had it not been for the special racing car. When Fiat appeared at Tours in 1923 with a supercharged engine of this type, would this or any other firm have dared first to sell 50 such cars to the public and then try out the design in racing ? One hopes not, for at Tours the Fiats all fell victims to their superchargers, and it was not until the next year that the device was really perfected. The lessons learnt at Tours in 1923 and at Lyons in 1924 are directly embodied in the Alfa-Romeo of 1929: but what advances in design are to be learnt to-day and incorporated in the sports cars of 1934?
When the Mercedes won the Tourist Trophy at Newtounards this year, it achieved its victory over a course by nature winding and difficult and over wet roads— both features unfavourable to the large car. It won, however, on its road-holding because in fact its makers had so embodied their experience with special racing cars in the standard production, that they were able to make a giant car more easy to handle under difficult conditions than smaller machines developed only on the experience of their manufacturers in touring car races.
The value of races of the old type is obvious to anyone who has given any attention to the matter, and examples from the past can be multiplied. How long would we have had to go on changing the tyres in the old-fashioned way whenever we had a puncture—and I know just what that means having scoured the continent from San Sebastian to Vienna at excessive speed in the days when the roads really were bad in an und.ertyred light car and the grilling heat of mid-summer—if Renault hd not realised that he could win the 1906 Grand Prix by using detachable rims, and thus set going the rapid advance of quick tyre changing, perfected by Georges Boillot when he evolved the integral flange type Rudge Whitworth hub-cap ? How long, too, would it have been until we got four-wheel brakes, if the same driver had not insisted on them for his 1914 Grand Prix Peugeot, and had left them to be developed on the standard cars built by Argyll ? Would we now have the super-charger fitted to so many standard sports models if Fiat had not used the device at Tours, and had left it to be evolved by Mercedes in the days when that firm was debarred from all the classic races ? If design is to go on advancing, we still need races for special cars, and the only objection to their revival would seem to be the reluctance of manufacturers to take part in them. I feel, however, that the solution to this problem lies in the reorganization of the Grand Prix. Why not revive the Gordon Bennett Cup idea, that is to say, make the contest one between nations rather
than between firms ? Limit the entries to three cars for each nation, and let the race be run by the victorious country of the year before. I feel that under these conditions entries would soon materialise, and the old spirit of racing would return.
With regard to a formula governing entries for the race, this has caused considerable difficulty in the past. The capacity limit has apparently outlived its usefulness, and the only alternative that I have seen put forward so far, is the fuel consumption race. This limit, as the only test of real efficiency, is obviously ideal in theory, but is very far from it in practice, as it spoils all the driver’s fun if he has to close his throttle in the middle of a real good ” dog-fight ” because his fuel gauge does not look too healthy. What we are really aiming at, however, in the air even more than on land or water, is a good power-weight ratio, and I should suggest that the limit for our new Grand Prix race, should be one of engine weight. The engines would only have to be weighed some time before the race, and sealed by the examiners, and otherwise the designer would be given a free hand.
However we can leave the actual regulations to be fought out by the real experts, and I will content myself by saying that I should like to see a race between Sunbeam, Miller, Delage, Bugatti, Fiat, Alfa-Romeo, Mercedes, Austro-Daimler and Minerva, using cars with supercharged twin-eight engines with the crankshafts geared together, working on the 2-stroke cycle, and each employing a different valve principle : these engines driving propeller shafts passing forwards through the crankcase between the crankshafts and driving all four independently, sprung wheels through de Lavaud-type infinitely variable gears. That should develop quite an interesting sports car for 1935! However, I seem to have wandered rather far from my original subject of a review of motor racing in 1929; and surely this subject has sufficient interest in it. From a national point of view, any one who was lucky enough
to be at Le Mans for the 34-hours race this year cannot complain of England’s performance. The Grand Prix d’Endurance is now the blue riband of the racing calendar, and in this event the big 6-cylinder Bentley driven by Birkin and Bamato showed its prowess by contemptuously holding the lead throughout and finally winning the race at the record speed of 73.6 m.p.h. One might well feel proud when one remembers that it is not so long ago that we all gasped at the Lorraine-Dietrich for winning this same race at 100 kilometres per hour. Nor was this all, for contemptuous to all other corners, if respectful to their big brother, the three ” 41-litres ” steamed in in line ahead formation behind the 6-cylinder. Bentley, always our great protagonist at Le Mans, set the seal for ever on the prestige of the British sports car on the continent.
Italy, too, may well feel proud of her Alfa-Romeo. When the marque swept the board in the Italian 1,000 miles race, we began to look forward to a good season for the Milanese firm, and it was not long before the ” Alfa-R’s ” had gained for themselves a reputation for invincibility in their class almost equal to that of the Darracqs some years ago. The Brescia-Rome-Brescia race was followed by the T.C.C. “double-twelve,” when for two long days Ramponi with his 1500 c.c. Alfa-Romeo fought with the big Bentley, and just won on handicap at 76 m.p.h. in one of the closest races that has ever been run. The greatest triumph of the year, however, was undoubtedly the Dublin Grand Prix. In the light car section of this event Ivanouski on the Alfa fought with the Lea-Francis and came home a winner at 75 m.p.h. ; but not content with this, the same driver decided that he must give the 2-litre model a chance to win its spurs. This time it was the Bentleys that he had to contend with, but once more he proved victorious and put up his average to 76.4 m.p.h. The Alfa-Romeo has certainly had its share of victories, and well it deserves them. It is perhaps the most modem sports car built to-day, and the most efficient for its size. Something of the spirit of the great Ascari must live on in those magnificent little cars. Finally the great races of the season were brought to a climax by the Tourist Trophy. Some of us, impressed perhaps by the huge chain-driven veterans of the past, always suspected that Mercedes still made the
world’s supreme sports car. We were impressed with the 33-180 h.p. ; when the ” 220 ” appeared we rubbed our hands with glee, but when the 250 h.p. S.S.K. followed we just gasped and murmured “what next ? ” And when Rudolf Caracciola brought his car home a winner of the 1929 T.T. at 72.82 m.p.h. over a course which was altogether unfavourable to his car, we realised that all our eulogies had been too faint. I may be wrong but I fancy that there has been a slight inclination in the British press to pass over the merits of the Mercedes’ victory, and I do think that Caracciola’s performance in the T.T. should live for ever as one of the greatest achievements in motor racing history. Some of us, at least will raise our tankards and cry “Hoch die Mercedes ! “
England, Italy and Germany may well feel then that their cars have acquitted themselves well this season. But what of Prance, one time the leader in all matters automobile ? France to-day seems definitely to have retired from the field of motor racing. This course may seem on the face of it to be very ” pratique,” but I think that it is a most short-sighted policy. Bugatti it is true won the Targo Florio, and when Albert Divo brought his car home at 46.27 m.p.h. he had achieved a magnificent performance, and that of Minoia on a similar car who finished second was also remarkable ; but then we can count on Ettore Bugatti never quite to let us down. Otherwise France has this year hidden her light under a bushel. At the Le Mans race the Bentleys scored a clean sweep, and their most dangerous rivals were not French cars, but American. In none of the other great races of the year has France made so much as a showing. All this seems to me to be terribly bad publicity. Time was, shortly after the war, when we used to gaze at the Hispano at Olympia and murmur “is not this perfection ? ” Do we do this to any French car now ? France by refusing to race is losing ground in the even keener race for automobile prestige. At Le Mans where were the Bugattis, the Boulogne Hispanos, the 3-litre Delages, the Peugeots, the big Renaults, the Voisins and the rest ? At present, as is always the case in the winter, rumour is busy with the French cars that are going to compete next year. Let us hope that they materialise, for whatever happens, good a season as we have seen in 1929, 1930 must show us a better !