1930 in Retrospect
AT this season of the year, when the noise and excitement of battle has died down, it is our usual practice to take a view in retrospect of the motor races of the year, and to try and
see what conclusions are to be drawn from their results and incidents. In these days, if attention is first directed to the events for real racing cars, one may be accused of a lack of perspective in starting by deal ing with the least important branch of the year’s activities. But if this
appears to be the case now, we are firmly convinced that it is only a matter of a year or two before the special racing car comes back into its own, for it and it alone is the species which really influences the motor car of tomorrow.
In this field Ettore Bugatti still holds a position of unquestionable pre-eminence. The field for any race of this type has throughout the year, consisted of a fleet of Bugattis and against them a few other cars ; and the winner i.., apt to be found among the cars from Molsheim. That this is still the case is a really remarkable achievement for the Italo-Alsatian manufacturer. The racing Bugatti of 1930 is in no real sense a new design. The engine, for all practical purposes dates from 1922, and the chassis from 1924. Improvements have been made, and many of them, the supercharger has been added since 1925, but fundamentally the Bugatti racer of the past season is the same machine that we have known for half a dozen years. Now at last, however, Bugatti has come up against some really worthy rivals. In the first place last year saw the resurrection of those wonderful type P2 Grand Prix Alfa-Romeos which carried all before them in 1924 and 1925; and as a result of their return, Bugatti this year lost the Targa Florio, the greatest road race still existing, for the first time since 1925. The performance this year of these Alfas is another wonderful tribute to a design more than six years old ; and it is also a striking commentary on the stagnation in design which has resulted from the recent lack of interest in the real racing car. On his veteran AlfaRomeo racer Achille Varzi was able on the 4th May this year to beat any of the more modern productions aligned against
him and set up a new record for the Targa Florio.
A New Star.
But it is not to Bugatti or Alfa-Romeo that I would give the place of honour in the racing car field this year. There has arisen a new star in the firmament which throughout the season has grown in lustre until it seems bound to become of the very first importance. Only a few years ago comparatively few people, at any rate in England, knew much about Ernesto Maserati, who in his works at Bologna was doing queer things to Diattos which made them incredibly fast (and not a little unreliable). At last there was so little Diatto left that their re-builder called the cars, unhesitatingly, Maseratis. Still, perhaps, we were hardly aware that we were witnessing the birth of a “grande marque.” Fortune, however, was favouring the bold. The apathy of the olderestablished manufacturers was leading to a situation where Italian cars were losing their pre-eminence in the racing world ; and the Fascist Dictator himself decided that it was time that he took a hand in the game. It is an open secret now that the Maserati works are backed financially by the Italian government, and with this assistance the Masert..ti has sprung to the very fore-front in the racing world. Starting with its victory in the Rome Grand Prix, going on to its grand slam in the Italian Grand Prix, and finishing up with its double win at San Sebastian, the Maserati has shown itself a really wonderful production. I should not be surprised if next year one of the cars from Bologna won the Targa Florio—and well, one can’t say fairer than that about any car. Faced with this new menace, Bugatti has not been inactive. The new 16 cylinder car ap peared at Klausen, and next year pre sumably we are going to see the ‘ Bug. ” with the redesigned engine, boasting two overhead camshafts. So perhaps design is not quite so completely stagnant,
and certainly Bugatti s still a force ; to be reckoned with.
Of this sphere of activity in England there is very little to report. The 2-litre Grand Prix Sunbeams, which were o u r great protagonists in 1 9 2 3 5 and rivals of the P2 Alfa-Romeos and their proto-types, the Fiats, have not spent the intervening period with their makers, and it is hardly surprising therefore if the fastest of them in the 500 Miles Race, our one and only big free-for-all event, had to cede victory to two machines of touring car de ign. In America the year has witnessed an interesting attempt to devise a new type of racing car, which can be developed fairly easily from a production model. The machines were to be of 5litres capacity, with which there is no quarrel except that the restriction really does not limit their speed ; but the further points in their regulation that they were to have no superchargers and only two valves per cylinder, while cutting down the speed of the cars all right, has proved the downfall of the formula. To ban the supercharger is to place a direct ban on progress along an important avenue of automobile engine design, while to limit the number of valves to two per cylinder is more or less pointless, in view of the fact that no more than this number were ever used on the latest specialised racers built in Europe. At any rate the effect of the rule has been that constructors were not sufficiently interested to build any very interesting cars conforming to its requirements, and the modified production models which it permitted to run at Indianapolis and elsewhere were shown a clean pair of dumb-irons by the old specially built 100 cubic inch racers, even when robbed of their “boosters,” as our American friends insist on calling a supercharger. This state of affairs has worried the Americans not a little, especially in view of ” Babe” Stapp’s very mediocre performance at Monza with the 5-litre Duesenberg ; and in order to make the cars faster, the transatlantic rules for 930 IN
next year are going to be much laxer. As a result, racing is not going to teach the Americans anything very useful about automobile design, but as I scarcely thik that they have ever cared to learn much from it anyway, I suppose that that does not much matter. At any rate they have now discarded the rule which’ was supposed to be going to apply to Europe for the next three years, and thus we are free to discard it too, and look for something else. What that something else will be, I am sure I do not know.
To sum up, therefore, the year’s events in the real racing car field have witnessed a protracted tussle between Bugatti, with new cars built to a 1925 design, Alf aRomeo with six-year-old racers, considerably modernised, and Maserati, with some new racers, which in my humble opinion are the cars which are worth watching for 1931. Before leaving this field, mention must be made of the veteran Peugeots, which performed really remarkably in the European and San Sebastian Grands Prix. These cars have 4-litre cuff-valve engines, built in about 1924, and racing chassis built no later than 1913 or possibly 1914!
” Touring Car” Events.
Turning now to the “touring car” races, which to-day monopolise attention to a great extent, we find that, as in the case of the real racing car sphere of activity, three makes stand out pre-eminent from their competitors. This section of motor racing is, in fact, much more satisfactory from a national point of view than the other. Turning first to le Mans, where is held annually the classic event of this type, we witnessed a race this year that did much to enhance the prestige of English cars. The 4i-litre supercharged Bentley did in fact prove itself as fast as anything on the course ; and by a marvellous combination of speed and reliability two big 6-cylinder cars of the same marque not only succeeded in scoring a victory in this year’s Grand Prix d’Endurance, which practically must go to a big car, but also occupied the first two places in the Sixth Triennial RudgeWhitworth Cup, which is run on a handicap basis. This year is to be the last which will witness the sporting activities of the
Bentley for some time, and it is therefore particularly satisfactory that it should have provided this great victory.
Third and forth places in the Grand Prix d’Endurance were occupied by two of the new 21-litre Talbots, and these cars have experienced one of the most amazing seasons that any team can ever have enjoyed. The start of their career, in the Double Twelve Hour Race, was unpropitious, as a most unpleasant crash interrupted their triumphant progress. But since then, and starting with le Mans, they have appeared in all the big events of the
• year, and with an uncanny regularity the team has invariably carried right on to the finish, and arrived intact in line ahead formation. Very few new designs can ever have been so successful in their first season’s activities, and although these cars do not bear much outward sign of similarity to their forbears, it is obvious that the efforts of the old Grand Prix Sunbeams and the ” 15C0 ” TalbotDarracqs have not been in vain. In spite of their impressive performance however, it is not Talbot that one can class with Bentley as one of the great victors of the year, but another machine still more obviously and directly descended from a great racing stable. The little 1,750 c.c. 6-cylinder Alfa-Romeo does in fact represent the translation into a sports car of the very latest ideas in racing car design of a few years ago. That this process has been carried out well is now unquestionably patent after the successes of this year’s racing have set the seal on those of 1929. Starting with a grand slam in the Thousand Miles Race, which surely is now the most sporting sports car race in the calendar, but which nevertheless is sadly lacking in the international element of competition, they went on to meet their foreign rivals. In the Double Twelve the semi-amateur team had to yield to the victorious Bentleys, which then gave a foretaste of their later performance at le Mans, at Spa they scored again a sweeping victory in the European Grand Prix, against rivals however that were perhaps hardly worthy of their steel, and at Dublin could only succeed in running second in both sections of the
race, to the British Riley and the German Mercedes respectively. It was thus reserved for August and the Tourist Trophy before they could win the one crowning victory of the year ; for in that race they once more walked off with the first three places, and against competition which was as keen as anyone could have desired. Looking back on 1930 one can say with no fear of contradiction, that in its class the 1,750 c.c. Alfa-Romeo is as supreme as any car can ever be.
What then of the third great victor ? In Germany it was decided this year that all manufacturers should sign a selfdenying ordinance and undertake to take no part in races. It seemed then that Merced’s, whose modern 38-250 h.p. model is such an almost unbelievably worthy descendant of these ” Sixties” and ” Nineties ” which have held so long for this marque the pre-eminent position among real big sports cars, would not be seen in the great races of 1930. Luckily, however, there existed Rudolf Caracciola and Malcolm Campbell, and the enterprise and sportsmanship of these two amateurs was able to effect what the Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft itself could not do. At le Mans Caracciola’s lone Mercecks was beaten, and fairly beaten, by the Bentley team, and at Belfast his car was beaten by the stringency of the rules. But at Dublin, in a race run on a handicap basis, the big car not only won the second day’s event, but carried off the Irish Grand Prix as well ; and thus the long succession of victories in the Gordon Bennett, the Grand Prix, the Targa Florio, the Tourist Trophy and the rest of them, had another triumph added to their list.
Not a Bad Season.
Looking back, then, 1930 has given us much that is of interest. We miss the old excitement and interest which used to attend the disclosure by manufacturers of their latest and most ingenious designs for Grand Prix racers, and we cannot help feeling that design is being allowed to stagnate. But we can only hope that the old state of affairs will return in the future, and in the meantime be thankful that motor racing is far from being dead.