ROAD SPEEDS EXTRAORDINARY
IT was not until Rudolf Caracciola officially broke International Class records at 198 mp.h. last month, that many people fully realised the extraordinary speeds of which modern road-racing cars are capable. On one run he exceeded 200 m.p.h.
Probably the most striking method of appreciating Caracciola’s performance is to recall, as accurately as possible, the thoughts one had on hearing that Segrave had attained 203 m.p.h. at Daytona with the colossal 1,000 h.p. Sunbeam in 1927. The newspaper placards in London that night bore the simple legend “203 m.p.h.” in large letters. It was enough ; a landmark in motor-history had been reached. But so accustomed to speed are we nowadays that the Mercedes-Benz records at Gyon passed almost unheeded by the daily press. And yet they were far more remarkable, for Caracciola’s engine was a mere 4 litres, no bigger than that of a normal American saloon ! But Caracciola’s speed last month was no flash in the pan. For the past few months in the Grand Prix races the Auto-Union and Mercedes-Benz racing cars have been attaining 180 mp.h. on roads normally used by general motor traffic. And remember that the cars weigh a mere 750 kilo
grams ! A few, very few years ago such a speed was considered definitely impossible. Even at the beginning of this season it was considered highly dangerous, almost suicidal. And this element of danger brings us to the really astonishing feature of the new German racing cars. So far no one has been killed in driving them, although both Caracciola and Von Brauchitsch had accidents on Mercedes-Benz. It was a criticism of the Auto-Union that the driver, sitting in
front of the engine, would be exposed to the maximum danger in the event of an accident, yet not a single AutoUnion has so much as left the road, even though at least two of the regular drivers were not accustomed to the fastest racing-cars before they joined the team, and even now are not in the front rank of drivers.
The reason for this state of affairs is, of course, that suspension, steering, and weight distribution have marched in time with engine development. Those who feared that dreadful catastrophes would befall racing cars at 180 m.p.h. on ordinary roads were thinking in terms of the road-holding qualities obtaining at that time. Instead, the German designers and engineers have carried out pioneer work of the greatest possible service to the motoring, and ultimately general community. It is only fair that a word of praise should be placed on record of the manufacturer who has steadfastly adhered to a principle which has played a major part in obtaining these revolutionary speeds. We refer to independent suspension. For long its merits have been extolled by those who have owned Lancias, but the remaining manufacturers all over the world have been afraid of risking their reputations by incorporating an
unorthodox design in their products. Motor-racing is the acid-test, and independent springing, an old theory, will now be announced as the very latest motor-car development ! But Lancias have used it successfully for over ten years, and now their policy has been triumphantly vindicated by the Mercedes-Benz and AutoUnion designers—who, in their way, have been just as revolutionary as Lancia was in introducing independent springing to Grand Prix racing.