My father’s father went to the Donington Park grands prix of the late 1930s. They weren’t his first big races, though. Whenever his business took him over to France, he always tried to fit an international event into his schedule. In this way he saw the 1925 French GP at Montlhery — it was so hot that the air-filled seat cushions in his Clyno were fit to bust! — and also spectated at a Dieppe GP.
But nothing can have prepared him for the arrival of a Silver Arrow. He’d seen the newsreels, read the reports and imagined what they might be like in the flesh. He thought he was ready. He got a big shock.
The noise grew. The anticipation sharpened. And then… blam! Lang, Caracciola —grandad’s favourite — Seaman, Rosemeyer, von Brauchitsch, Hasse, Muller. Shattering. Shuddering.
The ‘Brit’ cars shuffled past some considerable time later, almost unnoticed. Boys against men.
And here they come again. So soon? Yep. Rosemeyer and von Brauchitsch, the fastest men in practice, already on the move.
Three hours later these two holy terrors would finish in first and second, and grandad would be nudging his way home in the Riley Kestrel, his heart still thumping, his ears still ringing, the fuel vapours from the German cars still clagging the back of his throat.
I have no doubt that he would have loved modern F1 — but I’m equally as sure that it would not have matched up to his experiences of 1937 and ’38. Grands prix are ten a penny today, beamed live into our living rooms from uniform circuits by cameras that generally fail to capture the spectacle. Drivers and teams are under intense scrutiny. Imagination is all but eradicated.
What made the Silver Arrows so special was that they far exceeded your wildest expectations. And your expectations had been given free rein. Schumacher is a legend, his Ferrari a mechanical marvel; Rosemeyer was a god, his Auto Union a spaceship beamed down from some distant planet.
Silver Arrows, Golden Age, precious memories.