Letters from readers, December 2003

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Feel the noise

Sir,

It was a pleasure to see John Davenport’s tale of the Rover 3500 SD1. His words captured the chaotic essence of the time in Britain: ‘Red Robbo’, Longbridge, strikes galore. It was no coincidence that the cars were painted red, white and blue.

As Technical Editor (not Sports Editor) of Motor, I was familiar with the Rover 3500 as a road car, but you had to extrapolate pretty hard to imagine it on the tack. Which was, of course, the whole point: use race success to demonstrate the car’s performance competence and change the reputation once and for all.

That first Rover year (1980) was the hardest in my race career. It had some of the biggest highs (sweeping past Vince Woodman on the outside into Woodcote for a Rover to lead a race for the first time) and some of the deepest lows: being told on the grid at Brands Hatch that we were going with intermediates — but the two-car team only had six and as I was slower in practice…

Someone once told me that the Rovers sounded fantastic. That was from trackside. Inside the car it was unbelievable. Solid engine mounts and an exhaust bolted directly to the body meant that the engine and exhaust noise mixed to a howl that was completely different and excruciatingly loud. I once took Motor‘s sound meter in the car for a quick run up Silverstone’s Club Straight. It registered 124 dB! I can still hear it today…

Rex Greenslade, Birmingham, Michigan, USA

* * *

Star letter

Swede spot

Sir,

Capturing a black car travelling at 150mph on a grey track under a dull Silverstone sky and managing to get that fleeting power slide is not the easiest photo subject, so I’m not surprised that pictures of Ronnie Peterson performing at Woodcote are rare.

I was lucky enough to obtain track passes to some of the big Silverstone meetings in the 70s. The drill was to hang around Woodcote to get the start, and then stand on the bank on the inside of the pitlane for a few shots while the race settled down, before decamping to the apex of Becketts, which was the best (and least safe) photographic vantage point.

Woodcote was a difficult place: the corner was so long that it was necessary to use a very powerful telephoto lens. Getting a sharp image was difficult because as you panned there was differential movement between the front and back of the car in the viewfinder which created a blur. To minimise this you had to use a fast shutter speed which, in turn, meant a large lens aperture and reduced depth of focus. At Formula One speeds you had to pre-focus on a set zone of the track and hope that you’d picked the spot where any action was going to happen. We worked out that, with a depth of focus of around 25ft and a 13ft car travelling at 220 ft/sec, you had a margin of 0.05sec to get both ends in focus!

It’s great that a driver who never won the title, or even a huge number of F1 races, is still held in such high regard. Ronnie Peterson personifies what makes a racing driver; somebody who simply drives faster than the next guy. I always felt the title being awarded to a man who’d accumulated the most points in a season, sometimes by winning races as slowly as possible, was a great anti-climax. The sight of Ronnie hurling the 72 through Woodcote with its tyres shrieking in protest is what motor racing is all about, even if it only lasted for 20 laps.

Jerry Booen, Wymondham, Norfolk

As the best Ronnie shot yet, this also wins a free sub — Ed.

* * *

Tea and tyresmoke

Sir,

Ronnie and Barbro Peterson were great friends of mine, and when they were married it was a treat for me to be their best man. We won’t talk about the trip to the Café Royal for lunch after the wedding!

One evening Tim Schenken and I thought we would go by Ronnie’s house for a cup of tea. It was 12.30am.We stopped outside the house and gently sounded the horn, but he chose to ignore us. Tim suggested a few doughnuts might get him to open up, so I obliged. After about 15 revolutions there was so much tyre smoke it was impossible to see the front door. Things looked hopeless, and Tim suggested we disappear pronto before the police arrived. The whole street was now illuminated!

Just as we were about to give up, Ronnie suddenly flung back the curtains, uttering unprintables. Tim and I decided we could do without the tea and left, leaving a massive plume of tyre smoke. Ronnie was not amused and gave me the most frightful telling-off the next day.

I only once heard Ronnie say something complimentary about himself. It happened at the 1974 British GP at Brands Hatch. He’d asked for a soft set of tyres, but Chapman said he was going too quick and wouldn’t give them to him. So Ronnie asked for the hardest set they had — and used them to take pole!

As we drove home together he was very quiet, and then suddenly he said, “Brode, it’s a good driver who gets pole at Brands.” I replied, “That’s good, Ron.” “Why?” “Because Frank Williams and I are also on pole!” He thought that was fantastic.

In one of the last conversations I had with Ronnie he told me that he was fed up driving one-handed behind Andretti, and that when he got to America [for the last two F1 races] he would be gone — even though he liked Mario very much.

A great guy with staggering balance and car control — and one of the best smiles you’ll ever see.

Dave Brodie, via e-mail

* * *

Caught fencing

Sir,

I saw Super Swede numerous times at Watkins Glen and will never forget his incredible mastery of oversteer in a variety of F1 machines.

However, if any memory stands out, it was one of his sportscar drives in 1977. Ronnie was in a factory BMW. At the start I was standing on the outside of the final turn, and when the field appeared he was missing. Then a cheer was heard in the distance, growing as the object of the crowd’s delight came into view at each turn. It was Ronnie, with some key bodywork askew and dragging about 100ft of catch fence, heading for the pits! I will never forget the image, which confirmed a long-standing suspicion that the patience required for endurance racing was not one of his attributes!

John Weaver, Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, USA

* * *

Waste not, want not

Sir,

With reference to the Scirocco letter last month, perhaps I can help. In 1963, I bought an FJ Emeryson, rebuilt the engine as an 1100cc and took it to Silverstone. After a couple of hours running I swiped the wall. Needing a new wheel, I went to see Paul Emery at the works behind Cliff Davis’s car showrooms in the Goldhawk Road. However, he had sold up, so was no longer able to help me. But Aiden-Jones, a helpful Irish engineer, was there, and so was Hugh Powell, a tall, pleasant American.

Aiden-Jones was busy welding sheet metal to the old Emeryson spaceframe. I asked why he was doing this and he replied that he was creating a semi-monocoque! Powell stood by in an immaculate suit bemused by the whole thing. I got the feeling he may not have been too aware of what was happening, but he seemed happy just to be associated with motorsport.

So yes, Aiden-Jones did create the Scirocco out of an Emeryson. As for a Mark 2, I think Emery would have smiled and said yes, we put the tyre pressures up and called it a Mark 2.

Roy Ireland, Potters Bar, Hertfordshire

* * *

The list resort

Sir,

Even though I am a reader from Down Under, I read about the possible demise of Brands Hatch, Snetterton, Oulton and Cadwell Park with regret.

I know how irreplaceable these venues are, as I have experienced the loss of the two great circuits which were my introduction to motor racing as a small child. Over the next 30-odd years I regularly attended both Surfers Paradise and the other southeast Queensland track, Lakeside.

Sadly, Surfers fell victim to urban expansion, and has recently been carved up for further residential development in pursuit of the great suburban dream.

Even sadder was the appointment of receivers to Lakeside. It was put up for sale as a racing track, but an antagonistic local council saw fit to provide advice to prospective purchasers which resulted in a withdrawal of interest. Not surprisingly, the council purchased Lakeside at a heavily discounted price and began re-zoning the land for other purposes.

Thankfully, a concerned enthusiast nominated the site for Heritage Listing. The Heritage Council, which assesses applications in Queensland, quite rightly saw that the site was of significant cultural value. Their assessment of Lakeside’s seminal role in the development of the sport at a regional level led to the only logical conclusion: Lakeside was listed in its entirety as a heritage site. The council, as the owner, is now bound to undertake proper maintenance of the site and to preserve its current uses.

I understand that this may be the first time that a circuit has been listed in its entirety, but I sincerely hope that it won’t be the last.

For anyone considering an application to list their own favourite circuit, a visit to the website of the Lakeside lobby group may be helpful. Lakeside Motor Racing Enthusiasts Inc. was set up to lobby the council for the reintroduction of racing there. It’s a voluntary, non-profit organisation, and may be found at www.lakesideraceway.com

Lewis Thomas, Greenslopes, Queensland, Australia

* * *

Hidden support

Sir,

While reading, with amusement, Bill Boddy’s article ‘Smart or Grubby’ in the November issue, I pondered where Astons might have got to without the leg-up from Frazer Nash in 1931.

Neither AFN’s nor Aston Martin’s company minutes mention the financial support given to Astons whilst they were trying to find new backing (the Sutherlands?). So, among your readers, are there any historical clues?

Pending information to the contrary, I’ll suggest it was smarter to be grubby!

John Aldington, Frazer Nash Archives, Henley

* * *

The Baird facts

Sir,

Martyn Wainwright’s fantastic photograph of the Baird-Griffin was taken at Dundrod’s Ulster Trophy meeting on May 14,1955. The car had been purchased by Sidney Durbridge after Bobbie Baird’s death at Snetterton in July 1953. Made in Belfast by Baird and David Griffin, it was powered by a 4CLT spec engine built mostly in Derby by Reg Parnell. It retired with a stretched cylinder head stud.

The fashions were typical of Dundrod — it was usually bitterly cold no matter what time of year.

Simon Thomas, Comber, County Down

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