Recalling a fine partnership
In the October Motor Sport, 50 great racing partnerships were listed, with Colin Chapman/Jim Clark voted the top. Here is one of my own: Dick Seaman/Giulio Ramponi.
After Seaman entered his serious racing period, in partnership with Whitney Straight, he purchased the latter’s MG Magnette and in the 1934 voiturette races was third at Pescara, first at Berne, fifth at Masaryk and second to Raymond Mays’ 1.5-litre ERA in the Nuffield Trophy Race at Donington Park.
Seaman and Straight flew out in a DH Dragon to Africa, where Straight won the East London 100 in his Maserati and Seaman was fifth, after fuel feed problems, in a works K3 MG Magnette (3020). It was then that Dick ordered a new 1.5-litre ERA.
It is well known that eventually he took R1B away from Bourne, in which he was fully justified. The car was to have been ready for the 1935 Donington races, and letters from the firm implied that it was coming along well. Then Peter Berthon, ERA’s engineer, suggested Dick should not enter but instead practice on the Brooklands Mountain course! However, he was lent a works ERA, namely R1. His contract was that ERA would prepare his car, arrange transportation to races, and supply parts and mechanics, expenses to be invoiced to him, with prize money shared equally. He ran the loaned car in a heat and 25-lap handicap and was third on aggregate, losing by 1sec to Charlie Martin’s 2.3 Bugatti in the 25-lap final.
Seaman’s next big engagement was the Isle of Man Mannin Moar race, Raymond Mays saying he could make a team with two works ERAs. Meanwhile, he expected his car for the Nuffield Trophy. Again his car was not ready in time, though Dick noticed that Fairfield’s 1100cc ERA was, and it won.
Nor was Seaman pleased when Berthon told him that they hoped he could have a run in his ERA just before going to the IoM; to which Dick replied that with so much delay he had cancelled his entry. But, unable to borrow a Maserati, he’d entered for the GP des Frontieres in June. He was anxious to race on the Continent and had flown in his DH Gipsy Moth to see the Monaco GP. He was told his ERA would not be ready until June 1 and a road test would be wise after that. One ERA mechanic would go to the race, before leaving to attend the works ERAs at Nürburg. To which Dick wrote a terse letter to Berthon reminding him that in 1934 he had been promised ERA’s best mechanic all through the season, if his expenses were met. The row was already brewing!
When in May Dick went to try the ERA’s seat he was asked to bring a cheque for the car with him.
At Chimay it retired on lap three with mechanical problems, and after setting fastest lap at the Eifelrennen, leading the works ERAs, he had to stop for oil and ended up in fourth, behind Mays’ ERA, a Maserati and Rose-Richards’ ERA. He had asked before the race for the latest rocker boxes and piping to be on his car, which they were not. The car would have arrived late for the Kesselberg hillclimb had not Birch driven the Dodge van to Munich, since the ERA mechanics were remaining at Adenau. Dick now decided to make Birch his manager. He took over ERA’s entry for the Nuffield Trophy but, with trouble in practice, did not start; Fairfield won. At Dieppe, Seaman’s ERA pressed Mays’ works car very hard until the transmission broke. Fairfield won again.
Enough was enough. Seaman wrote to Mays saying he felt that ERA was too busy with the works entries to look after his car. He had made Jock Finlayson his head mechanic, based in a garage behind the Seaman residence at Ennismore Gardens, London, and for the rest of 1935 the jet-black ERA won the Grossglockner hillclimb, at Pescara, Berne and Brno, and scored class honours at the Freiburg hillclimb. Unable to get a modern Maserati for 1936, Giulio Ramponi, ex-Alfa Romeo race mechanic, persuaded Dick that he could make one of Earl Howe’s GP Delage cars able to beat 1.5-litre opposition. So one of these fine 170bhp Albert Lory-designed, supercharged straight-eight cars, which had won the manufacturers’ championships of 1926 and 1927, was entrusted to Giulio. A 10-year old car; mad obviously, unless you knew Giulio. He worked tirelessly, spending days just setting the tappets of the very complex engine and assembling meticulously this historically epic racing car. Not a great deal was necessary to make it fulfil Ramponi’s expectations. (The ERA was sold to G Manby-Colgreave.)
A new £5 radiator element saved 15lbs, while no less a person than Murray Jamieson inspected the 16lb boost supercharger with Cozette carb and said it was excellent. Plans for a light-alloy cylinder block and chassis were discarded. A gearbox from a 1925 V12 Delage (1000 francs) shaved off 701bs. A single 4.5-gallon oil tank saved weight, a new fuel tank another 97lbs, and each wheel now weighed only 7lbs. But, at 1650lbs, the Delage was still 150 heavier than an ERA.
An amusing incident occurred when Seaman requested Standard Valves to quote for a set of 16. It did so, priced at 4/9d: he ordered two sets. But, on being told that this price was for only one valve, he cancelled the second batch.
When Seaman went to sign on with Shell for race bonuses, instead of doing this over a pint of beer in the Brooklands bar, he took Steve Mellstrom, the competition manager, out to lunch at Gibson’s Club in Curzon Street. Ferodo paid £20 for a win, £30 for an IoM win, £50 for a TT first place, £20 for breaking an hour record and £40 for 24 hours.
The Delage was very successful. In 1936 Seaman won two ‘shorts’ at Donington, was first in the IoM, beating nine ERAs, and went off the course when leading the works ERAs in the Eifel race. He made a another mistake at Peronne, but won three more in a row — Coppa Acerbo, Berne and the Donington Park 200 — all with lap records to prove this was not just because a big tank allowed non-stop running.
I would like this driver/engineer pairing to be respected.