Ferrari’s fifth amendment
Enzo Ferrari made sure the Pescara 4 Hours counted for the 1961 World Championship – and his efforts were fully rewarded
One of the least remembered of all FIA endurance World Championship races took place in 1961, on the magnificent 16-mile public road circuit on Italy’s Adriatic coast at Pescara. Today the venue is better remembered for the 1957 Grand Prix run there, in which Stirling Moss driving for Vanwall scored the first of two defeats for the Italian teams on home soil that season. Pescara’s road circuit was of course an historic venue, used from 1924 into the ’50s for the annual Coppa Acerbo race for Grand Prix and Libre cars, and then its post-Fascist period successor. The races were run traditionally on the Ferragosto holiday weekend in August.
Since 1960 the FIA had replaced the old Sports Car World Championship with GT Championship rules, but the Italians were not alone in finding the closed cars rather dull in comparison to open-cockpit so-called sports prototypes. The 1961 FIA series included the four classic endurance rounds at Sebring, the Targa Florio, Nürburgring 1000Kms and Le Mans, but this was one short of a World Championship minimum. Mr Ferrari then encouraged the Pescara organisers whom he had known for so long – indeed ever since he had notionally secured his Fascist-era title of Commendatore by winning the inaugural Coppa Acerbo there in his Alfa Romeo back in 1924 – and the Pescara 4 Hours became a late calendar addition, making up 1961’s required five major championship rounds. Think about it, 1924-61 is only 37 years – like looking back today upon the Ferrari 312PBs and Lotus 72s of 1972…
The entry for that Pescara 4 Hours was mediocre. Ferrari fielded a rear-engined works Dino 246SP for Richie Ginther/Giancarlo Baghetti and loaned a front-engined 3-litre V12 Testa Rossa to Mimmo Dei’s Scuderia Centro Sud team to be shared by Lorenzo Bandini/Giorgio Scarlatti. Five assorted ‘Birdcage’ Maseratis, a quintet of GT Ferraris, Porsches, Oscas and a flock of Alfas faced the only British entry – David Hobbs and Bill Pinkney in the Hobbs Mech-a-Matic Lotus Elite…
Predictably, Richie Ginther led the opening lap, from Lloyd ‘Lucky’ Casner’s Camoradi ‘Birdcage’, then Willy Mairesse and Carlo Mario Abate in the leading Ferrari GTs. The Elite broke early, Ginther made a pitstop to investigate the works Dino’s bad handling and Bandini also stopped to have Centro Sud’s habitual oil leak fixed. Richie tore back into second place while Bandini recovered 27 places in three laps…
Ginther regained the lead from Casner up in Spoltore village, and Nino Vaccarella’s Serenissima team rear-engined ‘Birdcage’ demoted Casner to third. But Baghetti had to retire the leading Dino with deranged steering, Vaccarella’s gearbox broke and Casner was left in the lead, pursued by Bandini’s big Testa Rossa.
It was on his 15th of the 15-mile laps that Casner’s luck ran out, he overshot a corner and rolled the ‘Birdcage’, scrambling clear with oil and steam scalds. Bandini and Abate crossed the timing line to complete their 22nd lap marginally before the four-hour siren blew, after which every other finisher was flagged to an immediate halt. This left Bandini and Abate having to complete a 23rd lap to reach the chequered flag. Bandini/Scarlatti duly did so and won, but poor Abate’s Ferrari GT ran out of fuel on the final Montesilvano Straight, elevating the Edgar Barth/Karl Orthuber Porsche RS61 to second.
Abate had stamped away from his silent 250GT in disgust, ignoring the fact that there was a filling station just round the next corner. In fact in the 1957 Pescara GP, Jack Brabham’s Cooper had run out of fuel, and he had coasted into either this or a sister service station to find a tifoso pump attendant eager to top up his car, and he raced on. Such antics were typical of these longer Italian road courses. Earlier in the 4 Hours, Willy Mairesse’s pitcrew had been awaiting their overdue Ferrari when they were called to the telephone. It turned out to be ‘Wild Willy’ himself, phoning to report he’d just crashed, unhurt, up in the hills, now giving them the rest of the day off. Never a dull moment, up in them there hills…
Were they racing or sailing at Sebring ’65?
One of my earliest experiences of motor racing reality was the sense of increasing fatigue as I froze behind the spectator fence, plastic Pac-a-Mac my only protection against the cold rain hosing down relentlessly from a leaden sky. With icy cold rivulets dribbling down my neck and between my shoulder blades it felt as if the weight of the world was on my shoulders, and it was only the heady smell of hot Castrol R exhaust fumes and real racing cars pluming past which kept me there. Then I twigged why I felt so laden down. My plastic-mac pockets had each filled with about six inches of water. After blowing all tanks… I felt so much better, and could at least stand up straight again.
But that was nothing compared to the soaking suffered by everyone at the 1965 Sebring 12 Hours in Florida. That edition of the American classic had been running for seven hours when black clouds replaced earlier stifling heat. Worried that the forecast rain might favour Ford’s hefty GTs, Jim Hall/Hap Sharp had amassed a huge seven-lap lead in their open Chaparral-Chevrolet 2A. But when the rain struck around 5pm it was of biblical proportions. Sebring circuit is laid out around the Hendrick Field aerodrome. Flat concrete runways provided little drainage. The concrete block pitwall provided a levee jutting from foot-deep floodwater – rapidly deepening to 18 inches, and increasing.
Even then, there was no thought of stopping the race. The Chaparral motor-boated around at 10-20mph. The closed cars could barely manage that – apart from the moulded-body Porsche 904s which appeared immune. Wipers were overwhelmed, screens and windows misted solid. Phil Hill brought in his Cobra Daytona with water in the electrics, and deep around his legs. When he opened his door water gushed out, not in. A three-foot bow-wave of pitlane water swept away floating wheels and tyres.
But after 40 minutes the storm passed on, the skies cleared, the Chaparral paced to the finish, and for the first time since 1953 when Cunningham was the victor, an all-American combination had won the Sebring 12 Hours. What’s more, the Ford GT of Ken Miles/Bruce McLaren came home in second place – and our own David Piper was third in his Ferrari LM, partnered by South African Tony Maggs. Sebring ’65 was certainly a more memorable classic than Pescara ’61– but boy oh boy, what a soggy one.
‘That was a bottle of pop Mr Moss, but don’t… aah!’
Standing in the 1940s-style vegetable garden outside the Drivers’ Club at the Goodwood Revival meeting, the TV cameraman pulled focus on Rex Woodgate’s luxuriant handlebar moustache and we listened rapt as he recounted his memories of acting as mechanic to Equipe Moss in the adjoining paddock, 60 long years ago – in 1949.
Rex – who later served with the pioneering HWM team before joining Aston Martin and becoming very prominent in its story – related how on that occasion young Stirling was driving the family’s famous ‘two-way’ Cooper over the Goodwood weekend. “It was a long-wheelbase car which we could fit with either the single-cylinder JAP engine for 500cc racing, or the 1000cc ‘twin’ for Formule 2 and Libre races.
“A friend of mine had come along to help, but he didn’t appreciate that where the 500cc engine had a total-loss oil system, the 1000 had a proper pumped system and would have quite a lot of oil in its sump. After checking the oil level in the tank, he’d topped it up regardless, and the upshot was that once we’d swopped the engines and started up the 1000 the oil in the sump added to that in the topped-up tank meant the system was overfilled, so oil started gushing out everywhere. I realised instantly what had happened and grabbed a syringe to draw out the excess oil from the tank.
“I then ended up with a syringe full of oil, glanced around for something to put it into and the first thing I saw was an empty pop bottle lying on the ground. So I took the cap off it, shot the oil inside and then stood the bottle down in the long grass by the paling fence.
“After the race that day, ‘Pa’ Moss got back to our place in the paddock, mopping his brow and gasping about how hot it was, he was dying for a drink… He spotted the pop bottle full of golden liquid and before any of us could say anything he’d opened the cap and glugged down half of it. Of course his expression changed and bleeagggghhhh! – he spat out the remains, but he’d swallowed a really good draft. Aileen Moss, Stirling’s mum, went for me straight away: ‘You damned fool – you’ve poisoned my husband!’, you can imagine. The Old Man was spluttering and spitting – and young Stirling was killing himself laughing… I explained that the oil would have been clean, it had only been around the engine a couple of times. And in any case it was edible – it was castor oil!”
“Next morning when I saw the Old Man I asked of course if he was all right? And he beamed in satisfaction, and said: ‘Oh yes – I’m great. I am clean as a whistle – through and through!’ Castor oil works wonders, you know…”
ERA’s last hurrah: remembering the fabulously weird Bristol 450s
In ERA’s 75th anniversary year, it is perhaps worth spending a moment considering the endurance-racing tag end of the English Racing Automobiles series, the weird-looking – yet relatively successful – Bristol 450s of 1953-55. The project was aimed at winning the 2-litre class at Le Mans, and it used as its basis the ‘big-tube’ chassis concept of the unsuccessful last ERA created – the 1952 Formula 2 G-Type. That curiously configured, offset single-seater was designed essentially by engineer David Hodkin, drawing upon an original concept by former Auto Union chief engineer Dr Robert Eberan von Eberhorst.
The chassis structure claimed notable rigidity, but the intended ERA engine never materialised as Leslie Johnson’s company struggled for survival. Instead the G-Type was campaigned with a Bristol six-cylinder power unit installed, and when the project failed – leaving driver Moss to recall “They told me David Hodkin was a genius…” – Johnson, his health failing, sold the G-Type design rights to the Bristol Aeroplane Company’s car division.
Their supervising engineer, David Summers, led modifications which included replacing the original G-Type oval-section frame longerons with simple round-section members, picking up the G-Type independent front and de Dion-type rear suspensions. The cars had inboard rear brakes and innovative lightweight wheels to minimise unsprung weight. For Le Mans 1955, the Bristol racing department also adopted multi-barrelled, powered wheel wrenches, to unfasten all five wheel nuts simultaneously. Each nut was retained within the tool, permitting rapid re-fastening a la modern wheel-change practise.
The hefty Bristol engine up front was counter-balanced by a rear-mounted gearbox, while fuel was housed just abaft the front wheel arches, where road-going Bristol models housed their battery and spare wheel. The objective was to minimise handling changes between full tanks and empty, and apparently it worked well.
The Bristol 450’s aerodynamic envelope was developed in the Bristol Aeroplane Co’s wind tunnel, the cars weighed around 1450lbs and with just under 160bhp were good for over 140mph on Le Mans gearing. A pair of these, to me, unlovely Bristols failed at Le Mans ’53 but one then finished fifth overall and won the 2-litre class in the Reims 12 Hours. They set new 2-litre class speed records at up to 1000kms and five hours on the Montlhéry speedbowl that October, and three 450s with improved aerodynamics contested Le Mans ’54, finishing nobly 1-2-3 in their class and 7-8-9 overall. Bristol won a coveted team prize. Returning to the Reims 12 Hours, this time they were out-performed by a Ferrari, and finished 2-3-4 in class. Modified to open cockpit form for Le Mans ’55 the Filton team repeated its 1954 result – 1-2-3 in class, 7-8-9 overall, and won the team prize. The cars averaged over 100mph for the first 12 hours, but partly in response to the Le Mans disaster that year Bristol then withdrew from competition, and discreetly donated its Le Mans prize monies to the disaster victims’ relief fund. All but one of the original cars were quietly broken up.
So none of the aerodynamic Bristol 450 Coupés have survived. Which is a pity. I for one thought they looked weird… but fabulously so. And they did represent the stub end of the long and patchily successful story of ERA.
Slogans don’t always create good PR
Corporate advertisers must despair of the cynical or sarcastic streak in most Anglo-Saxon populations. Back in 1968, the Ford Motor Company of Detroit launched a new ad campaign intended to whet would-be buyers’ appetites in preparation for the forthcoming 1969 sales season.
Its slogan was simple: ‘Ford has a Better Idea’. You knew it made sense. Numerous Ford-powered or Ford-constructed competition cars bore the slogan in the US, but inevitably – in competition – things would not always go FoMoCo’s way. The real adman and promotional department’s nightmare was the aftermath of some major mechanical failure, and when one Ford V8 threw a rod at high rpm and utterly destroyed the bottom end of its crankcase it doesn’t take much imagination to think of the inevitable label that some wag attached to the wreckage…