From the archives with Doug Nye

The Italian job offer
Tony Vandervell chose to pass on this chance to buy a novel Grand Prix project that made big claims

I could hardly believe my eyes. Flicking idly through an old Vanwall correspondence file, I have just found this long-buried gem. On July 18, 1955, Arialdo Ruggeri of the Scuderia Automobilistiche Milan, Via Mose Bianchi 71, Milan, Italy, wrote personally to Tony Vandervell of Vandervell Products Ltd
in Acton, West London:

“Dear Mr Vandervell, We beg to inform you that, after a mechanical experience of many years, we have now made a motor for racing cars, eight cylinders, 2500cm3, formola (sic) 1.

“The characteristics of this motor are of the greatest interest because it has been carefully studied in every detail and it is based on quite new thecnical (sic) conception.

“We have experimented it at the bench and we can say that the results obtained have been so satisfactory as to make us believe that its power could hardly be attained by any other motor of the kind.

“As we know your deep interest in mechanics and your large activity in motor races, we think you may be interested in the purchase of the whole; motor, differential gear, frame together with the relative schemes and drawings.

“While we are disposed to make you possible the purchase, we give you the assurance that both the characteristics and the pratical (sic) results of our motor have remained absolutely secret till now, because it has been completely made in a small mechanical workshop by trusty workmen; so it may easily result that the motor has be planed (sic) and carried out by yourselves.

“Should our offer interest you, Mr Ruggeri our schemer and director is disposed to come to England in order to confer personally with you and give you any other detail.

“We trust on your discretion and awaiting your kind reply.

“Yours faithfully, Scuderia Automobilistica Milan, A Ruggeri”.

Four days later, tough old Tony Vandervell responded:

“Dear Sirs, We do not think we can do anything to help you with your scheme.

“It was kind of you to give us this opportunity but we feel it is outside our interests.

“Yours faithfully – G.A.Vandervell, Managing Director”

So what was it that Ruggeri was offering? Nothing less than his extraordinary transverse straight-eight, air-cooled rear-engined spaceframe prototype car, as offered for sale 59 years later in this July’s Bonhams auction at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Just imagine, had ‘Old Man Vandervell’ actually taken up Arialdo Ruggeri’s kite-flying offer the Vanwall story would have been very different.

There is a vanishingly remote chance that the British bearing manufacturer might have made the Ruggeri concept work. But then there’s a much stronger chance that the design, in which it appears that both the great Ing Gioachino Colombo and Ing Mario Speluzzi had been involved, would have proved as big a money pit and profound failure as Colombo’s cross-engine Bugatti 251 GP car of 1956… which is where the Ruggeri evidently found a brief future, albeit in Molsheim’s case water-cooled rather than air-cooled…

And poor Arialdo Ruggeri’s lifelong enthusiasm and creativity withered on the vine.

Sicilian justice
A trip to Targa Florio country is a reminder that respect remains central in island life

In Sicily recently, helping film a forthcoming Targa Florio documentary, it was a privilege to meet Silvana Paladino, Count Vincenzo Florio’s last surviving close relative. We met in her home, once his, on the Palermo seafront. The historic old building, packed with Florio artefacts, was originally one of the family tuna processing factories, soon converted into a beach house that once hosted the holidaying Russian Tsar and Tsarina. The Florio family’s interests (wine, shipping, fisheries, ceramics and more) collapsed early last century, and the Count lived in reduced circumstances in the Palermo house until his death in 1959. But, as Silvana relates, “He was always cheerful, a happy man, he loved his painting, always forward-looking, and of course – even though he was no longer in charge – he loved nostra Targa Florio!”

She introduced me to Barone Gianfranco Pucci, son of Sicilian Barone Antonio Pucci who competed often in the Targa and, indeed, won it in 1964, sharing a Porsche 904GTS with Colin Davis, son of pre-war Bentley Boy ‘Sammy’ Davis.

The present Barone Pucci – himself a long-serving race organiser and FIA delegate – spoke entertainingly about his late father, who was plainly a real character. We had just been driving in the Targa town of Cerda in the Madonie foothills just above the old start area at ‘Floriopoli’, and I was advised that it is unwise to hoot at other motorists there, whatever idiocy they might perpetrate. Why? “Because you don’t know who the driver might be, and to hoot is to show serious disrespect” – not a good idea in Sicily’s more deprived areas, including Cerda.

Barone Pucci then told a lovely story about his father. “One year in the ’70s or ’80s, with the Milan Club running the Gran Premio d’Italia at Monza, one of the British F1 teams was judged guilty of a technical infringement and fined. Mr Eckly-stone came to see my father. He said the team would not pay - they were leaving, end of story. No respect. My father said, ‘If they do not pay we will impound all the cars and notify Customs. All your F1 cars will be held here in Italy. Forget your next race. It won’t be happening’.

“And Mr Eckly-stone told my father ‘I am Bernie Eckly-stone and I am speaking as head of the Formula 1 Constructors’ Association. We will not pay’. He was serious, no respect.

“So my father replied, ‘And I am Il Barone Antonio Pucci. I am speaking as head of the Mafia. And you will pay’.”

I guess these two tough nuts eventually understood one another completely. Unlike the thug who, years later with Barone Antonio in his dotage, insulted him publicly and loudly. Whereupon the proud Targa-winning Sicilian aristo promptly pulled a gun – and shot him. No respect, you see. In Sicily, still not a good idea.

Dear prudence
If your car is valuable, the FIA thinks you deserve to pay more to have it approved for racing

Sometimes one wonders what exactly international historic racing did to deserve the FIA and its fellow traveller national ‘authorities’. So that variably qualified scrutineers at race meetings can verify one of these elderly old bangers, some kind of paperwork system was necessary as a ready-use crib sheet. For this purpose the Historic Technical Passport (HTP) was introduced (in the Max Mosley period) in 2004 to replace the widely discredited earlier system of FIA Historic Vehicle Identity Forms, finally shelved from the end of 2006. Authority takes great care to emphasise that “An HTP says nothing about the authenticity, provenance, origins, etc, of a car. It is concerned only that the car’s specification is that of the particular model it purports to be; the whole purpose of the HTP is to try to ensure that cars accord with the authentic specification and can therefore compete with one another fairly.” Which seems reasonable so far.

Last winter the Historic Grand Prix Car Association reminded members, “The HGPCA requires valid HTP papers for all competing cars as part of its jurisdiction to comply with FIA Appendix K. In response to intense lobbying on competitors’ behalf, any HTP established on the latest 26-page template will now remain valid for 10 years.” (Initially, the FIA had specified only a five-year eligibility window.) “All HTPs issued before 2011 expire on December 31 2014. In view of the many HTP renewals expected in the coming months, special discounts have been made available as follows. If the request for the renewal of an HTP issued before 2011 is submitted before September 30 2014, a rebate of 50 per cent on the FIA’s application fee will be granted. If the renewal is requested between October 1 2014 and September 30 2015, a 20 per cent discount will apply. Each individual ASN [national sporting authority] has its own administration fee in addition to that of the FIA charges and on which there might not be a discount.”

So the new system is being set up at the would-be competitors’ expense. Predictable, I guess. All governments cost somebody. But then consider this: “Any racing car of a type or model that has sold at auction in the most recent 24-month period for an amount in excess of US$500,000 will entail a higher HTP fee.” So the FIA figures that the more valuable the car, the more the owner should have to pay to have its use sanctioned in an amateur – emphasise amateur – sport.

Here’s a motor racing mansion tax, no less. Authority identifies a victim it thinks can afford to pay, then hits them in the wallet. There’s no evident recognition that one particular car with a great individual history might command a market value several times that of an otherwise HTP-identical sister machine. Nor does there seem to be any exception if an example of a suddenly valuable model might well be a long-owned family heirloom bought for peanuts by a real enthusiast decades ago.

I can think of numerous owner/racers who are asset rich, in terms of the cars they have long cherished and preserved, yet cash poor. Indeed, in some cases, one precludes the other. The brazen FIA suits who create these regulations have many questions to answer. Especially when owners become deterred from bowing the knee at all to such ‘authority’, and fewer and fewer fine historic cars appear in public.