The past season’s racing has certainly been an interesting one, but it is not possible to say that the trend of the design of racing cars has followed any one path; far from it, in fact. Throughout the season there has been a tendency to dart off in numerous directions, so that it is difficult to predict exactly what the 1948 season will produce. In the Grand Prix field the tendency was to build to the two extremes of the Formula, namely, supercharged 1 1.2-litre and unsupercharged 4 1/2-litres. As to which was the more successful was decided to a large extent by race organisers, as all the pre-war circuits are not yet in use again and there is still a tendency to use rather slow, twisty circuits, of a temporary nature, probably in an endeavour to reduce expense. Given the right circuit the highly supercharged 1 1/2-litre car undoubtedly holds sway, although by reason of reliability the unblown 4 1/2-litre has always been in the picture; however, towards the latter part of the continental season we have seen startling things accomplished by the comparatively new type of racing car, the unblown “eleven-hundred,” and on circuits of the “round-the-houses” variety they are more than a match for the larger cars. Finally, the F.I.A. surprised a lot of people by announcing an additional Formula for 1948 Grand Prix racing, the first being, as already mentioned, for supercharged cars up to 1 1/2 litres and unsupercharged up to 4 1/2 litres, to become Formula I, and Formula II being for supercharged cars up to 500 c.c. and unsupercharged cars up to 2,000 c.c. This announcement came almost simultaneously with news of new unblown 2-litre cars from Italy, so that it looks as if the Formula II was based on fairly popular opinion.
At the moment the general trend, or perhaps it should he interest, is towards the unblown 2-litre car, probably because it is relatively cheap to build and operate, compared with highly-supercharged 1 1/2-litres, and is still capable of a satisfying performance. There is little doubt that the day of the large-engined racing car is past, and the emphasis is now on small cars, combining a reasonable power output and ultra-light weight, without undue stressing.
It is interesting to reflect that the changing trend experienced towards the end of this season is very similar to that experienced just before the war in 1939. Then, the 1 1/2-litre blown cars were viewed as an hors d’oeuvre to the 3-litre Grand Prix events, but in August of that year it was decisively demonstrated that they were very nearly a match for the existing 3-litre cars and interest definitely focused on the 1 1/2-litres. Now we have a parallel in the ultra-lightweight “eleven-hundred,” which is rapidly proving capable of competing with the 1 1/2-litres under present-day racing conditions. Further, in 1938 the Formula that was introduced was aimed at making all capacities, from 3-litres supercharged and 4 1/2-litres unsupercharged downwards, capable of racing on the same level. That it took, not counting war years, four years for this to begin to come about can be attributed mainly to the German teams, who advanced so rapidly, technically, that no one else could keep pace. Had the Germans not been excluded from Grand Prix racing the present state of affairs would never have come about. That it has come about is highly desirable and one for which many people wished, and the fact that it is now possible for the first three positions in a Grand Prix to include blown 1 1/2-litre, unblown 4 1/2litre and unblown 1,100-c.c. cars, will please a great number of people, especially these who decry a sweeping one-make victory of the type so often seen before the war.
We must not forget, however, that the major contributory factor to this “motor-racing paradise” has been the short, wriggly circuit with a lap speed of 60-65 m.p.h. Is it possible that the people who have been drawing up Grand Prix Formulae in the past have been tackling the problem from the wrong source ? Whether the existing state of affairs will last remains to be seen; possibly it will, for quite a time, as the racing car manufacturers do not seem to have settled yet into any clearly defined channel.
That, then, is a general résumé of the many trends that exist today in the Grand Prix field; whether one particular type of car will succeed or whether entry lists will continue to be made up of numerous types depends to a great extent on the world’s economic situation, for any type of racing is expensive and the various firms will have to keep a watchful eye on their expenditure. As already mentioned the new Grand Prix class of unblown 2-litre car holds many attractions.
Taking a general view of the 1947 Grand Prix racing season we see as the outstanding item the unchallenged supremacy of the 1 1/2-litre Alfa-Romeos. These Type 158s are virtually the same as when they were first introduced in 1938, except for improvements in the supercharger arrangements. Two-stage supercharging, first introduced by Mercedes-Benz in 1939, was for a long time breathed of as a mystic “something” that could only be considered in the highest circles; now it is a sine-qua-non of the 1 1/2-litre Grand Prix car and, apart from Alfa-Romeo, is used by Maserati on the 4 CLT, by M. Lory on the French C.T.A. Arsenal and on the new Alta, while the B.R.M. and Cowell-Aspin will doubtless include it in their specifications. It is interesting that the first practical application, on a racing car, in this country should be on a home-brewed “Special,” the ingenious Emeryson. So far the E-type E.R.A. has failed to stomach a high-boost from a single-stage so that it is unlikely that it will enjoy a two-stage layout; however, its single Zoller is capable of producing as much boost as two stages of Roots blowers. All existing examples of two-stage blowing are by means of the Roots-type of instrument, though there are “blue-print” arrangements for centrifugal layouts, with their own variable-speed gearboxes. The Type 158 uses two blowers along the near side of the block, driven from the timing gears at the front by an open shaft, the first stage and larger of the two blowers being at the rear. A casual glance under the bonnet of these cars is reminiscent of the P-3. Maserati uses two Roots-pattern blowers in front of the engine, one above the other, with the first-stage instrument in the lower position, and Alta uses a somewhat similar layout for its 4-cylinder, 78 by 78 mm. Grand Prix engine, only in this instance the blowers are mounted on their sides, still one above the other. The C.T.A. Arsenal uses two Roots-type blowers mounted side by side in front of its engine, while the layout on other Grand Prix projects still remains on the secret list.
Cylinder layout is undoubtedly about to undergo a radical change, and Alfa-Romeo have given us a taste in their as yet unraced Type 512, with its flat-12 arrangement, while Maserati and Cowell Aspin are both mentioned in connection with this layout, and the B.R.M. is rumoured to have a flat-16 arrangement. Alta stick rigidly to four cylinders, as have Maserati for practical purposes this season, E.R.A. to six cylinders, while the C.T.A. uses a nice conventional V8 layout. Twin o.h.c. have long been accepted practice and will probably remain so until the advent of rotary valves or two-strokes. Cooling systems have not undergone any radical changes, liquid cooling still being universal, although with the increased powers obtained from the higher boosts, detail modifications have been made. Alfa-Romeo now split the take-off pipe from the cylinder head and take the two branches direct to the radiator core, by-passing the header tank, and Maserati, on the two-stage engine, uses one take-off pipe from each pair of exhaust valves, plus an extra one at either end of the head, all six pipes merging into a neat manifold in true continental style. Alta still retains a large-bore single exit at the front of the head, while E.R.A. remains unaltered. The C.T.A. makes a break from tradition in having the header tank in the bulkhead behind the engine, with a sealed radiator placed low in the front of the car. Although this allows a low radiator cowl and good visibility it involves rather a lot of plumbing and a superfluity of hose clips.
On the question of front suspension, opinion is unanimous, it is merely a question of variations of the i.f.s. theme, using all the well-tried media plus an innovation by Alta, of the use of compressed rubber, while drawing boards show the use of oleo-pneumatics on some future world-beaters. Rear suspension is a very different matter, Alfa-Romeo, C.T.A. and Alta using fully independent, while E.R.A. and a new version of the 16-valve Maserati use de Dion,. and the older-type 16-valve Maserati retains 1/4 elliptic springs with conventional rear axle.
With Alfa-Romeo, C.T.A., Maserati and E-type E.R.A. already in the field, Alta, Ferrari and Bugatti at the testing stage and B.R.M. and Cowell-Aspin at the constructional stage, it will be a pity if finance necessitates a change to a gentler-type of racing car.
At the opposite end of Formula I the single-seater Talbot, of 4 1/2-litres capacity, stands virtually alone, although it has around it a host of similar brethren in pre-war type Delahaye, Darracq and Delage; most of the latter three makes come under the heading of semi-sports or converted sports cars and are not a match for the pukka single-seater Talbot, as driven by Louis Chiron. Design here is pretty standardised ; pushrod, six-cylinder engines not too highly tuned, and possessing almost absurd reliability and fuel consumption. If the two-stage supercharged, multi-cylinder, high-output 1 1/2-litre can be likened unto the Hare then the Daffacq, Delahayes and Delages are most certainly the venerable Tortoises.
Turning to the voiturette class of the unblown 1,100-c.c. cars, the most notable feature has been the performance of the Simca-Gordini, followed very closely by its blood brother, the Cisitalia. So far the Simca has proved victor, but as it has only once competed against “works” Cisitalias, all other occasions being against privately-owned cars, no definite conclusions can be drawn. However, the fact that is definite is that these unblown “eleven-hundreds,” weighing under 7 cwt., can compete against all-comers on a short and relatively slow circuit, by reason of good acceleration low down, coupled with first-class road holding and cornering.
In this class the well-tried “K3” M.G. Magnette has performed well and the 328 B.M.W. in various forms has competed, although the only successful example of the latter make has been Eugene Martin’s very special car. No one has bothered with cars of under 750 c.c., although there are numerous other contestants in the unblown 2-litre category, such as the Citroen-base D.B., the D’arlmat Peugeot and the Peugeot-engined Jicey. At the very end of the season interest in these unblown 2-litres was roused by the introduction of the A6G Maserati and the Ferrari Type 166. Alfa-Romeo are rumoured to be building an unblown 2-litre — not very difficult for them in view of their successes with unblown 2 1/2-litres — and Lancia are also said to be interested in the 2-litre class.
It does look as though Formula II is going to have a big following, and it is quite possible that it may provide the major contests of 1948. Gordini is also enlarging his 1,100-c.c. cars to 1 1/2 litres, and Cisitalia’s talk of a 6-cylinder 1 1/2-litre. Simca and Cisitalia both use engines based on the 1,100-c.c. Fiat, while the “Twelve” and “Light Fifteen” Citroens form the basis of the D.B. Peugeot, aided by D’arlmat, produced a rapid 1,100-c.c. saloon for record-breaking, probably owing its ancestry to the “203,” while the 328 B.M.W. and new Frazer-Nash all appear most suitable for this class of racing. The Ferrari, originally designed as a highly-blown 1 1/2-litre, retains its V12 cylinder layout, with single o.h.c. and rockers on each block and a unique scheme of hairpin valve springs, and by reason of increased bore and stroke raises its capacity to 1,992 c.c. Three double-choke, downdraught carburetters are used. Maserati reverts to six cylinders and an entirely new chassis layout, using vertical coil springs for the i.f.s. and a tubular chassis. At the moment these new Italian 2-litres are termed sports cars, but as the continental idea of a sports car is what we in this country term “a thinly-disguised racing car,” there is little doubt that Formula II events in 1948 will prove highly exciting.
As yet there have been no 500-c.c. cars in continental racing, and it is very unlikely that anyone will build supercharged 500s as the expense would probably be as great as that for a blown 1 1/2-litre, if Grand Prix racing were the aim.
It would seem that the trend for Grand Prix racing is liable to follow three lines: blown 1 1/2-litres, unblown 4-4 1/2-litres, or umblown 1 1/2-2-litres, with the scales heavily loaded in favour of the last-mentioned group, though whether Alfa-Romeo will be content to put the Type 158 into cold storage is a moot point. Admittedly they have had the flat-12 Type 512 in storage since 1943, but as it proved, during trials, to be so successful as to make the 158 seem obsolete, one can’t imagine them keeping it hidden away for ever. What of our own B.R.M., acclaimed nationally? We can’t have it left alone in the blown 1 1/2-litre class.
Whatever trend fashion decrees for 1948 and the future, the blown 1 1/2-litre will have to be given a place, of that there must be no doubt.
British racing is still a long way behind; our only hope for circuits seems to be in our go-ahead satellite islands, but the entries are a sadly depressing collection of obsolete machinery, undoubtedly doing yeoman service and proving beyond a doubt that British goods are made to last, but that is hardly the quality needed for winning races. On our own shores there was but one race, that at Gransden Lodge, which proved to be most absorbing, especially to the writer, as it provided the satisfying spectacle of a battle between the continental white elephants, with which this country abounds, and was a perfect example of Grand Prix racing before the Germans turned it into a science.
In England we have maintained an increasing advance in hill-climbing and sprints, and perhaps the most startling thing has been the progress of the 500-c.c. sprint cars. From a rather dubious and unknown beginning they have become remarkably successful, even though they have proved more expensive to build than was first envisaged. Here, design has kept to a fairly rigid plan; a motorcycle engine to provide the power, this unit invariably being mounted behind the driver, and suspension either directly from proprietary small cars or adaptations of standard products. Among the many good things about these little cars is the fact that the constructors have, as a rule, kept a sense of proportion and have clothed their creations with some very attractive little bodies so that we have been spared the sight of the “string and wire” type of vehicle, which, though it can be accepted in certain cases as amusing, becomes a bad joke if not controlled.
Apart from a convincing demonstration that a combination of Raymond Mays and the D-type E.R.A. is unbeatable on our sprint courses, another outstanding feature this past season has been Sydney Allard’s single-seater Allard. A complete breakaway from tradition, he employs air-cooling, saving much weight, an important factor in sprint motoring. Using many standard components, this car has been a feature of all the major sprint events, and the V8 engine, with its eight Amal carburetters and pushrod o.h.v., appears to develop a considerable amount of power from its 3,600 c.c. Apart from the 500s and the Allard there has been little progress in the sprint world, though the Freikaiserwagen made a welcome reappearance and showed that it had lost none of its pre-war zest. Mostly, drivers have used ex-racing cars for sprint work and in many cases these proved remarkably effective, as witness the last Shelsley Walsh meeting, when the twelve fastest climbs were put up by thoroughbred racing cars, the first six being under the 40-second mark. Apart from the smaller club meetings, the pure sprint special seems to be disappearing rapidly, and the few constructors left appear to be turning their thoughts to the 500-c.c. class.
Before leaving the racing field, we must turn our thoughts to America for a brief moment. Indianapolis still flourishes with its 500-mile race, and the Americans are still progressing with great strides. Whereas at one time the Indianapolis car appeared to be somewhat of a freak and no match for a good European Grand Prix car, that is not so any longer, and since the late thirties their cars have been turning towards the Grand Prix type and are very little, if at all, behind latest European designs. Indeed, such cars as the Novi-Governor, the Fageol and the Blue Crown “Specials” are no longer quaint track cars but are closely akin to Grand Prix cars in such things as engine, suspension and roadholding and low-drag bodywork. Whether the 3-litre Maserati that swept the board in 1939 and 1940 put them on the right track is not known, but it is no longer unbeatable, and the 1939 Grand Prix Mercedes that competed this year, and which was predicted by many to make the Americans look silly, did just the reverse. Possibly Mr. Lee and Duke Nalon had not found all the Nazi answers to their box of tricks, but whilst motoring it was very effective but at the same time was not alone, although the ride was said to be a lot steadier than that given by the American cars. When one thinks back to the 1936 and 1937 Vanderbilt Cup races one must realise just how rapidly the Americans are progressing, and as there is a possibility of two of the more successful Indianapolis machines visiting the continent this coming season the future has much of interest in store for the keen follower of racing.
Finally, we come to the record-breaking sphere. Not many records have been broken but those that have have been most meritorious and in almost all cases with existing pre-war machines, suitably modified. It would be true to say that at present there is no trend of design in record breaking, design as such being stagnant. Notwithstanding this, detail work has been exceptional, and it is difficult to decide whether John Cobb’s 400 m.p.h. in the Railton or Count Lurani’s 105 m.p.h. with his 250-c.c.-engined “Nibbio” is the more meritorious, while Gardner’s feats with the 500-c.c. Gardner Special (nee M.G.) must not be overlooked. The Railton has remained virtually unchanged, while Gardner has made changes in the carburation and supercharging departments, now using a Shorrock-designed Clyde supercharger, and has also made modifications to the bodywork of his M.G.-Gardner Special. “Nibbio” remains much as before except that power is now supplied by a 250-c.c. Guzzi motor-cycle engine, which gave sufficient power to take 850-c.c. records, the lowest capacity recognised by the F.I.A. The American Novi-Governor Special, with its blown 3-litre engine, has broken the International 3-litre class records for 5 and 10 miles at 177 m.p.h. In its record-breaking form it was endowed with the neatest enclosed cockpit and head-fairing and was duly termed a Mobil-Special. — D. S. J.