Continental racing season

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By the Motor Sport  Continental Correspondent

Travelling around the Continent during the racing season one naturally sees many interesting things and, likewise, at the races there is always plenty to see. Much of this goes to making up the race report but, even so, a great deal has to be left out due to space limitations, and lots more cannot be printed at the time for fear of evoking the wrath of the wrong person. Now that 1952 has become history perhaps it would not be amiss to mention some of those incidents that went to make up a most enjoyable season, but somehow got left out of the reports.

While journeying from one circuit to the next it quite often happens that you pass by the scene of an earlier or later race, and it often pays to dally awhile, if only to find out the lie of the land for a future visit. At Le Mans, very much “out-of-season”,  there was consternation at the Cafe de l’Hippodrome on the Mulsanne straight when a picture postcard of the circuit was demanded. Two months later the place was literally decorated with them. Round-the-houses circuits, such as Bordeaux or Pau, can be quite difficult to follow exactly when all the straw bales, banners, bridges, stands and painted kerbs have disappeared, and they certainly look very different when you drive round them as compared with racing round them. Pau being the real opening of the Continental season it is a particularly interesting gathering and can give an idea of what is to come. It can also give an entirely false impression, as did last year’s race, for both H.W.M. and Maserati-Platé cars looked promising at Pau but were vanquished by the end of the season. Lance Macklin stirred things up a bit by being in the front row of the start, and as he had been promised a big bottle of wine if he kept in front of Ascari and Villoresi for the first lap, the start was quite something. He lost the bottle as he only managed to keep Villoresi at bay. It was here that one of the Ferrari mechanics was most emphatic that Villoresi had retired with loss of oil pressure, even while the car was being towed away with a very wobbly wheel due to contact with a concrete wall. When all the tumult and shouting had died down for Ascari, having won, it was renewed tenfold for Rosier, who finished second, and while still at its height Alberto could be seen quietly packing away his crash-hat and goggles into his familiar little attache-case, being elbowed about by the milling throng round Rosier and completely ignored—unintentionally, of course.

Throughout the season there was a certain air of unrest among the Ferrari team drivers, especially from Farina, who never appeared to enjoy being second fiddle to Alberto — Villoresi has long since willingly bowed down to youthful superiority. At Marseilles Farina went through the sweeping S-bend past the pits in practice, more by the grace of God than skill, in a successful attempt to better Ascari’ s lap time, but “Cicco,” as the Italians call him, went out immediately afterwards and with no unnecessary sliding or arm-wagging settled the matter once and for all as to who should have the best starting position. In the race it was amusing to watch these two lapping more or less in company towards the end of the race, laps ahead of the third man, their braking point for the corner at the end of the finishing straight being a very comfortable one. When Ascari stopped for tyres, about 20 minutes before the end, Farina reduced this braking point to a dangerously short one, though nobody would have suggested he was trying to take advantage of Aseari’s stop. Of course, the inevitable happened, he spun off the road. It was after this race that an hour went by before the official results were announced, and then Johnny Claes was omitted from third place. A strong Press uproar started, so a further half-hour went by while they were amended, but this time he was put down fourth, instead of third. The final results were virtually made out by the journalists, and this was in the home of motor-racing. After the prizegiving the President of the Club made a moving speech that lasted for 1-1/2 hours, on racing, the effect on the French public, the efforts of Gordini, the lack of patriotism of Frenchmen who raced non-French motor cars, what fine drivers the Frenchmen were who did race French motor cars, the enthusiasm of French national sports-car drivers and, in fact, the whole business of motor-racing. Although it made everyone awfully thirsty, it was a magnificent diatribe and he really meant every word of it. The only wish later was, that he could have made it after the Gordini victory at Rheims, for it would probably still be going on.

A visit to MontIéhry was always worthwhile when in the neighbourhood, especially towards the end of the season, for there was almost a queue forming to use the track for record-breaking. Quite early in the season a very special six-cylinder Citroën, with alloy wheels, well-tuned engine, much smoothed-out bodywork and shattering exhaust note, was lapping consistently at 100 m.p.h. by hand timing, while a new saloon Delahaye belonging to Crespin, the Rally driver, was doing 105 m.p.h. laps in complete silence. At the bottom of the banking little Peugeot motor-cycles were trying to attain 50 m.p.h., and in the middle of the circuit army vehicles were being submerged in slimy mud, so that there was never a dull moment at the concrete saucer. Even Mr. Redex was there, in advertising form, adhering to the outer-wall.

In Switzerland, in the German-influenced northern part, motor-racing is a serious business and the speed orgy at Berne for the Swiss Grand Prix was well up to standard, even if none of the cars was fast enough to make the curve past the start a dicey one. Here the first impression was received of the 300SL Mercedes, they being much prettier and smaller than any photograph suggested. When Kling drove up to the Hotel Bristol in his green one and parked it among the general run of Buicks, Aurelius, Fiat 1400s and  Delahayes, it looked even smaller and more impressive. Even the one that Caracciola wrote off in the race looked impressive, for it did show how the structural limit had been built  “down to”  instead of the usual  “up to” method.  After the Berne sports-car race it would have been nice to have had an intimate knowledge of Italian abusive phrases, for the mechanics who investigated the broken prop-shaft universal on the works 4.1-litre Ferrari that Willy Daetwyler broke on the starting line due to taking his foot off the clutch with 5,000 r.p.m. on the dial, used most of them pretty frequently. However, a well-known Italian designer’s sentiments were appreciated when he looked at the front suspension of Ken Wharton’s Frazer-Nash, and said “Topolino!”   Berne has an ideal watching place in the island in front of the pit area, which is “forbidden to all but high officials”.  Herr Neubauer was standing there together with a great number of other intruders, and a plea in French over the loudspeaker had little effect in moving them. Repeated in German it stirred up a lot of people, and when it said that only those with armbands were allowed to stay, the mighty Alfred took out his handkerchief and ceremoniously tied it round his left arm. In the H.W.M. équipe at this race there was a moment of dissension when one faction reported “one of your cars has lost a wheel on the bend after the start” and a rival corps protested that it was “before” the start, so that no one was sure which way to set off in search. It transpired that both were right, for on the same lap the same trouble happened to Abecassis and Collins. When, a few laps later, the other two team-cars were flagged in and withdrawn the puzzled pandemonium in the Press stand on the opposite side of the track, where all could be seen but nothing heard, was most interesting, until official word of the retirements came through.

Occasionally one caught up with the Formula lll boys, and one of these occasions was at Luxembourg. It is doubtful whether any race has had so much liaison between drivers and pits as did the final of that event. The pace was not so terrifically hot but mechanical derangements of minor proportions were happening fast and furiously, and almost every driver tried to tell his mechanic what to prepare in the way of tools and bits as he rushed by at 80 m.p.h. The Mackson team created the biggest turmoil in the pits when they did a piece of  “real Grand Prix stuff,” by calling in Gill and letting Wharton take over the car, he having broken his. The amusing thing was that nobody was really sure whether that was “playing the game” in Formula lll. Throughout the season Ken Wharton was often getting in interesting situations and, shortly after, at the Eifelrennen at Nürburgring, he was chasing the German driver Willy Heeks, Frazer Nash and A.F.M., respectively, there being some doubt as to whether he could get past for quite a while. Rounding the semi-circle of the Sudhkerve he was about to overtake on the outside when the A.F.M. lost a wheel and subsided very gracefully into the ditch, thus solving everyone’s problems. One disadvantage of the Nürburgring is its 22-kilometre length, for if a car does break down it can be a long, long while before the driver is located, especially to strangers to the place who do not know the location of various named corners. Quite often you can be driving round looking for a stranded car reported, say, on the approaching slopes of the Karussel, and shortly after leaving the paddock as you go along the Flugplatz heights you can see the car 800 ft. below, but it takes you about 80 corners and seven or eight kilometres driving before you can get to it. The Nürburgring paddock is always an interesting one from the mechanical point of view, and there was one privately-owned sports Ferrari having its engine lifted out while on the ground was an identical unit waiting to go in, even to the point of having the same engine number, which simplified the log-book problem rather nicely.

Ferraris being the all-conquering marque from the outset of the season, it was natural that almost any car with the prancing-horse on the bonnet was interesting, and when brand-new four-cylinder models appeared in private-owner hands it was the time to gather round. Rosier was one of the first to be thus blessed, but though his car looked just like the works ones, it did not go quite like them. Of course, by the time his car was finished the brakes were obsolete, as was the front springing, and by the time his car was modified to later specification, yet further alterations had been made to the works cars, and so the workshop race went on, with the team cars always one move ahead. The four-cylinder car that was sold to the Belgian syndicate, Ecurie Francorchamps, was in worse plight for it was delivered quite late in the season. Having been collected in a hurry in order to run at Chimay, it arrived ready to race but with only a spare wheel as extra equipment, and no jack or hub-nut hammer. The plugs and jets were fiddled about with by using the tool kit from the Studebaker lorry used to transport it. It was a great pity that the two Belgian champions Laurent, in the Ferrari, and Claes, in a 1-1/2-litre Gordini that was always about to become a 2-litre six but never managed it, became tangled up in their enthusiasm to prove whether a French or Italian car was the best thing for a Belgian champion, so that they both sat in the ditch while the English cars motored past. The organising chief of Chimay, Jules Buisseret, who is the most important man in the town as well as being the largest, had decided to run the Formula ll event in one go of 240 kilometres as he thought there was less chance of the English getting over-exuberant as they would be in two short heats. He had under-estimated his own countrymen.

One would expect Le Mans to produce a never-ending string of interesting, happenings, going on as it does for 24 hours non-stop, but somehow the whole affair was like a dream and disappeared from the mind almost immediately after the report was completed. One thing does stand out and that was a short run in one of the Chrysler Allards, with the Allard-fangled four-speed Ford gearbox. It was only the lack of diesel fumes that prevented one imagining one was in a ScammeII. While watching the Cunninghams, similarly powered, ticking over at the pits caused one to move away before the rattling of milk churns and the vision of trailers made one think of the U.D. and the U.K.  Mind you, the sight of the Cunningham saloon thundering along in the opening laps hotly pursued by a horde of screaming Ferraris was a woerful sight. Throughout practice the experimental Mercedes with the aero-foil air-brake could always be seen rushing past but never stationary. After the race was over and the noise resembled an ordinary Monday lunch-time in Le Mans, it was left in the square for all and sundry to poke, prod and speculate upon, ready for 1953. There used to be a saying that ” the whiter the helmet, the slower the car ” when referring to sports cars. In France this can be changed to “the louder the noise, the lower the tune,” and at any French national sports-car event or rally this can be borne out. To see apparently normal baby Renaults or Dyna-Panhards sitting on the tails of rorty-looking Fiat specials, or innocuous-looking Simca coupés doing the same with exciting-looking Italian coupés, was always rather trying. At one event there was an enormous outcry by French Ferrari sports-car drivers because Trintignant had entered a 1-1/2-litre Simca coupé in a category that was down in the regulations as “High performance, over 2 litres.” There was reason in the complaint for the smaller car walked the race, but then it may have been something to do with the driver. Needless to say the Simca came from Gordini,  it being an outdated model of three years back. Gordini’s fantastic victory at Reims will go down as a classic, but what can never be put on paper was the reaction of the packed grandstand as Belize started his last lap, the race apparently in the bag, when the radio announcer started to make an impassioned plea for money for the Gordini fund started by L’Action Automobile, saying that ” today’s magnificent victory over Ferrari will surely encourage everyone to give as much as possible to enable Gordini to continue the battle on other circuits.” Evidently the French do not believe in tempting providence for with Behra still on the other side of the circuit the announcer was drowned by the loudest caterwauling and abuse ever heard at a race meeting. It was probably sheer reaction that caused the same crowd to mob Behra in the finishing area while the rest of the drivers were approaching at 100 m.p.h.

In Germany again, for the Grand Prix, racing became serious once more and the race, being the 25th anniversary of the Nürburgring, was the occasion for a nice little display of German racing supremacy in the form of a raised dais containing 1937 and 1939 Mercedes Grand Prix cars and an Auto-Union chassis. On inquiring about the 1939 car, while it was still under a dust sheet on its transporter, a high official in the Ferrari camp nearly passed out when told it  was “a mille-nova-cento-trente-nova Mercedes-Benz.”  He thought it meant c.c’s instead of years.  Watching the works Ferraris being loaded into the double-decker van is always interesting, but after Taruffi had broken the de Dion tube of his car, the efforts to persuade a car with steeply inclined rear wheels up the ramp was worth going a long way to watch. It is not always the competitor who supplies the fun; one looker-on had left his Porsche in a vulnerable position and gone away having locked the doors. As the hand-brake worked on the rear wheels only it was carried away like a wheelbarrow by six very large and angry Germans who wanted to move a lorry. Spectators in almost any Continental country can be guaranteed to deal vociferously with any photographer who stands in their view at the start of a race and, by getting together in organised shouting, they have been heard to drown the noise of a car warming up unnecessarily, thus preventing them hearing the news over the loudspeakers, and making the driver shut off. A Continental loudspeaker usually has a lot to say and most of it is well worth listening to.  At almost any German meeting the people who do the most work are those who control the enormous advertising balloons that hover around the circuit. These balloons take the shape of various things, such as peppermints, cigarette packets, radio valves, etc., and if a sharp breeze springs up during the meeting there is always a great deal of tacking and luffing going on. Large-scale advertising is one thing the Continental does understand and a great deal of interest was aroused at one meeting by a very shapely female on a motor scooter on top of a vast structure away in the distance. There being nothing near by for comparison there was much speculation as to whether she was real or not, those against saying the sun was not hot enough for what she was wearing, though admitting she looked real enough.  Imagine the disappointment when a fitter climbed up the rigging to make adjustments, and it was seen she was about 15ft high.

On the way down into Italy, on one of those trips which involve three full days’ motoring from the previous meeting, the H.W.M. team’s mighty A.E.C van was seen staggering up the higher slopes of an Alpine pass and by motoring hard it was caught, a short natter ensuing up among the clouds.  I am sure that if back in England you suggested taking a London bus full of people over a mountain pass the entire crew would have been horrified.  A van on the same chassis, with  £6,000 worth of motor cars inside and a trailer on the back was all in the day’s racing work and nothing very exceptional.  The procession of unwieldy racing vans passing along impassable roads from meeting to meeting, is nearly as good as the Mille Miglia itself. The idea of a mechanics’ handicap race, using the transport lorries, at the end of the season was severely frowned upon by the drivers. Little did they realise that such events took place every week unofficially.

At Monza the most fantastic race of all time was the Grand Prix in September. Never before have so many cars slip-streamed each other, or elbowed their way round corners like motor-cyclists, as during the scrap for fourth place among the Ferraris, Maseratis and Gordinis. Lap scoring was quite impossible until they had all gone by. One could only look closely, photograph the order of the numbers in the mind, and write them down after each passage. Another remarkable feature of this race was the amount of conversation that went on between drivers. Due to faster drivers lapping slower ones, and pit-stops, the last three-quarters of an hour saw friendly groups circulating in company, waving and smiling to one another, probably as the result of the cut-throat dice that had opened the race. González and Bonetto played games with one another for a time on the works Maseratis, as did Landi and Cantoni on the Brazilian Maseratis. Moss and Hawthorn had a little conversational piece, so did Brandon and Wharton, Brandon and Brown, Villoresi and Taruffi, Manzon and Rosier. Altogether the Monza race finished up as a very gentlemanly high-speed party, though it became muddled at the end when Cantoni ran out of petrol just after the pits. He pushed the Maserati backwards over the line, refuelled, and before he set off Ascari crossed the line for the last time. Following him past the chequered flag Cantoni gained a crafty lap over Poore, who had been leading him up to then. Poore confused the issue even more by stopping to refuel as he approached the line for the last time, not knowing that Ascari was about to finish so that he came direct from his pit to the chequered flag amid all the confusion. However, this confusion at the finish was as nothing compared to that at the start when the cars were setting off on a warming-up lap. It was seen that Ascari had departed without his crash-hat and the comic opera scene in the middle of the track between Ferrari high-ups and track officials as to the rights and wrongs of the incident would have drawn enormous crowds back in Milan at La Scala. The track officials’ finale and gesture of abandoning the incident was a masterpiece and settled the whole business. Ascari meanwhile had completed his second preliminary lap without a crash-hat, while many others had motored backwards down the course.

Altogether the 1952 season of racing coverage was a most enjoyable one and was satisfactorily concluded when a Pegaso coupé was seen leaving Spain. The owner was obviously off on a holiday, and up to that time Pegasos were things to be gazed upon at motor shows, but that little incident proved that they can be used. There was one last memory in 10,000 miles of wandering, and that was on the last run home, coming up the hill out of Lyons. Quite a scuffle went on between a six-cylinder Citroën, a Hydradynamicultraflow Cadillac coupé, a 3-1/2-litre Delahaye saloon and Motor Sport’s Senior Continental Correspondent. No doubt the marks are still on some of the corners, but at least justice as done in the land where motor cars are meant for motoring.

 

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