Formative years

MOTOR SPORT’s regular readers are enthusiasts or presumably they would not be reading this magazine. But what sparked off their interest in cars and motoring sport? Here the Editor and staff recall the cars and races which influenced their future interests and careers.

The editor, remarking that whatever “formative years” are, it was a long time ago for him, remembers having a 36/220 Mercedes-Benz demonstrated CO him along the Barnet by-pass which Mercedes-Benz then used as their test track, when he was still wearing a school cap. It just about did “the ton”, supercharger wailing, when the driver had to lift off because another of these great cars was turning ahead of it and about to cross our bows. At the age of 14, this car left a profound impression. . . Then there were those exotic Bugattis, Types 49, 57, 57SC, and the like, in which the late Col. G. M. Giles took him out just before the War —their performance, road-holding, the sounds they made, their under-bonnet perfection were ahead of anything else at the time— although since surpassed by things like XK 120s, E-types and Lotus 7s!

But no! The accolades must go to that wonderful 8-litre Bentley in which the late Forrest Lycett took him for fast drives, on the road and round Brooklands, also before the War. Even then it was a car in the vintage tradition (1931, in 1938) and the memory of it is of the animal-feel of this lithe, living machine on the track (s.s. ¼-mile in 16.4 secs) and how it overtook pedestrian tin-boxes under the brakes as its ever-cautious conductor tucked it into a gap in the traffic stream…

Racing cars? The Editor says the W.125 Mercedes-Benz definitely! For never, before he saw these in full cry at Darlington in 1937 (not forgetting the Auto-Union, which won), had he seen such brute force and speed, smelt such smells, seen drivers (boyhood heroes) working so hard, or met more efficiently awesome organisation. Real motor-racing, says the Editor, before the “bull” engulfed this sport.

It wasn’t a real car but a 4s 11d toy which the Assistant Editor recalls as the first influence in his formative years. A Minimodels Ltd. Scalex, pressed-steel, clockwork (one of those you pushed along the ground to wind it up) model of a bright-red XK 120, complete with that famous number 7 on one side, presented to him in 1952. Though he already owned a similar model of an Aston Martin DB2 it was this XK 120 roadster which captured his imagination and turned him at an early age into something of a Jaguar fanatic. Thus prompted, the “real thing” soon captured his imagination and though he can’t remember listening to the winning exploits of the Jaguar C-types at Le Mans he can recall those secret late night sessions, head buried under bed-clothes, crystal-set headphones pouring into his ears the infectious music of the deeply-vrooming D-type exhaust notes, interspersed with Robin Richard’s chitchat, as those beautiful Malcolm Sayers designs sped to victory in 1955, 1956 and 1957. He scanned avidly the MOTOR SPORTs bought by his elder brother for visions of this magnificent sport, car, even though in those days the British Racing Green and Ecurie Ecosse Blue were transformed into black and white in these pages. His appreciation for these cars remained undulled by his first sight of a D-type racing in the flesh (unless his memory is playing tricks), a rather uninspiring display put on by one Reg Harris Esq., late of cycling fame, at Pocklington airfield circuit, Yorkshire.

Racing Jaguar saloons also had their influence upon him, particulary his boyhood hero Mike Hawthorn in his 3.4 Mk. I and later the likes of Graham Hill and Sir Gawaine Bailey in 3.8 Mk. 2s, an influence which caused him to buy a 3.8 Mk. 2 a few years ago recently joined by a 51,000-mile old 3.4 Mk. I. His XK 150 is a substitute for that original toy XK 120, but never is he likely to achieve his ultimate ambition of acquiring a D-type!

There is no question of which was the single-seater racing car to make its mark on this patriotic young boy in those formative years. Vanwall, a name which still conjures up more magic visions for him than any other Formula 1 marque of its day. Moss, Brooks, Hawthorn, whoever was in those green cars, had his intense support and one of the greatest disappointments in his motoring life is to have missed the Grand Prix D`Europe when Moss won in Brooks` car at Aintree in 1957. An altercation with big brother made the latter refuse to take him to Aintree on the pillion of his BSA Bantam Major (or was it his Royal Enfield 125 at that time?) and the younger was forced to remain at home to watch the excellent television coverage of this Vanwall-dominated race.

D-type or Vanwall, they were great cars and great days and no car since has had such an impact on the Assistant Editor as those two classics of his formative years.

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For most of my friends in the half of the 1960s, Jim Clark was certainly the great hero. At the time we used to complain amongst ourselves that he was too good; we`d feign boredom at his runaway British Grand Prix victories, but inwardly we treated him with all the respect of a schoolboy star. Some remember his antics in the Lotus Cortina or the spectacular surplus of power of the green and yellow Lotus 49. But for me it was Clark in the skinny-tyred Lotus 25 with its 1½-litre Coventry Climax V8 motor which provided the greatest thrill as a young enthusiast.

Perversely I suppose we all wanted Dan Gurney in the Brabham or Graham Hill in the BRM to teach him a lesson. Secretly we tried to convince ourselves that it would happen but inevitably we stood and watched the lithe little green car with its yellow stripe and its blue-helmeted driver calmly out-run its strongest opposition. Somehow the Brabham-Climaxes looked too dumpy Gurney sat too high out of the cockpit) while the old spaceframe BRMs looked drab although they were quick. That Lotus 25 and its driver looked as one, in total sympathy all the time. My most vivid recollection is of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in1963. Both Brabhams led the first lap and raised our foolish hopes that Clark was about to be defeated, but with that uncanny smoothness the Scot just slipped ahead ahead after a few laps and drew remorselessly away into the distance. I can always recall feeling a sense of the unreal as Clark cornered that shining little car with its yellow wheels and crisp sounding V8; the 1½-litre days may not have been the most inspiring as far as racing was concerned but the Lotus 25 driven by Jim Clark personally held a constant fascination and captivation which no other driver/car combination has provided.

As far as road cars are concerned, one`s imagination is often sparked at the immediate pre-driving age. By the time I was 14 or 15 I,d got a good idea of the rudiments of driving and was counting the days to my 17th birthday. At the 1961 Earls Court Motor Show I first saw the Jaguar E-type and couldn`t believe it. It was locked on the stand, I remember, and even touching it made me feel self-consciously guilty. How, I wondered, could anyone produce something as striking as that. And it would do 150 m.p.h!

Ever since that day the E-type has re-presented the sort of car I think I`d like to own. In some ways being a motoring journalist makes one blasé and difficult to please. I`ve driven BMWs, Mercedes and Ferraris. But it was only last summer, as I sat in D.S.J.`s 4.2 E-type as we hurtled down the German autobahn en route to the Osterreichring that again I put my finger on the feeling I`d experienced 13 years earlier at the Motor Show


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My two choices are very easy to decide upon and are etched firmly on to my memory. The first, the racing car is the 4½-litre Ferrari competing against the Alfa Romeo 158s at Reims in 1951. The sight of Ascari in the Ferrari pulling out to pass the Alfa of Fangio and both of them passing on either side of Etancelin`s Talboton the Thillois Straight was both frightening and impressive.

Although having tried most of the fast sports cars of the last two decades, the one that set the blood boiling at a time when I was most susceptible was the Mercedes-Benz 300sl. The drive round England and, in particular, the run from Glasgow to Fort Augustus in driving rain at night makes this car stand on a pedestal well above its performance. — M.J.J.

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Opinions of those of us whose ideas were formed long ago are one thing, but what of those whose opinions are being formed currently? Young Steven Tee, son of MOTOR SPORTs production Manager, is immediately emphatic in the choice of cars encountered in his thirteen years which he will carry into the future as his favourites. First of all there was that unforgettable experience some five years ago of dad driving him at over 160 m.p.h. in a road-going Ford GT40. Even to a lad brought up in a world of fast cars and fast driving that was something else! As for racing cars, the scarlet flash of speed and the thrilling howl of the 1974 Formula 1 Ferraris is something indelibly printed on his mind.