Motor-racing history is littered with puzzles for historians to try to unravel and just recently quite a number have surfaced, which readers may care to devote some thought to. After which, we may be able to have a discussion about them.
The article last December about the Jameson is a case in point. The chassis of this advanced supercharged two-stroke racing car was apparently that of one of the 2-litre V12 GP Delage team. The problem is, which one?
The Jameson problem does not rest there, however. I have been reminded that, apart from the racing car we described in which Sir Malcolm Campbell showed an interest, an earlier one was designed, perhaps built, for Earl Howe, although I do not think he ever raced it. It had a slide-valve two-stroke supercharged engine, as shown in the accompanying drawings, and one wonders if reference to a Jameson with a Bugatti chassis might have referred to this car? Prior to that, Jameson had run a rear-engined 500cc car in sprint events.
On the subject of engines, David Harrison, who owns that fine Edwardian racing Renault, has raised the matter of the exact size of the 1907 Kaiserpries Darracqs, the dimensions of which are variously quoted in Gerald Rose’s usually authoritative record of early motor-racing as 140 x 130, 139.9 x 130 and 150 x 113mm. And as Mr Harrison points out, the first of these dimensions give an engine-capacity of 8005.8cc, which would surely not have been allowed in a race for cars not exceeding 8 litres?
Then I have been taken to task for calling the engine of the famous ex-Malcolm Campbell 350hp V12 Sunbeam a Manitou, in our recent “Too Big, Too Late” item. I did this so as not to confuse the issue, as the detailed antecedents of this 18,322cc car were not then in question. Anyhow, that is how it was described when the car first appeared, although later its creator, Louis Coatalen, admitted that it had been specially designed for the car and Anthony Heal’s masterful book Sunbeam Race Cars-1910-1930 (Foulis, 1989) goes into this and illustrates the three-valve-per-cylinder, two-plug head used, with valve-gear of the kind associated with the war-time Sunbeam Arab aero-engines.
The great and very successful Sunbeam made its initial appearance in anger in October 1920 but I believe it wasn’t until he wrote a piece for the BARC Year Book in 1924 that Coatalen explained that the car had an engine with, as expected, a car-type crank-case and a direct-drive crankshaft. Prior to that it had been said that the car’s engine was “obviously the outcome of experience with aero-engine plants.” But by the summer of 1920 The Autocar explained that the engine was not, “as had been erroneously stated”, a 350hp aero-engine but one which had been specially designed for racing purposes, from racing experience, allied to the maker’s knowledge of high power aero-designs gained during the war.
Thus Coatalen, who was fond of the supposition that “The racing-car of today is the touring-car of tommorrow”, had the best of both worlds, with publicity for his automobile research and his aero-engine expertise! But why did he use a combination of Manitou and Arab for the car, with the number of valves-per-cylinder not being stated in early descriptions of it (the Manitou had four)? The not-so-very-successful Sunbeam Arab aero-engine was a vee-eight, so the cylinder heads could not have been used for V12 car, apt as Coatalen was at adopting anything that was handy in the factory. Perhaps it was simply that the Arab valve gear and head were better suited to a racing-car and by using wartime drawings the design-staff saved time? — WB
History is known to repeat itself and this is as true of motor-racing as it is of other pursuits. For example, last season there were those shuntings-off and close-encounters at the corners which modern F1 cars take so fast, under braking that often represents the divide between victory and defeat, Senna and Prost and then Mansell and Senna being in the forefront of this highly skilled, dangerous driving. The matter crystallised with Senna’s admission that he had deliberately run into Prost during the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix.
This has reminded me of a similar incident that happened before the war. It involved Manfred von Brauchitsch and Hermann Lang in the 1938 Coppa Ciano Grand Prix, on the Livorno circuit. According to the MOTOR SPORT Continental Correspondent at that time, presumably our ‘man-on-the-spot’, the aristocratic von Brauchitsch and ‘mechanic-madegood’ Lang were battling towards another victory for Mercedes-Benz. They were wheel-to-wheel, or as they said in those days, ‘bonnet-to-bonnet’, as they raced past the pits into the long, fast right-hand bend that followed. Brauchitsch forced the pace into the corner, causing Lang to lift off a shade. Then von Brauchitsch decided that it was not possible to pass, but noting that Lang was giving ground, changed his mind and opened up. He used too much power and spun round, clouting the straw bales which guarded the corner. The excited Italians rushed to his aid, although he waved them back, presumably hoping he could re-start his Mercedes unaided and avoid disqualification. He continued the race, which Lang would have won, had the latter not had a tyre go. I believe Mercedes-Benz had expected tyre problems and that Lang had been told to drive with circumspection, ready to take over from other team drivers if the need arose, or to let them use his car, as was permissible then. Instead, he and Brauchitsch tied for fastest-lap, at 89.2mph, and the latter crossed the finish-line first although Count Trossi’s Maserati had overtaken Lang and Caracciola to lead in the early stages, running away from them until his engine expired.
Caraccrola had also retired, so von Brauchitisch was acclaimed the winner. A handsome man, popular with the ladies, he was presented to the Countess Ciano at the post-race celebration. It was hours later that, following a protest by Furmanik, a furious Lang was given the race, von Brauchitsch disqualified, against the wishes, it seems of the RAC!
Two of the Maseratis driven by Italians in the small-car race had been pushed back onto the course at the same spot as the Mercedes but were not disqualified. Mercedes-Benz secured photographs of the incident which had involved their car and considered a counter-protest to the AIACR, but refrained. All of which has topical overtones . .
You will not have forgotten that after Mansell’s unhappy spin-off in the 1991 Japapnese GP he blamed it on the brakes playing up. Well, at Pescara in 1938 there was the incident of the Ecurie Bleue Delahayes. Dreyfuss was supposed to lead Comotti but the latter would not obey, and Dreyfuss signalled his displeasure. The American Laurie Schell, controlling the team, thought that the fist-waving was at Belmonda, whose Alfa Romeo appeared to be obstructing the two French cars. He protested to the RACI, then realised that it was Dreyfuss who was furious that Cornotti was ahead of him. A terrific scrap resulted, in which Dreyfuss broke his gearbox trying to get past Comotti and Comotti went off the course, for which he blamed the brakes. Schell examined them, found that they were working properly, and cancelled Comotti’s contract on the spot! according to our man who reported these happenings in that Coppa Acerbo race. Finally, in one obituary of TASO Mathieson, who sadly died in Paris last year, it is stated that his last race was at Caen, when he had finished third and decided to do another lap to make sure of this placing, when his Maserati was hit by another car, the driver of which thought the race to be over. TASO was hospitalised for a long time and it is said that he never raced again. But another account has him at Brands Hatch with a Ferrari in 1955 . .
The Caen accident, if correct, recalls another, a much more tragic one, that befell the Swiss driver Gubelin in the 1938 Prix de Bremgarten at Berne. The fastest car in the race, Baron de Graffenrerd’s 1100cc Maserati, seized up on the last lap, within sight of the finish. This encouraged Gubelin to make an extra effort, and he overtook two cars in his BMW and crossed the line the winner. Alas, the official with the flag was distracted by the Maserati stopping and failed to acknowledge Gubelin, who instead of slowing down got into a bad skid, hit the barriers hard, and was killed instantly, within moments of achieving victory…
Verily, history has a habit of repeating itself! – WB