When the historians of motor racing want something to write about in the year A.D. 2000 they may well sing the praises of the nineteen fifties, just as many people now enthuse over the nineteen twenties, and when they do they will be certain to dwell on 1959, partly because it was the last year of the fifties, but mostly because it was the year that the British really got complete mastery of Grand Prix racing and Sports Car racing in the big International fields. Looking back through the past years of motor racing there have been certain epochs belonging to one country or another, or to one manufacturer, as for example the late nineteen twenties which were Bugatti’s heyday, or the early thirties when Alfa Romeo were supreme. Then there were the late thirties dominated by the Germans with Mercedes-Benz and Auto-Union, and the immediate postwar years that saw Italy in complete command of motor racing of all forms. The decade of the nineteen fifties will go down in history as the period over which Great Britain worked away, with success and failure, to finally become a power in the land. In 1950 John Heath and his H.W.M.’s were paving the way, showing that Britain could run a team in Continental events, in spite of the difficult times with restrictions. Then in 1955 Connaught dealt a magnificent blow to Italian supremacy when Brooks won the Syracuse Grand Prix, convincing everyone that an all-British combination could beat the red cars. In 1956, 57 and 58 the magnificent Vanwall team went from strength to strength, culminating in winning the Manufacturer’s championship in 1958 before they withdrew from Grand Prix racing, and in 1959 Cooper and B.R.M. shared most of the season’s winnings, with Cooper taking over the Championship from Vanwall.
In sports car racing the efforts of Jaguars at Le Mans during the nineteen fifties will long be remembered and in 1959 as the decade closed Aston Martin not only continued the British winning tradition at Le Mans, but also at Nurburgring and in our own Tourist Trophy race, thus gaining the Sports Car Manufacturer’s Championship and assisting Cooper in really cleaning-up the big-time racing for this country. 1959 will certainly become a classic year in our racing history for the above reasons alone, but there were many other happenings of note that made it an interesting year to look back on. Without a doubt the driving of Stirling Moss throughout the season can rank in the inspired class, like Fangio’s classic year of 1957 or Ascari’s two outstanding years in 1952 and 1953. It is not possible to detail all the fine driving that Moss did in the one season, but certain efforts stand out above all else, as for example his win for Aston Martin at the Nurburgring 1,000 km., when he drove almost the whole race and fought the entire Ferrari team single-handed, and again in the T.T. at Goodwood his 4½ hours driving out of the total of six really won that race for Aston Martin. In Grand Prix racing his truly remarkable feat was winning at Lisbon in the Portuguese Grand Prix, when he lapped the entire field, including the second man home, all without straining himself or his car. That race was a Moss epic from start to finish, for whereas the fastest driver in practice is usually so by mere fractious of a second, at Portugal Moss was over 2 sec. faster than his nearest rival, and that on a lap time of just over 2 min. One can truthfully say of Moss in 1959 that at no time did he ever give a mediocre performance, no matter what the race, or what the car, and he must have raced more miles than any other driver. Whereas other top flight drivers had “off-days” either in practice or during a race, Stirling Moss never seemed to have such periods, and though occasionally he would say he was not interested in a particular event, as soon as he got in the car he drove his brilliant best right front the word go.
While on the subject of drivers the French champion Maurice Trintignant deserves a mention, for he is amongst the oldest still racing and was racing an old Bugatti when some of our present-day drivers mere in their kari-kots. Trintignant is not in the Moss category and makes no pretence about it, but he has had a remarkably busy racing year and in glance through the results lists published elsewhere in this issue will show that his name is in the running a remarkable number of times. Third at Monaco, 6th at Aintree, fourth at Avus and Lisbon, second at Le Mans and fourth in the T.T. is a record in the classic races he may well be proud of as he completes 21 years of motor racing. The little town of Vergaze in the south of France must surely admire “Monsieur le Maire,” for Trintignant is the Mayor of his home town, a most fitting position for a true Gentleman of France. Going from big-time professional racing drivers to keen amateurs a feat which must be recalled is that of the three German drivers in the Targa Florio. Paul Strahle, Ebehard Malik and Herbert Linge got together and entered two Porsches for the Sicilian race, having no thoughts of getting anywhere, with works cars entered, but intending to have a lot of fun and some terrific driving. The two cars were an RSK sports car and a Carrera GT coupé, and as the cars are started at intervals in the Targa Florio, it being a race against time for some 11 hours, their plan was to do “shift-driving” between the three of them on the two cars. Due to mechanical breakdowns of the works Ferraris and Porsches, they found themselves well in the running and what had started off as something of a holiday and a bit of fun turned out to be a really hard job of work. The result was that the RSK finished second and the Carrera finished fourth, the three of them figuring in the results twice. MaIhe’s comment afterwards was that it had been pretty hard going for when they were not driving the RSK they were driving the Carrera and if they were not doing that they were in the pits keeping a check on progress or refuelling one of the cars. It was a wonderful example if amateur enthusiasm being more than repaid.
In the technical sphere of Grand Prix racing 1959 was notable for three outstanding things, firstly the entry of Aston Martin into Grand Prix racing, with a pure single-seat racing car. Although it achieved no real success in its first season it was a most worthy newcomer to the ranks, beautifully built and prepared and looking every inch a thoroughbred racer. The second happening was the advent of the 2½-litre Coventry-Climax engine, soundly developed from the twin-cam 1½-litre engine, and the introduction of this new full Grand Prix engine was the major reason behind Cooper winning the Manufacturers Championship. Thirdly, at the end of 1959 B.R.M. made a radical change in design and built a car with the engine behind the driver, a thing Cooper has being doing for years in spite of every possible opposition from people who are supposed to know about racing car design. The rear, or mid-engined B.R.M. was not completed in time to race, but showed great promise on test and having taken this bold step in reversing all their previous concepts of racing car design, B.R.M. have started the ball rolling and others will no doubt follow suit, assuming that this layout is the ideal for a Grand Prix car. Other things of note during 1959 were the appearance of the first single-seater pure racing car from the Porsche factory, when they produced their F2 car at Monaco, Borgward’s interest in motor racing shown by supplying engines for certain F2 Coopers, and as the season closed Ferrari reverting to the independent rear suspension, having stuck with the de Dion layout since his second season of Grand Prix racing. Independent rear suspension for the modern Grand Prix car is something that British designers have been strong about for many years, especially on the lighter cars, though B.R.M. and Vanwall stuck to de Dion, but Mercedes-Benz in their two shattering cars of racing in 1954 and 1955 never showed any interest in de Dion, designing their cars with i.r.s., though not being convinced that they had found the best answer.
In America, the year 1959 will be outstanding for being the occasion when an American built car made a serious attempt on the Land Speed record as it is popularly called. Mickey Thompson built a four-engined, four-wheel drive machine to attack John Cobb’s 391 m.p.h. for the flying mile and kilometre, and though he did not achieve his aim he did set up new unlimited-class or World Records for the 5 km., 5 miles, 10 km. and 10 miles, improving on Cobb’s figures by 18, 37, 44, and 15 m.p.h., respectively. Although Thompson did not have sufficient b.h.p. to reach snore than 363 m.p.h. for the two-way average over the 1 kilometre and 1 mile, he obviously had far superior traction and acceleration to the Railton Special, which enabled him to improve on the longer records which are set up while travelling up to and through the all-important measured mile out the middle of the Bonneville Salt Flats. While on the subject of record attempts the Brighton Kilometre Speed Trials must be mentioned, for though of only National status they are significant as a yardstick for performance. 1959 saw the record well and truly broken on four occasions by motorcycle riders on 1,000-c.c. V-twin machines, the best being that of Basil Keys, whose second attempt with his J.A.P. engined Norton Special clocked a time of 21.59 sec. for the standing start kilometre, an average speed of 103.61 m.p.h.
Naturally, with so much racing going on in this country and all over Europe the season was full of interesting happenings, but these are just a few of the really outstanding ones that made 1959 a splendid year on which to close the decade of the nineteen fifties, a period that will become more and more important to Great Britain’s motor racing history and motoring history generally as the years go by. If the ten years of the sixties see as much activity and as many revolutions and outstanding achievements, then the future holds much in store.—D.S.J.