Historic Racing Cars

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Last Month in our article on historic racing we suggested that some of the cars taking part had rather dubious ancestry or little of the original car now left. The ravages of continual racing are such that many of the cars built in the nineteen fifties have become used up. The quality of the metals used and the standards of workmanship were often far removed from the tool-room with the result that they have not withstood the test of time. Some cars are entirely as they were made by the parent factory, but others have gone through the “famous axe” syndrome, of “six new heads and six new handles. . . but it is still the original axe.” As Michael Bowler says in his letter on page 70 “. . . cars should have a continuous line of history. . .” It is when cars disappear or are broken up and then resurrected that ancestry becomes dubious. The two P25 BRM single-seaters that are racing are examples of total resurrection from the dead. When BRM went over to rear-engined cars they chopped up all the front-engined cars, except one, which is still retained by the Owen Organisation, and used the engines and sundry parts to build the rear-engined P48 cars. When Tom Wheatcroft decided to resurrect the front-engined BRMs he acquired the rear-engined cars, or their remains, salvaged the engines and odd bits and pieces and reconstructed three of the front-engined P25 models. The first was 2510 which had destroyed itself in the monumental crash at Avon in 1959. A new chassis frame and body were made and as many original parts were used as possible; the resultant car on show in the Donington Collection is a total resurrection of a car that was crashed and never rebuilt by the factory. While making one new frame and body Wheatcroft decided to make two more and from the rear-engined cars’ remains he salvaged enough to resurrect two more cars, though nobody at BRM could say exactly how the original cars had been used up in the development of the rear-engined cars. One of this pair is raced by Neil Corner for the Donington Collection and it has been kept going by cannibalising the other two cars for spare parts.

Some of the people at BRM scathingly referred to the Wheatcroft chassis frames as “electric-light conduit specials” mainly because they were not made at the BRM factory. A fourth chassis was made for a man with a 4 cylinder BRM engine and some bits and pieces. These were built up into the car that Lamplough races. The only truly original P25 BRM is the one which is kept by the Owen Organisation, assumed to be the car that won the Dutch GP in 1959.

The story of these BRM cars is typical of many cars built in the period 1950-1960 and many Cooper-Bristols, B-type Connaughts, Maseratis and Ferraris went through this form of metamorphosis. Sometimes a car’s history can be traced almost day by day, even though it may have undergone changes to all the major components, others disappear and are never changed, while many pass into oblivion to reappear many years later apparently totally resurrected. For sale in the Trade at the moment is a 1952 Osca 2-litre Formula Two car which has led such a sheltered life that it could almost claim to still have the original air in the tyres. It was raced in 1953 by Elie Bayol and then put away when the Grand Prix Formula changed in 1954. It remained unused and untouched until it was discovered in about 1972 and all it needed was a complete strip and clean up. It has barely run since then and really is the genuine Osca No 2001. In complete contrast are some of the Cooper-Bristols that were contemporary with this Osca. One particular one was converted into a 2-seater sports car, when its useful Formula Two life was finished and it was raced quite successfully in club-racing until it was more or less “used-up”. Another Cooper-Bristol owner bought it as a useful source of spare parts and eventually all that was left of the original car were a few bits and pieces in a box. Recently these bits and pieces were retrieved from the box and formed the nucleus for a total resurrection and the Cooper-Bristol that now stands on modern wheels and tyres is not even a good replica of the original car. Another one ended its useful life having the back of the chassis cut off and the front part welded into a hill-climb special. When this was resurrected into a Cooper-Bristol a new rear end was made, another engine and gearbox acquired, sundry bits were made and the end result is a passable reconstruction of the original car.

Roderick Macpherson has been in touch with us to point out that his number one Cooper-Bristol, which he unfortunately crashed rather badly last August, has a very continuous history which stamps it as the Mark 2 car that Ken Wharton drove in 1953, or at least many parts of that car. After being raced by Wharton it passed to Anthony Crook Motors, where it lay with a blown-up engine. In 1955 it went to Australia and led an active life fitted with first a Holden engine and then a V8 Chevrolet engine. In 1966 it came back to England, less its engine and a Bristol engine was installed by the new owner Stephen Curtis. It was all rebuilt back to 1953 standard as far as possible, though it used a Bristol gearbox and not an ENV preselector gearbox as it had in Wharton’s day. The original Cooper cast-alloy wheels were no longer safe (old age and metal fatigue) so were replaced by modern alloy wheels as the original patterns for the Cooper wheels had been destroyed. It was raced in historic events by Curtis and in 1973 passed to Robert Cooper (no relation to the car builders) who raced it in VSCC events. In 1978 Macpherson bought it and raced it continuously until his accident at Donington Park last year, but it is now being rebuilt.

This would appear to be a good example of a car that has had many parts changed throughout its life, but the continuous thread has not been broken. It is not the actual car that Ken Wharton raced but is ostensibly the same one; the “six non heads and six new handles on the axe” syndrome, unlike the Osca mentioned earlier which really is “the original axe”. Another car that has gone through the “new beads and handles” syndrome, due to being raced regularly and thus worn-out and used-up, is the DBR4 Aston Martin that Richard Bond drives so well for Geoffrey Marsh. Fundamentally this is one of the 1959 works Grand Prix Aston Martins, but all that is left of the original car is the gearbox/final drive unit, the lower part of the chassis, the rev-counter, the radiator and the odd bracket or clip. The ravages of time and wear-and-tear have caused everything else to be renewed and it has been using a 3-litre Aston Martin engine from one of the works DBR1 sports cars, and at other times a production 3-litre engine. A car with a history, but hardly an historic car in the true sense of the term.

The problems and controversies within the historic car scene are many and fascinating and very interesting, as long as we do not take it all to seriously. A couple of years ago there was an historic car race following the British GP and in the paddock the atmosphere was very serious and tense, there being quite a needle-match between the front-runners, while competition in the various classes was very strong. Everyone thrashed round and drove their hearts out, using their historic machinery to the full and the atmosphere and excitement in the pits was as tense as during the Grand Prix. Later I met a friend who had been spectating on the outside at Copse Corner, in the public enclosure and he said “I enjoyed the Grand Prix, and stayed to afterwards for that old car parade; that was good too…” I made no comment! — D.S. J.

New Exhibits for the Donington Collection

Two more interesting Grand Prix cars have found their way into the Donington Collection of Single-Seater Racing Cars. Motor Racing Developments Ltd. have loaned the controversial Brabham “fan-car”, BT46/6B, in which Niki Lauda won the 1978 Swedish Grand Prix, the cars’ (there were two of them — Watson drove BT46/4B) only race before the suction fan was banned. The flat-twelve Alfa Romeo-engined Lauda car is the only one of the pair to survive in “fan-car” form.

Walter Wolf has loaned Wolf WR1, in which Scheckter scored a first time out victory in the 1977 Brazilian Grand Prix, gave the Cosworth DFV its century with a win in the Monaco Grand Prix and later in the same year won the Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport.

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