Fangio and the coup
It was with a great deal of pride and pleasure that I read the article 6000 Miles to Caracas’ by Tony Watson in the October issue of MotorSport.
I believe I may be one of the few who had the opportunity to experience the race as it passed Lima and watched its arrival In Caracas. It so happened that my father was the Venezuelan consul In Lima, Perú at that time.
The race was a major event in South America and most countries were represented by their best drivers. If I remember correctly Perú was represented by Arnaldo Alvarado and Venezuela by Attilio Cagnasso and ‘Dona Barbara’, the competition name of a well-known lady taxi driver.
The cars were basically American coupes, of 1940s vintage, locally prepared with whatever was available after the war. The roads were unpaved, uninhabited and totally barren of any facilities such as gas stations or mechanics’ shops. Hospitals were few and far between, aside from being rustic and under-equipped.
When the race was supposed to arrive in Lima, Colonel Odría led a military uprising against the President of Perú, Mr Bustamante. This forced the organisers to restart the race one day earlier from a town outside Lima. It was here that Juan Manuel Fangio had the accident that took the life of his friend and mechanic Daniel Urrutla. No doubt Fangio had been working on the car and was tired and deprived of proper rest.
I have a clear recollection of this day as my father was declared that very same day persona non grata by the military dictator. Odría, who sent a group of military police to our house and took my father directly to be deported at Limatambo airport. We followed in about two weeks, flying a Panagra DC-4 to Caracas.
In Caracas I had the chance to see the arrival and the confusion as Domingo Marimón was declared winner over Oscar Gálvez, as Gálvez’s car had crossed the finish line without power. Oscar and Juan Gálvez were sponsored by President Juan Peron (Evita’s husband) and hired lawyers to challenge the verdict. The cars were placed under judiciary safekeeping for the duration of the trial. Later Oscar Gálvez’s car was inspected and found to be in perfect working order. The hand of God?
The need for financial support challenged the Imagination of the entrants in order to raise money. One particular Peruvian racer had painted on his car the image of ‘El Señor de los Milagros’ (The Lord of Miracles), the Lord patron of Lima. He would park the car in front of churches before mass and ask for monetary contributions. As far as I know he never showed particularly well in the race. God makes miracles, but does not race cars!
I had the privilege of meeting Fangio later in Caracas as he was promoting a Buenos Aires-Caracas rally to commemorate the race. It was like meeting Stirling Moss, and made me aware of what real gentlemen are like. Juan Manuel Fangio’s real achievements are not shown in any of his records: they were admiration, acknowledgement and respect.
Alfredo Himiob, Florida, USA
‘Britain’s best-loved track’. ‘Well, that is certainly a challenging and potentially controversial headline for your Brands Hatch cover story in the December issue!
It reminds me of when I moved to the Midlands in the mid-60s. I had grown up in East Anglia so Snetterton was my second home, Archie Scott Brown my boyhood hero and the Lister-Jaguar my dream car. Then, after three years studying in Cardiff, I moved to the ‘home’ of the motor industry, Birmingham.
I got involved with a crowd of like-minded motorsport enthusiasts. We went all over the country watching everything from driving tests (now called autotests) and sporting trials to the RAC Rally and F1.
To the home-grown Midlanders, Silverstone was their mecca and I was put down in no uncertain terms when I tried to express my liking for Brands. After the wilderness of Snetterton — the cold, driving rain and wind (I once watched a small tornado/whirlwind over in the direction of the railway line) — Silverstone was yet another ex-airfield. More upmarket, but still flat! I loved the way that Brands went up and down as well as round and round. But I was treated as a sort of traitor for daring to criticise Silverstone. I think I was only tolerated because I was deemed to be a `wellie-wanging windmill winder’ who had escaped from some heathen place over in the East!
Mike Dodman, Bromsgrove
Back to Ak
Your brief Cult Heroes column in the December issue devoted to Ak Miller turned the key of my memory bank and reminded me of the Month of May at Indianapolis nearly 40 years ago, in 1966.
Ak was looking for a drive in the 500 — unsuccessfully as I recall — but it also transpired that we had a mutual interest in table-tennis and enjoyed a few games together during the month. He was no mean player and, although both my wife and I were fairly useful ‘league’ players back in England, neither of us managed to take a single game off him in all those that we played.
I wonder if his memories (if any) of us are as pleasant as ours are and whether he is still playing, as I am, even though he must now also be an octogenarian.
Len Terry, Lincoln
Great feature by Richard Heseltine on this famous and special car (MS December). Interesting to learn that it was so good to drive. More of this type of article, please.
Although unique, this car, like other Delages from 1936, was in fact a modified Delahaye. To be more specific it was a Delahaye 135 Competition with a short-stroke engine, Cotal gearbox and Delage radiator. With its greater power Delahaye’s original version was generally faster but ran in the over 3000cc class, so the Delage version was not seen as a competitor.
Anthony Blight’s wonderful book on French sportscars of the late 1930s provides an outstanding source of information in this respect.
Geoff Whyler, Petts Wood
Sir. It was interesting to see Bruno Giacomelli’s story of his ‘intervention’ in the battle between Niki Lauda and Carlos Reutemann for the 1978 British GP (December issue).
I took the enclosed photograph. I had covered Paddock, Druids and Graham Hill Bend and decided to go to Clearways for the last few laps. I wanted a low-angle three-quarter front view, and to avoid drawing too much attention from the marshals had been slowly edging nearer and nearer the track.
On lap 60 I had just taken the shot and was startled when Reutemann came through on a much tighter line to overtake the pair of them on the inside. I quickly moved away! When you are young you don’t see danger quite the same way.
Michael Hewett, Caterham
Following my Spa shunt in October I hope you will allow a few lines in your magazine for me to thank all those who have sent get well wishes. Sue and I extend our sincere thanks to all of you who have offered and given some really practical help and support. This extends beyond Formula Junior and includes many folks both inside and outside motorsport. Although my recovery is likely to take well into next year I am looking forward to the time when Sue and I can get back to the racing scene, see everyone at the circuits and thank you all personally.
Andrew Spence. Ely
Stub it out
I am saddened that MotorSport, a magazine I have subscribed to for over 30 years, seems increasingly to allow Nigel Roebuck to air his political prejudices in his articles, especially as in the December issue. Smoking in enclosed spaces has nothing to do with motorsport.
If Mr Roebuck wishes to sit at home and smoke himself to death that is fine with me, but surely his freedom should not be so great that he is able to damage the health of those who, of necessity, work in restaurants and bars.
Speed bumps and cameras are a trial at times, but surely preferable to the death of even one child. I hope he never has to try telling a bereaved parent about his freedom to speed unhindered.
His views would be better saved for political publications and he may like to ponder that personal freedom should also include responsibility for yourself and the society in which you live.
John E Porter, by emall
Hail King Billy
I was delighted to read the September article on Billy Coleman.
In April last year I had the pleasure of meeting my hero and, even better, the honour of being driven around Mondello Park by him in a Lotus Elise at racing speeds. He had made the trip from his home in County Cork to give his services free for a tsunami charity event. I was thrilled to sit with him and reminded him of Easter Thursday 1969. I was a schoolboy helping out in my neighbour’s small country garage in rural Dublin when Billy and Dan O’Sullivan called. They were en route to Belfast for the Circuit of Ireland (driving the Mk 1 Tatty Escort, no trailers then!). Vinnie Moy, a brilliant young engineer (now sadly deceased) was working there, having returned from working for Ford in Boreham. Vinnie tuned the Lotus twin-cam engine and drove it up and down the road before the lads went on their way. The rest is history.
This garage had many interesting competition cars, including Vinnie’s own ex-Broadspeed team twin-cam Anglia, a yellow ex-JCB Chevron B8 and an ex-Charles Lucas Titan F3 single-seater. The last two were campaigned by Bosco O’Brien (one of the founders of Mondello Park).
Billy remembered the day and remarked how well the car ran. A true gentleman, and yes, he will always be a legend in Ireland.
John Drake, Co Meath