Boys will be boys
What happens when you let some of the greatest drlvers of a generatlon loose in 1100cc saloons?
One-make races, as regular readers might already have noticed, are not my favourite thing. Once in a while they were regarded by some motor manufacturers as a usefully headline-grabbing one-off promotion.
Fifty years ago, right at the end of the 1962 racing season, BMC ran just such an event for the Molyslip Trophy, a 15-lap supporting race to the Autosport 3-Hours at Snetterton. While the feature event was quite sufficiently unusual at that time, by starting in evening light and running into the dark, the Molyslip Trophy was for saloon cars, but not just ordinary, run-ofthe-mill saloons. Instead, the field comprised a dozen of the then brand-new BMC AD016s or Austin and Morris 1100s. At one stage early in the race Christabel Carlisle led the entire pack but the battle developed with Graham Hill and Michael Parkes making the running, their twin 1100s just inches apart, ferociously pursued by Graham Warner, Sir John Whitmore, Jack Brabham and the rest. Rally star Don Morley drove one of the cars, Jimmy Clark another, while Alan Hutcheson — a Riley 1.5 regular who had a somewhat controversial reputation at the time for aggressive manouevring, a precursor of almost any modern BTCC contender — was also in that unruly pack.
I guess within such a scenario someone had to draw the short straw, and in this case it was the Cooper F1 team's No 2 driver Tony Maggs who found himself, as one report put it, "...on the end of a multiple lateral evasive manouevre on the Home Straight. He was forced onto the grass where he went flat-out head-on into an earth bank put there to protect the flag marshals. The car was badly lozenged and the mountings for his safety harness were strained to the utmost, but his straps held him long enough(!) to ensure that he was completely unscathed. Scratch one 1100. Shortly after this Alan Hutcheson got into difficulties" — presumably he spun — "...and Jimmy Clark and Roy Salvadori, who had earlier been right up at the front but were delayed in the Maggs incident, became unavoidably involved in the ensuing shunting match, which resulted in their retirement...".
John Whitmore always had an ability to make the most out of low-powered saloon cars, never scrubbing off speed he could not retrieve, and as the 15 laps ran out he "got to the front, time and time again, and actually led across the timing strip on the last three laps, finally getting the decision from Graham Hill by little more than the thickness of a tyre".
Graham Warner — head of the Chequered Flag dealership and racing team — and Michael Parkes finished third and fourth. Just in case it's of interest, John got his 1100 around the old Snetterton circuit in a fastest-lap time of 2 minutes 24.2 seconds, 67.65mph. From my recollection of the 1100 that's remarkable. I guess over Snetterton's ripples and bumps the self-levelling, roll-controlling Hydrolastic suspension must have worked pretty well.
That year's 3-Hour race itself fell to Michael Parkes's dark-blue Equipe Endeavour/ Mar anello Concessionaires-entered Ferrari 250GT0, but Jimmy Clark had starred in John Ogier's Essex Racing Team Lotus 23 despite progressively losing gears after stripping first as he popped the clutch at the start. As his car staggered off the startline, the potential dangers of a brand-new RAC diktat were highlighted. The Snetterton pit straight was quite wide and starting grids there had habitually been arranged to allow five cars abreast, 5-4-5-4. The RAC had already condemned that pattern as posing unacceptable risk, instead making event organisers line up their cars 4-3-4-3. But when the organisers for that year's 3-Hour race had applied for their permit, they had asked for an increase in the previous maximum number of starters. The RAC's response had been to allow the increase, while specifying instead a 3-2-3-2 grid pattern with a minimum 20 yards between rows. This placed the back row way down around the old Paddock Bend, which became the site of the Russell chicane in later years. The consequence that Jimmy's terrible start highlighted was that as he staggered off the startline he was being passed on both sides by cars which had been accelerating for several hundred yards before ever reaching him, so they were flashing past him within mere inches at a differential speed of 80-90mph and rising...
Jimmy later admitted that this had been one of the most terrifying experiences of his entire career. Had the track been wet and his Lotus hidden within a cloud of spray it could have been catastrophic. As it was he got away with it, and after just five laps he had taken third place and two laps later was poised to take the lead. But at Riches Corner the Lotus 23's fuel filler cap sprang open and a plume of spilling fuel followed the car down into The Hairpin. Jimmy tried to reach out and shut the cap, but with fuel splashing onto the rear tyres his car spun and he lost five places.
At 30 laps Jimmy had recovered to take the lead from Parkes's Ferrari, but as darkness fell he began losing more gears. Under braking into The Hairpin his Lotus was then suddenly, literally, lit up at the rear as leaked oil surged onto the hot exhaust and ignited, only for sharp acceleration to blow out the fire. Dick Protheroe's E-Type Jaguar briefly helped light the pits by catching fire there. But after three hours Michael Parkes won for Ferrari, amongst 24 finishers from 35 who had started. Just ten seconds before the maroon was fired to signal the finish, the PA system's main electrical cable was accidentally severed — so the event ended in silence, to widespread confusion amongst those hardy spectators who had stayed on.
Somehow, that 1962 3-Hour meeting had just about seen Snetterton at its best. Certainly Jim Clark would remember it, as indeed did Tony Maggs... and, no doubt, BMC's bean counters, too. One third of their brand new promotional race field had just ended up bent and one written off. So tell me, Hoskins, whose idea was this?