The Bol D'Or
The Bol d'Or must surely be one of the few remaining races that has not changed its character with the passage of time, for it has always been a miniature Le Mans for the private owner rather than for the factories. Limited to "light cars," this annual 24-hour race is one that is run on sheer enthusiasm, both by organisers and competitors, rather than a race run for commerce and it still manages to retain its character of an endurance race rather than a high-speed regularity run. For the 26th occasion of the Bol d'Or a change in the regulations made it possible for two drivers to share a car, whereas in the past only one driver was allowed, and the engine capacity limit was set at 1,600 c.c. Thirty-eight cars took part, representing a wide range of models and types such as are seen at any Club Silverstone meeting and none of them showed any real deviation from true amateur. The circuit used for this 24-hour race was the 6.3 kilometre one at Montlhèry, using one-half of the banked track and part of the road circuit, and at 5.45 p.m. on Saturday 36 drivers sprinted across the track in a Le Mans-type start to the cars waiting in front of the temporary pits constructed in the starting area of the track. The reason that only 36 drivers went off when the flag fell was because the two English entries were still filling their fuel tanks. These two were the Horridge Special, consisting of a Jowett Jupiter chassis fitted with a Riley Sprite engine and Wilson gearbox, with a rather odd-looking, though simple and effective, body. This was being driven by the owner, John Horridge, and the French driver George Trouis. The second English entry was a Ford-Lotus belonging to R. Hardy with Gerard Crombac sharing the driving. The atmosphere of the Bol d'Or is one of relaxed freedom with only vague attentions to rules and regulations as and when they are needed, consequently competitors have to keep their wits about them to keep up with the organisers, and vice-versa. The start was actually only half an hour late and this caught the two English teams napping, but being the Bol d'Or they joined in the fray as soon as they were ready, having lost just over a lap to the other competitors.
A lone Porsche 1,500 Super, belonging to the French driver G. Olivier, swept away into the lead, being by far the fastest car running and at the end of the first hour it had built up a considerable lead. Co-driver was the Belgian girl Gilberte Thirion, who took over later on and kept going at a very regular pace, but not, quick enough to prevent a two-seater Panhard, driven by de Burney and Etienne, from keeping on the same lap. Following came a very neat home-built special constructed around Fiat 1,500 parts, with three Solex carburetters, special exhaust system and a fully-enveloping body. It ran remarkably quietly and smoothly and its speed was deceptive but it was running in third place, driven by the owner Poulain and L. Renvoise. On the same lap was another special, this one built around 4 cv Renault parts, having the engine at the front of a tubular chassis with a normal one-piece rear axle. This car, called a Ferry, was a very neat affair and was showing a surprising turn of speed and regularity, driven by a young French driver named Hugonet and an elderly but experienced French amateur named Profichet. Two laps behind came three cars in a group, Dubois and Contet with an MD coupé, Chancel and Malroux with a Panhard coupé and Botchaco and Cotton with a two-seater DB Panhard. The MD was one of a team of three cars built around Peugeot 203 components with very professionally-built coupé bodies, two of which had standard-size Peugeot engines and the third, of Dubois and Contet, having an enlarged engine to put it in the 1,600-c.c. class. The Panhard coupé was a new one with a longer and sleeker looking body than normal, while the DB was a well-worn Le Mans two-seater. Following these was running one if the smaller engined MD coupés and then came the Horridge Special very well after missing the start. The Bol d'Or sees the rare sight of racing cars running with sports cars, for there is a racing class of cars up to 1,100 c.c. and being a 24-hour event they have to be equipped with headlamps, which must surely be the only occasion on which single-seaters race with lights. There were two single-seaters running, both built around Simca-Fiat 1,100-c.c. components, and in the same class was the Lotus, running without front mudguards, thus qualifying as a racing car. Of the single-seaters, the Simca-Cesure, driven by de Voos and Baldini, was going steadily, though not outstandingly fast, while the Simca-Monopole was going slowly.
As the hours passed darkness came and the its became a feverish scene of waving torches and signalling boards, most of which were seen by the drivers more by intuition than anything else. The two English cars were being operated as one team and had a very efficient signalling board illuminated by a neon tube, while others used spotlamps to illuminate the signaller and his board. One equipe signalled a driver to come in to refuel by shining a torch on a fuel funnel, the driver presumably knowing his own personal funnel! The Porsche team were very badly prepared for the dark and Mlle. Thirion went of for lap after lap without seeing the frantic signals her pit were giving her. The whole pit area was lit by a row of bulbs that illuminated the pit-counters, but little else, and as the cars were passing at their maximum speed the is whole scene was rather confusing. However, it was all part of the delightfully informal atmosphere and as the night wore on some people fell asleep, others produced vast quantities of food and drink and many started working steadily on their cars in order to keep them running. One Peugeot 203 team ran a big-end and set quietly about dismantling the engine and fitting a new bearing. Crombac ran the Lotus into a ditch when the radiator blew steam all over him. The rules permitted only the driver to work on the car if it was away from the pit area, though at the pits the number of helpers was unlimited. The near-side front suspension of the Lotus was too badly bent to allow its return to the pits so Crombac went off to Paris and dismantled the suspension from another Lotus he had there and returned with the complete assembly. Hardy then carried the parts to the derelict car and proceeded to fit them by the road-side, eventually getting the car raceworthy again and rejoining the fray, having lost about four hours. The Peugeot engine rebuild was completed and it too rejoined the race.
The Porsche was still going round at an impressive speed, way out ahead of the rest of the competitors, and in second place was the little Ferry-Renault giving a most impressive demonstration, while just behind it the Fiat 1,500 Special was keeping a steady and quiet third place. Then came Botchaco and Cotton with the DB, followed by Sigrand and Celerier with the 1,300-c.c. MD. the larger car of this make having succumbed to a big-end. Three laps behind the MD was running the Horridge-Riley going remarkably well and a long way ahead of the next car which was a Simca Aronde with a special coupé body. By mid-morning on Sunday things looked to have settled down to a processional finish and Mlle. Thirion was circulating with the Porsche well in the lead, when she suddenly arrived at the pits in neutral with a ticking noise coming from the back. Olivier took the car round for a lap to see what the trouble was and returned a long time later to retire with a broken crown-wheel and pinion, the tick having become an ominous clonk. This was all most unexpected and woke everyone from their mid-morning slumbers, for the sun was now very hot. About the same time the Fiat 1,500 ran a big-end and the drivers decided to do a very quiet lap every now and then as they had been going so well that with only one lap for each remaining hour they would still be well up in the classification. All this now left the little Ferry-Renault in the lead and the pit crew became unbelievably excited. At 20 hours the little grey Ferry was eight laps ahead of the black coupé MD which in turn was eleven laps ahead of the Horridge-Riley. Four laps behind came the Aronde coupé and then the single-seater Simca-Cesure still sounding surprisingly healthy and in fact all these cars were running as well as at the beginning. The Panhard of Botchaco and Cotton had stripped a timing gear and everyone was busy fitting a new one. Shortly before the 21st hour the Ferry came in for a refuelling stop and when the starter button was pressed nothing happened. There was a big pandemonium while the battery was changed, but that made no difference and it was found that the starter motor had burnt out. Now the rules insisted that cars could not be push-started and here was the little Ferry perfectly sound with the engine unable to start as there was no provision for a handle. This was most embarrassing for everyone, for its performance until now had been appraised on all sides and it thoroughly deserved to win, but the rules said it could not be push-started. After trying in vain to make the starter work the Director of the race, Eugene Mauve, who has been the power behind the Bol d'Or since its inception, agreed to let them push-start the car, providing they didn't go beyond the pit area. This was done and away went the Ferry, back into the race, but now many people felt this was a rather violent breaking of the rules, and that a protest ought to be made, but the Ferry equipe were such a nice crowd and so deserving, of victory that no one really had the heart to protest. While the matter was being contemplated the Ferry returned to its pit as something seemed wrong and the plugs were changed. Another push-start was essayed and as the engine fired there was an ominous clonk and a pool of oil appeared under the car. A mechanic picked up what appeared to be a big-end cap and the gallant little car was pushed away, to everyone's sorrow. The matter of protesting was now settled and the MD was now in the lead, still going at a very comfortable pace, with the Horridge-Riley second, but too far away to be a danger. Third was the special-bodied Aronde, followed by the Simca-Cesure single-seater, a Panhard Junior, driven by Biasuz and Atienza, a Panhard coupé, driven by George and Costa, and then a perfectly standard Simca Aronde saloon that was running like a clock.
The final hour saw only 21 cars still running, the Fiat 1,500 Special doing a very slow lap every now and then, a 4 cv Renault going equally slowly with its big-ends knocking louder on every lap, the Lotus consuming vast quantities of water as the head gasket had blown, and others driving with crossed fingers, for the race had proved to be a real test of endurance. With only a few minutes to go to the completion of the 24 hours, the leading MD suddenly went sick and ran slower and slower and it began to look as though the Horridge-Riley might win, for it was still going as well as ever, but the MD just managed to complete the 24 hours before it finally succumbed.
Being a race on distance covered in 24 hours many of the cars that retired had completed enough laps to remain well up in the General Classification, and the little Ferry was placed ninth, and the Porsche 20th, though both had stopped running. Although only 21 cars were still running at the end, 26 were classified, having completed more than the required minimum number of laps. The 26th Bol d'Or had lived up to the reputation set by its predecessors and was a true endurance race for the amateur drivers, providing an excellent 24 hours of sport for all concerned