Continental notes, July 1962

These pages, as the name implies, usually refer to happenings on the Continent of Europe or such things as affect the Continent, but last month it was more than worthwhile to visit England in order to gather some Continental knowledge. At Motor Show time the Guild of Motoring Writers organise a day at Goodwood at which journalists may drive all the latest models round the circuit, but it has always been a bone of contention that Goodwood Guild Day is a “closed-shop” affair where the cars are restricted to British manufacturers and only Guild members are allowed to drive. Being a non-member and preferring Continental cars to most British products this “closed-shop” outlook was no great loss to me. If one drives nothing but British cars then British cars must be best. Consequently when I heard that a day of dicing was being organised at Silverstone, on the full outer circuit, for journalists who were unbound by Union rules or ties of the “old chums act” I sped hot foot for the Northampton circuit. The day was very much “open house,” with a long line of Continental and American cars lined up in the paddock, and a pleasant air of freedom from tickets, vouchers, permits and so on.

The day was organised by Total Oil Products (G.B.) Ltd., the English part of the French petrol company, who are beginning to get a footing in Great Britain. Total had gathered together a fine array of cars of foreign manufacture through the kindness of the various British concessionaires who handle the cars in the U.K. Some twenty different makes were represented and rather than list those who were there it would be easier to list those that were not. Notable absentees were Porsche, Saab and Ferrari; although Maranello Concessionaires were not present there was a Ferrari in the paddock, but more of that later. Three laps of the Silverstone circuit with each car was the order of the day, and there obviously being more cars than hours I restricted myself to the more exciting and sporting cars, especially the G.T. cars. Looked after by Alfa Romeo man Guidotti, with Ken Rudd in attendance to assist, was a splendid array of the Milan products and of these I tried the normal Giulietta Sprint, a very refined and nice little G.T. car, then the Sprint Speciale, which is the one with the very sleek and lengthened bodywork, highly tuned engine and 5-speed gearbox, and finally the 2.6-litre 6-cylinder “Spyder” introduced this year, with disc brakes and 5-speed gearbox. I had previously tried the new 2.6-litre round the Montlhery road circuit, but at Silverstone it really came into its own and was very nice on the fast corners, if a bit rolly on the slower ones, but the 5-speed Alfa Romeo gearboxes, on the SS and the 2.6-litre are absolutely first class, the ratios being as near perfect as makes no odds, the synchromesh and the change up or down putting this gearbox among the four best that I know, For anyone who knows and likes gearchanging, the Alfa Romeo 5-speed is one of the joys in life.

By kind permission of racing-driver Michael Taylor, who is the man behind Maserati Concession Ltd., it was possible to sample a 3500GT Maserati coupe, first being taken for a ride by Michael and then being given a free hand. This car, which has Italian engine, German ZF gearbox, English suspension and axles, English accessories and Italian coachwork, is a most interesting vehicle. The name Maserati is one that means something in sporting circles and by designing a production car that uses the best-for-the-price from various countries Maserati can sell the 3500GT in Italy for a lot less than the equivalent Ferrari. Anyone who suggests that the Maserati 3500GT is better than a Ferrari 250GT must be biased, in the same way that it would be ridiculous to suggest that an E-type Jaguar was better than an Aston Martin DB4GT., but when price is a consideration there is another side to the story. The 3,500-c.c. Maserati is not a G.T. car in the competition sense of the letters, it is more a “roadster,” but a very fast one for 145 m.p.h. is not unlikely for the Maserati, white the acceleration is something worthwhile, the Lucas fuel injection on the six-cylinder engine making for terrific pulling power. The 5-speed ZF gearbox is one of those that you tend to use just for the joy of gearchanging, even though the car will accelerate most impressively in 5th ; the steering is beautifully light and accurate, but under stress the tail breaks away all too easily, and I don’t think I would enjoy driving from Naples to Sicily in the standard product.

I dream of the day when Motor Sport sells a million copies, instead of the mere 130,000 or so it does today, for then it may be possible for the Proprietor to buy me a Ferrari 250GT with body by Scaglietti, for my travels round Europe. When that day arrives life will be complete, except for the fact that Ferrari will have produced a better car by then. If the short-chassis, 3-litre V12-cylinder, disc-braked Ferrari is not the last word in G.T. cars than I would like to know what is. There are not many cars I would give my right arm to own, with no hope of using, but the 250GT coupe Ferrari is one of them—you would not need to drive the thing, you could just stand and drool over it in the garage. Maranello Concessionaires did not have a demonstration car at Silverstone but they were very lucky in having an enthusiastic customer, one Maurice Baring who had recently taken delivery of a 250GT with bodywork in steel, against the competition version’s aluminium, but otherwise identical. In Italian red and chrome the car looked superb and Mr. Baring kindly agreed to take selected people for rides, not to show off, but to let true believers sample the joys of perfection in G.T. motoring. This is not a car to take Auntie to Brighton, though one could quite easily, but is a car for motoring with a capital M. Every decade there must be a pinnacle in motoring, as you or I see it, not as Mr. Brown views it, or the peasants who must have wheels, but for those of us to whom motoring is a religion, a way of life. The Prince Henry Vauxhall, the Blower Bentley, the Bugatti 57SC and now the 250GT Ferrari; you will either know what I mean or think I’m lightheaded, I don’t mind which. To the true believer there is no point in preaching. I feel that Maurice Baring is a true believer, and he has owned all that is best, and worst, in G.T. motoring in his time.

Inter-Continental cars of Egham, Surrey, had a 6.25-litre Facel-Vega present, in which one could be given a ride, but not be allowed to drive. As their representative was George Abecassis it was fun to be driven, for I rode in my first Mille Miglia race with Abecassis. The Facel-Vega gave an impression of wealth and quality and wafted along, but the mechanism between the big Chrysler engine and the rear axle seemed all too simple, or too complicated, depending on your outlook. For me there is no substitute for a perfect 4-or 5-speed gearbox with central lever that just cries out to be used. The Facel-Vega had a system of automatic transmission or movable levers that seemed ideal for anyone who either could not make up their minds or could not read a rev-counter. Being the journalist with the shortest legs I was confined to the back seat, while a member of The Motor staff occupied the front passenger seat, and we were wafted round in impressive bursts of silent acceleration. With an o.h.v. engine of 6.25-litres in V8 form the Facel-Vega went, as one would expect it to, but the ride was not as smooth as the outward aspects of the Facel II would suggest. A car I have always wanted to try, but never had the opportunity, is the Volvo P1800 coupe. The rugged and honest 4-seater saloon Volvo I know well enough, but the coupe I did not know. Thanks to Total Petrol and Volvo Concessionaires of London, I was able to sample the P1800, with right-hand drive. I was not disappointed, but equally I was not over-enthusiastic, for this is a car that is in my category of G.T. motoring, being a direct competitor to the Porsche 1600 Super. It steered nicely, had a short mechanical gearchange like an M.G.-A, went well enough, but left little impression. Certainly a car with no vices or bad points, but equally a car with surprisingly little character. A nice looking car and one that is selling well in “neutral” countries like Belgium or Switzerland, but at the risk of starting an International incident I must say that it is typically Swedish. A friend has just changed his Porsche Super 1600 for a Volvo P1800, I wish him “Good Luck” and will see him in 150,000 miles. Of all the Agents at Silverstone that day the Volvo ones left an impression, for their parting words were “we cannot give you a P1800, but here is a model of one,” presenting me with a Danish model Volvo. Regular readers will recall that when the Editor of Motor Sport visited the Volvo factory he was met in a 1927 Volvo saloon. That sort of P.R.O. work is appreciated by enthusiasts.

To complete the day I tried the latest creation from Stuttgart-Unterturkheim, not to be confused with Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen. This was the Mercedes-Benz 300SE with all-independent suspension by pneumatic means, fuel-injection, automatic gearbox, power steering, in fact the lot, as exemplified by Citroen many years ago. This vast saloon really stormed along, appeared to be completely out of control the whole time, but like the 2 c.v. Citroen the wheels never left the road nor did control ever leave the driver, providing he kept working away to the accompaniment of Wagnerian music. That a car the size and shape of the 300SE should be so controllable at all times, even when taking Beckett’s Corner like a ship at sea, says a great deal for Mercedes-Benz knowledge of steering, suspension and road-holding. Chief Engineer Uhlenhaut once told me that the big 3-litre 6-cylinder Daimler-Benz engine was unbreakable, and demonstrated the fact round Stuttgart one time, but after three laps of Silverstone, when the “hold in 3rd gear” lever was the only way of slowing sufficiently for Stowe Corner, I now disagree with him!

With “foreign products” ringing in my ears I got on my foreign motorcycle, with transverse twin engine and shaft drive, and headed for home, quite happy in the knowledge that there is not much wrong with the Continent. But I am biased, I spend a lot of time in Europe and I even use Total petrol when in France. The Porsche on 9.5 to 1 compression does not pink on their Super brand, but, more important, I find that I can get Castrol XL oil at Total garages, even though Total make their own oil, whereas Shell, Esso or B.P. do not want to know about Castrol oil in Europe. I’m all for freedom and the best is the best, irrespective of nationality.

To return to Continental matters, two big races in May brought to a head an absurd situation. The first was the 1,000-kilometre race at Nurburgring, where the situation as regards categories reached its height. Last year the F.I.A. said that 1962 would see a World Championship for Manufacturers of G.T. cars, at which Jaguars pricked up their ears, as no doubt did Daimler-Benz. But then the F.I.A. said there would be three G.T. categories. Group I up to 1,000 c.c., Group II up to 2,500 c.c., and Group III up to 4,000 c.c., and each group would have a World Champion decided on points gained at Sebring, Targa Florio, 1,000 kilometres, Le Mans and the Tourist Trophy. So there would be three World Champion G.T. cars, at which point Jaguar lost interest. To win a G.T. Championship outright is interesting; to win a third of the Championship is absurd. This scheme was to replace sportscar racing in the big events and it did not need much imagination to name the three winners as Abarth in Group I, Porsche in Group II and Ferrari in Group III. Seeing how few people supported the Tourist Trophy as a G.T. race, the Le Mans organisers said “Not likely, we’ll have sports cars at Le Mans,” and the organisers of the Targa Florio and the 1,000 kilometres quickly agreed, where-upon the F.I.A. were forced to put up a cup for the sports car winner of the classics, the G.T. group already having been named World Champion. Then it was pointed out that if the big races were limited to production G.T. cars, as was the intention, there would be no possibility of trying out new cars. Until a G.T. model was in production it could not be homologated, and until such time it could not compete for the World Championship. The F.I.A. had another hurried think and came up with the new classification of “Prototypes” which allowed “one-off” cars up to 4,000 c.c. Of course, they meant “Prototype G.T. cars” but they didn’t say so.

At the 1000-kilometre race at Nurburgring we saw everything; cars were accepted in the most unlikely categories, an old Tipo 61 Maserati was accepted as a “Prototype,” one Porsche Carrera driver who in all innocence had entered in the G.T. class, afterwards wished he had entered as a sports car, a home-made sports car built from Carrera G.T. parts was accepted as a “Prototype” and the Porsche factory entered a full-blooded 2-litre 8-cylinder Spyder sports car as a “Prototype.” Ferrari played fair and entered sports cars, production G.T. cars, the 1962 GTO., and a “Prototype” G.T. car, the G.T.O. with 4-litre engine. Panhard also entered honest “Prototype” G.T. cars, but the Bonnet-Renault was an out-and-out racing/sports car. At one point in the race the leader of the World Championship (for G.T. cars) was a two-year-old Ferrari driven by two German amateurs and they were lying 7th in the overall race, being headed by sports cars and “Prototype” G.T. cars. At the end of the race the German Club would not commit themselves as regards who had won the A.D.A.C. 1000-kilometre race. On paper it had been a round in the F.I.A. World Championship for G.T. cars, but it had been won by a sports car, with a “Prototype” G.T. car 2nd, a phony “Prototype” 3rd and another sports car 4th, the actual winner being 5th! To make matters worse the regulations stated that the race would finish when the first G.T. car completed 44 laps, or 1000 kilometres. This rule was annulled on the morning of the race, for the A.D.A.C. realised that by that time the leading sports car would have covered 46 laps. This change of ruling meant that the way was wide open for a G.T. competitor to protest that the race was stopped short of the specified distance. What a good thing there were no factory-supported Jaguars competing!

The outcome of all this is that the Sports and G.T. classic races have become meaningless on paper, but luckily we are able to continue to view each race individually and on its own merits. The winner at Sebring was the car that covered the greatest distance in 12 hours, the winner of the Targa Florio was the car to complete 10 laps of the Piccolo Madonie in the shortest time, the winner of the A.D.A.C. 1000 kilometres was the first car to cover 44 laps of the Nurburgring, the winner of Le Mans was the car that covered the greatest distance in 24 hours. By ignoring the F.I.A. we can keep a sense of proportion.

At the Monaco Grand Prix a similar situation arose, as regards the Drivers World Championship, a nebulous title that makes quite reasonable and sensible racing drivers become bitter and twisted and lose all sense of decency and honour. Round the streets of Monte Carlo the mechanical mortality rate was very high, with the result that only five cars were running at the finish. The World Championship rules provide points for six places and local Monaco rules allowed anyone within a certain percentage of the distance of the winner to be counted a finisher. Graham Hill was awarded 6th place even though his B.R.M. blew up well and truly eight laps before the finish, and he walked back to the pits in the reverse direction of the race. Consequently he was awarded one Championship point.

Remember 1958 when Mike Hawthorn won the World Championship fair and square by 1 point? The present situation is absurd and has exposed the World Championship for the farce that it really is. A real Grand Prix race is a Grand Prix, and the winner is the first to cross the finishing line. Surely real Grand Prix circuits are big enough to stand on their own and the winner is a Grand Prix driver. These notes are written on the eve of the Belgian G.P. and, World Championship or no World Championship, for me the man and machine that wins the Belgian G.P. on the fabulous Spa-Francorchamps circuit is a champion in his own right. Forget this ridiculous Drivers World Championship, the man who wins the Belgian Grand Prix is a true Grand Prix driver.—D. S. J.

The Tiger Club

Those who enjoy air displays in the old style should note that the Tiger Club is giving such displays at Fair Oaks, near Chobham, Surrey, on August Bank Holiday, at Shoreham on August 19th, and at Southampton or Tollerton on September 16th. Aerobatics, balloon-bursting, parachute jumps and racing enliven these shows and very soon there will be wing-walking on the top wing of a Tiger Cub, experiments with a full-sized dummy having satisfied the authorities. The Tiger Club was five years old this year and membership, which includes Associate, Overseas and Passenger Categories, exceeds 400. Other light aviation fixtures include the Esso Trophy Meeting at Redhill on August 4/5th and National Races at Baginton on August 16/18th.—W. B.

The Shell Country Book, a 384-page volume, beautifully illustrated with colour plates, which sets out to explain countryside things, from pre-history to today, from castle and church to cottage, from sky to earth, sea and water, including animals, birds and flowers, is good value at 21s. (Phoenix House Ltd., 10-13, Bedford Street, W.C.2.)