Letter from Europe

[By means of which the Continental Correspondent, while he is motoring abroad, keeps in touch with the Editor.]

Dear W. B.,

Now I have seen everything; when I left the Nurburgring after the 1,000-kilometre race I just happened to make a final tour of the vast paddock and on one of those inexplicable whims I decided to leave by the back gate. As I joined the main road I looked in the mirror and saw an orange Lotus 47 approaching quite fast so I moved over as I accelerated to let it go by. It was a road-equipped one, with number plates and all that sort of thing, and as it carne up behind my “vintage” jaguar I was thinking that the mid-engined sports-coupé has got to become the normal wear, it is so right in all respects. It went by and right behind was an orange Lamborghini Miura, and as if that was not enough, there was a white road-equipped Ford GT40 behind the Lamborghini. All three were obviously together and as they sped by the ordinary traffic nose-to-tail I realised that I was seeing the pattern of sports-car motoring of the very near future. I followed this exotic trio, Lotus 47, Miura and GT40, for some way before I had to turn off, and it was a magnificent sight for anyone who likes motor cars the way we do. Had I left the paddock by the main gate I would have missed seeing “tomorrow” now.

The day of the 1,000-kilometre race was one of those glorious sunny ones that make the Eifel mountain district really enjoyable and I can understand why a lot of people envy those of us who were there. However, it is not always like that and when the clouds come down on the Nurburgring it is awful, but the good days make up for it. When I last wrote to you I was in Sicily for the Targa Florio and I know you think Sicily is always bathed in glorious sunshine, which was true of race day, but the day afterwards everything turned grey and a terrific wind came down from the mountains. It was so strong that aeroplanes could not land at Palermo for two days and a lot of people had to travel by train to Rome, which takes 16 hours, and fly from there. When I motored over the mountains to Siracusa I was in cloud all the way to the top of the mountains and this meant driving for some 40 minutes in 2nd gear at 1,000 r.p.m. peering gloomily into the mists. On the top I came out of the cloud within 100 yards into a perfect Sicilian day and as I motored gaily down into the plains, with the windows open and the dust flying, I looked at the people heading the way I had come and thought “you don’t know what you have got coming to you.”

I saw in the papers that you had the R.A.C. Tourist Trophy race the day after we had the Nurburgring 1,000 km, on Holiday Monday or something, but I gather it was the same day as an International Meeting at the Crystal Palace. This seems to have been a masterpiece of calendar planning by those who try to control the sport in Britain. Isn’t it a crying shame when you recall that we used to look upon the T.T. in the same light as Le Mans or the Targa Florio, when the T.T. was a classic race in the long-distance Championship series. I understand that it was a sort of sprint-race meeting for saloon cars and somebody over here suggested that the R.A.C. are embarrassed at owning the rights and traditions of one of the oldest classic events, and rather than give it to some virile young organisation, are trying to kill it off. It is very sad. Young Andrea de Adamich who won the event with an Alfa Romeo GTA is probably not terribly well known to you, but he has been making good progress on the Continent over the last year or two and seems to have that desirable quality for a racing driver of getting a bit niggled when something goes wrong and then driving in a rage, fast and furiously, but with complete control. I hear he did this in the final of the T.T. (heats and final in the T.T. – oh dear!), spinning off and then charging through the entire field in what appears to be a blind rage, but what is in fact a question of rising to the occasion without doing anything stupid. I saw him do this in a Formula Three race some while ago, he spun off or was elbowed off on the opening lap and the leading pack were wheel-to-wheel and elbow-to-elbow way ahead of him. He pursued them relentlessly and unlike many drivers in a similar situation, when he caught the leading bunch he was so wound up that he carved his way through the lot of them and went away and won. There are a lot of drivers who will make up lost ground in this slightly bad tempered manner, but they either then have an accident, or when they catch the leaders they then start racing with them, their excess tension easing off just too soon. De Adamich seems to have this inborn ability to bring out something extra in his driving when provoked, and this is not something that you are taught at a Motor Racing School.

I still maintain that good drivers are born not made. At the moment de Adamich is way ahead of all his team-mates in the Autodelta Alfa Romeo team, and it was he who was challenging the Porsches at the Targa Florio and at Nurburgring, with the Tipo 33. While on the subject of drivers, I was supping the other night with one who must be having more than his share of misfortune. This is Lucien Bianchi, the Belgian driver, who is what I call a “sporting professional” driver, who gets paid to race, but would race for nothing and still enjoy it. He went to Indianapolis to drive a Ford V8-engined car and failed to qualify in the top 33 by seven-tenths of a second. That was seven-tenths of a second on four laps of the Indianapolis track at an average of well over 160 m.p.h. The following week-end he was sharing a works Porsche with Mitter at the Nurburgring 1,000 km., and they were leading when the battery went flat a half a lap from the end. This was half a lap in a total of 44. At Le Mans he was sharing a Ford with Andretti and they were lying second when a brake locked-on and spun Andretti into the fence and wrecked the car. Bianchi’s failure to get into the Indianapolis race was actually more annoying than it appeared, for he did his qualifying laps on Saturday and was prepared to have another go on Sunday if his time was beaten by enough people to put him out. There were something like eight cars slower than him, so everyone told him that he was quite safe and he could go back to Europe, where he was due to do some testing for Porsche prior to the Nurburgring race. While he was flying home all sorts of people “bumped” him off the grid, including Graham Hill, Stewart and Rindt, with the result that when he arrived in Europe he heard that he was 34th in the qualifying, and first non-starter. He is called “the unlucky one” over here.

While at Le Mans I met a friend of mine who had arrived in his aeroplane, having come from Zandvoort, and after the first day of scrutineering it was a lovely summer evening so he did not need much persuading to take me for a couple of laps of the circuit. I drove him over to the airfield, a vintage grass one that you would appreciate, in the E-type ostensibly to see his aeroplane, as it is rather rare. Nowadays most of the racing fraternity seem to have sleek modern Piper or Beechcraft aeroplanes, but this one was a 1936 Miles Falcon Major, and I think there are only two in existence. It is a three-seater low-wing cabin plane, with a lovely vintage-like Gipsy Major engine that has to be started by swinging on the prop, no fancy electric button starters. We bounced over the rough old grass airfield and flew round the Le Mans circuit, cruising down the Mulsanne Straight at 110 m.p.h. and “understeered” like mad round all the corners. The interesting thing from the air was that I was aware for the first time that the corners at Tertre Rouge, Mulsanne and Arnage are not right-angle bends of 90-degrees, as I thought, but much sharper, about 80-degrees. The Miles Falcon, all screwed and glued together of wood and fabric, has same all-round performance as the E-type. It cruises comfortably at 110 m.p.h., has a maximum approaching 150 m.p.h. and does 15 m.p.g. at over 100 m.p.h. cruising. All the wheels are independently sprung, but it has cable-operated brakes! Circuits and bumps are all good fun, but I still prefer high-speed motoring. – Yours, D. S. J.