Matters of Moment, July 1968

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• Offenhauser at Indianapolis

It is the policy of Motor Sport not to over-publicise new cars before they have proved themselves or we have been allowed to try them and, in the case of racing cars, not to say much or anything about them until they have at least made the starting-grid. Occasionally there have been transgressions, when the Editor’s back was metaphorically turned. But on the whole, we try to stick to this dictum.

We are reminded of it by the failure of the turbine-powered cars at this year’s Indianapolis 500. Prior to the race, they were publicised extensively, and even earned notoriety as the subject of a lawsuit and as likely to spoil the traditions of this unique race, first run in 1911.

What happened? Although the S.T.P.-Lotus-Pratt and Whitney turbine cars were on the front row of the starting-grid, Leonard and Hill having made the best qualifying speeds, none of them finished the race. It was won by Unser’s “out-dated” Eagle-Offenhauser and the second car home was Gurney’s Eagle-Weslake with the only stock-block, push-rod o.h.v. engine in the field of 33. Indeed, Offenhauser-engined cars occupied all the remaining eleven places except the fourth, which went to Hulme’s Ford-powered Eagle, The day of the turbines is not yet, two of them breaking their Pratt and Whitney “fail-safe” fuel pump drives when required to open up quickly after comparatively slow lappery under the yellow warning signals, while Graham Hill’s shed a wheel. Their day must come, for they have the speed, holding second and fourth places in this year’s race at half-distance.

But proclaiming them as unfair competition for the piston-engined cars and likely to ruin racing by their quiet running and effortless speed before they have won, is doing this new form of racing car a dismal disservice. So, while some journalists are trying to shut the door on pre-race optimism which they allowed to escape, we prefer to hand out praise to pistons, as used so effectively by Offenhauser. This conventional twin-cam power unit first appeared at Indianapolis in 1936, was in the winning car in 1937, and has had a splendid record of success there from 1941 to 1964, until, in fact, Clark and the Lotus-Powered-by-Ford broke the run. Instead of enlarging it, to get more power, the race regulations have caused the Offenhausers to be reduced from their original capacity of 4½-litres unblown to the present 2.8-litres, with power boosted by means of exhaust-driven turbo-supercharging. This engine, which adheres to four cylinders and sixteen valves, as pioneered by the Henry Peugeots in 1912, was able to bring Unser his 1968 “500” victory, at over 152 m.p.h. This really is something to shout about, whereas drooling about turbines was counting unhatched still-born chicks.

• Lodovico Scarfiotti

One of the most dismal years for motor racing has brought another fatal accident, that of the Italian driver Scarfiotti, after making fastest practice-time in an 8-cylinder Porsche at the German Rossfeld hill-climb.

Italy has a proud record in top-line motor racing, dating from the days of the great Nazzaro and Lancia and brightly reflected in the performances and prowess of drivers of the calibre of Nuvolari, Varzi, Fagioli, the Ascaris, father and son, Villoresi, Farina and others. Many of Italy’s talented drivers have died in action, from Biagio Nazzaro, and Campari and Borzacchini who were killed on the same day (together with Czaykowski) at Monza, to the Marquis de Portago and Lorenzo Bandini. Now Scarfiotti has gone.

Sympathy goes out to a great motor-racing nation. Italy will surely avenge the deaths of her heroes, in forthcoming Ferrari and Alfa Romeo victories. Meanwhile, we mourn again, this time for the 35-year-old ex-Ferrari driver who brought his Cooper-B.R.M. home fourth, both at Jarama and Monaco, not long before the unhappy accident last month.

• Almost Not Worth While

Last month under this heading we referred to the many new regulations and restrictions which, but for our great enthusiasm, would render motoring almost not worth while. There is, however, a limit to how pessimistic you can get. Consequently, we are surprised that a respected weekly contemporary should have devoted an entire editorial, not to discussing the need or otherwise for all the new laws which insist on safety-belts, 1-mm. tyre treads, alcohol-free breath, double-dipping headlamps (which are virtually impossible to fit at the stipulated spacing on some cars which have been adequately lit for nearly four decades) and a top pace of 70 m.p.h., etc., etc., but to the dire need for every car to be equipped with small, firmly padded head rests. Unless your car is so equipped, we are informed, and it is rammed from behind while it is stationary, you are likely to become wholly or partially paralysed and condemned to a wheelchair for the rest of your life.

The person who wrote this, and those who allowed it to appear in a journal whose purpose is to foster motoring from the user and trade angles, must surely be wondering whether motoring really is worth while. Presumably they would be better off if they stayed permanently in a nice, safe bed . . . on the ground floor, of course, or you may consider that they are justified drawing attention to yet another hazard of the road. Or you may feel they want their heads tested, not against a “pad . . . about eight inches wide by four deep” which, apparently, the shunt-prone automobiles driven by accident-fearing Americans already have.

• Graham Hill, O.B.E.

We congratulate Graham Hill on his award in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. But it is surely time Knighthoods were conferred again on racing drivers who take high risks to bring prestige to their Country, as they were on Segrave and Campbell in Britain and on Campari and Minoia in Italy? After all, they are conferred in the fields of cricket, football and horse-racing . . .

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