European Letter

(By means of which our roving European reporter keeps in touch with the Editor)

Dear W.B.,

I have just made a small sea voyage in the interest of historical motor racing research. On the way back from the Swedish Grand Prix I traversed most of Denmark and made a detour to the west coast to the port of Esbjerg, where I saw the Hesketh DAF transporter and the March Ford articulated transporter heading for the boat to take them to Harwich. The Danish boats that make the crossing of the North Sea in some 18 hours are pretty big and, apart from racing transporters, seem to be full of Lurpak butter, the port of Esbjerg being quite a sizeable one and very busy. However, my boat trip did not take 18 hours, more like 18 minutes, for it was on a small car-carrying ferry over to the island of Fanø. Just off the Danish coast there are three islands, Fanø, Manø and Rømø. The first you get to by the aforementioned ferry, the second being so small that nobody seemed to be going to it, and the third is accessible by a six-mile causeway built across the sea. My reason for going to Fanø was to visit the famous beach that runs the length of the island on the North Sea side, for as you know it was used in the early nineteen twenties for International Speed Trials, and in 1923 Malcolm Campbell was timed at 137.72 m.p.h. over a flying mile on the sands in the 350 horsepower Sunbeam that now resides down in Hampshire at the National Motor Museum. It really is an impressive stretch of sand and at the southern end there is a small airfield, while the northernmost end is out-of-bounds to motor vehicles; even so, you can still drive up and down six and a half miles of flat sand, with low dunes on one side and the rugged looking North Sea on the other. The day I was there the weather was coming in horizontally off the North Sea and stretches of the beach were water-logged and it would have been all too easy to lose ones’ sense of direction even at a modest 50 m.p.h. Actually there is a 40 k.p.h. speed limit on the beach, with signs on posts every so often, which served as useful markers for finding the way back from the southern end, for the access road is from Fanø Bad, the small holiday resort at the northern end of the island. I gather there was quite a lot of Speed Trial activity on the beach in the early twenties and Cyril Posthumous gives quite a lot of interesting details, especially about Campbell’s two visits, in 1923 and 1924, in his book “Land Speed Record,” published a little while ago by Osprey Publishing. While driving up and down the beach in the E-type Jaguar I was intrigued by the thought of how Campbell got that great racing Sunbeam to the island. Presumably he took it by boat to Esbjerg and then on a ferry boat, which must have been a bit small and crude in those days, and then I wondered how it was towed from the big boat across the port to the small boat and how it was man-handled aboard. It is the small details of such exploits that I find fascinating, though they are seldom recorded in the history books.

Danish is not a language that one would want to learn, there being little use for it in motor racing outside Denmark, but while motoring about in that quiet little land you cannot help picking up the odd interesting word, even if you cannot pronounce it. One I liked was STOPFORBUD, which at first I interpreted to be something to do with a bus stop for buddy, but it soon became clear that it was something to do with no stopping. Another was PARKERINGFORBUDT, which was pretty easy to interpret, while I found the thought of FRISK FISK delightful, but there was no sign of any CHIPS. Returning to the mainland from Fanø I motored south in the pouring rain and just had to visit Rømø, via the long straight causeway. From the end of Rømø there is another small car ferry to yet another island, but between them is the Danish/German frontier. I was about to embark on another short sea voyage, to cross into Germany, when I looked closer at my map and saw that what I thought was another road across a causeway was in fact a railway line, so I retraced my steps and went into Germany by the front door. A little while later I was a bit narked to see a sign that indicated that the railway from the German island to the mainland was able to carry cars; I shall have to go back there someday, preferably in better weather, for the rain and wind kept up unabated all the way down to Hamburg, right through that vast city and on along the Autobahn until I stopped the night at a motorway Motel, and it was still raining next morning.

While the Swedish Grand Prix is not one of the more exciting meetings to attend, it is pleasant, and the motoring and boating trip to Anderstorp is always enjoyable (apart from the weather at times) and there are numerous ways of going. You can go north from Hamburg, right through Denmark and take the 1 1/2-hour boat trip to the Danish island on which Copenhagen is situated, and then across to Sweden on the Helsingor/Halsingborg ferry, or you can drive to the very north-east corner of Germany and take the hour-long boat trip to the bottom of the Copenhagen island, or yet again you can take a nine-hour boat trip from Travemunde on the very edge of the Russian zone, to Malmo at the bottom of Sweden. Once on the Swedish mainland you can go to Anderstorp by the main roads and odd bits of motorway or you can deviate up the back roads and enjoy yourself in some splendid scenery on hard dirt roads, seeing for yourself why Swedish rally drivers are so good on special-stages. The trip to Sweden also allows one of those fascinating journeys, if the timing is right, where you can breakfast in Sweden, lunch in Germany, have tea in Holland and dinner in Belgium, or vice-versa, the northern-European motorway system being very nearly as complete as one could wish for, from the point of view of covering ground. Across northern Germany it is no strain to continually put 80 miles into an hour, unlike southern Germany which is chock-a-block with holiday traffic heading for the sunny south.

This brief trip to the land of lakes and forests recalled the Swedish races of nearly twenty years ago, when I was Porsche motoring, and a particularly memorable trip to the Arctic Circle and the land of the midnight sun in a 300SL Mercedes-Benz taken straight from the racetrack at Karlskoga and used for a week’s touring holiday. It is interesting that if you look at the race results for that meeting at Karlskoga in 1955 you will see that the Formula 3 race was won by R. K. Tyrrell (Cooper-Norton). That was the same Ken Tyrrell whose Formula One car won the 1974 Swedish Grand Prix, which makes you realize how old everyone is getting, but more important, it makes you realize what a long and unbroken period of motor racing we are in. After the war motor racing got going again in 1945, in France, so that we are now in our thirtieth consecutive year of motor racing. There has never before been such a long unbroken run of racing, so it is not surprising that at times it seems to be getting out of control and confused and muddled. When the game of racing motor cars against one another started in 1894/5 it ran for 20 years before the Great War put a stop to it, then it ran for another 20 years before another war put a stop to it. Now it has been running for 30 years, with no signs of it being stopped, so it is easy to see why some of us are not quite sure where it is all going and why.

As I motor into sunny France I will leave you with that thought. Yours, D.S.J.