European Letter

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

Dear W.B.,

For an awful moment I thought I was going to have to return to the original title for these summer letters; which you will recall was Letter from Europe. Fortunately the majority in England decided that we should stay in Europe, so European Letter continues, and that allows me the latitude of happenings at home as well as abroad in this feature. Since the season started I seem so have spent more time over Europe than on it, starting with a trip to the South African Grand Prix by Jumbo jet, when our flight over Europe was a very small part of the journey. With the long-distance sports car races this season being large International club meetings, rather than serious International motor races, I took the opportunity of diversifying my activities a bit and took advantage of the fact that England is part Of Europe. One small indulgence that I allowed myself was to he part of a motorcycle “demonstration” at the RAC Championship hill-climbs meeting at Wiscombe Park. Speed hill-climbing for motorcycles is rather limited due to suitable venues being hard to come by, but fortunately a number of car clubs look upon motorcycles in a kindly light and invite us to put on a “demonstration”. It cannot be a competitive event for us due to RAC /ACC/ red-tape and complicated paper-work, so the regulations for the twenty to twenty-five of us who take part on our racing motorcycles, say simply, under the paragraph headed “Awards”—there will he no awards. We ride for fun, but it doesn’t make anyone try less harder, for there is keen competition among ourselves. I find at these motor car speed hill-climbs that the presence of a handful of racing motorcycles adds a lot of interest for most people I talk to. There is no question of competing against the cars, and indeed motorcycle times are a lot slower than car times for we cannot hope to brake as late for the corners, nor can we powerslide out of the hairpins the way Formula One cars or Formula 5000 cars do, and while you can hit the hank with a four-wheeler and get away with it, there is no incentive to try it with two wheels.

In order to take part at Wiscombe Park I had to do a lot of pre-planning to finish up at the right place at the right time, for it would have been no good finding myself in the South of France when I should have been preparing my 650 c.c. Triumph and loading it up on the trailer. In addition to this weekend a week round Italy was planned, as written-up by A.H. last month, and an interesting day at Donington Park was planned (for further details see the August issue of MOTOR SPORT). In consequence of doing these things that were out of the normal run of European race coverage I did not follow the usual procedure of setting off in the E-type in March, but instead got involved in flying trips, hire-car trips, passengering in the cars of colleagues and using my Honda-4 motorcycle. To begin with I kept hearing people saying things like “Where’s the E-type?” or “Did you have a good drive down to Spain?” or more popularly “What are you doing at London Airport?” The simple answer to most of these questions was “Well, you see, I am having a bit of a go on my racing motorcycle in four weeks time . . .” Many people could not actually see what I was getting at and it was all too complicated to explain in detail. At other times when I explained the “new look 1975 travels of D.S.J.” by remarks such as “well I want to go to the opening of the new Reading Speedway”, or “. . . . well there was this chance of driving a Tyrrell . . .” and so on, there were feelings that the Eurhpean scene must be changing without the white E-type motoring from one race to another.

In truth the European scene has already changed, and drastically at that, for the roads of Europe seem to be infested with the eyes of the law and everyone is creeping about at 50 m.p.h., either to conserve expensive petrol or in fear of radar traps, so that if you bomb along at around 100 m.p.h. you feel terribly conspicuous. What is so annoying is that you cannot devote all your concentration on your driving, you have to spare some of it for the “bogey-men”. I suppose you could stick to the letter of the law, but then I suppose there are a lot of things you could do. At a Ferrari gathering in Belgium there was the disturbing news that a group of’ Ferraris had been humming up the Autoroute from Paris to Bruxelles and when they arrived at the Franco/Belge frontier the drivers were all booked for speeding. Running in convoy they had all gone through a radar trap at a leisurely 160 k.p,h., some 30 k.p.h. over the legal limit. It was no wonder that most of the Ferrari owners at the gathering at Francarchamps took the opportunity of a few laps of the Spa circuit; by courtesy of the race organisers.

I had a feeling “something was going on” during that trip, for as I approached Dover on my motorcycle I was conscious of more Ferraris on the roads than was reasonable. Arriving at the docks I was confronted by a V12 Le Mans Testa Rossa Ferrari standing by the kerb and Colin Crabbe and his wife about to drive on to the Ostende boat. Dino 246, Dino 308, Daytonas, GTB4 and others were gathering at the entrance for the boat to Belgium and the English convoy were to meet up with Ferrari owners from all over Europe. I was travelling Dover-Calais so I did not see them again until the whole lot arrived at Spa. Previously a friend who likes Ferraris had said that he felt that the last real Ferrari was the Daytona. While he drooled over the Berlinetta Boxer, with its 4.4-litre flat-12 engine behind the cockpit, he felt it was not a Ferrari-Ferrari, in the same way that the beautiful little Dino 246 was not really a Ferrari. Watching the convoy go by I could see what he meant, the Daytona was the ultimate in the classic line of front-engined V12 Ferraris that make the sort of noise that only a V12 can make. The Boxer was an exciting and efficient piece of mechanism, but should be regarded as an extension of the Dino 246, a Dino-Boxer or Dino-flat 12. The Daytona exudes so much character and sheer brute force, while the Boxer makes the mind boggle by its sheer audacity and efficiency, with all that power and potential in such a tiny car.

Because of the revised travel programme for the first-half of the 1975 season and the constant coming and going from the mainland, I actually found myself, on our island at a weekend with no scheduled race meeting to attend. In the past I have had people ask “What would you do at a weekend if there wasn’t a race meeting of some sort to go to?” Of course, this situation could never really happen, especially in Great Britain for there is to much racing going on at all levels that it is a case of trying to decide which meeting to attend. I took one weekend “as it came” and after going to stock-car racing on Thursday evening I learnt that the local motor club were having a gathering on Friday evening at one of our more rural pubs, not so much for a “noggin’ and natter” but in order that members could bring their own special cars for a “sloggin’ and clatter”. At this gathering was one of the pleasantest home-built specials I have seen for a long time. It looked like a very large Lotus 7, and was in fact designed deliberately on those lines, with a square-tube space-frame chassis, but all the mechanical components were Jaguar. The front suspension, engine and gearbox were all from a Mk. II saloon, while the rear-end was the independent layout from an S-type saloon. For an outlay of some £250 and 18 months of spare-time work the owner had got himself a very effective fun-car. Lotus 7 owners enjoy the stark simplicity of their cars, so you can imagine how much fun a scaled-up version must be, powered by a 3.8-litre twin-cam Jaguar XK engine. I suppose really we should not talk about such Specials or enthuse over them, otherwise some “do-gooder” will find out and put a stop to it all. They have already killed off the open sports car from our big manufacturers and no doubt would love to stop a bit of private-enterprise. They seem to work on the dictum, “if anyone is enjoying it then we must put a stop to it”. That was Thursday and Friday dealt with, so on Saturday morning I set off on my Honda-4 motorcycle to buy some workshop bits, but only got as far as the nearest town when I saw a veteran car “terf-terfing” along. Naturally it had to be followed and this brought me to a VCC Rally with sixty or more veteran cars about to set off on a route-card run through the by-ways of my part of Hampshire. In my travels I had noticed some advertising for a low-level flying display by two Spitfires to be held not far away on the Sunday, so for a change from motoring and motorcycling events I decided to look in on the aircraft world. I had got it all wrong, the flying display was merely the highlight of a day-long pageant of transport, so a very relaxed afternoon was spent among old cars, old commercial vehicles, old military vehicles, old fire engines, steam-traction engines, fairground machinery and one of the most interesting public car parks I have wandered round for a long time. There was even a Porsche Carrera and a Berlinetta Boxer among the spectators cars. Eventually the day wound up with the arrival of a Spitfire and what looked to me like a Hawker Tempest and they put on an enthralling display. The sight of the Spitfire “hedge-hopping” was really something worth seeing.

As Monday night is regular Speedway night, my weekend off from International motor racing was very complete and varied. After a day at home I set off for another simple Grand Prix weekend, where Thursday to Monday is occupied fully by only one subject, and in answer to the question “. . . what would you do if . . .” etc. I grinned and said I couldn’t keep up the pace of weekends off, there was soo much going on.

Yours, D.S.J.

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