For the younger motoring enthusiasts we are living in good times, for even if the motoring is not so good these days, the enthusiasm is as strong as ever. We are well into the times of the fiftieth anniversary and last year we had the most memorable one with the anniversary of the first Ulster Tourist Trophy race on the Ards circuit. This year it was the fiftieth anniversary of the first Monaco GP and the Automobile Club of Monaco put on a splendid affair intermingled with the Formula One Grand Prix.
Basically it took the form of a 10 lap race for historic cars of the type that competed at Monte Carlo between 1929 and 1937, but there were additional attractions such as a demonstration run by a 159 Alfa Romeo, the publication of souvenir books and post-cards and the competing historic cars being on view prior to the race. While Christie’s the auctioneers, through the good offices of the Hon. Patrick Lindsay, looked after the cars, Phillip Morris (Europe) Ltd. the Marlboro cigarette people, looked after the publicity. A remarkably tasteful book was published detailing all the races held at Monaco from 1929 to 1978, with a reproduction of the race poster on the left-hand page and results and photographs on the right-hand page, ending with the poster for the 1979 race. The pre-war race posters were also reproduced in post-card form, on sale in all the shops. (Some of the shopkeepers entered into the spirit of cashing in on history, for while these postcards could be bought in one shop for 1 franc 50 centimes each, the shop next door was charging 2 francs!)
Christie’s gathered together a very fine collection of cars for the demonstration race, there being 24 cars on the starting grid, all representative of the races from 1929-1937. The first Grand Prix was held on April 14th, 1929 in the heyday of the Type 35 Bugatti, and was held every year up to and including 1937. In 1932 and 1933 the Monza Alfa Romeos challenged the Type 51 Bugattis and in 1934 it was the scene of the “monoposto” Tipo B Alfa Romeos. 1935-37 were the years of the Mercedes-Benz and Auto-Union teams and there were no races in 1938 or 1939. It all started up again in 1948, was held again in 1950 and in 1952 deteriorated into a sports car race. In 1955 the race re-started as a full-blooded Grand Prix and has been held as such every year since.
Star attraction of this anniversary event was undoubtedly the W125 Mercedes-Benz of Neil Corner. This is a 1937 factory car that was modified into a mountain hill-climb special for 1938 and 1939 for use by the works drivers, as the Grand Prix formula change had made the car obsolete. Some years ago Colin Crabbe acquired the car through East Berlin and rebuilt it back into 1937 road-racing form, unfortunately fitting to it the turbo-finned brakes off a 1939 W154 Mercedes-Benz. The 5.66-litre straight-eight engine was made to function by fitting a modern supercharger and an SU carburettor as the original components were beyond repair. After running the car in a few VSCC events Crabbe passed the car on to Neil Corner and after a lot of time and money being spent on it it has been made to work pretty well, and it certainly looks good. It was a pity there was no 16-cylinder Auto-Union to accompany the W125 Mercedes-Benz, though rumour says that the Audi branch are building into a complete car the “Show chassis” from the Deutsches Museum in Munich.
In 1936 the Grand Prix was preceded by a “voiturette” race for 1,500 c.c. cars for the Prince Rainier Cup, when the present ruler of Monaco was a schoolboy. This event was won by Prince Birabongse of Siam in his ERA “Romulus”, so it was very fitting that Narissa Chakrabongse, the present owner of “Romulus”, should enter the car and have Bill Morris drive it. To keep “Romulus” company Patrick Lindsay brought along his ERA “Remus” and Martin Morris brought along his ERA R11B, with 2-liltre engine. The pre-German era was nicely represented by Alain de Cadenet’s “monoposto” Alfa Romeo, Black’s 8CM Maserati and Summers 6C Tipo 43 Maserati. The Monza Alfa Romeo period was exemplified by Christopher Mann and Keith Duly with their cars, and the opposing Bugatti scene was represented by Geoffrey St. John, Martin Dean and Murray Smith (in John Marks car) in Type 51 cars, with support from the earlier Bugattis of Moffat, Kain, Venables-Llewelyn and Helmut Schellenberg from Germany.
As with all “historic replays” there were anomalies, such as Cameron Millar with his 1938 Maserati 8CTF and Count Donhoff’s 1938 Talbot, neither of which appeared at Monaco in the past as the last pre-war race was in 1937. Stephen Griswold drove the German-owned Type 54 Bugatti 4.9 litre, recently built up from spare parts, and Daimler-Benz entered a 1938/39 W154 Mercedes-Benz, but it did not appear, and Count Lurani was entered but did not appear with his 1924 Alfa Romeo.
The 24 cars on the Grid on Sunday afternoon made a fine sight and before they started their 10 lap race Baron Emanuel de Graffenreid did two “demonstration” laps in the Tipo 159 Alfa Romeo that the factory sent along to exemplify the immediate post-war period and it sounded glorious. In the historic race itself Corner spun the huge Mercedes–Benz on the opening lap and fell to last place, but then did a heroic drive right through the field to second place, just failing to catch Martin Morris in his 2-litre ERA. For a long time “Romulus” and “Remus” had a spirited battle until the 1936 Coupe Prince Rainier winner went sick, leaving Lindsay to take third place ahead of de Cadenet’s nice “monoposto” Alfa Romeo. – D. S. J.