Has a Rolls-Royce ever won a Grand Prix race? The answer appears to be yes, because I know and you know that Carlos de Salamanca won the 1913 Spanish GP in a 40/50 Royce. It was a four-seater, so this could have been a touring-car Grand Prix. But not necessarily, remembering that John Duff drove his 3-litre Bentley with tourer body in the 1923 GP of Guipuscon and Sir Henry Birkin was second in the 1930 French GP with a blower 4-1/2 Bentley, again with four-seater bodywork, though admittedly the former event was called a Touring GP. And the 1928 German Grand Prix was dominated by similarly bodied Mercedes-Benz, from a large number of GP Bugattis, etc.
So was the 1913 Spanish GP a pukka GP or a touring-car affair? I have long wondered. Now some research has shown me that, in essence, it was neither. It was billed as a road race for fully-equipped touring cars but speeds were timed on the level and uphill sections of it and petrol consumption was also taken into account in deciding on how the cash awards were to be allocated. The distance was just under 192 miles, starting at La Crania village (where the King of Spain had a palace), to Navacarrada, Guadarrana, Alto del Leon, San Rafael, Revenga and Segovia, to complete the lap at La Granja, which was some 60 miles from Madrid. Perhaps the King’s interest in motor racing had determined the starting place…
That the road surface had been specially prepared endorses this view, but the course was mountainous and twisty. It had to be covered three times. Twenty entries came in, but there were no Hispano Suizas. Eric Platford from England, the well-known R-R exponent, put in a second 40/50, there were three Panhards, John Hedges’ Talbot 25, three De Dions, the Marquis de Aulenoia’s 40hp De Dietrich, two Schneiders, and one each of Minerva, Excelsior, Mercedes, SCAR, Opel, Delaunay-Belleville, Humber and Sunbeam, the last in Victor Rigal’s hands. Spanish aristocracy predominated, as drivers.
In the event, on June 15, three non-started and 11 survived; retirements included the Talbot and Humber. Handicapping was on an odd formula of a class minimum-weight allied to engine rpm at maximum power. This was thought to penalise high-speed engines, which was apparently what kept the Hispanos away. On a day when 90-deg in the shade made the going tough, and with two high ascents, one to 2460 feet in 10-1/2 miles, lamps, hoods and two spare wheels were required. Bonnets were sealed at the start and fuel and water could not be replenished. One car finished with only half a gallon in its cooling system! So this resembled a high-speed trial rather than a Grand Prix. What is interesting is that Rolls-Royce, reticent about the power of its engines, had to state at what speed maximum hp was achieved. It was declared as at 1,850 rpm; which may or may not enable you to calculate the power of the 114 x 121mm Silver Ghost. The 80-bore Sunbeam was declared to need 2400 rpm.
All the foregoing is of no discredit to Rolls-Royce, whose cars were first and third, the De Dietrich second. Salamanca’s time was 3h 34m 12s (54 mph), exclusive of neutral controls. Oh, and the King did spectate, saying the race must be run annually; but something was to intrude… W B