Reader's Letters, July 1995

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Vorspnmg durch Technik

Sir,

I found Mike Lawrence’s feature on the D-type Jaguars at Le Mans (Triumph and Disaster — June) most interesting, not least because so much of his information obviously came from Mon Ami Mate, my recent biography of Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins.

However, I would like to take issue with him on a couple of points, starting with his claim that the air-brake Mercedes-Benz used in 1955 was “a crude experiment — an admission that the company was not as technically advanced as it liked to appear”, and also that “it was no rival for disc brakes”. He made a similar criticism in his recent book, Four Wheel Drift (See, Mike — acknowledgement is painless!): “Some have thought it was great, but actually it was a crude answer to discs — your road car is likely to have disc brakes, but it does not have an air-brake.’

These somewhat snide remarks all miss the point, which was that being denied access to the disc brake technology developed by Dunlop, Lockheed and Girling at that time, Mercedes came up with a brilliant alternative for Le Mans. Far from being a crude experiment, it was a simple idea that worked superbly on the race track, enabling the 300 SLR to outbrake the D-type where it mattered.

The Autocar noted that, “At the end of the flat-out Mulsanne Straight the Ferrari brake lights were going on at around the 500-metre marker post and the Jaguars’ a little later. Moss’ lights were not even starting to flicker until the 300-metre post, full braking coming later still”.

Fangio and Moss both told me that the air brake was a wonderful device. “It was fantastic!” said Stirling. “Not just for braking but for cornering, too, because it gave you the most tremendous downforce and — wet or dry — you had the same benefit in stopping, whereas the Jags could lock a wheel… Normally, they would have eaten us alive at the end of Mulsanne, but with the air brakes we could stay right with them. And at corners like White House we didn’t bother with the foot brake at all, we just flipped the air brake up at 170 mph and sailed through at 150 without touching the pedal.”

The fact that disc brakes subsequently found their way onto production cars and the air brake did not is irrelevant — the latter was devised purely for racing and was a great success. And even when Mercedes did not use it, their drums were a real match for Jaguar’s discs, as Moss proved by winning the TT at Dundrod later that year.

When writing of the 1956 Le Mans, (where only so called production cars could have a capacity of more than two litres) Mike claims that Aston Martin “pretended that it had made more than 50 D-types, so its win was kosher and deserved, while Aston Martin’s second place was dubious”.

This is nonsense — there was no pretence at all on Astons’ part. Having stipulated the 50-car rule (which was originally 100) the organisers realised that if they stuck to it rigidly they would have no entries from Jaguar or Aston Martin, so these teams were allowed to enter their usual cars. The works Jaguars were no more production D-type than the Aston were production DB3Ss, being equipped with more efficient long-nose’ bodywork, experimental front disc brakes, fuel injection and special cylinder heads. In the event, of course, the race was won by a production Jaguar, entered by Ecurie Ecosse, which made Astons’ second place less praiseworthy, but not dubious.

Chris Nixon,
East Twickenham, Middlesex.

No Blame

Sir,

I read with interest the article on the 1955 Le Mans, and was dismayed by the account given of the tragic accident involving Mike Hawthorn, Lance Macklin and Pierre Levegh.

The late Lofty England spoke to me at length on a number of occasions about the circumstances and I feel he was absolutely correct in saying that it was purely a racing accident and not Mike Hawthorn’s fault.

There is probably no better summary of the available evidence than that given by Paul Frere and quoted in full in Andrew Whyte’s magnificent Jaguar Sports Racing and Works Competition Cars from 1954.

What ML fails to relate is that Hawthorn passed Macklin some 700 metres before the pits entry and the series of photos in the book clearly illustrate that there was room for Levegh to pass Macklin’s car as it pulled out, nearly half the road width in fact. It appears he was slow in reacting to the Healey moving outwards.

Lofty totally supported Paul Frere’s view that Macklin, in those fleeting few seconds, was understandably probably more concerned about what was happening behind him, having just been passed by Hawthorn, the race leader. A glance in the rear view mirror and the sight of both Levegh and Fangio in the Mercedes 300SLR’s closing very quickly meant he had to stay on the right-hand side of the road.

A moment’s distraction to assess this may have caught him out. Hawthorn was now starting to brake in front of him for the pit stop, Levegh may also have glanced a fraction too long in his mirror to see his team-mate closing rapidly to lap him, and was late in reacting to Macklin’s move to the centre of the road. What more circumstances did one need for a racing accident? It was no-one’s single fault, just a tragedy in the making over a brief few seconds.

I also wonder how ML can surmise that “the Englishman was determined to hand over in the lead”. Hawthorn was only a couple of seconds ahead of Fangio and due for a pit-stop! He also infers that Hawthorn was “right about Bueb” not being able to match his pace. Ivor’s job was to keep the car intact for Hawthorn’s next stint, not to match his lap times; that is the job of a No 2 driver.

Sadly Lofty is no longer with us to write his own letter and complain about ML’s views, and for this reason I felt I had to say something. The whole affair has been carefully studied many times in the last 40 years. I suggest ML has got it wrong.

M G H MacDowel,
Godalming, Surrey.

Passing Whim

Sir,

Perhaps you could invite Messrs Ecclestone and Moseley to write a piece describing in detail all the passing manoeuvres for leading positions in Formula One races in the past couple of seasons. After all, it would not take up much time or space — a standard sized postcard would suffice.

G D Mason,
Crockham Hill, Edenbridge, Kent.

Attack of the Vapours

Sir,

Your article ‘What can you do with your Ford V8’ brought back memories of a 1936 V8 Shooting Brake that a friend and I ran jointly whilst doing our National Service in Dorset in the 1950’s.

Bought for £15 in those pre-MOT days, it was a thirsty machine to run on our 28/- per week pay, so it was necessary to carry a minimum of 10 fare-paying passengers to cover costs. As we were stationed on a petrol dump a certain amount of fuel was occasionally redirected — and necessarily so as she only did 15 mpg of petrol and 11 miles per pint (yes, pint) of oil.

Emissions were a word we hadn’t heard — until, out of the blue haze that inevitably followed us everywhere a police car appeared and cautioned us for “emitting obnoxious vapours”, and threatened to put us off the road forever. However, it was only a caution, so we soldiered on. Happy days.

Michael A Wheeler,
Southminster, Essex.

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