Letters from readers

On Her Majesty’s circuit service


I have been reading the bits and pieces about the 1957 German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring and can't resist getting my tuppenceworth in.

Late 1955 Her Majesty wrote to me asking if I would look after her interests in Germany for a couple of years (RAF National Service they called it!), giving me a wonderful opportunity to visit the Continental circuits on several occasions.

The most notable of course was the 1957 GP at the Nürburgring. I was fortunate to be there to witness the Master at his best.

Fangio as we all know was a great driver but that day was exceptional, the crowd standing in awe, but the icing on the cake for me came some 40 years later when I raced the Nordschleife in my Cooper-MG Prototype. I don't think many people can equal that.

I am, yours, etc.

George Coper, Kilsyth, Glasgow

In praise of Track Tests


I would like to say how very much I enjoyed the articles retracing some of the old circuits. They brought back fond memories. I particularly remember Dan Gurney's victories at Rouen and Pedro's victory with the BRM at Spa. We never thought the BRM would last and it was, for me, a very memorable occasion. What happy memories!

We used to camp at the circuits from Friday onwards and watch practice and, best of all, seek out all the garages to see the car being prepared. One knew all the mechanics by name and they seemed to be pleased to see a few English enthusiasts. There were no restrictions. At Spa, it was nothing for the cars to be started up and taken for a quick blast on the public road to test something.

I agree with Andrew Frankel that the section from the pits to Nouveau Mode at Rouen was very special. Listening to the cars on the Masta straight at Spa when they seemed to be on full noise for ages barring a slight lift for the kink was awesome.

I said after dear old Jenks died that I would never buy Motor Sport again but I must admit I am thoroughly enjoying the new format.

I am, yours, etc.

Keith Wilson, Bath, Somerset

On board with Horsfall


Bill Boddy's splendid story of St John Horsfall – Secret Agent gave me the opportunity to relive a precious memory. In 1946-47 Jock sometimes drove the black car up the long village street of Botesdale and Rickinghall Superior where it was settled at the local village garage. Sometimes a mechanic would be riding side saddle on the petrol tank at the usual high speeds employed by Jock. To us kids this sort of behaviour was as delectable as when, in 1944, our local friendly B17 pilot had made extra low runs over our farm at Stiffkey just to say hello from 40 feet.

Jock also tested his motorbike along local lanes. The look of intense pleasure on his face as he almost terminated himself several times at the junction with the main road was one we all understood.

But to the point – one day I saw Jock standing next to a car and taking courage in both hands marched up and said, "I've come to look over your car." He had perfect manners of course and there was no hint of displeasure at such juvenile intrusion. He explained modifications and recent body work alterations – there was a lot of new aluminium. This may have been EML 129. He asked if I would care to sit in the driver's seat and check the steering. Last summer the black car was again at Goodwood's Festival of Speed looking much smarter and blacker and without the oily imprint of the mechanic's trousers on the rear eggshell.

I am, yours, etc.

Richard Williamson, Chichester, West Sussex

Game on


Could I please put a plea to your readers. For a board game project with all other sources running up blanks, I need to obtain either top down photographs or plan drawings of the following Le Mans cars.

1954: Aston DB3, Bristol, Frazer-Nash, Gordini, Maserati A6G, Panhard, Porsche 550, TR2;
1964: Alfa Giulia, Alpine, Aston DB4, ATS, Sprite, Iso Rivolta, Lotus Elan, Maserati Tipo 152, MG B, Porsche '8', Porsche 904, Rene Bonnet, Sunbeam Tiger, Triumph Spitfire;
1969: Alfa 33, Alpine Renault 210/220, Chevron B8, Ferrari 312P, Lola T70, Matra-Simca 650;
1970: Ferrari 512M;
1972: Chevron B21, Ferrari 365, Ford Capri, Ligier JS2, Lola T290, Matra-Simca 670;
1989: Aston Martin AMR1, Cougar, Jaguar XJR9.

Copies are perfectly acceptable and I will happily reimburse all costs. Please respond to the address or e-mail below. I would also be pleased to hear from anyone interested in testing or contributing to the Le Mans game design.

I am, yours, etc.

Mike Siggins, Woodford Green, Essex

F1? Time is running out


Formula One? Scrap the whole shebang. The priorities are all wrong.

For years they have, at fabulous cost, been developing mechanical and technological marvels that go faster and faster, stop quicker and quicker, create more and more rear-end turbulence. Result: processions. Processions of cars indistinguishable except for the sponsors' paint work.

Drivers? All the poor spectator/viewer sees is the top of his helmet and the paying customers are lucky if they see that, banished as they are to the extremities of sand-trap deserts. Spectacle? Mickey Mouse circuits have all but put an end to that.

Spectators couldn't care less if a wondrous gearbox is made of carbon fibre, magnesium or old tin cans. They don't rush to the turnstiles because a steering wheel has six paddles and 10 buttons. They don't crouch over the box in tense exhilaration because a new nose cone adds a mite more downforce.

In fact spectators are getting cheesed off and never mind the billions of viewers quoted by Bernie Ecclestone. The press says the races are getting boring, frenetic Murray hints at it and even the technical press acknowledges it.

What to do? For the spectator/viewer: Watch the motorbikes, whether Grand Prix or Superbikes. Just as fast as Formula One, lead changing almost every lap, wheel-to-wheel dicing, bags of excitement. Short races, too.

What should Formula One moguls do? Face the facts and get their priorities right. Time's running out.

I am, yours, etc.

Bill Dawson, Milton Keynes, Bucks

Fall on our swords?


I must say during the short period I have purchased the magazine I have found it shorter and shorter on substance as each month went by. The total lack of editorial direction is quite evident.

I feel that you do not know which direction to head the magazine, it contains a hotch potch of vintage, classic, retro and techno that really doesn't stitch together.

It would seem to me that directional stability is required, otherwise I suggest you hand over your stewardship to someone who can give the readers a cohesive, fluent magazine of interest to the readership. Seventy-four years is a lot of history to rewrite; so far you are making a mess of it.

I am, yours, etc.

Michael A Mendoza, Victoria, Australia

Banking on Motor Sport


My wife and I have just returned from a trip to Monza where we were privileged to attend the Coppa InterEuropa historic meeting. As we had anticipated the racing was superb, particularly that provided by the burgeoning Formula Two championship which has never failed to entertain.

My lasting impression, however, will be of the extraordinary banking, largely hidden in the trees and, perhaps, all the more impressive in its overgrown decay.

The news, in your May issue, of its imminent demise, will sadden all enthusiasts of the few remaining truly great circuits. If it were a building, in the conventional sense, its future would probably be assured by its historical significance. Finally, as a relatively recent convert to Motor Sport magazine, may I take this opportunity to congratulate you on the exceptional quality of your content and presentation. You have set a new standard in motor sport journalism.

I am, yours, etc.

Andrew Tansley, Kidlington, Oxon

Andrew Cowan


I have just finished reading your excellent article on Andrew Cowan, one of the most likeable and under-rated of rally drivers. Everyone remembers his fabulous drives on the likes of the London to Sydney Marathon, the Southern Cross, Bandama etc., but who remembers his stirring battle with Simo Lampinen to second place on the 1969 Scottish, with what was probably the last works Imp falling to pieces around him? Or his magnificent drive with the unwieldy Tiger to 11th place and second in class on the extremely snowy 1965 Monte, driving to team orders, to `take it easy' to assure Rootes of the class win, and the perfect team-mate to that other unsung hero, Peter Harper.

You say that he never took a real interest in racing, but my own favourite memory of Andrew was at Ingliston. Seeing him tigering round the track in lain Scott-Watson's brand new Elan Plus 2, resplendent in crisp white shorts and SMRC tie, with his blazer lying on the back seat, more than often finishing in the lead. Marvellous, a true gentleman competitor!

I have been a fan of Motor Sport since the early 1960s, and felt it was losing its way, but your new format is like a breath of fresh air. Well done!

I am, yours, etc.

J Ross Raird, Aberdeen, Scotland

Tony Rolt replies


In one of your articles in last month's feature on Le Mans, you described how my father, Tony Rolt, and Duncan Hamilton, won the race for Jaguar in 1953 in a famous victory.

What most readers will remember from your article is that apparently two top-level works drivers, believing they had been disqualified, drank huge quantities of alcohol the night before the race, had no sleep that night, were reinstated on race day morning, started the race having had a further injection of alcohol and then went on to win.

Your source for this story (your only source?) which you acknowledge is Duncan's very entertaining book Touch Wood. Entertainment that book is, but a work of historical accuracy it is not. Duncan was one of life's great story tellers, and never failed to exaggerate when it might improve the story. This is what he did on this occasion.

Perhaps a call to my father to discuss the story before publishing would have been productive. He would have given you the same account that Lofty England gave in an interview with Neville Hay in 1995, the whole of which appears in the video The Engineers – Lofty England. The actual story is as follows.

After Thursday's practice, there was an objection by another team to the appearance in the pit row of two number 18 Jaguars, and there was a threat of disqualification. However, Lofty settled the whole issue with the organisers on the Friday morning (not the Saturday morning), over 24 hours before the race, and agreed to pay a nominal fine of 100 (not 25,000!) Francs, which the organisers never in fact enforced.

My father and Duncan, and wives and friends (they did not "abandon their team and families") had indeed gone out to dinner in Le Mans on the Thursday night, and they both had their share of wine and brandy. But they also knew very well that it was most unlikely that the organisers would disqualify them. Yes, they had a late night, but it was almost 48 hours before the start. Duncan's story of them being found by Sir William Lyons in Gruber's restaurant at 10.00 on the morning of the race is simply untrue.

I had thought that this story had been finally put to rest by Lofty's interview in 1995, and for years my father has been telling the true account to all who cared to listen.

Gregor Grant's marvellous report of the race for Autosport that year makes no mention of the 'disqualification', and Motor Sport says, "Jaguar had a spare car in attendance with the Rolt-Hamilton number on it, but fortunately it did not use it, for later it was discovered that this would have disqualified them."

I know my father would like his and Duncan's efforts that year to be remembered for their sheer speed and endurance, rather than for overcoming hangovers that in fact never existed. I must add that my father found your title for the article (Drunken Charge) to be in particularly bad taste.

One other small point: there is a photograph accompanying your article of my father and Duncan on the pit wall, "comparing helmets after their epic drive", in which you mysteriously refer to my father being "in civvies". In fact the photograph was taken in practice, and my father is wearing his racing clothes, which, like Duncan's, include the extra wide stomach belt which many drivers wore.

As a matter of historic record, I wonder if there is a Le Mans winner from earlier than 1953 still alive.

I am, yours, etc.

Stuart Rolt, Banbury, Oxon

(You are correct that the primary source for this story was indeed the autobiography of Duncan Hamilton which was first published in 1960. I, however, used the revised edition, published in 1990, on the now dearly erroneous assumption that any fundamental inaccuracies would have been omitted.

I have spoken to Duncan's son, Adrian, and it is dear the account in ‘Touch Wood’ is more than somewhat embellished and that the truth accords precisely with your father's recollections. Given this, I can see entirely why he was upset by the piece and indeed, in particular, by the headline. This I deeply regret and I extend my full and unreserved apologies to your father.

All I would add is that it was never my intention to belittle your father's victory. On the contrary, I sought to use Hamilton's now clearly fictional account of the run up to the race as a way of emphasising just what an extraordinary achievement it was to win that race under such circumstances. -Ed)