Readers letters, July 2009

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Hostess with the most stress!

Sir,

Doug Nye’s piece in the May issue brought back some vivid and often happy memories. I worked for John Webb during 1961, basically running his Webbair operation. As such, I usually flew on the planes as the official Webbair hostie, and I was the unfortunate young woman nominally in charge for the notorious flight to Syracuse for the Grand Prix, to which Doug refers. He is quite right: Innes Ireland organised the passengers to form a group and run from one end of the plane to the other, jumping up and down each time the group assembled. He does not write that the unknowing pilot, working overtime at the trim controls, was in fact Jack Brabham.

The teams and hangers-on had lots of fun in other ways. In the small aircraft, such as the Heron and Dove, the wing spar created a hurdle in mid-aisle, which I had to walk over. This walk became a climb when they put baggage all over it. Reprimands did little good, but one way to calm the lads down and get them seated was to grant them a kiss and a cuddle (see John Surtees above!). Once peace was regained I would arrange a competition to occupy their active minds and bodies. They were each handed a car kit to build and see who could do so fastest. The über-competitive Stirling Moss usually won, as he did in so many races.

There are many other stories, such as when the pilot did a U-turn at Tours and all the booze spilled out of the locker. And how you could see cows in the meadows near Le Mans through the gaps round the doors of the DC3. But I never heard it called “Webbscare”, perhaps through selective deafness. We were all fearless in those early days of the ’60s. But then they all went off and got their own aircraft.

Norma Henderson, Church Point, Sydney, Australia

Debate rolls on

Sir,

John Roberts (Letters, June) wonders if Jenks got the idea for his famous Mille Miglia map roller from the Royal Aircraft Establishment’s wartime ‘Dam Buster’ system.

To be fair, I don’t think that Jenkinson ever claimed to have invented the map-roller, and I seem to recall reading somewhere that John Fitch (a fellow member of the Mercedes-Benz squad) had previously used a similar device.

More importantly, a proprietary model was already on the market and had been promoted to the specialist press. A description and illustration of the ‘Hamilton Route-Finder’ appeared in Autosport in December 1953. Did Motor Sport also receive a sample for evaluation?

Anyway, regardless of its precise origin, the map roller was far from novel, and most rally navigators must surely have been aware of the concept by 1955.

David Landers, Morpeth, Northumberland

Winding back history

Sir,

Following John Roberts’s suggestion regarding the origins of the roller map used by Moss and Jenks on the Mille Miglia, I feel I can add to this debate.

As Mr Roberts said, a large part of their 1955 success has always been attributed to the famous ‘roller map’ in which Jenks kept pace notes for the entire course. They completed two recces to develop their pace notes and Jenks later reported in Motor Sport: “By now our details of the route were perfected and I wrote them all down on a special sheet of paper 18 feet in length. Moss had an alloy case made, on the map roller system, and for our final practice I employed this machine.”

It’s interesting that Jenks refers to ‘the map roller system’ as though it was a well-known tool. It therefore wasn’t too much of a surprise when I saw a piece in The Times entitled “Early sat-nav”. It featured a roller map named ‘the Plus Four Wristlet Route Indicator’ and, as the name suggests, it is a ‘worn on the wrist’ roller map system. What surprised me was the date – 1927!

So, it wasn’t a new idea in 1955, nor in ’43 as suggested by Mr Roberts. Jenks also mentioned discussions in 1954 at Monza with John Fitch, who gave him the idea of making the second person in the car less of a co-driver or mechanic and more of a navigator. Fitch was offered a drive in the 1955 Mille Miglia but only(!) in a gull-wing 300SL GT class car as opposed to the outright racing 300SLR. When Moss was offered the 300SLR drive he called Jenks to ask if he would join him. Jenks was encouraged by Fitch to, “Join him and take our system with you”. And so, it seems, it may not have been Jenks’s brainchild at all. It might not have been Fitch’s either, but between them they came up with a system for beating the Italians on home soil.

I was lucky enough to be able to ask Moss about it and he said he thought the idea probably did come from Fitch. Later, at your own 1000th issue birthday party, I again discussed this matter briefly with Stirling where he confirmed that it wasn’t a new idea in 1955 – but its application to road racing was certainly innovative.

Mike Stripe, Club Secretary, VSCC

Diesel origins

Sir,

I read about the Audi Le Mans project with interest (June), but it’s wrong to suggest that the diesel formula at Le Mans was down to Audi.

In 2004 I worked with Taurus Sport who entered a Lola B2K Caterpillar diesel at Le Mans. The engine was a VW Toureg V10 twin-turbo but Caterpillar sponsored the development. The car first ran at Monza in the ’04 1000Kms. Interest from Audi was immediately obvious with lots of questions asked. At the Le Mans test weekend our Lola-Caterpillar was apparently the fastest car through the speed trap at 292kph, compared with the fastest Audi at 288kph.

We made the race along with our conventional Judd-powered car, but retired while running 12th. We locked the garage and went for a rest and food; when we returned we found Audi engineers had gained access and were taking photographs of the engine layout and fuel system. I am not suggesting any wrong-doing; maybe they just wanted a look behind our backs.

From conception to race was under five months of very hard work by 10 very dedicated people who ran two cars. I think our entire budget was less than Audi’s food budget.

This makes our Lola the first modern diesel car to race at Le Mans, as well as the first diesel of this type to use biofuel. But it does seem that if you are big enough you can rewrite history to suit your own needs. At the races we received a lot of flack, but in the end the diesel revolution was started by Taurus in 2004 and not by Audi.

David J Coles, Melksham, Wiltshire

Delight over D-type

Sir,

In my small collection of 1/43 scale models of cars which have played a significant part in my life is a white Jaguar D-type. No, I have never owned, driven or even been a passenger in one, and probably never will be. However, to quote Nigel Roebuck (June issue), “Some – a very few – moments in your life are crystallised for ever and one came my way now.” For him, it was Behra in a Ferrari at Aintree. For me, it was a white Jaguar D-type at Snetterton.

On my first-ever visit to a racing circuit at the impressionable age of 12, the first car to go past as my father and I got to the spectator viewing area opposite the pits was the Murkett Brothers-owned car driven by Henry Taylor. Instantly I became a Jaguar fan. But even more significant was the sound produced by that lovely straight-six engine, and I became a life-long devotee of the wonderful music produced by (most) sporting six-cylinder engines.

Like most of your readers, I drool over the beautiful cars being offered for sale in the magazine. Sadly I shall never own one, but I am thankful that there are people out there who will buy them – and race them again. So, imagine my surprise and delight on reaching p161 and the Duncan Hamilton advert – for the car shown is that very same white D-type. It may have become famous in the hands of my hero Jim Clark, but it will always remain crystallised in my memory as the Murkett Brothers car.

A big thank you to all at Motor Sport for once again, in both words and photos, bringing back such happy memories of an era when motor sport was more sport than business.

Mike Dodman, Bromsgrove, Worcs.

Darker plans at work?

Sir,

To most of us who have been forced to witness the dismal and increasingly transparent stratagems of Bernie Ecclestone over the years, it should have been clear there was never going to be a British Grand Prix after 2009, at Donington or anywhere else, since he has long seemed set on taking the race abroad and awarding it to the highest bidder.

Simon Gillett’s proposals for Donington appeared flimsy from the outset, and they are now falling apart so farcically that I wonder if he’s been in the pay of Bernie from the outset.

Just wondering…

David Goddard, Hove, Sussex

I’m backing Button

Since I have been criticised on the Letters page in the past for allegedly ‘knocking’ any British driver who becomes successful, I thought I should set the record straight by congratulating Jenson Button on his success so far this year – success that is well deserved after some difficult and frustrating seasons. These he handled in a patient and dignified manner, without the whingeing and prima donna behaviour which we have come to expect from some British drivers of the last couple of decades.

As Nigel Roebuck has commented, it is a shame that Button and Brawn’s achievements have been overshadowed by the diffuser controversy. It is difficult to see why Ross Brawn has been criticised for an ingenious and effective interpretation of the rules when, in the past, Colin Chapman was hailed as a genius for doing exactly the same. Is it because Ross still suffers from his past association with Michael Schumacher and Ferrari?

Anyway, Ross has now been vindicated and I for one look forward to more successes for Brawn and Jenson, not forgetting Rubens.

John Fyfe, Edinburgh

Right make, wrong model

Sir,

In Jim Howard’s You Were There pictures in May, there are a couple of errors. The ‘250F’ is in fact an A6GCM Maserati, with live rear axle located by twin trailing arms and trailing quarter-elliptic leaf springs. The 250F was introduced in 1954 with a de Dion rear and a spaceframe. It was designed for the new 2.5-litre F1, whereas the former ran in the 2-litre F2 formula used in the championship in 1952 and ’53.

Picture eight is not Stirling’s Cooper-Norton but the Cooper-Alta, designed by John Cooper, technical editor of Autocar (not the John Cooper of Cooper Cars), and built by Ray Martin, also responsible for the original Kieft produced for Stirling in 1952.

John Barrass, Irchester, Northants

Notes on John Taylor

Sir,

I have been doing research for a written work on the life and times of John Taylor, who perished in the 1966 German Grand Prix at the ’Ring. Precious little has been written about the Leicestershire driver who scored his only World Championship point at the 1966 French GP at Reims. I’m looking to hear from anyone who knew John or raced with him, and I’m especially keen to hear from anyone who may have photographs of him during the 1960s, both in the domestic racing scene and abroad. I’m working with John’s widow to produce a history of his racing life. I can be contacted at: [email protected]

Ady Stimpson, Bestwood, Notts

Tradition and technology

When John Harvey Jones visited the Morgan factory, he watched a man using a pair of tin snips and said Morgan would not survive unless they adopted more modern methods: “They would grow their own trees if they could.”

Guy Loveridge (Diary, June) perpetuates the myth that Morgan rejected JHJ’s advice and stayed with their traditional methods. Probably best then to ignore the machine-cut body panels and suction-formed wings. Oh, and the CAD-designed aluminium chassis of the Aero 8.

Perhaps the smartest move was to publicly reject Harvey Jones’ ideas, while quietly getting on with it. It is both encouraging and disappointing to see that Morgan is the last surviving wholly British-owned car maker. It is probably fair to say that Harvey Jones never anticipated that.

On the subject of survivors, congratulations on your increasing readership, of which I am playing a small part. I was an eager reader in the early 1970s but had only read an occasional copy since then. That changed when I picked up an issue two years ago for some on-flight reading. I read every page and have not missed an issue since. Excellent writing from Messrs Nye, Roebuck and Taylor, and it is always a pleasure to read WB. You have proved that nostalgia is better than it used to be.

Douglas Kent, Stanley, Perthshire

Jenson over Lewis

Sir,

I had to contact you to tell you how much I agree with the letter from Stanley Sweet in the June issue. Lewis’s monkey statement still angers me. I did enjoy the Lazarus editorial; I have been a fan of Jenson for many years and now he has the car and backing to be a great champion. Who is the saddest person in the Grand Prix paddock? It’s Lewis’s father – no TV reporters want to talk to him this year.

Jim McCleary, Kilmarnock, Ayrshire