Continental Notes, June 1954

Author

D.S.J

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68

It is a rather incredible fact that in three recent Grand Prix races a total of 33 entries were received and of these only two were Italian drivers. This virtual absence of Italian Grand Prix drivers has come about rather suddenly and is still difficult to realise. With the Lancia team not yet active in Grand Prix events Ascari, Villoresi and Taruffi have yet to appear, while Ferrari has only one Italian driver in his Grand Prix team, namely Farina. Maserati are not running an official team, but even so there are always Maserati entries and so far only Mantovani has been seen in a single-seater this year. It is not that Italy lacks drivers, for it always has been and still is the land of a very high standard of road driving, and the recent Mile Miglia showed that sports-car drivers are very plentiful in the land-over-the-Alps. It is a strange fact that a driver who excels in open-road racing seldom becomes a good Grand Prix driver on closed circuits. The Marzotto family, Maglioli, Cabianca, Castellotti, Bracco, Scotti, Musso and Carini, are all drivers who are at the top of the tree in events like the Mille Miglia, Tour of Tuscany, Tour of Calabria and so on, but they have all proved very uninspiring when trying their hand with a Grand Prix car. On the other hand a good Grand Prix driver, can excel at open-road sports-car racing, as demonstrated by Ascari just recently and at other times by Villoresi, Taruffi and Fangio.

This dearth of Italian Grand Prix drivers is difficult to under-stand and looks like becoming serious, for there are only four at the moment, Ascari, Farina, Villoresi and Taruffi, and there do not seem to be any up-and-coming young drivers at present. Already Ferrari has had to draw his team from England, France and the Argentine and Maserati have done likewise. It would seem that the day is not far off when the species of Italian Grand Prix driver will be extinct.

* * *

With so many exciting Continental sporting cars about the place, such as Ferrari coupés, Lancia Aurelias, Alfa-Romeo Sprint models, Maserati two-seaters, Porsches and so on, it came as a very pleasant surprise to find a crowd gathered round an English car in a town just recently where there had been a Grand Prix. It was the white Bristol 404 coupé that appeared at the Paris Salon last year, and it certainly looked every bit the equal of the Farina-bodied Alfa-Romeo Sprint that was on the other side of the road. It was most satisfying explaining to the locals that it really was an English car. Another car that is attracting much attention in French sporting circles is the Austin-Healey 100 and I recently had a short trip with a French enthusiast who is the proud owner of one. He was most enthusiastic about the car and his only complaint was that the instruction book was written in English! Most onlookers seem to find it hard to believe that the engine is 2.6 litres, thinking it to be about 1,100 c.c. judging by the external proportions of the car. What is interesting is that the price in France, with customs and tax, is cheaper than the Simca Sport or the new Salmson coupé,

* * *

On May 5th I was able to watch Stirling Moss take delivery of his new Formula 1 Maserati and it was nice to see him in a car that was going to be the equal of any current Grand Prix model. For years now Moss has been wasting his talents on a variety of cars that have always been lacking in some vital quality. Either not enough power, inadequate roadholding, insufficient brakes, poor reliability, always something amiss. The Maserati was not an old “works” car hashed up for sale, but the latest the factory have built and it was made to Moss’s measurements. When it was ready, the engine having been bench tested throughout one whole night and given power tests at 5 a.m. on a normal racing exhaust system, the car was taken to the Modena Auto-drome. After the chief mechanic had put in some laps to see that everything was all right, Moss was allowed to drive, and he put in-some twenty very smooth laps and was highly contented with the car. It had only to go back to the factory for a routine check-over and it was then his to take away and race. At the time of writing only four of these new Maseratis have been built, two being at the factory, used by Marimon and Mantovani, the third being driven by Salvadori and the fourth by Moss. Three more are being built, one of which is for Wharton, so shortly we shall see three of our best drivers on the latest cars Modena can produce — a satisfying state of affairs. It was interesting to note at Modena that the production of engines was about five to one, judging by the various castings being worked upon. Apart from building the Grand Prix cars, the two-seater sports car is now in fairly steady production and it looks as though it will soon be available from stock. In addition, the factory is producing light trucks powered by 750-c.c two-stroke engines, while the other factory of Maserati, that produces batteries and sparking plugs, is now going into production with a 125-c.c. two-stroke motor-cycle. Whilst watching the Grand Prix car being built it was noticeable how everything was being made in the factory, with the exception of tyres, magnetos and brake and clutch linings. This ability to make everything, without recourse to outside firms, must surely be the secret to the speed at which an Italian factory can produce a new model. Not only are hold-ups unknown, but the skill and ability of the personnel are necessarily greater. The mechanics have to be craftsmen rather than “assemblers.” — D. S. J.

[All the more disheartening that the de Dion tube collapsed at Silverstone! — Ed.]