Continental Notes, June 1957

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76

The recent spate of Grand Prix races, with Pau and Naples in the same week, caused something of a stir among the regular runners in the “Continental Circus.” It is so often easy to overlook the behind-the-scenes activity that goes on in order to get cars and drivers on the starting line every weekend over the length and breadth of Europe, when races can be as much as 1,500 miles apart. How many times do we read an entry list or a race report and subconsciously notice that the same drivers and cars have competed as were running in an event reported the previous weekend, yet seldom does anyone give a thought to what happens between the weekends? In fact, naive people often ask me what I do between races. For me it is simple, I merely have to drive 1,000 or 1,500 miles between Monday morning and Thursday night, in order to be ready to watch practice on Friday morning, and I have a pleasant high-speed touring car for getting about. What of the workers of the various teams who have trucks to drive and cars to repair?

The activities of the Connaught team over the recent three Grand Prix races, Syracuse, Pau and Naples, make typical reading. Immediately after the Sicilian event the two cars had their engines taken out and put into one of the transporters, which then had to be driven through the small hours of Monday morning to Catania so that the two power units could be loaded into the Connaught Club charter-plane and flown back to England. Then the two chassis and the remains of the burnt-out car that Leston was to have driven were loaded into the two A.E.C. buses and course was set for Pau, on the far western side of France. To appreciate this journey it is well worth while getting out a map of the Mediterranean and studying the route. At the same time Engineer Mike Oliver set off for England in his Vanguard shooting-brake. Exactly eight days later this same Vanguard was leaving Send in Surrey, loaded up with two new engines and was headed at high speed for Pau, to arrive and meet the two transporters containing the two Connaught chassis to be used for the Pau Grand Prix. The team of mechanics, having got to Pau, had to have the cars ready to receive the new engines when the heavily laden Vanguard arrived, fit them and have everything ready for practice on Easter Saturday. The Pau Grand Prix being over on Monday evening, out came the engine from Bueb’s car, a spare one was fitted and on Tuesday one of the transporters set off for Naples, a mere 1,000 miles away, with the car ready for Lewis-Evans to drive. Meanwhile, the debris of the equipe was loaded into the other transporter and driven back to Send, the mechanics seeing England and home for the first time for nearly six weeks. Meanwhile, the Naples contingent had to drive day and night in order to get to Naples by Thursday night, and be ready for Friday’s practice. By the time the whole team was back in England nearly eight weeks had gone by since leaving.

That was the activities of only the Connaught team, but it must be remembered that most of the others who were at Naples were also at Pau. The two English private owners, Halford and Gould, had to organise their mechanics for similar trips. At 7 a.m. on the Tuesday morning after Pau, a big grey Alfa-Romeo truck carrying the two Maseratis drove non-stop to Modena, arriving mid-morning on Wednesday, the two mechanics taking turns to drive. Back at the Maserati works both cars had to be checked over, and have the rear axle ratios changed. Halford’s had to have a new crown wheel fitted and then on Thursday evening his was put into his royal blue A.E.C. transporter and driven non-stop to Naples, a journey of 15 hours through the night and over the Apennine mountains. Gould’s car was loaded into the Alfa-Romeo van, along with another Maserati, and that set off at the same time, arriving a bit later at Naples due to having broken both springs on the near side. In addition to these the Scuderia Centro-Sud lorry, with its two Maseratis on board, did the same trip, the time spent at the factory being on giving the engine of the car Schell drove a complete overhaul, for it had been thrashed for three hours at Pau. All this activity would be comparatively simple with unlimited numbers of mechanics and lorries, but only Daimler-Benz can work on that scale, so to the general run of Grand Prix competitors it means a lot of work, little sleep, hours and hours of driving, irregular meals, a night in a bed about one out of four and little relaxation. That there are men who will do this behind-the-scenes work is remarkable, but it is no wonder that they are few and are difficult to find. They seldom complain about conditions, for they know what they are tackling before they start, they never get a mention in the programme or their photographs in the magazines, but then they are not really worried about such things. To them the real joy is to hear their cars running at peak revs, with the exhaust as clean-as-a-whistle, and if the driver does justice to their efforts by making a really searing lap-time and beats his rivals, then they feel a justifiable glow of satisfaction, and the previous four days of hard graft seem really worth while. They are at every race meeting, these workers, sometimes a little haggard-looking, often a bit unshaven and grubby, but invariably spruced-up and in clean overalls for the start of the race. No matter what country they come from they speak the same language, a sort of mechanics’ “Esperanto,” and whether it is Joe, Tony, Jimmy or Fred, Luigi, Gianno, Pietro or Ciccio, Jean-Pierre, Marcel or Louis, these “circus workers” are all the same; they work on racing cars because they like nice mechanical things, none of them have aspirations to become racing drivers, for that makes for a bad mechanic, they just have the passion for motor-racing and for racing cars. If you ask them why they do it they just grin, and say, in any of four different languages, “I wonder myself sometimes, I must be bloody mad.” But they do do it, and without them the lot of the racing hero-driver would be a sad one, just as the mechanic would be non-existent if there were not men with an equal passion for designing and building racing cars. All of them are vital cogs in the great wheel of the motor-racing circus, all as important as any other and it is this great team-work behind the scenes that is a fascinating part of motor racing for anyone lucky enough to be allowed “round the back” to have a look.

*

Just as the mechanics have a full week, some of the drivers have an equally full time, especially those who do it as a means of livelihood. Some drivers are content to race on Sunday and until practice starts for the next Sunday race they disappear to the seaside or return to their homes and relax. One driver who simply refuses to relax, and who has an obvious passion for driving in all its aspects, apart from racing driving, is Jean Behra. After the Pau Grand Prix which he won, he had a night’s sleep, attended the prize-giving next morning and then set off in a very tired 1,100-c.c. Fiat saloon and drove non-stop to Monza where he met another part of the Maserati team with the 4.5-litre sports car that had recently returned from Sebring. Having driven right through Tuesday afternoon, evening and night, arriving Wednesday morning, Behra proceeded to cover 300 miles on test round Monza with the “four-five.” Finishing just before dark he then drove the three-hour run down to Modena, arriving in time for supper on Wednesday evening, looking a little grubby and tired, but well pleased with the big “four-five ” Maserati. As many another driver has remarked, “He’s a glutton for work, and never seems to need to do anything special in order to keep fit.”

*

At the end of June the Monza 500-mile race is due to be run, and at the moment the Italians appear to have given no thought to the matter. The Americans, however, have got down to the job, building new cars specially for the race, for it is too soon after Indianapolis to rebuild the cars used there. The Firestone company were at Monza recently with their test car, a Kurtis chassis, of typical Indianapolis layout, rigid axles back and front, carefully located, two-speed transmission, magnesium wheels and so on, with a 5½-litre V8 Chrysler engine installed. With an engine so big the car is naturally experimental, for the limit at Monza is to be 4.2 litres, but the performance of this car gave those Europeans who were present something to think about. With a maximum of about 185 m.p.h. along the straights, and lifting-off for the bankings, Pat O’Connor, the test-driver, lapped easily at 165 m.p.h. and before finishing turned in a quick one at 170 m.p.h. Up to last year the Grand Prix cars, with 2½-litre engines, could take the whole speed-track flat-out and turn laps at around 156-158 m.p.h. June 30th looks like being a real fiesta of ultra-high speed and the drivers are going to earn every lire they get at this meeting. As this is the first attempt to run a race on the banked track only, the 500 miles is to be split up into three heats of 63 laps each, a distance of approximately 165 miles each heat. Between the heats will be a break of one hour for repairs, but during that time the cars must remain on the track and no engines may be changed. The results of this 1957 Monza 500 miles will be added to those of the 1958 Indianapolis race and the winner will receive the “Two Worlds” Trophy. If an Italian car wins the forthcoming Monza race one can foresee a serious attempt at Indianapolis in 1958, if not it is possible that interest will flag. — D. S. J.

U.S. Consumer Reports

Consumer reports have a big following in America, where they cover such things as films, cameras, nylon hosiery, “Hi-fi,” sun-glasses, lawn-mowers, paint, fishing rods, men’s socks, solders and frozen beef-pies, as well as automobiles.

The 1957 special automobile issue is of outstanding interest, especially as we have nothing comparable in this country. Each car analysed is bought for cash and then subjected to exhaustive and comprehensive testing by a team of experts, after which it is traded-in and another car for test takes its place.

The. Consumers’ Union, a non-profit-making organisation founded in 1936, supplies its reports by subscription, which costs 5 dollars 50 cents to foreigners.

It would hardly be fair to quote liberally from its auto report but this is certainly worth studying; those interested will no doubt find means of obtaining it in this country. The address of C.U. is 256, Washington Street, Mount Vernon, New York. We will confine ourselves to a few comments on the 1957 analysis of American cars. C.U. punches hard to the body, as witness: “A good reason for choosing this model is hard to find,” of the Dodge Coronet Six, and “For city and suburbs, the car is too big; for the open road, its engine is too ‘busy’,” of the Plymouth Savoy Six. After which, praise is praise indeed!

The C.U. names as “best buy” in the 2,253-2.631-dollar low-price class the Chevrolet 210 V8, in spite of its hard ride. In the lower-medium-price group it finds no one car outstanding, ditto in the upper-medium-price group. It rates the Cadillac 62 as best in the high-price, over 4,053-dollar class, but, even so, remarks that “the Cadillac name is more impressive than the road behaviour.”

Singled out for special mention, although not all of them received top rating in their respective price groups, are the following, which, if your friends roll up in one, you can rate as a good average 1957 automobile: Plymouth Belvedere, Rambler Six, Mercury Montclair, Chrysler Saratoga, Lincoln, Chevrolet Six and V8, Pontiac Chieftain, Oldsmobile 88.

Writing of special cars, the C.U. says the Ford Thunderbird has been developed away from the true sports car, whereas the Chevrolet Corvette has moved towards it. The Lincoln Continental Mk. II (9,966 dollars) is praised for quality, simple lines and lack of trashy ornamentation but is “chiefly an investment in prestige.” The Cadillac Eldorado brougham with self-levelling air suspension is Cadillac’s answer to the Continental and is considered a good answer. A note of warning is sounded in connection with the 3,800-dollar Rambler Rebel as to whether proper servicing of the fuel injection will be readily obtainable. Pontiac are being cautious about the fuel-injection Bonneville and may not market it. C.U. suggests that the supercharged Studebaker Golden Hawk will remain below the top flight of semi-sports-car handling and for this reason the Silver Hawk its more practical. Foreign cars are only referred to briefly but — for those readers whose heads are in the sand — C.U. rates the VW as “king of the cheap-car class” and gives special commendation to Jaguar, Porsche 1,600, Mercedes-Benz 219 and Volvo Amazon.

Besides the reviews the auto issue contains articles on many aspects of U.S. motoring and is a very complete guide to this year’s American cars. Serious students should chase it up. — W.B.

Renault Victory in Tulip Rally

Out of 216 starters a little Renault Dauphine in the special touring class won the 9th International Tulip Rally, from a 300SL Mercedes-Benz and a Porsche 1,600.  Ford took the Team Award, Anne Hall’s Ford the Ladies’ Award.

West Essex Car Club Speed Trial (Snetterton, April 28th)

Compelled to switch venues at the last minute from Gransden Lodge to Snetterton, the West Essex Car Club’s Annual Speed Trial (a National event), was held over a standing 800 yards course instead of the traditional kilometre. Cars ran in pairs, just like Brighton, but without the sea and the waves, and were timed by the Beaune-Langines system.

An entry of over 130 had been received, for saloon, sports, sports-racing and racing cars, and contained many cars of interest. These included K. B. Shaw’s ex-Holland, ex-Elives, ex-Seaman 2-litre speed model Aston Martins, known more familiarly as “The Red Dragon,” looking somewhat naked and unadorned in comparison with modern all-enveloping machinery. The two 1½-litre E.R.A.s of W. F. Moss and M. L. Brewer, made authentic noises and were perhaps most people’s idea of what racing cars should look like. These two cars are beautifully prepared, and are the ex-White Manx stable “Remus” and the ex-Seaman, ex-Cotton car, respectively.

E. B. Wadsworth’s Volkswagen based Denzel, a smart red coupe, attracted admiring glances, and proved much quicker than anticipated. Eight 250-c.c. racing cars ran with varying degrees of success, being slow off the line, then scuttling up the course at prodigious revs. The Smith/Anzani of K. R. Harris was by far the noisiest, with its unsilenced, screaming twin-cylinder two-stroke engine. Other power units favoured were Norton (linered down?), Velocette and Excelsior o.h.c. Manxman.

R. R. C. Walker fielded three cars — his Formula II Cooper-Climax, Formula 1 Connaught and Mercedes-Benz 300SL, (ROB 2) — to collect two firsts and a second in class.

The obvious challenge for B.T.D. came from two guided missiles in the shape of Archie Scott-Brown’s Lister-Jaguar and John Ogier’s Tojeiro-Jaguar, the former collecting the honours with an electrifying run of 19.61 sec. — J.H.

Bugatti O.C. Prescott Speed Hill-Climb (May 5th)

Our condolences go to B.O.C. over the first fatality to occur at any Prescott hill-climb since the course was opened in 1937. Unfortunately Lod Ebury, the well-known motor-sportsman, overturned his Jaguar and was killed instantly.

For Lovers of Steam

Traction-engine rallies are due to be held this month at Appleford on the eighth, North Leach and Saffron Walden on the 15th, and at Rempstone on the 29th/30th. If you have never seen one of these delightful events, here is a possible opportunity. Vintage cars always seem to be welcome.

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