A Condemnation of Existing Racing/Sports Cars

OVER the past few ycars in International racing, the sports car has become so highly developed that it has accepted the title of racing/sports car, and many of them have been very thinly-disguised Grand Prix cars. In fact, in the case of some manufacturers, such as Maserati and Mercedes-Benz, their sports cars were faster and more powerful than their Grand Prix cars. This was chiefly because Grand Prix cars were restricted to 2,500-e.c. engine size, whereas sports cars had no restriction, and consequently engines of up to 5,000 c.c. were built to use in sports cars; some of them, such as Mercedes-Benz, were simply enlarged Grand Prix engines; others, such as the V8 Maserati, were specially-built engines involving all the techniques of Grand Prix engine design. Chassis design has developed in the same way and today any racing/sports car that does not embody all the best in Grand Prix chassis design is liable to get left behind. Such things as wishbone i.f.s„ de Dion rear, inboard brakes, five-speed gearboxes, space-frames and so on are a for a successful racing/sports car.

Now, as far as any factory team is concerned, and most private owners as well, these racing/sports cars are, taken to meetings on transporters and used purely for racing, for the simple reason that if the car has been prepared for a race then driving it on the road to the meeting would take the fine edge off the tune, so that the car would start the race not in 100 per cent. condition. Of course, there are some people who cannot afford transporters and have to drive their cars on the roads, but they are few. The fact that a racing/sports car is nowadays designed, prepared and run in exactly the same way as a Grand Prix car is taken for granted by those firms taking part in sports-car racing. This prompts the thought in many minds : “Why call these cars sports cars ? “, and has done so in my mind for many years. The only valid justification I could ever see in building these two-seater Grand Prix cars was that there was room for people like myself to ride as passenger, and with events in Italy such as the Mile Miglia, Giro di Sicilia, Giro de Calabria, etc., in which passengers were allowed, such cars had a definite place in a logical scheme of things. For events such as Le Mans, Nurburgring, Lisbon, Reims, Bari, Supercortermaggiore, etc., I could never understand why (a) these thingly-disguised Grand Prix cars were allowed or (b) why the events were not changed to Formula Libre.

After a time, some futile attempts were made to control the design of the racing/sports car, especially at Le Mans, but no real advances were made, for as fast as a new regulation was made designers found a way round, or everyone blatantly ignored it and the officials overlooked it. The racing/sports continued to be a thinly-disguised Grand Prix car and virtually impracticable as a normal road car. When it was suggested that a sports-car firm such as Jaguar or Aston Martin should abandon their highly specialised “sports cars” and build Grand Prix cars, it was often explained that the G.P. car would cost so much more money that it was not possible. In the days of superchargers and alcohol or nitro-bused fuels, that was probably true, but only in so far as engines were concerned. As regards chassis design and construction, there is virtually no difference in cost or design between, say, a DBR1/300 Aston Martin chassis and a Vanwall, and the gearbox, transmission, rear suspension aggregate on the Aston Martin “sports car” is a far more complicated and costly thing than that on the Vanwall. Now that the Grand Prix engine must run on straight petrol the cost and problems are identical to those faced by racing/sports-car designers. At the recent Silverstone meeting the engine used in the Formula I Lotus was the same that had been used a few weeks in the Lotus Fifteen rating/sports car. The obvious question now is, ” Why go on with racing/sports cars ?,” or conversely,” Why go on with Grand Prix cars ? ” Why not merge the two categories into one ?—since apart from variations in capacity, all the cars are designed to the same high degree, the only difference being that the racing/sports car has to carry lamps, hood, starter, battery, spare wheel and so on, few of which items are ever used, except in the Le Mans race.

For a long while I have wanted to see the racing/sports car dropped from the International scene, and replaced by the same cars without their so-called ” road equipment” and running as racing cars pure and simple. Yet so great has been the enthusiasm for building these very specialised racing/sports rare that I felt perhaps my ideas were wrong.

However, during the past six months I have come up against four separate factions who are thinking along the same lines as myself, and all four come from completely different sections of the over-all racing scene. In France, Raymond Roche, the Lord-high-chief of Reims, recognised the absurdity of the racing/sports car and changed his 12-hour event to an event for Gran Turismo cars, keeping specially-built machines to Formula I and Formula II, for he thought that racing/sports cars were merely thinly-disguised versions of the two types of single-seater racing cars. He is encouraging other French organisers along the same lines, to change their sports/racing-car events into Gran Turismo events, and while I applaud the change I am not sure I agree with the substitute, but that is another matter. The operative point here is that certain elements of French organisation are taking active steps to discourage the absurd development of the racing/sports car now that it resembles nothing more than a Grand Prix car with added equipment.

In Italy there is also a strong element opposing the way in which the sports car has developed into the racing/sports car, and one of the strong leaders is Sig. Bacciagaluppi, the director of the Monza circuit. He and many others in the Italian Sport Federation have very strong views about the present-day racing/sports car, especially those that are potentially more powerful than Grand Prix cars, and he and his confederates feel that while such cars are built they might just as well be single-seater racing cars, for not only would they be safer but they would have more spectator appeal. In an attempt to encourage this single-seater trend they organised the 500-mile race at Monza last year, but suffered badly at the hands of various people who did not appreciate the full significance of the event. In the years before, a sports-car race was held at Monza, called the Supercortemaggiore race and last year it was dropped in favour of the 500-mile track race. The apathy of constructors to that event and the antagonism of European drivers through the U.P.P.I. are now history, but the event took place in spite of it all. This year the Monza 500 is receiving no opposition at all, and one of the first drivers to climb down from the fatuous principles of the U.P.P.I. has been Stirling Moss and he has already applied for an entry in the race, while other well-known drivers have been named as likely runners and there have been no screams of protest. Ferrari are building a special single-seater for this event, and Maserati have all the drawings finished for a single-seater V8 Maserati suitable for the Monza track. Ecurie Ecosse were so delighted with their visit to Monza last year that they have again entered three cars and at least one should be a pure single-seater track car.

Now readers must not get the idea that those of us in favour of single-seaters rather than racing/sports cars want to convert racing into American track racing, for that is absolutely wrong. The idea is to encourage more types of single-seater racing in place of racing/sports-car events but on the normal circuits of today, not restricted to banked tracks. The enthusiasm for more banked-tracked racing is merely another branch of single-seater racing. One of the reasons for inviting the Indianapolis boys to Monza was to try and spread some of the American single-seater racing ideas and feelings into European racing circles, for in the racing all over America organised by the United States Auto Club only single-seaters are permitted, and these events range from ¼-mile Midget tracks to Indianapolis, through various engine sizes and chassis lengths, and from small tracks and short races to long tracks and long races. All the racing is controlled by U.S.A.C. and run to the same pattern, and there is a good degree of sensible uniformity about the whole thing. Now, I am not suggesting that we change European racing to conform to U.S.A.C. track racing, for that is the last thing I want to see, but I do think we can incorporate some of the U.S.A.C. ideas. To prevent confusion in the minds of those not well informed on American racing I would mention that there is another form of racing in America, organised by the Sports Car Club of America, but as the title suggests this is only for sports cars and is akin to Silverstone Club racing in England and has no effect on the discussion in hand.

Let us imagine that we have adopted some of the basic principles of U.S.A.C. racing and applied them to English events for a start, and consider the recent Daily Express meeting at Silverstone. As Silverstone is a very fast circuit, we would permit our largest-engined single-seaters to race and the entry would no doubt have numerous 3.8-litre Jaguar-engined single-seater Listers, Tojeiros, H.W.M.s, and single-seater Jaguar D-types, while Brooks and Salvadori would have been on ” monoposto ” 3.8-litre Aston Martins, and if we opened this Class A to cars up to 4½ litres there would no doubt be many more entries. Now, obviously, to run these Class A cars on circuits such as Mallory Park, Dalton Park or Brands Hatch would be an absurdity, and the recent Empire Trophy race at Oulton Park showed that a 2-litre Lotus was as quick as a 4-litre Aston Martin on such a circuit. Therefore our Class A cars would be restricted to suitably fast Circuits. If we took the existing Formula I cars of 2½-litres as our basis for Class B, the Formula II cars as Class C and made Class D for cars with a limit of 1,000 c.c.. we would have four logical stages of single-seater development and drivers could make steady but sure progress from a 1,000-cc. single-seater up to a 4½-litre single-seater, with some definite and planned objective in view. As things are at present, a novice driver can buy a Lister-Jaguar and race it at Brands Hatch, either making himself look a fool or killing himself. If we organised our racing along the lines suggested and restricted Class A to the fast circuits, then obviously we would restrict Class D to the small, slow circuits. All this would do would be to speed up the natural selection of ” cars for courses,” a thing which is taking place before our eyes at this moment by trial and error, and is being ably demonstrated by Cooper and Lotus. If this scheme were to be extended through the F.I.A. to the whole of Europe, we would see Class A racing at such circuits as the Monza road circuit, the Monza banked circuit, Reims, Rouen, Avus, Le Mans and so on. Class B would also have events at the same places, plus the Nurburgring, Zandvoort and similar less fast circuits, while wiggly circuits like Monaco, Pau, Naples, etc., would be for Class C and Class D, and by a little careful thought and some trials the best class for any given circuit could soon be decided upon.

If we feel that traditional races, such as Le Mans, should be kept for sports cars then let us do so, but insist that they are sports cars and catalogue ones in mass-production such as Jaguar, Austin-Healey, Triumph, etc., not small-production cars such as Lotus, Elva, Maserati, etc.

That there is enormous-enthusiasm for motor racing today is self-evident wherever you look, but it is badly in need of organisation, for it often shows signs of running amok, and at the recent Silverstone B.R.D.C. meeting there was a strong feeling that “saturation point ” was being reached. If this should happen then motor racing could easily strangle itself with its own enthusiasm and after all the years of struggling to get it on a firm foothold that would be a crying shame. It is this approach of an uncontrolled “saturation point” that has prompted people like Roche and Bacciagaluppi to make some drastic changes in the spheres in which they have some say. I hope others who are in equally strong positions will give some serious thought to this approaching danger.

I have instanced the feelings of certain factions who are at ” the top,” internationally, to single-seater racing, and it is interesting that the same views are held by certain people at ” the bottom.” In Italy there is continual alarm at the shortage of up-and-coming drivers, and already a National ” Junior ” Formula has begun for single-seaters, using proprietary, 1.100-c.c. engines and suspension units. The first race attracted eight starters, with at least the same number nearing completion, so that the Italian idea has got away to a reasonable start. The little Stanguellini Fiat engined single-seater is capable of about 105 m.p.h., so that Junior drivers can get a good idea of ” monoposto ” racing in this ” beginners’ category.” In England, similar thoughts are under way and the recently formed ” Monoposto Register “ has come into being by the efforts of a group of enthusiastic clubmen. Their ideas are one step above the Italian Junior Formula and they envisage a class of single-seater racing a cut above the existing 1,172 Formula racing, but not on such a high plane as National Formula II racing, where the first requirement is £1,000-worth of twin-cam Climax engine. In consequence the “ Monoposto Register ” are out to encourage racing with tuned production engines but allowing special chassis building by owner drivers.

Although all these thoughts on single-seaters have derived from different sources and have been prompted by different reasons, there is the underlying feeling that as things are at present the racing/sports car is serving little use other than for racing, so why not drop the ” sports ” part of the title and concentrate our energies on more pure racing cars ? Such savings in time as providing starters, wiring systems, spare wheels, extra seats, windscreens, hoods, etc., could be spent on more vital things such as building more cars, while the saving in cost on these items to a small manufacturer could be put to development work. If anyone is going to insist that converse of what I have proposed should be encouraged, then all right, let us encourage our racing/sports to become less racing and more sports, anti the first thing to do is to make adequate room for a passenger and insist that passengers be carried in all sports-car races. I would like to see races such its Le Mans revert to events for touring cars as in the Bentley days, when a Le Mans car was a four-seater with hood and sidescreens and I would like to see the first hour run with full complement of passengers and hood erect. After one hour the hood could be furled and after each subsequent three-hour period a passenger could be jettisoned, then your sports or touring car races would definitely encourage usable cars. Many people still insist that ” racing should improve the breed ” but today, as things stand, that is a fallacy. If we want to encourage this thought then something drastic most be done, such as have suggested for Le Mans. My personal opinion is, and always has been, that motor racing is first and foremost a sport and pastime needing no other justification. If it can” improve the breed ” then that is a bonus from the original idea, and if we are going to race seriously —and there is nothing taken so seriously as a ” sport “—then racing has to become scientific and the present-day racing/sports car is not scientific, so let us drop the sports and concentrate on racing cars.—D. S. J.