LETTER FROM EUROPE

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[By means of which the Continental Correspondent, while he is motoring abroad keeps in touch with the Editor.]

Dear W.B.,
Somehow I seemed to miss the World Cup Rally as it crossed Europe on its way to Mexico, even though it almost doubled back on itself on its way to Portugal. However, I could not miss the backwash of its progress and its advertising, and Citröen certainly came out well as being the super-car for motoring fast about Europe, as many Frenchmen will confirm and almost many English tourist: including myself as the DS21s go flashing by without a sound and levelling out the road undulations. It is noticeable how their sales are increasing in Italy, not so much because it is a good car, but because it is a different car. Just as there are people in England who enjoy owning a Citröen or a Fiat because it is “foreign”, there are similar people in Italy who enjoy “foreign” ears like Citröen and Mercedes-Benz. The German cars sell well in Italy but suffer from one thing, which is similarity, for at a glance it is not easy to see the difference between the low-priced Diesel Mercedes-Benz and the high-priced fuel-injection Mercedes-Benz. The satisfaction of owning a car that is different is waning a bit, for you spend a lot of money on the best Mercedes-Benz and then find that the chap round the corner has a cheaper version that looks almost the same. For this reason the Citröen DS21 is increasing its sales, for if the other chap can only afford an Ami Six Citröen, he is in a different world. Oh yes, this car snobbery exists everywhere: if it did not we would all be content with BMC Minis or Fiat 500s.

To return to the World Cup Rally, I was interested to see the big tic-up between the French Yacco Oil Company and the works Citröen team. Yacco goes back into the dark ages in the world of oils, and I remember when I was at school being intrigued by the long-distance records set up at MontIhéry in the early thirties by the special Citröens which were supported by Yacco, the distances going on for something like 133 days. Yacco also supported Matford in record-breaking as well, I seem to remember. Talking of Montlhery, although they no longer hold races round the banked track alone, part of it is still used in conjunction with the various road circuits, and just as Brooklands was a little world of its own, the French track carries on in the same way, with a small Club meeting to open their season. The French vintage scene had a race and regularity meeting there recently, just before the Paris-Nice Commemoration Rally started from Paris and some of our VSCC chaps took part (and won) while quite a large grot of them took part in the Paris-Nice run a distance of 1,200 kilometres, passing through the Mont-Blanc tunnel, Turin and the Col de Tende on its route. Driving your vintage (or PVT) car in tin event is one thing, but there is the sobering thought that having gone to Nice you then have a similar length drive to get back home to England.

The motoring trip down to Sicily for the Targa Florio, which I insist on doing each year to keep a sense of proportion, was very satisfactory but unusual in that there seemed to be a scarcity of exotic cars on the road. On one trip it was a matter of counting the Ferraris, then the Maseratis, and after that the Lamborghinis and the Fiat Dinos, all new and exciting things to see on the open road. This year there was a great shortage of such things and also of cars travelling really quickly, apart from a couple of 1750 Alfa Romeos and an MG-C from Switzerland that were doing 110 m.p.h. It was not until well en the way back that I saw a Lamborghini Miura, but no interesting Ferraris at all, and only one Maserati Ghibli. However, on the Autostrada between Modena and Bologna there was an interesting looking white mid-engined coupe that, was not immediately recognisable. It was not a De Tomaso Mangusta, nor was it one of the new De Tomaso Panthers, and it was too chunky-looking to be a new Lamborghini. By a process of elimination and the addition of some local knowledge I decided it was a new Maserati, so although they are fully occupied on their V6 engine contract for the new Super-Citröen, it looks as though the Maserati engineers are keeping up with the times in the world of exciting cars. It might have been the American Motors AMX-3, built for them by Bizzarini but Iiooking at a photograph of the American mid-engined car. I decided it was not what I saw

When you drive round the Targa Florio course you notice a great variety of paint marks on stone bollards, walls and trees, all in bright colours and with some weird and wonderful shapes. These are painted on by Sicilian racers learning the circuit, giving warning of dodgy corners or deceptive ones, though the true professional actually memorizes the layout rather than relying on such marks. Just at the entrance of Campolelice, the third of the small towns through which the course runs, there were this year two trees, one on each side of the road, with thick red bands round them. These were nothing to do with the Targa Florio, but belonged to the engineers planning the Palermo-Messina Autostrada, which will run parallel with the sea on the northern coast of the island. It is due to cross the Targa Florio road at right angles, barely one hundred yards from the last house in Campofelice and the locals are not too sure about the benefits it will bring. A literal translation of the name of this little Sicilian town is “Pleasant Field” and its full name is Campofelice di Roccella, after the river Roccella that runs down the nearby valley. I mention this because there is another Campofelice further west and to the south of Palermo, nowhere near the Targa Florio circuit, and its full name is Campofelice di Fitalia. Though not the one the race goes through, it has racing connections, or it was from this town that Father Granatelli went to America in 1914, and his sons who were born in America became the STP-Corporation and the wild racing enthusiasts who have poured money into all manner of racing protects including the works March team this year. A lot of people think the Granatellis come from the Campofelice on the Targa Florio circuit, but it is not so, they originate from further west, though no doubt Dad Granatelli heard about the wild motoring exploits of Vincenzo Florio and his crazy friends at the beginning of this century, for Sicily has a remarkable “bush telegraph” system. Apparently official recognition of the two towns did not come until 1928, when “di Roecella” was added to the Targa Florio famed Campofelice.

In the hotel on the morning after the 1,000-kilometre race at Monza there was an interesting little cameo. Its one corner of the lounge were four men, dressed in grey suits, having a quiet conversation seated at a table and to a casual passer-by it would have meant nothing, but to the racing enthusiast it was significant. They had just been responsible for the Gulf-Porsche that had won the Monza race and were planning the next move in the JW Automotive Engineering long-distance race programme. They were John Wyer his right-hand man John Horsman, team manager David Yorke and Arnold Stafford. They could have been four business men discussing insurance, but in fact they are the team of British brains that run the Gulf-Porsche racing with such success. What a pity they are not working for a British manufacturer, like Jaguar, Aston Martin or British Leyland, and winning the classic races for them. Although “God Save the Queen” was played at the end of the Monza race, the drivers were from Mexico and Finland, the car from Germany, the tyres from America and the petrol and oil also from America, to say nothing of the money. I see what people mean about the “brain drain” even in motor racing.
Yours, D. S. J.

PS.-I stopped the hood leaking on the Jaguar with a dirty great strip of black sticky tape; I’m not sure how I’ll ever get it down again.

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