There are many young designers who eventually achieve their aim in life by designing a racing car, be it a Formula Ford or a Grand Prix car, and others who design sports cars for racing, and even for limited production, but those who design a luxury four-seater saloon car of high performance must be few and far between. This rare achievement has been accomplished by Chris Lawrence in the form of Monica, a full four-seater luxury saloon of high performance and high breeding, now in production in limited numbers in a French factory.
Lawrence will be remembered for his racing with Triumph TR engined Morgans, his Lawrence-tune performance firm and various specials known as Deep Sanderson. A few years ago, while racing one of the last of his long line of Morgans at Le Mans, he was approached by a French industrialist to undertake a design study to produce a new French car. This man was Monsieur Tastevin, whose company produces all the rolling stock for the French National Railways, and he was interested in getting involved with motor car manufacture, rather like Signor Lamborghini did in Italy.
The proposed project was not as ambitious as Lamborghini, but more in the line of the Facel Vega of the mid-fifties. The projected car was to be a four-door, four-seater, with chassis and suspension derived from competition knowledge, and at first it was to have an engine of 2.8-litres, to which end Lawrence developed his own version of the Martin all-alloy V8. In fact, the first six cars to be built, all experimental prototypes, used this engine, but subsequently it was decided to go for more performance so a Chrysler V8 coupled to a ZF gearbox was incorporated into the design, and the seventh model to be built had a Chrysler V8 engine.
The basic car has been unchanged since Lawrence started on the design, having a square-tube space frame to which the all-steel body is welded to form an integral structure. Front suspension is by wishbones, with the upper arm working on the rocker principle operating an inboard coil spring/damper unit. At the rear the supension is of the de Dion layout, giving a low seating layout to the rear compartment and a capacious boot. Originally the fuel tanks were in the door sills, but this feature has been changed for a fuel tank across the rear of the car, between the rear seats and the luggage compartment.
While the initial building was done in Lawrence’s own small works in London, the subsequent development moved to Monsieur Tastevin’s factory in Balbigny, west of Lyon. The car is named Monica after Madame Tastevin, and made its first public appearance at the Paris Show last Autumn, and then at the Geneva Show, when a finalised version was on show.
Last month, two cars were made available to a small group of press people at the Paul Ricard circuit for closer scrutiny and practical appraisal. These two cars, numbers 8 and 9 in the prototype and pre-production line, were powered by 5.6-litre Chrysler V8 engines, but future cars will have 5.9-litre versions of this American production engine, and already the next six cars are awaiting these larger units. In Monica there has been no attempt to build a sports saloon, a GT car or even a 2 + 2. It is a four-door luxury car in the class that the French refer to as Grand Standing, like the Maserati Quattroporte. The detail finish and the appointment of the all-steel body is one of comfort and luxury, allied to a performance and handling that puts the car in the High Performance category, and the result is a very elegant saloon car that will waft along the Motorways and main roads of Europe in an effortless manner. Driving such a car on a racing circuit provides little or no knowledge of its true character, but it is indeed a praiseworthy project in these days of the cheap and shoddy for the masses, for Monica is a car for the connoisseur and the rich, hand made like good gloves or boots, and exuding quality and refinement; a very welcome addition to the Motoring secene.
At the moment France seems to be abounding with interesting new cars as a sort of antidote to the tin boxes being churned out by Renault, Simca and even Peugeot, all pretty orthodox by French standards and rather uninspiring. Last year Guy Ligier, who used to drive in Grand Prix events for fun, started producing a neat GT coupé powered by the Citroën-Maserati V6 powerpack from the Citroën SM. It was turned through 180-degrees and mounted in mid-engined layout, with transfer gear units reversing the drive, and the whole car anticipated the new Maserati “Merak” by more than a year. Ligier began this project with his friend Jo Schlesser, who was unfortunately killed at Rouen in the air-cooled Honda V8 Formula One car, before the project got under way. When Ligier got the first car built he called it the Ligier JS, and began activity with a racing and rally version, having some successes in small national events. Road versions of this compact mid-engined 3-litre are being built in small numbers, but sufficient for them to be seen on the public roads occasionally. At a recent French race there were two side-by-side in the public car park, which is a very different thing from seeing them in the paddock.
In competition form the Maserati engine, enlarged from 2.6-litres to 2.9-litres for the Ligier, with the co-operation of Maserati and Citroën, has a distressing tendency to blow head-gaskets. However, at the Dijon sports car race the Ligier JS driven by J. P. Jarier put up quite a good performance while it lasted and lapped faster than the works Porsche Carrera RSR. We tend to look upon any Porsche as providing a standard by which to judge others, and Porsche history justifies this, so Guy Ligier must have been very pleased when Jarier lapped the Dijon circuit in 1 min. 11.0 sec., compared to the best of the Müller/van Lennep works 3-litre Carrera RSR which lapped in 1 min. 12.0 sec. The Ligier will never become a vast empire like Porsche, for the Frenchman builds the cars and races them as something of a hobby, for motor racing has always been a passion with the stocky man from Vichy. As a small-volume production car it is a nice antidote to the dull and uniform, as practised by Renault.
When the French Engins Matra embarked on their gigantic racing programme, with Government financial backing, they made it clear that the end product was to be a luxury V12-cylinder car in the Ferrari image. However, as time went on the racing V12 got further and further removed from a possible production engine and an economic study by Matra decided that the days and the life of such a car were numbered. The intention was still that Engins Matra should branch out in the motor car industry and there appeared the rather bizarre Matra 530 coupé with Ford Taunus V4 engine amidships. It was not a roaring commercial success, but at least it introduced Matra to the industrial world of car production and marketing, with all its difficulties and pitfalls. In an attempt to solve some of the problems the Matra motor car project was amalgamated with Simca, and almost immediately Simca amalgamated with Chrysler, as Rootes had done in England.
It was obvious that the Ford V4-powered Matra could not go on for long, and now the new Matra has been released, under the name Matra-Simca and called the “Bagheera”. It is almost wholly Simca in design and construction, though no doubt benefiting from Matra’s experience with the Ford-engined car, for it is a fibre-glass coupe of mid-engine layout. It is powered by the 1.3-litre Simca unit from their front-wheel-drive model, and many of the mechanical parts are standard Simca. It is quite a neat looking coupé and has the unusual arrangement of seating three abreast, the driver in a bucket seat on the left and two passengers in a pair of aircraft-type seats with a fixed division between them, on his right.
While the “Bagheera” Matra-Simca is an interesting little sporting car in the medium-price range, as yet not on the British market, it is a far cry from the original concepts of Engins Matra when they first appeared on the racing scene.
The Dutch Grand Prix is due to take place on July 29th, after being cancelled last year, and the Zandvoort circuit is in the throes of a major face-lift in order to comply with FIA requirements of safety and conditions. The basic layout is not being changed, but certain corners are being reshaped and given spacious run-off areas, and a new corner is being added to the back section of the course which will reduce the entry speed onto the main straight. Resurfacing, widening, etc., is naturally going ahead, and the pit and paddock area is being rebuilt, with a much wider pit road, while new time-keeping buildings are being provided. We hope some new time-keeping apparatus or new operators will also be provided for the time-keeping at Zandvoort has always produced some suspect times during practice.
Not long ago the Zandvoort circuit had its pits moved bodily back a bit to provide more space in the pit road, and almost before the cement was dry the size of Grand Prix cars almost doubled and the pits were again hopelessly cramped. This time they should be all right for it looks as though the width of cars and tyres has reached its limit and there are signs of reductions being made in tyre widths and track widths. The return of the Dutch Grand Prix will be welcomed by everyone and the tidying-up of the Zandvoort circuit will not be a bad thing, for like the Nürburgring it was beginning to show its age. One wonders how much longer the Brands Hatch and Silverstone pits can remain acceptable to officialdom, for they both get zero rating from the competitors.
The Grand Prix of Monaco round the streets of Monte Carlo is due to take place on June 3rd and at the time of writing (mid-May) the lower part of the circuit is one huge building site. The whole sea-front of Monte Carlo is undergoing a huge rebuild as part of a town improvement plan, so naturally the Grand Prix circuit is affected. The sea-front road and the famous tunnel has all gone, to be replaced by a new road, wider and straighter, with the town stretching out over it, not so much providing a new tunnel, as an underground road. On the harbour front a new road has been built running from the quay-side out into the harbour and back again, so that the pedestrian promenade which was used for the racing circuit, providing the downward leg to the famous Gasworks Hairpin, can now be used for a pit area, thus being on an “island” between the new road that arrives at the hairpin by way of four sharp corners, and the return leg up towards Ste. Devote. No doubt many people will mourn the passing of the famous tunnel, but oddly enough few people noticed when the railway was buried under the town or the station disappeared completely, nor did they notice when the Gasworks was demolished removing the raison d’être for the naming of the hairpin bend. Indeed, Monte Carlo has been undergoing continual change over the years, but this year will be a landmark, for the new circuit will be the beginning of a new era.
The Belgian Grand Prix
Ever since Jackie Stewart “fell on his head” so to speak, due to inexperience, in the 1966 Belgian GP on the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, he has had a mental block about the circuit. He has been so vociferous in his expounding of the dangers of the circuit that he has brain-washed other drivers into agreeing with him even though some of them have never raced at Spa. One current Formula One driver was recently going on about the “dangerous Spa circuit”, when to my knowledge he has never raced there; but he is a close friend of Stewart. Fortunately the anti-Spa brigade have not stopped the racing or killed the circuit, as they intended to do, for each year the 1,000-kilometre sports car race is run, as is the 24-hour saloon car race and the Motorcycle Grand Prix, and with sports cars turning laps at over 160 m.p.h. and saloons at over 135 m.p.h. Spa-Francorchamps is getting along very nicely without the Formula One circus.
Last year the Belgian GP was held on the newly-built circuit at Nivelles-Baulers, south of Bruxelles, and while it was a neat and tidy race, not many people felt it was a representative Belgian Grand Prix. Belgium is sharply divided into two factions, the Flemish speaking and the French speaking, and while the Belgian GP was held at Spa-Francorchamps there was no “feeling” as the circuit was accepted as the natural home of the Grand Prix having started there in 1925. However, once it had been wrested away from Spa, “feeling” burst out, and having been held on an essentially Wallone or French speaking) circuit at Nivelles there was agitation to move it to a Flamand (or Flemish speaking) circuit for 1973. This was the Zolder circuit about midway between Antwerp and Liège (or Luik to be Flemish and precise), and oddly enough there was no great outcry, the change being acceptable to the Formula One circus providing the circuit met the necessary requirements of safety and amenities: It would seem that having deserted the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, nobody was very worried where the Belgian Grand Prix was held.
After a lot of last minute discussions and an enormous programme of work involving relaying the track surface, improving the pits and the paddock, and uncertainty right up until the last moment, Zolder was got ready to receive the Belgian Grand Prix for the first time on May 20th. A report on the race will appear in our next issue, the 20th of the month being just too late for our printing schedules, Motor Sport being a glossy magazine and not a loose-leaf newspaper. The agreement in Belgium is that the race will return to Nivelles in 1974 and back to Zolder in 1975, meanwhile Spa-Francorchamps continues with its three big meetings each year. The Motorcycle Grand Prix takes place on July 1st and the 24-hour saloon car race on July 22nd.— D.S.J.