From D.S.J. to the Deputy Editor
As mentioned in my last letter I was due to spend a couple of days at Silverstone “messin’ about with old cars” and this duly happened. The Friday afternoon was the Vintage Club’s test day, prior to their April race meeting, and it was a splendid afternoon with all manner of old racing cars in the paddock and out on the track. They were nearly all pure racing cars, many of them Historic Grand Prix cars, while there was also a good smattering of “specials” built in the vintage way. One reason for being there was to help with the running-in of a brand new Frazer Nash special, built on the lines of the works 1935 single-seater, but using mostly newly made parts, and having a supercharged Meadows engine rather than the supercharged ohc “Gough” engine of the 1935 car. This was a meticulously engineered car that has taken the builder more years to construct than even he cares to think about. It is jointly owned by Barry Peerless, the builder and Mike Gibbs of the progressive MGA Design firm in Coventry.
We had hoped to put in 50 or more laps during the afternoon, sharing the driving, but oiling problems prevented this, as a lot of time was spent “rnessin’ about with the machinery” rather than driving it, so all we managed was about half-a-dozen laps each. This is a car with no history whatsoever, built from scratch and using very few Frazer Nash components, but it would be difficult to tell it from a 1935 single-seater Frazer Nash at a quick glance. Some people thought I would throw my hands up in horror at what appeared to be a “Fake”, but far from it, for is not purporting to be anything other than a Frazer Nash-type Special, and as such it is totally acceptable to me and I enjoyed my brief drive in it. What I throw my hands up about are “specials” which are exact copies of original cars that then have the audacity to take a small piece of motoring history and claim it as theirs. Actually it is the owners that do this, not the cars, for the cars just sit there knowing exactly what they are. Some of the worst perpetrators of this duplicity are owners, who I must not mention by name for they are liable to take me to court!
Two other first-class specials at this gathering were based on MG components, having been constructed by Bob Jones of Salisbury. One is the very fast six cylinder supercharged MG special of Roger Sweet, which uses the one-off twin ohc cylinder head that Reg Parnell had made for his K3 Magnett a special way back in 1937, and the other is the delightful single-seater supercharged 6-cylinder built from MG components which Richard Summers races. Knowing his father’s predilection for pre-war Maserati Grand Prix cars it is no surprise that this car had a scaled-down body-shape like a 1934 Maserati 8CM. and it looks splendid.
During the test afternoon Neil Corner was practising with his V12 Ferrari Dino Tasman car, but he was also driving his Type 59 Bugatti, even though it was not entered for the following day’s race meeting. In view of De Ferranti selling his Type 59 Bugatti to an American collector for one million pounds sterling, some people assume that all Type 59 Bugattis are now worth a million pounds, which may be why four new ones are being built not all that far from Silverstone. A spectator quizzed Corner about the fact that he was driving a million pounds round the circuit, not on a parade, but at racing speeds. When Neil explained that his Type 59 Bugatti did not cost a million pounds, and had actually cost £xyz, and that he had bought it in order to drive it and race it, the spectator thought Corner was being irresponsible. All I can say is, thank St Christopher that we still have some Neil Corners left in the world, who view old cars as things to drive and enjoy.
I do actually know someone who doesn’t like Italian motor racing, I wouldn’t say he is a friend of mind, in fact, I think he is a “wally”, but to each his own. I know that if I had to choose one type of motor racing, it would be Italian, for there is something about Italian enthusiasm for racing that permeates the skin. When I walked into my hotel near Imola the patron and his wife greeted me with “…what a terrible year it is being for Ferrari…” If motor racing is Italian, Italy is Ferrari, and Imola is not far from the home of Ferrari and the whole province of Emilia Romagna simply exudes Ferrari enthusiasm. Now road-going Ferraris don’t do much for me, and an old GTO does not get my adrenalin flowing, though a Vignale 340 MM or a Farina 250 MM does, and I love Ferrari racing cars and I am always happy to see Ferrari Grand Prix cars win races, for I know the joy it brings to people all over Italy. They haven’t had much joy recently, since Honda and Porsche came into Formula One, but it will return, of that I am sure.
While at Imola I collected a new Ferrari book entitled “Ferrari Automobili 1947-1953” published by Editoriale Olimpia and written by Luigi Orsini in collaboration with photographers Corrado Millanta and Franco Zagan. This is a big tome that follows on the Orsini/ Zagari classic on the Scudena Ferrari 1929-1939, and gives us the formative years of Enzo Ferrari as a constructor. The wealth of original photographs from those early days is stupendous and even if you cannot read the text, which is in Italian, it is a book you cannot be without if you like Italian motor racing, and Ferrari in particular. it is compiled in the form of a day-by-day diary of those formative years and takes in national racing events of which I had not heard. An English translation is under discussion, but my feeling is that the Italian version is more than anyone needs, for it exudes that racing fever which is so much part of Italy.
Arriving home I found another Ferrari book awaiting me, and I am supposed to be a Maserati enthusiast! There seems to be a new Ferrari book every week nowadays, and this English one at £30 is by Cadogan Books Ltd. Compiled by Godfrey Eaton, and Edited by Geoff Willoughby, it is rather pretentiously entitled “The Complete Ferrari”, though how it can claim to be “Complete” when Ferrari is still racing and producing new production models I fail to see. It is certainly very full and is in the form of a super catalogue of all the Ferrari models made up to the time of printing, with some very pretty photography of restored Ferraris, some of the colour reproductions being of “Calenda”‘ standard, while some of the recent black and white photos look as if they were taken with a vintage Box Brownie. In contrast to the Italian book, in which the accent is Ferrari racing, the Godfrey Eaton book seems to concentrate on production cars of all shapes and sizes, with the competition element almost an afterthought. For the Ferrari enthusiast the Italian book is the one to have: for the Ferrari owner the English one is tops. Anyone who is an enthusiastic Ferrari owner will have to have both of them, which will mean forking out about £70 in one month to keep the bookshelf looking respectable!
To try and redress the balance of Italian motor racing some of us are Maserati enthusiasts and we write books about Maserati cars. While finishing off one of the 8CM Grand Prix Maserati of 1934 I got into discussion with friends about the definitive form of the Maserati badge, which is based on the Bologna Trident. Some people would have us believe that all Maseratis were made in Modena, but the real home of Maserati was Bologna, the move to Modena taking place when the Maserati brothers sold out to the Orsi family. There was no problem about what was the Maserati badge, it was the Bologna Trident, but the detail work seems to vary. This discussion wandered off to other car manufacturers with a distinctive badge, one that could only mean one thing, like the Three Pointed Star of Daimler-Benz AG which they use for their Mercedes-Benz products, or the blue and white segmented circle that can only mean BMW. I gave as an example, driving into Stuttgart after dark and seeing the illuminated Three Pointed Star, seemingly in the sky over the city centre, or arriving in Munich and seeing the illuminated blue and white roundel. You knew you were at the home of Mercedes-Benz or BMW. There are not many car manufacturers with such distinctive badges that have stood the test of time, that are known world-wide and have remained unchanged. We thought of RR, which should mean Rolls-Royce, but could mean Radio Rentals or Robin Rew! We thought of the Ferrari prancing horse, but you see similar horses on all manner of products, and a leaping Jaguar or “snarling cat” could be something to do with a Wild Life Fund or Zoo.
Some manufacturers keep changing their symbols, or “modernising” them so that they are almost unrecognisable, and while I was prattling on about the Three Pointed Star symbol, A.H reminded me of our first trip from Detroit airport to the city centre some years ago. We passed a vast factory complex above which stood loud and clear the name FORD, in while letters in a blue ellipse and underneath were the words “World Headquarters”. Very impressive it was, and undeniably a symbol as significant and penetrating as any Three Pointed Star, Blue and White Roundel or Trident.
After browsing through my Ferrari books and feeling glad that I have never wanted to own a Ferrari, it was off to Monte Carlo for the Formula One scratch round the streets of the Principality. If nothing else, the sight and sound of a Grand Prix car squirting out of Casino Square, down the hill to a tight hairpin, keeps my sense of disproportion active.