Letter of the month

Play it again Sam


As the current owner of Big Sam,  I was pleased to see your article in the May issue about Spike Anderson and the Samuri Zs.  

The car in your photo of Aaltonen and Easter in the 1970 RAC rally, TKS 33 SA 695, was the basis of the first Big Sam. When Win Percy hit oil and put Sam first into, and then on top of, the bank at Brands, most people thought that was the end of the Japanese incursion. But two weeks later there on the start was a partly painted Big Sam.

Rebuilt in two weeks? Not quite. Sam 1 was a write-off, Datsun UK was not interested in racing but it did sell a battered, ex-works, ex-Mehta rally shell, which became the new Big Sam. 

I remember reading the race reports of this amazing Datsun. So, in 1989, nostalgia hit and I bought it. With Tim Riley and Fran Tuthill’s skills it was restored as Big Sam, Modsports racer. We found that one front chassis leg of the battered ‘new’ shell was almost two inches out, showing Win’s skill. In 2001, straightened, rebuilt and with corner weights matched to within 300g, we had Win back in Sam at Silverstone. After a few laps he came in with a huge smile. 

“What’s it like then, Win? Is it like Sam used to be?” Back came the reply: “Nothing like it. It’s bloody wonderful; it handles now!”

Sam would have far more value today as a rare survivor of the works rally Datsun 240Zs. But it is not always about the money.

Nick Howell, Newlyn, Cornwall

Hayes not gauntlett


Your May issue reports that Victor Gauntlett signed off the design of the Aston Martin DB7 before Ford wholly acquired the company in 1994, but this is incorrect. Gauntlett was one of many chairmen who played a vital role in breathing life into Aston Martin and preserving it, but it was my father, Walter Hayes, appointed chairman in 1991, who led the creation of the DB7 and brought it to production in 1994. The DB7 was developed with Ian Callum and TWR, and it was not based on any prior project of Mr Gauntlett’s. 

Richard Hayes, Frilford, Oxon

The one percenters


Martin Brundle reckons fewer than one per cent of F1 viewers read the specialist motoring press (May’s Lunch with…).

Notwithstanding Hamilton and McLaren’s great start to the season, well done to Martin for attracting so many viewers. I can’t imagine they tune in to watch the cars or listen to that blithering idiot he has to share a commentary box with...

Misha Ostrava, Four Marks, Hampshire

Student power


As an undergraduate in mechanical engineering, I was most disgruntled when I read the Guest Column by Frank Dernie. He seems to imply that graduates are leaving university without the relevant experience to be employed by an F1 team. Maybe he should go to Silverstone on July 12-15, where he will find around 3-5000 eligible students.

How are they eligible? Most have experience working in a highly competitive competition called Formula Student. This is the perfect training ground for young engineers and a lot of them are ending up in the top teams. 

Maybe he should turn his attention to these people, much as Carroll Smith, the founder of the competition in the United States, did instead of complaining about how they don’t have experience. 

I suggest that he should log on to www.formulastudent.com and see what I am talking about.

Jonathan Rice, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden

That yeller 'vette


I was pleasantly surprised to receive my copy of Motor Sport and find an article on the ’58 Corvette. I have a ’62, which has been in the family since new.

You mention the Max Balchowsky/Dave McDonald Corvette special, number 00, which I remember well. It only looked like a ’62 Corvette. It was built by Mr Balchowsky, whose Ol’ Yellers terrorised the Southern California road courses in those days. It had a tube frame and the only things Corvette were the engine, four-speed transmission and perhaps the rear axle. Nice shot of McDonald, the way I like to remember him.

Although Corvettes are glassfibre, they are quite heavy because of the way they were produced. The special’s body was hand-laid glassfibre, which is much lighter, using a stock Corvette as the mould. The body was narrowed and shortened to fit Balchowsky’s frame.  

Bob Immler, via e-mail

Piquet paean


When I finished reading the story  about Nelson Piquet (April issue) I thought I remembered that he had recovered from his Indy injuries and raced the next year. 

With a little research I found that he had indeed qualified and raced in the 1993 Indy 500. He didn’t have much success, but as a long-time fan I was glad to see him end his career in a more positive situation than if he had just faded away after his accident.

Glenn Schaefer, via e-mail

[Nelson’s career continued on a more relaxed basis in GTs, and even F3, though he’s said to have vowed to stay away from the cockpit after racing an Aston DBR9 – with son Nelsinho – at Interlagos in 2006. Ed]

Indy adventure


It was May 1st, 1966 somewhere in Indiana. No, I can be more precise – I was in the infield grandstand at Turn Four of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It was my first Indy 500 and I recorded everything on my portable tape recorder, including most of the event from well before ‘Gentlemen, start your engines’; through the enormous pile-up at the start; Jimmy Clark spinning to avoid a car that had hit the outer wall, and recovering; and considerable confusion at the end before Graham Hill was declared the winner.

I went to take a look at the cars through the chain link fence of Gasoline Alley. As I approached I saw the race winner being escorted to a small wooden shed. Without a moment’s hesitation I was up and over that fence!

As I tentatively pushed on the shed door I was ignored by the half-dozen seated news reporters; behind which were John Mecom, owner of Graham Hill’s car, Hill, Jackie Stewart and Clark! I sat down as obscurely as possible and switched on my tape recorder. 

I had some six hours of tapes, all sadly lost in a house fire in 2003. I frequently used to drive my mundane company car with the tape of the cars on full song – oh, how one could dream!

D Alistair Hibbert, Fenny Drayton, Leicestershire

Gilles: I was there


Your article on the events leading up to Gilles Villeneuve’s death at Zolder prompted me to write, as I believe I was the only British witness to the tragedy. 

A friend and I used to regularly visit the Belgian GP at Zolder. We had taken up position between the fast left over the brow behind the pits and the following, tighter, right-hander. As a Villeneuve fan, and knowing he was going for his final time, I had my stopwatch poised as he came into view...

It was clear immediately that Jochen Mass was travelling relatively slowly on the right of the circuit and Gilles was closing all too rapidly; in my opinion, once he had appeared over the brow there was no possibility whatsoever of pulling the Ferrari back across to the left of the track. A collision was inevitable.

The Ferrari hit the rear wheel of the March and was launched high in the air, coming down almost vertically about 50 metres away into the sandy area by the track – almost certainly the impact which led to his death. The car then barrel-rolled towards where we were standing. The noise and violence of the crash at such close quarters was indescribable. Gilles, still belted to his seat, was thrown into the catch fencing and the stripped chassis came to rest in the middle of the circuit.

Later, as we walked away, I realised I had stopped my watch: it read 1min 15.6sec. We will never know at what moment that involuntary action took place, but when I called Nigel Roebuck and Peter Windsor a week later to relate my story it certainly seemed that Gilles had, on that last fateful lap, defeated his nemesis.

David McLaughlin, Ewhurst, Surrey

Gilles tribute


For those of us outside the bubble, the biggest shock was the fact that it had happened to Gilles. Many of us thought he was just too good for something like the Zolder accident to end it all.

I think you have slightly unfairly judged his previous performances at Zolder. Firstly, Gilles had qualified fourth to Carlos Reutemann’s second in 1978, he out-qualified Jody in both ’79 and ’80, before being half a second behind Pironi in ’81. Secondly, saying he had finished no higher than fourth hides the fact that in ’78 he alone gave chase to the new Lotus 79 until a front tyre went down, and in ’79 he drove a scintillating race from last to third before running out of fuel on the last lap. In ’80 he drove the awful T5 into sixth, where it had no right to be.

In the distressing footage of the accident we only get to see his Ferrari launch off the March for a split second, but the car really took off. F1 did indeed lose its sparkle that day and it will
never get it back.

Andrew Scoley, Lincoln

Pedants corner


With regard to Motor Sport May 2007, I feel I should point out that picture no 2 in your ‘Team-Mates’ Print Collection - also printed top left on Page 96 - is not of Brooks handing his car over to Moss as captioned.

It is of a pit stop Moss made later in the race to take on extra fuel. 

Your picture shows fuel being added, Moss is taking a drink while Brooks [with no helmet on] offers a rag to Moss to wipe his face.

The driver change itself was a much more rapid affair, with Moss leaping into the car the moment that Brooks was [helped] out of the seat. He was away immediately with no fuel being added.

Sorry to be pedantic, but it’s all in the name of accuracy.

Peter Pearson, Hamsey, Sussex

Senna at fault


May’s issue of Motor Sport offered an excellent career reminiscence by Martin Brundle. However, I think Martin was, understandably, slightly confused with the events of that hectic 1983 F3 season, in particular the Oulton Park round where, if my memory serves me correctly, an enthralling cat and mouse battle was ruined by Ayrton Senna making an ill judged lunge on Martin at Fosters taking them both off. A trait that in varying degrees stayed with Senna throughout his career, and was subsequently assumed by a further champion. Pity.

David Rimmer, Bolton,Gtr/Mc

Post-war aces


Recent mention of the first post-war race meeting at Gransden Lodge in 1947 (which I attended as a 17-year-old) reminds me of the thrill of seeing George Abecassis there going fast in his 3.3 GP Bugatti. 

Thinking of this event and others I attended in 1947 and 1948, reminds me of the first drivers of the period before the start of the Formula 1 World Championship in 1951. This is a neglected time in which there was some excellent racing. It is easy to think that the great Stirling Moss was the first British driver of top class after the war. 

In fact, Prince Bira, whom most of us counted as a home driver (he had lived in England through the 1930s and the war years), was still on fine form. In his 4CLT Maserati, he was often very quick. I remember him at Silverstone mixing it with Giuseppe Farina, Alberto Ascari and Luigi Villoresi. 

Reg Parnell was also very competitive in his 4CLT and it is often forgotten how good he was. Others such as Gerard TC Harrison, Tony Rolt, Abecassis and Peter Whitehead were also drivers of class.

May I also make a plea for the car mentioned above, the Maserati 4 CLT 48? Because this car was inferior to the Alfa Romeo 158/159 and was eventually beaten also by the 1.5-litre Ferraris, it is often forgotten what an important part it played. The Alfa team did not race every season between 1948 and 1952, and they did not enter every event. Without the Maseratis, there would have been some very sparse fields. Nearly all the best drivers of the time drove them: Farina, Ascari, Villoresi, Bira, de Graffenried, Parnell, Fangio and Gonzáles when they first arrived in Europe, and many others.

John Stock, Padstow, Cornwall

You were there

In the 1960s, Alan Beasley was an amateur racer and Jim Clark fan, who rarely missed a British Grand Prix. The 1963 and 1965 events at Silverstone were no exception, and he travelled from Newbury to see Clark win both.

In 1963, Clark finished almost half a minute clear of John Surtees in the Ferrari, with Graham Hill third for BRM.

Two years later the same trio stood on the podium, although Hill was a close second, with Surtees third.

Mr Beasley felt a special affinity with Clark as they were only 24 hours away from sharing a birthday. Beasley’s own racing exploits, not hugely successful, he insists, were also in a Lotus – a 17 sports-racer.

Beasley might well have bumped into Hugh Newlyn, who also sent us some pictures from Silverstone in the early ’60s, though his photo of F1 drivers trying cricket, was, he thinks, taken at Moat Park, Maidstone. 

Mr Newlyn isn’t sure of the date – it has to be the turn of the ’70s but would welcome a date-fix from any fashion historians. Henri Pescarolo certainly looks rather more comfortable in cricket whites than Jackie Stewart: flared flannels – what was the world coming to…