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Letter of the month

British Racing Blue

I was intrigued by the reference in your test of the Delage D6 (December 2005) to an apparent request by French race promoters that ‘Pat’ Garland should repaint the car green in order to lend an international air to their grids. If this request was ever made it seems that Garland never complied since, in a letter published in The Motor on December 11 1946, he states that the car was raced throughout the year, in both France and Belgium, in a blue livery with a Union Jack on the bonnet.

At this point you might legitimately wonder why ‘Vercingetorix’ (as he was known to French enthusiasts thanks to his luxuriant moustache) would need to convey that information: thereby hangs a tale!

In mid-1946 the motoring weeklies were suddenly full of a story which seemed to have been passed by word of mouth after a CSI decision taken on June 21 and which, as far as I can tell, had hitherto gone unreported in the British press to change the British racing colour from green to blue. In addition cars would carry a Union Jack of 1575 sq cm on each side.

So who was responsible for this? Step forward Earl Howe, for it was he! TASO Mathieson recalls in his memoirs that he attended a CSI meeting in Paris where Howe put in a “completely unexpected” request to change the colour, on grounds of superstition: although it is well known that the Earl had a personal dislike of green and preferred to race his cars in blue, he was actually conveying the wishes of the RAC’s Competitions Committee. After a short discussion the request was agreed and that was apparently that British Racing Blue (Royal Blue, in fact, according to a November 1946 BRDC bulletin) was enshrined in the rules as an experiment for 1947-48.

Not surprisingly British enthusiasts were apoplectic! Furious letters appeared in The Motor and The Autocar, petitions were organised and just about the whole of the British racing community declared themselves opposed to the change. The controversy simmered on throughout the autumn, but the RAC must have realised it had made a horrendous mistake: on December 20 The Autocar reported that the BRDC had presented a petition to the RAC Competitions Committee which “was received favourably a request to this end would be preferred before the international authorities. Lord Howe, as chairman, endeared himself to everybody by deliberately shouldering the entire blame for the change in colour, an action so sporting that it could only have emanated from himself…”

Even so, it took some time for the CSI’s decision to be officially reversed and it was not until the following September that it was minuted that green was once more the British colour.

And Garland? Well, he was of the opinion that perhaps “some important gentleman, being pleased with the sight of the vehicle and having noted the exact size of my flag, has had a new international rule made about it?” Well, maybe: he first raced on the continent on June 16 and the decision was taken just five days later. However. Garland describes the Union Jack on his car as being “about the size of a postcard”, so he was obviously not too clued up on the metric system, since 1575 sq cm is substantially bigger than anything you could fit in your letterbox! So, probably no more than a lucky coincidence, at least on the colour. Although, just to be on the safe side, Mathieson had his Maserati repainted!

Richard Armstrong, Radstock

Carlisle United

What a lovely surprise to see the article on Christabel Carlisle (February issue). Like many a young chap in the early 1960s I had a keen eye for the driver of Mini CMC 77.

I was involved with motor racing photographs (at Jarrotts) from 1988 until I retired last year and my best memories were of the people I met during that time. I suppose I must have ‘signed up’ about two-dozen racing drivers, from Fangio and Villoresi to von Brauchitsch and Brooks, and I generally found the greater the driver the easier they were to deal with, especially Fangio and Jack Brabham. However, I suppose the nicest were Jack Sears (a perfect and very approachable gentleman) and Christabel Carlisle.

About 15 years ago my wife and I were returning from Oulton Park and called in to see CC as she had kindly agreed to sign some shots of herself. As the three of us sat in Christabel’s kitchen I hardly got a word in as she and my wife Jo found a common interest in real travel (as opposed to holiday-making!).

A few months later I held a motor racing photography exhibition at Hales Place in Kent, for which she loaned me her Herbert Johnson crash helmet, complete with the original box, plus her pale blue frilly embroidered racing overalls. She also visited my Jarrotts Gallery at Silverstone and once arrived in a huge sunhat and sunglasses. Being very petite and unrecognisable under the huge titfer and shades she immediately lifted the lid and announced, ‘It’s me, Christabel!’. Great memories of a beautiful and very charming lady.

John Oliver, Folkestone

Brands: wunderbar!

Brands Hatch (December issue)! This circuit really fascinated me when I was a young person. Although I’m a German, my first car was a Morris Mini Cooper and I raced it. Visiting the London Racing Car Show in 1972, I fell in love with Noel Stanbury’s Gryphon Clubmans car, which I couldn’t afford.

In 1974 I went to Brands in my tatty but British Racing Green BMW 2002. I was accompanied by my friend Juergen Lindemann (who later acted as an FIA doctor with Porsche at Le Mans and other endurance races) and my 16-year-old brother Philipp, now with BMW in Frankfurt. We jumped over the fence and walked around the GP circuit — 2.65 miles full of race history. At some place we found bits of green glassfibre from Hans Stuck’s F1 March, which had hit an Armco barrier.

To prove that we had been on the track at Brands Hatch, Juergen took a photo showing me and Philipp sitting on Paddock Hill Bend, pretending we are Formula Fordsters on their last lap!

That was 31 years ago and Brands Hatch is still alive. Meanwhile, my dream was fulfilled when I got a Gryphon C4A — in British Racing Green of course. Maybe I will get the chance to come over via Dover and race it at Brands one day.

Leo von Sahr, Panitzsch, Germany

It was Briggs

In response to Fergus Whading’s enquiry regarding the unknown ‘official’ in his photo from Mallory Park (February issue), this is Peter Briggs, our team manager at March.

I was the mechanic on the car featured in the other photo, taken at Brands Hatch, but unfortunately this is Mike Beuttler’s car, not Ronnie’s. It’s an easy mistake to make as both were works cars, both were yellow and both drivers had blue helmets. However, Ronnie’s helmet was finished with yellow banding and the car had Smog (Vick) sponsorship on the nose — and of course Ronnie’s car would have been travelling a lot faster and probably sideways! Ronnie also broke Jack Brabham’s outright lap record that weekend.

Jon ‘Wingnut’ Greaves, Old Windsor

Sorry about that. There must have been Smog, in front of our eyes that day – Ed

Keith Duckworth

Your obituary of Keith Duckworth brings to mind a story about Keith told by Frank Costin, older brother of Mike Costin.

Frank helped us with the design of our V8 Vauxhalls Big and Baby Bertha, the ultimate Super Saloons of 1974-76. On one of his days at our Shepreth HQ we went to our local for, as Frank put it, “a jar and a bite to eat” at lunchtime.

Frank related how, on a day in the early 1970s, he paid a visit to the then-new Cosworth premises at Northampton. He was shown round by Duckworth to see the latest in computer-controlled machines.

Keith’s pride and joy was the cylinder-head section, and he was able to show Costin the ultimate in computerised gas-flow machines. Frank, totally impressed, exclaimed: “Keith, this is fantastic. It takes all the guesswork out and leaves you with the absolute truth on head and port designs.”

“Don’t you believe it,” answered Duckworth. “At the end of the day it’s my finger up the port!”

Bill Blydenstein, Buntingford

Keep electronics

I could not help but notice a rather strange contradiction in one of Bill Boddy’s articles in the January 2006 edition of MotorSport.

The piece concerns the admittedly odd regulation changes regarding Formula One engines and the costs of developing these new engines. WB proposes a free formula would be of greater benefit in terms of research and development, but then goes on to suggest that costs could be controlled by simplifying the electronics. While I agree that Formula One might well benefit from a less restrictive set of rules, I cannot go along with the idea of simplifying the electronics. Electronic and computer control of vehicle systems has been, and still is, one of the key areas of progress in terms of efficiency and performance. To have a Formula One designed to encourage research and development but which did not permit the electronic systems to match would indeed be a strange contradiction.

David Tucker, Crediton

McGovern in Dulon

Most interesting to see the ‘Cult Hero’ item about the versatile Bill McGovern (January issue).

Bill also had a couple of outings in our Group Six Dulon-Porsche sports-racer, notably at the BOAC 1000ICm at Brands Hatch in April 1971. A spin provoked by a dodgy driveshaft caused a passing Jacky Ickx to go off the road in his Ferrari 312P — thus was born Porsche’s secret weapon, employed again by Martin Ridehalgh soon after at Spa! Bill drove the Dulon in its very first test session at Silverstone in his tie and pullover, and for the first few laps didn’t bother with the seat belts! Incidentally, Martin Ridehalgh is now into flying and recently won a very prestigious cross-country navigation event.

Keith Martin, Milton Keynes

Flying over Le Luc

In his article about the race between the BMW and the Messerschmitt (February issue), WB refers to an unidentified race track near Le Luc in France and asks for suggestions as to its identity.

I think this must be the Circuit Du Var, also known as Le Luc, built in 1965 and currently used by the former AGS F1 team as a race school.

Chris Hall, Hertfordshire