The early days of onboard cameras

Onboard cameras are taken as standard wear today, but without considerable engineering input, or true intrepidity on behalf of a movie cameraman himself, it was quite unusual in days of yore.

Shell Oil’s legendary film unit headed by the late, much-missed Bill Mason (father of Nick) prevailed upon Mercedes-Benz in 1962 to modify a 1937 W125 with a tail-mounted seat and movie camera mount, enabling Hermann Lang to conduct us around the Nürburgring Nordschleife in sparkling-quality colour. With Shell’s permission, the footage features in one of our Motorfilms Quarterly volumes.

Graham Hill narrated, fresh from surviving his own collision with a German TV film camera which had fallen from Carel de Beaufort’s Porsche in practice for that year’s German GP. Graham’s new BRM P578 was severely damaged, as was Tony Maggs’s works Cooper which had been next to arrive, spinning into the boondocks on hot BRM oil. That film was lost, as has been so much else. And then Matt and Di Spitzley, who preserve both the Zagari Collection of Italian racing photography and the George Monkhouse stills and movies, have in their files the appended onboard camera shot from the 1940 Tripoli GP.

With the Nazi Blitzkrieg about to skewer France’s northern defences, Mussolini’s Italy had not yet joined the war – and things like Vetturetta racing continued. Young, slim ‘Nino’ Farina won that race in the works Alfa Romeo 158 Alfetta, and here he is (above), complete with onboard camera – and cameraman. Or, from the cameraman’s expression, had Farina overrun a braking point (again) and scooped him up? In either case, that’s another film I’d love to find.