[R. de Yarburgh-Bateson has driven in the Classic Paris-Nice Trial on several occasions and in 1938 finished twentieth, with a Meadows-H.R.G., winning the 1½-litre class of the La Turbie Hill Climb. He now recalls the lighter side of an event in which so many British drivers have competed.—Ed.]
OFTEN memories of competitive events are of human incidents, which never found their way into the contemporary reports, but which will be remembered long after actual performances are forgotten.
Most long-distance trials are enlivened by such incidents, and the annual Paris Nice Trial is no exception. One year, two drivers in a British team had spent a lot of money at the Works in the preparation of their cars, but were very disappointed by the way the cars behaved in the heat of France. So disgruntled did they become that they availed themselves of every opportunity to send telegrams to the managing director of the firm, who was perturbed to receive the following sort of message:
“Used a quart of oil in the last 100 miles,” followed by
“Engine using more oil than petrol,” or again,
“Spare wheel bracket broken, wheel fallen off.”
In the same team were two gourmets, whose love for their stomachs was greater than their enthusiasm for clocking into controls on time. Their lengthy wayside meals necessitated flat-out driving between restaurants and nearly reduced their co-drivers to apoplexy.
The acquisition of “fans” is much easier on the Continent than in this country, where the general public show such apathy towards motor-racing. Even the least experienced and unknown driver will be unlucky if he does not find at least one spectator who singles him out for special favour. These cheerful enthusiasts do much to encourage the driver of an obviously slow car, who may be feeling discouraged by the collection of famous drivers with Works cars. No less than any other nation, the French love a man who is driving merely for the Sport with no prospect of reward and no thought of “pot-hunting.”
French competitors are often exceedingly kind to English entrants and their behaviour is almost always very sporting. In 1937, I had a grand duel with M. Andreany and his Citroen, which he won. Next year, with a different car, I managed to reverse the victory. He was more than ever delighted and sought me out at the prize-giving to say: ” Ah! Monsieur, rues felicitations! L’année derniere ma Citroen a gagnée contre votre A.C. Cette année, avec votre H.R.G. vous avez vainett ma Citroen. Qui sait, l’année prochaine? Whereupon he shook my hand until it nearly fell off.
M. Savoye, whose exploits with a Singer Nine at Le Mans and elsewhere are not unknown in this country, gave another example of French sportsman-ship. In 1938, having driven his car to the limit in an endeavour to beat Gordini’s Simca-Fiat and the H.R.G., he had the bad luck to break a valve rocker in practice for the La Turbie Hill Climb right at the end of the Trial. When I sympathised with him upon his rotten luck, he treated the whole matter most philosophically and wished me the best of luck. Later, by way of compensation, we arranged a run in the H.R.G. and he drove it up La Turbie at a cracking pace, in spite of never having driven the car before and the presence of normal traffic on the hill.
At the top we paused at a café and the car, resplendent with its Paris-Nice numbers, was surrounded by an interested group of English tourists. , When, in answer to their query, they learnt that the H.R.G. had won the 1½-litre class, they raised a lusty cheer, which greatly embarrassed poor Savoye and myself.
Throughout the Trial, C. W. Hampton amused us all by his never-failing good humour, whatever misfortune befell him. His car was a recently purchased Continental of impeccable breeding, but there had been too little time for preparation, and the car started with no effective shock-absorbers and with the ignition slightly out of adjustment. Under the circumstances his performances were extremely creditable, but the representative of the marque concerned thought otherwise and publicly treated Hampton to a violent harangue during the cocktail party, which Dunlops so thoughtfully provide at Nice. Throughout the lecture, Hampton maintained a masterly calm and occasionally muttered something about “Shock-absorbers” with a charming smile and then waited to see the effect.
Lord Waleran created quite a stir at La Turbie by greatly improving his time with the big twelve-cylinder Lagonda saloon, when driving in the racing class. His improvement of 11 seconds was largely explained when it was realised that Lagonda Director Alan Good was his passenger on the first occasion and passengers were not required for the racing classes. There was a naughty rumour that the Lagonda engine attained 6,000 r.p.m. on that run.
My own passenger had a discerning eye for female beauty, and even the long run through the night had not reduced his enthusiasm so that, upon his arrival at Nice, he was promptly struck by the exceeding beauty of a sunburnt brunette, dressed in a limited beach costume, composed of white shirt, very short shorts and sandals, a wide brimmed hat, and dark glasses. She was a very attractive girl and it was not until ten minutes later that he discovered that she was his own sister, whom he had not seen for some years and who had arrived unexpectedly from Holland!
Anthony Heal, who was covering the event for MOTOR SPORT, caused some amusement with his “30/98″ Vauxhall. One of his passengers was, in business life, an expert stenographer. As be careered rapidly along the dusty French roads, he dictated his report of the event and his passenger took down his poetic outpourings as best she could. The dictation was something as follows: ” It is . . . Mademoiselle Robert has just flashed past in her Talbot saloon at a good 90 m.p.h. . . . where was I? oh yes, it is a lovely day with the blue sky above and the tall trees flanking the—blast that dog! What is Wisdom doing with his S.S.? . . . ” And so on. Afterwards his “secretary” complained that she would be unable to translate her shaky shorthand unless driven at high speed over an exceedingly bumpy road!
At La Turbie, Rene Dreyfus was driving a Grand Prix twelve-cylinder Delahaye, which was rather thinly disguised as a sports-car by the addition of mudguards and lighting equipment. In practice, he carried out two climbs with an obviously misfiring engine. When asked why he did not rectify the matter, he replied that there was not time to change all twenty-four plugs within the time allotted for practice. After the actual climb, there was some difficulty in restarting the car, which had to be pushed. Dreyfus overheard an English spectator in the crowd making critical remarks about the racing character of the Delahaye. In excellent English and with a happy smile he shouted back: “You leave the old Delahaye alone “