Continental Notes, May 1956
Unforunately it is not very often that any of the big British manufacturers do anything in the competition world that I view with other than antipathy, for most of the efforts are usually so misdirected, but the entry by Rootes of two Sunbeam Rapiers in the Mille Miglia raises the eyebrows and opens the eyes. The remarks by Sir William Rootes about making some sort of effort to wave the British flag in Continentel events were indeed praiseworthy and to attempt the Mille Miglia with two Rapiers even more so. At the time of writing the race has yet to be run, but by the time these words are read it will be over and won, by a British driver I hope. Just when Britain is getting a foothold in International racing of the tougher sort, especially as regards drivers, it is a pity that Aston Martin have decided to give the Italian 1,000-mile race a miss. This year I shall have competed in the event in a Maserati, once more with Stirling Moss, and one of our chief opponents will be the Giro di Sicilia winners, Collins and Klemantaski, with a Ferrari. At this moment it is too much to hope that young British drivers, with bearded British passengers, might be first and second.
While in Stuttgart recently I called on Herr Neubauer to find out about the rumours suggesting that Daimler-Benz were running a racing department of 300SL cars with works entries in the bigger events. There was absolutely no truth in the idea, but as there are now some 500 owners of 300SL cars who are interested in competitions, mostly in America, of course, Neubauer has been put in charge of an information centre at Stuttgart to offer advice to any Mercedes-Benz owner interested in rallies, races, hill-climbs and so on, providing them with such useful data as suitability of the event, tyres, gear ratios, injection settings, twists or catches in the regulations, etc. In order to provide customers with a first-class service department at Stuttgart, Karl Kling has been put in charge of a separate section entirely devoted to the preparation of customers’ cars for competitions; but all work must be paid for, emphasised Neubauer, this was not factory sponsorship. If an event had a number of 300SLs entered, such as the Mille Miglia, then it was likely that Neubauer, Kling and a few mechanics, would be at the race to help private owners, if required. There was no question of any factory entries, but naturally, if a driver showed exceptional promise he would benefit more from the vast store of knowledge about racing and tuning available at Stuttgart, than Joe Soap running his SL in a treasure hunt. Put into simple words, the set-up would appear to be that both Neubauer and Kling are endowed with exceptional knowledge of value to Daimler-Benz and, with no racing activities from the factory, some use had to be made of them. Although Neubauer has officially retired from his work as racing manager to Daimler-Benz, he is not the man to withdraw to a small plot of land and spend his retirement growing flowers. He still has as much energy and enthusiasm for motor racing at 65 as he had at 64, so retirement to him is merely theoretical. As head man of this small unit within the factory at Stuttgart, for looking after the competition interests of 300SL owners, he has plenty to occupy his time, and he is never happier than when organising. Similarly, Kling’s engineering knowledge is such that it would be wasted on passenger cars for the populace.
Also in Stuttgart, the Porsche factory celebrated their 25th year of Porsche design, for it was that long ago that old Dr. Ferdinand Porsche left Daimler-Benz and started his own freelance design office. Since his death his son Ferry has carried on the firm, and, apart from the successful production of the Porsche sports and racing/sports cars, the firm continue to do a great deal of consultant design work, as well as owning a factory in northern Germany, building diesel tractors. Since Dr. Porsche started his own design offices, way back in 1931, many varied vehicles have emanated from the drawing-boards. Apart from the famous Auto-Union racing cars and the VW, the Porsche influence was prominent in agricultural machinery, transport, military vehicles and many more small items of general engineering. The new Grand Prix Bugatti is using a Porsche-designed gearbox, while B.M.W. are using Porsche-designed synchromesh mechanism on their gearboxes.
Mention of the new Grand Prix. Bugatti recalls that it was out on test once more, driven by Maurice Trintignant, and speeds of over 160 m.p.h. were recorded. At the moment it is rather heavy as many of the mechanical components are in cast iron instead of elektron, but as soon as the development is satisfactory a lighter version will be built, and it is hoped it will be ready for the French Grand Prix at Reims. If it is, then it will be driven by Trintignant, and the thought occurs, who will then drive the Vanwall in his place? With activity in Formula 1 by Ferrari, Maserati, Gordini, Bugatti, Vanwall, B.R.M. and Connaught, there are barely enough drivers to go round. As things stand at present, Ferrari has the services of Fangio, Castellotti, Musso and Collins as Grand Prix drivers, with Gendebien as reserve; Maserati are pitting Moss, Behra, Menditeguy and Perdisa against them. Gordini is relying on Manzon, Bayol, and a choice of Guelfi, da Silva Ramos and Sparken, while Bugatti have reserved Trintignant for such time as the first car is ready, with probably Manzon for the second one. In Britain our three teams consist of Hawthorn, Brooks and Flockhart for B.R.M., Scott-Brown, Leston and Titterington for Connaught, and Schell and Trintignant for Vanwall. Some of these are very likely to change as the season gets under way, and possibly Gonzalez may decide to come to Europe after driving for Maserati in the Argentine, while Mieres has yet to sign up with anyone, unless he decides to stay in South America.
In the sports-car world things are nearly as complicated. Ferrari will naturally use his same drivers, Maserati will have to do without Moss, who is signed-up with Aston Martin, but they have Taruffi to replace him. Jaguar will use Hawthorn, Bueb, Hamilton, Titterington and Frere; Aston Martin have Moss, Collins (on loan to Ferrari for events in which they are not competing), Walker, Brooks, Salvadori and Parnell. Among the small cars, Porsche have Frankenberg, Herrmann, von Trips and Hanstein, while Osca have their formidable trio of Villoresi, Maglioli and Cabianca. The East German E.M.W. team hope to compete in more events this season, but are lacking experienced drivers, though it seems they have now perfected desmodromic valves and fuel injection on their very powerful 1½-litre six-cylinder engine. The more serious motor racing becomes the fewer drivers there seem to be available, for in the slap-happy Formula II days almost anyone could play at being a Grand Prix driver, but when the new Formula 1 started, with serious racing machinery such as Maserati, Lancia, Mercedes-Benz and so on, there suddenly appeared a dearth of Grand Prix drivers. Now that sports cars are nearly as fast as Grand Prix cars the same dearth is apparent.
Under normal circumstances I do not take a very lively interest in rallies, for many of them appear to be social events rather than motoring competitions, and so often a tough affair is decided on split-second timing in a special test, plus a lot of luck. However, a rally that does hold the imagination is the Tour d’Europe, to be held from June 1st to June 12th. This is organised by the A.D.A.C. in Hanover, with the patronage of the Continental Tyre Company. Feeling that rallies put too much emphasis on special tests, the German club are running their rally without any tests whatsoever. The main object being to complete the course without loss of marks for being behind schedule or too much in front of it, and without incurring damage to the car. This sounds simple enough, but when you read in the regulations that the route passes through every capital city in the Western Continent of Europe and during the 12 days of motoring competitors must cover 13,000 kilometres (8,000 miles) and include two compulsory stops of 12 hours each, it will be realised that this is to be an endurance and reliability rally to end all rallies. Competitors start at intervals from Hanover and the route passes through The Hague, Brussels, Luxembourg, Paris, Lisbon, Madrid, Monte Carlo, Rome, Trieste, Athens, Istanbul, Belgrade, Vienna, and back to Hanover. The 12 hours off are allowed at Monte Carlo and Athens, and during that time the cars are locked away in closed garages and no work is allowed. Bearing in mind the troubles experienced during the Monte Carlo Rally before even Paris was reached, one can appreciate that this Tour d’Europe is going to be a real car-breaker, for the tough parts through Greece, Yugoslavia and Turkey come towards the end of the journey, when cars and crews will be feeling very travel weary. The average speeds for the various classes of touring and grand touring cars are not terribly high, but high enough bearing in mind the distances to be covered. As all this is taking place in June, when Europe is usually pretty hot, it will be agreed that the manufacturer whose car wins will be fully justified in making the greatest possible use of the advertising of such a win. As mentioned at the beginning of these notes, Sir William Rootes said now was the time to wave the flag and try and get Britain’s name back on the map. There can surely be no greater opportunity to show the true worth of British goods throughout Europe than this great rally. Being of such a gigantic nature, entries are limited to 120 and drivers will have to be experienced, but there should be no trouble in fielding a strong British entry for this event. Among the many interesting regulations, showing a pleasing attempt to produce an event of different character, is one which says that in the event of a tie the smaller capacity car will he adjudged the winner, and in the event of there still being a tie, then the driver of the greater age will be the winner. — D.S.J.