Continental Notes, May 1960

THE month of May sees the beginning of the more serious season of European racing, with the first of the World Championship Grand Prix events and two Sports Car Championship races, and factory teams will soon be overworked. On May 8th the Targa Florio takes place in Sicily on the rugged mountain course, the only change being that the distance is reduced from 14 laps of the 72-kilometre circuit to 10 laps and the race should see participation by the works Ferrari and Porsche teams, the latter also running one of their latest Abarth-Zagato-bodied G.T. Carreras, which look like a slightly enlarged version of a Fiat-Abarth-Zagato, and the Camoradi team are planning to run three Type 61 Mascrati 2.8-litre cars. On the same day in the north of Europe, at Antwerp, the local club are running a speed trial meeting over a timed flying kilometre on the Antwerp-Liege motor road, where last year the Bentley Drivers’ Club thundered up and down doing maximum speed runs and this year Speedwell Conversions zizzed up and down with their hot Sprites. Although classified as a Belgian National meeting this flying kilometre speed test is open to other nationalities by invitation, so if you want to prove that your Facel-Vega will do 150 m.p.h. or your tuned Mini-Minor will do 90 m.p.h. now is the time to do it, at a cost of about £2 entry fee. The organisers are the Antwerp Motor Union, Lange Lozanstraat 116, Antwerp. The following week, on May 15th, Formula Junior invades Naples on the Posillippo circuit, that twisty hilly circuit round the streets of Naples that is one of the best street-circuits in Europe, and accompanied by the oppressive heat of Naples and a wildly enthusiastic populace this is one of the most tiring fiestas of speed on the calendar. On the same day a more sober meeting takes place at Montlhery, which is a type of super Club meeting, with International races for G.T. cars, Formula Junior, sports cars and Formula 2, and if British Formula Junior cars win at Montlhery and Naples I shall be most convinced. On May 22nd the annual sports-car classic takes place at the Nurburgring for the A.D.A.C. 1,000 kilometres race, which will not see a works Aston Martin win for the fourth year in succession, only because there will not be any works Astons competing. However, there will be some privately-owned Aston Martins competing, against Ferrari and Porsche opposition but somehow these big sports-car races seem to be on the way out, for already the Tourist Trophy at Goodwood has been cancelled as a sports-car race and replaced by a Gran Turismo race. Finally, in the month of May on the 29th comes the first of the pukka Grand Prix races, the Monaco G.P., where already factory entries are pouring in and with the entry decided by the fastest practice times, only a limited number being allowed to start, the Monaco meeting should be terrific.

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On May 22nd there is a revival of racing on the little circuit at Aix-le-Bain, on the edge of the lake, a Formula Junior race being organised and this reintroduction of yet another town race, similar to Pau, Naples, Albi, etc., is most encouraging and with the recent F.2 race at Bruxelles the Continental season is improving rapidly and a return to real motor-racing circuits is fast on the way. Last year the Formula 1 season saw only two races being held on true road circuits, those at Monte Carlo and Lisbon, the rest being on tracks or closed circuits such as Monza and Zandvoort, or artificial circuits such as Reims, yet at one time Grand Prix racing meant road racing, through the streets of a town or on the main trunk roads. In Formula 2 there was a different story, for that category had road races at Siracusa, Pau, Rouen, Clermont-Ferrand, while Formula Junior had events on numerous road circuits in Italy, France and Germany. This year the situation is very similar and already we have seen road races for F.2 cars at Siracusa, Pau and Bruxelles and others are in the offing such as Chimay and Solitude so that F.2 drivers can have a season of racing on really interesting circuits. However, a fly is creeping into the ointment and the Sport is being spoilt by vested interests. We all know that certain drivers, racing-car builders, organisers and the petrol barons of B.P., Shell and Esso are against the 1961 Formula 1 rules and recently these groups got together with the S.M.M.T. and agreed upon a ban on the 1961 Formula. Now on the Continent there are as many people in favour of the new Formula as there are against and, for example, the organisers at Siracusa and Pau have put on F.2 races and made much publicity of the fact that these races have represented the races of the future, a foretaste of 1961 Grand Prix races, and have pressed the idea of “let’s get on with this new Formula as soon as possible,” just as the B.R.D.C. jumped the gun on the present Formula 2 with their Silverstone race of 1956. There are interested parties in France, Italy, Belgium and Germany who are in favour of the new Formula and their reaction to the S.M.M.T. ultimatum is to enquire “Who are the S.M.M.T.?” Equally, there are strong groups in these countries who are opposed to the new Formula and who are on the side of the British and the S.M.M.T. One of the strongest of these is Monsieur Roche, the power behind the Reims circuit and a strong member of the French Federation; as the Reims circuit has been heavily financed in the past by the B.P. fuel company it is not surprising that M. Roche is on the side of the British, and as he and B.P. also have a strong interest in the Clemont-Ferrand circuit it is not surprising that the F.2 races at both these circuits have been cancelled; and now it seems that the F.2 race at Rouen is to be cancelled. Almost at the same time it is rumoured that the German G.P. is to be for F.2 on the south circuit of the Nurburgring and another F.2 race is to be held on the Solitude circuit near Stuttgart, while there is talk of the Italian G.P. at Monza being for F.2. So now the battle is on and you can be sure that there are going to be some nasty shenanagens behind the scenes and a lot of arm twisting by the money bags before things are settled one way or the other and in the meantime the F.2 boys are being deprived of some good racing in case these races give the impression that 1½-litre racing is not so bad after all. The laugh of the whole thing to my mind is that the S.M.M.T., which stands for the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, is apparently so interested in Grand Prix racing all of a sudden. Remember that it was the S.M.M.T. who would not allow racing cars at Earls Court, until public opinion and the motoring press caused such a fuss, and who will not allow racing cars to be tested on the Lindley high-speed track and who hampered Connaughts so badly over that testing question.

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At one time there used to be a regulation, and as far as I know it still exists, that required racing cars to be fitted with a reverse gear and all racing-car designers automatically designed proper racing gearboxes with four or five forward speeds and a reverse gear. When Cooper began to build cars for Grand Prix racing and made a lash-up from a f.w.d. Citroen gearbox, converting the normal three-speed and reverse casing to four-speed, then reverse was omitted and later when they had gearboxes made to the same pattern but their own specification they contained four speeds forward and reverse gear. Then Lotus joined in with their sliding spline five-speed gearbox and they glossed over the matter of a reverse gear, and all the while the more serious designers such as Ferrari, Maserati, Mercedes, Lancia, Vanwall and Gordini were all religiously building gearboxes with reverse gears. The latest firm to gloss over this reverse gear question is Porsche, who use the space taken up by reverse to provide their Spyder gearboxes with six speeds on the F.2 car. At Siracusa the works Ferrari had a reverse gear in the gearbox and so did Trintignant’s Cooper, for it was fitted with a Walker/Colotti gearbox which has live forward speeds and a reverse. At the recent Bruxelles race this Cooper Colotti gearbox was the only car to comply with the regulation regarding transmissions. Presumably the F.I.A. have turned a blind eye to this matter, but just imagine what would happen if someone had continued to run on alcohol fuel after the regulation about using 130 octane Avgas was introduced!

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Before leaving Belgium, after the Bruxelles G.P., I went up to Antwerp to watch Speedwell conversions do some officially timed runs on the Antwerp-Liege motor road which the local club had closed to the public for the occasion. Although this was not a record-breaking session it was organised as such and the Belgian Federation supplied the timekeepers and the Omega beam-timing equipment for a measured kilometre, Speedwell’s aim being to establish some undisputable facts and figures for their tuning effectiveness on an Austin Healey Sprite and an experimental car. In spite of a cold wind both cars put up creditable performances, which should cause a stir among the tune-up shops. Graham Hill drove the Sprite coupe VP7 which is raced by Venner-Pack, this having a standard Speedwell bonnet with smooth contours, sunken headlamps, and without the “silly grin” of the production Sprite, while a Speedwell top has been grafted onto the scuttle so that this little car really is a G.T. coupe and not an open two-seater with a hardtop bolted on. The mechanical side has received the full treatment and is fitted with all the “goodies” sold by Speedwell, including modified cylinder head, twin Amal carburetters, camshaft, pistons, valves and so on and the block enlarged to 978 c.c. As the car was borrowed for the occasion, from Venner-Pack, it really did represent a well-prepared customer’s car and all the modifications are produced by Speedwell, including the removal of all the interior trim and the drilling of holes everywhere if you feel so inclined. Being in Oulton Park trim it was fitted with a 4.5 to 1 rear axle ratio, so over the flying kilometre the engine was fairly screaming round; in fact, it was doing 7,500 r.p.m. down-wind and 7,400 r.p.m. up-wind, figures which I can verify for I rode in the passenger’s seat while Graham Hill did the timed runs, and at these speeds the engine was beautifully smooth, which is quite an achievement for what is basically a standard push-rod unit. Holding 7,500 r.p.m. over the kilometre gave a timed speed of 179.820 k.p.h. (111.7 m.p.h.), the return run being fractionally slower and the two-way average working out at 178.482 k.p.h. (110.9 m.p.h.). For these runs the podgy little Dunlops were pumped up to 40 lbs./sq in. and with the strong wind blowing we used most of the road at some points and though the little car rode steadily enough, it darted from side to side as gusts of wind hit it, while Hill just pressed on with the accelerator flat on the boards, i’m afraid had I been driving I would have lifted off a little. Naturally, with a car stripped for racing such as this the noise level was very high, but there wasn’t a feeling of uncontrollable pandemonium you get with some “hot rods.” For these runs the car was running on standard B.P. Super Plus and Castrol “R” oil, so from these runs it would seem that anyone who cares to spend sufficient time and money can have a Sprite that will do 110 m.p.h. with an all-round performance about equal to a Porsche 1600 Super.

The second Speedwell car was purely a works experimental special and was the baby of George Hulbert and David Jones, the two slide-rule boffins of Speedwell. The basis of the car was a standard Sprite, the bulkhead, centre-section and tail being left in place and riveted to these were panels to form a wind-cheating shape, while the front of the car was a Speedwell aluminium bonnet with the headlamp recesses faired in and all four wheels were enclosed behind spats. The cockpit was decked over and a Perspex bubble fitted over the driver’s head; the normal Sprite door was still operative on the driver’s side, allowing entry to car, the bubble being fitted after the driver was in place, sitting on a sheet of foam rubber on the floor of the car. The exhaust pipe and cooling air is led from the engine compartment along a duct built through the passenger compartment, which leads into the Sprite tail, which is retained under the wind-cheating rear decking, and exits through openings in the sides of the tail. It was due to this duct in the passenger compartment that I was prevented from accompanying Hill and Hulbert on their runs with this car, even though it Would have been a “blind” ride! The engine was a Sprite unit, enlarged to 978 c.c. and really worked on, using a blend of methanol and nitro-methane fed to the engine by two Amal carburetters working on a circulatory weir-system of feed to the jets. While the modifications to the engine were basically Speedwell production there were many experimental items which might pass into production later in the year. The suspension of this car was standard Sprite with the addition of an anti-roll bar and it ran very steadily through the flying kilometre at a two-way average of 212.765 k.p.h. (132.2 m.p.h.) and proved to be a very interesting experiment on just how fast you can go on 978 c.c., starting work with a basically standard Sprite and not having the resources of B.M.C. behind you. — D. S. J.