Continental notes, May 1965



Last year there was a big fuss over the C.S.I. refusing to accept the mid-engined Ferrari 250LM Berlinetta for homologation, so that it could take part in GT racing, and this furore went on all season, with some major repercussions in International GT racing circles, as well as some minor ones in G.P. circles where Ferrari was concerned. After enlarging the engine to 3.3-litres, thereby making the car a 275LM, but still insisting on calling it the 250LM, as he was still trying to convince the C.S.I. that he had sold 100 cars, Ferrari gave up the unequal struggle and did his annual withdrawing act. Now that the new season is under way he sent the 275GTB Berlinetta along for homologation, this car being the logical development of the well-proven GTO. The engine is enlarged to 3.3-litres, the 5-speed gearbox being in unit with the differential, cast alloy wheels are fitted and an independent rear suspension is used, the old GTO having a one-piece axle mounted on leaf-springs. The GTB was presented at the Motor Show last autumn and during the winter it was really in production, so that when offered for homologation recently something like 135 cars had been built. However, the C.S.I., urged on by interested parties from America in the form of Carroll Shelby, queried the homologated weight, and found that the competition GTB intended to race against the Cobras was much lighter than the quoted weight, to which most of the cars sold had been built, and while a small percentage diflerence is permitted, the GTB difference was too much. So the C.S.I. turned down the homologation of the GTB, at which Ferrari went straight up in the air, and has refused to let any works GT Ferraris take part in Championship events. It looks as though GT racing this year will be a walk-over for the Shelby-Cobras, as and when they compete, unless Ferrari relents, but even then the GTB is going to have to weigh more than intended, or a lot more competition versions are going to have to be made.

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Last month I mentioned the Belgian Ecurie Francorchamps and their activities in GT racing, and in Switzerland there is a similar organisation known as Scuderia Filipinetti, presided over by Georges Filipinetti. The team was formed originally because there were a number of Swiss private owners running in GT racing in a small way, and it was thought that if they banded together they would be stronger as regards materials, contracts and equipment. This proved to be so and with Filipinetti’s financial backing the Scuderia has become quite strong, this year acquiring a Ferrari Prototype to supplement their GT cars. They have one of the 1964 works Prototype Ferraris and, as mentioned in the Le Mans Test Weekend report, the engine has been enlarged to 4.4-litres and proves to be very fast indeed, much to the surprise of the Ferrari factory, even though they did the modifications. The rest of the Scuderia Filipinetti consists of two LM Ferraris, two Porsche 914, a GTO Ferrari, two Mustangs, a GTZ Alfa Romeo, a Lotus-Cortina, an Elva-B.M.W. sports car and an Alfa Romeo TI saloon, which makes quite a collection, and they have been signed up to run on Goodyear tyres. The cars are based in Geneva and are red with a white stripe, and among the drivers are Herbert Muller and Tommy Spychiger, the others all being Swiss amateurs. The only pity is that the best Swiss driver, Joseph Siffert, is not in the team, although he joined them in the early days, but fell out with the organisation, who seemed unable to cope with the more exacting requirements of Grand Prix racing.

Mention of Siffert naturally brings me to Team Walker, for this year Rob Walker has taken the young Swiss driver into his team, as partner to Bonnier. In the past Siffert had a hard time, for he is not a moneyed young man and had to work hard between races to make sufficient money to pay B.R.M. for engine overhauls, and to pay his two mechanics. He did this by dealing in used cars, of any type, racing, sports or touring, and at many races I saw him leave early on Monday morning, or even on Sunday night, to drive back to Switzerland to do some more buying and selling in order to pay the wages; especially if he suffered a bad blow-up in the race. His terrific enthusiasm for racing and to be a racing driver urged him on to overcome financial set-backs, and at the same time he was doing all his own racing organisation, planning for entries, starting money, travelling, transport, hotels, spares, tyres, fuel and so on. He found in Switzerland two really keen mechanics, both devoted to racing and prepared to work at all hours to get their driver on the starting grid. One is a really first-class engine man, and the other looks after the chassis and running gear, and though times have been hard they both love racing and the Grand Prix fife. Last year, just before the Austrian Grand Prix Siffert had engine trouble at another race, so Heini, the engine man, took the engine in the back of a VW to Bourne and rebuilt it. Time was short as always, and after building the engine and testing it on the bench, he drove non-stop from Bourne to Zeltweg in the VW, on his own, with the engine sitting on the floor in the back. Meanwhile Jean-Pierre had taken the car to Zeltweg and got it all ready to receive the engine, and after a meal and a wash, Heini set to and installed the engine ready for practice. Often when I’ve met Heini I’ve said “Hallo, how are you? ” to which he invariably replied “Very tired.” It’s easy to sec why.

Now that Rob Walker has taken Siffert into his team, life is a lot easier for all three Swiss lads, for Walker took the two mechanics onto the strength of Team Walker as well as the driver. This was a very wise move, for it is difficult enough to find good mechanics, and to find a first-class engine man is even more difficult, but to find a cormbination of driver/mechanics that are so well matched as these three Swiss is rare. Now all the problems of organisation, travel, transport, etc., are looked after by Rob Walker, and the driver can concentrate on driving and the mechanics can concentrate on the machinery. Siffert took his own Brabham-B.R.M. V8 into the team and it now runs under Rob Walker’s colours of dark blue with a white band round the nose. Siffert’s recent dice with the two World Champions at Siracusa was a terrific morale booster to the whole of Team Walker, and it probably won’t be the last one if Siffert has anything to do with it. Last year, with the same car, he beat Jim Clark’s works Lotus-Climax on the very fast Enna circuit in Sicily, and when anyone comments to Heini and Jean-Pierre that Joseph always goes well in Sicily, they both grin and say, “Scrutineering is a bit slack down there, we use an 1,880-c.c. engine.”

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The victory of the Chaparral at Sebring focused a lot of attention on the 2-speed automatic transmission used on these cars, and a lot of people were given the impression that this was the first successful use of an automatic gearbox in racing, but the fact that it was not was brought to mind recently when I was reading Jim Clark’s book about his racing career. On page 78 he is describing his racing in 1961 and mentions the Lotus Elite fitted with a Hobbs “Mechamatic” transmission, with which David Hobbs won the 1,100 – 1,600-c.c. sports class at the 1,000 kilometres race on the Nürburgring. Clark drove the car later at Daytona and had his own road-going Elite fitted with a Hobbs box. He remarks in his book: “Those who scorn automatics take note!” The unfortunate thing was that the Hobbs automatic box did not progress further, but it was not for want of trying, but everything seemed to be against it. After a bit of typical big-business and industry “shenanigans,” the Ford Motor Company took up the Borg-Warner automatic box in favour of the Hobbs, even though everyone knew the Hobbs was better, and dealers and people on the inside wanted it. A Hobbs transmission was made up for a Lotus-Climax Grand Prix car, but other problems were besetting Lotus at the time and the project was not developed, which was a great shame, as it was so obviously a trend in the right direction for high-revving V8 engines. So don’t let us get too starry-eyed because Jim Hall used a General Motors automatic gearbox on his Sebring-winning car. If things had gone the right way we could have had a British car winning the Grand Prix Championship with a British automatic gearbox. Also, to hear some people talk you would think that America was the only country which knows about V8 engines. I think a lot of people forget that Coventry-Climax and B.R.M. make jolly good V8 engines, admittedly not as big and crude as the American ones, but we also have big (and crude!) V8 engines in Rolls-Royce and Daimler cars, and if these two firms believed in racing we should probably have their engines in the Lotus 30, Elva-McLaren and Lola 70. I wonder who convinced the American manufacturers about the value of motor racing?

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While in Modena recently I paid a visit to Lamborghini, who are situated a few miles out of the town, to see what progress had been made in twelve months. Last year when I was there they had just got the 3500 GT car, with its V12-cylinder 4 overhead camshaft engine, to the production stage, and were beginning an engine assembly line. There was never any intention that the Lamborghini should be produced in great volume, the idea being to produce a hand-built luxury road car in the Ferrari/Maserati class. When I was there they had sold forty-three cars and there were another twenty on the production line, about two being completed each week. This seemed to me to be very reasonable progress, and this year will see them achieve their target of 200 cars per year. They do not visualise the Lamborghini being a serious threat to Ferrari, but every time a Ferrari owner sells his 2+2 and buys a Lamborghini, there is a feeling of satisfaction at the St. Agata factory, and it has happened more than once. Unlike the A.T.S. project that was heralded with great fanfares and proclamations of how they were going to drive Ferrari into the ground, the Lamborghini concern has quietly got on with the job of building GT cars. I think A.T.S. built three GT cars before they went broke and folded up. Mr. Lamborghini built his first tractor with his own hands after the war, and from there built up a very big industrial empire producing tractors and central-heating plants, and building cars is something of a hobby, but it might well develop into a large and important part of his industrial empire. – D. S. J.