We take the telephone and the postal services very much for granted, though some people grumble about them, but life would be very dull without them. Most days there is something interesting in the post about racing cars or racing, and when I manage a day at home in the workshop there are usually two or three phone calls, about racing cars and racing naturally.
In one week the communications from the outside world to my Hampshire hideaway scored letters and phone calls about Alfa Romeo, Mercedes-Benz, Maserati, Alta, Porsche, Delahaye, BRM, Bugatti, Tyrrell, Williams, Ferrari, McLaren, Lagonda, Riley, MG, Frazer Nash and BMW. Never a dull moment, and people still ask “What do you do when there in no Grand Prix racing?” Them are fellow enthusiasts who are into classic cars who get letters and phone calls about Jaguar, Aston Martin, Triumph TR, Austin, Morris, Ford, Fairthorpe, Nash Metropolitan, Doretti, Hillman Minx and so on; or veteran enthusiasts who are involved in de Dion, Daimler, Humber, Panhard, Benz and so on. The ramifications of the motor vehicle are enormous and there is something for everyone. I suppose if I had grown up being interested in postage stamps life would be equally full and absorbing, if not quite so active.
Among the many letters was one from Paul Frere about that closed-circuit lap record set up at Nardo by Mercedes-Benz which I mentioned recently, and on which Karl Ludvigsen corrected me in our correspondence pages last month. I said that the C111 Mercedes-Benz was Wankel-powered and Ludvigsen pointed out that it was not but had a turbocharged V8. Paul was involved with record breaking with the Mercedes-Benz C111 record car when it was powered by a diesel engine in 1978 and took the 500km record at 199.9mph and the 12 hours at 195.4mph.
The C111/3 had a frontal area of 1.47 sq metres, a cd of 0.183 and the engine developed 230bhp. For the closed circuit lap record of 251.02mph the car had a blunter front end, with a large tray-shaped wing at the front to give more down-force and small, low-positioned wings on each side of the body at the rear. These wings were asymmetrical, providing more downforce on the left-side to compensate for roll on the Nardo track banking which is designed for “hands off” driving at 150mph. At over 250mph there was considerable side-force being generated. On the diesel-engined version at 200mph there were no aerodynamic aids, they merely used stiffer springs on the right-hand side.
Dr Hans Liebold drove the C111/IV when it set the 251mph lap of the Nardo track and the V8 engine was a production iron-block unit, as used in the 450 SE cars at the time (1979) which had been bored out to give 4.8 litres with two KKK turbochargers. It gave 500bhp and was effectively the fore-runner of the aluminium-block V8 used in the Mercedes-Benz Sauber Group C car. In spite of the down-force aids on the C111/IV its cd was fractionally better than the diesel car, at 0.182, which suggested that had they used the blunt nose earlier the diesel records would have been set at over 200mph.
My confusion probably came from living in the past, because the original C111 experimental Mercedes-Benz was used for testing 3 and 4-rotor Wankel engines. What is interesting is that Daimler-Benz AG in Stuttgart may not be in racing these days, but their Research and Development Department are very much in touch with the high speed world of today and tomorrow. When they set their sights on the closed-circuit lap of 251mph they were actually aiming at 400kph (248mph). I would imagine their next objective would be 500kph (310mph), not 300mph.
Another very interesting letter from someone who knows what he is talking about was from WRG (Bill) Morris who races “Hanuman”, the ex-Bira/Chula ERA, and had the honour of rebuilding and racing “Romulus”, Bira’s first ERA. In my book on the Maserati 8CM number 3011, which has just been published, I got in a muddle over the gearbox Whitney Straight had installed.
I have driven many cars with pre-selector boxes, and they are great fun and so sirnple to use; you pre-select your gear with a quadrant lever but nothing happens until you press and release the left pedal, which on most cars is connected to a clutch. On a pre-selector the pedal is coupled directly to the gearbox and operates on the friction band selected; this band clamps onto a drum containing sun-and-planet gear wheels and the drive from the engine goes through this set.
You select second, gear on the cockpit quadrant, the mechanism pre-selects the next set of sun-and-planet gear wheels, and to change up into that ratio you merely press and release the “clutch” pedal . Changes are almost instantaneous and totally silent; you cannot make a noise on a pre-selector box, but you can destroy it by abuse, like anything else.
This mechanism was invented by a Mr Wilson and a number of firms made gearboxes to Wilson patents, including Armstrong Siddeley, ENV, Talbot, Lanchester and Daimler. I have never understood the complications of all these firms and Mr Wilson’s patents, and said that the Straight Maserati used an ENV/Wilson box. Bill Morris, who knows about these things having overhauled and rebuilt many preselector boxes, especially those used in ERAs, has now made it all quite clear to me. Armstrong Siddeley made special racing pre-selector boxes, using Wilson patents and the Maserati in question has one of these.
Bill says in his letter “if you had cleaned your spectacles and looked closely at the brass plate on top of the gearbox you would have read `Armstrong Siddeley to Wilson patents’ . . and another plate which gave the instructions that it was not to be messed about with by idiot grease monkeys, but sent back to ‘Um Tum Tiddeley’ for overhaul and repair.. These racing gearboxes are recognisable by their elektron castings and were used by ERA, HWM and Connaught. They could transmit up to about 280bhp. Armstrong Siddely made bigger versions which could cope with 450bhp, all of which will make the present day Grand Prix gearbox designers srnile when they look at their gearboxes which have to transmit over 1000bhp.
Shortly, after Bill Morris’ informative “correction letter” about the Maserati book, a letter arrived from Austria. It was from “Lofty” England, late of Jaguars and now retired in the gentle and friendly Austrian countryside. He was a mechanic in the Whitney Straight team in 1934 and worked on the Maserati 8CM about which I have written, and was most helpful with my research into the car’s history.
He was quick to point out that the gearbox was an Armstrong Siddeley-built one, not an ENV, and also mentioned that Whitney Straight sold one of these special racing gearboxes to Nuvolari in 1934 for his new Maserati (chassis no 3018). “Lofty” said: “The first time I met Nuvolari was at the Nice GP in 1934, when I had to go along to his pit to see if he was happy with the pre-selectorbox and to make sure it was set up properly”.
Another letter about the Whitney Straight Maserati came from Dan Margulies. about his last win with the car in historic racing. This was in 1961 at Silverstone at the BRDC International Trophy meeting and Dan’s letter said: “The BRDC presented a nice cup, which is sitting in my office as I write to you”.
An agreeable letter arrived from Brian Redman in Florida, USA, who is running an American-owned Porsche agency and still driving in various races and Historic events. He is driving a new Porsche 962 in IMSA racing and said he was “still having a great time being paid to have fun!” He added that a sobering thought was that he was 50 years old in February and has been racing for 29 years, but he hadn’t figured out why he didn’t make enough money as a professional racing driver to retire to Monte Carlo!
I always put Brian Redman in the same category as Derek Bell. Motor racing enthusiasts. They’d get bored lying around a swimming pool with the “beautiful people”.
You and I would as well!