Changing Times

Dear Reader,
We live in changing times, I am glad to say, otherwise we would stagnate and then go backwards, and while there are some things I would like to go back to, there are an awful lot of things I have no wish to see or experience again. There are some things that are long overdue for a change, while other things are permanent and traditional, like tea and beer in England, wine and coffee in France or Coca Cola and 7 Up in America and red cars from Italy, and I hope they never change.

The Monte Carlo Rally used to be a traditional winter trip, but progress in roads, tyres, cars and equipment has taken away much of the adventure of winter motoring. The development of rallies and rally cars has changed the whole format of the event so that any similarity to the Monte Carlo Rally of the days of Invictas, Wolseley 25 or Allard are in the name of the event only. In Italy the Mille Miglia, the 1000 mile race on public roads, used to be as traditional as the Monte Carlo Rally until the march of time, public awareness, political manoeuvring and the changes in civil rights killed it off in 1958. In recent years it has resurfaced as an “old car” parade for rich people in “beautiful cars” along much of the original route, but it is the real Mile Miglia only in name.

Imagine my surprise when I opened a glossy coloured motoring magazine recently to see a comprehensive report of an event called the “Monte Miglia”! When I came to read all about it I found it was written in “fretwork” (as the late Henry Manney III used to describe Japanese) so I was baffled. However it turned out to be the fifth annual event, held in Japan under the title “Monte Miglia” and the photographs showed an interesting collection of cars of the 1950s such as Lancia Aurelia GT, OSCA, Stanguellini, Abarth and Alfa Romeo. In the days of the real Mille Miglia the Italian organisers used a simple sign in the shape of a horizontal arrow in red, with the graphics 1000 MIGLIA, one above the other in white. This was the official insignia of the event and could be any size from three inches long to 30 feet long. They were used to show the way to competitors all round the 1000 mile route and I still have an 18 inch long one on my wall today, which I collected at the 1954 event. This 1000 MIGLIA sign could also be had as a small windscreen sticker and the important version was the one that had along the bottom CONCORRENTE IN PROVA. These you got from the Club headquarters if you wanted to do some unofficial practising before the event. If you had any brushes, as we quite often did when practising in Mercedes-Benz or Maserati, the sticker worked like a charm and you were sent on your way with the words “Piano, piano” though you could see that the policeman didn’t really believe that you would, especially in a bright red 4 1/2-litre Maserati V8. I have one of those in my private collection as well, but there would be no point in trying to use it in the UK!

The Japanese use the same red and white arrowhead insignia for their event but the inscription reads MONTE MIGLIA. I must admit I find the whole business a bit confusing, but a sign of the changing times, and in the year 2035 will there be a 50th anniversary of the first Monte Miglia and what will have happened to the anniversaries of the Monte Carlo rally and the Mile Miglia?

This jumbling up of traditional names started the imagination working and a new event began to take shape in the mind. The Brooklanapolis 500 would obviously soon become a classic event, giving golden opportunities for the used car dealers to dig out cars “suitable for the 500, you know”. Then in the heart of the Black Country we could have the Bullringrennen, not quite so attractive as the Eifelrennen, but a classic in the making, and if we did not want to travel to Sicily and Sweden we could have the Targa Kannonloppet. The Vingt-Quatre Minutes de Cadwell Park would not be too arduous, nor would the Criterium de la Montagen de Prescott. With the new, fast and winding circuit to be built at Silverstone next winter, we could have the Silverstonering 1000 kms, to take over where the Nurburgring 1000 kms left off. The possibilities are endless. As I said, we live in changing times, but I do have my reservations about some things.

This might be an opportune moment to talk about the plans that the BRDC have for Silverstone. First of all, does anyone really want to go back to the good old days of the airfield circuit, with five gallon oil drums marking the course? The world of Formula 1 has given the BRDC and Silverstone Circuits another five years of running the British Grand Prix, which takes us to 1997, so the circuit management can now plan ahead with a degree of confidence.

They have decided to re-profile the existing Grand Prix circuit, but to retain the inherent character of Silverstone, which is high speed and fast corners. Work will not start until August of this year, but a large model of the new layout looks extremely interesting. Copse Corner remains unchanged, but the slow righthander at Becketts will go and a very fast ess-bend-and-a-half will connect Maggotts to Chapel Corner. If a driver gets this bit right he should come onto Hanger Straight even faster than at present. The first part of Stowe will be unchanged, but instead of accelerating down the following straight to Club Corner, the road will continue round to the right and dive down into a cutting that will run parallel to the existing road. A sharp left-hander and a fast right-hander will feed into the middle of Club Corner and then the circuit is unchanged up to and through Abbey Curve. At the moment the circuit goes under the access bridge and you brake really heavily for the tight left-right before the flat-out acceleration through Woodcote and past the pits. The revised plan is to bring the access bridge down to ground level and move it back nearer Abbey Curve, and then dig out an underpass, which should prove interesting for the drivers as they disappear at 160 mph! Up the other side they will have to knock off a bit of speed in order to take a 140 mph right-hand sweep into the infield, to join the existing Club circuit with a sharpish left-hander and then follow the new Woodcote layout that is already in use for Club racing.

The Silverstone management emphasised that there was a long term feeling that Silverstone was getting faster than was reasonable and before international officialdom started demanding “chicanes” as they have done at Le Mans, it was better to offer an alternative. The Silverstone characteristic of fast swerves and high speed corners has not been lost, and indeed Becketts has been improved, while Stowe and Club look a lot more interesting. Above all the planners wanted to keep a fast “flow and rhythm” to the circuit and it looks as if they will achieve this. The lap speed will not be in the daunting 160 mph average that we have achieved, but my feeling is that it won’t be far off 150 mph and will offer a lot more to drivers and spectators alike.

When the Circuit Nationale de Francorchamps in Belgium was rebuilt it retained all the character of the old one, and is still one of the best Grand Prix circuits. Silverstone looks like changing in a similar manner, unlike the Nürburgring which was pensioned off for serious racing and a new “facility” built that is an insult to the Eifel Mountains. At the moment everything is on paper at Silverstone, but once the Grand Prix circuit season is over work will start at Stowe and Club corners, while the Club circuit season runs its full quota of events. “The times they are a’changing” Yours, DSJ