The late Frank Bel l- A tribute
Sir, It was with much sadness that I read Mr. Colin McDonald's letter from San…
When noise annoys
Nigel Roebuck’s Reflections in the April issue provides yet another reminder of the importance of noise, especially in today’s TV coverage of motor sport in general. The advantage of actually being there at great motor sporting events is that all the senses are fully engaged. My late uncle often talked about the experience of being present at 1930s Grands Prix, especially the smell and the sheer noise, something everyone at the 2012 Goodwood Revival quickly realised when confronted with the thunderous noise of the pre-war Auto Unions and Mercedes GP cars followed by the curious smell of the exhaust fumes (often referred to as ‘burning boot polish’ by the old-timers).
Of course, watching events on TV is always second-best to actually being there: the noise of engines is strangely muted and the smell of course absent. Something which is to be deplored is the habit of TV producers to overlay the actual noise of the engines with recorded music. What hope is there for the real fans if people in control over such matters (even apparently Max Mosley in his day) ruin the real fans’ enjoyment of the sight and sound of wonderful racing machines on screen by totally unnecessary music or soundtrack — which is almost as bad as having no noise at all!
David Stancombe, Lymington, Hants
Points mean – nothing
It was so refreshing to read Andrew Stronach’s letter in April’s issue. Fl should be all about winning each race, the victor, the fastest, the number one, not a chess game like driving for points. Alain Prost was brilliant but we prefer Villeneuve, Senna or Mansell. Don’t take the racing out of racing.
Oliver Wells, London SW1
Regarding the letter from Pieter Thoenes in the March issue, I was one of those from the BMC Competitions Department who borrowed Pieter’s bumpers for the Targa Florio. We used to race the MGBs without bumpers and had two nice fairings that fitted in place of them, hence less weight and more streamlined, but the FIA officials told us that to stay in the GT category we had to fit bumpers. Not easy to find in Sicily… Earlier, we had spotted a couple of English-registered MGBs rolling around on the roads, obviously over to watch the race, so we asked Margot Healey, who spoke fluent Italian, to speak over the loudspeaker system to try and get the chaps with the two MGBs to report to the BMC party. In the end we had to find the cars ourselves and put notes under the wipers.
Shortly after this the two lads came eagerly to find us and we told them the story of scrutineering and asked if we could use their bumpers. They were obviously enthusiasts and readily agreed. I then pointed out that the bumpers might get damaged in the race and told them that we would fit them back after the race if possible, but if they agreed to leave them on the race cars they could arrange to spend the day at the Competition Department at the MG factory, have new bumpers fitted, have a tour of the factory, and be taken out to lunch at the Doghouse Pub at Frilford Heath (which was the place the drivers used to stay when visiting the factory). This was the option they obviously took.
The MGB of Timo Makinen and John Rhodes came ninth overall and first in the GT category, while John Handley and Andrew Hedges came second in the GT category. So it was a happy ending for everyone.
Den Green (ex-BMC Comps Department), Kennington, Oxford
The photo of the ERA team’s transporter in the April issue is a timely reminder that Raymond Mays was one of the pioneers of obtaining sponsorship for motor racing from the time that he raced his own Bugattis back in the 1920s. No adverts allowed on the cars then, of course.
Mays had first approached the India Tyre 8c Rubber Company about sponsorship in 1930, for his famous Vauxhall Villiers hillclimb car. The ERAs were always run on special Dunlop racing tyres from their introduction in 1934, but you will notice the carefully worded slogan on the side of the transporter: “This vehicle is fitted with India tyres — the finest tyres made.”
David Weguelin’s history of ERA shows that the works team’s transporters continued to carry the India Tyre adverts right through to 1939, even after the sad break-up of the original outfit, and while Humphrey Cook was still trying to make something out of the E-type. While Mays was unable to get any factory support to run his Vauxhall Villiers, so that it was renamed the Villiers Supercharge, Vauxhall Motors was more than happy to supply Bedford lorries at special prices for his ERA team to carry racing cars around the country in…
David Cole, Oakham, Rutland
Once an apprentice…
Simon Taylor’s Lunch With… Norman Dewis was a treat for me. My final year as a Jaguar apprentice was working for Norman — pure heaven for a 20-year-old in 1953. First thing for Norman to do was to tell me what a lousy driver I was! He then proceeded to teach me to drive his way — very fast, very smooth, and safe. MIRA had a Belgian pave circuit, and Norman made sure I did the miles on that surface of hell.
We worked all hours, seven days a week and it never seemed like work. In 1954 I left to do my National Service, then returned to Jaguar working for Lofty England mostly in Europe. Then I joined Dunlop to work on brakes, so I was back with Norman again with race cars and the early E-type development into 1961 when I left for the USA. We always called Norman Pancho’ because of a stupid hat he bought — it was bigger than he was!
Our next meeting was after Lofty’s funeral in Coventry. A very convivial group of us: Norman, Harold Hodkinson, Stirling Moss, Tom Jones. Norman turned to me and said, “Johnny, glass of red, two sausage rolls”. I said, “Hey, Pancho, I’m not your apprentice any more!”. He grinned, and guess what, I went and got in the food queue!
John Allen, Banbury, Oxon
Not often does your excellent magazine publish a mistake but even here in Cuba — the home of old American iron — sports car fans know that the first car TT, when organised by the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland, was held in ‘the world capital of road racing’, the Isle of Man (March issue, page 18). Northern Ireland did not have the pleasure of hosting the car TT until the late 1920s.
Nick Cussons, Cuba
Last month’s piece on transporters made me think of the wonderful ‘Night at the Opera’ piece in Jenks — a Passion for Motorsport, produced by the BRDC in 1997.
Jenks recounted how, in the early 1960s, over a languid lunch in Modena, conversation turned to a trip to an opera at the Grande Arena in nearby Verona. By early evening the four participants had swollen to 11 and a larger vehicle was required. One of the original instigators was an American resident in Modena, charged with guarding and maintaining a large Maserati transporter belonging to an American Fl team that were still Stateside. It was his only means of getting about but was capable of carrying everyone.
A Clarkson, Hammond and May-style ‘lash up’ ensued as a sofa and put-up bed were installed to accommodate all the motor racing people, and off they went. In Verona they were chased away from the car park by the attendant who said they were a ‘motor coach’, but the coach park custodian said they needed a commercial licence to park there, so they lurked around until able to dive back into the public parking, where they got into a big argument with the attendant who said they were taking the places of 20 Fiat 500s. Eventually, a compromise was reached and they purchased eight tickets before heading off for their evening of Verdi.
An enjoyable night was had by all, and as they cruised back across the north Italian plain to Modena they had a bit of a sing-along!
Dave Munro, Higher Bebington, Wirral, Merseyside
Surtees in the frame
John Surtees’s place in history is assured, but I didn’t know he was immortalised in a life-sized painting in the Chateau de Versailles! The painting is in the 1830 room commemorating the accession of the Duc d’Orleans as King Louis— Philippe. ‘John Surtees’ is reading the proclamation of deputies. See if you can spot him on the next trip there.
Keith Martin, Milton Keynes, Bucks
Rookie with promise
I enjoyed the article on Valtteri Bottas run on the website in March. He is the rookie driver I am most looking forward to seeing drive an Fl car in anger this season, if the hype from within Williams about his speed in comparison to the two regular drivers last year is to be believed. The only thing I fear is that even if he impresses he could find himself in a similar situation to Nico Hillkenberg (a driver destined for great things in my opinion) after a single season with Williams, especially since the death of his team-mate’s biggest backer could severely affect the finances of the team.
Ed Worthington, Cardiff, Glamorgan
A dark anniversary
I was pleased to see in the March issue that the items chosen for ‘The Collection’ were the pit board and winner’s trophy of Roger Williamson. How poignant it was given that this July 29 will be the 40th anniversary of one of the darkest and most shameful days in F1’s history and the tragic loss of Britain’s brightest star at that time, Roger Williamson.
I became a fan of Roger’s after seeing him in one of his ‘giant-killing’ drives in his Ford Anglia special saloon at Brands Hatch in 1970. The story of how he met and eventually gained support from the late Tom Wheatcroft at Monaco is well documented in Tom’s book Thunder in the Park and is a fascinating if heartbreaking read.
On the day of that fateful Grand Prix in Holland I was at Brands Hatch for the F3 meeting but arrived home in time to catch the evening TV news, keen to see how Roger’s race had gone. I can remember being warned by my father who had heard the dreadful news earlier that I would not like what I was about to see. Those chilling images of a truly heroic effort by David Purley trying alone to save Roger still evoke emotion. It still seems inconceivable the race was not stopped and everyone else carried on circulating. How cruel our sport can be. We can never rewind time, but I can only smile when I remember Roger. If the tragedy of Zandvoort had not happened and if Roger had got into one of the stopgap McLaren M23s that Tom had just ordered for him, I believe the history books would be different to the ones we know today.
Paul Wiggins, Maldon, Essex
The port that refreshes
I enjoyed Doug Nye’s ‘Sifting through the wreckage’ item, and in particular the reference to the Oporto Grand Prix of 1953 at the Boavista circuit. Tony Gaze’s DB3/9 had the upgraded 2922cc engine producing 160bhp.
The race took place under persistent rain and in those conditions a few accidents ensued. Tony Gaze crashed on the third lap and hit two trees, and his car was engulfed by fire to its destruction. I attach a picture of Tony and his beautiful Aston in the paddock before the crash.
Interestingly, after the accident Tony was immediately assisted by a local spectating family, and not being severely wounded but dazed, he was given a few glasses of port to pep him up!
Incidentally, the No2 car in the background of your picture is a Ferrari 250MM driven by Portuguese ace Vasco Sameiro who also crashed against a tree later in the same race, but unfortunately as a result he was in hospital for quite some time.
Jose Ferreira da Silva, Oporto, Portugal
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