From the archives with Doug Nye

The romance of racing
A Monza paddock snapshot encapsulates much of our sport’s 1960s essence

Open-air preparation in a sun-soaked, tree-shaded race paddock always struck me as one of the most magnetic visual attractions of ’60s circuit racing. For many participants and certainly for us arty types amongst the press, any event at Monza always seemed to have a particularly momentous atmosphere. The old autodrome was then – and surely still is – world-class motor racing’s spiritual home. In the paddock there behind the pits, with its interleaved fan design of porphyry block paving, one would find – for instance – the Grand Prix support race runners. The vast majority would have been denied space in one of the limited number of lock-up garages built there, and so would be working as best they could al fresco. For many years the same applied to the series of Formula 2 and 3 races held there. It was a question of make do and mend wherever one could find shady space.

I recently came across a rather poignant photo capturing much of that feel, and showing two really talented young British drivers of the period, both sadly now deceased. One is Chris Williams, from Shere in Surrey where he and his wife Molly ran a garage business, and the other is Jonathan Williams – who passed away last year, aged 71 – a great friend of Frank Williams (no relation) and former Lucas Engineering F3 team driver who would become an Italy-based works star for Ferrari, de Sanctis, Serenissima and de Tomaso, before embarking upon a long and pleasurable career as an executive aircraft pilot.

In 1966 at Monza he became a regular winner in Lucio de Sanctis’s latest Cosworth-Ford-engined F3 car, inflicting a rare bloody nose on the British brigade with their generally far more successful Brabhams, Lotuses and Lolas. The photo shows Chris in his typically and simply immaculate Brabham alongside a thoughtful Jonathan, standing beside the rival de Sanctis. He had what Martin Brundle would describe as “a stellar” 1966 F3 season with the Roman manufacturer, winning 10 out of 16 races to clinch the Italian title (confined to Italian constructors). The cars were built by the father and son team of Gino and Lucio de Sanctis, whose family business was a sizeable Fiat dealership. As early as 1958-59, back at the dawn of Formula Junior racing, Lucio de Sanctis had been a prominent player as a driver/constructor, relying upon tuned Fiat engines (of course). But the British onslaught using Ford and BMC units subsequently blew Fiat away. De Sanctis soon changed camps to use Cosworth-Ford power and, when 1-litre Formula 3 ‘screamer’ racing commenced in 1964, the Cosworth MAE became his engine of choice. His Brabham-influenced multi-tubular spaceframe chassis were quite effective, and well developed by Jonathan into regular race winners… on Italian soil – and shone particularly on fast tracks, such as Monza.

Oxford engineering graduate Chris Williams had made his name in British sports car racing with a Lotus 23, followed by his own creation combining Lotus and Brabham with BMW power. In Formula 3 he had become another rising talent to watch, driving Brabham BT18 and BT21 cars. In 1967 he won at Oulton Park, Ingliston, Vila Real in Portugal and Schleiz in East Germany, and took podium places at Mallory Park and Crystal Palace. He would drive a Chevron B9 for Red Rose Motors in 1968, teamed alongside Alan Rollinson – and graduated to Formula 2 in David Bridges’ Lola T100. In mid-season he was hired by Bob Gerard Racing to drive a works Formula 2 Merlyn Mk12. But he ran out of luck in March 1969, when his Merlyn crashed at Becketts Corner, Silverstone, during a pre-season test, and he died aged 29.

Just another scene from a bygone age, but one which for many of us remains so deeply evocative – embodying one of the many reasons why so many of us got hooked in the first place…

Pedal through the metal
Moss and Jenks are known for their 1955 Mille Miglia win, but also had a few close scrapes

Forgive me if I refer, yet again, to the forthcoming 60th anniversary of the Moss/Jenkinson Mercedes-Benz win in the 1955 Mille Miglia, but with this magazine’s continental correspondent navigating ‘Golden Boy’ to that extraordinary performance it’s a big deal for Motor Sport.

In late February I spent a great day with Nan Cawthorne who, through the 1950s into the ’60s, was a close friend to Jenks. And to my astonishment, she sorted through a pile of papers and photographs and produced a most remarkable hand-written letter from DSJ to her late aeronautical engineer husband, Dick. It is one I had never seen before. It is on Motor Sport headed paper. Typically DSJ, it is not dated beyond a cryptic “Monday morning” written in the top-right corner – the 1949 motorcycling sidecar world champion passenger always living for the moment…

In fact he was writing from a hotel in Brescia, Italy, and it was the Monday after the 1957 Mille Miglia race, May 13. The letter followed up a telegram he had sent to Dick and Nan the previous afternoon. In stark contrast to their triumph of 1955, and their rain-soaked 1956 epic in a Maserati 350S (during which they were launched off a mountainside and saved from tumbling many hundreds of feet down into a valley by hitting the only substantial tree for miles around), their 1957 1000-mile race had reached its abrupt conclusion – after just seven miles…

In their brand new, hastily completed, works Maserati 450S V8 they had been absolutely the pre-race favourites to win. However, as Jenks wrote to his engineer friend Dick:

“A brief note from Brescia. No doubt your reaction to my telegram was ‘How was it possible’. Quite literally, as we approached the 12km stone from the start, we were doing about 130 into an 80mph corner and boy-oh gave a big press on the brakes. He felt the pedal go spongy and thought the brakes had faded so he tweaked the car into a slide and pressed the pedal again whereupon it fell on the floor. We were in 4th gear so as he slid into this 80mph corner at about 100mph he hooked 2nd gear with a crash and we skittered round a bit sideways and came to rest. Fortunately it was an open left-hand bend so we didn’t touch anything, but had it been the corner before I shouldn’t be having the pleasure of meeting Nan tomorrow for we approached that one at 175mph and it was a right-hander at about 60mph and blind at that!”

Jenks then sketched the brake pedal – as seen here – detailing the failure that had so prematurely dashed their hopes of a second Mille Miglia win, and which utterly devastated La Maserati and all its dedicated engineers, fitters and team mechanics who had committed themselves to building the car for many exhausting weeks past. His sketch shows how the pedal had been made by sliding a tapered 16-gauge tube over a forged clamp to be keyed to the brake pivot cross-shaft. The tube was welded to this forging around its bottom extremity, but when Stirling leaned on it into the near-fateful corner it had simply snapped clean off about two inches above the pivot point. As Jenks’s sketch indicates, about a third of the tube had been “Broken some time before by look of metal…”

He ended this remarkable letter by adding, somewhat regretfully: “I really cannot see why English cars do not win all the races. It is just habit with the Italians.

“However 400bhp and 25cwt all on don’t arf accelerate up to 170mph with a six-speed gearbox. 7000rpm 4½-litre! They can make engines. Cheers, you’ll be hearing from us soon, Jenks.”

With all other starters having blasted on to attack the remaining 993 racing miles – Stirling turned the great car around and rumbled slowly, carefully, back into Brescia, slowing as best he could on the regulation handbrake, which Jenks also recalled as having been about as much use on those sports-racing projectiles as “the regulation hood”.

And he would never forget the ashen, thunderstruck expression upon the faces of the Maserati engineers and mechanics as they blubbered deafeningly back into the Brescia garage. “We were fit to bust with indignation,” Jenks would recall. “It could have killed us both, but we were more angry at the nature of the failure – the cracked brake tube should have been spotted and replaced, but one look at their faces changed our minds.

“Some were in tears. This had been Maserati’s great chance in the Mille Miglia. They had never won it before. And here we were – back in Brescia with a perfectly healthy car – but one that was totally unraceable. After the first five minutes, it was all over… but we realised it had all meant just as much to them as it had to us.”

I showed his 58-year-old letter to Stirling, who responded airily: “What a nice piece of memorabilia. It could have been a serious shunt!”