[By means of which the Continental Correspondent, while he is motoring abroad, keeps in touch with the Editor.] Dear W. B.,
This will be the last letter to you from Europe this year as the Continent has now closed down as far as International racing is concerned and many parts are already getting cold and bleak. We think that England is pretty dismal in the winter, but there are parts of Germany, or France, that are ten times worse. I know all the advertisements show the sun shining on the winter sports in the mountains, but that is a very small part of Europe. The permanent circuits such as Zandvoort, Nurburgring and Monza are quite active through the winter months, with testing and such like by various manufacturers, but racing activity is virtually at a stop, apart from things like ice races on frozen lakes in Germany and Austria. After leaving Italy in mid-September I drove over the Grand St. Bernard pass into Switzerland, and even at that early date it was snowing on the top of the pass. Since the new tunnel has been opened under this pass it is a real joy to motor over the top for it is completely free of traffic, and the road is still in good condition. So often it happens that when a Motorway or tunnel or bridge replaces and existing route and most of the traffic take the new and easier route, then the old road becomes neglected ‘and just falls apart.
Having had some first class European motoring in the E-type during the summer months I felt I ought to do some sort of a penance before the season finished, if only to appease those people who start their conversation with it’s all right for you.” It so happened that two friends wanted to go down to Albi for the Formula Two race, so I borrowed an 1216 Renault from Robert Sicot, that amiable fellow at Regie-Renault who looks after the needs of” foreign” journalists, and judging by the number of fellow scribes with diamond-shaped eyes, Sicot does a good job. From the outset it was agreed that this would not be a motoring trip, but a tour in a gentle fashion, stopping for this and that instead of just charging on at Ioo m.p.h. as with Jaguar motoring trips. I shall always have a soft spot for the R16 Renault, for the year it was introduced it won the “Car of the Year ” award presented by a Dutch motoring magazine, and I was on the panel of International journalists who did the voting. I had voted for things like Porsche, Ferrari, Citroen, Mercedes-Benz and so on, and when the results said that the R16 Renault had won my first reaction was “What the hell is an Ri6 ? ” It had appeared during the height of the motor racing season and I had been somewhere else when it made its debut, so I had not been aware of it. The “Car of the Year” award took place at the end of the year, by which time I had seen those new Renaults on the French roads but it was not a car to cause me to stop and investigate, so I had no idea what an R16 was until I found a photograph, whereupon I was forced to exclaim, “so that is an 12 x6, well I never 1″ In a rather sheepish and slightly embarrassed way I just have to have a soft spot for the R16. Having done an enormous mileage in France in the E-type without the slightest trouble with the ” motards “—mobile Gendarmerie to you—it was a bit galling to have two brushes within a week in something as sedate and ordinary as an Rx6, which looks and is a family estate car, and France is full of them so that you have to remember where you parked and -leave something significant, like a copy of Mama SPORT on the seat, in order to be sure of taking the right one. On the long flat straight roads of Northern France the Rx6 is very much at home, the ride and comfort being very good, but it does tend to float up and down on its springs when going flat out over undulations. Pounding along one evening at about 80-85 m.p.h. I flashed past what seemed to be “a house, a church and pub” and wondered if it had constituted a village and therefore a 37.2 m.p.h. (6o k.p.h.) speed limit. It was all too late anyway as I was past before the thought had occurred, but half a mile up the road were two mobiles who clearly reckoned it was a village; or maybe it was just the sight of the R16 rising and falling on its suspension that looked wrong to them. Anyway, they blew their
whistles and got quite huffy ! On another occasion, this time down in the foothills of the Massif Central, I was not even in a hurry but the RI6 was whistling and screaming from its tyres, for while it is good on long straights it gets terribly confused on twisty roads. With front-wheeldrive and not much power it just gives up if you rush at a corner and it tries to kneel down, only the door handles preventing complete prostration. It’s quite safe, but terribly untidy and the tyre noise is unruly w:xich is obviously what upset the two B.M.W.-mounted mobiles who, were waiting round a corner, for they must have heard us coming five miles away.
That reminds me of an occasion in Sicily a few years ago when I was having a bit of a race with a local” hot-shoe ” and the engine mountings of my Porsche broke and let the engine drag on the ground. All was peace and quiet on the Sicilian coast, as we jacked up the engine and tied it in place with rope, when we heard tyres screaming in the distance. The shrieking was approaching very rapidly and my friend and I looked at each other and said” It must be one of us ” and waited with baited breath. A black Fiat isoo saloon came round the final bend on its door-handles and sure enough, it was one of our journalist chums on his way to the Targa Florio in a test-car borrowed from Turin. I know just how those two Gendarmes must have felt as they listened to the Rx6 approaching, and as I rounded the final corner they were already licking the ends of their pencils and had their note-books at the ready. It makes you wonder on whose side the car-designers are !
On a more liesurely occasion (we actually had time to stop) we came across a magnificent monument on the grass beside the road just north of La Chatre. It was to Andre Boillot, on the hill where he was killed O 1932, and had been erected by his sporting friends and admirers in memory of his motoring and flying exploits. I gather he was on his way to a hill-climb, driving a Peugeot powered by a Bugatti engine, which is a new one on me. I tried to find out what sort of Peugeot and what sort of Bugatti engine, but failed to get any further information. It seems he crashed on this bend on the way out of La Chatre, and I must say it is a very fine and well preserved monument. What a pity the English do not pay tribute to fine drivers in the same way, for there is nothing on the Guildford-By-Pass to commemorate the loss we suffered when poor Mike Hawthorn crashed in his 3.8 Jaguar.
The Rx6 was returned with grateful thanks and I left Paris thankfully in the Jaguar and returned to serious motoring with a quick trip up to Zandvoort to watch some of our best sprint motorcyclists demonstrate to Dutch enthusiasts what standing-start quarter-mile stuff is all about. This was on the main straight at Zandvoort in the reverse direction to normal use; it made a very good sprint course, and the day was very well received so I would not be surprised to see some Dutch sprint bikes being built this winter.
After that it was home to England for the approaching winter and to attempt to get done some of those things that have to be neglected in the summer, and to indulge in some quiet vintage motoring for a change.
Yours, D. S. I.