Rumblings, November 1970
As any publicity chap will tell you, Fangio drove a 250F Maserati, and, as most Maserati owners will tell you, Fangio drove their particular one, but if the Maserati in question is a 1956 model then it is most unlikely that Fangio drove it, for that year he was driving for Ferrari. In spite of all the history of Maserati racing cars being documented you only have to produce a 250F model and some commentator, publicity merchant or journalist will claim that it is ex -Fangio. However, the 250F Maserati owned jointly by Richard Bergel and Lord Angus Clydesdale is like those “rare unsigned copies” of famous books, in that it makes no claim to fame as being ex-Fangio. In fact, they grin and say : “Not only was it not driven by Fangio, but it never really existed”. This car is undeniably labelled as being number 2526 and is a six-cylinder 2-1/2-litre 250F model to 1957/58 specifications as far as mechanical components and outward appearances are concerned, and it is in superb condition both inside and out.
For the Italian GP in 1956 the Italian Automobile Club offered a large bag of gold to any Italian manufacturer who raced a new design in their event, so Maserati produced two cars for their drivers Moss and Behra. These were very similar to the then current 250F model, but the engine and transmission were mounted at an angle of five degrees to the centre-line of the car so that the prop-shaft ran at an angle across the cockpit floor towards the left. By mounting the driving seat and controls slightly to the right in the chassis the driver was able to sit much lower, and the tail of the car had an off set head-fairing. These two cars were numbers 2525 and 2526 and Moss won the Italian GP that year, driving 2525. At the end of the season the winning car was sold to a man in America and the sister car was dismantled. The only non-standard parts used in the construction were the engine mountings, the scuttle, steering and instrument panel, and the gearbox/final drive unit casing, which had the entry pinion shaft at an angle on the left instead of on the centre-line of the car. The fuel tank and body panels were special, to conform with the lower and offset driving position. During 1957 Maserati built some V12-cylinder cars and one of these used components, such as the gearbox, from the dismantled 2526. In 1958, when the firm were no longer running a works racing team, most of the material was sold and a standard car was built up around the bones of 2526 and sold to the motorcycle rider Keith Campbell. It was from his executors that Bergel and Clydesdale bought the car, exactly as it had been prepared at the Maserati works in 1958. That is to say, with the engine running on straight petrol, instead of alcohol as used up to the end of 1957, and the orthodox transmission line down the centre of the chassis, central driving position and the 1957 type of long tail with head-fairing, and the single large-diameter exhaust tail pipe. Although the car started life in 1956 it became rather rare in being a 1958 type, although Maserati were not producing cars of that type in 1958! As the owners say, it does not really exist. Today it is raced in VSCC and historic racing car events and is in splendid condition, the engine being looked after by Fergus Engineering of Spalding in Lincolnshire and recently, when the owners were giving it a mid-week airing on the Silverstone Club circuit, we were able to drive it. It is surprisingly smooth and docile and not at all difficult to drive at moderate speeds, lapping the circuit in club-racer times. No doubt Fangio-like lap times would bring in subtleties of handling that are not normally apparent. You sit fairly upright with your legs very wide apart, astride the clutch housing, and the righthand gear-lever is a surprisingly long way away, so that you have to make a deliberate reach out sideways to grasp it, moving it in an open gate for its five positions for the forward speeds. The actual gearchange is simple and rather dull to use, the linkage back to the rear-mounted gearbox being quite direct. Running on petrol the engine is very flexible and pulls away from low r.p.m. very easily, so you can merely let the clutch pedal up and drive off, with no need for any dramatics and there would be no excuse for stalling the engine. Naturally, for a racing start you would buzz the engine and spin the rear wheels. In deference to the owner, and the age of the car we kept down to 6,500 r.p.m., whereas they use 7,000 r.p.m., and when new the 250 used to be run at 7,400 r.p.m. The factory cars, especially when Fangio or Behra were getting desperate, used to run up to 8,100 r.p.m., but if there was a “bang” you could be certain it would be an expensive one. The drum brakes needed quite a heavy push on the pedal, but the clutch, accelerator and steering were all quite light to control and from about 4,000 r.p.m. the engine pulled hard and very smoothly. The overall impression in the cockpit was far less “racing car” than one imagined and certainly less than the impression gained from outside. Doing a heel-toe action when double-declutching and braking for a corner, for a change from 5th to 4th or 4th to 3rd, seemed very difficult and unnatural and then we realised that this car had the accelerator pedal on the right of the brake pedal, instead of the usual position on the left. With your legs spread wide apart, anyway, which tends to splay your feet outwards, the right foot is much better balanced for having the accelerator pedal on its left as originally built. Some drivers can never adapt to the “central” accelerator layout, and this modification was made when the car was built for Campbell in 1958, and detracts from the pleasure of playing tunes on the gearbox. Overall the car was very pleasant and enjoyable to drive and it is easy to see why the owners have so much fun with it in VSCC racing.
It’s nice to know
At a recent Grand Prix race one of the cars retired at the pits with the engine sizzling away, having overheated due to an apparent loss of water. The immediate reaction in the pits was that the car must have collected a stone through the radiator which punctured the core and let all the coolant leak away. It was a reasonable explanation, but we did wonder why there was no stone guard to protect the radiator, knowing the circuit was one where small stones and grit can get thrown on to the track by drivers cutting the corners. Later, one of the team mechanics said he did not really know if the radiator had a hole in it or not, as the car had been put straight into the transporter ready for a quick getaway, as time was short, but that they would find out when they got back to the factory. The next move was an official publication from the factory giving a brief story of the team’s activities at the race, and this said that the engine in question had overheated due to losing all its coolant through the cylinder heads becoming porous, which sounded to be a remarkably honest announcement of failure. Later still, when the team had gone to another race, the word was put around that all the foregoing was wrong and that the loss of water had been due to a faulty water system filler pressure cap. As we say, it’s nice to know.
On page 30 of the January 1970 issue of Motor Sport we published a photograph of Dave Lecoq in action on the “Dragwaye” two-wheeler which held the World and National two-way run record for the standing-start with a time of 9.81 sec. At the Records Week-end on September 26/27th organised by the National Sprint Association at Elvington Aerodrome, near York, Lecoq bettered his record with two runs in 9.78 sec. and 9.60 sec., giving an average of 9.69 sec., which now stands as the World and National record for the standing-start 1/4-mile. During the week-end many more records were taken in the various capacity classes, ranging from 125-c.c, solo to 750 c.c. with sidecar, among them being a Flying Mile at 152.99 m.p.h. by a 766-c.c. Triumph Trident three-cylinder works road-racing solo, the same distance at 139.91 m.p.h. by a supercharged 750-c.c. Trident-powered sprint bike with sidecar, and the same machine without sidecar took the Flying Quarter-Mile record at 159.02 m.p.h. Altogether 51 motorcycle records were broken or established, the complete list being available from the National Sprint Association or the Auto-Cycle Union.
The following week-end, October 3rd/4th, the newly-formed Incorporated Sprint Organisation held a similar week-end for cars and motorcycles, but strong winds made record-breaking very difficult. However, Densham in his supercharged Dragster “Commuter”, running with a radiator on the 7-litre Ford V8 engine, set up a British Flying Kilometre record at a two-way average of 207.6 m.p.h., the highest speed ever recorded in Great Britain. On one run his speed was over 219 m.p.h. The wind played havoc with the motorcycles, though George Brown recorded a one-way 190 m.p.h., down-wind. Numerous class records were broken or established and these are lodged with the RAC.