Afterthoughts on the French Grand Prix

APART from the actual racing, one of the great joys of going to a Continental car-race is the way in which you encounter drivers and ex-drivers, old friends from the factories, and an amazing collection of motor cars ranging from the Eminent Edwardian to the Dernier Cri. Rheims is normally a quiet but prosperous cathedral town, with the atmosphere, say, of Chester, but during Grand Prix week things are very different. On the car park in front of my hotel I catalogued the following models within an hour: Clutton’s 60-h.p. Itala, a” Prince Henry ” Vauxhall, assorted Vintage Bentleys, a 100-m.p.h. Railton and a smart two-seater G.P. Alfa. Alongside a 1920 Model T Ford I saw a Corgi with English number plates, and hope for the rider’s comfort he had brought it down there by rail and not tried conclusions with the pave between Calais and his destination.

The Continentals do not seem to share our enthusiasm for Veteran Types, and all foreign sports cars I saw were the very latest thing. Delage, Delahaye and Talbot were well represented, remarkable amongst the latter being a drop-head coupe with the longest bonnet and tail, I should imagine, in captivity, and several cars with dash-board equipment all in Perspex. The most attractive and business-like vehicle I noted was Chiron’s light-blue sports saloon on a Delahaye chassis. Lord Howe, whose pre-war• 12-cylinder Lagonda looked well to my conservative eye, said that he felt quite out-dated in the midst of the latest French coachwork styles.

Following the current trend in Italy, the Alfa-Romeo factory is now building six-seater sports saloons on the 21-litre chassis, and Signor Gallo, President of the Company, had driven up from Milan in the latest model. Somewhat bulky, with considerable overhang fore and aft, a sweeping line is obtained as a result of the low roof-line and the curved frameless side windows.

The bonnet is wide, but allows reasonable visibility and the helmet-shaped wing panels give the car a look of stability usually absent on full-width bodies. The front treatment is restrained, with a narrow shield-shaped radiator opening and a horizontal grille below, finished in dull chrome. The wheel-discs are pierced with a ring of small louvres, which direct a Stream of air on to the brake drums.

The extended tail of the car is utilised as a luggage compartment, and is large enough to accommodate several suitcases or even a small trunk. The spare wheel is carried horizontally on a tray mounted on metal rails, and can be wound out without disturbing the luggage.

These large bodies might prove somewhat cumbersome on narrow Engli.Th roads, but are at least highly efficient from the point of view of streamlining. The 21-litre,eggine pulls a high gear and t I iv car has -a maximum of about 100 m.p.h.

On the Track

A two-mile column of cars led to the Circuit, even during the training period, and like everyone else I was anxious to get my first sight of what is the fastest road-course in Europe. When at last I gained the course I was somewhat disconcerted to see a Ferrari bearing down on’ me at speed, bringing back memories of an alarming time years ago when I got caught-up in the tail-end of the Mille Miglia. However, in this case it turned out only to be some enthusiast doing a fast warming-up lap, and we reached the Paddock in safety.

The permanent buildings, which were built two years before the war, are quite a feature in themselves, and fortunately were not damaged during the hostilities. The Grand Stand itself constructed, like the other buildings, in white concrete, is about 150 feet long, and beneath it, and in full view of the course, is an open-air restaurant, very attractively decorated with blue tablelinen and flowers during race-day.

Real enthusiasts can take seats in little concrete pens right on the edge of the course, but these have no covering of any sort. Luckily for the occupants, there was only a short shower of rain on race-day. Opposite the Stand are the pits, with an enclosure above them. This is the ideal place to watch the pit-work. and the front wall is packed three deep throughout the races. The Press occupy the upper floor of a huge concrete tower with the timekeeper’s room on the bottom floor. Lap-ti hies come through very quickly but the scoreboard is hidden from view, and tlie only other source of information is the public-address system. French announcers address the microphone as though it were a public meeting, and this and their habit of ending in a shrill

upward scream makes hearing more than difficult.

All these things add to the local atmosphere, but do not prevent one getting round and seeing the cars. The entries this year comprised all the latest types in Europe, so some notes on them should be of interest.


The three Alfa-Romeos which ran in the Grand Prix were all the well-tried Type 158 eight-cylinder cars, giving about 250-h.p. at 7,500 r.p.m. The engines are, of course, two-camshaft, with two carburetters, and two blowers in series. The gearbox is mounted with the bevel-box at the rear of the tubular chassis. The front wheels are carried on trailing links, with transverse leaf springing. A similar system is used at the rear, while the wheels have a slight cant inwards. The brakes are hydraulic, and on one car, I examined closely, the sides of the brake drums had large openings in them. Ferodo apparently doesn’t mind the weather.

The car Wimille drove so fast during the practices was something new, with one exhaust pipe and manifold instead of two. Evidently this arrangement helps to produce more urge, and the new type will probably be used in later races this season.

season. Maserati

Villoresi’s new tubular-chassis car is considerably lower than the older twoblower 16-valve model, and helped by this and apparently some extra power from the engine, was able to hold the Alfas for the first few laps. This extra boost caused plug trouble at the beginning of the race, and later on gearbox trouble. The front end of the chassis has been revised. The wheels are still carried by transverse links, but transverse enclosed

coil-springs are now used instead of torsion bars.

The Maestro

Tazio Nuvolari had decided to take a busman’s holiday in order to watch the French Grand Prix, leaving his Ferrari at the Italian frontier. When he arrived at Rheims he was prevailed upon to try the new Maser, liked it, and shared the wheel with Villoresi during the race, putting in some very useful laps. He looked very fit and told me he was going to drive till he died, “and I’m not dead yet.” He was looking forward to a tryout of the new 14-litre Ferrari engine in the 2-litre chassis, and was expecting to run it first in some small Italian races as a try-out before the Italian Grand Prix. The Ferrari chassis only weighs about 500 kg. as against the 750 kg. of the Alfa, sO the Grand Prix version may well prove to be a serious rival to the Type 158. [And did, at Turin !—ED.]

Talbot and Delahaye

The single-seaters were fully described in MOTOR SPORT for May, 1948. The only alteration this season is the fitting of an external air-intake cum flame-guard. This prevents any possibility of fire under the bonnet following a misfire, a not infrequent habit of unblown racing cars in hot weather, as one noticed at last year’s

Nice Grand Prix. Lago reckons he has about reached the limit of power with the present lay-out, but is hoping for more horses with a revised cylinder-block.

The Talbot firm has always emphasised the sports-car ancestry of the cars they race, and the single-seaters carry the name-plate ” Lago-Record ” on the side of the body. One sports-car feature is the fitting of normal self-starters operating on the fly-wheel. In order to save weight in racing trim the cars do not carry batteries, but when starting the engines at the pit, leads from a battery on the pit-counter are plugged into sockets mounted on the side of the chassis.

Chaboud’s Delahaye, unchanged from last year, ran well, but obviously did not have the speed of the Talbots. I hear, however, that a new single-seater model is on the way, but will probably not be completed this season.

Works Entries

When a car-firm decides to race its own products, nothing can be left to chance, and the Alfa-Romeo racing organisation is comparable with those of Mercedes and Auto-Union in pre-war days. At Rheims they had eight or nine open and closed five-ton trucks, two spare racing cars, one available behind the pits in case any spares were

needed during the course of the race, and a mobile workshop. This latter was equipped with a lathe, a drilling machine, welding plant, benches and vices, drawers and lockers for small parts, and an independent petrol engine and dynamo which supplied the power for driving the machine tools.

The Equipe Gordini is another wellorganised concern, and the trucks which carry the racing-cars are models of efficiency. Two cars are carried in each truck. The first one is run up the back ramp on to a channel-section frame, which is then hoisted up by means of steel ropes and pulley-blocks attached to the roof-members of the truck, not such a hard job, as the Simcas only weigh about 6+ cwt. each. Room is thus left on the floor of the truck to carry a second racing-gar. Spare wheels complete with tyres, sixteen in each truck, are carried in tubular racks at the front of the vehicle, while tools and spares are again carried in drawers and lockers.

Equipment like this costs money, and is beyond the reach of the private owner, but it obviously adds much to the efficiency of any racing organisation which can afford such luxuries. All the more credit to our own drivers, who contrive to bring off some useful successes, especially in the sports-car categories, while operating with the minimum of equipment.