As usual the annual fiesta of speed at Monza produced some very interesting racing and some very interesting technical observations. The Italian G.P., together with the Swiss G.P., has the distinction of holding races for all World Championship categories and, being on a fast circuit, machines are shown up rather than riders. There are people who say that Monza proves nothing apart from sheer speed, but they have obviously not stood on the “Grande Airon,” after the long finishing straight, where the 500s arrive at anything up to 130 m.p.h., and watched the “works” riders laying them over onto the footrest. If a bicycle won’t steer then it will soon be very obvious. Equally, if brakes and gearboxes are not good then the right-angle turns, approached at maximum in top and taken in second gear, will cause considerable bother. I am not saying that Monza proves an all-round machine, very far from it, but I’m trying to refute the idea that sheer straight-line speed is all that is required for the Italian G.P.
Chief interest in the 125-c.c. and 250-c.c. classes was the first serious entry from Germany outside her own borders. This was by N.S.U. with the 125-c.c. double o.h.c. single and the 250-c.c. double o.h.c. twin. Both these classes are normally dominated by Italy but the German entries put a new interest in them. At the moment the N.S.U. machines are difficult to start, with a result that the 125-c.c. models could not challenge the flock of Morinis, Mondials and M.V.s that battled for the lead, but once they were under way they lost no distance at all on the leaders, so that clearly the day they make a flashing getaway the Italians will have to think hard. As it was, the race was one of the most exciting for the first three, Mendogni, Ubbiali and Graham finished in a bunch, the winner being decided in the last 200 yards of the race, and it is interesting that they were mounted on Morini, Mondial and M.V., respectively, so clearly it was a true race with no relaxation.
The 250 race was also an Italo-German battle on paper and in practice even more so. Once again the N.S.U.s made poor starts and the three “works” 250 Guzzis of Lorenzetti, Anderson and Montanari looked like having a walk-over but the young N.S.U. rider Werner Haas not only made up for his bad start but kept the Guzzi trio on their toes for the rest of the race, and it was quite clear that the N.S.U. had the greater speed. Haas deserves every credit for it was his first fast ride at Monza and to have three wily old foxes like the Guzzi lads against you is a situation that not very many riders would accept or could cope with. Arriving at the finish in the lead Haas eased his throttle back before be actually crossed the line, probably due to the crowds of officials and photographers who were on the track, and that was all Lorenzetti required for he got past to win by 6 in. at the most. If the track had been clear, except for the man with the flag, the result would have almost certainly been different.. Remembering that the Guzzi lads live on the Monza track and that Hass was having his first big race, it will be clear that the N.S.U.-250.c.c. twin has arrived into International racing in a big way.
The 350-c.c. race provided a little interlude as it was virtually a British event, with the Norton “works” team holding the upper hand, but it did offer food for thought in that Kavannagh and Armstrong both fell off when there was no real reason to be going at all fast, for their only opposition was themselves and it looked as though they needed a little discipline. Ray Ammn, on his first “works” ride since falling off at the German G.P., romped home a nice steady winner.
The sidecar class showed how badly the works Nortons need another three cylinders for with Ernesto Merie on the best four-cylinder Gilera, there was nothing Oliver or Smith could do and the young Italian led from start to finish with ease. Oliver had trouble and retired and Smith pushed Milani, on the other “works” four-cylinder Gilera, until he was physically worn down, letting the Norton take second place.
The last and most important race of the day, the 500-c.c., was a complete walk over for Les Graham on the M.V. four-cylinder. For three years M.V. have been trying to make their bicycle go, and for two years Graham has been helping them all he knew. During the past season it has been getting more and more reliable and faster and faster, and anyone who has been following the M.V. star was not surprised to see Graham’s performance. A more popular win it would be hard to find, for Graham has been frustrated so many times when in sight of victory and M.V. have been trying all they know for a long time. It was no fluke win, it was a wonderful demonstration of man and machine both on 100 per cent. form, and that cannot be beaten. With Masetti and Pagani following on Gileras, then Burdirola (M.V.) and Colnago (Gilera), it was not surprising that all records were broken. Into sixth place, and hopelessly down on speed, came Reg. Armstrong on the only “works” Norton, followed by an assortment of “works” A.J.S.s, Gileras and M.V.s ridden by newcomers and private Nortons.
Since 1949 it has been obvious that British riders are superior to Italians but that Italian machines are so much better than British that the outcome is equal. “A good British rider on a good Italian machine …” has been the saying and this year we have seen it twice, Graham at Monza and McCandless in the Ulster G.P., back in August, when he won on the Gilera Four. If the English manufacturers do not hurry along with some new designs then we will find that all our good riders have departed for foreign lands and no one will blame them. A “works” rider races for a living as well as for fun and he will flog away on an inferior machine only for so long and then he’s going to say “enough.” With the speed of present-day “works” bikes, riders are scarce who can do justice to them, especially on 500s and sidecars, and as it is an open secret that Germany’s two biggest factories are entering the World Championships next year with very serious intentions, then the sight of Graham, Anderson, Lomas, Sanford. McCandless on foreign solos and Eric Oliver trying out a Gilera sidecar outfit after the Monza race is not just a straw in the wind.
The foregoing may be passed by as theorising, but what is fact is that Italy is not standing still as far as machines are concerned, for the new Guzzi four cylinder was out practising at Monza and technically it made all current machines obsolete, being an in-line liquid-cooled two o.h.c. four-cylinder with shaft drive. There is no frame in the normal sense of the word, the crankcase and gearbox still doing this job, such frame as there is being of ½-in, diameter tubing and tying the steering head and rear suspension anchorage to the engine gearbox unit. The power unit is like a miniature four-cylinder Maserati engine and the whole thing finally disposes of the motor-cycle as generally accepted, it being virtually a two-wheeled racing car.
Whether this indicates the trend of design remains to be seen, but the new N.S.U. four-cylinder and the new B.M.W. will be out next year, as must surely be the new Norton, and it will be interesting to see their respective interpretations of the modern G.P. machine. At all these G.P. meetings there is the impression that the English factories would do better to concentrate on the 500-c.c. class rather than duplicate all their work, as they are now, with 350s and 500s, apart from the extra strain on the riders who have to compete against “works” riders who only do one ride a meeting.