Continental Notes, October 1957

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68

This continual winning by British Formula 1 cars is something we have all been waiting for, and, personally, I have been waiting 25 years for this to happen. No matter whether it is Vanwall beating all-comers at Monza, or B.R.M. beating a lot of also-runs at Silverstone, they are Formula 1 victories by British cars, and that to me is a state of affairs on which we cannot improve. There are people who pooh-pooh Grand Prix racing, and trump up the hoary old adage about “What does it prove?” claiming sports-car racing to be the thing. To them I can only say: “All right, but I like Grand Prix cars,” and I know there are many more besides who look upon Grand Prix racing as the pinnacle of motor-racing.

This season has been a truly great one for those of us who believe in Grand Prix racing, and for the few who have been able to witness all these victories — Aintree, Caen, Pescara, Monza, Silverstone, and not forgetting the recent past of Syracuse and 1956 Silverstone — it has been immensely satisfying. One thing that amazed me, especially after the two Vanwall victories in Italy, was the number of Italians who came up and offered me their really heart-felt congratulations, using such adjectives as “trernendo, fantastico, mervelloso.” When I replied that they should congratulate Mr. Vandervell, not me, they always insisted that it did not matter. “You are British,” they would say, “and Britain has produced fine cars and fine drivers, congratulations.” It is not often that I have patriotic feelings, especially about the British Motor Industry, but sentiments such as these, and from many people closely connected with the Italian racing teams, I found very moving, and gave a cheer for Vanwall, Connaught and B.R.M. To hear “God Save the Queen” after the races, paying tribute to British machines and British drivers, especially at Monza, was truly wonderful, for the Italians really try at Grand Prix racing. For years we have beaten them at sports-car racing, in particular Le Mans, for they have never made what I consider serious attempts at such racing, while our complete monopoly in 500-cc. racing is mainly due to no one else having a serious try, but Grand Prix racing is a branch of the Sport in which the Italians have specialised for years. The rot really began back in 1955 when Connaught trounced the Italians at Syracuse, and now, two years later, Vanwall have brought that beginning to a wonderful climax with three World Championship victories during 1957.

From now on, of course, Mr. Vandervell and his team have a really difficult task, for it is one thing to battle your way from nothing to the top of the tree, and a very different thing to live up to it and stay at the top. Rejoice we must at the present situation, and celebrate if you feel it does any good, but on no account must we become complacent. Maserati and Ferrari are not going to take the Monza beating lightly and on October 27th, at Casablanca, we should see a fierce battle being waged between the British and Italian Grand Prix teams.

*

While we are rejoicing over the successes of Vanwall and B.R.M. we should pause to shed a silent tear over the demise of Connaught, for after Kenneth MacAlpine decided he could not afford to support the Connaught racing team any more, and no one was prepared to take his place, the team was disbanded. In the middle of September the Connaught racing team came to a complete and final end when all their assets, including seven Grand Prix cars, came under the auctioneer’s hammer. It was an unhappy day down at Connaught Engineering on the Portsmouth Road when all the cars and the stock of parts, together with all the experimental equipment, was put up for auction to the world in general. Simply because Rodney Clarke and Kenneth MacAlpine could not raise financial support from a big industrialist, or even a thought from the British Motor Industry, all their efforts over the past eight years have had to be thrown to the winds and the scavengers.

Looking round the line of ready-to-race Grand Prix cars, the spare engines, gearboxes, chassis parts, experimental bits and pieces, test equipment and so on, made me feel rather bitter about the motoring world. All this material, together with the people who built it, represented a vast potential provided it was kept together, but now that it is spread far and wide, an engine here, a car there, a gearbox somewhere else, it represents nothing in the sphere of International Grand Prix racing. Doubtless the new owners of the cars will have a lot of fun with their acquisitions, bought for a tenth of the price needed to conceive the cars, but why, oh why, could not the British Motor Industry have taken a keener interest. Connaught were the first to prove that the Italians were not the masters at Grand Prix racing, their victory at Syracuse will always remain memorable and Mr. Vandervell has shown that an industrial concern controlled by an industrial potentate can do even better, while Mr. Owen’s faith in B.R.M. has at last reached fruition. If the “Big Six” in the British Motor Industry had spent a little of their advertising and entertaining costs on Grand Prix racing we could now have had three Grand Prix teams at the top.

The sale at Send really was the end of the Connaught racing team, though Connaught Engineering still carries on as a general garage and motor agent, while some of the racing staff have been retained to run a small workshop specialising in tuning and quality maintenance, but the actual Racing Department is no more. To me, who has motor-racing at heart, like many thousands of others, and does not view it as an easy-money pastime, glamour parade or publicity lever, the sight of the words “Racing Department” on a closed door has always brought on a feeling of reverence and awe, and to see that sign painted out at Connaught Engineering, and all the efforts that went on behind that door being laid bare to be picked at by passers-by, gave me a nasty lump in the throat.

If we look back in history, similar occurrences have happened continually, but even so it is not a pleasant thing to witness, and I can now sympathise more fully with the people at Alfa-Romeo, Mercedes-Benz, Cisitalia, H.W.M., Talbot, E.R.A., Bentley, Sunbeam and others, all of whom have had to paint out those magic words “Racing Department.”

As a matter of historical note, the Grand Prix Connaughts were bought by Brian Naylor, Ken Flint, John Coombs in partnership with John Young, and Bernard Ecclestone, the new and untried C-type with space-frame and one of the B-type cars being unsold.

 *

Included on this page are two photographs of rare cars seen in Continental paddocks, and, apart from the actual racing and racing cars, one of the joys of being allowed on the inside at race meetings is to be able to prowl around behind the pits. Often one comes across an experimental car, or a one-off, and part of the fun is to watch to see who is in charge of it. Naturally, all one finds cannot be put into print, or else Motor Sport would have to double its size, but, none-the-less, the behind-the-scencs side of motor-racing is one of fascination. — D. S. J.