Continental Notes, October 1963

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While in Modena recently I took a trip out to Maranello to call on Valerio Colotti in his new factory, not far from the Ferrari factory. Gear Speed Developments, or G.S.D. for short, is a project started between Colotti and Alf Francis, for the design and manufacture of gearboxes, geardrives, and transmissions in general, and naturally most of their work has been in connection with gearboxes for racing cars. With limited financial resources they had to start in a small way and get the parts for their gearboxes manufactured by outside firms, and also the assembly was done by outside people. These two factors caused a lot of bother in the early days, for they had little control over the manufacture of parts, but now they are building up a machine shop where they can make everything themselves and inspect everything before delivery or assembly.

Many teams who use Colotti boxes are content to collect a set of bits and assemble them in their own workshops, and some of the horrible tales that Colotti had to tell about ham-fisted workmanship in assembly were heart-breaking. His opinion of some so-called racing mechanics is that they should not even be allowed to work on tractors, their ability to work to fine clearances seemingly being negligible. He admits freely that G.S.D. have made mistakes, and will probably do so in the future, but he pointed out that when a Colotti gearbox fails the press make a big hoo-haa about it, but when a car using a G.S.D. gearbox wins a race nothing is said. He instanced Lotus 19 sports cars that win continuously, or Brabham’s recent victories at Solitude and Zeltweg, both of which were accomplished with a Colotti gearbox.

Another interesting item that came to light during our conversation was the failure of two well-known cars at Spa in which his drop-gears were blamed. These drop-gears are the pair of gears in the back of the normal Colotti box which are used for quick ratio-changes. On these particular cars the layout was such that the gearbox was mounted between the engine and final drive, instead of behind it so that the box was turned round through 180-degrees. He was not consulted on this arrangement and what the designer overlooked was the fact that the drop-gears are fed by oil from two jets pointing rearwards in the normal layout. Turning the gearbox through 180-degrees meant that the oil jets pointed forward and under acceleration there was a shortage of oil to the natural detriment of the gears! This little trouble has now been corrected, but not before G.S.D. had suffered some bad publicity. He received gearboxes back from another well-known team and when he stripped them down he was horrified to find that most of the essential shims between the gears had been left out, and trouble was being experienced with getting two gears together! That there is not much wrong with the basic design work of G.S.D. was shown by the Type 37 gearbox especially designed for the Indianapolis Lotus-Ford V8, which stood up to the b.h.p. of the 4.2-litre Ford engine for 500 miles, and again for 200 miles of racing at Milwaukee, and this gearbox and bell-housing is not so much bigger in overall size than some Formula Junior gearboxes.

During the winter Colotti intends to enlarge his staff and do all assembling in his own factory, rather than selling boxes of parts, which should eliminate a lot of trouble experienced in the past. It is always a tonic to talk to the little volatile Italian, for he bubbles with enthusiasm and design ideas and thoroughly enjoys his work, and I well remember meeting him in the old Maserati days of 1954-57. One outstanding incident was when he designed a 2-speed gear to fit onto the back of the 4.5-litre V8 Maserati engine for the Mille Miglia, the 5-speed gearbox being in unit with the back axle. The idea of this 2-speed unit was to provide Stirling Moss with two sets of ratios, one 5-speed set for the super fast stretches of the 1,000 Mile circuit, and another set for the mountainous parts and it was arranged with a separate lever in the cockpit that I was to operate under Moss’ guidance. Colotti said it would be alright to change this 2-speed gear at about 60 m.p.h. so we planned our schedule accordingly. We took the big V8 out on test early one morning and tried this 2-speed gear and it worked beautifully, so beautifully in fact, that Moss suggested trying it at higher speeds than 60 m.p.h. and then he found that by reaching over to my side of the cockpit he could use it himself in conjunction with the normal gear-lever, and after a little while he wound the Maserati up to about 150 m.p.h. in normal 5th gear and then reached over and changed up on the 2-speed unit, using it as a 6th gear.

When we returned to Modena and told Colotti what we had been doing he showed no surprise, but was delighted that his idea was even better than he had visualised. On our last test run before the race we went out on the Autostrada and Moss took the 400 b.h.p. Maserati up to 7,000 r.p.m. in each of the five gears and then reached across and snicked in the overdrive and we got 7,000 r.p.m. in 6th gear, which was not far short of 180 m.p.h. and that was one of my most memorable rides. We braked heavily to a stop at the end of the Autostrada, put the car away and were all set for the race next day. In that race the second time he applied the brakes hard the brake pedal broke off at its root and we scrabbled to a stop, but that is another story. Colotti’s 2-speed ratio-change-cum-overdrive would have been a terrific advantage over our rivals in that race.

***

Hill-climbs in Europe usually get overshadowed by Grand Prix races, though there are many of them and they are real mountain hill-climbs going on for many miles and climbing to great heights, unlike the little sprint-hills we have in Great Britain. One reason for a dropping of interest in Mountain hill-climbs is that the championship that operates at all the big ones is restricted to 2-litre sports cars, and only Porsche and Ferrari take part. When hill-climbs used to be free-for-all they were much more fun with modified Grand Prix cars taking part, and even special hill-climb versions were built. Some of the mountain events are restricted to sports and G.T. cars, while the one or two that allow racing cars, such as Mont Ventoux and Ollon-Villars do not get much support from racing cars for even if they make F.T.D. they cannot compete for the Championship, so you get the ridiculous situation of a driver not making the best time, but being acclaimed Mountain Champion. At the Ollon-Villar event in Switzerland in August the racing class was a most interesting one, even though it had no bearing on the Mountain Championship, for the entry included Brabham with a Brabham-Climax V8, Siffert with his Lotus B.R.M. V8 and Bonnier with the 4-w-d Ferguson P 99, on loan to Team Walker. Bonnier not only made F.T.D. but took 4.8 sec. off the existing hill record, which he already held with a Formula One Porsche. His only experience of driving the 4-w-d car was a few laps at Silverstone, and he estimated that given more practice the car could knock at least another 4 sec. off the record. He was more than impressed by the acceleration away from the start and from the hairpin bends, and the car was fitted with a well-used 2 1/2-litre Coventry-Climax 4-cylinder engine that was not giving anything very alarming in b.h.p. On his second, and best, run he was last to make the climb and not knowing what Brabham or Siffert had done he realised he had to have a real go. As he put it afterwards, “the start was terrific and I arrived at the first corner much sooner than I expected, and before I was really ready for it.” Like a handful of other people Bonnier is now converted to 4-w-d for acceleration.

Just before this hill-climb the Ferguson had been sent out to Indianapolis at the request of Andy Granatelli, the man who operates the supercharged V8 Novi specials in the 500 Mile race. These engines develop more power than normal Indy tyres or chassis can really cope with, and they even impressed Colin Chapman during practice this year. He said that the sight of a Novi spinning its wheels at 150 m.p.h. as it accelerated down the Indianapolis straights was truly something to see. Looking for a way of getting all his power to the road, Granatelli got Fairman and one of his Indianapolis drivers to do tests with the Ferguson, equipped with its 2 1/2-litre Climax engine, and was particularly interested in its cornering speeds, which proved to be almost as high as its maximum speed. As a result of these tests, it seems likely that Ferguson will build a special 4-w-d chassis, using the patent Ferguson three-differential transmission system, to take a Novi V8 engine for next year’s Indianapolis race. If they were to take the International standing-start Kilometre and Mile records from the American Hot-Rod Dragster boys, perhaps some more people would be convinced about 4-w-d.

***
Squeezed out of the last issue of Motor Sport was information on the Forumla One race at Enna in the middle of Sicily, high up in the mountains. Not far from the dusty and hot town is a lake and the local club have built an Autodrome round the edge of it. In the past it has been a bit rough and loose, but this year it received a new tarmac surface and attracted Team Lotus and a works Ferrari among the entries. On the same day Jim Clark was racing at Milwaukee, so Taylor and Arundell formed the team to challenge Surtees with the Nurburgring winning Ferrari. It had been hoped to try out the new V8 Ferrari, but it was not ready in time. Surtees won the race at 221.824 k.p.h. and set a lastest lap at 225.002 k.p.h. (approximately 139 m.p.h.) which gives one some idea of the circuit. It is oval, flat and almost flat-out all the way round. Unfortunately a nasty accident occurred during the race, when Taylor got a wheel into the rough on the outside of the pits corner, spun across the road towards the pits, hit the protecting guard-rail, bounced back across the road and landed on the opposite bank, where the car caught fire. Thanks to not being strapped in Taylor was flung out and escaped with severe gravel-rash, while the protecting guard-rail along the front of the pits saved a massacre. It all happened at such high speed that it is unlikely that anyone would have got out of the way in time, and one mechanic who was waiting to show a pit signal to a following driver had his signalling board punctured by bits of flying gearbox that broke off when the car hit the steel barrier! It was this accident that kept Taylor out of the Austrian Grand Prix and Italian Grand Prix.

***

The biggest fuss at Monza during the Italian Grand Prix was the question of the use of the banked circuit in conjunction with the road circuit. Personally I enjoy watching cars going at 150-160 m.p.h. on a steeply banked track, and one memory that will live forever is that of the late Tony Bettenhausen going on to the Monza banking at close on 190 m.p.h. in the Novi Special during practice for the ill-fated Monza 500-mile race, and hearing the car coasting on the over-run for some two-thirds of the way round, and then hearing all that power unleashed again down the pits straight, his lap-record of 177 m.p.h. standing to this day. However, I do not approve of mixing road circuits and banked tracks, for if you design a car for road racing it cannot hope to be any good for track racing, and vice versa. The simple matter of tyre pressures alone is one that cannot be settled for both types of running, and the same goes for spring rates, shock-absorbers and so on. While I believe that racing drivers who accept large sums of money for doing a job should get on with that job, regardless of what is demanded of them, and should leave decisions to designers and car owners, as regards where the cars should race, I have never believed in combined track-and-road circuits from a technical angle, especially nowadays when chassis tuning is such an exact science. Years ago when there was little chassis design knowledge, and cars were fast but crude, it was a different story. Banked track racing for specially built cars is another matter, and no-one would be more pleased than I to see the Monza 500-Mile race revived, with entries from Lotus-Ford V8 for example.

It now seems that the C.S.I. have decided that in future no race counting for an F.I.A. Championship shall be held on a circuit incorporating a banked section. This rules out Avus and Montlhéry as well as the 10-kilometre Monza circuit, not that the decision will alter the face of Grand Prix racing.

***

While making wise decisions the C.S.I. might do well to make a decision about the anomaly of a driver who has retired from a Grand Prix race being listed in the results, providing he has covered a certain specified number of laps. We are continually having Grand Prix races where a driver is listed as being third or fourth when in fact he has blown his engine sky-high and the car is lying derelict on the far side of the circuit, or it may even be crashed. The situation has not yet arisen, I am happy to say, where a driver has been killed in the last few laps of the race and the timekeepers list him as a finisher, but it could happen. Surely a simple rule that all finishers must receive the chequered flag would put a stop to this nonsense. One trouble is that the timekeepers have all they can cope with in lap scoring and timing each car, so that they have no knowledge of what is actually happening. If in a 50-lap race car number four goes by on lap 48 and then crashes, the timekeepers have no idea, their records merely show that car number four completed 48 laps in a given time, and if that time is shorter than car number six took to cover the same number of laps, while the winner was covering 50 laps, then car number four is accredited with second place regardless of what actually happened to it. This is a matter that should receive attention before the results of Grand Prix races become a complete farce.

***
Elsewhere in this issue is a report on the 1st Austrian Grand Prix, held on the Zeltweg aerodrome. The Austrian organising club are hoping to receive full Grand Prix status next year, so that the Austrian race will count towards the World Championships. This will depend on the Steward’s report to the F.I.A. and, apart from the circuit being a simple affair on a runway, the report should be favourable, for, like many new and youthful organisations, the Austrian organisation was not hampered by tradition and old gentlemen. The timekeeping was done with an electronic system operated by a beam and timed to hundredths of a second, and it is strange that the only other country to use this sort of system was Portugal when they held Grand Prix races at Porto and Lisbon. The British timekeepers still seem to be using egg-timers that only read to a fifth of a second!

Motoring sport in Austria is still in its infancy, like Great Britain in the 1948-50 period, and Australia and New Zealand until a few years ago. They have only three race meetings a year, all of them on aerodromes, at Aspern near Vienna, Innsbruck and Zeltweg, and while they have a few mountain hill-climbs they are forbidden to use the marvellous mountain country for rallies, and their big event, the Austrian Alpenfahrt, is forced to go into Jugoslavia. The Austrian Government believes that its financial future lies in tourists, and they may well be right, so that they ban all competitive events from the roads, and even make the mighty Liége-Sofia-Liége Marathon of the Route call a truce when the competitors pass through Austria on their way to the rougher countries. To meet motor-racing enthusiasts who battle against such opposition does my sense of proportion a great deal of good, and makes me appreciate the British motor sporting scene a bit more.