Continental Notes, October 1965



One problem with a monthly magazine, especially when printing schedules call for copy near the middle of the month, is that by the time anything appears in print it is either out-of-date or further developments have made it inaccurate. Last month I mentioned the Serenissima car being built in Modena, and suggested that it showed few signs of getting near a competitive event. Just as the page in question was sealed and committed to printing the Serenissima appeared in the Austrian sports-car race at Zeltweg, and following that it appeared at the Ollon-Villars hill-climb in Switzerland, so as a racing project we can say it is now under way. It did not make much of an impression, but then few brand new machines ever do on their first outing.

The Swiss do not have much in the way of motor racing these days, being limited to a few mountain hill-climbs, but at least they were able to see and hear an Indianapolis Lotus-Ford V8, for Jim Clark gave demonstration runs at two hill-climbs during August. This was not the Indianapolis winning car, but one just like it, except that the suspension wishbones were the same length both sides, making the car exactly like an enlarged Lotus 33 Grand Prix car, but with more than twice the horsepower in the engine compartment. For Indianapolis the Lotus-Ford cars had lengthened suspension members on the right-hand side to give an unequal weight distribution that became favourable on the four left-hand bends of the American track. This was not a Colin Chapman innovation, the ” Indy designers ” employing this dodge long before Lotus came on the scene, but Chapman is ever-willing to copy something that makes good sense; he won’t copy anything that is traditional until he has analysed it and found it is justified, and you would be surprised at the number of things that have been traditional in engineering, especially automobile engineering, for a long time but have been discarded by Lotus because they could not stand up to Chapman’s logical and questioning scrutiny.

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Last month I made a quick trip out to Germany, along with a great number of my press colleagues, in order that we might sample the new range of Mercedes-Benz cars. The mighty Daimler-Benz organisation put on a big show at the rebuilt Hockenheim circuit, near Heidelberg, taking over the whole place for three days and they had examples of all their passenger cars, from the lowly 200 diesel, to the fantastic 600 limousine, and in addition a complete range of commercial vehicles, including Unimog universal tractor-like vehicles, long-distance coaches, lorries of every size, small buses and vans. Altogether an imposing array of vehicles filled the special paddock, and in a vast marquee there were other exhibits, including a 1,250-h.p. gas-turbine for helicopter use and a range of industrial diesel engines. These latter are founded on a basic V6 design and are built in V8, V10 and V20 form, power outputs up to 4,500 h.p. being available. You merely say how much industrial power you require and Daimler-Benz decide how many cylinders in vee-form will do the job, whether it be for rail-cars, boats, power-houses or any other present-day activity. Looking at some of these engines, and remembering the impressive display of engines in the Stuttgart Museum, I was once again reminded that Daimler-Benz really do understand the internal combustion engine. It is ten years ago that they proved to the world that they had mastered the desmodromic valve actuation of positive opening and closing of the poppet valve, without the need for springs, and of direct high-pressure fuel injection into the cylinder, even on pump petrol. I await the time when they are ready to prove to the world, by racing, that they have mastered the Wankel engine.

After they stopped racing Mercedes-Benz introduced the new 220 series of passenger cars and now, 10 years later, the range of Mercedes-Benz cars has been revised, with the introduction of new models and new engines. There was a collection of these new models for everyone to try, the idea being that you were taken round for one lap by a works driver and then drove a lap yourself. By using approach roads as well as the new circuit there was a variety of going, but unfortunately it was all flat. On the way to the line of cars I met S. Moss and he was with Rudolf Uhlenhaut, the chief engineer of the passenger-car division of Mercedes-Benz and a technical director of Daimler-Benz A.G. As there was a crowd forming for the new cars Stirling asked if he could drive a commercial vehicle, and Uhlenhaut said ” Yes, of course, come and try our latest one,” so off we went, forgetting that we were supposed to be serious-minded journalists testing the new cars for our Editors, and Uhlenhaut, in spite of his high position and 58 years, is always ready for a bit of fun. He took us to their new LPS2020, a giant among diesel lorries, with 230-h.p. engine, 6-speed gearbox, 2-speed axle, power steering, power brakes, fully sprung cab and many other things besides. It was an articulated truck, fully laden with 24 tons of test material, giving an all-up weight of 38 tons. The tractor had three axles, the first two steering and the third driving, while the articulated part had two axles, both of which steered automatically and the whole thing was 49 ft. long, with the driving seat right up at the front. There was no question of taking this leviathan on the circuit so we went out on the public highway, with Moss at the wheel and me keeping my fingers crossed and ready to take note of passing destruction. With a thing this size there was no personal worry about hitting anything, but one could not help feeling sorry for other road users and if the rear wheels ran over a VW you would never know, unless you were looking in the huge mirrors.

After winding our way through narrow streets, during which time we were most impressed with the way the trailing axles pivoted and moved the back end outwards so that it did not cut the corner and knock houses down, we got out on to the open road. We finally got up into 6th gear, using 2,200 r.p.m. in the indirects, and then into the high-speed axle and were bowling along at over 50 m.p.h. and it was gratifying how other road users got out of the way; not surprising really, with a total load of 38 tons, though few people realised that Moss was at the controls. Returning homewards along a narrow road at about 20 m.p.h. this feeling of being monarch of the road was suddenly squashed, for coming towards us was a Magirus-Deutsch diesel, with trailer, that was certainly as big as we were, if not as heavy, and Herrman was pressing along gaily, whistling to himself as he got on with his job as a professional lorry driver. Stirling said ” Crikey, he’s as big as we are ” and we Suddenly felt we wanted L-plates to wave at Herrman. Coming almost to a stop, Moss eased over to the edge of the road, very conscious that the grass verge probably would not support 38 tons, and then ” wham,” Herrman had gone by at his full 20 m.p.h. and probably not even noticed us! We took this ” toy ” back and let the Mercedes driver reverse it into position, but it was an interesting experience.

Stirling went off to drive a new 300SEL and before I followed to see which of the range of 17 models was available, I noticed a Type 600 limousine parked discreetly in a corner, this not being considered to be in the new range, being unaltered from last year. I mentioned to Uhlenhaut that I had never been in one and he promptly said, ” Come along, I’ll take you for a lap and then you can try it. It’s a nice car, with very powerful brakes.” This is the 6.3-litre V8 o.h.c. vehicle, with every conceivable technical innovation, mostly operated by power or electricity. Ten years ago I had some drives with Uhlenhaut in various Mercedes-Benz cars and they were inspiring by any standards, and more so when you consider that he is chief engineer and a very responsible person in the Daimler-Benz empire. If ever a man loved his work and motor cars it is Rudolf Uhlenhaut, and I hope Colin Chapman will have the same sense of fun and enthusiasm when he is 58 years old. We left the paddock in a great broadside with the rear wheels spinning and charged off, using 5,000 r.p.m. in each gear by using the ” hold ” lever of the excellent automatic transmission. As we took the first long left-hand bend, with tyres screaming and the great 2.5-ton motor car on the point of sliding, Uhlenhaut said ” I’ve not tried a 600 on this circuit, it will be interesting to see how it goes.” It went well, as he used all the brakes, all the gears and all the cornering propensities to their limit, with 120 m.p.h. along the straight. When we finished the lap he got out and said ” Do three or four laps now, you’ll enjoy it, and then we’ll go out in one with much stiffer anti-roll bars.” Anyone who has driven a 220S or SE Mercedes-Benz knows how incredibly safe they are, and how you can hurl them at a corner and they will understeer themselves down to a speed at which the cornering power of the tyres can cope, and then change to a gradual oversteer, so that you can balance the car at an enormous attitude angle. Then you drive out of the corner making finger-tip steering corrections on the perfect power-steering, which is even more sensitive than Citroen steering. The vast Type 600 limousine handles in exactly the same way, the only difference being that it accelerates better, the o.h.c. V8 engine really propelling it forwards. Mercedes-Benz always insist that they design their passenger cars for safety above all else, and you certainly get that feeling. They are very forgiving cars, and no matter what the angle of roll is or what the direction they ” stay with you at all times,” and the great 600 is exactly the same. On this closed racing circuit it just invited you to ” play bears,” and as my friend Henry Manney says ” if you are going to be a bear, you might as well be a grizzly bear.”

Returning to the car park I put the 600 away and headed off towards the line of 200, 230 and 250 models, remembering that I had promised the Editor I would do driving impressions on the new models, but before I could get there I heard a toot on a horn and there was Uhlenhaut in another 600 limousine. ‘ Come and try this one,” he said, ” it’s got stiffer anti-roll bars and a much better engine, but we must not go over 5,000 r.p.m.” Away we charged and halfway round the circuit, going into an 80 m.p.h. long right-hand curve we saw a 250SE in front and Uhlenhaut positioned the 600 to go round the outside of it. Being left-hand drive he was too busy to see at which point he overtook the 250SE, but I realised we were not overtaking it, and as we accelerated past on the next straight I saw that S. Moss was driving the 250SE and grinning at us. With over 220 k.p.h. on the clock Uhlenhaut took the next left-hand curve in a long slide, looked in the mirror and chuckled. ” That. lost him,” he said. This great car must have been approaching a pretty honest 125-130 m.p.h. and the stiffer anti-roll bars held it on quite an even keel. With all that inertia the brakes worked overtime at the end of the straight and Moss closed up a bit, but through the twisty section the power of the V8 told as Uhlenhaut hurled the car about. Out of the hairpin he ” kicked-down ” into first gear and left black marks on the road for 30 yards or more. On the return roads to the paddock we caught up with some slower traffic and Moss got right behind us, and on the last little straight someone was going sedately along in the other 600 limousine, preparing to slow for a left-hand bend into a gravel drive, when Uhlenhaut nipped into the Closing gap, slid round the corner in a shower of gravel, closely followed by Moss. Looking in the mirror Uhlenhaut said ” Goodness, he followed me through that gap.”

When we stopped he gave the car to Moss to try, straightened his tie, smoothed his grey hair and walked serenely away to discuss technicalities with the gentlemen of the technical Press. With a chief engineer and technical director like that how can you lose, your cars must he good. I’ve always believed that you learn more by being driven by a really ‘good driver, than by driving yourself in a mediocre fashion, so I happily let Moss take me for a couple of laps in the ” competition ” 600, and he certainly enjoyed himself. Afterwards he had a small moment of remorse and said how be wished he was still racing, not in all the races. but in the good ones, like Monte Carlo, the Targa Florio, Nurburgring; he did not miss Silverstone or Brands Hatch, but then he added wistfully ” but I’ve lost the concentration and the fine edge of my judgement.” He is still a lot better than many drivers racing in Grand Prix today, but he used to be ” super-man ” and he could not race and just be ordinary.

This time I made a big effort and got to the new production models and drove a 230S saloon, and after the 600 models it seemed a bit of a ” gutless wonder,” which was quite wrong, but I had got my sense of values all muddled up, so I abandoned the idea of doing “impressions of the new models” for the Editor and hoped it would not be long before Mercedes-Benz let him have some cars for proper road-test. Somehow I can’t knuckle down to doing a responsible commission, and I know two other people who are also a bit irresponsible when it comes to motor cars and having fun. I also know that Daimler-Benz A.G. are as high in my esteem as engineers as they always were, but I do wish they would build a GT coupe.

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While on the subject of Hockenheim I will mention the rebuilding that is going on. The original circuit, in a completely flat forest, was a very long oval, with a fast bend at one end and a slow bend at the other, and it was used principally for motor-cycle racing, although it was a good test circuit for engine power. A new autobahn has been built which cuts right through the forest and has cut off the end of the oval with the slow bend, so while all the earth-moving for the autobahn has been going on the circuit owners have built up great banks, surrounding an area like a vast Wembley Stadium, and on these banks are grandstands. In this stadium has been built a ” road-circuit ” that is more like an enlarged Go-Kart track than a racing circuit, the course twisting and turning and doubling back on itself in a ludicrous fashion. There is an inlet and an outlet from this stadium, on to the old part of the original oval circuit and the Germans are talking about holding the 1966 German Grand Prix at Hockenheim instead of Nurburgring. They even try to get peoples opinions on this new ” Kart-track ” and how it will compare with Nurburgring. Like talking of ” boiled cabbage and caviar ” in the same breath. For 50-c.c. motor-cycle racing it might be all right but for the German Grand Prix …; they must be mad!

A reader from South London has written in with an idea for a Grand Prix car for the new 3-litre Formula, based on the fact that it would seem that 4-wheel-drive is going to be desirable with over 400 b.h.p. available. He says that understeer with 4-w-d is a problem at present, and there does not seem to he a way of combatting this at present. His suggestion is that two engines of different power output should be used, one driving the front wheels and one the rear wheels, so that the driver (engineer!). could provoke oversteer by having more power available at the rear wheels. The idea is to use existing material and use a F.2 B.R.M. engine of 1,000 c.c. at the front and an oversize F.1 B.R.M. V8, of 2-litres, at the rear, giving a total of 3-litres and about 420 b.h.p. Exactly what would happen to the device, he wants to know, and so do I, for with 140 b.h.p, driving the front wheels and 280 b.h.p. driving the rear wheels it should oversteer down the straights like a top!

The idea of controlling 4-w-d is a good one and is probably occupying the minds of a lot of people already, but the Ferguson system of a controlled-slip differential between front and rear drives is the nearest answer to the problem. This reader’s thoughts have probably been prompted by the rather futile efforts of twin-engined Mini-B.M.C. cars that have handled in a rather odd fashion. At some time or other almost every idea has been tried by someone, and a long time ago Ferrari built a twin-engined Alfa Romeo with both engines driving the rear wheels, and it was quite successful. Cisitalia built an interesting 4-w-d car with one engine in which the driver could select 4-w-d or rear-wheel drive and this seemed to be a good answer to the handling problem, but unfortunately the car was never raced. The Ferguson P99 showed that even with the limited power of 1.5-itres 4-w-d could win races and Mercedes-Benz had every intention of using controlled 4-w-d on the W196, probably operated at the will of the driver by a footswitch. Inevitably in any unusual layout the driver would be the limiting factor, for few fast drivers are engineers and they would need to be to get the correct results from unusual mechanical things. If optional 2- or 4-w-d could be operated automatically by electric or hydraulic means the driver handicap could be overcome but automatic devices are only satisfactory when everything functions correctly or conditions are predictable; it still calls for the human hand to take control in an emergency.

Another fallacy that our reader is working on in his suggested twin-engined layout, is that of using existing engines and material. The whole point of a new formula for Grand Prix racing is to prevent stagnation creeping in, as it did in 1959 and 1960, and it is not the intention of the F.I.A. that designers should go on using obsolete engine designs. The basic idea behind Grand Prix racing is that design should progress forwards, not sideways, and it should be a technical exercise. Look back to 1961, when all the British constructors used the then obsolete 4-cylinder 1.5-litre Coventry-Climax engine, and just imagine where one of those puny 1.5-litre engines would get today, among the 210-230 b.h.p. power units. I know sonic race promoters think that motor racing means competition with anything on four wheels, but motor racing is concerned with mechanical things and whether they want to or not they must improve technically; they do not always improve at a consistent rate however.—D. S. J.