Letter from Europe
[By means of which the Continental Editor, while he is motoring abroad, keeps in touch with the Editor.]
Had you been at the top of the Stelvio Pass in the Italian Alps, shortly before the Monza race, you would have seen the splendid sight of a 1928 s.v. Anzani Frazer Nash breasting the 9,080-ft. summit strongly in fast speed, with me in the passenger seat. It all started at the V.S.C.C. Prescot meeting, where I heard a murmer that a Frazer Nash and two members of the “chain-gang” were going to be in Bolzano shortly before the Italian GP for the purpose of ascending the Stelvio Pass and all its 48 hairpin bends, to do a recce for the 1969 “jolly” of the Frazer Nash section of the V.S.C.C. The very old and charming town of Bolzano is the tourist centre for the Italian Alps and the rugged Dolomites, lying between the two mountain clusters, and when I went to the Hotel Luna-Mondschein, in the centre of the town, amid all the arcades and archways of medieval character, there in the cobbled yard was the side-valve Anzani Nash, with Thirlby and Bowler putting a vagrant bolt back in the starter motor. Every now and then the “chain-gang” have what they describe as a “jolly”, whereby they re-enact, with original cars where possible, great sagas in the history of the marque Frazer Nash, covering such things as the vintage Boulogne Speed Trials, and the 1936 run of 1,000 miles in 24 hours by J. C. C. Samuel. Next year they are planning to reenact parts of the 1932-33-34 Alpine Rallies, basing themselves on Bolzano and climbing the Stelvio, Pordoi, Falzarago and other passes used in those events. The town of Bolzano is ideally situated for this activity, for if you go west you go to the Stelvio Pass and if you go east you go to the Pordoi Pass and others in the Dolomites. In their day the Meadows-engined T.T. Replica Nashes were indecently fast up the mountain passes, and the V.S.C.C. members are going to relive the glories of H. J. Aldington, A. G. Gripper, Butler-Henderson, Alan Marshall, Mrs. Needham and other members of the original “chain-gang” and some of the actual Alpine cars should be in the party.
The object of this initial visit, in which I became involved, was to acquaint the dignitaries of Bolzano with the idea and re-awaken their enthusiasm for the days of 35 years ago. It was no problem at all, for everyone was most enthusiastic about the idea, the President of the Tourist Board taking a ride round the town in the Anzani Nash, and the chief of police almost being persuaded to do the same, but deciding to wait until next year! After initial introductions the Nash was pointed westwards in the direction of the Stelvio and as Thirlby was on his own I climbed into the passenger seat. On the way two mobile police, who obviously knew nothing about Nash roadholding (!), stopped us to suggest that we went a little slower, and as a parting remark said “Musep questo qui, non sulla strada,” at which we pulled down our vintage “fiat ‘ats” and drove off in a dudgeon. Eventually we steamed our way merrily to the top of the Stelvio (9,080 ft.). I say eventually, for we broke the inevitable driving chain, and also an auxiliary oil pipe, but all was well in the end, the car being well equipped for any eventuality. This one Frazer Nash in Bolzano caused quite a stir, so next year when a whole bunch of them descend on the Hotel Luna-Mondschein, which by the way has been in the same family for over 180 years, it should be a riot.
The Austrian race on the Zeltweg airfield was the usual friendly affair and the organisers were justifiably proud to show everyone the new circuit that is being built in the foothills beyond the airfield. It is on the side of a wooded mountain range and is six kilometres (3¾ miles approx.) in length with some splendid climbs and descents and it should be very fast and exciting for the drivers, while spectators will have marvellous views from the natural grandstands that the hills provide. The trace of the circuit is already cut out and bulldozers and scrapers were hard at work until seven in the evening, filling and levelling. Unlike some circuits I could mention which have been constructed first and then thought has been given to access, the new Zeltweg circuit is having access tunnels both for vehicles and spectators built into the foundations. The Province of Steiermärk have financed the project to the tune of something like half a million pounds and it is hoped to have the circuit ready for a national race by mid-summer next year, and an International sports car race later in the year, with hopes for a real Grand Prix in 1970. The circuit will be known as the “Osterreichring” and will be the pride and joy of every Austrian Motor racing enthusiast, and there are many of them. Having no circuit previously and not being allowed to race on public roads the Austrians have had to make do with the Zeltweg military airfield, and anyone who has visited the races in the past will agree that the Austrians are a very enthusiastic bunch of racing organisers, and will make the best possible use of the new circuit.
I could hardly leave Austria without making a climb of the famous Gross Glockner Pass and I recalled the remark you quoted in “Cars in Books” in the August issue about motorists who crossed the pass as late as 1937 being given “a precious piece of paper” for pasting on the windscreen to show this difficult journey had been undertaken. In 1968 the Austrian girls who collect the toll money at the foot of the pass still give you “a precious piece of paper” to stick on the windscreen. It is in the form of a letter G, with a drawing of a car climbing a mountain in the centre. You can only get this sticker by paying the toll and climbing the Gross Glockner and it never fails to amaze me at the number of unlikely cars on which you see it, such as 2 C.V. Citroëns, 2-stroke Lloyds, Goggomobiles of quite an age, and the inevitable 100E Anglias and Ford Populars, hero motorists all. At the very top is a magnificent view of a vast glacier and the Austrians have built huge parking spaces, including a multi-storey car park carved into the rock face, all of which are free. There seem to be some very enlightened authorities in Austria.
While climbing the mountain, in the E-type, I recalled in wonderment what a fine sight it must have been to have seen Mercedes-Benz and Auto-Unions taking part in a hill-climb event on the pass in the 1936-39 years.—D. S. J.