Retrospectives

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Every now and then friends say “Have you been to such-and-such a circuit (or hillclimb, or rally route)?” and if I say yes, they ask if I could show them where it is, or was. These impromptu visits are very personal and completely without organisation, and most certainly without media coverage. Afterwards, people will often say: “Oh, I wish I had known you were going to so-and-so, I would have loved to have come with you.” My rather selfish outlook leads me to reply: “Hard luck. If you had been in the right place at the right time, or made the initial enquiry you could have come with us.” The essence of these private ‘jollies’, as I call them, is that they are spur-of-the-moment decisions.

There have been a number this past summer that were very enjoyable. One was on the way back to our hotel after practice at Imola, when someone in our car asked: “Is that great memorial plaque to Clemente Biondetti still at the summit of the Futa Pass?” My answer was to go straight past the hotel and work our way across the mountains to find out. This we did, and an hour later there it was, still on the stone wall alongside the road. It was a fitting tribute to the man who won four Mille Miglia races, 1938 and 1947 with Alfa Romeo and 1948 and 1949 with Ferrari.

When we got back to the hotel, others asked where we had been to. We just smiled, contentedly, and responded: “Off on a private jolly.” A lot of these spontaneous jaunts have been known to lead to an organised trip by people who think it a good idea, and some have led to ‘retrospective’ journeys in appropriate cars, visiting the scenes of great motoring events of the past. Some of them have stayed low key, restricted to people to whom the event has some connection of significance, others have become public spectacles with all the media coverage and hullabaloo that I am told, by the public relations world, “the public demands”. My reaction is that I have very little interest in ‘public demand’, but I will bend over backwards to help enthusiasts of our sport. I lose interest in any retrospective event that looks as if it is getting out of hand, or has no personal connection for me, and there are more and more of them every year, all pre-planned and organised, and in some cases being a fully recognised FIA sporting event. The regulations for some of the retrospective events for 1993 are already beginning to drop through the letter box. Did I say I liked my ‘jollies’ to be spontaneous!

Browsing through my motoring diaries of the past, looking for the actual date of a particular incident, I came across an entry that rang an interesting bell. It was in June 1972, in the days when I was wandering around Europe in an open Jaguar E-type 4.2-litre roadster. I had been at the 1000km sports car race at the Osterreichring and left Judenberg on Monday morning in lovely sunshine, heading along the mountains of Austria, towards Liechtenstein and Switzerland. A note in the diary says: “First time since Spain that the hood has been down!” a reference to the Spanish GP, back in April, but that is beside the point.

I was heading for the French Grand Prix at Clermont-Ferrand and had three days available for the journey, so took a three-day mountain route which would bring me down to earth at Lyon, within striking distance of Clermont-Ferrand. While in eastern Switzerland I called on some friends living in a mountain village and, as the sun began to disappear behind the mountain peaks, I left them and motored westwards. This meant a climb of the Klausen Pass, and then over the Susten Pass, by which time I would look for a hotel for the night. Now, I knew about the Klausen Pass because in the 1920s and ’30s there had been a hillclimb at the mountain, but it had last been run about the time I was discovering what the names Scuderia Ferrari and monoposto Alfa Romeo really meant.

My climb of the Klausen Pass in the E-type was superb, unhindered by traffic and heading into a setting sun which seemed to be stationary, because as it went down I was going up, and I was in one of those freak situations where my rate-of-climb seemed to be matched to the sun’s rate of descent. Although the E-type was not the best of cars to hurl round mountain hairpins, its low-down grunt made it a lot of fun, and with the hood down I could really enjoy being in mountain country. After crossing the Susten Pass I stopped for the night and my diary for Tuesday June 27 reads: “…over Klausen Pass and Susten Pass into evening. Super run. Stopped at splendid Gasthaus in middle of nowhere.”

That entry rang a few bells. Firstly, my reaction was one of surprise that it was really 20 years ago. The Klausen Pass reminded me that plans are afoot in Switzerland to hold a retrospective of the Klausenpassrennen next summer. Entries are invited from owners of any type of car that competed in the real races, so that rules out Ferraris and Jaguars, but Alfa Romeo, Bugatti, Mercedes-Benz, CM, Fiat, Maserati and some pretty obscure Austrian cars of the 1920s will be welcome, as will period motorcycles. It will not be a timed thrash up the mountain, but a nostalgic party to commemorate a long-since-gone piece of Switzerland’s racing history. Undoubtedly, the Klausen Pass will be closed to non-nostalgic traffic for the occasion.

Until 1955, motor racing activity in Switzerland was very strong, both for cars and motorcycles, from Grand Prix events to local grass track racing and from rallies to mountain hillclimbs. Closing a public road for a motor racing event was no problem. After the accident at Le Mans in 1955 the Swiss government banned all racing, literally overnight. Unless you are a Swiss enthusiast you cannot imagine living in a country with no motor racing. Even now such sporting activity as is allowed is of a very low-key nature, and to appreciate Switzerland’s past glories you need to read Automobile Revue editor Adriano Cimarosti’s massive tome, profusely illustrated, about the Swiss Grand Prix since its inauguration as a Cyclecar Grand Prix in 1923.

It’s an expensive, and weighty, book, but if your library has strong shelves to support the author’s super book on the Carrera Panamericana road race, it would not go amiss to have The Swiss Grand Prix as well.

The Klausenpassrennen? Some highlights were having a works entry from Alfa Romeo, with a P2 Grand Prix car, the four-wheel-drive Bugatti factory car, Chiron with a Scuderia Ferrari monoposto Alfa Romeo and Caracciola with a W25 Mercedes-Benz over the years.

Yours, D S J

This month’s Memorable Moments come from a reader whose formative years were watching racing in South Africa:

1. Watching Jimmy Clark and Trevor Taylor dicing in those beautiful, slim green and yellow cigar-shaped Lotus cars at Kyalami in 1961.

2. Being enthralled by the two index-of-performance winning Volvo 122 saloons driving round in tandem at night, their distinctive little roof lights blinking their respective “morse code” identification signals to the pits, during the 1962 Kyalami nine-hour endurance race.

3. Watching John Love being robbed of victory in the 1967 South African GP by having to make a last minute pit-stop for fuel in his Cooper-Climax, allowing Pedro Rodriguez to take the lead with a rather sick Cooper-Maserati V12. He had never heard of Rodriguez…