1½-litre racing from 1935
The second part of an article which commenced in the August issue, wherein is reviewed international 1½-litre racing from 1937-1940
THE first 1½-litre International fixture of the 1937 season was the Circuit de Turin. "Bira," Tongue and Bjornstadt handled E.R.A.s against thirteen Maseratis. "Bira" was badly baulked, first by Dreyfus and then by Bianco, but he got the lead on lap 15 and was soon 17 secs, ahead, when his gearbox gave trouble and he had to retire. Bjornstadt them showed magnificent form and passed both Maseratis, Dreyfus being able to do just nothing at all about it, though he passed Bianco. The E.R.A. won at 55.78 m.p.h. In the Coupe Princesse de Piemont race over a 2½-mile figure-of-eight circuit, Cortese (Maserati) led away, with Trossi, "Bira" and Bianco on his tail. "Bira" got his E.R.A. ahead and Cortese came in for plugs. Trossi then came sensationally into the picture and built up a big lead from "Bira," winning for Maserati by 59.2 sees. at 51.4 m.p.h. "Bira" was second, Bjornstadt (E.R.A.) third, with three Maseratis behind.
Came Tripoli, on that so fast circuit, the 1½-litre race being over 278 miles. It was a definite Italian victory, Dreyfus winning in 2 hrs. 33 mins. 55.7 secs. at 107.9 m.p.h., from Cortese and Severi— Maser. 1, 2 and 3. The Targa Florio had by now become a 1½-litre race, and Severi (Maserati) covered the 196 miles in 2 hrs. 55 mins. 49 secs., at 66.9 m.p.h., winning from Lurani's Maserati and Bianco's Maserati.
So to the Nurburg Ring for the Avusrennen. Charles Martin had bent a valve in practice with his E.R.A., but nevertheless had lapped at 123.1 m.p.h., and he was in the front row at the start. Martin led lap one easily from Cortese (Maserati). On lap two Bjornstadt (E.R.A.) was second, but when he burst a tyre Cortese again took this position. Charles drove an exceedingly clever race, saving his tyres in the intense heat until Cortese was a mere second behind, then drawing away. Cortese retired, and, lapping in record time at 122.7 m.p.h., Martin won by 3 mins. 52 secs. from Castlebarco's Maserati, at 119.6 m.p.h. — a most convincing British victory. Plate, now with a Maserati, was third.
The I.O.M. was the next 1½-litre stage. Practice was marred by a fatal accident to Jucker, who crashed his Alta at Port Jack corner, but was rendered interesting because "Bira" lapped at 75.1 m.p.h. in the ex-Seaman Delage, before deciding to run his E.R.A. with which he tied with Mays for fastest lap at 78.45 m.p.h. "Bira" led at the start from Mays and Fairfield. By lap four, Fairfield was second and Tongue third. In spite of heavy rain the leaders were averaging over 70 m.p.h., and as the E.R.A.s began to experience brake weakness that had troubled them from the beginning of the season, Villoresi (Maserati) came up to second place, 40 secs. behind "Bira." Then the E.R.A. of Fairfield got past and three laps later the Maserati retired with a choked fuel line. Mays, running forth, did a record lap at 73.15 m.p.h. Fairfield and Mays both passed "Bira" when he refuelled, but they' were quickly caught, Fairfield now almost without brakes. "Bira" won at 70.69 m.p.h., 42 secs. ahead of Mays, with Fairfield third, Tongue fourth, and Walker and Whitehead fifth—E.R.A. in the first five places. Fairfield got his E.R.A. through without refuelling, and Arthur Dobson and Robin Hanson drove Maseratis of the six-cylinder type.
The next International 1½-litre contest was also a British event—the Nuffield Trophy at Donington. As usual, the cars were handicapped. This race clashed with the Florence fixture, but six E.R.A.s met the Maseratis which Villoresi, de Graffenried, and du Poy had handled in the I.O.M., and the Austins were running. Martin led the 1½-litre cars until Fairfield, on the black works E.R.A., went ahead. The Maseratis were quite outclassed, and Goodacre's Austin led the field. About half-distance Mrs. Petre and Hadley retired their Austins and Goodacre, trying to make up a serious time-loss due to his car failing to restart after the pit-stop, crashed at Coppice Corner. Maclure's Riley then led for a while, but Fairfield took the lead at 40 laps. He won at 65.89 m.p.h., from Arthur Dobson and Mays, with Maclure fourth, and de Graffenried fifth. Martin was delayed by fuel feed trouble and Scribbans's E.R.A. broke a piston.
Meanwhile, Florence was the scene of squabbles, Dreyfus and Prince Chula both protesting that the timing of the practice laps was inadequate. There were sixteen Maseratis against the E.R.A.s, including Trossi with Furmanik's four-cylinder record-holder, Dreyfus with the six with which Trossi won at Naples, and Johnnie Wakefield's new six. Embiricos crashed his E.R.A. in practice and did not run. "Bira's" E.R.A. led for four laps, and then Trossi led, while Bianco and Dreyfus passed "Bira" as the E.R.A. brakes weakened. Trossi now caused a sensation by coming over faint in the intense heat, handing over to Rovere. Dreyfus led until the finish, winning in 2 hrs. 3 mins. at 70.55 m.p.h., but Trossi, recovered, did an immense dice, coming up from the rear to second place. Bianco was third, Cortese fourth, Tongue's E.R.A. fifth. "Bira" ran out of road twice and retired.
The 1½-litre Milan Race was another Maserati walk-over, the works E.R.A.s being absent. Twenty started and Severi, Rovere, Siena, E. Villoresi and L. Villoresi led lap one. On lap six, Severi retired, but "Bira's" engine also packed up. Siena, driving sanely, passed Rovere, who later retired, allowing Marazza to become second with an old two-seater hill-climb Maserati. Cortese was third, Tongue's E.R.A. fourth, and Whitehead's E.R.A. was eighth. E.R.A. recovered the laurels at Peronne. The first heat of the Picardie G.P. was won by Dreyfus (Maserati) in 41 mins. 34.2 secs. at 87.58 m.p.h., from Robin Hanson's Maserati and du Poy's Maserati. "Bira's" ex-Seaman Delage led from lap two, until it called at the pits and finally retired with engine and clutch trouble. The second heat was an easy victory for Mays, who beat de Graffenried's Maserati by 3 mins. 41.8 secs., averaging 87.72 m.p.h. Martin and Whitehead (E.R.A.s) retired. Mays won the final fairly easily, finishing 1 min. 43 secs. before Dreyfus, at 91.33 m.p.h. Wakefield's Maserati was third.
At Albi, Mays broke an axle shaft while leading the first heat, Villoresi (Maserati) winning in consequence from the E.R.A.s of Tongue and Cook. Mays took over Cook's car for the second heat, and won by 2 mins. 5 secs. from Charles Martin's E.R.A. at 92.48 m.p.h., with Righetti's Maserati third, and Tongue fourth. The combined times gave the final placings as: Mays and Cook, tie at 90.51 m.p.h., Martin, Tongue. In the 30 Mile San Remo race, Maserati finished 1, 2, 3, Varzi winning at 60 m.p.h. from Dusio and Rocco.
Maserati were again 1, 2, 3 at the finish of the Coppa Acerbo, Rocco winning by 6 secs. from Bianco, at 77.77 m.p.h., with Cortese third.
Next came the Prix de Berne, in which Mays and Dobson handled the new, independently sprung works E.R.A.s. There were thirty-four entries in all. In practice "Bira's" E.R.A. broke a piston, and Villoresi set a new 1½-litre lap record with his Maserati. Most of the E.R.A.s had trouble. The race was contested over two heats of 14 laps each, with the Final over 21 laps (160 miles) of the Bremgarten circuit. Emilio Villoresi led the first heat easily, though Mays closed at the end and was second, 2 secs. to the bad, with Martin third. Dobson won the second heat, 17 secs. ahead of Cortese (Maserati) with "Bira," going carefully with patched-up engine, third. Rain had wetted the road for the Final, and this hardly suited the official E.R.A.s. Cortes and Villoresi led lap one from "Bira," Mays, and Dobson. Then, as the rain became really torrential, "Bira" took the lead and got 7 secs. ahead of Villoresi. The rain eventually eased off, but not before Villoresi had eliminated his Maserati in a very bad skid. As the road dried, Dobson passed "Bira" and Mays was going well in third place, with Martin fourth. A curious incident now occurred. Berg's Maserati crashed and lit up, and officials flagged the cars to slow down. Dobson mistook the signal and stopped altogether, and "Bira" passed as he restarted. Dobson now truly opened up, and both he and Mays, with the works cars, overtook "Bira's" older E.R.A. Mays next passed Dobson to lead, but, easing up just before the line, he let Dobson pip him by about half-a-car's length. "Bira" was third, Cortese fourth, Martin fifth. Dobson's time was 1 hr. 9 mins. 5.6 secs.; his average 87.5 m.p.h.
The growing appeal of the 1½-litre scratch race had become evident to the Irish Motor Race Club, and at the Phoenix Park meeting they held such a contest, of 100 miles duration. Eleven cars entered, comprising Mays's works E.R.A., Tongue, Whitehead, and Cotton (E.R.A.s), Wakefield, Aitken, Hanson and Austin Dobson with six-cylinder Maseratis, O'Boyle's " Wilky "-tuned Alta, "Bira's" ex-Seaman, re-bodied Delage, and the second works E.R.A., which Arthur Dobson should have handled, but which was scratched as it carried Mays's 2-litre engine for the handicap race. In practice Mays set a new lap record of 2 mins. 29 secs., or 103 m.p.h., and Wakefield did second best time with his newly-acquired Maserati, in 2 mins. 31 secs., or 101.6 m.p.h. The Delage lapped in 2 mins. 32 secs., or 100.9 m.p.h. In the race, Whitehead's E.R.A. retired at once, and the first lap saw Mays easily ahead, with "Bira's" Delage second, and Cotton's E.R.A. third. Wakefield's Maserati got into third place on lap two, and closed with the Delage thereafter, until by lap eight "Bira" was barely a length ahead. After 10 laps "Bira," who had been passed by Wakefield, was again second. A great duel had developed between the old Delage and the new, but likewise imported, Maserati. On lap 12 Wakefield passed "Bira," but four laps later the Delage was a bare second behind. Mays, meanwhile, kept a healthy lead. On lap 19 the Delage ended its great run with a broken near side rear spring, and Cotton came into third place. Mays won a very easy race at 102.9 m.p.h., and his Zoller-E.R.A. had set the lap record at 2 mins. 27 secs., equal to 104.36 m.p.h. Wakefield was second, Cotton third, Hanson fourth, and no one else finished. In the 73 mile Lucca Race, Maserati were 1, 2, 3 in the order, Trossi, L. Villoresi, Rocco, the race being won at 58.31 m.p.h.
The 1937 1½-litre season closed with the G.P. de Brno, at Masaryk. Eighteen cars entered, including eight Czech entries of Amilcar, Bugatti and M.G.s. Villoresi, Hartmann, du Poy and Graffenried handled Maseratis, and "Bira" and Martin E.R.A.s. In practice Martin did the most rapid lap, and "Bira's" E.R.A. again broke a piston. The race was over five laps, a total distance of 95 miles. Twelve cars started. "Bira" made a great effort to catch Martin when the flag fell, but misjudged a corner and had to use the escape road. Nevertheless, after the first lap, Martin led by only 2 secs. from "Bira" with Villoresi third, and Hartmann fourth. Martin, driving grandly, pulled away from "Bira," but on lap four "Bira" momentarily passed Martin. The effort proved too much for "Romulus" and a piston again collapsed. "Bira" just managed to limp home in fourth place, ahead of Sajka's Bugatti. Martin, too, was right out of luck, for at the very end one cylinder went out, and Villoresi won at 77.6 m.p.h. Hartmann was third.
The 1937 score was remarkably well divided, E.R.A. getting eight firsts, six seconds, and six thirds, and Maserati eight firsts, ten seconds and ten thirds. The favour was thus rather with the Italian marque, and it had beaten the older E.R.A.s every time on the Continent, after the Avusrennen, the E.R.A. victories at Picardie, Albi and Berne being with the latest works cars. Incidentally, there was a 1½-litre race at the October Brooklands meeting, for the Siam Challenge Trophy, 750 c.c. and 1,100 c.c., however, getting a handicap start. Raymond Mays won with the works E.R.A. at 80.08 m.p.h., doing one lap of the Mountain circuit at 82.27 m.p.h.
This has not been considered of sufficient importance to include in the annual score. Actually, 1½-litre cars were very prominent in other races, Fairfield's E.R.A. winning the S. African G.P. and the Rand G.P., in which Howe's ERA. was second, while E.R.A. won the Coronation Trophy, London G.P., and Imperial Trophy races at the Crystal Palace, and the 200 Mile Race (A. C. Dobson) at Donington, and Mays won the British Empire Trophy with the 1,100 c.c. E.R.A. There were also many "places." E.R.A. used the C-type cars, with Porsche independent torsional suspension, Lockheed-Girling brakes, and the big Zoller compressors. They were probably somewhat heavier than the earlier Murray-Jamieson blown cars, but developed something like 210 b.h.p. Lord Howe's E.R.A. was converted to C type. Maserati used six-cylinder 1½-litres, developing about 180 b.h.p. at 6,600 r.p.m., but developed a four-cylinder, sixteen-valve job at the close of the season, which Trossi and Lurani brought to the Crystal Palace. Lurani's had quarter-elliptic rear suspension.
Ireland has long been a motor-racing minded country, and for 1938 the Irish Motor Racing Club staged a very ambitious racing programme at Cork, which included a full Formula G.P. and a 1½-litre scratch race over 73 miles. This constituted the first important race of the 1938 1½-litre season, and attracted "Bira," Rolt, Wilson, Connell and Dobson with E.R.As, and L. Villoresi, Soffietti, Graffenried, Hug, Wakefield and Hanson with Maseratis. "Bira" had acquired a Zoller-blown, C-type ("Hanuman") and was driving this car. In practice he found that the Zoller-blown engine did not permit using bottom gear at Poulavone hairpin, and this gear was on the point of stripping anyway, but in spite of this, and the car's slow getaway from other acute corners, it was obviously the fastest on the course. After one lap, Dobson led it by 2 secs., with Hug, Villoresi, Wakefield, and Connell behind. Connell was soon out with piston trouble, but an immense duel developed between "Bira's" rather-handicapped C-type E.R.A. and Dobson's much older car. "Bira" got by on lap two, but went wide the next lap at Victoria corner, letting Dobson through, though after three laps "Bira" led again by a bare second.
Dobson next got by at Poulavone, to be repassed on the straight. "Bira'' did 138 m.p.h„ and finished the lap with a lead of 5 secs., setting a new lap record of 3 mins. 56 secs., 2 secs. faster than the unlimited record. Behind, another duel was being fought between the Maseratis of Wakefield and Villoresi, until Wakefield crashed on lap 11, and was taken to hospital with broken ribs. "Bira" equalled his lap record on lap seven, and for the next three laps drove with remarkable consistency, finally winning by 1 min. 40 secs., at 91.47 m.p.h. Dobson was second, and Villoresi., who had eased up, third.
The Picardie Race, over the splendid Peronne circuit, followed. Thirteen 1½-litre cars entered, comprising Mays, "Bira," Lord Howe, Wilson and Wakefield with E.R.A.s, Hanson, Hug, Bianco, Soffietti and Lanza with Maseratis, two M.G.s and a Bugatti. Mays had the latest works E.R.A. with Luvax shock-absorbers, "Bira" and Howe had C-type cars, but the other E.R.A.s were Roots-blown jobs. Hug had the "Tripoli" four-cylinder Maserati with i.f.s. and splayed quarter-elliptic rear suspension. Practice was a busy affair, for Mays's engine seized its piston rings and had to be dismantled, and "Bira" had his axle ratio changed, and then re-changed to the original ratio. Lord Howe lapped fastest, at 94.57 m.p.h. In the first heat, Howe, representing the works, led at first from "Bira,'' but the latter got ahead and drew steadily away, setting a new lap record of 95.8 m.p.h. Hanson retired with supercharger trouble, and Bianco was third. "Bira" averaged 94.1 m.p.h. Mays won the second heat very convincingly, at 89.07 in Wilson's E.R.A. was second, and Lanza's Maserati third. Wakefield retired Connell's E.R.A. with a broken piston, and Hug's brakes went back on him. The Final was pretty terrific. Mays led off, but found he had lost bottom gear when he wanted it at the end of the long straight. He ran up the bank at Brie hairpin as a result, and "Bira" passed; meanwhile, Howe was out, defeated by supercharger trouble which worried him in the first heat. Mays now had the same worry that ''Bira'' had had at Cork; no bottom gear and the Zoller-blown motor unwilling to get going from slow corners. "Bira" built up a minute's lead, but on lap nine a connecting rod broke and ended his drive. So Mays, in the latest thing in E.R.A.s, won by 1 min. 53.6 secs. from Bianco's Maserati, at 90.94 m.p.h. He took 1 hr.0 min.33 secs., and it must have been a tiring drive, for amongst his other anxieties, the throttle spring broke, and the pedal had to be lifted by toe. The E.R.A. got up to some 155 m.p.h. along the straight to Brie . . . . Soffietti was third, and Wilson's E.R.A. fourth.
The next race was our Nuffield Trophy at Donington which was of International status, and limited to 1½-litre cars, although, as before, 750 c.c. and 1,100 c.c. cars actually received a handicap start. There were twenty-seven entries, and twenty-two starters. Dobson's old E.R.A. made a beautiful start, but was passed by "Bira's " Zoller-E.R.A. and Aitken's Maserati Six in the first lap. Howe retired the works E.R.A. in five laps, and after 10 laps "Bira" led on handicap from Hadley 's Austin and Dobson 's E.R.A. "Bira" never made a mistake, and won by 22 secs. at the record speed of 72.54 m.p.h. for the 200 miles. Hadley's Austin was second, Dobson's E.R.A. third, Dodson's Austin fourth, and Rolt's E.R.A. fifth.
The Albi race suffered from a lack of British entries on account of the Nuffield Trophy being run the day before. However, Mays took over the latest 1½-litre E.R.A. It set up the fastest race lap at 96.19 m.p.h., but unfortunately supercharger trouble, due, it is believed, to faulty material, put it out in the first heat. Bianco, who had put up the fastest practice lap at 93 m.p.h., had a terrible crash in the first heat, in which there were nine starters. The Maserati rolled over twice, and chopped a telegraph pole in two, Bianco going to hospital with fairly extensive injuries. The race was an easy victory for Villoresi's Maserati, from Teagno and Soffietti on cars of the same make. The second heat saw a mere six cars engaged, of which Hug's stood little chance of appearing in the final placings as it retired in the first heat. Nevertheless, Hug drove remarkably well, winning by 1½ mins. from Villoresi, with Plate's old Talbot third. His best lap .was at 92.12 m.p.h., and he averaged 89.49 m.p.h. The final placings were: Villoresi, 88.9 m.p.h., Soffietti, Plate.
So to Livorno, for the Coppa Ciano, which preceded the race for the big stuff. This event marks a most important stage in 1½-litre history, for the long awaited straight-eight Alfa-Romeos made their first appearance.
They had a walk-over, Emilio Villoresi winning in 1 hr. 5 mins. 21.6 secs., at 82.7 m.p.h., from Biondetti, no one else finishing. And they were very, very rapid. A return match between the new Alfa-Romeos and Maserati happened in the Coppa Acerbo, at Pescara. In practice Emilio lapped in 11 mins. 43 secs., only 17 secs. slower than Nuvolari's Auto-Union. However, in the race the contrast between the long straights and the hilly sections of the circuit seemed to upset the plugs, and both Alfas were continually at the pits. Villoresi retired, but after long delays Severi got going to the tune of 139.53 m.p.h. over the kilo, against Pietsch's 135.9 m.p.h. with the quickest Maserati. However, he could only manage fifth place, and Luigi Villoresi won for Maserati at 82.06 m.p.h., in 1 hr. 10 mins. 40 secs., 2 mins. 49 secs. ahead of Pietsch, with Barbieri's and Libeccio's Maseratis third and fourth.
After this defeat, the Alfa-Romeos, destined to add so much interest to voiturette contests, did not appear at Berne. In the practice period, Mays with his E.R.A. had things all his own way, until L. Villoresi beat his time with the Maserati. At the start of heat one, Villoresi, Pietsch and Berg got clean away from the E.R.A.s, and "Bira" retired with carburation trouble on the first lap. As the race developed, first Berg and then Villoresi retired, letting Wakefield and Wilson up into second and third places with their E.R.A.s. However, they could not catch Pietsch on his works Maserati, which won in 48 mins. 56.6 secs. Wilson was second, Wakefield third. In the second heat, on a wet course, Mays and Howe got away from the four cylinder Maseratis, and Rolt soon came up into third position. Mays won from Howe and Rolt in 46 mins. 30 secs. In the Final, Mays after a while took the lead from Pietsch, and when the Maserati retired, Howe was third. Then Mays's bad luck intervened, and his E.R.A. developed the old super-charger trouble and stopped. Howe's engine was misfiring, and Hug quickly grasped the lead, and Bianco and Wakefield also passed him. Rolt lost time with a stalled engine at the start, but thereafter drove his E.R.A. sensationally. Hug took 1 hr. 10 mins. 0.5 sec., winning by 1 min. 40.3 secs. at 81.88 m.p.h. His car was tuned by Ruggeri and his mechanics shared in the modest celebration of the victory.
The amazing Alfettes, as the 1½-litre Alfa-Romeos became known, returned for the Milan G.P. In training, they proved faster than the new sixteen-cylinder G.P. Alfa-Romeo. Signor Dino, Italy's Propaganda Minister, inspected the cars before the start, getting a real Fascist salute from cheery Arthur Dobson. Dobson got off in terrific style as the flag fell, only to snap a half shaft almost immediately. Sommer shot into the lead with the Alfa-Romeo, but his car developed chronic misfiring and L. Villoresi led for four laps in his Maserati. However, engine trouble set in and brother Emilio came up, finally winning for Alfa-Romeo by 1 sec. from Severi's Alfa-Romeo. He took 1 hr. 11 mins. 4 secs. for the 175 kms., or 91.71 m.p.h. Sommer was out of the picture on account of plug trouble, but set up the best lap at 94.8 m.p.h., and in spite of a slipping clutch, Hug's Maserati was third, 3 mins. behind Severi. Sommer's car lit up just before the end, and Marazza (Maserati) misjudged the Lesino corner in the ensuing smoke-cloud and crashed badly, a tree branch piercing a lung. He died that night.
The season concluded with the circuit of Modena, over a hectic 55 laps of a 2 mile "round-the-houses" course in Alfa's home town. The complete team of straight-eight Alfa-Romeos retired, as, in fact, did fifteen out of the nineteen starters. The winner was Cortese with a works Maserati, at 63.08 m.p.h. Hug's Maserati was second, Dobson's E.R.A. third, and Plate, now with a Maserati, fourth.
So ended the last full racing season before the present war. E.R.A. was less in the picture, on account of mechanical troubles and less participation in Continental events, but interest in 1½-litre contests was greater than before, particularly on account of the Maserati-Alfa-Romeo rivalry. The 1938 score was :—Maserati : four firsts, five seconds and four thirds; E.R.A. : three firsts, one second and three thirds; AlfaRomeo : two firsts, two thirds; Austin : one second ; Talbot : one third. One-and-a-half-litre cars continued to perform outstandingly in other than purely 1½-litre contests. Howe's E.R.A. won the Grosvenor G.P. in Africa from two Maseratis, an Austin won the British Empire Trophy Race from two E.R.A.s, and Wakefield's E.R.A. won the 200 Mile Race, with Howe's E.R.A. third. At the Crystal Palace, "Bira's" E.R.A. won the Coronation Trophy and London G.P., and Abecassis's Alta the Palace Cup and Imperial Trophy. At Brooklands, the Siam Trophy was won by "Bira's" E.R.A. at 73.33 m.p.h. from Dobson's E.R.A., and an E.R.A. Invitation Race by Dobson, at 73.35 m.p.h., from Wakefield. The most interesting 1½-litre car of the year was unquestionably the straight-eight Alfa-Romeo. It had twin o.h. camshafts and Roots-blower, and gave 200 b.h.p. at 8,000 r.p.m., with a piston stroke of 70 mm. A frame of tubular members was used with independent front suspension by a transverse leaf spring. Maserati showed increasing interest in the four-cylinder engine, and used normally-disposed quarter-elliptic rear springs, in place of the former reversed quarter-elliptics and half-elliptics. The six-cylinder Maserati was now in common use in this country. E.R.A. retained the big Zoller compressor behind the engine, and the Porsche i.f.s. with Luvax shock-absorbers, but early in the season Howe's works E.R.A. apparently had friction shock-absorbers. E.R.A. changed to full Lockheed brake actuation with two-leading-shoe layout.
Nineteen-thirty-nine opened in a blaze of 1½-litre glory. E.R.A. announced an entirely new design, with a new engine, new chassis and new body-work, and the appointment of a full-time racing manager, and Mercédès-Benz were rumoured to be entering the 1½-litre field. As early as January 2nd, a I½-litre scratch race was held in Africa, and won by L. Villoresi’s Maserati at 99.66 m.p.h., from Cortese, whose Maserati was 33 secs. behind. Dr. Massacuratti's Maserati was third.
Came Tripoli—one of the most sensational and significant races of recent times. It had purposely been made a 1½-litre scratch contest for 1939, following the failure of Italy's Formula cars. And then came rumours that Mercédès-Benz would still be in the field—with 1½ -litre cars! True it was! Prepared and tested in great secrecy, two small Mercédès-Benz, scaled-down versions of the 3-litre Formula cars, were entered, to be driven by Caracciola and Lang. They were opposed by no fewer than six Alfettes, now better streamlined than before, and with new front suspension, in the hands of Farina, Biondetti, E. Villoresi, Severi, Pintacuda, and Aldrighetti. Maserati was represented by the works team of new cars driven by Trossi, L. Villoresi and Cortese, of which Villoresi's was fully streamlined on record-attacking lines, and by nineteen other cars. What a contest! During the training period, the fully faired Maserati did the fastest lap at 134 m.p.h., but Lang was a mere 0.5 sec. and Caracciola only 1.3 secs. slower.
Right from the start the two Mercédès-Benz went ahead, Lang leading Caracciola. It was intensely hot, and the less pessimistic Italians hoped that the German cars might discover teething troubles on this very fast circuit. Villoresi had not even left the line, the gearbox giving out, and Trossi and Cortese were out early with broken pistons. After 5 laps Lang led by half a minute from the fastest of the Alfettes, that of Farina, with Caracciola a close third. After 10 laps, Farina was out, and under a blazing sun the astounding Mercédès-Benz drew easily ahead. Lang set up the fastest lap, at 131.53 m.p.h., only 4.77 m.p.h. slower than his best lap in the 3-litre Mercédès-Benz the year before. He won in 1 hr. 59 mins. 12.36 secs., at 122.9 m.p.h., an average only 4.55 m.p.h. below that at which he won the 1938 race. Caracciola crossed the line 3 mins. 37.28 secs. later in second place. Four minutes 10.36 seconds later E. Villoresi 's Maserati took third place. The averages of the place men were 119.2 m.p.h. and 115.3 m.p.h. respectively. All the remaining seven places were taken by Maseratis.
A British driver scored a fine victory in the next important 1½-litre race, the Princess of Piedmont Cup at Naples. Johnnie Wakefield drove his new four-cylinder, sixteen-valve Maserati, and kept back for some time. For some 12 laps Rocco's works Maserati led, and then Villoresi on the second works car took the lead on lap 20. Refuelling rather muddled things, and then it was seen that Wakefield had a tiny lead and was smashing the lap record over and over again. Villoresi was trying exceedingly, but lost a gear, most of his decent carburation, and finally control at a corner. Wakefield won easily in 2 hrs. 24 mins. 50.8 secs. for the 150 miles from Tarruffi’s and Cortese's Maseratis. His lap record was at 65.49 m.p.h. and he averaged 03.62 m.p.h.
In that handicap, though strictly 1½-litre, event, the Nuffield Trophy, hopes ran high that the new E.R.A. would appear. However, the engine blew up in practice and was not repaired in time. Parnell's new 1½-litre Challenger was unready, the works Maseratis did not come over, and Tongue's latest-type Maserati had trouble in. practice. In the end, seventeen started. At first Maclure led, his Riley now supercharged, but after five laps the gearbox packed up. At 10 laps "Bira's" E.R.A. led by 13 secs. from Mays's E.R.A., Mays now an independent. Whitehead, after stalling his E.R.A. on the line, was going great guns in third place. "Bira" got through without refuelling, to win by 1 min. 38 secs. at 75.87 m.p.h. Mays had been close behind until he had to stop for fuel, after which his engine misfired. He was second, with Whitehead third.
Picardie received poor entries, and it was wet, so one heat was cut out. In the heat, Wakefield's four-cylinder Maserati won extremely easily, at 81.2 m.p.h. from Hug's Maserati, with Tremouet's Amilcar third. In the Final, Sommer got over carburation trouble which spoilt his Maserati's chances in the heat, for three laps, when the bother returned. Hug needed plugs, and then retired with a broken piston, and Wakefield won by 12 miles at 82.03 m.p.h., Sommer two laps behind, and Horvilleur's Maserati third.
The French G.P. was preceded by the Sporting Commission Cup for 1½-litre cars, over 38 laps of the Rheims circuit, or 185 miles. Italy having decided not to race in France for political reasons, and Mercédès-Benz keeping the 1½-litre cars for venues at which the Formula cars could not appear, entries were poor. The new, low built, Merc.-like E.R.A. came out for practice, and, handled by our No. 1 driver, Arthur Dobson, lapped at nearly 101 m.p.h., being rumoured to have descended the straight from Virage de la Garenne to Virage Thillois at nearly 150 m.p.h. Alas, overheating, due to insufficient venting, damaged the valves and pistons, and the car was posted a non-starter. "Bira" crashed his E.R.A. and Hanson took the second works E.R.A. (old type) when his own E.R.A. disintegrated a main bearing. The race developed into a duel between Wakefield and Hug with sixteen-valve Maseratis. Johnnie led until his brakes weakened, and then Hug lapped at 99.27 m.p.h. with a stiff engine, and, getting faster and faster, won at 93.55 m.p.h., Wakefield second and Dipper's Maserati third. Le Mans Simca Fiats filled the next three places, Pollock's E.R.A. retiring with gearbox trouble and Hanson from lack of fuel.
So to the Albi Race. A great surprise was the appearance of the new E.R.A. It was expected to be thoroughly tested at Montlhery and not to be seen again for some time, but here it was on the line. It had been run for an hour at the Paris track at 100 m.p.h. merely to run in new pistons and rings, necessary after the trouble at Rheims. Dobson lapped in practice at 97.13 m.p.h. which was fastest time, but 1.73 m.p.h. slower than the lap record set by Mays in 1937. Hug's Maserati and Mays's Zoller-E.R.A. did 96.65 m.p.h. In the second day's training, Hug crashed very seriously and fractured his skull. Wakefield's Maserati lapped 1 sec. faster than the new E.R.A. The first race saw the new E.R.A. leading from Wakefield, Tongue, "Bira" and Mays. Dobson did his second lap at 96.19 m.p.h. On lap 3, Mays lost a wheel and retired. It seemed as if the new, green E.R.A. must win, when a plug seemed to cut out. The pit then made the serious error of giving Dobson a "Stop Immediately" sign, as a result of which he hit a straw hale and split the fuel tank. Wakefield won from Tongue and "Bira." In the second race, Wakefield again won, but the end was exciting, because the Maserati needed much fuel and was disinclined to re-start after the stop. However, Wakefield won from Tongue and "Bira" again, and the final placing was Wakefield, at 93.91m.p.h., Tongue's Maserati and "Bira’s" E.R.A. Abecassis had his Alta's engine seize solid and was hit by the Brooke-Special.
Alfa returned seriously for the Coppa Ciano, their straight-eights tuned and modified. Farina lapped at 90.8 m.p.h. and kept out in front, strongly challenged by the Maseratis of Cortese and Taruffi. Biondetti's Alfa gave trouble, so Pintacuda was called in and his car given over to Biondetti. Severi then took over the sick car. Farina carried on happily to win by a lap from Cortese, at 86.32 m.p.h. The other Alfa was third, Taruffi fourth.
At Pescara practice was marred by the death of Aldrighetti, who was badly burned when his Alfa caught fire at speed. The Alfas had things entirely their own way, and finished in the first four places, Biondetti winning at 83.3 m.p.h. for the 224 miles. This was almost equal to Villoresi's lap record of the year before, and this time Farina lapped at 86.5 m.p.h. Pintacuda was over 2 mins. behind, with Farina third, Severi fourth, and Pollock's E.R.A. fifth. Villoresi's Maserati did best time over the kilo. at 147.14 m.p.h., but it retired.
This year Formula cars and 1½-litre cars ran together in the Final at Berne, but the races may be regarded as entirely separate. Farina's 1½-litre Alfa-Romeo created a sensation in practice by lapping at a speed only 5.4 sacs. slower than Lang's best lap. In the first heat for 1½-litre cars Farina shot off, beating Dobson's old lap record on his standing lap, and leading Rocco's Maserati, Pietsch's Maserati and Biondetti's Alfa. On lap two he clocked 98.39 m.p.h. On lap five the two Alfas were out in front and Wakefield was third, and they finished in this order. In the Final, "Doctor" Farina sent everyone to their feet when he finished the first lap only 5 Secs. behind Lang's Formula Mercédès-Benz! It was not until six laps later that Caracciola was able to pass the little Alfa! It finally finished sixth, winner of the 1½-litre race by over a lap from Biondetti, Wakefield's Maserati third.
After which, the situation in Europe festered and came to a head, and it was war instead of motor-racing. . . .
The season 1939 had been one of the most absorbing from the 1½-litre viewpoint. The new E.R.A. had been most disappointing, May's had left the stable, and a final blow fell when Humphrey Cook reluctantly had to state that he must withdraw the financial support from E.R.A. Ltd., unless a very big proportion of the costs were met by the race-minded members of the British public, which was not to be. The Continental marques, however, were keener rivals than hitherto, and the great debut of the 1½-litre Mercédès-Benz at Tripoli proved that International 1½-litre racing could be as spectacular and as exciting as any Formula contest. These cars only appeared on one other occasion, in a demonstration to the German nation at Nurburg. The 1939 score reads:— Maserati : five firsts, six seconds, six thirds; Alfa-Romeo : three firsts, two seconds, two thirds; E.R.A. : one first, one second, two thirds; and Mercédès-Benz : one first and one second. Maserati now used short-stroke, square four-cylinder, sixteen-valve engines, running at a reduced speed of 7,000 r.p.m., to give 200 b.h.p., though after Tripoli it was rumoured they were considering a new six. The frame was braced by an oil tank. Rear suspension was by underslung, normally disposed, splayed-out quarter-elliptics, and the car weighed about 11 cwt. Alfa-Romeo had the straight-eight, twin o.h.c. engine with single Roots blower, developing 195-210 b.h.p. at 7,000 r.p.m. Front suspension was altered to swinging links controlled by transverse torsion bars; rear suspension was by transverse leaf and torsion bar stiffener. The new E.R A. had a six-cylinder short push-rod engine with a Zoller compressor blowing at 28 lbs. per square inch beside the block. It developed some 220-250 b.h.p. at about 8,000 r.p.m. The chassis was tubular, with front suspension by transverse torsion bar and trailing links, and rear suspension by parallel torsion bars within the side members damped by de Ram shock-absorbers, with a de Dion axle. It weighed about 14 cwt., and had a crash gearbox and Lockheed two-leading-shoe brakes. The Mercédès-Benz had a V8 engine with a single Roots blower sucking from twin carburetters, running up to 10,000 r.p.m. and developing at least 250 b.h.p. or some 124 b.h.p. per litre. Hydraulic brakes were used, and the engine was off-set to give a low seating position. The fuel tanks were placed centrally, and the front wheels carried 17"x 5.00" tyres, the rear 17" x 7.00" covers. Front suspension was by vertical coil springs, that at the rear by parallel torsion bars.
Although Europe is involved in war, there was one 1½-litre race contested this year, Tripoli. It was rumoured that Mercédès-Benz would go over, for Germany had won the Mille Miglia sports-car race, despite the war. However, in the end, our Navy was held in respect, and an all-Italian race resulted. Nuvolari decided his works Maserati was not fast enough, leaving Villoresi and Cortese and sixteen independent Maseratis against Farina, Trossi and Biondetti and Pintacuda with the Alfettes. Villoresi made a fine start and led lap one, but Farina then overtook him. On lap seven Villoresi again led Farina but the next lap saw the Alfa again ahead, Farina doing his ninth lap at 132.55 m.p.h, He refuelled in 24 secs., but Maserati pit-work was poor, So that after it was over Alfa-Romeo ran I, 2, 3. Thus they finished, Farina 29.47 secs. ahead of Biondetti, at 128.14 m.p.h., with Trossi third. It is extremely significant that Farina averaged 5.24 m.p.h. more than Lang's 1½-litre Mercédès in 1939, and that his fastest lap was 1.02 m.p.h, quicker than Lang's. Of course, the Mercédès-Benz might have shown improvement had they appeared, but this performance at least shows the Alfa-Romeo to be very highly developed indeed, and perhaps the outstanding 1½-litre racing-car of to-day.
From the foregoing review, it will be seen that 1½-litre racing is by no means lacking in excitement and spectacle, while it is, if anything, more interesting than Formula racing on account of the more diverse fields that are forthcoming. If there is any International racing after this war is ended, as there should be for political reasons, we hope that the new Formula may stipulate a capacity limit of 1,500 c.c. In view of the fact that Great Britain should be in a position to dictate to vanquished nations, this seems quite likely of attainment. Such a ruling would have considerable advantages, for, so far as we are concerned, this size of racing-car is more highly developed than any other, with the 1939 E.R.A. ready and waiting development. Competition should be keen, allowing that on a pre-war status Germany had Mercédès-Benz, Italy Alfa-Romeo and Maserati in the 1½-litre field, and that France, in Bugatti and Delage, should be able to build excellent small racing-cars; given the opportunity and inclination. In point of cost, which must be translated as the amount of required State subsidy, a team of 1½-litre cars would be slightly more economic than one of existing G.P. cars. There is also the point that each country likely to compete should have drivers of its own nationality able to effectively handle the fastest 1½-litre cars, whereas present Formula cars demand a highly specialised technique, very rare even amongst first-class drivers. That this is no slight on the drivers of any one nation is evident when it is remembered that Germany had to borrow the services of the Englishman, Richard Seaman, and the Italian Nuvolari, in operating her Formula cars. In the years immediately following a great European war doubtless such interchange of personnel would be most distasteful. Finally, there is the favourable argument that more useful engineering lessons of a general nature applicable to automobile and aero-engine practice result from racing small cars. The 5½-6-litre Formula cars did a lot of their running in top gear, and so lightly stressed were the engines that they were not particularly fastidious over plugs, as first-line racing stuff formerly was. When the limit of size was reduced to 3-litres, plug troubles returned, and oil temperatures rose, and designers were again faced with useful problems to combat. The foregoing 1½-litre racing review clearly shows how such problems, leading to failure and severe mechanical breakdown, were even more accentuated when 1½-litre engines running up to, or at over 7,000 r.p.m., were involved. So there is a really good argument for International racing under a 1½-litre Formula, and we sincerely hope that it will not be long before we see races in this class again.