Continental Notes, September 1954

Author

D.S.J

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68

With the first season of the new Formula 1 drawing to a close it is interesting to look back briefly and appreciate what has happened in a comparatively short time, not only from the point of view of the interest during this season but also to realise that an active first season augurs well for the future of Grand Prix racing. Races are no longer foregone conclusions for the Ferrari team, nor have they yet become such for the Mercédès-Benz team, while Maserati are well in the thick of the activity. At the German Grand Prix the front row consisted of one car from each team and a healthier aspect to Grand Prix racing could not be wanted by anyone. With Lancia tottering on the edge of making their debut and rumours about Alfa-Romeo returning, the active competition seen so far in the new Formula 1 should increase with great strides as time progresses. The new 2 1/2-litre engines have produced results almost beyond expectations and lap records for circuits all over Europe’ have been easily beaten, many of them having been held by the 5-6-litre pre-war monsters, while maximum speed of today’s Formula 1 cars on the faster circuits is sufficient to satisfy the most critical public.

Even in the space of half a season the 2 1/2-litres have been developed to such a state that whereas 300 miles could be covered on a tankful of fuel, providing it was topped to the brim on the starting-line, now this is not always possible, both Ferraris and Maseratis having to refuel during the German Grand Prix. As power outputs continue to go up so will fuel consumption increase and the more will pit stops play an important part in race winning. At the moment the 250-280 b.h.p. being developed is not sufficient to cause tyre troubles and, whether they are Dunlop, Pirelli, Englebert or Continental, modern tyres seem well able to stand up to a full Grand Prix, but if development continues at its present rate then we are likely to return to the days of the previous Formula 1 where the skilled team of mechanics can win a race for a driver, as they did with the 159 Alfa-Romeos.

* * *

On a recent trip from Nurburgring, along the autobahns of Germany that are always a source of wonder and amazement, time was taken to make a visit to the museum in the Mercédès-Benz factory at Stuttgart-Unterturkheim. In this factory (there are five in the Daimler-Benz organisation) engines and chassis parts are manufactured for the passenger cars, the completed components then being transported to the factory at Mannheim for assembly. Throughout the factory the keynote is cleanliness and inspection, every single item being thoroughly scrutinised, for the Stuttgart engineers think it more economical to spend extra time and money on making sure the parts are right, than having to replace parts after they have been delivered to the customer. Even the raw materials that come into the factory, the steels being mostly German, but Swedish for the special qualities, are all subjected to a very tight inspection schedule. The engines are built on line assembly but every one has to do six hours’ running-in on the test-bed and is then put through a full power-test throughout its rev.-range. The 300-type engines do eight hours’ initial running before having their power testing and every engine has to pass a set standard, not just one taken here and there at random from the production line.

I was interested to read the opinion of one of the Motor Sport readers last month, that Continental firms tend to put more stress on longevity when building cars, for this brief tour of the Mercédès-Benz factory before browsing round the museum gave the very same impression. In Germany Mercédès-Benz is a tradition just as Rolls-Royce is in England, and at the factory this same feeling is everywhere. A small example is that of the racks for the parts in the machine shop for small items; if spacer rings or any such parts are being stacked they are placed in piles of half-dozen on the trays, the guide up the centre is not a rod or piece of tubing as would normally be used, but is fabricated from three-pointed star-section steel, so that, looking down on a tray with stacking posts for 60 piles of parts, you are faced by 60 Mercédès-Benz trademarks, and, of course, everything is painted blue and silver.

It was rather heartening to learn that 75 per cent, of a Mercédès-Benz touring car is made by the parent firm — in England 40 per cent, is considered a high figure — and this means that Mercédès-Benz are responsible for this proportion of their car, so that shoddy workmanship by “outside” firms is eliminated. The remaining 25 per cent, is accounted for by such items as Bosch electries, Continental tyres, Solex carburetters and so on. After the steady hum of work in the factory, the quiet of the museum was a great contrast, and an interesting time was spent following the tradition of Daimler-Benz and Mercédès through the years to where they amalgamated, and then to study the development of Mercédès-Benz passenger and racing cars right up to 1939. The pre-war Grand Prix cars, which were so advanced in their day, now look very old-fashioned and primitive when studied in the light of present-day technical knowledge. One of the moot impressive cars of that pre-war age that is fast being forgotten is the all-enveloping 5.6-litre car that was used at Avas, lapping at 172-m.p.h. and attaining close to 200 m.p.h. along the straights. Compared with the 1954 all-enveloping Mercédès-Benz, which is a thing of sleek beauty, the Avus car looked a veritable monster and a silent raising of the hat was made in memory of the efforts of Rudolf Carraciola and Hermann Lang who drove these cars. All the past racing records of the firm are proudly announced around the walls of the museum, but for some unaccountable reason the memorable first and second at Tripoli in 1939 with the 1 1/2-litre V8 cars which were landmarks in motor-racing history seem to have been completely forgotten. The two cars are still in Switzerland and nowhere in the museum was there any reference to this extraordinary exercise in design.

As fascinating as the automobile history of Mercédès-Benz was the aeronautical history, for the firm have made aero engines since the early days of flying, and some of their recent war-time engines that opposed our Merlins and Sabres were most interesting. This visit, was made two days after the German Grand Prix victory and everywhere were large coloured posters acclaiming the success. These posters were prepared on the Sunday night immediately after the race, so that when the factory workers arrived early on Monday morning they were greeted by the sight of these coloured posters showing the new single-seater Grand Prix car winning the Nurburgring race. As remarked earlier, Mercédès-Benz is a tradition.

* * *

That the British are well known for their love of tradition was ably demonstrated by the gathering of the British Mercédès-Benz Club at Solitude, overlooking Stuttgart, on the same day as I visited the factory. A remarkably assorted collection of Mercédès-Benz cars, including examples front the early days right through to the latest 220 model, had journeyed in convoy from England to Stuttgart to be received by the Burgomeister of that town, and the club presented hint with a plaque of the coat of arms of Dover, with the greetings of the Burgomeister of the English seaport. The local populace were highly intrigued by this collection of British-owned Mercédès-Benz cars and found it hard to believe that they were still being used daily. As a good-will rally the journey of the British Mercédès-Benz Club is to be highly commended, but it seems unlikely that a German Bentley drivers’ club will ever reach sufficient proportions to be able to respond by visiting Derby!

* * *

In the far-off days of that period about which our Editor is so knowledgeable, the difference between a “sports car” and the normal vehicle that John Citizen drove about in was very great, so great that the average man found it hard to visualise driving a “sports car” of high potential. Over the passage of time and progress the private car has increased its potential and the “sports car” has become a slightly hotter version, and if, for example, you can rush about in a Mk. VII Jaguar, then an XK120 is easy meat, and there has been a tendency to consider “sports cars” as being very normal fare, but there has grown up the “sports/racing car,” and this is as far removed from your 100-m.p.h. family saloon as a Zagato Alfa-Romeo was from a “bull-nosed” Morris. This season I have been fortunate enough to have rides in the passenger seats of the H.W.M.-Jaguar with a Grand Prix-type chassis, a DB3S Aston Martin and a works A6G Maserati, and it was interesting to realise that they all have the same characteristics of “blood-and-thunder” motoring as had Monza Alfa-Romeos or Type 51 Bugattis of the past. In short, they are two-seater Grand Prix cars and the performance and handling of this type of modern “sports/racing car” is still just as far from the imagination of the driver of a 100-m.p.h. modern saloon as the equivalent of 25 years ago. A recent trip round the Pescara circuit in a works Maserati A6G with Moss at the wheel was one of those experiences that have to be sampled every now and then in order to keep a sense of proportion and to be able to justify being a reporter and critic of modern competition motoring. Unfortunately such opportunities are all too rare, and reporting and criticising all too frequent.

The Maserati was geared to do 130 m.p.h. yet would waffle along at 1,800 r.p.m. without any fuss, but once the revs. got beyond 3,000 the surge forward, coupled with a virtually straight-through exhaust system, was something to enthuse the most casual bystander. With its delightful close-ratio gearbox, there being only 1,000 r.p.m. difference between second and top, for the same road speed, and 300 r.p.m. between third and top, the whole car was Grand Prix stuff pure and simple, and its maximum of over 7,000 r.p.m. provided a performance that was nothing short of outstanding. Fast motoring such as this car provided on the open Italian roads, showed clearly how appreciative the public are of fast cars, for each village saw the pedestrians warning those beyond to stand back so that the Maserati could have a clear run, while approaching traffic went out of its way to pull over and give way to the vicious-looking scarlet “sports/racing car.” — D. S. J.