Continental notes, September 1956

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For many years now it has been a popular misconception that the top Grand Prix drivers handle their cars in impeccable fashion, always placing the wheels to within fractions of inches of the edge of the road, or skimming their hub caps past walls so close that it is difficult to see daylight between them. When a top Grand Prix driver is going fast yet in his own time, then this is fairly true and last year when Fangio and Moss gave innumerable demonstration runs with the Mercedes-Benz cars we had some excellent opportunities to watch this precision. Today. however, things are quite different, for both these drivers, and indeed all the others, are having to try much harder, especially in practice periods for Grand Prix races, with the result that some of the apparent polish has gone from their driving. With all the Grand Prix cars being of much nearer equality the top drivers have to pinch fractions of seconds wherever they can and it is a common thing to see them putting a front wheel across the edge of the grass, and often a back wheel us well. At Nurburgring it is most instructive to go round the cicuit after a big race when all the top drivers have been there, for the edges of that track are lined by small grass banks about six inches high and where the tyres have been rubbing the bank the grass has gone leaving the bare earth exposed. Studying this gives a first impression of how a real racing driver uses every available inch ot the road, and through a series of bends you can see the marks made by the sides of the tyres first on one side of the road and then on the other as the driver takes all the bends with as little deflection from the straight line as possible. On other corners that have a peculiar tightening-up effect, or climbing or falling characteristic and call for a special line through them. This bank rubbing gives an excellent illustration of the exact line taken by the masters of our sport. During practice for the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa there was a similar opportunity to watch the top boys really trying and see how they took a front wheel across the corner, raising a small cloud of dust and stones. Whereas at Monaco this sort of thing resulted in a buckled wheel or white marks on the tyres, for there the edges of the circuit are not soft. At first sight this business of putting a wheel over the edge look untidy, but after a few laps and studying at different corners you realise that it is on occasions like this that the real masters are displaying their art to its utmost. On a given corner with a limit of say 100 mph, when they look polished and smooth, going to within an inch of the edge with consistency, then they are probably taking the corner at 95 mph. When record laps begin to appear and they put the front wheel over the edge, making the dust and stones fly, then the chances are that they are goiug at 105 mph. The real skill comes on subsequent laps when you see they are going over the limit exactly the same amount each time and in exactly the same place each time, all at a higher speed than when they were looking polished. When you then see a slow driver cutting the edge of the corner the chances are that you will notice he is a different amount over the edge each lap, and more often than not at a slightly different place each lap.

Watch the top drivers when they are out for a lap record, or are making up time and you will see that the outward and easily seeable polish has disappeared, but closer scrutiny will reveal that a far greater skill is being displayed, even though it may look untidy to the casual eye. It is easy to be untidy, but difficult to be consistently untidy and in the same way it is easy to drive at nine-tenths of the limit of adhesion but very difficult to drive on a wavy line fluctuating on both sides of the limit. It is when the top drivers are playing around the edge of the limit that their driving techniques are well worth watching. To see Fangio, Moss, Hawthorn, Behra, Scott-Brown, Castellotti and the rest going over the limit and then regaining control, and doing this two or three times in one corner, is to see real artistry at work. To see Joe Soap going over the limit is to see an accident in the making, and that is a very easy thing to see.

In the car world there is a special sort of jargon for talking motor racing, but in the motor-cycle world this jargon is much more extensive, and I think much more expressive, so that among motorcyclists it is possible to describe very accurately any situation that exists by using their own special language, some of which has passed down through the years, other expressions being made up to suit the occasion. A good example is the description of a man cornering on a racing motor-cycle; if he leans over at a reasonable angle, thus taking the corner at a fair speed he is considered to be “trying”, if he goes a bit faster and the footrest nearly touches the ground then the condition is described as “having the bicycle down on the footrest”. The next stage is where he is going faster than is possible so that the footrest seems to have disappeared into the ground and his head and shoulders are getting close to the ground, and this is described as “laying it over on his ear”, and the subsequent development of this is the delightfully simple observation that the rider is “ear-holing” which is then transformed into “earoling,” which indicates that Fangio and the boys are driving over the limit of adhesion and using all their skill to bring the car back onto the adhesion limit.

Another expressive remark is when a rider a taking a corner with the twist-grip throttle wound fully open, for the bicycle is considered to be “on full noise” and then if the next man closes the throttle just a fraction, he is considered to have “rolled the top off.” Other expressions describe different riders’ temperaments and especially their mental attitudes when racing. The sort of rider who will try as hard as possible from the fall of the flag. even though his rivals may have faster mechines, is considered to be “tigering”, this being developed from the appearance of a wild tiger who will come out fighting against overwhelming odds. In the Grand Prix World there are many first-class drivers who simply refuse to “tiger,” and equally there are many who are never happier than when they are, notably Schell and Scott-Brown, while the. World Champion himself is one of the greatest “tigers” in the game. Recently I had occasion to watch a racing motor-cycle going by at very high speeds and I remarked that it was going very fast. A well-known factory rider replied, “Oh aye, its on its way”. I could not have wished for a more simple and accurate description of the impression I had gained. Such gems are perfect in their application and sum up in simple, yet special, language exactly what is happening, though who originates such remarks or thinks up special words for the vocabulary of jargon, no one really knows, it is all a pleasantly combined effort of a relatively small group of people with an overwhelming passion for the-sport of racing, whether with cars or motor cycles. Amongst what might be termed super-enthusiasts this jargon becomes natural conversation, the joy being that the lay-public or luke-warm enthusiast has little idea of what it is all about.

Recently I was cruising at close on 90 mph along a German Autobahn when I had that interesting experience of realising that I was gaining nothing on the car in front of me. After a few more miles and some traffic checks I closed up to find, to my chagrin, that it was a family four-seater saloon Borgward Isabella TS. As we accelerated away up to our high cruising speed again I was rather horrified to discover that my lovely little I,500-cc Porsche coupe was not really making very much impression on the rather bulbous 1,500-cc four-seater saloon until we arrived at the Borgward’s maximum which appeared to be about 92 mph. This caused me to think, and with a friend who was accompanying me we fell to discussing the outstanding cars of 1956, not so much from the point of view of brand new designs, but of developments of existing designs. The Borgward TS was obviously high in our list, for outwardly it resembles the normal Isabella saloon, the 1,500 TS insignia on the back being about the only way of recognising the car. The sort or cars we discussed were those that had taken a great stride forward, as distinct from sideways, in technical development without changing the basic design, and those which had been done by the parent factory and put into full production. We were not including “souped up” models by private owners, for some of the improvements made on Ford productions by outsiders are truly phenomenal. What we discussed were the steps forward made by the parent firm’s own design and development engineers, and with very little hesitation we awarded our diploma to Alfa-Romeo for producing the Giulietta Sprint Veloce version of the normal Giulietta Sprint. Externally the SV resembles the Sprint, the engine capacity is unchanged, the suspension layout is identical and so on, but the way the SV goes is out of all proportion to its tiny 1,300-cc engine. Race performances this year by the Sprint Veloce in private hands have been outstanding and it can happily take on cars of almost twice the engine capacity. There has been no magic about the development work, merely a sound basic design being improved to give nearly 90 bhp in production form and roadholding and steering of the highest possible order. Alfa-Romeo may not be competing in races any more, but the technical staff are not asleep and the way they have produced the SV to monopolise the small Gran Turismo class has been a real eye-opener. Trying hard to defend the name of Porsche in this conversation I had to admit that in the 1,300-cc category the Stuttgart car was a thing of the past, but it was agreed that the Carrera Porsche was a worthy step forward in the 11/2-litre category. Outwardly a normal pushrod-engined Porsche and a Carrera, with its four-camshaft Spyder-type engine, are identical, so here was another good example of the type of development work on a sound basic design, that we thought counted as outstanding for 1956. In a different category but on the same lines we put the Renault Dauphine, for using many of the fundamental design features of the 4 cv Renault the Billancourt firm have made a wonderful step forward with the new model. To Fiat we awarded a small prize for the sheer brilliance of turning the 600 model into the Multipla, which can take six people on 600 cc, and for the subsequent commercial version with a van body that carries untold quantities of goods.

This discussion turned into a most amusing game of thinking up examples and then defending them against the other person’s onslaught of reasons why it was not considered progress in development forwards. We discussed many examples, such as the A90 Austin-engined Healey, the XK120 development programme until the XK140 and the C-type to the D-type, the Mercedes-Benz 300 to 300S and 300SL, and many others, some of which we decided would have been better to have been left alone and some that progressed violently backwards when the research and development department got their hands on a basic design. It was an amusing pastime and an instructive one and when we finally left the Autobahn we were still convinced that Alfa-Romeo had produced the “plum” of 1956, but also that the Borgward TS is an embarrassing motor car to come up against when in your own idea of a fast car.– DSJ.