Les Vingt Quarte Heures du Mans, 1956

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Scotland wins economy race

Le Mans (Sarthe) July 29th.

The most outstanding thing about the 1956 Le Mans 24-hour race was the fact that it was run under an entirely new set of rules, and in consequence could not count towards the manufacturers’ championship. This meant that it had to stand on its own and rely on tradition for its success. Every year the Le Mans race is controlled by hundreds of regulations, mostly connected with the conduct of drivers and mechanics throughout the 24 hours, but this year some stringent new rules put a different aspect on the whole event before it began. Most important was the limitation of an engine capacity of 21/2-litres for cars that were experimental, while any cars over this capacity had to be standard production models. The first rule prodneed an interesting group of experimental machinery, while the second group contained a large number of regulation dodgers. Regulations are always worded to allow the greatest freedom of interpretation, and by “standard production” it was agreed that 50 such cars should have been made, laid down, or provision for making laid down. That delightful competition department phrase, “optional extras” as shown in the catalogue came in for a great deal of overtime during the entering of such cars as the team of factory Jaguars, with long-nose bodywork, special cylinder heads, fuel injection and experimental front brakes, while the Aston Martin DB3S cars, with 12-plug heads, disc brakes and new-type bodies stretched the meaning of the act to its limit. Apart from this normal routine of regulation dodging, which had been part of the lure of Le Mans since the very beginning, and is always accepted as part of the fun, there were two new rules which caused a lot of anguish. The first demanded a full-width screen and tonneau cover of flexible material, and the second insisted that no car could refuel before 34 laps had been covered, and also no subsequent refuelling could take place at intervals of less than 34 laps. Added to this was the real sting in the regulation, which was that 130 litres (approx. 29 gallons) was the maximum tank capacity allowed, and at fuel stops a maximum of 120 litres (approx 261/2 gallons) would be allowed. In simple words everyone had to do 34 laps on 120 litres of fuel, which worked out at approximately 11 mpg, with nothing to spare for emergencies, so most people aimed at a minimum of 12 mpg. Naturally the small cars were sitting pretty, while the Jaguars and Aston Martins, Ferraris and Talbots were doing plenty of worrying. The windscreen regulations were complied with in various ways, from the honest laminated shield and steel framework on the Sebring Frazer-Nash to minimum size sheets of bent perspex on some of the small cars. These screens brought their problems for some were arranged to let the drivers look over the top, turning the screen into a piece of regulation frontal area, and others were honest full-width screens which the driver had to look through and on these the screen-wipers really had to work. Many optimists expected wipers to operate on curved perspex and the result in the wet night was one of stark horror and danger for the drivers emitted by almost nil visibility. The works Jaguars had to detune their engines in order to get the fuel consumption required, and in practice one car had a piston collapse, presumably through weak mixture, while Aston Martins found extra economy but the loss of 400 rpm, by removing the air box around the Weber carburetters. The 2,5-litre Ferraris proved to be very economical and were able to richen up from their original mixture, and the Maserati-engined Talbots could see little hope of completing the first 34 laps on the fuel allowed, let alone subsequent distances. The standard Jaguar D-types were sitting fairly comfortably on fuel consumption, but were down on speed over the factory cars. Practice was limited to only two sessions, and most of the time was spent worrying over this consumption questien, so that though the track was much faster than last year, no one could make use of all their speed, everyone in fast cars having to feather-foot down the long Mulsanne straight and run as much as 1,000 rpm under the permissable maximum, pulling absurdly high top gears.

For interest of machinery the group of 21/2-litre prototypes provided fine entertainment, headed by the three Ferrari Testa Rosa models, with enlarged four-cylinder engines of 94 by 90 mm, driven by Hill/Simon, de Portago/Hamilton, and Trintignant/Gendebien. The star drivers of Ferrari, Fangio and Castellotti were both feeling ill after their visit to the damp climate of England, and Collins was under obligation to Aston Martin. Hamilton joined the Ferrari team as soon as he was fired from the Jaguar team, through disobeying orders at Reims. Aston Martin entered a worthy prototype machine, labelled the DBR1/250 to be driven by Parnell/Brooks, and this had an 83 by 76.8 mm version of thc DB3S engine fitted in a space-frame of small diameter tubing. Front suspension was normal Aston Martin practice, while de Dion was used at the rear with longitudinal torsion bars and a Watts link location for the de Dion tube. The rear axle and 5-speed gearbox were in unit, the gearbox shafts running transversely across the frame: input from the propshaft being by bevel gears. This gearbox/final drive unit was a massive affair, having its own oil-circulating pump, oil radiator and tank, the pump being mounted externally on the end of the gearbox mainshaft. Girling disc brakes were fitted all round, those at the rear being mounted at the hubs. The fuel tank occupied the rear of the tail, behind the axle assembly and the spare wheel lay flat above the axle. The whole car was much smaller and lower than the well-known DB3S and full marks go to Aston Martin for producing this interesting newcomer. Gordini entered two 21/2-litre prototypes, both having old-fashioned Gordini chassis, with ifs and rigid rear axles, one being fitted with a six-cylinder engine and the other with an eight cylinder, these being petrol-burning derivatives of his Grand Prix engines. The six-cylinder was driven by Manzon/Guichet, and the eight cylinder by Silva Ramos/Guelfi. Talbot entered two prototype 21/2-litres, being the chassis displayed last year at the Paris Salon, of simple double-tube construction with ifs and half-elliptic sprung rear axle, and to these were fitted 21/2-litre six-cylinder Maserati engines identical to the current Grand Prix engines. Attached to these engines were 4-speed gearboxes as used on the A6G sports Maseratis, and the drivers were Behra/Rosier, Lucas/Zehender. The 2-litre class contained Testa Rosa Ferraris driven by de Changy/Bianchi of the Equipe Belge, Meyrat/Tavano and Picard/Tappan, as well as the Stoop/Gaze Frazer-Nash. In the 11/2-litre class there were two factory Porsche RS1500 models, the type with space-frame and low pivot axle at the rear, and these were fitted with coupe tops and driven by Herrmann/Maglioli and von Frankenberg/von Trips. The Team Lotus entered a single 11/2-litre Climax-engined car, basically Mark XI, but with a wider cockpit to comply with the regulations, and the drivers were Chapman/Mackay-Frazer. From Cooper came a new Climax 1,100 with two-seater cockpit, right-hand steering and modified chassis frame with a single tube between driver and passenger, but much more a sports car than before. This was running under American colours, in the hands of Bentley/Hugus. The Tearn Lotus also entered two 1,100-cc Climax cars identical to the larger-engined car, and driven by Allison/Hall, and Bicknell/Jopp. For the rest of the 49 starters, the 750-cc class contained assorted Panhards and DBs, Renault Specials, and two Stanguellinis with independent suspension all round by wishbones and rubber bands.

The prototype race could be considered one part of the Le Mans race, the 11/2-litre class another part, the Index of Performance between the small cars a third part, and the ultimate winner from a fourth race between the large cars providing they could all cope with the fuel economy problem. The Jaguars, both factory and private, were easily the fastest cars on the course and though the two DB3S Aston Martins from the factory were driven by Moss/Collins, Salvadori/Walker there was little hope of them being able to go fast enough. The first pair ran with the air-box on the carburetters and kept their fingers crossed over fuel consumption, and the second pair played safe and suffered the 400 rpm rev drop. Providing the engines could stand the strain of weak mixtures, the 24 hours looked like proving a walk-over for the Jaguars, with Hawthom/Bueb, Frere/Titterington and Farman/Wharton as drivers, and as these were aided and abetted by Flockhart/Sanderson with the Ecurie Ecosse D-type, and Swaters/Rouselle with another D-type from the Equipe Belga, everyone sat back for a 24-hour Jaguar demonstration run, similar to the 12-hour demonstration at Reims earlier in the month.

As the traditional Le Mans run-and-jump start took place, rain was falling and it was Hawthorn who set the pace, way ahead of all the opposition. On the second lap the whole aspect of the race was altered, for Frere spun on entering the Esses, Fairman spun in avoiding him, and de Portago slid sideways into Fairman. Frere’s car was badly bent, Fairman struggled back to the pits where the chassis was found to be broken, and de Portago had his oil tank split and could not get farther than Whitehouse before the engine seized. In one fell swoop two possible winners were eliminated, and after only four laps Hawthorn came into the pits with a misfire. In less than 30 min the complete Jaguar team was in trouble, two cars eliminated and the third having trouble with the fuel injection system, which took over an hour to cure. This left the Ecurie Ecosse Jaguar to uphold Coventry honours and right nobly it did this, for by 5 pm it was in the lead and for the rest of the race it was a game of cat-and-mouse between Flockhart/Sanderson and Moss/Collins. While Flockhart was driving he was able to keep ahead of Moss and after 34 laps when Collins took over, the Aston Martin had made up ground on Sanderson, who took over the Jaguar. Then the next 34 laps saw the position reversed and the result was that the Scottish Jaguar had the race under its kilt, providing they played their cards wisely. With David Murray in charge of the time-keeping and Wilkie Wilkinson in charge of the pit stops, they could hardly go wrong. These two cars were the only ones in the race, though race was the wrong word, for the Jaguar lapped regularly with nearly 1,000 rpm in hand, while the Aston Martin was driven as hard as possible, with an eye on the fuel gauge. Some idea of the absurdity of the situation can be gained from the fact that after the first pit stop the Jaguar needed only 117 litres of fuel to fill the tank, while the Aston Martin did the last lap of its session on petrol vapour. In order to economise Moss and Collins were going into neutral long before the end of Mulsanne straight and coasting as much as possible, while on occasions they were tucking in behind the works Porsches down the straight and using their slip-stream to save fuel. They had no hope of beating the Jaguar, especially as the D-type had some fuel consumption and speed in reserve. Interest turned to pit stops, and the Scottish team excelled, while the Belgian team also dealt with their car in a very slick manner. The Aston Martin of Salvadori/Walker held a steady third place and then came Hill with the first 21/2-litre prototype, already driving without a clutch after only two hours of racing. By no stretch of imagination could the 1956 Le Mans race be considered exciting, for only the 11/2-litre and smaller cars were able to be driven anywhere near their limits, and the two Porsches proved masters of the 11/2-litre class, though not quick enough to beat the DB of Laureau/Armagnac in the Index Handicap.

The filthy weather made the circuit very treacherous, especially where it had been re-surfaced and on the white and yellow safety lines, which had become like strips of ice in the rain. An innovation which removed congestion from the pit area was the sighting of signalling pits just after leaving Mulsanne corner, these being coupled by field telephone to the main pits, so that drivers could take the finishing straight without the need to look for pit signals. This was a first-class arrangement and it worked perfectly throughout the 24 hours, reducing much of the chaos in the pit area, while the provision of new double-decker pits, with the lower ones for working and the upper ones for drinking, also made for greater safety around the pit area. Eventually the trouble on the number one Jaguar was cured and it began to run perfectly and from then on Hawthorn and Bueb drove really hard, doing their utmost to make up for the delay, but even though they lapped faster than anyone on the course there was no hope of them catching the leading cars. Throughout the night conditions were terrible, with rain and mist, and driving at all, let alone racing, was a nightmare, drivers coming off duty with their eyes extended on stalks, and soaked through. Just why the pneumonia rate does not rise at Le Mans time is unexplainable, and how drivers can take a quick two or three hours sleep and then go on again defies explanation. Drivers at Le Mans have a strange inward urge that makes them keep going the whole while the cars can be driven, and even when the mechanical parts let them down they somehow summon extra energy to push the wretched thing home for help.

For most of early Sunday morning the rain continued and then by 8 am the weather repented, the sun came out and the circuit dried, but for many this was too late. Either the engines had succumbed or the transmissions had given out, or the drivers made mistakes and crashed. Most of the way round the circuit there were wrecked cars, though happily only one accident proved fatal, that being to Frenchman Hery, whose Panhard went over the wall at Whitehouse, into the garden of that building. Lucas had crashed at the Esses, and later Stoop did the same thing, de Changy had a brake lock at Mulsanne and the Ferrari rolled itself over, Walker crashed just under the Dunlop bridge when the Aston Martin was lying fourth, a Panhard and a Stanguellini collided just after Whitehouse, Meyrat spun his Ferrari at the same place in the dark, and left it abandoned across the road and Glockler in a Porsche Carrera ran into it, both cars being demolished, a 750 cc Osca also rolled over at Whitehouse and was left abandoned in a nearby field, and so the list of runners was depleted. Added to this were mechanical failures, such as the broken rear axle on the Behra/Rosier Talbot, the gearbox on the experimental Aston Martin, a con-rod on the 1,500 cc Lotus, the clutch on the eight-cylinder Gordini and so on, while unluckiest of all was Allison, who hit a dog on the Mulsanne straight and retired with a ruined radiator and only a dead dog to show for all his efforts.

Of those still running the Cooper was running with only three brakes, a pipe having split and a repair effected by disconnecting it and flattening it, the 1,100 cc Lotus of Bicknell and Jopp was going well, but not quick enough to get anywhere on Index, the Monopole Panhards had succumbed, leaving a DB in command of the small cars, and all the while the dark blue Jaguar from Scotland was comfortably holding its lead, followed by Moss and Collins, unable to do anything about it. Only one Ferrari remained, that of Trintignant/Gendebien, the Hill/Simon car having broken its transmission. The 1956 Le Mans was proving to be a real endurance test and as each hour passed it was a question of which cars were still left running. Each time a count was made another one would be missing and finally by the time 4 pm was reached on Sunday afternoon there remained only 14 cars out of the 49 starters still running and care and economy had given victory to the Ecurie Ecosse.

Le Mans musings …

By its performance, once the injection trouble was overcome, the Hawthorn/Bueb Jaguar would have certainly won the race had it not been delayed at the pits.

The Ferrari drivers had to look through their perspex screens and this necessitated a large fiy-screen half-way along the bonnet ; this, however, caused terrible wind buffeting in the cockpit and the drivers broke them off at the pit stops, preferring a messy screen and a comfortable cockpit. The wipers merely made the mess even messier.

Chapman fitted his 1,500 cc car with an MGA gearbox, a normal BMC B-type unit, but even this gave way under the torque strain of the Climax unit. When the big-end bolt broke, designer Harry Munday shook his head sadly, for he had warned Climax about enlarging the 1,100 cc unit before he left the firm. The 1.100 cc Cooper and 1,100 cc Climax finished almost within sight of one another after 24 hours ; just like a British club meeting.

The factory Porsches had the coupe tops screwed on to the tail of the normal Rennsport body, which is in turn bolted to the chassis. The only access to the engine compartment is through tiny panels in each side which allow removal of jets and plugs. Supreme confidence ? The Maglioli/Herrmann car spoilt this demonstration by dropping a head off a valve to the detriment of the accompanying piston. In practice this car had jumped out of third gear and the rev-counter indicated 8,900 rpm, so maybe the damage was started then.

The factory Talbot-Maseratis looked enormous by comparison with other 21/2-litres. It seemed that smallness is unknown at Suresnes.

The DBR1/250 Aston Martin ruined one transmission in practice and the spare one in the race. For sheer noise this sports car would stand well in a Grand Prix. It was undoubtedly the 1956 Le Mans noise.

Chapman’s team of three Lotus-Climax cars deserve full marks for the excellence of their turnout ; a credit by any standards.

Once more Hamilton failed to do any driving for the Ferrari team, as did Wharton.

Wisest decision of all was made by the Scuderia Maserati who did not enter the 24-hour Le Mans race as it was not in the World Championship series, It gave their racing department a much needed breather.

The XK140 coupe of Bolton/Walsham was quietly minding its own business and keeping out of the way, only to be disqualified for refuelling after 33 laps instead of 34 laps.

Biggest menace during pit stops are photographers and film makers. On more than one occasion mechanics were delayed by these people being in the way, Aston Martin actually suffering from British photographers being in the way.

Unusual to see a 300SL blow up. The Einsiedel/Metternich car disappeared making horrid noises from its engine.

The Bourillot/Perroud Maserati 150S actually lasted 24 hours, but maybe because clutch slip was limiting them to 6,000 rpm.

Le Mans was still Le Mans, but this year it was not a great Le Mans; it had a mediocre air about it.

Singer OC.

Due to recent changes on the Committee of the Singer Owners’ Club the Hon Secretary is now Miss ME Green of Derek Mead, Derek Road, Maidenhead, Berkshire. All enquiries regarding the Club should in future be sent to Miss Green.

Foldex

Well known for their ingenious but practical approach towards improved maps for motorists and other tourists, Foldex Ltd, of 45 Mitchell Street, London, EC1, have recently introduced “Cellographic” maps. These are maps with a brilliant shiny surface on both sides. They are practically indestructible given normal usage, outlast paper or lined examples and can easily be kept clean. A “Chinagraph” pencil can be supplied with each map so that notes and information such as routes, inns, restaurants and favourite bye-ways can be marked on the surface and any such temporary information can later be removed by merely wiping off. Available for Great Britain and foreign countries, “Cellographic” maps are priced at approximately 1s 6d per section with a board cover and 17s 6d with leather cover. Chinagraph pencils are 1s 6d.—IG

Acoustol Oils Ltd

Since the end of the first world war the Merseyside firm of VL Farthing & Co Ltd, has been connected with the sale of special lubricants marketed under the brand name “Acoustol.” A completely separate company has now been formed, due to rapidly increasing sales, under the name Acoustol Oils Ltd, 327-329 Tower Building, Liverpool 3.

A sample of Acoustol VSA, a special blend of 100 per cent Pennsylvanian oils for all-year-round sports car use, was tried by Motor Sport. This oil is specially designed for use in high performance cars, when it retains its body at abnormally high temperatures, yet remains free flowing when cold. When in use, the oil temperature readings appeared normal, but a distinct improvement was felt when starting from cold, the engine fired promptly and only a very short warming-up period was required before driving off at moderate speed at normal oil pressure. Priced at 12s 6d per gallon for the Special and 15s for the VSA (20/30) for high-speed work. Supplied in varying grades, these oils deserve some investigation on the part of the discerning motorist.—IG.

Bently DC Silverstone (August 4th)

Bentleys of all shapes, sizes and ages were to be seen at the recent Club meeting at Silverstone. In the morning unkind weather prevailed for the sprints, but later in the day more amenable conditions presented themselves for the handicap events.

MD Hollis performed well with his 3-litre model in the sprints. The later handicap races included Lagonda and Aston Martin cars as guests and special events were included for them. Patsy Burt again tried hard with her DB2-4, but DV Greaves made the most of his handicap in his Le Mans Aston Martin and so won this Aston Martin handicap.

Hero of the Vintage Car Handicap was MJ Harris in the diminutive Ulster Austin Seven, which performed splendidly, but JA Walker in a 41/2-litre Bentley was somewhat speedier as the last lap came up. LS Michael, in the 1936 Team Lagonda, won the All-Comers Handicap Race.

Buckingham and District MC.

Forthcoming events organised by this Club are as follows : September 2nd, “Hors D’Oeuvre” (130 mile rally) ; September 27th, Club Dance. October 7th, Skid Pan. October 25th. Film Show. Particulars of this enterprising Club from MW Hawksby, The Swan Inn, Great Elmwood, Bucks.

Brands Hatch (August 6th)

Vintage, Veteran and Grand Prix cars were to be seen in between showers of rain at Brands Hatch on August Bank Holiday Monday. New lap records were set up by J Brabham (Cooper) in the Formula Libre event with 74.90 mph, and R Bicknell (Lotus-Climax) in the Sports-Car Class with 73.66 mph.

Roy Salvadori cracked two ribs when he ran into a marshal’s post, but he later went on to win the Formula II event in the new Monoposto Cooper. Ivor Bueb took the honours by coming in first in the Formula III second heat by beating George Wicken. Mike Hawthorn won the Television Trophy for sports cars with the experimental large bore Lotus-Climax.

Sir Francis Samuelson, a regular competitor in Brands Hatch Edwardian events, won the Veteran and Edwardian Handicap in his 1914 TT Sunbeam, so vanquishing Laurence Pomeroy’s Vauxhall.

Berwick and District MC Border Rally (October 14th)

The character of this event remains the same as in previous years, ie, hoping to find the winner on the road, using only one test in case of ties, the organisers each year have managed to increase the number of entries; last year there were about 55 starters. To bring the timekeeping on to an efficient basis as possible, one will find Gibson Rally Clocks (as used in this year’s RAC Rally) at all controls.

Awards remain the same —£20 to the outright winner and £5 to each class winner, plus three trophies.

The total distance is approximately 200 miles, starting at Berwick-on-Tweed at 8.31 am and finishing at Kelso (Roxburghshire) at 4 pm.

MCC National Rally (November 8th-10th)

In general, the Rally will follow last year’s lines, ie, starting points from Manchester, Kenilworth, London, Bathpool (near Taunton), Cardiff, Glasgow and Norwich, all converging on Harrogate and thence by a new route through the North of England, the Lake District and Wales to the finish at Hastings.

Competitors will start on Thursday morning, November 8th, and reach Hastings on Saturday morning, November 10th.

There will be several tests en route, as well as at the finish.

Total distance will be approximately 1,200 miles, to be covered in 48 hours, including stops for meals.

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