Continental Notes, September 1961

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THIS season Grand Prix races have been so full of interest and excitement that reports have tended to over-run the Editorial limits and in consequence Continental Notes has had to be omitted. It has been purely this limitation on space that has curtailed these notes, and not a limitation on activities, for the faithful Porsche, even after well over 150,000 miles, continues to be flogged around Europe in preference to continual aeroplane travel. Flitting from one country to another by jet plane is certainly easy and swift for it takes less time from Milan to London by Caravelle than it takes these days to cross the Alps by Porsche. In the last three years the volume of traffic in Europe has multiplied enormously, and whereas one used to look forward to crossing the Gotthard Pass or the Mont Cenis because there was often the chance of a dice with a Giulietta or a Lancia, nowadays one sits in a nose-to-tail queue of English, German, Dutch, Belgian, Swedish or Danish tourists, all fearful of using full throttle, the gearbox or the steering wheel. This, of course, is at the height of the summer and on the popular routes at normal hours; with a bit of planning it is easy to avoid these useless queues and still enjoy mountain motoring, but such diversions are not recommended with heavily laden saloons, steering-column gear-changes or under-powered, over-bodied vehicles like so many that come from Britain, Germany, France, Sweden or Italy. As a friend said recently, “I used to think that the English had a monopoly on making had cars, but now no-one has a monopoly.”

Mention of jet airlines recalls an interesting afternoon in the hot sun at Orly airport watching a line of jet planes take off for far places, and with them leaving in quick succession it made good comparisons to watch the length of runway needed to become airborne and the angle of ascent on full power. One after another, as if at an International sprint meeting, British Comet, American Boeing 707 and Douglas DC8, French Caravelle and Russian TU104 all went soaring into the sky, the Douglas giving by far the most impressive take-off to an unenlightened spectator. But once airborne you miss all the interesting things on the ground, and miss the pleasant meetings on the open road with other travellers from the racing circus. Only a few hours after leaving the Paris airport I caught up with the Brabham transporter and had a pleasant wayside drink with Tim Wall, his mechanic, and then we both joined the Lewis team, from H & L Motors, with their transporter, all of us on our way to a Belgian race. On another occasion, while turning out of a side-street in Liége I saw Moss go by in his Facel-Vega and luckily he was not in a hurry, so I was able to catch him up and have a short chat before continuing in convoy until our ways diverged. In Southern France while cruising quietly along, an enthusiastically-driven Sunbeam Rapier overtook me and the occupants waved a copy of a well-known Monthly Motoring Magazine with a green cover, while in Italy one dark night I was drifting along looking for somewhere to pull off the road when a Ferrari drew up alongside and von Trips hooted and waved, so that we went on in convoy until an eating place came in sight. These casual meetings while motoring about Europe are always pleasant and make the journeys all the more enjoyable. Others involve unknown enthusiasts who delight in a little “dust up” such as the Frenchman in the 404 Peugeot and the Dutchmen in their DS19 who started a 85-m.p.h. dice for the last 30 miles into Le Mans this year, so that I arrived bright and early, or the B.M.W. 700 coupé that I followed at an honest 80 m.p.h. on a German autobahn, and later that day cruised in close company at 90-100 m.p.h. with a G.T. Maserati.

There is seldom a dull moment while driving around Europe, and if there is then I can always call in at one of the permanent tracks, such as Montlhéry, Monza, or Nurburgring, where something is sure to be happening. On one such visit to the French track I found that Alfa Romeo were just starting a publicity tour of France with a team of Giuliettas, to give demonstration runs in various towns, and to promote sales. Knowing the organiser, I was allowed to make some 100-m.p.h. laps of the banked track in a 5-speed Sprint Speciale Giulietta, which was great fun. Down in Sicily, before the Targa Florio, I was fortunate enough to be able to take a lap of the fantastic 44-mile circuit with Graham Hill in a prototype Porsche Carrera. This had a 2-litre version of the famous 4-cam engine, which was remarkably smooth, with lots of torque and the car was fitted with Porsche disc brakes as well as other small modifications, and it is on such occasions, when driven by a racing driver in a car you know well, that you can see the true potential of the vehicle, its road-holding being beyond that which I should ever be brave enough to want to use, while the gearbox and gear-change was such that Hill purred with delight as he snicked from 2nd to 3rd, back to 2nd, down to 1st and then up through 2nd and 3rd again as we whistled round the mountains. Although strictly experimental when we went out in this 2-litre Carrera, it now seems likely that it will be in production before the end of the year.

At the recent Solitude Grand Prix the scene was enlivened by a motorcycle race which included some of the latest Honda racing motorcycles from Japan. In the two-wheeled racing world the entry into International racing by the Japanese Honda factory, with a flood of machines they lend to the best riders irrespective of nationality, has been the highlight of the last two years, and whereas last year the 250-c.c. Hondas were merely a threat, this year they have swept the board. Riders like Hailwood, Hartle, McIntyre, Redman and Phillis just had to have these fantastic 250-c.c. machines or else they would not be in the running. It is as if Ferrari were to suddenly make a batch of rear-engined 120-degree Formula One cars and offer them out on loan. If Moss, Brabham, Surtees and company did not take them they would be left behind by those that did. There are no secrets with the Honda people as regards the machines being raced, unlike some European car-racing teams, for their technical and design staff say freely that what is being raced today will be out-of-date by tomorrow. Their secrets are all in the experimental department in Tokyo, not in the paddock, which is a philosophy adopted by the technical chaps at Daimler-Benz in 1954/55 and one that is refreshing for it means that they intend to continue doing development work and not go on racing the same machinery year after year without much change.

At Solitude there was ample opportunity to look closely at the racing Hondas and there were many Grand Prix drivers taking a keen interest in the mechanical side of these Japanese racing motorcycles. One reason was the power unit, which is developing a higher b.h.p./litre figure than ever before obtained by an unsupercharged engine, and another was the fact that these engines run to r.p.m. unheard of in motor racing. These Hondas are of 250-c.c., or 1/4 litre, and have four cylinders which are in line and mounted across the frame, similar to the layout used by Benelli, N.S.U., Gilera and M.V. on their racing motorcycles in the past; many people look at this feature and make derogatory remarks about Japanese copying, but that is futile, for if in the car world someone builds a V8 engine you might as well say they are copying Ford, Lincoln, Chrysler, Daimler, Mercedes-Benz or many others, even Rolls-Royce. In motorcycle racing design the Honda layout is what can now be called “classical,” which is a transverse 4-cylinder with two overhead camshafts, in unit construction with the gearbox and with final drive by chain. The cycle parts are equally along classic lines, with telescopic forks and swinging-arm rear suspension controlled by coil-spring/damper units. What is outstanding on the Honda is that the engine reverts to a basic principle of engine design used successfully by Ricardo on the 3-litre T.T. Vauxhalls of 1922, which Amhurst Villiers later developed to remarkable limits by supercharging; by Rudge-Whitworth on their 500-c.c. racing motorcycle engines in 1930, many of which can still challenge modern racing engines even today in 1/4 mile sprint events; and by Maserati on their 1939 4-cylinder, later to be developed into the famous 4CLT/48. This is the use of four valves per cylinder, two inlet and two exhaust, in a pent-roof cylinder head. Such a layout on a 4-cylinder 250-c.c. engine means that the valves, springs, collets, etc., are fantastically light so that the valve gear imposes no inertia-load limits on engine revolutions, as it does in most engines. Consequently these 4-cylinder racing Honda engines develop their peak power at 13,500 r.p.m. and can be run as high as 15,000 r.p.m. without showing any signs of stress. That in itself is a metallurgical achievement, but on top of this they produce remarkable b.h.p. figures. The Honda people do not make any horsepower claims, being like Rolls-Royce in making it obvious that it is “enough,” but co-relating racing performances of these motorcycles with those of other machines indicates that they must have the power output of a good European 350-c.c. racing engine such as Norton or A.J.S., which means a minimum of 40 b.h.p. and a maximum of 44 b.h.p., so that I am prepared to accept that the Honda will give 42 b.h.p. at 13,500 r.p.m. This represents 168 b.h.p./litre. To give a sense of proportion this means that if the same power figure could be multiplied upwards a 1.5-litre Formula One Honda engine would give 252 b.h.p.! Now it is a well-known fact that doubling the size of an engine does not double the power output, but even allowing for this it would not be unreasonable to expect 220 b.h.p. from a 1.5-litre Honda engine, all other things being equal, and it would probably need 16 cylinders. As we know well a 1.5 litre 16-cylinder engine is not out of the question, for there is a fine example in the Montagu Motor Museum, to wit, the supercharged B.R.M. of 1949-52. Coventry-Climax have about 170 b.h.p. from their V8-cylinder 1.5-litre, B.R.M. probably 175 b.h.p. and Ferrari nearly 190 b.h.p., so that a V16 Honda Formula One engine would be most interesting.

By Grand Prix car engine standards this Honda is outstanding but by Grand Prix motorcycle engine standards it is normal and logical development for back in 1957 Gilera had 124 b.h.p./litre, which is what Ferrari develops today with his 120-degree V6 engine. After Gilera gave up racing M.V.-Agusta continued the development of the 4-cylinder racing motorcycle engine and reached as high as 140 b.h.p./litre, so that Honda’s 168 b.h.p./litre in 1961 is very reasonable. It is because of these facts and figures that I suggested in 1958 that the 1961-64 Formula One for Grand Prix racing would not be so awful as some people predicted, and I said that by the end of the first season 200 b.h.p. from a 1.5-litre racing engine should be the aim of designers. If the Honda Motor Cycle Company were to enter Grand Prix racing next year, which is most unlikely, we could assume they would have 210 b.h.p. to start with and that they might well develop it to 220 b.h.p. or more in one season. Already rumours are going round that they intend to build a Grand Prix car and the best one was that they had bought a Cooper, a Ferrari, and a Porsche, all Formula One models, to study and copy. I can see Cooper selling them a car, but Ferrari and Porsche …, we are likely to see Fangio back in racing before that happens.

Shortly after the Solitude Grand Prix I was able to continue the study of Honda activities from a more practical angle, for C. T. Atkins, who enters the Cooper that Bruce McLaren races when the factory do not run, lent me his production sports Honda 250-c.c. motorcycle. Honda have not joined in International racing for fun, they are out for business, and that means selling motorcycles on the strength of the fame gained by their racing victories, and if ever a justification for a big factory to run a racing team was needed, then the Honda company is a fine example. The 250-c.c. Honda which Tommy Atkins lent me for 200 miles or more was a standard production, fully equipped, road-going sports machine, but it was obviously built with racing knowledge. The engine was a vertical twin-cylinder, like a Norton, B.S.A., Triumph, Royal Enfield, etc., but had a single overhead camshaft operating two valves per cylinder, using twin carburetters. Outstanding was its smoothness and the fact that the rev.-counter had a red line at 9,000 r.p.m., but as the machine was still a bit new I was asked to keep it down to 8,000 r.p.m. in the gears and 7,000 r.p.m. in top, which was just over 80 m.p.h. Honda’s claim a maximum speed of nearly 95 m.p.h., which seems very reasonable. The 4-speed gearbox was excellent, though 2nd and 3rd were a bit wide apart, but 3rd and top were superb, while the engine really began to work at 5,000 r.p.m. The 4-cylinder racing engines have little power, by racing standards, under 12,000 r.p.m. so a 6-speed gearbox is essential. The engine of the production Honda twin was remarkable enough, it ticked over quietly at 1,000 r.p.m. and was fitted with an electric dyno-starter, there being a kick-starter for emergency use. However, even more outstanding was the road-holding, suspension and cornering of this Japanese production sports model. Having learnt to ride on a Norton, and then gone through Velocette, Scott, all models of later Nortons, Vincent, B.M.W. and so on, to my present M.V.-Agusta, I reckon to have a good idea of high standards of road-holding where motorcycles are concerned, and I can say quite simply that the production Honda is very good indeed, regardless of ifs and buts. In the car world, if you have driven Ferrari, Maserati, Lotus, Mercedes-Benz, Lancia, Citroën, Porsche, etc., you don’t have to be told about good handling properties in a production machine; it is the same with motorcycles.

I have dealt at length with the activities of the Honda Company of Tokyo because this is the first impact of modern Japan in our world, the Japanese influence and effect on the photographic world, the business world, general engineering and so on are long established, but their intervention in European racing is something nearer home. They may well be looking at Grand Prix racing, but only if they have production cars of similar character to sell afterwards, for like Daimler-Benz and Alfa Romeo, they are not racing for sport or amusement. Finally, I would point out that not all Japanese efforts are as successful as Honda, for two other Japanese firms have been racing motorcycles in Europe these last two years. They are Susuki and Yamaha, but we have heard little about them for they have been comparative failures, so, because something comes from the East it does not necessarily mean it is good, nor does it mean any longer that it is a copy of something European. At one time that may have been true but I am sure that it no longer holds good. Certain Japanese firms have finished copying, they have no need, for they are now ahead. 

Returning to the world of motor cars once again, it is nice to know that enthusiasm for preserving motoring history is gaining ground all over Europe. At the Le Mans 24-Hour race there was a nearly inaugurated museum of old motor cars which included some remarkable makes of which I had never previously heard, let alone seen, while outside in temporary buildings were some exhibits on loan. Some of these were recent enough for many people to remember having seen in action, but must have been intriguing to very young enthusiasts. There was a beautifully preserved 1923 Rolland-Pillain 8-cylinder Grand Prix car which I knew about but had no idea that one still existed, and one of Amedee Gordini’s first Simca-Gordini built around Fiat 500 parts; then there was Rosier’s 4.5-litre Grand Prix Talbot, and a drophead coupé 4.5-litre V12 Delahaye from 1939, which mechanically was a type that tried to challenge Mercedes-Benz, and Auto-Union before the war. There were many others, including the most advanced-looking Leon-Bolee saloons, made in Le Mans and claimed to be 1912.

Everywhere you go nowadays there are museums and collections and whereas here in England we use old vehicles for races and rallies, in Europe such vehicles are kept as museum pieces, with occasional outings for demonstrations. Calling in at Daimler-Benz recently I saw a party of visitors watching a demonstration by an early Benz with Daimler engine, using hot-tube ignition, it being allowed out of the factory museum as it was a special occasion. The Daimler-Benz museum is one of the finest and well worth a visit any time one is near Stuttgart, the racing section alone containing enough material to keep the enthusiast goggling for weeks. This is the top floor of the three-storey building and is the pride and joy of Alfred Neubauer, the famous Mercedes-Benz team-manager, who is now retired but visits the factory occasionally to work on historical projects and the museum. While there I was lucky enough to have him show me around and when I queried why the 1922 Targa Florio Mercedes-Benz was red, while all the other racing cars were silver he explained that it was an idea he had had. It being just after the 1914-18 war he thought the Sicilians might be hostile to Germans–they were hostile enough to Italians anyway–and that if the Mercedes-Benz cars were red the peasants would think they were Alfa Romeos or Fiats and not throw rocks at them. This probably gave rise to the legends about later Mille Miglia races where it was said that any car that was not red would invariably find level-crossings closed or hay-carts on the road. I know from personal experience that this is not true, having done the Mille Miglia in a green car and a silver one, and knowing the Italian people’s enthusiasm for racing I always looked upon this British-inspired legend as a slight on the Italians, whose enthusiasm is the greatest I know. After the happenings at the recent British Empire Trophy meeting at Silverstone I would say that such an idea sounds more like “British Sportsmanship” than “Italian Partisanship.” However, I don’t doubt that in 1922 in Sicily it was true, but in 1955 if the Sicilian peasants had not pushed the Moss/Collins silver Mercedes-Benz 300SLR back onto the road from the field into which Moss had spun, it would never have won that race.

To return to museums, the Porsche factory have an interesting nucleus containing among other things the truly remarkable 4-wheel-drive Grand Prix car that Ferry Porsche designed for Piero Dusio and his Cisitalia factory and which was built in Turin in 1947. It is full of interesting design features, such as rear-wheel drive only, or 4-wheel drive, controllable by the driver, flat 12-cylinder engine of 1.5-litres with enormous Centric superchargers, 5-speed gearbox, all the weight within the wheelbase, rear-engine mounting, neutral-steer characteristics, i.f.s. and also independent rear suspension with wishbone characteristics when everyone was using de Dion or swing-axle layouts. The frame was a tubular space-frame, steering by rack-and-pinion, and fuel tanks were on each side of the cockpit; this was in 1947, and from a design viewpoint the 1961 Ferrari 120-degree Grand Prix car has a very similar appearance. In 1948, before the car was ever raced, the Cisitalia factory went bankrupt and Dusio went to the Argentine where he interested a firm in the car, and they tried to race it once but then gave up. It lay about the place and got filthy and rusty and was finally abandoned, and last year the Porsche factory bought it and shipped it back to Stuttgart. There the Porsche apprentices dismantled it completely and rebuilt it and before going into the museum it was started up and driven round the factory grounds. If you ever visit the Mercedes-Benz museum you should then go to Zuffenhausen, north-west of Stuttgart, to the Porsche factory and see this remarkable essay in racing-car design, which is outstanding even today. Had the war not begun in 1939 it is certain that Grand Prix racing in 1941-42 would have been for 1.5-litre supercharged cars and this Cisitalia is undoubtedly what old Dr. Ferdinand Porsche would have designed for Auto-Union, to combat the 1939 Mercedes-Benz 1.5-litre V8. That such monuments of racing-car design, whether successful or not, are being preserved is a fine thing, and Ferrari recently rebuilt two of his 1960 Formula One cars, the 2.5-litre V6 Dino 246 models, one for the Turin museum and the other for the Indianapolis museum. It is regrettable that he did not preserve one of the D50 Lancia V8 cars, although he has kept examples of the engines, for Enzo Ferrari is more interested in racing engines than anything else and in his “private museum” at Maranello he has a remarkable collection, including his last supercharged one, the 1.5-litre V12, with two-stage blowers and four o.h.c., built in 1950. Indeed museums are fascinating places in which to spend time between Grand Prix races.—D. S. J.

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