Continental Notes, September 1964

It would seem that the past month has, been “holiday time,” for most of my friends suddenly disappeared from their normal habitation; people I tried to telephone or call upon were invariably away, and always the words “on holiday” were used. I thought I might as well join in on this holiday lark, but when I made inquiries about “going on holiday” people kept saying, “but your life is one long holiday,” and I suppose they are right, for I find that most of the places that my friends had gone to for their holidays were places from which I had just returned! When life is pleasant and one long holiday then the only thing to do is to make a change, for that seems to be the definition of a holiday, “a change from normal routine.” I contrived to return to England and do some things that were different to my normal routine of Continental race reporting and motoring about Europe. However, before doing so I stopped off at Stuttgart and borrowed a 2-litre Carrera Porsche, the normal fully-equipped road-going one, not the competition 904 GTS, and spent a couple of days motoring about in it. This is the car with the four overhead camshaft engine, an air-cooled flat-4-cylinder, and it is remarkably flexible and docile for what is really a racing engine. You can potter around town in 1st or 2nd gear, or belt it down the autobahn at 100-120 m.p.h., as you wish, the engine being quite happy in either situation. The particular car I borrowed had a very willing engine and cruised at 100 m.p.h. with no effort at all, and showed 6,800 r.p.m. flat-out in top gear, which the speed charts showed to be 130 m.p.h., but whether true or not I did not have the opportunity to verify, but I know it was jolly fast. On the autobahn the car was a joy, having sufficient reserve of power at 100 m.p.h. to accelerate past possible traffic constrictions that I could see arising. I am a great believer in the saying “Accelerate, don’t brake,” and when travelling fast you often see the makings of a blockage ahead, providing you are concentrating on the traffic movements about one-half to three-quarters of a mile ahead of you, and by accelerating hard you can get by before the 60-m.p.h. travellers have got around to changing their direction. It is in these conditions, with a car that will still surge forward at 100 m.p.h., that fast cars are safer than slow ones. Of course, if you habitually cruise flat-out you are going to run into trouble sooner or later. At 5,500 r.p.m. in top gear the Porsche Carrera will soon get up to 6,200-6,400 r.p.m. when you push the small pedal right down. With disc brakes all round you can soon knock speed off if the occasion demands, and with Porsche ‘stability you can make sudden changes of direction at almost any speed you like. Although a very pleasant car there was something a bit odd about this particular Carrera, for normally you can drive a Porsche at over 100 m.p.h. with one finger resting on the steering wheel, but this one gave the feeling that it wanted both hands on the wheel at high speed, and on corners it gave the feeling of having rather high-geared steering, which made the car dodge about a bit. On one stretch of autobahn at over 125 m.p.h. it wandered very badly and I needed both lanes on my side to keep it on the road. I put this down to possible side winds or bad surface, though I felt that something was wrong, such as a broken shock-absorber or deflated tyre, but back at the factory nothing was found to be wrong. Porsche’s Competition Manager, von Hanstein, was rather perturbed by my findings and offered me his car to try; it was an exactly similar 2-litre Carrera except that it was running on German Dunlop SP tyres, whereas the unstable car was on German Firestone-Phoenix tyres. I had only just driven out of the factory in the second car when it all became clear to me, the Phoenix tyres were incapable of generating much in the way of slip-angles on the front wheels, hence the feeling of higher-geared steering and the difficulty of maintaining a steady course round a corner. The car on SP tyres produced the right amount of slip-angle on the front which produced a state of understeer and consequent stability round corners. Taking the second car out on to the same stretch of autobahn on which the first car had become unstable, I again did 125 m.p.h. but this time in the fast lane only, and not only could the car be driven with one finger on the steering wheel but it ran perfectly at that speed with both hands off the wheel. I then took it round the Solitude circuit and the cornering was different again, and without having made this comparison on two identical cars in a short space of time I would not have believed that tyres could be so critical at everyday speeds, as distinct from racing speeds. I returned von Hanstein’s 2-litre Carrera sure in the knowledge that Porsche cars are all right and that the Carrera is a very fast and tractable car. The interesting thing is that the 2-litre on the Phoenix tyres is a Press demonstrator and many people had borrowed it and returned it without complaint, while no-one on the factory staff had driven it more than into town and back. Perhaps some journalists and Porsche owners are insensitive, but I know which tyres I would avoid having on my Porsche, especially if I had a 2-litre Carrera.

Back in England, I went to Brands Hatch for the first practice session of the Guards Trophy for sports cars and GT Prototypes, and while some of the sports cars were very fast, they did seem to be an odd collection of “back-yard hot-rods” and rather pointless. The sports car as such is as dead as the Dodo in International long-distance racing, and it seems that only Britain and America are keeping it going, all the classic races having changed to GT Prototype specification. I tried the passenger seat of a Ferrari 330P rear-engined prototype and only just go in, while some of the so-called sports cars had reasonable passenger seats providing the passenger had no legs or feet! Looking at this collection of rear-engined machinery, I wondered why people. are going on with such absurdities and why they didn’t make proper single-seaters using the same power plants. These monstrosities that are sports cars only in name cannot run in any of the major classics, so why not have the smaller events such as the Guards Trophy, the Players Trophy, and so on, for Formule Libre and make Cooper-Oldsmobile, Lotus-Ford V8, Scarab-Chevrolet and so on, single-seaters on G.P. lines. Struggling on with these quasi-2-Seaters that are only sports cars by reason of the scrutineers’ interpretation of the specification seems a wasted effort, when pure racing cars with 400 b.h.p. in the back end would be so much more fun for everyone.

As I explained earlier, I returned to England for a holiday and was at Brands Hatch as an interested onlooker without pencil or notebook, and while watching these passenger-carrying vehicles going round I thought how much more interesting it would be to ride in the things than just standing and watching. Thanks to the kindness of Ronnie Hoare, the entrant of the Maranello Concessionaires’ 4-litre Prototype Ferrari, I was able to get Graham Hill to agree to take me for a few laps of the long circuit at Brands Hatch. As soon as practice finished, Nick Syrett of the B.R.S.C.C. gave us 10 minutes’ freedom, with the warning to watch out at Hawthorn Bend, where an Elva was being lifted out of the ditch. Graham Hill offered to put on a “demonstration” for me, lapping at two or three seconds under his normal speed, with lots of slides and opposite lock, but I told him that that was not what I wanted. I was interested in watching from close quarters what he did when lapping as fast as he could under normal practice conditions, -and we set off. In official practice he had turned in about 1 min. 43 sec. and now we did laps in 1 min. 45 sec., including taking Hawthorn Bend at about 60 m.p.h. on the inside, instead of 90 m.p.h. using all the road. For the rest of the circuit he was trying as hard as he could, and found that he was quicker and more stable round the left hand bend under the bridge where you join the new circuit, with me in the passenger seat, than when he was on his own. I have always maintained that Prototypes and GT cars should race with a passenger, and this proved the soundness of my reasons; after all, the cars are built as 2-seaters, so why not use them. Some people say that you would not find passengers, but I don’t agree, for I could produce half-a-dozen straight away, and I am sure that while we were circulating Brands Hatch there were many people in the spectators’ enclosures who would have “given their right arm” to have been in my place, and I don’t blame them.

As I said last month, Brands Hatch is an acrobatic circuit and those few laps with Graham Hill did nothing to alleviate the impression, for we were seldom pointing in a forwards direction and seemed to roll from one door handle to the other, while Hill was continually spinning the steering wheel from one lock to the other, our progress being a series of opposite-lock slides with the power well on. It was obvious that the passenger seat had not been used before at speed, for on the second lap the back mounting broke under the strain of right-hand cornering, and it was fortunate that I have not got large feet, for space was terribly restricted. The heat coming back from the radiators was fantastic, and with the very low seating position, high windscreen and high cockpit sides, there was no air coming in at all. My impressions of the car itself were the remarkable way that racing tyres stick to the road, especially the front ones, the ease with which oversteer could be induced by the driver, and the surprisingly smooth acceleration. I had expected the poke from 4-litres of V12 Ferrari to be impressive in the sprint style, but it was singularly unimpressive, the only indication of rapid acceleration being the way the tachometer rose to 7,000 r.p.m. in each gear. Hill had suggested wearing ear-plugs because of the noise, but I did not find the sound at all loud, but then I am slightly deaf from many years spent among loud noises! The Brands circuit was most unsuited to watching driver technique, for none of the corners are fast, nor do they allow the setting up of high-speed attitude angles, as do corners like Woodcote, at Silverstone or Madgwick at Goodwood, and we only touched 130 m.p.h. for fleeting moments but it was all great fun and I hope to organise further “educational runs” on more suitable circuits at a later date, with Jim Clark, Dan Gurney, Graham Hill, John Surtees, but not “Uncle Tom Cobley an’ all,” as I am rather choosey about my chauffeurs!

Continuing the condition of “change,” I rode my “girl’s sprint bicycle” in a kilometre sprint, but while ideally suited to ¼-mile sprints it runs out of breath on the kilometre, reaching a terminal velocity of about 105 m.p.h. and taking 27 sec. to get to the finish. At this meeting George Brown on “Super Nero,” the blown Vincent, clocked 18.90 sec, with a terminal speed of 176 m.p.h., and Bill Bragg on his supercharged 650-c.c. Triumph engined “special” averaged 104 m.p.h. for the standing kilometre, the first time that anyone in the sprint world in this country has averaged over 100 m.p.h. for the kilometre on a motorcycle of less than 1,000 c.c. While at this meeting I had the opportunity of a short trip up a test strip on “Satan,” a supercharged Vincent Special belonging to Ian Ashwell, and after riding such an accelerative device I am beginning to realise why I find the acceleration of a 2-litre Carrera Porsche or a 4-litre Ferrari prototype rather tame.

To continue this month of “change” I went down to Hamble, where people “mess about in boats,” and in particular there was a lot of “messin’ about” going on in preparation for the Daily Express Off-Shore Power Boat race from Cowes to Torquay. At the invitation of Keith Schellenberg, who is usually seen thundering round the Club circuits in vast Bentleys, I joined him for sea-trials on his power boat “Blue Moppie.” Having already finished second on two occasions in the Cowes-Torquay race, “Blue Moppie” is regarded as a bit of a vintage proposition, which is why Schellenberg loves her and goes on racing her against brand new opposition. The boat part is a fibreglass Bertram hull and the power part is provided by two Ford Galaxie V8 engines, tuned by Hollman and Moody, and looked after by Willments. Each engine is 7-litres and gives 325-330 b.h.p driving its own individual propeller, and in the rather spartan 25-ft. hull, they make “Blue Moppie” quite a fast boat. The first day was spent between Southampton Water and the Isle of Wight, doing some “running-in” on the engines, which had just been installed, and by the end of the day we were cruising at about 40 m.p.h. in fairly calm seas, which was all very pleasant, though fairly noisy for the Galaxies exhaust through four dirty great open exhaust pipes out of the rear of the boat, and the driving cockpit is a sort of bare platform right at the back, in slingshot-dragster style. Racing power boats are just like racing cars, and all the same problems and troubles occur, except that with a racing car you stop if anything goes wrong and get out and repair it. With a boat it is slightly different, for if it stops you are stuck with it and drift about helplessly. We were ambling down Southampton Water at 1,500 r.p.m. on both engines when they suddenly spat back and stopped, and there is nothing so helpless as a power-boat without any power. Water had got into the fuel lines, so while the two mechanics (car racing mechanics appropriately enough, and not boat mechanics) got the system flushed out, we drifted about helplessly. We got under way again and our only other trouble was later on at Cowes when we tried to take off from the quayside and the port engine refused to tick-over and kept stalling. With two propellers and a tiny little rudder that is only effective at speed, manoeuvring is done on the two engines. We got out into mid-river and with only one engine working all we could do was a series of fore and aft semi-circles to keep out of the way of shipping, while the recalcitrant engine was attended to. With a car you can push it into the side of the road, but it is a different story with a boat. I was most impressed by the tolerant attitude of other sea-going people as we floated about in midstream. Had we been in a car there would have been shouts and horn-blowing and the police would have arrived! Eventually all the teething troubles were overcome and the next day we went out for some serious trials, running at a steady 40-45 m.p.h. There was quite a wind blowing and the sea was pretty choppy, so that the further off-shore and round the Isle of Wight we went the more exciting things became. Running constantly at 3,000 r.p.m., the Galaxie engines pushed “Blue Moppie” through the water at 40-45 m.p.h. and as the waves got bigger so did our leaps and bounds, until we were bounding clear of the water every now and then, the engines picking up 500 r.p.m. as the screws came out of the water, and the punishment the fibreglass hull was taking was incredible. While the driver kept course with the wheel and the adjustable trim tabs, all the crew could do was to hold on tight and anticipate the shocks as the boat landed after each wave. Fortunately I am fairly resilient and flexible about the legs and arms, otherwise the jarring would have been spine-cracking. As it was there were times when the boat would leap off a wave and get out of phase with the next three or four, and then it was really exciting, with spray breaking over the windscreen and you just had to hang on and hope. We were nearly out of sight of land when the forward hatch broke loose, and as it was quite impossible to move about or even stand still without holding on with both hands, Schellenberg had to shut the engines down while one of the crew went and fixed the hatch. We hadn’t realised that the engines were getting wet from spray picked up from water in the bilges, due to one of the bilge pumps not operating, and while the engines were on power everything was fine, but as soon as they were shut down sparks leapt about in all the wrong places and both engines stopped. The port one would not restart and the starboard one would not even turn over, as the starter battery was nearly flat. In a car you can tow-start, or push it, or wind it on the handle, but in a boat it’s a different story, and as it came on to rain and the waves began to slop over the sides of the boat I began to wonder why I had left nice, safe, racing cars. While we had been battling and bounding our way through the waves I had thought about why I was enjoying it and decided that it was probably a masochistic question and that while it was exhilarating it was going to be so nice when it all stopped; but it had never occurred to me that it might come to a sudden stop out at sea! However, our long-suffering mechanics got things dried out and did some electrical juggling with what current we had and, apart from a minor fire on one engine, they got them both running again and we were soon back to our 45 m.p.h., thumping and crashing, leaping and bounding, spraysoaked enjoyment once more. If straight-line running was exciting, it was even more so when we covered part of the racecourse and turned round the marker buoys, for these fast boats understeer like sick camels and you cannot steer round waves or slow down to meet them, and to do a 180-degree turn through wind, waves and a running sea is one of the better thrills I have experienced. In calm seas power-boating is pretty tame, but when the wind gets up and the seas get choppy it becomes distinctly rugged, which makes it all the more fascinating.

“Blue Moppie” was finally sorted out and we went to scrutineering in readiness for the race, and I had the chance to look over some of the other competitors, and the engine rooms were fascinating. A number of boats had four Jaguar engines, one with 3.8-litre versions with Weber carburetters and all the tuning mods., but the best of all was the Italian boat with three 5.2-litre V8 Maserati engines, exactly as used in Maserati sports cars, with four camshafts, downdraught Webers, open exhausts, and over 400 b.h.p. each. The final touch on this boat was the Wood-rimmed Nardi steering wheel!

In the race itself, “Blue Moppie” was out of luck and could not repeat her second place for the third year running. This little taste of power-boats has whetted my appetite and I have a feeling that next year I shall be back at Cowes during August, but after the excitement and activity of my “holiday,” Grand Prix racing is going to seem rather a restful thing to watch.—D. S. J.