Letter from Europe

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[By means of which the Continental Correspondent, while he is motoring aboard keeps in touch with the Editor.]

Dear W. B.,

As you know I took a few weeks off from European travelling and sidetracked to the United States of America with the JW Automotive Gulf Oil team, to see the Watkins Glen 6-hour sports-car race and the Can-Am race on the following day. The sports-car race was first class and followed on some good long-distance races in Europe, with a battle between Porsche and Ferrari. The Can-Am race was a hug joke and had the sports-car people not supported it, finishing 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th, it would have been a bad joke. I cannot take any Chevrolet V8 engine very seriously, especially when it masquerades as a racing engine, and 200 miles se3emed more than enough for most of them. The Porsches and Ferraris that finished a row behind the lone McLaren-Chevrolet had done the 6-hour race that day before.

Spending some of my off-Europe time in England I took the opportunity of seeing how the ordinary non-professional racing enthusiast enjoys himself, by having a look at a hill-climb was fascinating, with a number of 4-wheel-drive specials that really do step off the mark very smartly, and to watch them accelerating between grass banks and trees on a narrow, cambered driveway was very exciting. The Autocross was held on a dry, dusty field on a hillside, like a miniature version of the Osterreichring at Zeltweg and provided enormous uninhibited fun for a lot of people in cars ranging from ordinary Minis to homebuilt specials. The Vintage meeting was pleasant because no two cars were the same, and there was an ever-changing scene of interesting motor cars to look at, and everyone was enjoying themselves just “messing about with motor cars”. It was interesting that at these three very varied meetings, each with its own following, there were a large proportion of MOTOR SPORT readers, indicating that we cater for all tastes, and at all three meetings caustic moments were passed about the GPDA and its activities regarding the Nürburgring and safety precautions in general the hill-climb a competitor, who is a doctor, summed it up by saying: “Those top Grand Prix drivers are earning so much money these days that they can’t afford to take the risk of having an accident”. He then got into his Brabham-Ford and diced through the tree-lined swerves to the top of the hill just for the fun of it.

I am now back in Europe and am writing this almost form the top of Europe, for I am sitting in the sun on the top of the Grossglockner Pass, on my way to Zeltweg. It’s fascinating to think that a hill-climb used to be held up this mountain and people drove Grand Prix cars up into the snow-line. Were they mad, irresponsible, speed-crazy fools, or were they enjoying life? It was all quite simple then, the Grossglockner Pass was the challenge and you either accepted it and tried to make fastest time, or you did not bother to enter. The first time I raced up a mountain the golden rule of racing was put to one side; it was always reckoned that no matter what situation you got yourself into you never abandoned ship, for things might turn for the better and you could carry on with the race. One look at the Mont Ventoux mountain road and it was agreed that if we were sideways-on we baled out, before everything went over the edge. An old-fashioned outlook on racing I suppose, but to me that was what racing was all about; if we did not like the conditions we went somewhere else, and left them to those who were prepared to accept them.

Having time in hand I avoided the direct route down the German Autobahns and toured through the by-ways of Alsace, pausing to watch a fascinating scene in a small village on the edge of the Rhine. A large helicopter of the French Army was circling a church tower on the top of which was a modernistic long thin spire with a weather-cock on the top. The cock was lying on its side, presumably bent by a high wind, or something, and the helicopter then made a pass over the spire and a man appeared from inside, being lowered down on a rope. While the pilot of the “whirly-bird” hovered top-dead-centre on the spire, the man was lowered down and he fixed two ropes to the bend weather-vane, meanwhile two indignant storks flew away from the inside the tower, the noise and wind being incredible. Having fixed the ropes, the man was winched up nit to helicopter, which then rose vertically and lifted the weather-vane out of its three-foot long socket and flew away with it dangling underneath. Most of the villagers were out watching this splendid performance and they all trooped off to the field where the helicopter lowered the weather-vane and then landed. I would dearly like to have seen the mended weather vane replaced, for though it would be like the classic instruction book says, “to replace reverse the procedure”, I’m sure it would have been a bit more difficult than that.

I find road signs are always interesting and continually passing from one country to another the detail changes are fascinating, for though there is a certain amount of International conformity, there are different ways of saying the same thing. On one of the motorways near London there is a fork, with a large warning sign before it gelling you where the left fork goes and where the right fork goes, and underneath is the rather formal order “GET IN LANE”. In Germany there are similar situations but the order says “BITTE EINORDNEN”, or more precisely “PLEASE BE IN ONE ORDER”. The French tend to follow an order with “IF YOU PLEASE”. A fairly universal sign for an airport is a plan view of a modern jet air-liner, such as a Trident, which looks like a pointer and I am pleased to see that those heading towards London Airport have the silhouette pointing in the direction you are supposed to be going. Many European countries put the silhouette vertical at all times, even if the signboard points left or right, wo that when you are looking for an airport while driving in heavy traffic and only get a glimpse of the word AEROPORT of FLUGHAVEN you tend to follow the way the silhouette is pointing, and vertical means straight-on in any language. When there is absolute International uniformity of road signs life will be rather dull I suppose. Signs to Autobahns in Germany are blue with white letters, in Italy the Autostrada signs are green with white letters; in most countries traffic lights have red at the top, Spain has red at the bottom. It all adds to the fun of motoring, though to listen to some people and to read others you would think that it was anti-social to enjoy motoring and look upon it as fun. Which reminds me, there haven’t been any funny books on motoring recently, it’s all serious stuff these days, no-one seems to enjoy life and motor cars like Neville Lloyd, Athos, Fougasse or Red Daniels, all of whom saw a funny side to every motoring incident. I must admit that when I look about me in heavy traffic I do not see many drivers enjoying themselves, though this morning I saw a German post-man in a yellow VW who was one of us, and he knew the roads perfectly.

Today if you want to see a racing driver out of a racing car you best bet is to go to an International Airport or scrutinise the hertz and Avis hire cars, so it was pleasant to see recently two drivers using personal cars on the way to a race. One was Ickx in a rorty Mustang Mach I, with slatted read window, tail spoiler and 7-litre V8 engine and the other was Rodriguez in a 911S Porsche with a Mexico plate on the tail. My white E type Jaguar roadster is still performing splendidly and in the summer sunshine is marvellous; I cannot think what possessed me to use closed coupés for so long. Quite unconsciously, I find I now cruise on the autobahns at just under 100 m.p.h. with the top down, whereas I used to cruise the old red coupé at just over 100 m.p.h. It is all a matter of noise and wind-buffeting being at a comfortable level. It the mountains there is no comparison, and I find closed cars now have a claustrophobic effect on me.

Yours D. S. J.

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