The silent threat in pitlane

Vintage Veerings

With the approach of summer the demand for good vintage cars will presumably rise and, as there are few experiences so fascinating to youthful enthusiasts as running through the small ads, and setting out to seek a bargain, may Old Father Ed. offer some advice on the subject ?

In the first place, do not be misled by the argument that today's cost of living bears no relation to that of 1939 into paying absurdly high prices for old machinery. Remember that the counter-argument has to do with the equally true fact that a vintage car is at least 23 years old and, unless rebuilt (ask  to see bills !), has obviously depreciated quite a bit during that time, whether in use or standing in a shed.

Whether to buy from a dealer or privately is a debatable point. The former has stock for inspection but has overheads to meet and must make a profit; the private seller will have only one car to sell but you may get it for less money. Once bought, generally, a guarantee is not likely to be of much value (there may be exceptions)  so insist on a trial run long enough to thoroughly warm the oil   --  few cars should show less than 8 lb./sq. in, pressure when hot. Take the log book with you when you leave, having checked all numbers therein with those on the vehicle.

Beware of traders who deal from private premises if they pretend to be private owners, and do not be misled by dealers who advertise a big selection of cars but have few in their showrooms. As to prices, I am informed that these will rise a bit until the middle of the summer and then come slumping down to a level lower than has been reached this winter, which was pretty low  --  and that it is in order to offer in the region of half the advertised price by today's standards!

The R.A.C  and A. A. can arrange engineer's examinations of cars but common-sense must otherwise prevail. Remember that wear in bores is one of the most depressing of motor ailments, along with any maladies which will necessitate stripping the entire engine  --  unless you seek a bargain from this standpoint, intending in any case to strip and rebuild before use.

Dates of cars often make a big difference to value and the one-make organisations will often tell a prospective purchaser useful things under this heading, including how to discover the correct year of manufacture. If you buy the specimen concerned, it is then a decent gesture to join the club or register which helped you!  

Generally, the young and inexperienced should go for a car rough externally if sound mechanically, instead of vice versa, but experience suggests that cars advertised as "body needs attention" can be a shocking sight  --  and body repairs are amongst the most difficult and expensive of all. Worn king-pins and bushes can be replaced  --  if replacements are available  --  more easily than a run bearing in the engine. Tyre wear can tell you a lot about the condition of brakes and steering  --  and tyres which look new in photographs can be found to be dubious retreads on inspection. Safety-glass is essential in windscreens and nearly always has a trademark near one corner. After trying for play in the steering, look at wear on control pedals, rock the front wheels from the top, test components-drives for "play" and jack up a back wheel with a cog engaged to feel for free movement in the transmission, continuing to use common-sense while doing all these revealing things. Ask the vendor, "Do you guarantee such and such speed, this m.p.g., that consumption of oil?"  and look him straight in the eyes as he replies!  You will probably still be caught but it will ease your conscience later. Don't jump to the conclusion that a vendor is a good fellow because he has a car groaning under a load of the best club badges  --  they often collect them off cars which pass through the emporium into one glorious display,

However, there is little on paper that will guide you. Take an experienced enthusiast along with you if you can. It can certainly be a thrill looking through hundreds of small advertisements for cars which sound intriguing, and going off to see them for the first few days after the first of each month.  I shall have my fingers crossed for you.

Definitions of some advertising slogans...

"Only wants seeing "   --   Make sure this applies to the car and not to the price ticket.

"Late property of a nobleman"   --   How late ?  It may have been handed down and down and used by the under-gardener's boy for the past five years.

"Winner of 19- -  Grand Prix"  --   Racing cars, correctly designed, should last the distance of the race only, then fall to pieces. The vendor may excuse himself thus if you find it is almost in pieces, of course.

"Absolutely perfect throughout"  --   ln other words, better than a brand new Silver Ghost Rolls-Royce.

"A gift"  --   This probably refers more specifically to your cheque than to the vendor's car.

"Sell or break for spares"  --   If you buy it, you will save him the trouble.


The V.S.C.C. Pomeroy Trophy Contest, designed to discover the best all-round over-2-litre touring car amongst the entries, which this year ranged from the venerable 1908 G.P. Itala and Sears' 1914 T.T. Sunbeam, to modern saloons, was won by John Vessey's 1927 Lancia Lambda. He started off well by being very brisk in the test involving driving over a wet Silvestone runway through a series of  "wiggles." Poor Pomeroy, who devises the contest had a failure of the "Prince Henry" Vauxhall's clutch plate mechanism and was unable to continue, nor was a Hotchkiss allowed to do the Hour High-Speed Trial because its windscreen, fitted by a well-known coachbuilder, was found to be of toughened glass. The high-speed part did not mean much to an onlooker because cars had only to maintain stipulated speeds, but Dr. Ewen obviously enjoyed driving the 1908 Itala and did the entire lap in top cog, disposing of L. S. Richards' Speed Twenty Alvis which had its screen folded flat. A 3-1/2-litre Bentley saloon cornered very effectively, the car looking as if it knew what was expected of it so unexpectedly, but E. N. Whiteaway's Railton saloon, also fast, went to earth on one occasion. T. B. Webb's 30/98 Vauxhall was notably quick. Gibson-Jarvie's Fiat Forty tourer merely sedate, and no one broke down.


We took an A30 Austin to Silverstone because we wanted to use its radio to listen to the University Boat Race and the Grand National. But we knew this to be a rash undertaking and, sure enough, great persuasion was required to prevent carnivorous vintagents from dismantling certain parts or placing the wee thing on its roof, while Cecil Clutton wore a resplendent buttonhole badge most of the day which, we assumed, represented some very high office, until we discovered it to have come from the middle of the A30's steering wheel! The results follow  --  congratulations, Vessey.  --  W.B.

Pomeroy Trophy:  J. G. Vessey (1927 Lancia Lambda),  457 points.

First-Class Awards:  Webb (Vauxhall),  E. Sears (1914 T.T. Sunbeam), and Richards (Alvis).

Second-Class Awards:  P. Binns  (30/98 Vauxhall) and C.W.P Hampton (Monza Alfa Romeo).


Loyalties will need to be divided on May 2nd, when the B. A. R.C. has its second 1953 Members' Meeting at Goodwood and the V.S.C.C, its first 1953 Silverstone Race Meeting. Vintagents who wish to support the latter must get tickets beforehand, which means today if you haven't them already, from a V.S.C.C. member. The meeting commences at 12.15 p.m. and includes the One-Hour High-Speed Trial with "Le Mans" start, handicap races for vintage and non-vintage cars which count towards the Motor Sport  Clubs Trophy and cash prizes, a handicap for vintage light cars, and the G.P. Itala Trophy Race over 10 laps for vintage racing cars. Roll up ! It  sounds like a very fine day's sport, amid the right sort of exhaust notes.

It’s still a place where you need to have your wits about you, but time was when a Formula 1 pitlane was a very dangerous place to be. After the utterly disastrous San Marino Grand Prix weekend in 1994 a whole raft of changes, to both technical and sporting regulations, was introduced, and one of these had nothing to do with the fatal accidents to Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger.

Late in the race at Imola Michele Alboreto’s Minardi (below) shed a wheel as it accelerated out of pitlane, and several mechanics were injured. When Max Mosley announced the forthcoming changes, in Monaco two weeks later, one of them was that henceforth there should be a speed limit in the pitlane.


It may be argued that this detracted from the drama of pitstops, and certainly it was an almighty experience to be close at hand for a ‘full speed’ stop, but if I have sometimes railed against changes made in the interests of safety – like ‘safety car’ rolling starts whenever the day is wet, for example – I never had any problems in accepting a pitlane speed limit. Yes, it’s true that at first it seemed almost comical to watch a car crawl towards its pit, there to be set upon by a horde of mechanics working like dervishes, only for it then to crawl away again. The effect was similar to playing with fast-forward on a remote, but we soon got used to it, and eventually the practice was embraced by every major racing series on earth.

Watch a pre-94 pitstop now, and it’s hard to take in that it could ever have been like that: harder still to believe that it didn’t cost a lot of lives over time.

Back in 1981 I was in the pits during a morning practice session at the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder, and witnessed something that I wish I had not. The old pitlane at Zolder was ludicrously narrow, and as I watched Carlos Reutemann (below) coming towards me, slowly – this was only practice remember – making his way out, so I also saw someone fall backwards from the pitwall, right into the path of the Williams.


There was not a thing Reutemann could do, and the sight of his car literally bouncing into the air has not surprisingly stayed with me. There was nothing to be done. The young Osella mechanic, who had stepped backwards into nowhere, died immediately.

Only a few days later I was at Indianapolis, walking down the pitlane at the end of Carburation Day, the traditional final practice session before the 500. Believing everyone to be back in the pits, I was strolling along – my back to the entry to pitlane – when something literally brushed my leg, nicking my trousers and leaving the minutest of nicks in my right calf. It was the blue Lightning-Cosworth of Gary Bettenhausen (below), the last man to come off the track, and as he turned into pitlane he cut the engine, and was thus still travelling in complete silence – and still at huge speed.

The biggest things to hit Brands

Gary Bettenhausen (McLaren-Offenhauser) in the 1974 USAC Indycar Series

Truck racing was once described as being "like driving a block of flats from the sixth floor". If you think that sounds intimidating, try watching 20 of these machines hammer through Paddock Hill Bend. It sticks in the mind, to put it mildly... The Delphi British Truck Championship provides some of the most entertaining and downright scary racing in the UK, and the 2011 season starts on March 26/27 with two rounds at Brands Hatch. The sport began in Europe over two decades ago and now has a large following. It's not hard to see why: each truck weighs a minimum of 5500kg, has a 12-litre diesel engine pouring out over 900bhp and an eye-watering 3000Nm of torque, and accelerates faster than a Porsche 911 to 100mph. The trucks are limited to that speed, but they hit it with ease before the pitwall starts at Brands. It's billed as a non-contact sport because of the sheer momentum the trucks build up. But as you can imagine with a heady mix of up to 20 trucks on track at once and a group of drivers who want to win at all costs, it doesn't always come across as 'non-contact'. In fact, some of the incidents during races make the BTCC's stars look like the cast of Pride and Prejudice out for a Sunday picnic. Stuart Oliver has been the man to beat over the past decade, winning 10 British titles and one European crown, and he shows no signs of letting up. Will he dominate again? Get yourself to Brands Hatch to find out. You'll be blown away. Delphi British Truck tickets cost from £17 for adults with free entry for children under 13. For details call 0843 453 90W or visit www.brandshatch.cduk

It was entirely my own fault – I simply wasn’t paying enough attention – but even now, 30 years on, I can still recall the fear of that instant. Nothing else in my life has come close to it.

Now, in the interests of ‘being seen to be green’, the proposal from the FIA is that from 2014, when the new more environmentally-friendly V6 turbo engines arrive, cars should run on ‘electric power’ only when running the pits.

The idea apparently came originally from Max Mosley, who owned a Toyota Prius and was much into this sort of thing – indeed it was he who, looking to the F1 of the future, seriously asked me if I thought ‘the noise’ was important to race fans.

I said yes, I did – emphatically – think so, indeed suggested that to F1 aficionados the sound of a car was probably as important as the sight of it. Max seemed surprised by my response – for him, he said, the noise rather got in the way of the commentary. Clearly, there was to be no meeting of minds on this.

At the time, of course, we were talking about cars out on the track racing, and it may well be – some time, I hope, after I have ceased to care – that Grand Prix cars will be all-electric, still proceeding with great speed but in total silence.

In the shorter term comes this proposal that they be all-electric in the pitlane, and – short of speed bumps – I cannot conceive of anything more asinine. For a sport these days literally obsessed with safety, could there be a more potentially hazardous introduction?

As is so often the way with blinkered change, it stems in essence from political correctness, from fear of being judged, of being thought out of step. If cars negotiate their way through pitlane in total silence, the mandatory speed limit will make little difference – Reutemann was doing maybe 10mph when he hit the Italian lad.

Bernie Ecclestone, not surprisingly, is one who passionately believes that the sound of motor racing is vital to its survival, and nowhere more so than in the pits. Bernie has rightly condemned this FIA plan for 2014, and I hope they have the common sense to take note. It’s an absurdity, and a criminally dangerous one at that.

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