The early motor races were contested over the ruler-straight Routes Nationale of France, and for a good reason. Firstly, the French received the emergence of the horseless-carriage as a practical means of transport with more understanding and far fewer restrictions than those it was plagued with elsewhere, particularly in England. Secondly, the pioneers were faced with the task of making carriages drawn by mechanical means (instead of behind horses or other suitable animals) prove that they could, in fact, represent an effective replacement.
For this reason their primary concerns were making the new vehicles run with a modicum of reliability and safety and then to show that these auto cars, automobiles, motor cars, as they were variously called, were able to cover a reasonable amount of ground and at far higher speeds than animal-propelled carts and carriages were capable of doing.
Thus, the best means of both proving these matters to a sceptical public and of improving the design and construction of the motor car itself, was accomplished by organising races, which were thus generally well supported by those who saw a big commercial future for the motor car and by those who, liking these new exhilaratingly fast vehicles from the sporting viewpoint, realised how essential it was for them to prove themselves, so that authority would not frown on them.
Because these rapidly grew larger, more powerful, and therefore faster, they made it plain that the horse had met its match and that even express trains might soon be unable to match the performance of these new petrol-burning motor vehicles.
The first proper motor race, contested in 1895, was the Paris-Bordeaux-Paris race, but the Paris-Madrid race of 1903 which was stopped at Bordeaux by order of an irate Government because of the many accidents which occured, mandating that all future contests be held over until properly policed closed roads could be organised. But these were still public roads fenced off and guarded for the purpose, usually triangular circuits of considerable length. This continued to be the norm up to and even after World War 1. The result was that cars were raced, and thus demonstrated, under normal road-going conditions, having to contend with hills, conventional corners, cambered road surfaces, dust and other natural hazards of the kind encountered by travellers.
As time moved on, it became logical to institute classes for the various-sized vehicles that were entered for these exciting contests of speed and endurance, and eventually to impose certain restrictions on the engineering factors of the motor cars that were soon being specially constructed for racing purposes. From primitive things that were decidedly experimental and, in fact, mere horseless-carriages, they quickly became fast, then very fast, decently reliable and controllable by the standards of their time. For this reason, those long-ago, courageously fought motor races of the pre-1915 period were exciting to watch, and important to analyse after they had been run off.
The Paris-Rouen Trials
The cars that contested them, from the earliest Panhard & Levassor to the 4½
-litre overhead-camshaft Mercedes which put up an all-conquering 1-2-3 victory in the 1914 French Grand Prix
(to the consternation of the French on the eve of war), are historically interesting, and the handful that survived and have since been restored to running order are beautiful machines to own and drive. Before the first full-scale motor race was run in 1895 there had been the important Paris-Rouen Trials of 1894. The best performance in these was made by a De Dion steamer which was able to carry six persons. This was really a steam tractor and, although it headed the finishers, which comprised thirteen petrol cars and seven more steam vehicles, it was not given a prize.
The important cars at the time were the Peugeots, which had Panhard & Levassor engines which were hung at the back of a low chassis frame made of hollow steel tubing, through which the cooling water circulated. Final drive was by side chains but the whole conception of the carriage was crude, to later eyes, with wheels of different sizes front and back, although some did have wire-type spokes, and steering
by a lever atop a vertical column, as was then customary.
The 1894 Panhard & Levassor cars had already set the fashion others were ultimately to follow, in mounting their engines at the front of the frame. The engine itself in these cars was a V-type Daimler motor, the larger of the two sizes used being of 75mm bore x 140 mm stroke. This power unit, which had its two cylinders angled at fifteen degrees from the vertical, developed about 3½
hp at 750 rpm. Ignition was by the prevailing hot-tube, obviating electrics, and a surface carburettor was used, although the Panhard engineers already had a float-feed carburettor on the stocks, which was fitted to one of their Paris-Rouen entries.
The drive from the V-twin engine went through a double-cone clutch to a gear chest which gave three, or in some models four, forward speeds, it being notable that these gears were not always enclosed in any form of casing. Reverse was obtained by keying one of two gears to an intermediate shaft, from which the final stages of the transmission consisted of single-or double chains.
The short-wheelbase, high-perched Panhard was controlled by a left-hand steering
lever that was said to transmit jolts from every stone or rut encountered by the front wheels. The driver had quite a handful to contend with, as the throttle and governor controls were before him and with his right hand he worked the levers for changing gear, reversing and applying the side brakes. There were also the usual pedals, and foot and hand brakes
were interconnected with the clutch. Radius rods tensioned the driving chains.
Thus, the first-ever competition cars! They had low-power governed engines with unpredictable carburation, and ignition at the whim of the wind, which could snuff out the burners on which the platinum hot-tubes relied. They were terrible to steer, and gear-shifting was a difficult accomplishment. But at least they pointed the way to better, and certainly far faster cars to come, and were just about practical, which cannot be said of those Paris-Rouen entries which proclaimed motive power achieved by gravity, hydraulics, compressed-air, multiple levers, pendulums or just the weight of the passengers.
The 'Phonix' Engine
Most successful of the 1894 primitives, the Peugeot, covered the 781-mile course at an average speed of 11½
mph. By the year 1895, when the first real motor race took place between Paris and Bordeaux, Panhard & Levassor had progressed further. They had their own engine, which they called the 'Phonix', a vertical twin-cylinder power unit. Still a very crude, short-wheelbase machine, nevertheless, the advent of the ever-more powerful engine must be recognised.
This successful 1895 Panhard & Levassor had solid rubber tyres
and retained hot-tube ignition, although as it had its engine at the front the burner was less affected by the wind than those of the Peugeots, with their low-hung rear-placed engines close to the draught and the dust. The Panhard's steering
gear was still direct-acting and reversible, thus calling for great strength and continual concentration. The winning Panhard & Levassor weighed 604 kgm; and its engine developed some 4 hp at 500 rpm, from cylinders of 80 x 120mm, which was sufficient to give it a maximum speed of 18½
The gears were now enclosed to protect them against dust and road grit. It is interesting that at this stage of automobile development, although the pneumatic tire for racing had made its appearance, it was very unreliable and it was the solid rubber tire , as used on the 1895 winning Panhard & Levassor, which ruled supreme, superior to the iron tyres
which were employed on some of the competing vehicles. Ever-more-lusty power units were the hallmark of these early motor races. The four-cylinder 8hp Panhard & Levassor engine had appeared in that 1895 Paris-Bordeaux event and when this type of race was repeated the following year it was just such a car that proved victorious, averaging 14 mph over 1062 miles of decidedly indifferent roads, for the race was not only out of Paris to Marseilles but the competitors had to return to Paris.
The monster racing car already in evidence as early as 1896, because in those days of insipid little cars of 3½
to 4 hp, an eight-horsepower Panhard was indeed a monster. Yet, exciting as such giant racers seemed to the public of the late 19th century, it must be remembered that they relied on crude brakes, a spoon on the back tyres
supplemented by a contracting band on a drum on the transmission; that after dark they had to rely on candle-lamps for illumination of the tree-lined unlit roads they raced over, and that suction-opened automatic inlet valves
were as commonplace as the solid tyres, tiller-steering and tube-ignition.
Yet, it was these great town-to-town contests that were forcing the pace of design and evolution, both of racing cars and ordinary automobiles and were also making the name of Panhard & Levassor
famous and France the premier country among the car-building nations. From that time onwards, it was a case of increasing the size of engines to force more speed from these wooden-framed, cart-sprung racing bolides. Engines ran at virtually a fixed speed, so increasing the rate of crankshaft revolution, as was done later to obtain a gain in power, was out of the question. Instead, cylinders were made ever larger, the old adage that there is no substitute for cubic inches being very much to the fore, and big gilled-tube radiators were used to cool these enormous engines.
So much was this the case that by 1898, classes for the different-sized cars that were entered for races had been instituted. Starting with motor cycles of less than 100 kgm and then those two-wheelers of over 100 but weighing not over 200 kg, the cars were divided into those of 200 to 400 kgm and those which turned the scales or tipped the weighbridge at over 400 kgm. That year the 8hp Panhard & Levassor had wheel-steering, its 50mm 120mm four-cylinder engine making it a very fast car by the leisurely standards of the day. Electric coil ignition was taken up by Panhard, following the Peugeot fashion, and the power race continued. Mors
stole the advantage from Panhard and by 1901 progress had dictated that equal-sized wheels he used at both ends of these racing cars.
The 1900 Course du Catalogue
Racing recommenced in February 1900 with the Course du Catalogue which was sub-divided on a chassis/price basis and which Girador dominated on a big Panhard. The season was one fought out between Panhard and Mors, until things changed with the advent of the first race for the Gordon Bennett cup. This trophy had been donated by Mr James Gordon Bennett, Paris-based proprietor of the New York Herald, maybe with the idea of getting America into motor racing and breaking the hold which France had established. The races were team affairs between the National Automobile Clubs, who had to choose their own teams of drivers and cars. They held eliminating contests for this purpose but much bickering resulted. The route of each race had to be of not under 550 km and the event was to be given its baptism in France on 14 June 1900.
A course was found from Paris to Lyons, via Orleans, Nevers and Roanne. No very severe mechanical restrictions were imposed, perhaps because Mr Bennett was not an automobilist, but two side-by-side seats, occupied throughout the race, were insisted on and the minimum empty weight of each competing car had to be over 400kg. As this was a nation-against-nation contest, national colours for the cars emerged, blue for France, white for Germany, red for America (which in later years became the Italian colour) and yellow for Belgium.
At first, this novel race did not attract much enthusiasm but it is an important motor racing landmark in the period 1900 - 1905. The first race could boast only five runners: three four-cylinder 5.5-Iitre chain-drive Panhard & Levassor's representing France, a Snoeck-Bolide from Belgium, that had a 10.6-litre engine with four cylinders horizontally opposed and final drive by belt and chain, and from America an antiquated single-cylinder Wilton with a piston
stroke of 177.8mm, driven by chain. The 24hp Panhards had little difficulty in preserving their status, although Baron de Knyff retired, having lost top gear as well as hitting several stray dogs, many of which were run over along the route, Charron came in the winner at 38.6mph, and second place went to Giradot's Panhard at 33.4mph.
The American and Belgian entries both retired, so there were only two finishers. However, the race was not entirely lacking in drama. Charron hit a big St Bernard dog, which jammed the car's steering, causing the Panhard to career across the road, over a ditch, through a gap between two trees and across a field, where upon it regained the road by taking another gap in the trees, ending up facing the wrong way, but everything held well enough together for Charron to take the coveted Gordon Bennett cup. Giradot was likewise not without trouble, swering to avoid a horse near Orleans his steering
had also been damaged.
That was motor racing over the open roads of 1900. Because of the small entry and comparative public disinterest in the 1900 Gordon Bennett race, the AC de France decided to take steps to improve the situation before the 1901 contest was due to be run. As victors the previous year, the French had, under the rules, to host the race. The great Paris-Toulouse-Paris event of the previous year, in which Levegh's 24hp Mors had won at 40.2 mph for the 837 miles, had made the Gordon Bennett look rather anaemic. To give it more of the big-time appearance in 1901, it was to be combined with the race from Paris to Bordeaux. Alas, it did not work out that way. The complete race of 327 miles had the usual good entry and was won by Fournier on a powerful 60hp Mors.
This completed the course in 6 hours 12 minutes 44 seconds, an average speed of 53 mph, staving off the might of the 40hp Panhards, which came home in the next five positions, Maurice Farman's averaging exactly 49 mph; the day of the brute force racing monster had dawned. However, in the Gordon Bennett division the winner was a mere tenth in the race overall, this being Giradot, on another 40 hp Panhard & Levassor, at a speed of 37 mph, his race time being nearly three hours longer than Fournier's. But France had at least retained the right to hold the Gordon Bennett race in 1902, although neither of her other team entries, a Mors and a Panhard, finished the course.
Britain should have been represented in the 1901 Gordon Bennett race by S. F. Edge on his enormous 50hp Napier, but the car was so heavy that its British tyres
would not stand the strain and with French tyres
it was not eligible for the Gordon Bennett race. The green car started, however, but retired with clutch failure. Nevertheless, it thereby set this colour - Napier green, as the British motor-racing hue, not always copied very exactly for the future. Before we look at the 1902 Gordon Bennett race, it is necessary to describe another great race of the preceding year; this is the one which took place from Paris to Berlin. There were 53 Controls to be arranged along the 687-mile route, where the competitors had to be accurately timed in and out and led through the towns, usually behind official cyclist-marshalls.
Local persons of importance had to be appeased in this era of ever bigger and faster racers capable of raising ever taller columns of dust and making ever louder noises - their exhaust
notes were likened to the sound made by Gatling guns! Soldiers had to be found to police the long course, augmented by experienced flagmen, and buglers were needed to proclaim the passage of a car racing at express-train pace. Pave still existed in places; elsewhere, dust was the menace - apart from straying dogs and cattle - and to combat that proper exhaust
-boxes were specified. M. Serpollet drove over the entire route to see that everything was ready for this three-day racing epic. There were the usual three classes - Heavy cars, Light cars and Voiturettes. A highly satisfactory entry had been received, 33, 27 and 11, in these respective categories, of such renowned makes as Mors, Panhard, De Dietrich, Serpollet steamer, the new very technically advanced Mercedes from Germany, and the lighter but very game Panhards, Gladiators, Darracqs, and finally the little Renaults.
The smallest cars were now able to keep up speeds faster than the biggest motors of a few years earlier, so the interest in this race must have been intense and its usefulness to the new motor movement was inestimable. The winner was due to pull up in front of the Kaiser's tribune and the competitors who made the arduous journey successfully were to go in a great procession along the Brandenburger Tor and down the Unter den Linden. There was even a class for tourist cars, which took nine days to do the route, and one for racing motor cycles, filled with 7 hp 170 kg De Dions. It was no wonder such races caused a sensation; spectators would wend their way out to the start in their thousands, the cyclists carried Chinese lanterns to probe the early-morning mists, and horse-drawn carriages mingled with the few touring motor cars.
As the racers went on their headlong way, the police had great difficulty in forcing the onlookers back to give them passage. It was a foretaste of the 1903 disaster - and the route was marked in the more populous places by flowers, flags, even triumphal arches, erected by citizens who knew of the official lunches, dinners, receptions and fetes that followed in the wake of the big and important motor races. The Mors might now be superior to all other cars and the great Fournier at the height of his skill and fame, but as the racers became heavier and faster, their crude tyres
became the great levellers. Punctures resulted in delay if nothing worse, driver and 'mechanic wrenching off the ruined cover and tube with their bare hands, in order to fit a fresh cover from those piled up behind their seats.
This could give the less-powerful autos a chance, so the result at the finish-line over 680 miles distant from the Paris start, was very much open to conjecture. They were racing for the Kaiser's cup, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg's trophy and other fine prizes, not forgetting £500 presented by the City of Hamburg, so they were unlikely to waste any time! In fact, it was the bearded Maurice F ournier who came through triumphant, ahead of the Panhards of Giradot and de Knyff, with another Mors fourth. Fournier's huge Mors had averaged 44.1 mph and it is worth reflecting on how a modern family car would have fared, before the days of universal 'autoroutes, over this formidable route! Panhards took the first three places in the Light-Car class, Giraud leading them in at 351-mph.
The lightweight Renault of Louis Renault
was beginning its great run of success in the Voiturette class, averaging a noteworthy 36.9 mph, while the best of the motor cycles was Os mont's De Dion, at an even more impressive average of 36.4 mph. That, then, was the form that open-road motor racing took, just after the turn of the century; enormously exciting it must have been, too! The importance of the Paris-Berlin race of 1901 was that it showed the progress of racing-car development. In fact, glorious victors though Henri Fournier and his Mors were, a chain broke as the post-race parade was commencing: he had grasped his success by a very slender margin. 1902 marked further advances, both in racing bolides, built to the new rooo kg weight limit but still very powerful, and in the persuading of the French Government (which disliked motor racing) to sanction the Circuit du Nord event, where the competitors would be running on alcohol fuel.
This was for the most part a success for it was very well organised, with bombs let off to announce the imminent arrival of the racers, but very few spectators turned up to watch them. The winner of the Heavy Car Class was Maurice Farman's 40hp Panhard, at 44.8mph; in the Light Car category, Marcellin's 24hp Darracq, averaged 41.2 mph, and the fastest voiturette was Gruz's 9 hp Renault, which managed an average speed of 33.6mph. All this was a preliminary to the important Paris-Vienna race of 1902. This race very nearly did not take place, however, as the French authorities were reluctant to grant permission for it, even with the 1000 kg weight limit imposed to reduce the size of the engines that could be crammed into racing chassis.
The Bavarians and the Swiss actually refused to have any racing on their territory and the route of this four-day, 6 Is-mile race had to be continually changed. Nevertheless, the Viennese were keen to host the event and even put up special prizes. The climb of the Arlburg Pass, over which the route went, was the supreme test and resulted in two comic incidents. This section of the course was more like a trial than a motor race, with the snow just gone in time from the narrow unguarded precipices, where the ascents and descents were of startling steepness and torrents from the rivers had to be crossed on impro- vised bridges. It was here that Max, driving a small Darracq, struck a boundary stone, the car going some way over the edge and his and his mechanic's seats breaking away from the chassis.
This left the former occupants safe a little way down the hillside, while the car itself plunged 100 feet further down. Max took a look at his wrecked racer, then climbed back to the road just as Barras arrived on the scene. The story circulated that Max had escaped death from under his car and he made excellent use of this dramatic story when he reached the finish. Then there was Derny, whose motor cycle ran away down one of the hills. All he could do was cry out in alarm, not knowing that De la Touloubre (whose real name was Captain Gentry) was up ahead in his Clement car, and who, with the true racing driver's calm skill and reaction, would pluck him safely from the saddle of his run-away machine as it shot past the car. Or so legend has it.
Many cars had to be pushed up fearsome gradients but Teste's Panhard climbed at better than 23 mph. His was one of the new 70 hp Panhard & Levas- sors, which were enormously powerful for their light overall weight. Count Eliot Zborowski, father of the Zborowski who later thrilled English race-goers of the I920S with his Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bangs, did what he could to combat these fire-eating monsters from France, on his ad vanced 40 hp Mercedes. Even so he had to be content with second place in the unlimited class, behind Henri Farman's 70hp Panhard. The other 70hp Panhards of Maurice Farman and Teste, and the 40S of Pinson, de Crawhez and Chauchard filled the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th places in this class, with Edge's 40 hp British N apier beating the Mors Sixty of de Caters into Sth position.
However, the hero of the Paris-Vienna event was Marcel Renault, whose little 16hp Renault ran so well and so fast that he drove into the finishing enclosure, a trotting-track at Prater just outside the city of Vienna, long before the officials and spectators expected him. Indeed, Marcel made his circuit of the trotting track in the wrong direction and was made to go out and come in again the intended way, but he was still comfortably ahead of Zborowski's Mercedes and had vanquished no fewer than five of the 24hp Darracqs. This excellent showing by a small car was a pointer for the future. Renault had averaged 3B.9 mph, compared to Farman's 3B.0 mph and Zborowski's 37.9 mph. The best of the 20 hp Darracqs had done 38.1 mph and the fastest voiturette was Guillaume's 12 hp Darracq which, averaging 30.6 mph, just turned the tables on the Bhp Renaults.
The winner was declared as Marcel Renault, and fame immediately engulfed the expanding company from Billancourt, on the Seine. The 1902 Gordon Bennett Trophy race had been incorporated with the Paris-Vienna and appeared to have been taken by Zborowski on his all-German Mercedes but it was found that he had incurred penalties, so Edge and the big Napier were announced as the winners, after a drive of I I hrs 2 mins 52.6secs over 351.46 miles of the route, an average speed of 31.Bmph. It was just as well that Britain had won the Gordon Bennett, because there was growing resentment over road racing in France and,. had a French car won, it might have been difficult for that country to stage a decent race for the Trophy in 1903. As it was, the British now had this problem to face.
In Belgium, the idea of racing over a closed circuit was instituted, with the Circuit des Ardennes race, on a pattern soon to be the accepted form. This 'circuit' consisted of a 53-mile route out from Bastogne and back, to be covered six times in the morning, before the motor cyclists had a two-lap race over it in the afternoon. The point, however, was that this race was devoid of 'controls' as it did not pass through congested towns. It was also primarily for amateur drivers and attracted great interest, the town of Bastogne being full long before the start. Britain's Charles Jarrott
, an experienced racing driver of the day, equipped himself with one of the 70 hp Panhards and won at 54.0 mph, after taking the lead on the third lap.
The celebrated driver Gabriel was second on a Mors Sixty, another of those fine cars driven by Vanderbilt finishing in third place ahead of Eliot Zborowski's 40hp Mercedes. The fastest lap was turned in by Baron P. de Crewhez' 70 hp Panhard which came in r jth, followed by Baron J. de Crewhez on yet another 70 hp Panhard. So, we come to the fateful year of 1903, which changed the very face of these early motor races. Even more ambitious than previously, the Automobile Club de France decided to have a massive contest from Paris to Madrid. They were, however, working in an atmosphere of restriction. The French Government had refused to authorise the Pau Week of Speed in February 1903 and permission was not granted for a race from Nice to Salon and back.
King Alfonso was quite happy to allow racing on Spanish soil, however, so the section to Madrid was assured. Little was known about the route here but it was felt that the crossing of the Guadarrama mountains would present very little difficulty to those who had conquered the Arlburg Pass in the Paris-Vienna race. Eventually, even the French authorities gave in, and the great race was on. It is significant that it attracted no less than 230 entries - which makes the support for classic races over seventy years later look rather poor by comparison. This excellent entry was made up of 98 Heavy Class cars, 59 voitures legeres and 35 voiturettes, as well as 38 motor cycles. That was the early entry-list, with over three months to go.
Finally, with a few cancellations and many additions, Paris-Madrid had 314 runners, and these included sixteen Panhards, fourteen Mors, twelve Mercedes - but sadly lacking Zborowski's entry as he had been killed in a hill-climb at Nice - ten De Dietrich, seven Serpollet steamers, six CGVs, and even four Wolseleys from Birmingham. The new oo hp Mercedes cars were the favourites, and the use of light chassis frames and light alloy in the engines had resulted in ever-more-powerful machines, now capable of some roo mph on the open road, while carrying two persons and fuel for a long run. The start of what should have been a stupendous race 'was as spectacular as ever. It was deemed too dark at 3.30 am in the morning to risk letting the racers go, but by 3.45 am, with thousands of onlookers pressing round the cars, which had to force a way through them, Charles Jarrott
's huge De Dietrich set off towards Bordeaux, the spectators just opening up a path sufficient for him to get through.
De Knyff followed Jarrott, then off went car-manufacturer Louis Renault
. With hindsight, the tragedy can be seen staring us in the face. It was almost dark, while vision was later obstructed by great dust clouds that made it necessary for the drivers to steer by looking at the line of the road-side tree tops. It was impossible properly to police this very long public-road course, along which cars sped at upwards of 90, even roomph; the cars were top-heavy with poor brakes, and dogs, cattle and children were free to wander on the roads. News of fatal accidents began to come in and although, over the years, these have been exaggerated they were none the less appalling. Marcel Renault died when his 30hp Renault over- turned at Thery, Barrow's riding mechanic - they used to sit low on the side step - was killed when his De Dietrich ran so forcibly into a tree that it disintegrated and one of its front dumb-irons was driven far into the tree trunk.
Leslie Porter ran into a wall when cornering too fast and his mechanic Nixon was killed. In trying to avoid a child, Tourand shot into the crowd at Angouleme, causing the deaths of his mechanic and a soldier. There were many other acci- dents, but with less serious consequences it is important to remember, because history will tell you of hundreds killed. This was enough, however. The horrified French Government demanded that the race be stopped at Bordeaux, 342 racing miles from Paris. It would not even permit the racing cars to be driven to the station for their ignominious return to the Capital: they were dragged to the train behiiId horses. It was as disastrous as the Le Mans accident of 1955 and it was immediately to change the type of racing allowed in France. Through all this calamity, though, let us not forget Gabriel and the epic performance he put up in his 70hp streamlined Mors.
Starting No 168, he passed all but two cars, along this very demanding course. He won the Heavy Car class at 65.3 mph, after racing for more than 5* hours. But it was Louis Renault
who had arrived ahead of everyone who had not either crashed or retired, his lightweight Renault averaging a magnificent 62.3 mph, which gave him second place, a triumph short-lived when they broke to him the news of his brother's death. Salleron's 70hp Mors was third, at 59. I mph. Even Masson's Clement voiturette, an r Shp machine which could be comfortably out-performed by a modern family car managed 47.2ri1ph, to win its class. Remember, that these are overall speeds and top speeds reached were probably half as fast again. That was how it ended in 1903, most subsequent racing being on closed circuits.
The Circuit des Ardennes was held again in Belgium and was a Darracq victory, and by charm and persuasion, especially among influential ecclesiastics, the British contrived an elaborate two-circuit course in Ireland for the fourth Gordon Bennett race, contested over 327 miles. This time there were a dozen runners, including a team of three Napiers from Acton, London, with America, France and Germany against them. Alas, the Napiers failed and,rather surprisingly, so did the So hp Panhards. It was the red- bearded Jenatzy, 'The Red Devil', who brought his Mercedes Sixty (a stripped touring car used after a factory fire had destroyed all the intended-90hp Mercedes racers) home the victor, at 49.2mph. The Panhard aces, De Knyff and Henri Farman, had to accept second and third placings.
Although high quality racing was spreading to other countries, with the Florio Cup being held in Italy and the Vanderbilt Cup in America, the Gordon Bennett, with its unique rules making it a test of motor-manufacturing nation against motor-manufacturing nation, remained in the public eye. The I904 race had to be held in Germany, the 87-mile course had to be covered for a distance of 317.86 miles and the June day of the race was declared a public holiday. Jenatzy tried hard to keep the Cup in his car's native land but it was the stead y driving of Thery on an 80 hp Richard-Brasier which triumphed, his winning average being 54.5 mph to Jenatzy's 52.8 mph. That took the Gordon Bennett back to France in 1905, the last time the race was held.
Entries had been increasing but, with the automobile
now well established, its makers were anxious to race against one another and not be hampered by the Nationalistic GB rules. For this reason, the Gardon Bennett motor race (there were GB balloon and aeroplane races as well) lasted but one more year. In 1905 it was held over the great Auvergne circuit, in France, which incorporated such severe bends that it was said that at one corner the inmates of the houses could watch the racers pass from the parlour and then run across to their kitches to see them accelerate away! Once again, Thery won for .the organising nation, on a Brasier, but a new challenge was rising in International racing, and two Italian Fiats followed Leon home. Italy had held the mountainous Florio Cup race in September 1904, fore-runner of the very testing post-war series, and Lancia's Fiat had beaten the French and.German entries.
The 1904 Circuit des Ardennes had reached a satisfactory peak that year, a big entry and close racing ending with a win for Heath's Panhard, with Teste's Panhard (both of which were of 90 hp) only I min 55 secs slower, after battling for nearly 3671- miles. In 1904, too, the American Vanderbilt Cup race began, for a Trophy presented by W .. K. Vanderbilt Jnr to the AAA. A triangular circuit was found not far from New York, on Long Island, using two time controls, through which the com- petitors had to tour for three and six minutes, respectively. Heath went over and drove to victory on a 90hp Panhard, at 52.2 mph, and a Clement-Bayard was second. Third place went to Lyttle's 24hp Pope-Toledo and other American cars racing included such makes as Packard, with the 'Grey Wolf' track racer, an S & M Simplex, with a big engine installed in a touring chassis especially for the race, and a Royal, which was just a tourer stripped for racing.
It was the commencement of America's participation in road-racing events as distinct from track racing, however. The Florio Cup was to flourish, too, and the 1905 race, held at Brescia, was won byRaggio in a gigantic 112hp Itala, from a De Dietrich, with Vincenzo Lancia's Fiat third. America was taking enthusiastically to motor road-racing, the Vanderbilt Cup being over 283 miles in 1905, with no Controls to observe. Moreover, although it was won by a Darracq, with a Panhard second, an American 90 hp Locomobile, driven by Tracy, secured third place. SO, I906 was set for the first of the great French Grand Prix
races. There are some motoring historians who regard the 1906 event as the ninth of the series, because, retrospectively, the Automobile Club de France called the eight preceeding contests by this title. Thus, the first of these races, by this reckoning, was the Paris-Bordeaux-Paris race of 1895, followed by the 1896 Paris-Marseilles-Paris race, the Paris-Amsterdam race of 1898, the 1899 Tour de France, Paris-Toulouse-Paris in 1900, Paris-Berlin in 1901, the Paris-Vienna in 1902 and the Paris-Madrid (Bordeaux) race of 1903.
Although the flirtation with speed, achieved by increasing engine size, continued unabated most of us prefer to think of the new type of race that followed the Gordon Bennett series in 1906 as the first of the Grands Prix. This was organised by the ACF, the leading French Club, and not to be confused with the Grand Prix
de France, which was a less important event. The Grand Prix
as staged in 1906 was clearly intended to ensure a French victory by simple preponderence of num- bers. France was the biggest producer of automobiles at that time, measured in numbers competent to race, and therefore if she was not restricted to teams of three National entries, as she had been in the Gordon Bennett races, she stood an excellent chance of winning the greatest prize in the motoring world year after year.
So, the ACF went happily ahead with its plans: the Grand Prix
was to be run under the same technical regulations as the Gordon Bennet, ie, there was to be a maximum weight limit of 1000 kg, or of 2204 lb., with a supplementary 7 kg if a magneto or engine-driven dynamo was needed for ignition. For the first time, it was stipulated that any repairs or adjustments required to a car during the race must be carried out only by the driver and riding mechanic. Such work was intended to be carried out at the 'pits' which, although taking their name from sunken replenishment depots, were, in this instance, at road level. They were on the outside of the course so as to be accessible to cars running on the right-hand side of the road, but the grandstands that overlooked them were on the inside of the circuit.
Originally, it was intended to lap the course clockwise but, in the end, the rule which had applied since the days of the Roman chariot races prevailed and an anti-clockwise direction was used; a fine triangular course of 65 miles per lap had been selected just outside Le Mans. That races really were true tests of endurance and gave spectators and competitors perhaps more than their money's worth, in thosetimes, is emphasised by the six laps that were required to be completed on two consecutive days, giving a race distance of a fraction under 770 miles. Another innovation was the absence of any form of 'control', whereby drivers previously had to run through danger areas at normal speeds or even behind bicycles. The closed circuit made this possible except where the course passed through St Calais, and this place was by-passed by a wooden road specially made for the purpose.
As had been intended and anticipated, the entry list was mostly comprised of French-built cars, of which there were 26, compared with six Italian and three German examples. Big engines also predominated, all being over rz Iitres, with Panhard-Levassor using IS-litre power units. To reduce the time two men took to slash punctured tyres
off fixed wheels, detachable rims were adopted by Brasier, Fiat, Itala and Renault. The Grand Prix
commenced at 6am on 26 June when Gabriel on a De Dietrich was flagged away; in fact, he stalled his engine and it was Vincenzo Lancia
whose Fiat crossed the start line first. Thereafter, the cars left at 90-second intervals. Barras on a Richard Brasier led the first lap, at the best speed achieved, 73.3 mph, but the Hungarian driver Szisz, on the big works Renault, took the lead after three circuits and, at the close of this strenuous day's racing, he was still in that position, having averaged 66.Smph.
He was challenged by Clement's Clement-Bayard in second place and the third man home, Felice Nazzaro who drove an Italian Fiat. The cars were to be started on the second day of the race in the order of finishing the first day's racing, but it is significant that Renault refused to hurry, Szisz taking twelve minutes in his pit having new tyres
fitted and the essential fluids topped-up. Clement, too, took five minutes over similar precautions, whereas Nazzaro went immediately into action. Nevertheless, as he completed his opening lap, Szisz found that eleven cars had still not been flagged-off and he was so far ahead of his rivals that he could drive comparatively easily. The coal-scuttle-bonneted shaft-drive Renault from Billancourt gave no anxiety and thus won the 1906 French Grand Prix
race in the formidable overall time of 12 hrs 14 mins 0.07 secs, which represents a speed of 63 mph.
Nazzaro took his Fiat into second place but was well over half-an-hour slower than the French car, while Clement was third: a convincing French victory. There were but eleven finishers out of the 32 who had set off. It is interesting . to note that, although Szisz did not have to press-on at fastest-lap speeds, the . winning Renault was, nevertheless, the fastest car through a timed kilometre, at 92.2 mph, compared to Nazzaro's Fiat, which was clocked there at only 87.2 mph. After this very worthwhile success, Renault did not trouble to contest the 1906 Circuit des Ardennes event, but France retained her supremacy there, since Duray's De Dietrich won, and a Darracq made the fastest lap. All this activity on the part of the French encouraged Germany to stage an important contest in the Taunus Mountains, over a 73-mile circuit. However, to encourage more ordinary cars she restricted engine size to 8 litres, which seemed a good move as an entry of 92 was received.
To Germanic regret, however, the winner of the eliminating rounds and of the final was Nazzaro's Fiat, although a Pipe and two Opels were next home. . It was the Grand Prix
in the automobile
-pioneering country of France that at this period held the greatest appeal and attracted the most attention, however. For 1907, the ACF moved the locale to Dieppe, and imposed different rules, the consumption of fuel being limited to 30 litres per roo km. This works out at 9-4 mpg and, while this was a move to try to improve engine efficiency, it was not of great inconvenience to competitors, and big engines. remained the norm. Renault had sold their successful 1906 cars (the winning one for an astronomical sum it was rumoured), but they built a set of replicas for this 'second' French Grand Prix. The race was to be over a flat, triangular 47i-mile circuit, lapped ten times in a day, a single day's racing now being recognised as more convenient for everyone.
National racing colours were also insisted on for all the runners in this 1907 Grand Prix, whereas the previous year, as if to mark the end of Gordon Bennett nationalism, they were not, the winning Renault being painted red, the hue of Italy. Eleven teams of French cars were entered for the 1907 GP against one each representing Belgium, Italy, .Gerrnany, America and Great Britain. This worked out to 38 top-rank racing cars starting, and they were all the mighty four-cylinder racing monsters we can now scarcely visualise, although the Dufaux, Porthos and the Weigel entries were far in advance Of their time in having eight-cylinder in-line motors. The first car was again dispatched at the 1 early hour of 6 am, the' rest going away at 60-second intervals. The previous RenaultfFiat duel again emerged, with De Dietrich well up. Louis Wagner led for three laps for Fiat, at a sizzling average of 72.1 mph.
After he had retired it was Duray who led, but eventually his De Dietrich seized its gearbox. This moved Nazzaro into the lead, with Szisz chasing him, but the red Fiat had an unshakable lead and won at 70.5 mph from the French car, with Barras' Richard Brasier third. It was a Fiat domination, although Duray had made fastest lap at 7S04mph. It was felt, however, that, whereas Fiat paid little heed to running out of fuel, which the petrol consumption limit made probable, Szisz may have been a trifle over-cautious in this respect. Fuel limits for racing were unpopular for this reason but this was still the golden age of motor racing for, if the great town-to-town contests were the ultimate, these enormous cars on the closed circuits.their big cylinders firing about 'once every telegraph-pole', must have been a most intriguing spectacle, as they battled for the blue riband of the motor-racing world.
The Grand Prix
continued in much the same form in 1908 and the venue had not been changed, although certain improvements were introduced. By way of regulations, engine size was now limited to a maximum piston-area of 117 sq in, so that, at last, rather smaller engines were to be seen and, instead of a maximum weight-limit, it was decided to eliminate dangerously light cars by having a minimum weight-limit of 1 Isokg, or of 2S341b. On the Dieppe course, the inconvenience for the public, of having to get to grandstands on the inside of the circuit was changed by placing them outsidt"tt and, in consequence, the replenishment pits really were pits, sunk below the level of t~~oad in order' that the view of the spectators was not impaired. Moreover, the road to these pits was set back from the course proper, as done for safety in much more recent times. The surface of the road had deteriorated, so that much tyre-changing was the'order of the day, the winning car stopping nine times for this reason and/ a Clement Bayard nineteen times.
That speeds were rising is evidenced by the fact that of the 48 starters more than twenty were timed at over roornph through a flying kilometre. There were fewer French entries than before and French hopes were low when it was seen that it was a German Mercedes that led on the first lap, and at a record 73.7mph. However, this car failed to keep going and Fiats took its place; these in their turn retired and, after that, the race was a German procession, Lautenschlager's Mercedes winning at 69 mph from Hernery's Benz, with third position occupied by another Benz, this time of Hanriot. This overwhelming German victory, coming as it did after the Fiat success of 1907, was a grave blow to the French motor industry. Design was by now advancing for, whereas the 1908 Mercedes cars retained the popular side-chain final drive, they used the honeycomb radiators which this manufacturer had pioneered, as did many other makers, and high-tension magneto ignition was normal, while inclined overhead valves and even the single overhead camshaft had arrived.
The French manufacturers, however, found racing as a means of improving the breed and publicising their individual wares very costly and, after the Mercedes and Benz domination, they looked with very luke-warm interest on another Grand Prix
in 1909. The Automobile Club de France tried to persuade them to build cars for a race at Anjou limited to four-cylinder machines with a cylinder-bore not exceeding 130mm and of a maximum weight of 900 kg. But the Club required an entry of forty cars at least to make such a race viable and, at the end of the year, had only nine entries. So, the idea was abandoned and the mighty French Grand Prix
faded away for three years, to be replaced by a series of voiturette contests. There was a much less important Grand Prix
held in 1910, at Le Mans, under the title of the Grand Prix
de France, and even that was won by a two-litre touring-type car built by Fiat. It was, admittedly, driven by Victor Hemery, but it did seem that the French could no longer win.
Meanwhile, these small-car races, organised by the influential French motor journal L' Auto, accelerated the efficiency of the current light motor cars, so that in the comparatively short period from 1909 to 19II the ridiculously long-stroke, freakish, single-cylinder cars of Sizaire-Naudin (which used independent front suspension as a sop to progress) and Delage had given way to beautiful little four-cylinder racers, culminating in the 65 x 200mm Hispano-Suizas, designed by the Swiss engineer Marc Birkigt and driven with verve and skill by, among others, the celebrated Zuccarelli. All this was too much for the French manufacturers of the bigger and more illustrious cars.
If the Grands Prix were to be revived in 1910 or subsequent years they realised that such a great, race might well be won by one of these newcomers to the motor-racing game, and, anyway, they were giving away publicity to them by not racing. It was an unhappy thought so, by the end of 1911, all arguments against the non-revival of the ACt's Grand Prix, were put aside and the 'race was held again, at the Dieppe circuit, in June: They even reverted to the ambitious scheme of having a two-day contest, to ensure maximum pressure, and thus, as the true Grand Prix
cars again lined up, they were to race for a furious 954.8 miles. So, racing in the grand manner was on again and, to emphasise this, the ACF had imposed no restrictions on the entrants in .the 1912 Grand Prix, apart from insisting that the competing cars carried bodies that were no wider than a maximum of 5 ft 9 in; and to this day no-one seems to know quite what they had in mind in so doing.
A legacy of the light-car races that had flourished between 1909 and 1911, while the GP proper was in abeyance, was a separate section of the two-day race devoted to cars under 3 litres capacity, with their cylinders not les~ than four in number and with t.ne stroke not less nor greater than twice the cylinder bore. To avoid freak entries, and no doubt with the new 'stick-and-string' cyclecars in mind, a minimum weight limit in this class of 800kg (I763Ib) was insisted on and L'Auto gave the winner's cup. Surprisingly, this class was the more popular, for it attracted 42 entrants, out of a total of 56. Moreover, there were seven Coupe de L' Auto cars from Britain; four Sunbeams and three Vauxhalls. Naturally, all eyes were on the GP cars, from the stables of Lorraine-Dietrich, Peugeot, Rolland-Pilain, Excelsior and Fiat. The Fiat and Lorraine-Dietrich cars, with previous Grand Prix
racing experience behind them, used enormous overhead-valve Is-litre engines and chain final-drive.
However, the significance of the 1912 race was the appearance of the revolu- tionary new Peugeot four-cylinder, sixteen-valve, twin-cam, shaft-drive 7.6-litre racers. Whereas Fiat were claiming a developed horsepower of 200, these smaller Peugeots probably produced a genuine r jo bhp at 2800rpm (they claimed 17Sbhp) and the 'little' Sunbeams, still with L-head side-valve engines, around 80 bhp. Although the cars proved slower than those in the earlier races, the writing was on the wall - plain and easy for the knowledgable to read - that the day of the monster road-racing car was over. The Grand Prix
resolved itself into a battle between the old-school Fiats, which were delayed by broken fuel pipes, and Georges Boillot's Peugeot of not much over half their engine size. The celebrated Boillot won, at 68.45 mph, from Wagner's big Fiat, which averaged 67.32mph. The future was again underlined when one of the 3-litre Sunbeams, driven by Rigal, netted third place in the Grand Prix
proper, at 65.29 mph, as well as winning the Coupe de L' Auto.
Indeed, these Sunbeams, closely akin to ordinary fast touring cars, although having the benefit of Brooklands work behind them, came home I -2-3 in the 3-litre race and third, fourth and fifth in the Grand Prix
itself. As to top speeds, Boillot was timed at 99.86mph during the race, Bruce-Brown on one of the gigantic Fiats at 101.67 mph, and Dario Resta in the fastest of the Sunbeam
team-cars at 6S.29mph. The small car had arrived! In competition with the great French Grand Prix, the AC de la Sarthe again held its GP de France at Le Mans, which was an opportunity for Boillot and Peugeot to show that their victory at Dieppe was no fluke. Boillot made fastest lap, at around So mph, and Goux's sister Peugeot won the race, at 74.S6mph, both impressive figures over this course. The Grand Prix
proper was thus fully re-established. For 1913, the ACF set it on a new circuit, at Amiens, and, as before, reverted to a one-day contest, over a 19.5-mile course to be lapped 29 times.
A fuel-consumption limit was also re-imposed, twenty litres of petrol per 100 kilometres, or at the rate of a consumption of 14.2 mpg, the cars being required to carry regulation bolster petrol tanks, behind which streamlined tails were forbidden, either because they were thought dangerous or because they would have off-set the 'road' aspect of the racers. Each competing car had to weigh a minimum of 800 kg (I760Ib) before it was fuelled. They now ran clockwise, as contemplated by the organisers in 1906, enabling the grandstands to be placed outside the circuit, for easy access, and. the replenishment-pits to be on the inside. Building a connecting tunnel and a concrete loop-road to avoid closing one main road that was near the course was nothing, now that the race was of such importance.
The shorter lap was nice for the onlookers but the new rules were not liked by the builders of racing motor cars and only twenty entries came in. Yet, design was very fluid; Peugeot had eared hub caps to enable the road wheels to be removed quickly with a hammer,and none ran out of fuel, with the 4o± gallons metered out to them before they were taken out to the start behind horses. New companies were now building special cars for racing, and Peugeot remained in the ascendant. Boillot won in a S.6-litre car at 72.2mph and was timed through the flying kilometre at 97.26mph. His team-mate, Goux, was second, and one of the 3-litre Coupe de L'Auto Sunbeams came in third. The GP de France, at Sarthe, had been reduced in distance and was of no great importance, except to Mercedes, who were using it before staging an impressive racing come-back, and to Bablot who won it in a fast Delage, at 76.8 mph for the 337.5 miles, after recording the fastest lap at 82.5 mph.
So, we come to 1914, with Europe, about to be plunged into a holocaust of war, and Germany, in the form of the Mercedes Company, taking the greatest possible pains to dominate this last pre-war Grand Prix. It was run at Lyons, in the heart of industrial France, over an interesting course of over 23 miles to a lap, with a charming corner known as the le piege de la mort, to give a race distance of 466.6 punishing miles. The date was 17 July, 1914. Note the imminence of war! And it was the team of five white Mercedes, with slab petrol tanks and sharp-pointed radiators, white cars superbly prepared, which had the heels of all the others. For the first time, the race rules limited engine capacity to 41- litres: quite small cars by previous standards! Mercedes elected to eschew the new idea of prodding overhead valves
with two camshafts and used single-over head-camshaft four-cyclinder engines with sixteen inclined overhead valves
They were shaft-driven chassis, but with only rear-wheel brakes, and their drivers were good solid testers rather than racing drivers, certainly not aces with the flair of Georges Boillot. They had to race against the might of Peugeot, with their front-wheel brakes
and proven twin-cam engines, and cars from the Alda, Nagant, Delage, Fiat, Piccard-Pictet, Vauxhall, Schneider, Opel, Itala and Sunbeam
factories, in the tense atmosphere of that far-away summer of 1914. Boillot did his utmost. But the sorely stressed Peugeot retired with maladies mechanical, probably a broken valve but the exact nature of which historians still argue over. The white German cars from across the border had their troubles, too. But there were five of them, so they could afford a pacesetter to break up the Peugeot attack. It was Lautenschlager, victor back in 1908, who swept to victory before a dazed French crowd, he and his aggressive Mercedes having made a speed of 65.3 mph over the distance. As intended, Wagner and Salzer followed him in, at 65.1 mph and 64.6mph, respectively.
Spectators were only stirred from their troubled meditation of the proximity of a German war by Goux bringing his blue Peugeot into fourth place, at 63.9mph, ahead of Resta's British Sunbeam. Eleven had retired out of 37 starters and only the coming war could reverse the result and its impact on French minds. Even though the war was ushered in with an over-whelming victory at Lyons by a team of 4!-litre Mercedes racing. cars of outdated design (their single-overhead-camshaft power units being contrary to the thinking of the Peugeot engineers with their twin-cam method of valve operation, dispensing with rockers), the period of hostilities was a time for aeronautical rather than motor car advancement. Nevertheless, when racing became possible again, after World War 1, it was seen that even the racing car power plant had evolved to a significant degree.
The frenzied production and continually enforced improvement of aero engines during the war resulted in useful advances applicable to racing engines and indeed to the power units of ordinary cars. Improvements in the fields of detail design, metallurgy and production methods were obvious, but it was the use of smaller, multiple cylinders, however, in which another great advance lay. That the two significant new racing cars of the post-Armistice period were straight-eights has been attributed to the use of such an engine by Ettore Bugatti for a powerful aeroplane motor during the height of hostilities. He also made an aero-engine with two blocks of eight cylinders set up side by side, with separate crankshafts geared together, to produce a really beefy sixteen-cylinder engine.
The Straight Eight
But it was the straight-eight principal that endeared itself to the planners of racing engines for the revival of the sport after the war was over; the chief protagonist was again Ernest Henry. He added this multi-cylinder concept to his pre-war Peugeot twin overhead-camshaft valve actuation, when commissioned by Ballot to build him racing cars for the first big post-war American motor race, the 1919 Indianapolis 500 Mile contest. Henry enclosed the previously exposed overhead valve gear but retained his system of having four valves
for each cylinder, two inlet and two exhaust
, these being set at a sixty degree angle in the fixed cylinder head
. Henry also relied on the long piston
stroke of his earlier engines, the straight-eight post-war Ballot being a 74 x 140mm power unit, having a swept volume of 4894cc. This was adequate to comply with American regulations, which called for a maximum engine size of 300CU in, or 4917cc.
The long crankshaft required for such an engine, on this Henry-inspired Ballot, ran in five main bearings of the roller type, and it was a complex piece of work, in four separate sections joined together by a taper-and-key arrangement. In contrast, the big-end bearings were plain, with split bronze bushes between the con-rod and journal, these had white metal inner faces with bronze-to-steel rubbing in the con-rod. Dry-sump lubrication was resorted to, in order to reduce oil temperature, but the engine was susceptible to big-end oil starvation and was limited to a maximum crankshaft speed of 3500rpm. While the big-ends were fed with oil through drilled crankpins, the main bearings were lubricated on the jet principle. Henry mounted this big engine on a sub-frame in a conventional chassis" with channel-section side members and semi-elliptic leaf springing. A cone clutch took the drive, through a four-speed gearbox, to the back axle via an open propeller shaft.
Like Bugatti with his in-line eight-cylinder aero-engine, Henry used a 4-4 layout of the crankpins of his long crankshaft. Ignition was by a Bosch magneto, and two Claudel-Hobson carburettors supplied the mixture. Ballot must have been well pleased with these cars, the two costing him, it is said, £30,000, even though they had pre-war chassis characteristics and bolster petrol tanks ill-suited to the flat-out racing which Indianapolis involved. The American firm of Duesenberg had also prepared straight-eight racing cars for the I9I9 500 Mile Race. This engine was more closely related to the Bugatti aero-rnotor, as it had a single overhead camshaft operating three inclined valves
and one inlet) per cylinder via rocker gear, the camshaft being driven from the front of the crankshaft by a vertical shaft and bevels. The cylinder head
was detachable and, to simplify the valve gear, a Y -shaped cam follower prodded the paired exhaust
Again, a 'four-four' crankshaft arrangement was employed and there were but three main bearings, two plain at the front and a ball-race at the back. The gearbox provided only three forward speeds, but a nicely streamlined body was used. Neither of these two revolutionary new post-war racers did anything much at Indy, where the winner was one of the 1914 GP Peugeots (Henry could still afford to smile), but they set a fashion which lasted into the mid I950S, that of in-line eight-cylinder engines for racing. The disadvantages of a long and therefore likely-to-be-whippy crankshaft were offset by such merits as the ability to dispense with a heavy flywheel, good balance (which brought reliability with it), an increase in piston
area from small light pistons (thereby increasing combustion chamber efficiency and rate of crankshaft revs) and excellent low-speed torque, although Henry threw away the latter quality in his 1919 Ballot engine because of big-choke carburettors.
The problems of feeding fuel to a long eight-cylinder in-line motor were solved by having more than one instrument and overcome completely in later years when supercharging was the norm. When the 3-litre maximum swept-volume rule came in, in 1920, both these Ballot and Duesenberg designs were reduced in size and, subsequently, fared better. Peugeot, on the other hand, having lost Henry to Ballot and later to Sunbeam, were handicapped by an over-ambitious engineer who concocted for them a racing engine of 80 x I49 mm and four cylinders which boasted five overhead valves
each, three of which let the gas in, the other two being exhaust
valves. There were three camshafts to operate this multiplicity of poppet valves, and eight sparking plugs; developing a claimed 108bhp at about 3000rpm, it was something to ignore, although it reflected the diversity of thought in racing-car drawing offices at this time.
What this Peugeot and the 1920 3-litre Duesenberg did have in common was unit-construction of engine and gearbox, which pointed to a coming universal trend. Another technical innovation which was, much later, to become universal for racing and road cars alike, was the use of hydraulic operation for the brakes. Duesenberg had this for their impeccably prepared I92I 3-litre car which won the French Grand Prix, providing a nasty shock for European constructors. In . fact, the fluid used for this then-exciting new form of brake actuation was a J mixture of water and glycerine, retained within the single master cylinder by the ground-to-fit piston! This fluid actually passed along the tubular front axle and up through the drilled steering-pivot pins, to expand individual pistons that opened out the flexible spring-steel brake shoes.
Other significant, if then individual, aspects of this GP-winning Duesenberg were torque-tube transmission, Delco high-tension coil ignition, and detachable wire wheels employing Rudge-Whitworth centre-lock hubs. The car was able to develop between I 15 and 120 bhp at 4250rpm and, with the help of its new-style braking system, this American Duesenberg took the European racing world by storm in 1921; the straight-eight racing engine was the fashion from then on. As others were to adopt the Ernest Henry twin-cam multi-valve cylinder head
, so his pioneering of the eight-in-line cylinder layout was not disregarded, either. Ballot and STD used both for their engines of the new 3-litre racing formula, but for the latter cars (conveniently labelled Sunbeam, Talbot or Darracq, as and when it suited Louis Coatalen, who had built them, seven in number at a cost of some £50,000) a better bottom-end lubrication system was devised, using plain bearings for both mains and big-ends, again in conjunction with a dry-sump system.
All these post-war racing eights, Ballot, Sunbeam
and Fiat, were twin-cam engines of 65 x 112 mm in the prevailing long-stroke idiom. However, the Type 802 Fiat broke away from the Henry multi-valve school of thought, to set another lead in future design, as the engineer concerned, Fornaca, opted for two large valves
per cylinder, set at 96 degrees: the classical hem i-head combustion chamber. He also used the cylinder and water-jacket construction, complicated but effective, which Mercedes had found practical in their pre-war racing car and war-time aeroplane engines, namely blocks of steel forgings, welded and machined with the water covers made up of sheet-steel welded in place. This notable Fiat engine had a single-piece crankshaft instead of a built-up shaft, this being made possible by the use of split bronze bearing cages for the roller main bearings. The big-ends were of the same type and this all-roller-bearing power unit developed a useful r r g bhp at 4600rpm.
That was the norm for the 1921 Grand Prix
season. There was now a full appreciation of the value of four-wheel braking in the field of road racing. It not only reduced skidding but was almost as useful as good acceleration over a twisty course, in killing speed into the corners. To reduce the wear and tear on the drivers, servo operation of these mostly cable-operated brakes
was usual, with the servo driven from the gearbox, which helped to apply the brakes
when the pedal was depressed. This system was built into the great 37.2hp Hispano Suiza touring-car chassis by the eminent Swiss engineer, Marc Birkigt. Racing bodywork, too, was evolving, into pointed-tail two-seaters, with decent protection for driver and riding mechanic in the prevailing long-road contests.
The influence of the big-time racers was handed down to the voiturette or It-litre class of racing car. Whereas the successful type immediately after the Armistice was the light-weight, four-cylinder, single-overhead-camshaft, sixteen-valve Brescia Bugatti, by i921 and 1922 the twin-cam form of racing engine was supreme in this category. At first, it aped the bigger racing cars in having four valves
per cylinder. In this form, the 1486cc Talbot-Darracqs, another facet of Sunbeam
Chief Designer Louis Coatalen's enthusiasm for racing, were producing no less than So bhp at 4000 rpm, which rendered them quite invincible. We move now to the interesting 1922 racing season.
This was run under the maximum capacity of 2 litres ruling. It was important because it brought some mixed design-thinking into the picture but it is 'remarkable that those companies which supported racing in the grand manner were willing to go to the expense of building entirely new racing cars every year; in recent times, of course, the 3-litre Formula One rule has remained unchanged to obviate this vast seasonal expenditure. Anyway, that was the position in 1922, with a minimum weight limit of 6sokg (I4361b) to match this 2000CC capacity ruling and the various manufacturers fielded many diverse configurations.
So far as pure Grands Prix were concerned, the rule makers recognised that the very expensive small racing cars made artificially powerful (by dint of supercharging), would cease to be built, largely due to Delage's domination and the impending financial slump. Consequently, a period of free formulae was introduced, in which the older GP cars, stripped big-engined sports cars, like the Mercedes and the Bentley, and a few new large racing cars, too like Sunbeam's 4-litre VIZ and the immortal Type 3SB supercharged 2.9-litre Bugatti, all had occasional success. Then, for 193 I, proper racing cars were back in vogue. At first, the rules were peculiar, insisting on two-seater bodies but no riding mechanics, under the agreement that had been in force for some years, and races were to run for at least ten hours.
The period of racing was notable for the arrival on the circuits of the Tipo 8C, or Monza, Alfa Romeo, a straight- eight, twin-cam, Roots-blown sports car stripped for racing, and of the 2.9-Iitre, double-overhead-camshaft, Type 51 Bugatti. After looking closely at some twin-cam American Miller racers, Ettore had at last gone over to that form of valve gear in this car. From the Monza Alfa Romeo stemmed the invincible Tipo B, P3 or monoposto Alfa Romeo, call it what you will. This was a genuine, though rather wide, single-seater, using Vittorio Jano's Monza engine which had, along the years, been increased in size from 2.3 to 2.6 litres. The chassis, at first sprung on half-elliptic leaf springs, was only 26 in wide and was swept up compactly over the back axle.
The clever thing about the monoposto Alfa Romeo was its transmission. Jano used twin propeller shafts, splayed out thirty degrees from a chassis-mounted differential, that was itself behind the gearbox. By doing this, he was able to sit the driver lower than in other racing cars where the seat was above the single propeller shaft. There were other advantages, too. The twin prop shafts with a drive on the chassis meant that, if the gear-ratios had to be altered quickly to suit a given race, they could be conveniently changed without stripping the back axle. Even better, by putting the differential unit up on the sprung chassis, unsprung weight on the back axle was reduced, with a beneficial effect on rear-wheel adhesion over bumps. Unfortunately the twin-bevel drives in this clever design made the axle some-what heavier than if a single final drive had been used.
As the P3 Alfa Romeo was improved further over the years, it became one of the most famous racing cars of all time. The gear drive to the twin overhead-camshafts was taken up between the two separate cylinder blocks, which enabled the twin superchargers set beside the engine to be easily driven from them. Improvements in lubricants and bearing materials had given Jano faith in plain bearings for mains, big-ends and camshafts. The 2.6-litre engine of the P3 gave 180 bhp at the modest engine speed of 5400 rpm, a further reason why those plain bearings were adequate. In a car which tipped the weighbridge at just over I5cwt, dry, here was a winner indeed.
Moreover, the monoposto Tipo B Alfa Romeo was able to stand much development. Over the years its engine was increased to 2.9 and finally to 3.2 litres. It was made to handle better by using Dubonnet independent front suspension and, finally, in the period when the makers had retired from the racing game and Scuderia Ferrari was racing these splendid Alfa Romeos, the engine capacity went to as much as 3.8 litres. For a time, reversed quarter-elliptic rear springs were also tried. Nuvolari
was able to defeat the German cars (of which more anon) on their home ground with one of these Alfas, at the 1935 Nurburgring German GP, in spite of a refuelling delay.
In 1934, 68 x roo mrn, 2905 cc guise, this, the first of the European single-seater road racers, was capable of I45 mph. The gambit of increasing the size of an engine was then universal. The Maserati which had evolved from the Diatto sports car into a straight-eight 2t-litre GP car by the I930S, was later enlarged to 2.9 litres and was helped by hydraulic brakes, which Maserati had been quick to adopt around I933. Bugatti had gone to 4.9 litres for Formule Libre races, apart from making a fabulous four-wheel-drive sprint car, just as Alfa Romeo made two twin- engined Bimotore cars. Maserati also built, in later years, a 4-litre V12 and an earlier twin-six racer. Likewise, Alfa Romeo had, in 1929, put two 2-Iitre eight-cylinder power units side by side to form a sixteen-cylinder, 4-litre Formule Libre racing car.
All was changed in 1934, by the new 750kg Formula. This was aimed at preventing the overdose of absolute power which the authorities who governed motor racing felt the free Formula had dangerously encouraged. They reckoned without the strength of Hitler and Germany. Hitler wanted propaganda through motor racing and was able to divert enough money towards Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union to enable these Companies to produce quite extraordinary racing and record-breaking cars. The employment of expensive light alloys defeated the new maximum-weight ruling, while by mixing fuel-brews of the most advanced nature, enormous power was developed by their big engines, which were at the same time sufficiently light to enable the complete car to pass the weighing-in ceremony. It was a new era of racing, which produced some of the most exciting cars of all time. They were so light and powerful that only a handful of the most skilled racing drivers could safely unleash them and Hitler (contrary to expectations) had to invite foreigners to drive for him.
Englishman Dick Seaman
and the top driver of them all, Italy's Tazio Nuvolari
were thus signed onto the driving strength. By now, independent suspension
was better understood and softer springing mediums, permitting greater road-wheel movement, were possible, which enabled these great cars to hold the road rather better than the older, harshly sprung, racing cars had done. Even so, the sight and the sound of these new 750 kg-Formula cars were astounding, as were the smell and the eye-watering-propensities of Mercedes-Benz methanol fuel. The cars, especially the rear-engined Auto Unions, tended to oversteer. It took a driver with very quick reactions to cope with this by adding opposite steering-lock and using just the right amount of throttle for the conditions, which varied with every type of corner, road surface, car weight and weather condition.
The Age of Giants
It was truly the Age of Giants - of both men and machines. In the end, as another war loomed large, the Germans dominated motor racing. Mercedes-Benz topped everyone else. However, in spite of the enormous amount of finance available and the great armies of mechanics, spares and racing cars that the two Hitler-inspired teams brought to every race, these revolutionary new designs took time to perfect. For a short time, Mercedes-Benz were in trouble technically and Auto Union had the edge over them. The rest - Maserati
, Alfa Romeo
- did what they could, by opening-out obsolete engines, toying with independent front suspension
(except for Bugatti
, who was never to adopt it for racing, apart from a slight permitted movement in the centre of the tubular front axle of his last GP cars) and by taking, while they could, the top racing drivers.
In the end, Germany gained complete ascendancy, up to the outbreak of war. Mercedes-Benz
quickly developed their W125 until, by 1937, it was the ultimate in the brute force field of thinking, as well as a perfect piece of road-racing machinery. It had, in this form, a Roots-blown, twin-cam engine of 94 x 102mm for its" eight, in-line cylinders, giving the power unit a swept volume of 5.66 litres. It developed no less than 646bhp at 5800rpm, and at only 2000 rpm gave as much power as most of the earlier 1930s racing engines had available at peak revs! Prior to this, Mercedes
had raced the W25 cars, which had gained performance by continual increases in engine size. With the know-how they had attained from these, they applied not an independent system but a De Dion rear axle to their W125 chassis.
The MB engineers had already learned how to defeat wheel-spin out of corners by placing the final-drive and differential unit on the chassis frame, thus obviating the lifting of one wheel under torque, as suffered by a beam back axle. Now, they were able to combine this desirable characteristic with driving wheels which remained vertical as they rose and fell over road undulations. This gave them a much better driving force and killed the inherent oversteer of the swing-axle rear independent suspension systems. A skilled driver could now spin the car's wheels to promote oversteer when required, in a car that was otherwise neutral or deliberately set up to understeer. A very rigid chassis of oval tubes was used, in accord with these suspension arrangements, the front wheels being given coil spring and wishbone IFS, while the De Dion back-end used torsion bars.
With a sleek aluminium shell of a single-seater body, these W125 Mercedes-Benz were classic cars, able to reach a top speed of around 195 mph, depending on the gearing in use. Deciding that a maximum weight limit had entirely failed to hold racing-car speeds down, the authorities brought in a 3-litre maximum engine capacity ruling for 1938. This gave some consolation to the other European racing teams who had almost wilted away under the German onslaught. Even Ettore Bugatti's very handsome 3.3-litre GP car with its piano-wire-spoked wheels, the Type 59, had achieved little, even when given a 3.8-litre engine; Bugatti's last fling before the war centred around a 4.7-litre single-seater, again to no avail.
Maserati tried to hold the German supremacy under the new Formula with their 3-litre cars, again without much success, and Alfa Romeo fared little better, although they experimented with three engines of this size: a straight-eight, a V12 and a V16. The last-named gave about 350 bhp, which was no match for the 3-litre Mercedes-Benz cars' 420 bhp. Mercedes achieved this by designing a new 67 x 70 mm, V 12 engine of 2.96 litres, that gave the aforesaid power at 7800 rpm. It followed the general specification of the engine used in the W125 Mercedes-Benz, with twin overhead camshafts actuating four valves
per cylinder, roller-bearings, Roots supercharging, fixed cylinder heads
, and welded steel water-jacketting.
Mercedes-Benz Two-Stage Supercharging
An important advance was the employment on the 1939 version of the W154 of two blowers in series, driven from the nose of the crankshaft, to provide two-stage supercharging. One blower fed the other and remarkably high boosts were obtained satisfactorily, to an ultimate 34psi. The mixture was sucked from the Mercedes-designed carburettor, a system to which they had changed their W125 engines in 1937. The 3-litre W154 in its final form gave 485bhp at 7000 rpm. Mercedes-Benz proved themselves masters of racing-car design and construction at this period, just as they had in the past and were to do again. Apart from their significant successes in the Grand Prix
field, when the 1939 Tripoli GP was deliberately limited to 1.5-litre cars to encourage the Italians (who were on top in voiturette racing at the time).
Mercedes-Benz very quickly built two cars of this capacity using V8 engines, and won again. The car was designated the Type W165. Its ninety degree vee engine had dimensions of 64 x 58mm and, from these 1.49 Iitres, the excellent power output of 260 bhp at 8500rpm was realised. The twin superchargers, five-speed gearbox and De Dion rear suspension were like those of the full-scale Mercedes-Benz GP cars and, eventually, two-stage supercharging was adopted, when 278 bhp at 8250 rpm was spoken of for this It-litre engine. Going back to the commencement of the 750kg Formula, Auto Union, who were to oppose the Mercedes-Benz entries throughout the 3-litre Formula up to the outbreak of war, used a completely different approach.
Dr Ferdinand Porsche
had been encouraged by Hitler to design world-beating racing and record cars and, as he was engaged in giving Hitler his 'Peoples' Car' in the guise of the rear-engined Volkswagen, he put the engine of the Auto Union at the back. It was a very different proposition from that in a VW, however, being at first a V I 6, supercharged, 6006 cc power-pack developing a rumoured 600 bhp, and driving through a five-speed gearbox. This was enough to cower the opposition from the start, as stories of the fabulous performance of these secretly constructed P-wagons on early tests, in March 1934, filtered to the rest of Europe and to Britain. Dr Porsche had provided all-round independent suspension
for his new racer, using trailing arms and torsion bars at the front (anyone who has ever owned a VW Beetle will be familiar) and swing axles and torsion bars at the back.
The chassis was made up of tubular members, the main tubes of which conveyed the cooling water from the nose radiator
to the engine (and which tended to leak), and the engine had a central camshaft and push-rods to operate the inclined overhead valves
. These A-type Auto Unions - the name was based on the Audi, Wanderer, Horch and OKW amalgamation - were difficult cars to drive. Their swing axles led to oversteer which was aggravated by the big 6-litre engine in the tail. However, while Mercedes-Benz sorted out their new straight-eight, 32-valve racers, Auto Union got their cars home first in a number of races. For the 3-litre Formula, Auto Union put in De Dion rear suspension and used a 65 x 75 mm, V 12 engine, with two-stage Roots supercharging and inclined overhead valves
, worked from triple overhead camshafts.
The engine was still mounted behind the driver, but in this model the wheelbase was two inches shorter than in the C-type cars, at o fr .i in, and the cockpit was further aft. Even so, it took Nuvolari
, soon to be the crack Auto Union pilot, some time to get used to the handling
characteristics of this 3-litre, 185mph car which gave him 400 bhp at 7000 rpm to control, which was not surprising since the daring driver could provoke wheel-spin at 150mph on a dry road. Before we leave these outstanding contributions to motor-racing history, let us note down the principal engineers responsible for each car. They were as follows.
- Mercedes-Benz: W25, Nibel and Wagner;
- W125, Max Seiler, Wagner, Hess and Uhlenhaut;
- W163, Wagner and Hess, under Dr Seiler;
- Auto Union: A-type, Dr Ferdinand Porsche and Adolf Rosenberger;
- B-type, Dr Ferdinand Porsche;
- C-type, Dr Ferdinand Porsche;
- O-type, Dr Werner, Dr Feuereisen and Professor Eberan von Eberhorst.
While all this intense top-formula work was going on, with the most exciting cars and racing of all time, the voiturette
class had not been neglected. Raymond Mays
had been instrumental in creating the ERA
- its initials stood for English Racing Automobile
- by using a supercharged, six-cylinder, short- push rod engine, based on that of the Riley Six, and a high 'cart-sprung' chassis, designed by the land-speed-record engineer, Reid Railton, to take a single-seater body. In It-litre form, these ERAs, which were sold to private owners, were decently successful. However, Dick Seaman
had a 1927 straight- eight Delage, developed to give a reliable 195 bhp which, by virtue of needing fewer stops for refuelling, could beat the works ERAs.
The Continental opposition came from 1.5-litre Maserati and Alfa Romeo cars, but these were to have a greater importance after the war. Had hostilities not intervened, some very interesting 1.5-litre racing must have resulted, because Auto Union were known to be working on a car to compete against the W165 Mercedes-Benz. It was thought to be capable of giving 327 bhp at a rousing 9000 rpm from a V12 of 53 x 56 mm bore and stroke, using a higher compression ratio, in conjunction with supercharging, than Mercedes-Benz had yet dared to employ. However Adolf Hitler, who had virtually created such grand racing cars, then called a temporary halt to proceedings.
This famous photo from the 1953 Italian GP shows the moment winner Fangio, in a Maserati, leads other brilliant drivers Farina in a Ferrari, and Marimon in another Maserati. Ascari was leading on the last lap when Farina touched his car forcing a spin, Ascari then being rammed by Marimon.
Fangio (left) reached his brilliance in the 1950s. Here he is pictured before a GP race with Froilan Gonzales.
Formula One In The 1950s
On October 5, 1951, the FIA decided to extend the life of the 1.5-litre supercharged, 4.5-litres un-supercharged Formula 1 to December, 1953. A new formula 1, for supercharged cars up to 750 cc's and un-supercharged cars up to 2500 cc's was introduced as of January, 1954. However, only Ferrari and BRM had really rapid F1 cars, and the BRM still could not be made sufficiently reliable to present any serious competition. Faced with the prospect of a series of Ferrari wins by forfeit, organisers decided to make their races, including the Grande Epreuves, Formula 2 events for cars up to 500 cc's supercharged and 2000 cc's un-supercharged.
The Englishmen and others produced a collection of F2 cars of varying origins, while Ferrari still appeared to have the upper hand, with excellent cars and excellent drivers. The Championship opened with the Swiss Grand Prix at Berne, won by Piero Taruffi (works Ferrari), followed by Rudi Fischer (private Ferrari) and Jean Behra (Gordini). The best English performances were put up by Wharton (Frazer-Nash) and Brown (Cooper-Bristol). Ascari was at Indianapolis and Fangio was signed up to drive for Maserati, who had not yet produced their car. The second round was at Spa-Francorchamps. Maserati was not represented, Fangio having crashed at Monza. The race was won by Ascari. Farina was second, Manzon (Gordini) was third, and Hawthorn (Cooper-Bristol) fourth, after his debut in European racing by turning on a spectacular drive with Taruffl. At this stage, Taruffi and Ascari each had nine points, Farina and Fischer six, Manzon and Behra four, Hawthorn and Wharton three, and Brown and Frere two.
There was some confusion over which French Grand Prix was the championship event, but the FIA eventually awarded it to the ACF's event at Rouen, which was a 1-2-3 victory for Ferrari, followed by the Gordinis of Manzon and Trintig-nant, and Collins' HWM. The British Grand Prix again saw the Rampant Horse victorious, with Ascari scuttling away to a clear victory, followed by Taruffl and Hawthorn in a Cooper. Ascari again swept the track at the Nurburgring, with only Claes (HWM) splitting the Ferrari ranks in fifth place. Ferrari was 1-2-3 again at Zand-voort (Ascari, Farina, Villoresi), giving Ascari the Championship. Only Monza remained, and Ascari again won. However, the new Maserati appeared, and Gonzalez drove brilliantly to come in second, after leading the race for some distance.
For 1953, Hawthorn joined Ferrari, but again the championship went to Ascari, who won at Buenos Aires, Zandvoort
, Spa, Silverstone and Berne. The season saw two great races, one at Rheims, where Hawthorn defeated Fangio on the last corner, and Monza, where Fangio won after an epic battle with Ascari and Farina, with Mari-mon and Villoresi on different laps also mixing it. On the last corner there was quite an incident with Ascari and Marimon spinning off, baulking Farina, and a very surprised Juan Manuel slipping through to take the flag. The old Formula really went out in a blaze of glory!
In 1954 the 750 cc / 2500 cc Formula made its debut, with Mercedes fielding the fabulous W196 cars, from the French GP on, Ferrari his Squalos, and Maserati the great 250F. Fangio - Maserati-mounted - won the Argentine Grand Prix, assisted by a couple of convenient falls of rain, and a rather curious decision by officials that the rule concerning the number of mechanics working on cars did not apply to him. At Spa, Fangio gave one of his brilliant exhibitions, bringing his crippled Maserati in ahead of Trintignant, Moss and Gonzalez. Rheims, of course, marked the re-entry of Mercedes-Benz into GP racing, with an overwhelming victory by Fangio, with team-mate Kling second, and Manzon (Ferrari) third.
Silverstone was a Mercedes debacle, Fangio only managing to bring his drum-scarred car into fourth, while Gonzalez, "The Pampas Bull", had a clear victory. The "Einsitzer" Mercedes appeared for Nurburgring, and, of course, Fangio won while Kling incurred "Big Alfred's" wrath by bending his car. Gonzalez, upset by the death of his friend Marimon in practice, handed his car over to Hawthorn, who came second, with Trintignant third. Fangio, Moss, Hawthorn and Gonzalez staged a dice at Berne until Moss retired, and Hawthorn stopped at his pit with a faulty fuel pump. Gonzalez still pursued Fangio, but the bow-legged Argentinian had the measure of his compatriot, and went on to a win which gave him the Championship. The Italian Grand Prix at Monza again saw a thrilling race. Kling led Fangio and Moss until he spun off, but the latter two were soon joined by Ascari and Gonzalez, until Gonzalez blew up. But the silver-haired veteran Luigi Villoresi and Hawthorn joined the fray, Villoresi going to the front, to the delight of the Italian crowds, until he in turn, blew up.
Moss went to the lead, then lost it to Ascari, then regained it when Ascari dropped a valve. It was Stirling's day, and he roared along, increasing his lead every lap, until, nine laps from the finish, his oil tank split. He got going again in second place and carved great hunks out of Fan-gio's lead until a little over a mile from the finish his engine seized. The V-8 Lancias appeared at Barcelona, at long last, but they retired from the race, Villoresi with no brakes and Ascari with no clutch, and Hawthorn won, followed by Musso and Fangio, who nursed his ailing car to the finish. Officine Maserati's year started badly in 1955, with Moss signing up with Mercedes. Hawthorn agreed to drive for Vanwall. Maserati had Behra, Schell and possibly Musso, while Ferrari had Gonzalez, who had been involved in a nasty accident while practising for the RAC Tourist Trophy in 1954, and the wily veteran Giuseppe Farina.
The season opened at Buenos Aires, and the race made history. The temperature soared, and drivers chopped and changed cars, taking them almost in rotation. Drivers were coming in, handing over their cars, and recovering in the shade until another exhausted driver came in. Moss came in to have a fuel blockage investigated, lay down in the shade near the pits, and was carted off by ambulance men, who thought he had collapsed. And through it all drove Fangio, the only person to drive one car the whole distance. Fangio won, followed by Gonzalez, Trintignant and Farina in second place, Farina/Maglioli/Trintignant third and Moss/Herrmann/Kling fourth. Points were divided as follows: Fangio 9 (win and fastest lap), Farina and Trintignant 31/3 each, Gonzalez and Mieres two each, Maglioli 1-1/3, Moss, Kling and Herrmann one each.
Mercedes-Benz invaded Britain in 1955 to take first four places in British GP at Aintree. Here's the start of that historic race, with Moss on the outside getting the better of Fangio. Popular belief is that M-B team orders that day were to let Moss win, which he did. Trintignant won Monaco, after the Mercedes threat evaporated, from Castellotti, whose Lancia was troubled by fading brakes. This was the race in which Ascari went into the harbor. He escaped unhurt, only to die at Monza a few days later in one of racing's most mysterious accidents. After Ascari's death, Lancia announced their withdrawal from racing, but lent Castellotti a car for Spa. But the hot-headed Italian retired with a split gearbox, while Fangio won from Moss, a pattern that was to be repeated that year. It was repeated at Zandvoort
, reversed at Aintree - where Fangio tailed Moss across the line in what many observers claimed was a prearranged finish. Lancia handed their entire stock of racing equipment to Enzo Ferrari, but Fangio won at Monza to take another world championship. At the end of 1955, Mercedes Benz withdrew from racing.
For 1956, Scuderia Ferrari snapped up Fangio and also signed on the strong team of Collins, Musso and Castellotti. Maserati had Moss and Jean Behra. Hawthorn and Brooks went to BRM, Schell and Trintignant to Vanwall. Fangio won at Buenos Aires, followed by Behra and Hawthorn, who for the occasion, was driving the Owen Organisation's private 250F Maserati. At Monaco, Moss won - after Fangio damaged his rear suspension in one of his rare misdemeanors - and Collins was flagged in to give Fangio his car after the champion virtually drove his damaged car to a standstill. During practice for the Belgian GP at Spa, Fangio turned in the first-ever lap at over 200 kph and was favorite for the race, but his transmission packed up and Collins went on to win, followed by the Belgian journalist Paul Frere, who had been talked into driving a Ferrari after he arrived at the circuit to do his usual report on the GP. Moss was third and Schell a good fourth after showing the potential of the Vanwall.
Schell turned on an even better show at Rheims, for he roared into the lead and, through some slip-up, everyone thought he was a lap or more behind. He was busily extending his lead when Fangio realised what was going on. In the ensuing battle, Schell set a new lap record, but Fangio took command as Schell's car began to fail. Schell's record did not last long however, as Moss hurtled around in 2 min 25.9 sec - nearly three seconds faster than the Vanwall's best. Then, Fangio dropped the time by one-tenth of a second while trying to catch Collins, Castellotti and Behra, who had passed him while he was in for a pit stop. Collin's win took him to the top of the championship table with 19 points, while Behra had 14 and Fangio 13.
Fangio won at Silverstone after an exciting battle for the British GP with Moss, who had to call into his pits to get all six cylinders firing again and later, while in second place, ran out of fuel. Collins was second and Behra third and Collins now had 22 points, one ahead of Fangio. And so the "circus" shifted to Germany where the irrepressible Hprace Gould broke a throttle connection on his private Maserati way out on the circuit and borrowed a safety pin from a lady spectator to effect a repair. He set off towards the pits shouting "Thank God you weren't Wearing elastic ones". Meanwhile, Collins and Fangio were staging an exhibition with Moss coming on stage occasionally. After nine laps, Collins went out with a fractured fuel tank and he took over de Portago's Ferrari only to ditch this car near the Karussel. Fangio had been pressing on at a great pace and won from Moss and Behra.
The 1956 Italian GP saw a rare gesture of sportsmanship - one which enabled Fangio to win yet another world championship. During a tremendously exciting race, in which Moss, Schell, Fangio and Collins swopped places repeatedly, Fangio's steering suddenly became erratic and he came into the pits for the car to be repaired. Musso was signalled in, but did not respond and when he elected to stop he remained in his seat so that Fangio could not take over. Then Collins was brought in for a tyre check and the team manager made a half-hearted suggestion that Fangio should take the car away to try to catch the leader, Moss. Collins did not hesitate and jumped from the cockpit to hand over to a delighted Fangio, who thereafter did his utmost to catch Moss' Maserati and failed by only five seconds. But the second place gave Fangio his fourth world title and he finished on 29 points compared to Moss' 27 and Collins' 25.
At the start of 1957, there were quite a few changes. Fangio left Ferrari to go to Maserati and Moss went to Vanwall, where he had Tony Brooks as partner. Ferrari had Collins, Hawthorn, Castellotti and Musso. At Buenos Aires, Fangio opened his account after most of the Ferraris had gone out with mechanical failure. In between the Argentine and Monaco GP's, some significant events happened. Castellotti was killed testing a car, Moss turned in an epic drive at Syracuse -to- show the Vanwall's mettle, Stuart Lewis Evans made a staggering F1 debut and Ferrari unveiled a new F2 V6 machine.
Monaco was a "smashing" race, with Moss, Collins and Hawthorn crashing in a sensational incident along the harbor front. Fangio drove through the rubble to win and Brooks drove a steady race to finish second. Fangio, with no opposition - Moss and Brooks were ill - won the French GP at Rouen to give him three wins in a row. At Aintree in the British GP the crowd went wild with excitement when Moss, who took over Brooks' car when his own failed, won after Behra's clutch had disintegrated and Hawthorn's car blew a tyre after running over metal left behind by Behra.
The Nurburgring was the scene of another classic race in this very exciting year of motor racing and the German GP established beyond all doubt that there never was a driver quite like Fangio. In the course of the race, the 47-year-old champion smashed the lap record no less than ten times in a relentless pursuit of Collins and Hawthorn after a minute's pit stop to change tyres. The "master" caught the Ferraris to win by three seconds from Hawthorn after a superlative drive.
Because of the cancellation of some events, the Pescara GP was given grande epreuve status and gave Moss his second win for the season. Fangio was second and Schell third in a Maserati, and Moss broke all records on the difficult 16-mile circuit. Fangio's place meant he had won the title for the fifth time. Monza provided a unique spectacle, with all three Vanwalls on the front row of the grid along with Fangio's V12 Maserati. Despite Fangio's efforts, the Vanwalls were definitely quicker and Moss took victory after a great year for the British cars. Fangio was again second. The year finished on a sorry note when Officine Maserati announced their withdrawal from grand prix racing.
Many people were shaken when, at the beginning of 1958, the tiny 2.2 "giant-killer" Coopers appeared at Buenos Aires and Monaco to annex the first two grande epreuves. Moss won the Argentine race, while Trintignant scored at Monaco. But thereafter, Vanwall were practically invincible. Moss won at Zandvoort
and Oporto, Brooks at Spa, the Nurburgring and Monza and Moss topped it off by winning the final round at Casablanca. But Hawthorn won at Rheims and Collins at Silverstone and Hawthorn had enough placings and fastest laps to pip Moss by one point to become the first Briton to win the world championship. The excitement of this year-long battle was tempered by the deaths of Peter Collins - which probably influenced Mike Hawthorn's decision to retire at the end of the season - Musso and Lewis-Evans.