Monaco, 1967: Bandini’s Fiery Crash

Dealing with Death in Sport

Death in sport is not easy for me, as a writer, to deal with. But, for some races, death is the story. It’s unavoidable. I do not desire to be exploitative, but rather to speak honestly about the tragedy. Certainly, the loss of any life—be it a spectator or driver—is truly regrettable. Is death in motorsport a stain? Or, is it inevitable result of forward progress? There are no easy answers, only acknowledgments of what has come before.

Lorenzo Bandini

Lorenzo Bandini died three days after the 1967 Monaco Grand Prix. He had lived to race. Speaking of his path to racing, he once said, “I always wanted to be a driver, but I had to wait and wait. It was like being madly in love with a beautiful girl and holding one’s emotions in check, without being able to explain it to her.”

Born in North Africa in December 1936, his parents settled in Florence, Italy three years later. His father died when Lorenzo was fifteen years old. He went to work as an apprentice at a local garage.

Five years later, at age 20, Lorenzo Bandini opened his own shop. Late in 1957, he raced a Fiat 1100 borrowed from a generous customer. He ran in a Hill Climb at Emilia, Italy and was fifteenth in his class. Undeterred, he borrowed a better Fiat 1100 from his old boss. He scored a third place and was offered a Fiat V8. He did even better with the bigger engine. In 1958, he purchased his own Volpini Formula Junior open-wheeled car to race with. He was considered a natural at the wheel by contemporaries and critics.

Mimmo Dei, patron of Scuderia Centro-Sud, gave Bandini his first shot at Formula 1 at the 1961 Pau GP. In 1962, the Scuderia Centro-Sud disbanded. Enzo Ferrari signed Bandini; however, at first, he confined Bandini to sports car work.

Mimmo Dei came to the proverbial rescue in 1963. Dei had just purchased Graham Hill’s winning BRM. For the first part of 1963, Lorenzo drove the BRM in Formula 1 races. Later, he became Ferrari’s number two driver on the Formula 1 squad. He was behind the late John Surtees through the end of 1966. By 1967, Bandini had become Ferrari’s number one driver, ahead of Chris Amon.

Coming Up to Speed at the 1967 Monaco GP

May 1967. The South of France. The cars of this era were squishy. Getting around Monaco took more art than science. They drove by the seat of their pants, feeling the changes in grip corner by corner. Aerodynamic grip was nowhere to be found; the driver was limited to the small contact patches between his tires and Monaco’s historic streets.

There were 22 entires for 16 places on the starting grid. Of those 16 places, 11 were already guaranteed to works teams that had been in existence for at least three years.

Of note, Jackie Stewart was in a V8 BRM, but also had the option of driving an H16 BRM. Mike Spence was in a H16 BRM. John Surtees had access to two virtually identical Honda V12 cars. Jack Brabham did require his spare car, as his new reversed port engine blew up during the first practice session. Dennis Hulme had his reliable 1966 Repco-Brabham, with side exhausts.

Practice

Bandini held the previous Monaco race lap record at 1:29.8, set in 1966. However, in light of recent design improvements, speeds were expected be even faster for the 1967 Monaco Grand Prix.

The first practice was on Thursday afternoon and speeds started off slow on the oily street circuit. All the cars set about practicing right away, except for Clark and Hill. Their cars had been held up and were not yet delivered. The first laps were around 1:35.0 as each team began to dial in their cars.

Lorenzo Bandini set a 1:30.4 in the Thursday afternoon practice. At the end of practice, Bandini was happy with his car; however, the other Ferrari driver—Chris Amon—complained of throttle response issues. Jackie Stewart, piloting a BRM, was the only driver to dip below 1:30.0.

The next practice took place on Friday morning, where a sense of urgency pervaded the paddock. Everyone quickly got down to business. Clark, finally able to test his recently arrived Lotus, was first quick in his Lotus-Climax V8.

In this Friday morning practice, Bandini was only able to get down to about 1:33.0 before opening up the throttle too soon around the Mirabeau hairpin. He broke his front suspension, as a result of hitting the course wall. John Surtees set the fastest time in his Honda V12 at 1:28.4.

It rained on Saturday morning. Therefore, many thought that no faster times would be set at the next practice on Saturday afternoon. However, wind plus intervening support races sufficiently dried and rubbered in the track to allow the Formula 1 racers to set more fast times. Bandini certainly had some work ahead of him for the final qualifying practice.

Bandini was quite successful in his attempt to improve his race grid position. With his front end suspension fixed, Bandini set a blistering Monaco lap of 1:28.3. However, Jack Brabham was even faster; he set a lap at 1:27.6. Brabham and Bandini made up the front row of the Monaco grid for the race. Behind them it was Surtees and Hulme on the second row. Clark and Stewart rounded out the third row.

Race

The Monaco Grand Prix is an elegant paradox. The course is unyielding and confining. The cars that race it are fiery beasts aching to be free. At a course like Monza, the car and track act in synthetic harmony to slingshot cars out of the curva parabolica. However, at Monaco, the car and track become diametrically opposed forces. Perfect concentration is the only solution to the paradox.

The weather was beautiful for the ’67 Monaco GP. The cars formed on the grid and revved their engines as they waited for the flag to drop. Tires screeched as the cars launched into action. The crowd watched Lorenzo Bandini lead the field into the first corner. Jack Brabham got a slow start away from his number one grid position. Brabham’s brand new Repco engine broke a connecting rod, which punched a hole in the block. Still operating on seven cylinders, Jack’s Repco sprayed oil all over the track.

At the end of the first lap, Bandini led Hulme, Stewart, Surtees, and Gurney. In the pits, Brabham was surprised to learn that his engine was terminal.

By the end of lap 2, both Dennis Hulme and Jackie Stewart had passed Lorenzo Bandini. Cement dust was laid down over the spilled oil as the cars continued to matriculate at full speed. This was a marginal solution, at best, and the track remained extremely slippery, particularly from the hairpin through the tunnel. By the end of the fourth lap, Dan Gurney had also edged past Bandini’s scarlet Ferrari; however, Lorenzo retook this position on the next lap when Gurney’s Eagle-Westlake lost function of its fuel pump.

Stewart and his BRM overtook Hulme and his Repco-Brabham for the lead by the end of lap 6. By the end of lap 15, Bandini was back in second place, because Stewart broke his crown wheel and pinion. Surtees’ V12 growled as he stayed on the heels of Bandini’s Ferrari.

By lap 20, it looked like Dennis Hulme was running away with the race. He was leading by 20 seconds over Lorenzo. According to Denis Jenkinson, on lap 42, “Bandini was now beginning to get his second wind and he slowly reduced the gap between the leading Brabham and his Ferrari down to 7 seconds, but Hulme was equal to the challenge and held his lead to about 8 seconds and it became a trial of strength with the rugged New Zealander coming out on top.”

At 50 laps, half distance, the order was Hulme (Brabham-Repco V8), Bandini (Ferrari V12), McLaren (McLaren-BRM V8), Amon (Ferrari V12), and Hill (Lotus-BRM V8). The rest of the field was either out or lapped.

The stalemate between Hulme and Rodriguez continued for 15 laps, with neither driver able to make headway against the other. Around lap 70, according to Jenkinson, “Hulme’s superior physical condition [was] obviously coming out on top and poor Bandini was beginning to flag and he began to show signs of tiredness and lack of concentration, occasionally being untidy and ragged on some of the corners.”

Then on lap 82, disaster. Bandini flew through the tunnel, down the hill, and into the chicane. Again, according to Jenkinson’s first-hand contemporary description, “the Ferrari struck the wooden barriers and was immediately out of control. It mounted the straw bales on the outside of the corner, a wheel was broken off, and the car landed upside down in the middle of the road with the driver trapped underneath.”

The video is disturbing. One commentary that I came across even suggested that the helicopter’s downwash only worsened the deathly flames.

Dennis Hulme went on to win the race. But, there was little cause for celebration. The 31 year old Bandini had been extricated from the car alive. He would live three more excruciating days before succumbing to his burns and injuries.

 

–Travis Turner of GPevolved.com

The 1967 Race of Champions at Brands Hatch

The 1967 Race of Champions

It was not a championship event.  It did not pay points.  That doesn’t mean that the race was not important.

Dan Gurney won the race, but it was a hard-earned victory.  “We are a small outfit. with meager backing , and spread pretty thin at this point.  Any kind of setback will be felt keenly.  For instance, if we lose an engine, one car probably won’t race” Dan Gurney had said earlier that year.

The 1967 Race of Champions, raced at Brands Hatch, was the European introduction of the 1967 season.  Following a day of practice that saw rain, sleet, and even some snow, the Race of Champions took place on March 12, 1967, with a novel format.

Specifically. there were two heats, each of 10 laps, that reshuffled the grid, as effective repeat qualifying sessions.  The main race, was set for 40 laps.

Scuderia Ferrari, as I noted in my previous post, were absent for the 1967 South African GP.  Thus, this was the debut of the new creation of Maranello.  In fact, Ferrari were rolling three deep with screaming V-12 engines.  However, their new star driver, Chris Amon, injured himself on the way to the track.  He declared himself unfit to drive.

Thus, Bandini and Scarfotti, were to chase the other V-12 engines all weekend.  It was a weekend of V-12 power in each session and every heat.  But, the best part of this race is the nostalgic video that I unearthed on YouTube.  So, I will let the video, below, do the heavy-lifting of communicating the feel of the race.

 

After the race, Dan Gurney reported, “It was very exciting to see that both Richie and I were able to out-accelerate anything on the starting grid, including the Honda, which has been regarded as the ‘dragster’ of the Grand Prix cars.”  This was important victory for Dan Gurney Weslake V12, albeit on a track that favored V-12 characteristics.  The achilles heal of Dan’s Eagle, in its earlier configuration, was its weight.  This is where, later in the season, the Lotus 49 would excel.

The 1967 Grand Prix of South Africa

The 1967 Season Opener: A War of Attrition.

The 1967 Formula 1 rules dictated 3.0 liter engines.  The cars looked like cigars on wheels.  There were no wings yet (those would not arrive until 1968).  The cars, largely free of sponsorship advertising, were absolutely elegant.  Among the three liter cars, there was a lot of variation.  Some teams ran four cylinders.  Others ran as many as 16 cylinders.  The first championship-points race of 1967 was at Kyalami, a track near Johannesburg in South Africa.  It took place in early January.  Monaco, the next race, was several months away.  In fact, in the middle of a rebuilding state, Ferrari did not even make the race.

1967 F1: The Teams and Drivers

The Brabham team has two cars for Jack Brabham, the team owner, and Dennis Hulme.  The well-prepared cars were unchanged from their form at the final grand prix of 1966 in Mexico.

Cooper also brought two cars to the 1967 South African GP.  The cars were driven by Rindt and Rodriguez. Rodriguez’s car was formerly John Surtees’ mount; however, Surtees raced for Honda in 1967.

Importantly, Team Lotus was about to drop a car with a Ford-Cosworth engine that would change the face of Formula 1 for the next 15 years.  However, neither the engine nor its special monocoque chassis were ready for the first race of the season.  Thus, they showed up with two cars rocking older H16 B.R.M. engines.

As mentioned above, Honda had employed John Surtees to race for their relatively new F1 team.  Surtees was working closely with the team to improve some temperamental  handling issues.

Jackie Stewart and Mike Spence were driving new 16 cylinder engines for B.R.M.  Stewart, now considered a legendary F1 figure, was just then achieving number one driver status for the team.

Finally, aside from the privateers, Dan Gurney and his All-American Racers (AAR) team completed the field.  Possibly the most beautiful of an already elegant era of car, the Gurney Weslake V12 would eventually push 415 horsepower at 10,000 revolutions per minute; however, the V12 was not quite race-ready.  Gurney, instead, put a Coventry-Climax four-banger in his gorgeous chassis.

Thursday Test and Tune:  Grand Prix of South Africa

You are correct to notice a lot of variation between the engine and chassis combinations of the different teams.  There were inline, V, and even H cylinder configurations with cylinders ranging from 4 and 8 to 12 and even 16 cylinders.   The variance in sound must have been amazing; at least, as compared to the homogeneity of todays F1 field.

Shakedown Problems

Yet, the first practice of the 1967 F1 season started rather quietly.  In fact, not everyone had even arrived yet.  Many of those that had arrived were having problems.  For example, John Surtees had already blown both engines before the first official practice.  When practice started, the mechanics were busy with repairs.  And, much like the 2017 Formula 1 season, the Honda engine (and chassis) were both beleaguered with problems.

Other teams were also having problems.  Graham Hill’s fuel tank was split open.  Jim Clark could not run simply because his helmet had ended up in Nairobi.  Dennis Hulme could not initially run due to a fault valve adjustment requiring the engine to be torn apart in his Repco-Brabham V8.

Compared to the subsequent test sessions and race, the Thursday practice was relatively cool.  The clouds also helped to keep down the track surface temperature.  Nevertheless, Jochen Rindt’s Cooper-Maserati had fuel vaporization problems.  Finally, with time, on Thursday, more and more engines came to life and the 1967 Formula 1 season was finally underway.

Early Speed in Practice

Jackie Stewart was the first driver to do any meaningful running.  He was driving a works B.R.M., which had an updated crankshaft.  The Lotus team, which were using B.R.M. engines for this race, did not have the new trick crankshaft.

Jack Brabham was quick from the outset.  Pedro Rodriguez, a Mexican driver racing for Cooper-Maserati, was also really fast from his first laps.  This was impressive because it was his first time to the track in an era long before endless simulator hours.  Not only that, but this was also his first time driving in the Cooper-Maserati.

Mike Spence, driving for B.R.M. lapped the fairly short nine turn track in 1:32.2. Rodriguez upped the ante with a blistering lap at 1:29.4.  Not to be outdone, Jack Brabham lapped the track even faster (1:29.1).  To put this in perspective, Brabham was lapping 4.3 seconds faster than the prodigal Jimmy Clark.

Gurney struggled throughout the session.  According to multiple reports, a spectator who had gotten into the pits managed to dislodge a small pebble from a tire and inadvertently knock it into the engine through an open spark plug port.  In any event, the American chassis was slow due to misfires.

As temperatures heated up, the cars encountered more problems and the drivers struggled to drive as fast as they had during the first practice.

Friday Heats Up

The ambient temperature was 85 degrees.  However, the track was a tire-melting 140 degrees.  Engine internals were also running abnormally high due to the combination of high temperatures and low cooling from the thin high-altitude air.

Fuel vaporization was now affecting most of the cars to some degree or another.    Hulme’s Brabam was quite strongly affected by the problem.  Surtees’ freshly repaired Honda was still not running very well.  Rindt (Cooper-Maserati), Gurney (Eagle-Climax), and Clark (Lotus-BRM) made the biggest gains, as compared to their times from the day before.

Final Practice on Saturday

On Saturday, Jack Brabham went nearly as quickly as he had on Thursday, in spite of ever-increasing overall temperatures.  However, even he could not improve on his ultimately quickest lap from Thursday.  This is important in these days because the grid was set by your practice time.  In other words, practice was, in essence, qualifying.

And so, the grid was set.  Jack Brabham had the pole position from his lap of 1:28.3.  Dennis Hulme, in the other Repco-Brabham V8 was also on the front row (1:28.9).  Jimmy Clark (1:29.0) and Pedro Rodriquez (1:29.1) made up the second row.  J. Love in a 2.7 liter Cooper Climax was in third, next to John Surtees in the Honda V12.  After them, it was Rindt, Charlton, Stewart, Anderson, Gurney, Bonnier, Spence, Tingle, Hill, Siffert, Botha, and Courage.

No Rest for the Mechanics on Sunday

Sunday was supposed to be a rest day.  However, as racing mechanics are acutely aware, a rest day typically benefits greater the driver than the wrencher.  Having encountered numerous problems on short runs, the entire field was at work making moderate to serious cooling modifications to their respective cars.  Some teams fit extra fuel radiators.  Other teams re-routed fuel or water lines outside the chassis, to expose them to the air.  Repco-Brabham even fitted containers to pack dry ice around key engine components.

The 1967 Grand Prix of South Africa Race Report

The Grand Prix Start

The race took place on Monday, January 2, 1967.  Hulme got the best start from the second position on the front row and jumped ahead of Jack Brabham.  Just after the flag dropped, the engines roared to life and took off: Hulme, Brabham, Surtees, Rodriguez, Clark, and Rindt.

On the third lap, Jack Brabham had a quick spin and dropped from second to fourth.  This moved Jochen Rindt up to third.  Pedro Rodriguez was fifth, chasing Brabham.  On the same lap, Jackie Stewart’s B.R.M. H16  blew up in grand fashion spewing oil all over the track.  In one fact, one report from 1967 suggested that no grand prix had ever resulted in more total oil spilled onto the track.  Whether true or not, nobody can know.  However, on the third lap, there was already enough oil to send Rindt off the track.  He rejoined several places back.

By the south lap, Denny Hulme was showing his dominance.  Hulme continued to lead the field followed by Surtees, Brabaham, Clark, and Rindt.  There was a hard-charging battle for seventh place between Love and Gurney.

1967 Grand Prix of South  Africa: Midrace

Hulme was efficiently pulling away from John Surtees in the Honda.  It would seem that the Honda started better than it could sustain over a race distance.  In fact, Surtees’ Honda was falling into the clutches of the chasing cars: Brabham, Rodriguez, and Rindt.

On the eighteenth lap, Rodriguez passed Brabham.  However, he quickly lost his second gear shortly after the pass.  This left him fighting from his back foot for the remainder of the race.  As a result of losing second gear, he was reposed by Brabham.  Jochen Rindt also made it by Rodriguez.

Further back, the midfield battles continued.  J. Siffert had passed Love and Gurney, but then lost a fuel pump.  He eventually got it fixed and headed back out; however, the damage had already been done.  Around this time, Bonnier went out with a dropped valve.

On the twenty-first lap, Brabham shot past Surtees to take second place.  A few laps later, on lap 24 ,J. Rindt passed John Surtees for third place.  At half-distance, the four-bangers of Love and Gurney had also passed by Surtees’ Honda.

Halfway to Victory

At the halfway point, Hulme led Brabham by 28.6 seconds.  Love, Gurney, and Brabham battled for third, fourth, and fifth; the group trailed Brabham by 25 seconds.  Pedro Rodriguez was in sixth place.  In fact, at the halfway mark, he was the last car on the lead lap.  However, the heat and altitude were tolling the cars.  All four H16 cylinder cars had already dropped out.  More cars were soon to follow.

Trailing Hulme, Brabham’s car started to misfire.  He stopped in the pits.  His crew packed dry-ice around his fuel pump, in an effort to cool the engine.  But, by the time he returned, he was a lap down in eighth place.  Thus. Love slotted into second; Gurney went into third.

On lap 44, Gurney’s beautiful blue Eagle went out with a broken left-rear wishbone.  So, even in his problematic Honda, Surtees was racing in third, chasing the second place Love.  Pedro Rodriguez, for all his Formula 1 inexperience, was in fourth.

Finally, on lap 54, Rodriguez roared past Surtees.  Brabham was up to sixth, but only by way of more retirements in front of him, including the privateer Courage.

Racing to the Finish

With 21 laps remaining, Hulme was looking good for the win.  But, suddenly, he slammed his right foot-pedal to the floor.  His brakes were gone.  He dove into the pits like a bomber swooping toward its target, slowed down, and yelled to his crew to get brake fluid ready.  On the next lap, he stopped and his crew filled up his brake fluid.  But, it was of no avail.  His brakes were shot.  More than that, the probable winner was then in fourth.

At that point, Love, in the oldest and least powerful car, was in the lead.  Good ol’ Pedro was down 20 seconds.  He chased Love as hard as he could; however, he was unable to meaningfully close the gap.

In those days, pit stops for fuel were avoided at all costs.  To this end, Love had fitted a reserve fuel tank to his car.  But, there was problem with this ad hoc modification.  The fuel pump was not picking up the final three gallons of fuel.  There was no choice.  Love stopped for fuel.  Rodriguez shot by into the lead.  When Love got going again, he was 30 seconds down.

Thus, having lost his crucial second gear early in the race, Pedro Rodriguez won the 1967 Kyalami Grand Prix against all odds in a battle of attrition against the elements.  Love crossed the line in second place.  Surtees finished in third and burst a tire just after crossing the line.  Hulme finished, dejected, in fourth place.

 

The 1957 German Grand Prix: Fangio’s Maserati Triumph

The Maserati 250F was a great car. It was well-balanced; however, this does not mean that it was easy to drive on the edge. Cars of this era were heavy, but also had notoriously little grip. A driver, Paul Frere, described what it was like to drive a Formula 1 car in 1956:

“When things start to happen they happen so quickly that correcting action must be taken without delay and with the utmost accuracy: with a Grand Prix car it is extremely easy, owing to the quickness with which it responds, to overcorrect a slide and start a series of zigzags of increasing amplitude which will eventually bring you up—hard—against the bank, ditch, or whatever else happens to be at the side of the road.”

Fangio (Maserati 250F, race # 1, chassis #2529), looks cool, calm, and collected.

Another author, Paul Fearnley, was permitted to drive Fangio’s actual 1957 German Grand Prix car (chassis number 2529) around the Nurburgring in 2002. His words, captured by Motorsport Magazine, were profound. “Its throttle is feather-light and I hamfootedly kick the three Webers awake. My left tympanum goes into spasm.” The Maserati 250F, although well-balanced, took a master’s touch around the tricky Nürburgring.

Even with Fangio at the helm, it was not easy to navigate the Nürburgring. I will assume you are familiar with the ‘ring. If you are not, you should first go and look it up; it is pretty epic. The Nurburgring, circa 1957, was precisely 22,810 meters in length (14.173 miles). To win the race, you would need to be the first to complete 22 circuits, at breakneck speed.

Too long to memorize, one needed to at least remember the corners that could kill them. But, the driver also needed to compartmentalize their fears and have supreme confidence in their ability to squeeze the car through the narrow racing gaps of the newly partially-resurfaced Nurburgring.

Finally, Fangio’s main competition, the Scuderia Ferrari were dangerous contenders. Stirling Moss and Mike Hawthorn, both young British drivers for Ferrari, were about to face off a 46-year-old Fangio. Vanwall, a British team, had also been coming on relatively strong in 1957.

By any stretch of the imagination, Fangio’s task was challenging. To a mere mortal, it would have been terrifying to have the wobbly 1950s machinery shrieking down the narrow pavement of the ‘ring. And yet, pictures show Fangio smiling at the wheel of chassis 2529 as he calmly circled the lengthy track. He was at-one with the car by the end of the practice sessions. The year before, pole position was set at a lap speed of 86.3 mph. This year, Fangio tore through the track at 90.1 mph. Fangio had the speed, but something would go wrong in the race.

The Maserati team and the Scuderia Ferrari would have known each others relative fuel loads on race day. The trained eye could easily tell how much the tail of a car was drooping from fuel weight. Fangio would have known that Moss and Hawthorn were on full fuel, thereby planning to run a non-stop race. Conversely, Moss and Hawthorn would have seen Fangio’s 250F sitting high in the tail; it was only half-full on fuel. Fangio planned to hedge his bets and pit at the halfway mark for fuel and tires.

The front row was four red cars: Maserati and Ferrari. 200,000 people came out to watch the race that sunny day in August 1957. At 1:15 pm, the flag dropped and the drivers revved their engines and spun their tires as they left the starting line.

The Nürburgring’s long laps bring unique challenges, such as the inability to track the race for minutes, at a time. But, when the cars finally emerged nearly ten minutes later, Fangio was not in front. Rather, it was the Ferrari of Mike Hawthorn, followed by his teammate Peter Collins. Hawthorn had done a standing lap of 9:42.5. This was a cracking lap, and they would only get faster as the race went on.

At the end of the second of twenty-two laps, Hawthorn was still in the lead. Time was just starting to grow short for Fangio to pull out a lead. Remember, Fangio needed to stop for both tires and fuel at the halfway point; the Ferraris Hawthorn and Collins would drive straight through without interruption. On the second lap, Hawthorn lowered his time to 9:37.9. But, Fangio had furled his brow and dropped the proverbial hammer. Within a few seconds, Fangio finished his second lap in an even quicker 9:34.6.

Without too much difficulty, having waited to warm his tires, Fangio finally passed both of the leading Ferraris. According to Fangio’s own comments, he had never been more “one” with an automobile than on that day, mounted atop his Maserati 250F, chassis 2529.

Although Hawthorn and Collins stayed in close formation, Fangio was screaming over the hills, down through the valleys, and around the kinks, twists, and turns of the ‘ring. Over the next several laps, Fangio increased his lead by seven seconds a lap.

By lap eight, Fangio again dropped the course world record to 9:30.8. At this pace, could his tires even last to the halfway point? He was 28 seconds in the lead. This is about the average length of a late-1950s pitstop, without the time lost heading into and out of pit lane.

Behra, another Maserati 250F driver and teammate to Fangio had shot his tires by lap 10. He needed to pit even before the halfway mark. Fangio continued to only speed up. He finished his tenth lap in 9:25.5.

Finally, his worn tires could take more. Moreover, Fangio was almost out of his half-tank of fuel. Around 30 seconds ahead of the Ferraris, he stopped at the end of the twelfth lap. However, the pit stop was bungled.

The stop was a disaster. The mechanics needed to change the two rear tires and give his 250F another half tank of fuel. However, one of the mechanics dropped, and momentarily lost, the wheel nut. The mechanic fumbled about as he looked for the part necessary to re-secure the new tire to the car. The pit stop took a shocking fifty-two seconds.

The fifty-two seconds, plus the time at reduced speed in the pit lane, resulted in Fangio being down on the Ferrari’s by about forty-five seconds. Remember, in the entire first-half of the race, Fangio’s miraculous performance only pulled out a twenty-eight second lead. Now, with less laps remaining, Fangio would need to make up even more time.

Fangio’s infamous bungled stop for fresh fuel and tires. Fangio can be seen out of the car, taking a drink, just below the number “3.”

It would take more than proficient driving and a bit of luck. Fangio knew something more was required. Rather than take off at demon pace, Fangio played it cool as his tires warmed up. Some have suggested that this was a ruse designed to get Hawthorn and Collins to lower their pace.

Whether intended or not, Fangio’s slower pace on those first few laps gave him even less time to catch the Ferraris, even if it may have lulled them into a false-sense of security. However, Fangio was back at ten-tenths soon enough. At the end of the sixteenth lap, Fangio was closing methodically. However, he remained in arrears by 33 seconds.

A truly historic picture of Fangio leaving the famous pitstop. The crowd is on their feet as Fangio drops his goggles onto his face. Two mechanics push the car back into the race.

Fangio went on to drive even faster. His record lapping time dropped first to 9:28.5, and then to 9:25.3. With three laps to go; however, Juan-Manuel still had to cover 13.5 seconds of a gap. He caught and passed both Ferraris in half that time. He must have made up at least seven to eight seconds per lap on his well-worn tires.

Fangio not only won the 1957 German Grand Prix that day, but also won his final championship. One would be well-justified in asserting that this great race was the high-point of the career of a true great master.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Travis Turner of GPevolved.com

 

Maserati 250F: A Front Engined F1 Legend

If you ask me, the video above is simple, serene driving bliss. By today’s standards, it is a dinosaur. Piloting the Maserati 250F was something akin to riding a bull. It tried to buck you out of the seat as its leaf-spring, de Dion tube suspension struggled to compensate for the bumps in the road. It heaved and dove constantly with both acceleration and breaking. Every maneuver required the car to be placed in just the right posture to correctly flick it in the desired direction.

Maserati Works Team, Aintree 1957

Fangio, in practice and in race, hit his apexes with scientific accuracy. Although substantially down on horsepower compared to a modern racer, it was down even more grip. The end result was a car that took more than precision to drive, it took clairvoyance.

Much quality material has been written on the Maserati 250F, and I encourage you to search it out. This post could not possibly summarize the totality of the accomplishments of this the great car; however, this post does present a brief defense of the Maserati 250F. The Maserati 250F is the epitome of front-engined grand prix cars.

Macro dashboard pic from a Maserati 250F.

The Maserati 250F, chassis and engine were penned by Gioacchino Colombo (1903-1988). This gives the 250F engine one-hell of a pedigree, considering the trajectory that Colombo’s career had taken thus far.

At 35 years old, Colombo designed the Alfa Romeo 158 “Alfetta” engine, an itself legendary car that saw success both before and after World War II. In creating such a successful racer, he attracted a new employer, Enzo Ferrari. Enzo convinced Colombo to design a (tiny by todays standards) V12. It was only one-and-a-half liters, but it was used in a number of early Ferraris including the Tipo 125, 159, and 166 sports cars. Eventually enlarged to 4.8 liters, it was also the basis for the legendary Ferrari 250 engines.

The Maestro, Fangio, in a Maserati 250F.

Next, Colombo parted ways with Ferrari in 1950 and returned to Alfa Romeo. He was involved with the success of Nino Farina in 1950 and Juan-Manuel Fangio in 1951. When Colombo returned to Maserati in 1953, he began work on the straight-six engine and the whole of the Maserati 250F.

In some regards, the Colombo merely evolved an existing Maserati—their 1952 Formula 2 car. Initially, he was tasked with directly improving this car. He raised the horsepower from 175 to 190. He also improved the suspension, brakes, and various other components.

Maserati 250F engine bay, from 1956 Argentine GP.

190 horsepower might not seem like a lot of horsepower, but on the tires of the day, it would have been brutal to control. In fact, the car had some success taking it to the Scuderia Ferrari in 1953. By the time that happened, Gioacchino Colombo was already at work in developing the new 2.5 liter Maserati 250F. This car was designed by a master engineer at the apogee of his career.

The Maserati was, and is, the archetypal front-engined grand prix car. In law, there is something called a “model plaintiff.” In a class action suit, involving dozens or hundreds of plaintiffs, one must be chosen to represent all the others. In this regard, the model plaintiff has the most in common with everyone else in the class, but it also paints their cause of action in a favorable light. Of all front-engined grand prix cars, I believe the Maserati 250 would be the so-called “model plaintiff.” Thus, I consider it to be the archetypal front-engined grand prix car.

1957 Argentine Grand Prix, Maserati 250Fs, in the pits.

There were only a handful of front engined 1950s racers that could outperform the Maserati 250F. It had all the modern race-tech of a car from that period. These cars were built on an all-new multi-tubular frame, a precursor to the full-on space frame. These represented an advancement from the traditional twin frame rails.

There were between 31 and 34 Maserati 250F’s produced, depending on who is counting. The cars were continually evolved between 1954 and 1957. The first Maserati 250F put out around 240 horsepower, at 7,200 revolutions per minute (RPM). By 1957, the straight-six was putting out 270 horsepower, at 8,000 RPM.

GPevolved Maserati 250F sitting atop article notes.

A Maserati 250F, usually in six-cylinder form, but occasionally in a 12 cylinder variant, won over 40 major race wins during its most active years. Taking an egalitarian approach to racing, Maserati supplied cars to its works team and customers. The sheer numbers of the cars helped to gain its legendary status. But, ultimately, it was the excellence of the 250F in the hands of a true master, such as Juan-Manuel Fangio or Stirling Moss, which cemented its reputation.

Rebuilt Maserati 250F, circa 1954

 

Travis Turner of GPevolved.com

 

The 1900 Gordon Bennett Cup

It was actually called the Coupe Internationale; however, even at the time, everyone referred to it as the Gordon Bennett Cup.  It ran for several years; the first iteration took place in 1900.  It was, by some reports, a complete failure.  But, this minor overture laid the basic foundation for team-based racing.

Caricature of James Gordon Bennett, Jr.. Capti...
Caricature of James Gordon Bennett, Jr.. Caption read “New York Herald”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

James Gordon Bennett, a newspaper man, and son of the creator of the New York Herald, was based in Paris.  Since the 1894 Paris to Rouen run, the New York Herald had paid close attention to the burgeoning sport of automobile racing.  Basically, Mr. Gordon Bennett (a hyphen is incorrect) offered a trophy to the Automobile Club de France (A.C.F.).  The trophy, or cup–as it were–offered this trophy to be “competed for under somewhat unusual circumstances.”  In particular, James Gordon Bennett Jr. dictated that the trophy would be competed for and won by the various national auto clubs.  In other words, neither the individual nor the manufacturer would take the honors.  Rather, the honor of the cup was to go to a winning country.  It was Gordon Bennett’s intention to spur automotive innovation by pitting the various national industries against each other.

James Gordon Bennett never attended any of his Coupe Internationales.  In fact, he was not even a big fan of driving.  He was typically known to roll up to his office in a horse-drawn coach.  But, importantly, he did believe that the automobile would transform the landscape.  Living in France, which was also the epicenter of the automobilism movement, Gordon Bennett offered his namesake’s cup to the A.C.F. in October 1899.

By January 1900, the French club had published a series of rules, called the “articles of competition.”  These rules, in and of themselves, are fascinating because they contain the first formalized rules of motorsport.  These rules define everything from the simple construct that the quickest to the finish line wins, to a basic form of parc fermé (generally understood to be the unavailability to modify a vehicle between race sessions).

Before sponsorship, cars were painted in so-called “national colors.”  These colors shifted a bit over time.  For example, Germany switched from white to silver over time (which is its own fascinating story of stripping paint to metal).  The Gordon Bennett Cup started this pre-sponsorship tradition.  The original chosen colors were red for America, white for Germany, yellow for Belgium, and blue for France.

The teams, for the Gordon Bennett Cup, were to be composed of one to three drivers.  The A.C.F. waisted no time in choosing the French Representatives.  The Chevalier René de Knyff received 32 member votes.  Charron received 25 and Girardot was third with 15 votes.  Almost immediately, some members (including possible drivers) were furious.  First, a democratic ballot is necessarily subjective as compared to some sort of tally of race results.  Second, and more importantly, all three selected drivers favored the Panhard et Levassor cars.  However, the Mors cars had been coming on strong since the last half of 1899.  The fallout from the disagreement included a threat by Levegh, Lemaitre, and Giraud to renounce their A.C.F. membership and defect to the competing Belgian club.  The fracas eventually settled.

Organization of the race continued into 1900.  While the A.C.F. had already chosen their drivers, other national clubs through their proverbial hats in the ring but did not specify team members.  England’s national club was conspicuously absent from the international entries.  First, they were focused on their own 1,000-Mile Trial.  Second, they did not actually have any decent race car manufacturers at the time, according to Gerald Rose.

A route was selected.  However, upon measuring the route, it was found to fall too short to be within the recently ratified articles of competition for the G B Cup.  A few tweaks later and it was long enough to pass muster.

Generally, the run up to the competition was plagued by misinformation and disorganization.  The fact that racing had been banned without specific government approval did not help.  There were other problems as well.  Camile Jenatzy’s new Belgian mount was stuck in French customs (which it remained through the date of the actual race, forcing Jenatzy to strip down a touring car of the same make in order to race).  Even Levegh’s recent win at Bordeaux to Periqueux renewed the kerfuffle over the A.C.F. driver selection.

There was serious doubt, even within the organizing A.C.F., as to whether the race would actually occur.  The original date was rescheduled for June 14, 1900.  Some drivers complained there was insufficient notice to prepare there respective cars.  The sole German representative, Eugen Benz, refused to start on these grounds.  However, the real reason he did not start may have been fear that his rear tires were doomed to fail at high speed.  Or, perhaps, it was because his Benz was so slow that his “chance of winning was microscopical.”`

The Race Report

Not unusual for races of this era, the race started just a quarter after 3:00 in the morning.  The entries were: René de Knyff (France), Camille Jenatzy (Belgium), Winton (America), Charron (France), and Girardot (France).  All three French entries did, in fact, end up being Panhard et Levassors.  Winton, the new American, was in a car of his own design.  Jenatzy, the sole Belgian, was stuck in his stripped down Bolide touring car (as his actual racing model remained trapped by French customs for unknown reasons).  Levegh, not chosen by the A.C.F. as an official French entry, raced alongside the others en amateur.

De Knyff and Winton got slow starts.  Girardot and Jenatzy were able to fight for the initial lead.  Just outside of Versailles, Winton’s Winton was in last place.  However, Jenatzy, the original king of the four-wheel-grip-the-grain-all-wheel-drift was already shredding his tires.  Having to replace both rears, he dropped into last place.

English: at the next to a vehicle of his make,...
A 1914 picture of Fernand Charron, the former cyclist, and later car designer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to contemporary reports, at Limours, Girardot was in the lead at 3:49:15.  Charron was second, reaching the checkpoint just under three minutes later.  De Knyff followed only one minute behind.  Winton was in fourth and Jenatzy brought up the rear.  Levegh, the unofficial entry, was 30 minutes ahead of Girardot, the official leader.

At Orléans, roughly the mid-point of the race, things were getting interesting for the competitors.   Charron, for example, was about to give up.  He had badly bent his rear axle in taking a rather ancient drainage ditch (caniveau) too quickly.  However, at Orléans, he was in second and found out that Girardot, the first place runner, had a steering gear in need of immediate repair.   He also found out that de Knyff, was essentially out of the race with a stripped top gear.  Jenatzy and Winton were a long way behind.  Given these facts, Charron soldiered on like a boss (but I’m mixing metaphors again).

I mentioned that Jentazy was way behind.  He had several flat tires, broken spark plugs, and clutch issues–and those were only the start of his issues.  According to Gerald Rose, “vowing that with car troubles, obstreperous gendarmes, dogs, and sheep, he had never in his life driven such a race”.”  Meanwhile, the new American, Winton had bucked a front wheel.  He bowed out just after Orléans, which took him 8:30.00 to reach, compared to the unofficial Levegh’s 5:25.00.

Thus, after Orléans, only Charron and Girardot remained.  But, remember, Charron axle was shot.  Luckily, his riding mechanic (and driver in his own right) Fournier, “staved off disaster by keeping up a steady flow of oil on the chains.”  Girardot was still far behind.  He got lost in Orléans.  This really wasn’t his fault.  By all accounts, this was the result of a poorly organized race.  Also, recall that his steering gear was still giving him problems.

Dogs, in these days of open-road city to city races, were a constant issue.  In his magnum opus, Gerald Rose recounts Charron’s harrowing encounter with a particularly large dog:

The bane of the race were the dogs, and it is said that every single driver killed five or six.  Ten miles before the finish Charron collided with an unusually big St. Bernard when going down hill at nearly sixty miles an hour.  Somehow the dog became wedged between the wheel and the steering arm, completely jamming the steering gear.  The car dashed off the road, across the ditch, between two trees into the neighbouring field, and thence between two more back on to the road, finally coming to rest facing in the direction of Paris, with its two occupants too startles to say anything.  Fournier just got down and re-started the engine, and in a minute the car was speeding on to Lyons as if nothing had happened.

The passage goes on to describe how Fournier had to lean over the edge of the car, in an acrobatic manner, to hold a water pump in place while Charron chugged on to victory.

Lord Montagu called the 1900 Gordon Bennett Cup an “Overture in a Minor Key.”  The crowd at the end of the race confirms this assessment.  The newspapers said there may have been up to 100 people at the finish line.  However, these accounts were a bit generous.  More accurate estimates from the drivers suggest that only about a dozen people were at the finish line to greet Charron on his win.

The final standings were:

  1. Charron (Panhard; 24 HP) 9:09:00 (38.6 mph)
  2. Girardot (Panhard; 24 HP) 10:36:23 (33.4 mph)
  3. De Knyff (Panhard; 24 HP) – (-)
  4. Jenatzy (Bolide; 16 HP) – (-)
  5. Winton (Winton; 14 HP) -(-)

/ Travis Turner of GPevolved.com

Sources

“The Gordon-Bennett International Cup Race”, The Motor-Car Journal, 285-287 (June 23, 1900).

The Gordon Bennett Races, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu (1965) (Containing some minor discrepancies with the other sources.  As such, I am considering this slightly less reliable than my other, earlier sources).

A Record of Motor Racing: 1894 – 1908, Gerald Rose (1949) (Originally published in 1909).

“The Gordon Bennett International Cup Race” The Horseless Age, Vol. 6 No. 14, p. 14 (1900) (Providing an American perspective on the race).

A Mid-Season Racing Ban, Circa 1900

The automobilism movement, as it was called in the early days of the motor vehicle, was growing.  Unfortunately, so was oppositional public sentiment.  The main vehicle for informing the public about the wonders of the automobile was the motor race.  However, often, races were poorly planned.  The old dirt roads were rough.  Often, organizers failed to inform property owners, along the route, of the race.  As a result, cars frequently collided with livestock.  In the parlance of today’s youth, these events were often a hot mess.

Paris to Roubaix, 1900

Bicycle, Velo, Fahrad, Radrennen. Paris-Rubaix...
Bicycle, Velo, Fahrad, Radrennen. Paris-Rubaix, 1900 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These anti-automobilism pressures culminated with a race from Paris to Roubaix.  Fans of cycling will recognize this as a bicycle race.  It usually was.  However, in 1900, motor tricycles were included in this cycling event.  Do not estimate the danger associated with these small motor tricycles.  They may have only had two cylinders and between six and eight horsepower, but they were rumored to be faster than the quickest proper automobile, in a straight line.  There had been 52 motorized entries to be racing just behind the bicycles.  However, in the end, only 30 showed up.  One failed to start up that morning, leaving 29 motor tricycles in the competition.

The crowd, as pictured, was substantial.  According to Gerald Rose, “At one point on the route there was a certain right-angled corner known as the ‘Croix des Noailles,’ and that being a good coign of vantage from which the competitors could be seen approaching, turning the corner, and departing, a crowd of spectators some two or three hundred strong had gathered to enjoy the spectacle.  Here, the majority of spectators arrived by bicycle. They had laid them down in a stack at the corner of the road track.  Importantly, one of the spectators was the wife of a power government Deputy (for the Department of the Seine).

At first, everything went well.  However, two competitors by the names of Martin and Dorel arrived at the corner going too fast.  Martin ran wide.  Dorel tried to squeeze by on the inside as Martin trike ran wide.  They crashed together and then over the pile of bicycles.  The 300-strong crowd was too thick to get out of the way in time.  The Deputy’s wife sustained a terrible compound leg fracture, which ultimately left her in the hospital for at least two weeks.  On the one hand, the bicycles broke much of the collision such that only a few other injuries were sustained.  On the other hand, this was the unfortunate spark to the powder keg of anti-automobilism sentiment.

The result was a racing ban placed in force within days of the accident.  There was widespread sadness and dismay among the enthusiast community.  From here on, races required a government exemption from the general rule to proceed.  As France was the epicenter of the automobile movement, during the fin de siecle, this would ultimately have a cooling effect upon the popular car movement–particularly when it came to smaller, regional races.  The rundown clock on the great city to city races had been set.  The end of these great events, unfortunately, was now in sight (even if it was not known at the time).

1900 Bordeaux to Perigueux Automobile Race

Levegh_(Alfred_Velghe)_et_sa_Mors_24_hp_de_1900,_victorieuse_à_Bordeaux-Périgueux_et_à_Paris-Toulouse-Paris
Levegh and his 24 horsepower Mors.

This race was authorized in spite of the racing ban.  This fact, alone, made the race something of an attraction.  However, the bigger crowd draw was the fact that it was the first proper meeting between the latest Mors and Panhard cars.  It was a two day event, with the first day being 72 miles and the second day being 125.5 miles.  Unlike the relatively minor race of Paris to Roubaix, the Bordeaux to Perigueux race had many of the bigger names in early motorsport including Giraud and Levegh.

Giraud, had previously only driven a Bollée, but had switched to Panhard in light of the overwhelming racing success of the marque.  However, the Mors had come out of nowhere and was to be quite a contender for the supreme French racer.  Levegh, as I have mentioned several times in previous posts, was the uncle of the unfortunate instigator of the 1955 Le Mans disaster.

An American, Bostwick, was new on the scene.  He had purchased, at an extremely high price, De Knyff’s “Tour de France” Panhard from 1899.  The speed on the first day was incredible.  Levegh travelled the 72 miles in only 84 minutes, which is a pace that the racing community had not yet seen.  Even more impressive was the fact that other racers were averaging nearly as quickly as Levegh’s record pace.  At the end of the first day, Giraud was only three minutes behind in second place.  Bostwick, the new American to the French racing scene, was third.  He finished only an additional 4:30 behind the second place Giraud.

Another Photo of Levegh, from the 1900 Bordeaux to Perigueux run.
Another Photo of Levegh, from the 1900 Bordeaux to Perigueux run.

On the second day, Levegh was again quickest.  Thus, Levegh and his Mors won the two day event averaging 48.4 miles per hour.  Giraud maintained second place, at an average of 47.1 miles per hour.  Bostwick evidenced the American can-do attitude by maintaining third at 45.6 miles per hour.  This proved that the Automobile Club de France had correctly chosen both a Mors and a Panhard for the upcoming first iteration of the Gordon Bennett trophy (which will be featured in the next post).

 

/ Travis Turner of GPevolved.com

Sources:

Gerald Rose, A Record of Motor Racing 1894 – 1908 (1949)

The Motor-Car Journal, April 20th, 1900 (Accessed via Google).

 

A Death at Speed Week, 1900

The Speed Week events in the south of France, around Monaco, were not the first races of the season.  The new 24 horsepower (some reports suggest a rating of 30 horsepower) had just been released.  The newly lightened Panhard et Levassors could not match the power of the Mors at 16 horsepower.  The great early racer, René de Knyff had been driving the wheels off his 16 horsepower Panhard, though many other drivers were still competing with the less powerful 12 horsepower Panhards.  New to the racing scene were the Cannstatt Daimler cars were now being called Mercedes.  They were heavy and notoriously difficult to handle, while racing.

Gottlieb Daimler Dies in March 1900.

Gottlieb Daimler (1834—1900)
Gottlieb Daimler (1834—1900) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The so-called speed week along the southern French coast was a yearly affair taking place around late March.  This year, the week started on Sunday, March 25 (1900).  Just a few weeks earlier, on March 6, 1900, Gottlieb Daimler had died.  Gottlieb Daimler’s legacy had already been cemented by his death; however, he was likely unaware of just how pervasive his influence would be on modern life.

It was Gottlieb Daimler who first miniaturized and made mobile the internal combustion engine.  Simply, Gottlieb Daimler was the first to have the insight, vision, and practical engineering knowledge to create an automobile engine.  Certainly, the autonomous mobile vehicle (requiring only a driver but no horses or other propulsion) had been conceived by great thinkers such as Francis Bacon.  Yet, it was many centuries before someone with the correct set of talents was able to make this vision a reality.  Now, the old Daimler may have been a visionary, but–like many visionaries–was stubborn, unbending, and often extremely difficult to work with.  His death, in some ways, allowed Daimler–the company–to have more freedom to develop the automobile.

The first races following the death of Gottlieb Daimler were the Speed Week races in the South of France.

1900 Nice to Marseilles

In years past, the race had been run from Marseilles heading into Nice, near Monaco.  However, for 1900, a roundtrip race from Nice to Marseilles and back was planned.  However, bad weather forced the race to be run in only one direction, with the return trip to Nice untimed.        .

Emil Jellinek
Emil Jellinek (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was a big week each year for Emil Jellinek to garner interest in his Monacan import of the Cannstatt Daimler’s, including the new Mercedes models.  In fact, 1900 was the first year that the label “Mercedes” shows up in official racing charts and results.

The Jellinek camp, heavily connected to the Daimler factory operation, entered two short-chassis Pheonix’s under the label of Mercedes, according to Robert Dick.  Both cars were rated at 26 horsepower and weighed in at 1,400 kilograms.   Herman Braun drove the relatively longer 217 cm. framed Mercedes.  Wilhelm Bauer, the Cannstatt factory foreman entered to extremely short wheel-based (190 cm.) Mercedes.

The comparatively lighter 16 horsepower Panhards were present in numbers. Names such as Charron, De Knyff, Pinson, and Hourgieres all entered Panhard et Levassor models.

The new, massive-engined Mors was entered by Alfred Velghe.  Alfred Velghe always entered under a moniker, as was fashionable at the time (and confusing for researchers!).  He entered as “Levegh” an anagram of his last name.  Students of motorsport history may recognize this notorious name.  Alfred was the uncle of the driver that caused the disaster at Le Mans in 1955, which arguably remains the worst disaster in all motorsport history.

Prior to the race, DeKnyff’s car was fired up and ready to race.  With old-timey splendor, Gilles Hourgieres rolled up behind De Knyff’s car.  Failing to brake in time, he bumped the back of De Knyff’s Panhard.  This caused De Knyff’s car to drop into gear and take off without a driver.  Fortunately, it drove itself into a nearby barrier and did not do any damage to the new Mercedes.

Braun, in his brand new Mercedes, managed to end up in a ditch a mere 15 kilometers from the starting line.  A privately entered Daimler, entered by Prince Lubecki, broke two wheels when attempting to give Charron room to pass.  These events, perhaps, were a harbinger of what was to come later in the week.  These accidents were compounded by the sheer difficulty in driving the short wheel-based Daimlers.

As the race progressed, Levegh’s 7.5 liter Mors was clearly the fastest car.  However, power and speed are only good so long as they can reliably transmitted into motion.  Levegh lost over 30  minutes dealing with torn up tires.  One might recall that the modern pneumatic tire was but in its infancy in 1900.

Due to the difficulties of Levegh, De Knyff was able to carry the day in his lightweight 16 horsepower Panhard.  He averaged a shocking 43.8 miles per hour.

Death at the La Turbie Hillclimb

For several years, a hillclimb outside of Monaco, leading up to La Turbie followed the touring car race.  For the Cannstatt Mercedes entry, Bauer was driving, while Braun was riding with him.  According to Gerald Rose, Bauer “ran wide at the first corner into the rocks which bordered the road, and was killed.”  This, as far as I can recall, is the first death of a notable driver occurring as a result of racing incident.  As such, it signals the inclusion of a certain darkness that has continued to be a part of motorsport to this day.

Certainly, attitudes toward death in sport have changed dramatically in the last century.  In fact, it is probably fair to say that modern attitudes toward death in general differ significantly from those a century ago.  However, one result of Bauer’s death is certain: it was terrible “PR.”  Specifically, following Bauer’s death, Cannstatt-Daimler’s were often viewed as dangerous, difficult to handle, and unrefined.

A notable automotive journalist from Paris, the epicenter of the turn of the century automotive scene, defended the Cannstatt Daimler’s.  He noted that, “Before the race, Bauer had practised the hill forty time.  He knew it better than anyone else.”  He suggested that his death was the result of spectator placement and a lighter, better handling car would still have likely met the same fate given the speed the field was racing at.

Conclusion

In summary, the 1900 season is witnessing the beginning of the race toward giant displacement engines.  The Daimler’s were over 5 liter engines.  The new Mors, the benchmark of speed for the 1900 season, was up to 7.5 liters.  In coming years, the engines would grow to staggering sizes.  These giants came about from limitations in engine design.  Given an inability to raise engine revolutions, the next obvious way to increase power was to increase engine size and displacement. Ultimately, it would take the advances in technology from the first world war to design smaller, but more efficient engines.

 

Sources

Robert Dick, Mercedes and Auto Racing in the Belle Epoque: 1895 – 1915 (2005).

Gerald Rose, A Record of Motor Racing: 1894 – 1908 (1949).

The Beginning of the 1900 Motorsport Season

Traditionally, the Riviera Speed Week in the south of France had been the opening of the motorsport season in early years.  However, a few minor–but still notable–races took place before the Speed Week in 1900.  These included the Course du Catalogue, the Circuit du Sud Ouest, and a voiturette only race from Paris to Rouen and back to Paris.  The Circuit du Sud Ouest race was the most important of these comparatively minor races.

The Course du Catalogue

The 1900 motorsport season opener took place on February 18, 1900.  It was a short race, just under 45 miles (72 km).  The race was organized by the publication, La France Automobile.

As noted in the last post, classes were seemingly arbitrarily created by the organizing committee to suit their disparate purposes.   This race had six classes, which were divided according to chassis cost.  In the so-called (or at least what I am calling) “big car” category, there were only two competitors.  A Mr. Degrais driving a Mors, and recent strong competitor Léonce Girardot.  Girardot was rocking his usual Panhard et Levassor.

Girardot at the 1900 Course du Catalogue.
Girardot at the 1900 Course du Catalogue.

Girardot, pictured above above in his Panhard, carried the day against Degrais.  Baron de Rothschild, philanthropist, racer, and ancestor of the wine maker, wagered he could complete the 72 kilometer (44.7 mile) circuit in 72 minutes.  He failed.  He broke a powertrain chain just before the halfway point.

The Circuit du Sud Ouest

The race on the newly devised Circuit du Sud Ouest was the main event of a series of races being held the week of February 22, 1900.  This main event took place on the 25th of February.  For races of the day, it was on the short side at 209.5 miles.

Map of the 1900 Circuit du Sud Ouest (modified from Wikipedia).
Map of the 1900 Circuit du Sud Ouest (modified from Wikipedia).

According the authoritative Gerald Rose, “In most cases, the cars were those of the Tour de France, though with additions and improvements.”  For example, René de Knyff had managed to lighten his Panhard by 200 kilograms (approx. 440 pounds).  The car was 440 pounds lighter in spite of a bigger, heavier engine as compared to the Tour de France setup.  This new engine was more powerful and also utilized “dual ignition” (dual ignition involves the use of both incandescent Platinum tubes and electric ignition).

Ferand Charron and Léonce Girardot also had lighter cars, utilizing changed axels, new ball bearing setup, and several other secret developments to be used in later models.  These secret modifications have been lost to history.

Girardot.
Girardot.

The race was preceded by heavy rain.  However, the rain not only cleared before the race, but also served to harden the dirt roads.  This reduced the usual cloud of dust following each car.  In general, conditions were great for high-speed rollicking.

It was an interval start.  Giraud left first; however, he was to have a rough day.  Conversely, de Knyff had an epic day.  At the 75 mile mark, he already led the field by a shocking 30 minutes.

Giraud, who had started first, had serious problems with his rear tires, which slowed him down throughout the race.

Fernand Charron wrecked before Saint Sever.  He hit a large hump in the road, which destroyed all four of his tires.  Upon simultaneously bursting all four tires, he (and his passenger) were thrown out of their Panhard.

In short, de Knyff crushed it.  In the end, he won by over 40 minutes.  In fact, he flogged his Panhard until it had nothing left to give.  According to Rose, “Just before the end of the race, the winner’s pump gave out, and although he managed to reach the finish, his car arrived enveloped in a blue haze of smoke and refused to move an inch beyond the finishing line.”

With nearly every race, average speeds were rising, which is a testament to the furious rate of technological advancement occurring.  This race set a new record pace for an automobile race of 43.8 miles per hour, which is not too shabby for a car rated at only 16 horsepower.

Paris to Rouen and Back: A Voiturette Race

A voiturette, by the way, is a smaller car relative to the “big cars.”  However, for many years, the division between the two would remain vague at best.  Théry won in a Decauville weighing roughly 1,030 pounds.  However, the Renault voiturettes were also particularly strong.

Renault Voiturette circa 1900
Renault Voiturette circa 1900.

One criticism of motorsport then, which oddly still rages today even in Formula 1, is the disconnect between racing cars and road cars.  However, the Paris to Rouen to Paris race in early March 1900, raised an oddly practical point.  Several people ordered voiturettes based on their observation of the cars in the race.  They were infuriated to realize that the company merely delivered a touring model.  It was the racers, themselves, that were converting these to race cars.  The purchasers were not happy to realize that they had ordered and paid for a car rather incapable of racing, without serious modification.

A photograph from the March 1900 Race of the Renault Voiturette, drawn above.
A photograph from the March 1900 Race of the Renault Voiturette, drawn above.

Stay tuned for the next post, which will detail the story of how the “Mercedes” came to be!

/ Travis Turner of GPevolved.com

 

Primary Source:

A Record of Motor Racing, 1894 – 1908Gerald Rose (2nd. ed. 1949).

The Late Races of 1899

Following the 1899 Tour de France, there was a smattering of semi-important races.  Most of these originated out of Paris.  Paris, five years into the existence of proper motorsport, was still the center of this grassroots movement.

On Classes and Cars

Unlike today’s highly-defined racing segments, in the early days of motorsport, there were no settled classes for cars.  Instead, virtually every committee sponsoring a race was devising unique classes as they saw fit.

However, as a general rule, there was three classes: (1) big cars; (2) voiturettes; and (3) tricycles.  As of 1899, the development of the big cars was most important.  However, the voiturettes were progressively becoming more important.  These lighter, often speedier, cars would eventually rise in popularity as a response to the monstrous big car engines.

In this era, so-called big car engines were continually increasing in size.  In an era where few cars could rev past 1,200 to 1,500 RPMs, the answer for more power often came from merely increasing the displacement of a given engine.  In the early years of motorsport, power was more easily gained from increasing size than improving engine efficiency.

Incandescent Platinum Tube Ignition
Incandescent Platinum Tube Ignition

This does not mean that development was slow.  On the contrary, the rate of development, particularly by Panhard et Levassor was rapid.  One development occurring during this time was the switch to electric ignition.  Electric ignition was generally superior to the previous technology of incandescent platinum tubes.  Panhard et Levassor made this change between 1899 and 1901; whereas Mors successfully used electric ignition from the beginning.

Diagram of Electric Ignition
Diagram of Electric Ignition

Paris to Saint Malo

The Paris to Saint Malo race took place only five days after the Tour de France on July 30, 1899.  The net racing distance was 231 miles.  Most races, in these early years, originated out of Paris.  Such concentrated motoring activity did not go unnoticed by the public.  In fact, there was a growing backlash against the grassroots motorsport movement.

According to Gerald Rose, Paris to Saint Malo was “essentially a race for tricycles.”  The tricycles were fastest overall in this race.  In fact, for the shorter races, the tricycles were generally quickest in 1899.

A Mr. Renaux won in a tricycles of his own construction.  However, his victory was not without incident.  At one point, he made a wrong turn and took a longer overall route to one of the control points.  As he had not gained an advantage, he was not disqualified.

Antony on his Mors in the Paris to Saint Malo.
Antony on his Mors in the Paris to Saint Malo.

The fastest car was Antony.   His 16 horsepower Mors completed the 231 mile course in 7 hours and 32 minutes.  This translates to an average of 30.7 miles per hour, which supports a conclusion that the average speeds were consistently increasing.

One driver, Broc, burst a tire.  In fact, as I have previously discussed, inflated tires continued to cause problems.  However, the cars were simply too fast for solid rubber tires.  The Mors’ cars, which debuted at Paris to Bordeaux, came on strong in the last part of 1899.

Paris to Trouville

This was not strictly a motor race.  If for no other reason, this Top Gear-esque challenge, deserves mention  purely for its uniqueness.  This was the first, and quite possibly only, race to pit racing cars against pedestrians, horses, bicycles, and motorcycles.  Each class started at different times, equating to their respective speed.  The goal was to have the winners of each class arrive at Trouville at the same time.

The race took place on August 27, 1899.  It was 104.5 miles in length.  The different class winners did not exactly arrive at the same tune,  However, they were within a couple hours of each other.  The runners (pedestrians) hustled along the course for 21 hours.  The racing cars completed the course in about three hours.

Antony leading the way to Trouville on his Mors.
Antony leading the way to Trouville on his Mors.

A nine year old horse was the first to arrive at 3:12 pm, at an average speed of 8.5 miles per hour.  Antony’s Mors was the fastest car.  Levegh was second, also in a Mors racing car.  The Mors continued to come on strong late in the season.

Paris to Ostend

The publication Vélo organized this 201 mile race to take place on September 1, 1899, only a few days after the Trouville event.  The race was to end at a racecourse known as the “Velodrome de Wellington.”

Described as a most dangerous practice by Gerald Rose in 1909, the race involved a mass start.  It is interesting that motorsport wholesale adopted a practice that was initially seen as an unnecessary danger, even at low speeds.  The cars started first.  Only two minutes later, there was a simultaneous start of 24 cycles.

The problem with mass starts was compounded by the issue of dust.  On these old city to city races, the overwhelming majority of the drives were inevitably on mere compressed dirt.  As such, a simultaneous start implied not only a dangerous group of cars, but a visibility reducing cloud until the cars finally managed to sufficiently spread out.

For the cars, the start was a dusty, confusing race to a dangerous corner at Saint-Ouen-l’Aumone.  Levegh reached the corner first; however, he was only ahead of Charron by a mere 800 yards.  And right behind Charron, Camille Jentazy was snapping at his heels, trying to get past.  Following the battle for second by Charron and Jenatzy was a dogfight involving Girardot, Georges, and Broc.

As for that dangerous complex at Saint-Ouen-l’Aumone, Rose notes:

“All got past the danger spot successfully except Georges, who was going too fast, and after swerving from one side of the road to the other, he finally crashed into a ditch, luckily without injuring himself or his machine to any great extent.”

The first part of the race maintained a tremendous pace.  Levegh covered 129 kilometers in a mere 133 minutes, a record pace for this era of racing.  However, at Beauvais, a fine mist slowed the pace.  The rain turned into a downpour and further slowed the pace, by the next control point.

C.S. Rolls in the 1899 Paris to Ostend Motorrace.
C.S. Rolls in the 1899 Paris to Ostend Motorrace.

As was found to be competitively advantageous, the tricycles followed in the wake of a racing car, to help keep the pace up in their low-powered engines.  Teste followed closely behind Levegh, leader.  By St. Paul, Girardot was in second place and was closely followed by Baras, in his tricycle.

By Dunkerque, the tricycles had gotten bold and overtaken the cars altogether.  Teste was ahead of Levegh by a full two minutes.  In the end, however, the tricycle driven by Baras took the lead and won the race.

The crowd in the Vélodrome went crazy at the instant the first two cars entered.  There they were, Levegh and Girardot racing absolutely head-to-head to be the fastest car.  Girardot, driving his Panhard, beat Levegh’s Mors to the finish line.

Bordeaux to Biarritz

The 1899 season ended where it began: the south of France.  The route proceeded through Langon, Auros, Grignoles, Casteljaloux, Mont de Marson, Dax, and Bayonne.

There were 27 drivers in total.  However, if you were not driving a Mors, you would have had little chance in this race.  The Mors, which had come on very strong in the late races of 1899 were completely dominant in the 163 mile trek from Bordeaux to Biarritz.

The race was won buy Levegh, followed by Antony.  This race is most notable for setting a new high average pace for a race.  Levegh completed all 163 miles at a shocking average of 37 miles per hour.

And So, 1899 Came to an End.

The 1899 season has been an interesting season to study.  Motorsport, as a whole, is in a state of transition.  The early races, between stripped down touring cars were beginning to fade.  Instead, races composed of purpose-built chassis.  There are still a great many epic city to city races remaining, before the sport–as a whole–realizes the superiority of closed course circuit-based racing.

 

/ Travis Turner of GPevolved.com

Primary Source:

A Record of Motor Racing: 1894 – 1908, Gerald Rose (1909) (providing the definitive account of early motorsport times and events).