A belated welcome to 2017

Friends, Romans, fellow imbibers of the heritage of our times – welcome back. Firstly an enormous vote of thanks to every visitor in 2016 – 31,003 of you. It’s not J.K. Rowling territory but it was an honour and a pleasure to share with each one of you what we hope was an enjoyable respite from the daily grind.

What’s coming up this year? Well, quite a bit. The late start aside, there should be much to entertain you over the next 49 weeks or so. Perhaps even a new serialised piece of entertainment that’s unique and bespoke to the S&G. We shall see about that.

There is another book due for release in March: the Haynes Manual for the Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5.

It is a rather prosaic title for the thing that the S&G is proudest of beyond our offspring. It looks like a car manual but reads a bit like a thriller (or a series of thrilling short stories, anyway). That’s the plan. It is down to others to see if the plan worked!

Since all of that was finished last year, it has been time to try and shore up the rest of life. 2016 was rather a trial for many people on a personal level and the S&G was not untouched by this wave of misfortune that we seemed subject to. Hopefully all of that is behind us now, to be left for 80-odd years until some other blogger pores over it. Poor devils!

Meanwhile, let us stick to what we know best here: back in the 1890s-1960s.

For those who might be interested in the stats that are put out by WordPress at New Year time, the most popular stories of the past 12 months were, once again, The Racing Driver’s Bride, What Hope for Faith? and The Mystery of Seaman’s Grave. After that all the stories on the Mike Hawthorn road trip came next. The top three has been the same every year since starting this blog, which says everything and nothing, I suppose! The most popular of the new stories were James Dean in 11th and the Malta Spitfire in 13th.

Note to self: more nazis and film stars if you want to get circulation up. Then again, that’s what most other history sites are doing.

New stories will be arriving erelong, they will be as big a surprise here as they are there and thank you for your patience. Enjoy the rest of the year and come back soon.

Ferrari 312T now available in French

Some mornings offer a surprise or two, so you can imagine that the rafters were rattling at the S&G when the Ferrari 312T manual appeared on Amazon in French.

‘Nothing to worry about’, sayeth Steve, the wise man of Haynes. Apparently it’s a badge of honour for Michel to wish to translate someone’s work… so we’ll take it as such!

If anyone is interested in expanding their French vocabulary into the realms of ground-effect versus horsepower or low opinions of McLaren, as expressed by former Ferrari men, then you are in luck. Equally, anyone with a French friend who has a particular yen for Mauro Forghieri’s masterpiece can now read about it from the man himself in their mother tongue… so please visit Éditions du Palmier or pick one up on Amazon.

The English language version is also still available. Here’s what’s been said about it:

‘Riveting stuff.’
– Octane

Book of the Month: ‘…this is an excellent guide to one of the most charismatic series of Grand Prix cars.’
– Classic & Sports Car

‘For those who consider the ’70s as the golden era of Formula 1, this is the book for you.’
– Historic Racing Technology

Cheerio, Foub.

This blog would not exist were it not for the encouragement of Peter Foubister, who died suddenly and unexpectedly last week. ‘Foub’ was a constant in the world of motor sport as a journalist, publishing executive and latterly as the Motoring Secretary of the Royal Automobile Club. He was someone who knew virtually everyone and had a bad word for few.

Above all he was an enthusiast – and a contagious one at that.

Being one of the few who in our industry has never darkened the doors of Haymarket Publishing (in an official capacity at least), our paths did not truly converge until 2009. That was when the Foub was recruited by Martin Whitaker to assist with bringing the Bernie Ecclestone Collection of historic racing cars to the Bahrain Grand Prix.

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The ex-Hunt, ex-Villeneuve McLaren M23 in Bahrain, 2009

Together we worked on turning this astonishing and seldom-seen collection into an informative attraction for fans and media, while also building notes on the cars that were provided by Doug Nye into a commemorative book with Interstate.

It was enormous fun and made all the more so by Foub’s very obvious delight at the role – not least when Bernie’s BRM V12 took to the circuit long after nightfall, with the Bahrain International Circuit’s safety car in front illuminating the way.

The following year saw Foub back in Bahrain – this time as anchorman for the official 60th anniversary celebrations of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship. An astonishing array of title-winning cars and drivers had been assembled, from the ‘father of the house’ Sir Jack Brabham through to the young pups still competing on the grid.

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Mario Andretti leads Damon Hill around the Bahrain International Circuit in 2010

Only two living world champions failed to make their way to the ‘gem of the Gulf’: Nelson Piquet, who was persona non grata after blowing the whistle on ‘crashgate’, and Kimi Räikkönen, who couldn’t be bothered to come. All of the rest were coaxed and cajoled with alacrity by the Foub, who ensured that their every heart’s desire was met and every inducement found its mark.

This time all the writing fell upon yours truly to put together. The midnight oil was burnt in trying to piece together exactly which chassis were coming, in putting press material together with approved quotes from our retired champions and bullying people on the price of pictures – all of which was achieved in record time with the Foub’s assistance.

The memories of that weekend will last a lifetime. The Williams mechanics successfully wedging Keke Rosberg back into his car; the moment when John Surtees mashed the throttle on Bernie’s Ferrari 1512; helping Mario Andretti to locate a lost crash helmet when he was late for his flight; Nigel Mansell feeling a little aggrieved that his was the only Williams not present and correct – and Patrick Head’s response.

All that and so much more was possible because of Peter Foubister’s efforts in making it so. It was his attention to detail with what the drivers wanted or needed that helped ensure that Sir Jack Brabham rallied to make it to the grid on raceday. That was the moment when it all crystallised and, after that, all that was left was to write the book.

Thereafter, back in the UK, Foub and self became a bit of a double act at the Royal Automobile Club for a time. If something needed writing on behalf of the Club, the phone would ring and there would be the lilting request that a website be rehashed, the bon mots for the Segrave Trophy be jotted, the description for the latest car to be shown off in the Rotunda or some stories about the Future Car Challenge be put about the place.

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Nigel Mansell made the London to Brighton Run an experience to savour.

My favourite mission from Foub was to cover Nigel Mansell’s appearance on the London to Brighton Run, driving a Mercedes. Your scribe was dispatched in a brand new Peugeot 207 GTI to chase after the 1992 world champion and his jovial co-driver, transport minister Mike Penning, to capture the story of their Run for the Club magazine and website.

Despite giving away more than a century in technology and a hat full of horsepower, it was I who reached each checkpoint with the metaphorical tongue hanging out as Mansell set a blistering pace at the helm of his veteran machine.

In fact he reached Brighton nearly two hours ahead of time, so we decamped to the nearest hostelry for something restorative. Nigel, unbidden, took out a packet of playing cards and proceeded to entertain not only our table but all of the lightly stunned families and drinkers with an hour-long improvised magic show. The minister could do little else but go with the flow (and say something about abolishing the MOT).

It was while writing about the first Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy that the Scarf & Goggles came into being. I’d written a story for Foub about the first race in 1905 to support the return of the TT to the FIA World Sportscar Championship calendar. Eventually that story ended up on the cutting room floor but I felt it deserved resuscitation. Foub suggested that I should start a blog for such pieces. So I did… and for a while stories to be found on here often coincided with work undertaken on behalf of the Club.

Eventually Foub and his brilliant PA-cum-manager Jemma were joined by a permanent member of staff to help with the workload and Haymarket moved in to produce the ‘assets’ for RAC events. Our little production company became redundant, although there were still occasional and enjoyable calls. There will be no more, and that is a very sad prospect. Thanks for so much fun, Foub. My thoughts to all your nearest and dearest.

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Peter Foubister (left): an enthusiast and a good man

A new perspective on the past

Marina Amaral is an extremely talented lady.  Based in her native Brazil, she has mastered the art of retouching black and white photographs in order to bring them to vivid life for the modern era. Her work varies from profound subjects to the most mundane and she is accepting commissions to breathe a little colour back into whatever subjects her clientele might wish to revive.

It is incredibly hard to convey the relevance of even our recent past to the generations coming through.  To a vast majority of people raised in the digital age, everything is disposable and nothing is sacred. If something cannot be related to and offer tangible pleasures then all too often it is discarded. Marina’s work makes the other-worldliness of old photographs fresh and challenges the eye.

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Marina Amaral reveals the man behind the moustache: Neville Chamberlain arrives home from Munich

In the 1980s, space was filled in the early evening schedules of BBC2 with silent ‘shorts’ by Harold Lloyd, ‘Buster’ Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Children would watch them after Grange Hill and Crackerjack had finished in preference to the early evening news – the S&G among them – and wonder what it must have been like when humans could only see the world in black and white.

Today such films are never put in front of a youngster unless by accident.  As a result, the unbridled joy of watching grown-ups wallop each other and fall over, let alone learning about the broad palate of emotions that they are sensing in the world through the elegant mime of truly great actors, is denied to them.

Having spent far too many hours in museums this year, often with tides of teenagers ebbing and flowing around the corridors, it was clear that the relationship between past and present is becoming fractured. School history lessons are a drudge of irrelevance to most kids. In school, the subject appears to have been boiled down to putting on fancy dress and then writing about how they believe people felt.

Skills like Marina’s offer a unique opportunity for families, schools and publishers to redress the balance somewhat. That is a truly valuable resource to have.

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The Red Baron emerges in another of Marina Amaral’s pieces

 

Heads-up for hydrocarbon heritage

BP-Castrol’s return to Formula 1 as a partner to McLaren-Honda has been announced.  This news has got the F1 community rather excited – let’s face it, any new sponsor announcement is a novelty in F1 these days – but it’s perfectly simple and logical step to have taken.

Castrol is arguably the most prolific partner to motor manufacturers in competiton, attached to Ford in GT racing, V8 Supercars and the World Rally Championship; Volkswagen Group in the World Endurance Championship, World Rally Championship*, World Rallycross Championship, German Touring Car Championship and European Rally Championship; Volvo in the World and Swedish Touring Car Championships and Kia in Global Rallycross.

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Kia is among the multitude of brands supported by Castrol

It is also partnered with Honda teams in the World and British Touring Car Championships, MotoGP and World Superbike championships.  Adding Honda’s F1 programme to the roster comes as Audi withdraws from Le Mans and, crucially, allows partner brand BP the chance to produce high-tech superfuels, which it couldn’t in sports car racing because arch-rival Shell is the official fuel provider.

Is all of this going to generate excitement in the grandstands?  Probably not.  Fuel and oil are distress purchases, even to the die-hard motoring enthusiast.  The key to selling more product is therefore either to have more filling stations, which are costly to maintain, or to have lots of motor manufacturers bulk buying your products at the source.

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Castrol and Honda have a history dating back to the 1959 Isle of Man TT

Ultimately, then, BP-Castrol is moving the chips around in the high stakes game of its commercial relationships with the motor manufacturers.  If the contract to supply lubricants to Honda’s customers worldwide comes up for renewal in a year or two, it’s rather handy to have already agreed three years’ sponsorship of the crown jewels, is it not?

Nevertheless, the drums are already beating with heritage stories, so let’s have a little look, shall we?  Charles Wakefield founded his lubricants company in 1899, and in 1906 developed new, lighter products for the growing number of cars and aeroplanes by adding castor oil – hence Castrol.  Meanwhile, BP began as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company in 1909.

Wakefield Castrol Motor Oil, Vintage Land Speed Record poster. S

During World War 1, Castrol was vitally important to many of the engines being put to work in the world’s first fully mechanized conflict, with rotary aero engines needing liberal amounts of castor oil to operate at altitude.  Shell cornered the market on high quality fuels for aviation and Burmah and Anglo-Persian produced the heavy oils needed for shipping.

After the war, Castrol focused upon motor sport to sell its brand: witness the world record breaking aeroplanes and cars and the associated advertising, be it Amy Johnson’s flight from London to Australia or Sir Malcolm Campbell’s Bluebird on Daytona Beach.

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Ever since those times, the scrap between Castrol and Shell for hearts and minds has been played out through promoting the sporting successes of their partners.  On balance, Shell has held the upper hand in motor sport thanks to 60 wins at Le Mans plus a heritage of Grand Prix wins with Auto Union, Mercedes-Benz, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari and McLaren-Honda (amongst many others).

Castrol’s strongest associations have often been in rallying; a legacy of having former BMC and Ford team principal Stuart Turner heading up its communications programmes.  It has also focused on the Land Speed Record (although many of the cars and aeroplanes have been fuelled by Shell). In contrast, BP has only played a minor role in developing successful competition fuels.

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Since the merger of BP and Castrol in 2000, there has been BP branding for its Ultimate branded premium fuel on Ford’s World Rally Championship cars and the BMW and latterly Audi DTM cars but little real technical endeavour.  It is certainly going to have to work hard and fast to get up to speed in developing the sacred 1% difference between pump fuel and race fuel permitted in modern Formula 1.

The fuel and oil brands are undoubtedly going to trumpet their heritage of success in the months and seasons ahead, which should at the very least make for some interesting diversions at events like the Goodwood Festival of Speed, Le Mans and the more important Grands Prix of the year. It’s all part of the game, and means that there should be plenty to look out for at the S&G when it comes to historic hydrocarbons!

*Edit: Since this post was published, Volkswagen has announced its withdrawal from the WRC, effective from the end of the year.

Hooray for Tailspin Tommy

A recent discovery online has been one of the serials whose instalments were a weekly highlight of life for cinema-goers in the 1930s. Pretty much every major genre was represented in these movies, which broke a longer story into 10-12 chapters like a pulp fiction novel for the silver screen, but the antics of  Tailspin Tommy take some beating.

Just look at the hardware on show in these first two chapters of Tommy’s first tale! There’s an entire encyclopaedia of US Navy aviation in the Thirties on screen almost throughout the film, with the added joys of some proper barnstorming aerobatics.

Tailspin Tommy himself was a creation of comic strip artist Hal Forrest, a former WW1 pilot, who sought to capitalise on the popularity of barnstorming and the surge in popularity of aviators thanks to the record-breaking exploits of Charles Lindberg et al.

Tommy Tomkins made his comic strip debut in four newspapers during 1928, but such was the thirst for air-related yarns that this rose to 250 newspapers by 1931! The central character was America’s answer to Biggles, an aircraft-obsessed teenager from Littleville, Colorado who comes to the aid of an airman in trouble and earns himself a job with Three Point Airlines in Texas.

Once in Texas, Tommy soon earns his wings as a pilot and picks up a new best friend, Skeeter Williams, and a girlfriend, Betty Lou Barnes, and the tree of them buy shares in Three Point Airlines. Along the way the trio have many and varied adventures throughout the USA, usually with a ticklish problem to solve.

Hollywood soon beckoned and Universal snapped up the rights to these adventures. The first movie serial, Tailspin Tommy, appeared in 1934 as a 12-episode tale in which Tommy must help Three Point Airlines overcome an unscrupulous rival to win a major contract. Not only that but he must win Betty Lou’s heart from a rival suitor.

The second serial, Tailspin Tommy and the Great Air Mystery, is where the above clip hails from – an altogether bigger and more ambitious production.  Tommy must stop a corrupt businessman from stealing vital oil reserves, and along the way befriends an investigative journalist played by screen legend Pat O’Brien.

This was to be the last of Tommy’s serial adventures, although he would return for four full-length movies later in the 1930s. The cinema-going public’s affections had switched from air-minded melodrama to the utterly fantastical, which was good news for one of the stars of the Tommy Tomkins movies – Jean Rogers.

From playing the businesslike, if slightly flighty, Betty Lou Barnes she went on to become a genuine Hollywood icon playing Dale Arden, the love interest of Buster Crabbe’s Flash Gordon in the greatest serial of them all.

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Jean Rogers went from Tailspin Tommy to Flash Gordon – doubtless to the envy of many girls of the Thirties

 

Finding Mannock

In case you’re wondering where the S&G has been of late, the answer is somewhere between October 1917 and July 1918. It’s been a protracted stay but well worth the making.

In the spirit of those times, therefore, feel free to enjoy a documentary made by the BBC in 2009, based upon the rather excellent book Aces Falling by popular historian Peter Hart. It’s a little bit schmaltzy in places and frankly re-enactors gazing meaningfully into the camera can make one a bit queasy at times but all in all it does Hart’s work, and that of Joshua Levine, some justice. Plus it’s always nice to see the Shuttleworth Collection’s S.E.5a aloft…

The most important point raised by the film, and about which nothing has continued to happen, is the pressing need to formally identify the body of the aviator ‘Known unto God’ that has lain in Row F, Grave 12 of Laventie Military Cemetery since 1920.

Edward Mannock was a unique individual, a gifted tactician and, quite possibly, the most successful Allied fighter pilot of the Great War. As one of only 19 airmen of the Great War to hold the Victoria Cross, any opportunity for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to right a very obvious wrong can and must be taken before the centenary of Mannock’s death.

Mannock’s body was retrieved and buried by the Germans some 300 metres away from Butter Lane near Pacault Wood. The body of the airman in Row F, Grave 12 was exhumed from a grave 300 metres away from Butter Lane near Pacault Wood.

The German Army’s very precise record of where they buried the body does not tally exactly with the location where the CWG first found him, which has been the major reason cited as to why no further investigation has been carried out. But then the CWG was using a British trench map. By using a German trench map of the same area, the description given takes you pretty much to the original grave site.

The body exhumed in 1920 had no identification about it. The Germans took all of Mannock’s personal effects and identification from his body before burial, which were eventually returned to his family.

Modern science is a wonderful thing. It helped identify King Richard III where he lay beneath a municipal car park in Leicester some 527 years after he fell. To the best of the S&G’s knowledge there should be sufficient living relatives of Mannock to be able to get a DNA profile, exhume the airman in Row F, Grave 12 and confirm, one way or another, who he is.

Only two other candidates remain; these being Sopwith Camel pilots shot down a couple of months before Mannock. Neither of these men deserves to remain nameless any more than Mannock, although the evidence linking them to the German grave at Butter Lane is circumstantial at best.

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The evidence all points to this being Edward Mannock’s grave. Let’s have a definitive answer.

There are other clues to be found, no doubt. For one thing, accounts from local history state that the British aircraft that crashed by Butter Lane was there until 11 November 1918, after which it was pretty swiftly tipped into a shell hole and covered over. Perhaps removable parts were taken as trophies but a dial, a plate and certainly a Hispano-Suiza engine would make itself fairly obvious to ground surveying equipment.

For all that, there might not be any need to go and find any remnants of S.E.5a serial E1295. For the body in Row F, Grave 12 to be that of Mannock, it needs to be the remains of a gangling six-footer who stood out a mile from most of his fellow aviators. In addition, the aircraft was well alight when it crashed and Mannock’s dread fear of burning caused him to keep his Webley service revolver readily to hand in order to end the agony. Even after 100 years, the sort of damage that a .455 bullet does to a skull is clear to see.

‘Mick’ Mannock led by example. He cherished the lives of his men and gave them every possible chance to see the peace that he was convinced would not be his to savour. Yet he flew on, staring his horror of being set alight full in the face until the nightmares became a reality.

He died alone, afraid and practically unheralded. Yes, it would cost money but it would be worth more than 100 of the self-serving commemorations that this country has organised to mark the centenary of the Great War. Worth more than a wild goose chase across Asia looking for buried Spitfires. Worth more than pulling the unrecognisable hulk of a Dornier out of the Goodwin Sands for even the slightest chance to give this most human of heroes back his own name.

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