Farewell to a fast lady

It’s not really the place of the S&G to comment upon every personality who passes away.  Sadly, from the perspective of 2016, any interest in the first half of the 20th century means reflecting upon lives and achievements that reach their end on a regular basis. Obituaries for S&G luminaries such as John Coombs, Sir Jack Brabham and Les Munro have been well written and doubtless read by regulars here; there is no point repeating for the sake of it.

But the recent passing of Maria Teresa de Filippis has robbed our generation of a unique link with that rather wonderful world of Formula One in the 1950s. She was glamorous, she was brave and she could certainly drive a bit. Maserati encouraged her and she joined the glittering set alongside Fangio, Moss, Hawthorn, Collins, Brooks ,Musso and all the rest: the right girl in the right place at the right time.

She didn’t set the world on fire but she will remain forever associated with an unrepeatable era, as this rather nice recent advert by Maserati attests:

F-code makes the ultimate Q-car

Very few mass-produced motor cars have packed the same ‘wow factor’ as the original Ford Thunderbird. Its styling screamed of the jet age and mankind’s love of modernity. It was the ultimate chromium plated symbol of post-war consumerism.

What it was not, however, was much of a performer. While its looks could not be faulted, the T-bird arrived just as Chevrolet showed that it had picked up a thing or two about European sports car dynamics and conjured the Corvette as a result. European sports cars were being imported to the States about as fast as the likes of Ferrari, Jaguar and Porsche could pump them out of their workshops and all of these confections left Ford’s ‘personal luxury car’ looking a bit green around the gills.

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The original 1955 Thunderbird was all show, less go

Things got worse in 1956. In order to free up space in the boot – or ‘trunk’ as our trans-Atlantic cousins would have it – the spare wheel was moved up and out to stand vertically in a chintzy little case above the rear bumper.

Just as Georges Boillot discovered in the 1914 Peugeot, this did nothing to assist the car’s dynamic properties. The Thunderbird went from being a fast-looking two-seater with a performance deficit to being a slow two-seater with an unwieldy rear end. While it still looked like a million dollars, it handled like loose change and sold in pitiful numbers.

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Mounting the spare wheel vertically on the rear bumper did nothing for dynamics in 1956

That’s why, after two years, the alpha male among Ford’s so-called ‘whiz kid’ management team, Robert Macnamara, gave orders to kill the two-seat model off and replace it with a four-seater for 1958. This meant that, for 1957 only, Ford’s engineers had the opportunity to show exactly what might have been and to send the classic Thunderbird off with some genuine sporting credentials.

In 1957, Ford produced a total of 21,380 Thunderbirds. Of these, just 205 were delivered with what was known as the F-Code engine package. Soon to be whispered of in bars and at racetracks as the ‘F-bird’, Ford’s skunkworks delivered what was to be the ultimate Q-car of the 1950s.

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The recipe for F-Code took Ford’s highest performance V8 and added a thumping great supercharger

The F-Code engine was the largest of Ford’s small block V8s, the 312-cubic inch model, to which was added a McCulloch/Paxton supercharger, a hot cam, a Holley four-barrel carburetor, and unique cylinder heads, to keep the compression ratio at a reasonably sane 8.5:1. Either a three-speed manual or Ford-O-Matic transmission was available, running through a 3.56 rear axle – of which only 25 were factory fitted.

None of this muscle was ever intended to go into a showroom model: it was Ford’s super-package for NASCAR and other motor sport applications. The F-code offered a conservative 300 bhp and a still more conservative 300 lb/ft of torque which could propel the Thunderbird to 60 mph in fewer than six seconds. It ensured that the Thunderbird turned into a velociraptor that could make mincemeat of the Corvette.

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The same spec as Ford’s entries in Daytona Beach Speed Week was implanted for showroom consumption

All of this was a $340 factory option package on top of the ’57 Thunderbird’s $2,944 base price – cheap performance but putting the relatively hum-drum Ford into an exotic price bracket. That is why the volume of sales for the F-bird was so low – apparently endorsing Macnamara’s decision to kill off the two-seat car and replace it with something more family minded.

Sure enough the 1958 Ford Thunderbird, with more seats, less power and less sass, broke all records in terms of sales. Ford’s beauty became less of a show pony and more of a success and that’s fine. But if you want to buy a Ford can stir your soul, some six decades after it appeared, you need to find one of those 205 F-birds. And around $200,000 to bring it home.

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Hawthorn’s Surrey Part 3: Oddments

Practicing for the 1958 British GP

Practice for the 1958 British GP

The little series of features about what remains of Mike Hawthorn’s Surrey here on the Scarf & Goggles is intended as background to a man who will feature repeatedly in stories to come – and yet who could easily be written off as a one-dimensional caricature.

When following the route of Mike and the Members from Farnham to Tilford, for example, it was amusing to have a quick look at the forecourt of the specialist car dealer: Hawthorns ‘The Racing Legend’. As you can see, despite the name and location of the showroom, it’s covered in what the 1958 Formula One world champion referred to as ‘Kraut cars’.

Hawthorns’ garage in Farnham – not quite the T.T. Garage

As his ex-girlfriend Moi Kenward recalled in Mon Ami Mate, Mercedes-Benz was a subject upon which Hawthorn was particularly strident. “We were upstairs at the 1955 Earls Court Motor Show when someone told Mike that Sir Jeremy Boles was buying a gullwing Mercedes,” she recounted.

“‘He’s not buying a ****ing German car! Come on – let’s get down there,’ he said.” A somewhat bemused group of onlookers subsequently witnessed Hawthorn ranting at the Mercedes staff and Sir Jeremy – albeit too late to stop him from handing the cheque over.

Of course, Hawthorn’s passionate dislike of Mercedes was ultimately to play a part in both of the biggest tragedies of his life: the 1955 Le Mans disaster and his own death on the Guildford by-pass in 1959. Wartime scars were very evident 60 years ago, however, and national prestige depended heavily on the success of one country’s racing cars against those of another. In many ways, Hawthorn saw himself as a member of the British Foreign Office rather than an itinerant sportsman.

Since his death, meanwhile, Mike Hawthorn’s life has been commemorated in several ways – although a great many more have been declined. Perhaps the most popular is the locally-brewed beer that is light but strong at 5.3% and named in honour of the Farnham Flyer – although perhaps it would be a benefit if they could spell his name right!

A pint of Hawthorn(e) meets the end of the day very well!

Despite this little faux pas, the pub which serves this estimable pint was well known to the Hawthorn family, being about a mile north of their original home in Farnham. The Ball and Wicket – know in some quarters as the ‘Ball and Socket’ – has expanded to incorporate a well-regarded bistro and is independently-owned by the brewery responsible for the commemorative tipple, and made for a welcome pause to catch up on one’s notes.

Time for a pause at the ‘Ball and Socket’

Hawthorn’s Surrey Part 1: Beginnings

Taking a ride with Mike -  a guide to the champion's haunts

Taking a ride with Mike – a guide to the world of a remarkable champion

A hell-raiser in life and a uniquely tragic figure in death – there simply never was a racing driver like Mike Hawthorn. Although born in the Yorkshire mining town of Mexborough, the flaxen-haired racer moved to Surrey as a toddler and was typically known as the ‘Farnham Flyer’ in the popular British press.

Much of Hawthorn’s world remains untouched out in the leafy lanes of the Surrey and Hampshire borders, allowing the chance to visit places that would be instantly recognisable to the 1958 Formula One world champion – if not always enhanced by the passing years.

To start with here is Stephendale Road, the quiet little cul-de-sac off the main route from Farnham to Aldershot, which is where the Hawthorn family moved to in 1931. It has previously been described as Stevendale Road in Chris Nixon’s classic book Mon Ami Mate – whether he got it wrong or it’s subsequently been changed is anyone’s guess.

No blue plaques here yet – and which house was the Hawthorn residence is not clear, but the homes in Stephendale Road are little altered

Leaving Stephendale Road and heading back towards Farnham, the first obvious landmark is The Albion pub – a favourite haunt of Leslie Hawthorn, Mike’s father. The Albion was also about half way between Stephendale Road and the Tourist Trophy Garage, with which father and son are synonymous.

The garage staff became used to beer-fuelled antics going on in the Hawthorn household – Leslie and his drinking pals regularly filled the workshop with road signs and other ‘objets trouves’ from their nocturnal adventures on the way to or from The Albion.

The Albion pub on East Street: preferred watering hole of Hawthorn Sr

Despite the ribaldry, Leslie Hawthorn was clearly intent that his son would be a young Surrey gentleman, and as a result sent him to Barfield Preparatory School in the nearby village of Runfold – where predictably he was more concerned with sport and socialising than on schoolwork. Barfield remains a highly exclusive prep school to this day, where pupils enjoy the amenities of the Mike Hawthorn Sports Hall.

Barfield Prep. School where Mike was a pupil from 1938 to 1942

From 1942, Mike went off to Ardingley College, a prestigious public school at Hayward’s Heath in Sussex. His father, meanwhile, was a pilot in the Air Transport Auxiliary during World War 2 – although neither boarding school nor military duty seemed to keep father or son away from home for too long. Meanwhile as Mike grew up, he and his hand-picked gang of friends were formed as the ‘Members’ – and we’ll catch up with them in Part 2.

Visiting the T.T. Garage, Farnham – updated

The Tourist Trophy Garage in Farnham, Surrey is an icon in the British motor racing fraternity. It is here that Yorkshireman, engineer and keen motorcycle racer Leslie Hawthorn arrived with wife Winifred and two-year-old son Mike in tow in 1931 set up shop with former Isle of Man TT winner ‘Paddy’ Johnstone in what had been a World War 1 army hut on the Aldershot road.

It was Farnham’s proximity to Brooklands which brought the Hawthorns southward. Leslie was a keen racer with an even keener business brain, and the garage gained a strong reputation for preparing racing motorbikes, selling cars and carrying out tuning and repairs.

A replica of the original TT Garage features at the Goodwood Revival

A replica of the original TT Garage features at the Goodwood Revival

As the business grew, so too did the premises – spilling out from the original wooden hut into a much grander complex at an old hop kiln next to the Duke of Cambridge pub, featuring a glass-fronted showroom and significant workshop space. Soon after World War 2 Leslie’s son Mike began to take an interest in competition; first on motorbikes and then at the wheel of a pre-war 1100cc Riley Ulster Imp and, later, a 1500cc Riley Sprite which father and son worked hard on at the back of the premises.

In 1952 young Mike’s career went stratospheric, courtesy of a brand new Cooper-Bristol Formula 2 car that Leslie tuned to run on his own special brew of nitro-methane enhanced fuel. With it Mike won the Lavant Cup at Goodwood to start a brilliant season which ultimately earned him a seat at Scuderia Ferrari for 1953 and the beginning of his path to legend.

As his career progressed, the T.T. Garage remained very much a part of Mike’s day-to-day life – and all the more so after Leslie Hawthorn died in a road traffic accident when returning home from a day’s racing at Goodwood in 1954. Winifred Hawthorn took over the management of the garage with aplomb but Mike was ever-present and it was through his relationship with Maranello that they became the first British importer of Ferrari road cars, giving the 250 GT PF Coupe its debut at the 1958 London Motor Show.

Mike Hawthorn at the T.T. Garage in 1958 with his ill-fated Jaguar 3.4

Having won the 1958 Formula One world championship and announced his retirement from motor racing, Mike intended to settle down to the business of running the T.T. Garage himself n 1959. This plan, together with those for his forthcoming marriage to the model Jean Howarth and his new competitive outlet air racing in his Percival Vega Gull, was however cut short in by his fatal accident at the wheel of his beloved Jaguar 3.4 on the Guildford by-pass on January 22 1959.

For many years I had believed that the T.T. Garage had long-since been demolished to make way for a business park – but in fact it is still there on East Street – albeit with sports goods and electrical equipment now behind the showroom glass and a more modern frontage bolted on to the original brickwork. Of course the somewhat rickety roofline of the adjacent building pictured in 1958 gives the game away – now part of the Majestic wines empire, of which doubtless Mike would approve!

The whole area is now a miniature business park, although in the old workshops there is still a specialist vehicle preparation company keeping something of the spirit of the old place alive.

After 55 years the old T.T. Garage hasn’t quite disappeared yet

Next door to the garage was the Duke of Cambridge hotel, a regular watering hole for Leslie Hawthorn and later where his son would enjoy a regular meal and a pint or three – usually without handing over any cash for the privilege. Charlie Bishop and his wife Marjorie were landlord and landlady throughout Mike’s life in Farnham and doted on him despite the fortune he owed them on the tab.

Next door to the T.T. Garage was the Duke of Cambridge, now a little careworn

It was from the Duke of Cambridge that Hawthorn set off on his fateful journey towards London in January 1959. Today there is little sign of the old life of this building, which has been used as a shop in recent years and has just changed hands once again. Life goes on but the landmarks remain if you care to look for them…

Sites we like #5 – The Cahier Archive

You have to be pretty special if you have ‘F’ and ‘1’ in close proximity in the URL of your website and don’t feel Bernie Ecclestone’s finger on your collar. The legacy of Bernard Cahier and continued good work of his son Paul-Henri in capturing the world of Formula One falls into exactly that category.

Graham Hill and Brice McLaren, Monaco 1960 (Copyright of The Cahier Archive)

Graham Hill and Brice McLaren, Monaco 1960 (Copyright of The Cahier Archive)

If you head over to The Cahier Archive you will find an unbroken line of passion for the best bits of racing, from the cheery bonhommie between the drivers of the 1950s to the blemish-free bottoms of modern grid girls and evertything in between. The Cahiers are Formula One royalty, meaning that they are at home behind the scenes and people tend to relax and enjoy themselves when they are around or accept their presence in the tense moments before or during a race.

All except for Kimi-Matias Räikkönen, of course, who saw fit to send Paul-Henri ‘a-over-t’ on the grid at Silverstone a few years back… a bit of a black, there, by The Kimster. Nevertheless, if it’s atmosphere you want to adorn your walls then you’ll find that the Cahiers have caught more of it and preserved it ready for any occasion… it’s always a pleasure to stop by P-H’s site.

Peter Collins and Mike Hawthorn leaving after practice, 1958 German GP (Copyright The Cahier Archive)

Peter Collins and Mike Hawthorn leaving after practice, 1958 German GP (Copyright The Cahier Archive)

Surtees and the dream machine

John Surtees sets off towards glory on the 1957 TT

John Surtees sets off towards glory on the 1957 TT

The 500cc M.V. Agusta stands as one of the most exotic motor cycles in the world when viewed in 2013. When viewed in its competitive heyday of the mid-1950s, it was quite simply one of the most thrilling machines in the world.

Count Vincenzo Agusta and his brother Domenico formed Meccanica Verghera Agusta in 1945 as a means to save the jobs of employees of the Agusta aviation works. Their plan was to produce cheap, efficient transportation that could withstand the demands of rural life and yet cut a dash on the streets of Rome.

Despite its utilitarian ideals, M.V. Agusta was soon operating just like its great contemporary Enzo Ferrari’s burgeoning sports car business: selling domesticated racing machines as a means to fund its on-track successes.

The design team of Arturo Magni and Piero Remor developed a range of bikes bristling with performance features and success arrived in 1948 when Franco Bertoni won the Italian Grand Prix. In 1956 the senior 500cc class was dominated by M.V. with its signature machine, this 4-cylinder inline thoroughbred ridden by the brilliant young Englishman, John Surtees.

With its quartet of exhausts broadcasting an ear-splitting howl and its standard-setting technology dressed in immaculate red and silver racing colours, the M.V. Agusta 500 GP bike embodied the thrill of motorcycle racing like no other machine.

With it Surtees notched up 22 world championship race wins in 1956-1960 and was crowned world champion in 1956, 1958, 1959 and 1960. The records that he set with the 500cc M.V. Agusta include 32 wins out of 39 races entered in the 1958-60 seasons and a total of four Isle of Man TT victories, becoming the first man to win the Senior race three times in succession.