Mirror, mirror on the wall…

It’s that time of year when classic car magazines come up with lists of the most beautiful/desirable/important/valuable cars on the face of the earth, and a pound to a penny says that two cars will feature well up the order in every one: the Jaguar D-Type and Jaguar E-Type.

Both cars deserve their iconic status, of course. The former for its brilliant run of three consecutive wins at Le Mans and the latter for being one of the most enduring designs and fabulous investments known to man.  Seriously: gold has dropped 45% of its worth in the past four years and oil has plunged to a third of its price per barrel while an E-Type is worth as much as 300% more than it was over the same amount of time.

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Jaguar’s D-Type and E-Type often top the lists of desirable cars… but what of the car that inspired them?

So after due consideration, the S&G humbly puts forward the ultimate classic, the thing of such beauty and such finely-honed engineering that it inspired Jaguar’s celebrated designer, Malcolm Sayer, to reach such peaks of achievement. The car that beats all does not come in British Racing Green, however, and it hails from Milan rather than Coventry. It is the fabulous 1952 Alfa Romeo Disco Volante.

To give it its proper name, the Alfa Romeo C52 was in fact a concept car designed to put a spring in the step of Alfa Romeo at a time of great uncertainty and change. Even while its Alfettas had dominated Formula 1 racing, including winning both of the first two World Championship titles in 1950-51, the company had been struggling to maintain its prestige position in the marketplace.

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The Alfa Romeo C52 is wheeled out to amaze a generation

It was short of funds and had elected to start building more cars at a lower price such as the 1900 Berlina in order to survive the years of austerity that were dragging on after World War 2. This was all well and good, but Alfa Romeo was special, and it needed to remind itself of that as much as the outside world.

The staff at Alfa Corse, having tearfully packed away the Alfettas, got hold of a 1900 Berlina engine and chassis and thought of something to do with it that might act as a hero car for the new generation of Alfas.

The engine that resulted was ostensibly the same design, an inline four cylinder with double chain-driven overhead camshafts, but it was forged in aluminium rather than iron, with sleeves in its bored-out cylinders.  It was a high compression engine running on the methanol fuel mix of its all-conquering Grand Prix predecessors through a pair of twin choke sidedraught carburettors to produce 158 bhp.

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Beneath the skin, the Disco Volante looked similar to Alfa’s road products… but with particular refinements

The standard chassis proportions were retained but the tinware was thrown away in favour of a delicate, lightweight tubular spaceframe.  This confection was then sent to Carrozzeria Touring, where an extensive wind tunnel programme was launched to try and encourage the slipperiest shape for the little Alfa engine to push along.

The result was astounding.  It was formed of a series of convex curves, each flowing into one another to produce a bewitchingly sensuous and utterly unique shape. Those feminine curves positively dripped over the wheels, half enclosing them at the front, and soon the new car had earned an enduring nickname at the factory – Disco Volante: the Flying Saucer.

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The Disco Volante looked other-worldly in 1952

The C52 had a 0.25 drag coefficient – a figure few cars can claim to this day – and proved to be extremely stable even in crosswinds while it reached speeds of up to 140 mph. The three completed cars caused an absolute sensation when they first appeared but then the momentum began to flag somewhat.

In 1953, Alfa Corse followed up on the original work by modifying two of the three cars: one into a coupe and the other into a more traditional-looking sports racer known as the fianchi stretti  (Italian for “narrow hips”). None turned a wheel in anger, the remaining competition programme was given over to the more conventional 6C 3000 CM, with which Juan Manuel Fangio finished second on the Mille Miglia. Two more Disco Volante spyders were built in 1953 and fitted with the 6C’s 3,495 cc, cast iron block, double overhead camshaft straight-six engine, adding another 10 mph but still no competition career was forthcoming.

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The coupé version of the Disco Volante looks rather E-Typey

In the end, the Alfa Romeo C52 remains one of the great ‘might have beens’ of motor sport legend. Of the five cars built, the original 1.9-litre fianchi stretti, coupé and spyder all still exist, as does one of the 6C engine spyders. Their legacy, however, is much greater than the sum of their parts – it is to be found in the classic Jaguars that they inspired and the achievements won thanks to Carrozzeria Touring’s experimental curved coachwork.

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Disco Volante: we salute you, you gorgeous creature. 

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Coventry’s Finest

Hot on the heels of noise about Alfa Romeo’s potential return to motor sport in the near future came word that Jaguar is teaming up with Williams to launch a full works Formula E effort.

This is a brave move, given the scorn that was poured upon then-owner Ford when it had the temerity to build a front-wheel-drive car with a Jaguar badge on it a few years ago. Now the purr of a six-cylinder is to be replaced by the whine of an electric motor, no doubt prompting much gnashing of teeth among gentlemen of a certain vintage that the ‘leaper’ is set to be seen on a glorified milk float.

Be that as it may, the automotive industry has some fairly major challenges ahead and these will only be solved by boldly going forth into new forms of powering its products. Electric vehicles are hideously inefficient, their production requires some horrendously toxic processes to take place and they are only ever likely to offer short-range inner-city transport solutions… but at least Jaguar is joining in the conversation.

Sadly the most obvious course of action for a brand like Jaguar, such as developing a hydrogen fuel cell Le Mans car, is a bit too much of a stretch at a time when its profitability is taking a bit of a beating. Jaguar Land Rover is temporarily on the back foot thanks to some poor luck in the Far East and investing half a billion dollars in new production centres, which presumably makes a relatively low cost/high visibility programme like Formula E more attractive.

But whatever the merits of Formula E, it is a positive thing that Jaguar is going to use motor sport to stake its place in the future of the industry. So to celebrate here is a gallery of loveliness to remind us all how much the big cat from Coventry has brought to the sport over the years.

The Scarf & Goggles Awards

A whiff of the original Scarf & Goggles made a return to Silverstone this summer, in the form of a small but perfectly formed bar set on the Village Green at the Silverstone Classic.

The Scarf and Goggles bar at the 2015 Silverstone Classic

This year’s running of the event carried with it a celebration of 25 years since Silverstone first premiered its International Historic Festival, the first event of its kind in Britain that brought together marque clubs, autojumbles, live music and period family entertainment from the 1920s-1960s to support a full race card of historic action.

Today, the world is a very different place. The old Festival went into hiatus during the dark days of Octagon’s reign at Silverstone, during which time the Goodwood Festival of Speed and Revival meetings kicked into high gear and ensured an unprecedented level of success.

In 2015, the classic racers gathering for Silverstone's festival are of a later generation

In 2015, the classic racers gathering for Silverstone’s festival are of a later generation

As a result of this, when Nick Wigley and the guys and girls of Goose reimagined Silverstone’s original prestige event as the Classic, they sought to get away from Goodwood’s cast iron grip on all things tweed and British Racing Green. Thus the Silverstone infield now throngs with Nissan Skylines and 1980s BMWs rather than Aston Martin Ulsters and Bugattis – but it is indeed a thriving place, dedicated towards the finer things of the past 40 years.

Of course it is rather galling to see the cars with which one’s own career has been associated being shown off like brachiosaurus bones to an incredulous new generation. “This is a Vauxhall Vectra BTCC car, son,” said a chap near me in the paddock. “Years ago, John Cleland and the BTCC were the best things ever…”

Internally the S&G was screaming: Arrrrgh! Hold on! There’s JC over there and he hasn’t aged a day since 1999. Which was only five minutes ago, wasn’t it?

Oh well… Despite being made to feel rather venerable, there was some cracking racing to enjoy, not least from the Sixties GTs. A four-way duel for the lead in Saturday’s race between a TVR, a Cobra and two Jaguar E-Types boiled down to a ripping tussle between the Cobra and the faster Jag, the former boiling out of every corner on opposite lock while the ladylike E-Type darted around daintily looking for a way past.

The racing highlight was this duel for classic GT glory

The headline event was an hour-long race for Group C cars, running at dusk for maximum headlight glare and exhaust gas flare. The entry was a little thinner than hoped – it seems that the cost of running these 240mph beasts is becoming a burden – but the quality was superb, with the early race battle between the F1-powered Jaguar XJR-14 and the turbocharged Nissan R91CK being worth the entry fee alone.

Glorious Group Cs remain the crowd favourite

Your scribe’s vote for car of the day went to the unique EMKA Aston Martin, vintage 1985 and driven in period by a young Tiff Needell (actually, scratch that… Tiff was never young!)

However, the inaugural Scarf & Goggles Award for the Most Admired Car at the event, named after and presented by Stuart Graham, who created the racing spectacle of the Historic Festival 25 years ago, went elsewhere. It was deservedly claimed by the unique 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO ‘Breadvan’ owned by Martin Halusa and raced in the Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy for Historic Cars by his sons Niklas and Lukas.

Nick Wigley (centre) flanked by Janet Garton and Stuart Graham as they prepare to award the inaugural Scarf & Goggles awards

The second Scarf & Goggles Award was for the best off-track attraction or entertainment and named after my father, Mervyn Garton.

After some to-ing and fro-ing on the judging panel between a number of marque clubs, this was eventually presented by my mother to the RAF Benevolent Fund. These chaps built a unique display of a full-sized replica Spitfire that they spent all day sitting people in and describing life in World War 2, plus a host of vehicles that are lovingly tended by the team in their off-duty hours.

As a display, the RAFBF completely embodied the sort of attraction that Dad sought to bring to the event. They are a credit to the RAF and to the men and women their efforts do so much to support in their hours of need.

The winners who created the RAF Benevolent Fund area pose with their deservedly-won trophy

It was a wonderful and nostalgic event, with its future becoming increasingly clear. Status Quo was the headline act onstage this year but the possibilities are limitless – Haircut 100, Matt Bianco, Sade and the Happy Mondays among them. There could be Soda Stream bars and a video rental shop servicing the campsites, offering VHS or Betamax versions of favourite movies like Crocodile Dundee and Pretty Woman for adults and He-Man for the kids.

Personally I’d add a 1978-1988 invitational Formula Ford race for good measure, Pat Sharp’s Funhouse live action TV show on the Village Green and a New Romantic ballroom on Saturday night.

A very fetching MG Metro - typical of the new generation of classics drawn to Silverstone

A very fetching MG Metro – typical of the new generation of classics drawn to Silverstone

Goodwood may well have mopped up the 1940s to 1960s, but if you are someone who sighs wistfully for lurid Benetton polo shirts, stonewashed jeans, mechanics with mullet hairdos and the days when British Touring Cars gave F1 a run for its money then the Silverstone Classic is an unmissable occasion.

Here’s to 2016…

One legend among many at Le Mans

Maison Blanche today – walled off from the modern circuit but still full of charisma

The Circuit de la Sarthe is one of the few active circuits in the world with more than 100 years of history under its belt and, in the Le Mans 24 Hours, it is without doubt home to the world’s most famous motor race.

Like all the great circuits, it has evolved through the decades – but its spirit is entirely untouched. That indefinable thing that makes Le Mans special has been jealously preserved by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest against much of the ‘progress’ that has afflicted other classic venues. Indeed, this race couldn’t – and arguably shouldn’t – happen anywhere else in the world. But since the country that created Grand Prix racing fell off the Formula One calendar, the Grand Prix de l’Endurance at Le Mans has taken on still greater importance in the national psyche.

As far as the circuit goes the one real concession to safety standards over the years has been the abandonment of the run through Maison Blanche, which once provided as stern a test as any to be found in motorsport. On today’s Circuit de la Sarthe cars exit the banked left-hand turn at Indianapolis and right-hander at Arnage and then have a quick squirt before turning sharp right into the vast chicane known as the Porsche Curves.

This track map shows the old, flowing circuit passing beneath the sinuous Porsche Curves

This track map shows the old, flowing circuit passing beneath the sinuous Porsche Curves

This is the only section of track that really resembles a modern Grand Prix venue – with its acres of gravel and run-off (although it is still somewhere that gigantic accidents can and do happen). All of that takes place on the other side of a wall that would not have looked out of place in Potsdamer Platz during the 1970s – and it means that the historic Maison Blanche section is there to explore at any time one might fancy doing so.

The old Maison Blanche on the left of shot and the new Porsche Curves to the right

The old Maison Blanche on the left of shot and the new Porsche Curves to the right

After arriving for the full modern Le Mans experience, the S&G found an opportunity to do a little motoring on the original circuit. The public roads that make up so much of a lap at Le Mans – from Tertre Rouge up the full length of the Mulsanne straight being the N138 to Tours, for example – remain open for as long as possible, giving one the opportunity to recreate that fantastic film of Mike Hawthorn’s lap in 1956.

This is the fast, tree-lined run from the exit or Arnage curving gracefully over the crest that was lowered as a concession to safety after the 1955 disaster and which still exists just as Hawthorn described it in his film. One then keeps barrelling downhill until just past the right-hand diversion into the Porsche Curves, where a roundabout now breaks what was once the long, long run towards the start/finish straight.

From the roundabout (which offers the main route in for the majority of the infield car parking at the 24 Hours), one then accelerates through the gentle right-hand kink up towards the fabled left-right around the old White House itself, visible on the left in this video, before the old circuit runs out and the Berlin-style wall cuts one off before rejoining the modern start-finish straight.

Impressions of driving down this stretch are primarily that it’s bloody narrow. Whether at 80mph in a Bentley 3-litre, 140mph in a Jaguar D-Type or 190mph in a Porsche 917 it would require superhuman courage at any time of day… never mind what it must have been like at night in the rain – as was so often the case.

Visiting Le Mans is essential to make one’s motoring life complete. Drinking in the sights and sounds of the 24 Hours is enough of a feast in itself, but when there is the opportunity to go and explore such riches as Maison Blanche at the same time, it becomes quite the most amazing location of its kind in the world.

On the streets of Monaco

The romance of Monaco may have become a touch jaded in the hyper-commercialised world of modern Formula One but these are the same streets on which Chiron, Fangio and Moss wove their magic.

Seeing fine old cars on them is a very satisfying experience at any time of day. But to see how at ease with the track Alex Buncombe was in the JD Classics Jaguar C-Type is a joy. The S&G has little truck with fitting roll hoops to old cars, but in this case we do get the advantage of being able to witness man, machine and Monegasque streets in harmony – and for that we are grateful.

1956 and all that…

A lot is said and written about British leadership in motor sport. About its value. About its importance. We speak in terms intended to summon up the blood in a manner that would have delighted Henry V at Agincourt.

‘Twas not always thus. Brooklands may have been the world’s first permanent race track and a few pioneering marques such as Bentley, Napier and Sunbeam may have successfully raided the most prestigious races in Europe but, before World War 2, Britain was hardly smitten.

Racing cars not permitted: the SMMT shows its wares

Racing cars not permitted: the SMMT shows its wares

Indeed, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders was moved to prohibit the display of racing machinery within its annual Motor Show – stating that competition was ‘vulgar and irrelevant’.

All that was changed by the Second World War. In its wake a tide of bright young engineers and hard charging drivers was unleashed. That tide grew in depth, strength and experience until Britain became the motor racing capital of the world.

The year of British ascendance was 1956. If the primary measuring stick of motor sport is Formula One, then this was the first year when the number of British teams outnumbered those from Italy or France. It is also the first year in which British drivers won more grands prix than any other nationality – with Stirling Moss and Peter Collins claiming two victories apiece.

Young bucks Collins and Moss ran the old master Fangio close in 1956

Young bucks Collins and Moss ran the old master Fangio (right) close in 1956

Of course this was also the year in which Collins famously missed out on the world championship after handing his car to his title rival and team-mate, Juan Manuel Fangio, in the final race of the year. Clearly the British still had to develop the killer instinct in these situations!

Neither Moss or Collins were driving British cars, but there was plenty of success outside Formula 1 for British manufacturers. Leading the way was Jaguar, which maintained its dominance at the Le Mans 24 Hours with a fourth victory in six years – with Aston Martin and Lotus winning class honours.

Jaguar's fourth winner at Le Mans is crowned

Jaguar’s fourth winner at Le Mans is crowned

In rallying, Jaguar also the Monte Carlo Rally with its vast Mk.VII saloon and Aston Martin won the RAC Rally with its rather more obviously sporty DB2/4.

Meanwhile, back on the tracks, the Owen Maddock-designed Cooper T41 dominated in Formula 2, establishing the template for rear-engined simplicity that would carry the Kingston firm to world championship glory by the end of the decade.

Jaguar also claimed victory in the 1956 Monte Carlo Rally

Jaguar also claimed victory in the 1956 Monte Carlo Rally

If that wasn’t sufficient to set the seal on British dominance then Stirling Moss – that man again! – set new class speed records at Monza in a streamlined Lotus Eleven.

It was a year that would define so much for so many people: the year in which the remarkable community of engineers and adventurers showed exactly what they were capable of. The achievements of 1956 set in place the foundations for a huge and vibrant industry.

This week the great and the good of that same industry gather for their annual jamboree – the Autosport International show in Birmingham. Doubtless there will be much bullish talk about the state of the nation… but how much of it is justified?

One thing is clear – the age of British leadership in motor sport that arrived with such a tour de force in 1956 has, in fact, passed.

At the end of last year Britain lost 25% of its F1 production in the space of a fortnight. If a quarter of the Premier League teams vanished there would be rioting on the streets – but the disappearance of more than 400 jobs and hundreds of millions of pounds owing to suppliers has merited barely a raised eyebrow.

This misfortune is, however, just the tip of the iceberg. For example British Formula 3 – the series that was the making of virtually every F1 driver from Stirling Moss to Jenson Button, including the likes of Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna and Mika Häkkinen – has ceased to exist, after drawing only half a dozen entries in recent seasons.

The Le Mans 24 Hours and World Endurance Championship are currently contested by Audi, Porsche and Toyota… all based in Germany. Both of the full works teams entered in the World Rally Championship – Hyundai and Volkswagen – are also based in Germany.

In terms of manufacturing there are now only three viable options when it comes to single-seater chassis supply: Mygale from France (Formula Ford/Formula 4), Dallara (GP2, GP3, Formula 3, Indycar, World Series, Formula E) and its Italian compatriot Tatuus (Formula Renault).

Across virtually every discipline of the sport, from rallycross to hillclimbs and truck racing to dragsters, British influence is increasingly on the margins. As well as car production, traditional bastions of the industry such as Dunlop and Shell have also moved their motor sport arms (and associated Research & Development of customer products) away from Britain.

In 2001 the Motorsport Industry Association, the self-appointed lobbying group in the UK, valued the industry at £5bn a year – which was quite punchy. These days the MIA puts that figure at £10bn – which is frankly ludicrous.

In the years since 2001 such prestigious engineering firms as Cosworth, Reynard, Lola, Van Diemen, TWR and Ralliart have hurtled into oblivion. On the domestic front, the British Touring Car Championship lost its manufacturer entries and star drivers but has battled on – and at least survived where the British Rally Championship has been consigned to history.

One by one the lion’s teeth have been pulled.

What took Britain to the top of the world in 1956 and kept it there for roughly half a century was a fraternity imbued with talent and inventiveness as well as the willingness to challenge tradition. As a community we urgently need to revive this same spirit if we are to have any chance of halting the decline.

Britain needs to recapture the pioneering spirit it showed in 1956 - and fast

Britain needs to recapture the pioneering spirit it showed in 1956 – and fast

The S&G is a place to look backwards but, at the start of a new year, it might also be a good time to look forwards – and worry. Context is really what this blog is about, and if by looking back we can find a way to fan the embers then so much the better.

Goodwood celebrates 60 years of the Jaguar D-Type

The 2014 Goodwood Revival on 12-14 September will have a treat in store for lovers of curvaceous cars from Coventry. To mark the 60th anniversary of the storied Jaguar D-Type, an unprecedented 30 surviving examples will be entered for the Lavant Cup race.

'Shortnose' D-Type as it appeared in 1954

‘Shortnose’ D-Type as it appeared in 1954

The D-Type’s importance is hard to overstate, not least because it utilised the first successful monocoque chassis design in motor sport history. An alloy ‘tub’ of elliptical shape and comparatively small cross-section provided an incredibly rigid yet lightweight structure. Sub-assemblies were then bolted to the front and rear – carrying the engine, steering assembly, and front suspension in front of the cockpit while the rear suspension and final drive were carried behind.

In many ways the D-Type was the road-going equivalent of the Hawker Hunter jet fighter and borrowed heavily from contemporary aeronautical design. The man behind the car was Malcolm Sayer, an aeronautical designer from the Bristol Aeroplane Company, had joined Jaguar in 1950 and brought with him the most advanced thinking available in the world. Sayer’s brilliance steered the Jaguar XK120 and its Le Mans-winning sister the C-Type, whose success cemented Jaguar’s reputation and paved the way for his 1954 masterpiece, the D-Type.

The Hawker Hunter jet also debuted in 1954 bearing many similarities to the D-Type

The Hawker Hunter jet also debuted in 1954 bearing many similarities to the D-Type

 

It is astonishing to think that Sayer’s work depended upon developing complex formulae for creating curves – exactly the same science that is replicated by today’s CAD software programmes. Back in the early ‘Fifties, however, the only tools that Sayer had to call upon were a slide rule and seven-figure log tables.

Sayer’s handiwork was tested in a wind tunnel. He was determined to minimise the frontal area of the car in order to decrease wind resistance and thereby increase speed on the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans. This in turn required Jaguar’s Chief Engineer William Haynes and former Bentley engineer Walter Hassan to develop dry sump lubrication in order to cant the 3.4-litre straight-6 XK engine at 8½ degrees from the vertical in order to meet Sayer’s demands – creating the D-Type’s signature offset bonnet bulge in the process.

The canted XK engine installed in a D-Type

The canted XK engine installed in a D-Type

In addition to the structural similarities between the D-Type and contemporary fighter aircraft, several ancillaries were carried over from aircraft such as Dunlop disc brakes and a Marston Aviation Division bag to carry the fuel instead of a traditional rigid tank.

The dark green cars caused a sensation at Le Mans in 1954 and should have taken victory in the 24 Hours at a canter, but for fuel feed problems resulting from their revolutionary design. Nevertheless the superiority of these high-tech creations was clear to see when they achieved more than 172 mph on the Mulsanne Straight compared with the 160 mph reached by the instantly outdated (but ultimately victorious) 4.9 litre Ferrari V12.

Acclaimed artist Tim Layzell's print of the D-Type's unveiling www.timlayell.com

Acclaimed artist Tim Layzell’s print of the D-Type’s unveiling www.timlayzell.com

Ongoing development of the D-Types cured these gremlins and, with revised ‘long nose’ styling from 1955 onwards to further increase high speed efficiency and stability, duly conquered the world. Jaguar won Le Mans in 1955, 1956 and 1957 against the combined might of Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari, Maserati and Aston Martin. More important still, it set the template for every successful thoroughbred racing car to this day, both sports-prototype and single-seater.

Today the D-Type remains a popular choice for drivers and fans at historic events. Total D-Type production is thought to have included 18 factory team cars, 53 customer cars, and 16 road going XKSS versions. The Goodwood celebration will certainly be well deserved and undoubtedly a highlight of another spectacular race card.