That time at Sandown…

Here’s a little something that pops up every so often – the racy demonstration of Sir Jack Brabham in his Brabham-Repco and Juan Manuel Fangio in his 1955 Mercedes-Benz W196. Both cars had been recently restored by their owners in Australia, and as a support to the 1978 Australian Grand Prix at Sundown they were to be reunited with their original drivers.

All the hype and Fangio’s own insistence was that this was not a demonstration by two champions but a race. Perhaps it was, but it’s worth remembering that, in their heydays, there was a full minute’s difference between the two cars over a lap of Spa-Francorchamps and 13 seconds at Monaco.

Nevertheless, while Black Jack is the perfect gentleman and makes a show of it, it’s clear that Fangio is properly ‘on it’ for a recently-restored car that was worth a major sum of money even 40 years ago. And both men clearly wanted to be first past the chequered flag.

Incidentally, the Australian Grand Prix was a Formula 5000 race, won by Graham McRae in his self-built Chevrolet-engined car in a highly attritional race that saw two drivers hospitalised.

It’s thanks to this sort of enthusiasm for old cars, so clearly on show at Sandown that day, that the Silverstone Classic, the Goodwood Revival and the Nürburgring Old-timer exist as some of the best-attended motor sport events in the world. This is why…

Advertisements

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:

The world’s most expensive Grand Prix car

Auction house Bonhams is cock-a-hoop after the Goodwood Festival of Speed, where it sold the ex-Juan Manuel Fangio Mercedes-Benz W196 that was originally gifted to the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu.

Bonhams auctioned the 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196 at Goodwood

Bonhams auctioned the 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196 at Goodwood

The headline figure stands at £19,601,500 (which is what the £17,500,000 hammer price comes to with commission), making this car the most expensive ever sold at auction, the most valuable Formula One car ever sold and the most valuable Mercedes ever sold to boot.

It is a mark of how special this car is that it attained such a sum. As a rule, single-seat racing cars go for relatively modest sums compared to their sports and GT brethren. The rationale is simple: if you can’t drive it to the pub or put your friends in it, it’s not going to make top dollar.

The social side of classic car ownership is a major selling point

The social side of classic car ownership adds enormous value

People buy classic cars as an investment but also to show them off: to get the buzz of being at the wheel and to bask in the awe, envy and admiration that their carriages inspire. That is why the Ferrari 250GTO remains the powerhouse of the classic era – its unique beauty and racing pedigree ensure that values continue to climb, yet this is also a car in which Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason used to take his daughter to school.

The Mercedes therefore falls short of the $35 million mark set by the ex-UDT Laystall team GTO last year… but not by much. Since that time the pale green Ferrari has been a regular attendee at historic events, but whether or not the Mercedes follows suit is open to question.

With a price of $35 million in 2012, the UDT Laystall 250 GTO is still king of the hill

Reaching $35 million in 2012, the UDT Laystall GTO is still king of the hill

A single-seat racing car can only be driven on a track, which means either competing with it or hiring a venue for a private track day. Otherwise it must either be kept hidden away in a private collection or loaned to a museum – neither of which fulfils the basic criteria of ownership.

The ultimate fate of the W196 00006/54 is unknown, but it seems likely to be leaving British shores. The vendor was the Emir of Qatar, who acquired it from the German industrialist Friedhelm Loh about eight years ago, and it was snapped up by an unnamed telephone bidder calling from overseas.

Presumably it will now go back into storage or private display. If money were no object then it might possibly be used in historic events alongside the many other 2.5-litre F1 cars such as the Ferrari 246 Dino, Maserati 250F, Cooper T53 and even the lesser spotted Vanwall.

Fifties Grand Prix cars like this Aston Martin sell tickets for historic races

’50s cars like this Aston Martin sell many tickets for historic races

Yet this is a car with some fairly unique engineering in it – desmodronic valve gear and fuel injection feature on its straight-eight engine, which was engineered to ensure power take-off from the centre of its crankshaft to minimize vibration. Ground-breaking technology is unreliable. Add the passage of 60 years and it becomes impossible to place great strain on the components.

It would doubtless require significant restoration work to make 00006 a full-blown runner – but this is not a problem in itself. Since the auction, much has been made of the car’s patina – but the peeling paint and scratches are not a legacy from its time with the Mercedes-Benz Rennabteilung – in fact the damage is more modern than that.

The chips and dings have all occurred since 00006 retired from racing

The chips and dings have all occurred since 00006 retired from racing

Photos of the car at its first race at the Nürburgring show the slightly hurried and unfinished look of the open wheel body which was pressed in to service. Contemporary reporters were amazed by the difference between the carefully sculpted streamliner bodies with which the W196 debuted and labelled the open wheeler ‘unhandsome’.

Indeed, Mercedes had been forced to introduce the open wheel cars earlier than planned after a disastrous race at the British Grand Prix, meaning that the team arrived too late to take part in the opening practice session.

Fangio restored German pride at the 'Ring

00006 and Fangio restored German pride at the ‘Ring

When they did take to the track, however, Fangio and chassis 00006 recorded a time of 9m 50.1s – shaving two seconds off the 1939 lap record set by the supercharged 3.0-litre Mercedes of Hermann Lang.

The race was in many ways an all-Argentinean affair, dominated by Fangio’s Mercedes and a valiant challenge to its supremacy by Froilán González in the outclassed Ferrari 625. Both men were in no small part inspired by the death of their young compatriot Onofre Marimon in practice, whose fatal accident at the Wehrseifen bridge prompted the works Maserati team’s withdrawal.

Fangio's race pace was modest, but he triumphed in Germany

Fangio’s race pace was modest, but he and 00006 triumphed in Germany

González led at the start and then chased Fangio once the Maestro had got past – but was soon swallowed up by the other two Mercedes of junior driver Karl Kling and pre-war legend Lang in a one-off appearance. These two men indulged in a spirited battle for second place in which the ring-rusty Lang ultimately spun at the Hatzenbach and exited to a hero’s salute from the crowd.

Kling then set off after Fangio and began to reel him in – to the enormous and obvious displeasure of his team boss, Alfred Neubauer. Kling passed Fangio but during his furious drive he had clipped one of the banks and broken the transmission mounting, requiring a lengthy stop for repairs which let Fangio claim the first home victory for Mercedes in 15 years.

Fangio then won again with chassis 00006 at the Swiss Grand Prix at Bremgarten, beating the Ferrari of González. The race was something of a non-event in which the margin of victory was almost a full minute after many of the fancied runners dropped out – but it did seal Fangio’s second world championship title.

Victory at Bremgarten ensured the 1954 title for Fangio

Victory at Bremgarten ensured the 1954 title for Fangio

The maestro then received a new chassis and 00006 was next seen at the season-ending Italian Grand Prix in the hands of Hans Herrmann. Fangio won by a lap from Hawthorn’s Ferrari, González and Umberto Maglioli sharing the third-placed Ferrari another lap behind and Hermann trailing home fourth a further lap in arrears.

00006 was then held back as a test hack through 1955, when the season was truncated by the catastrophic accident at Le Mans. It re-emerged for the final race of the ‘silver arrows’ in Formula One – the 1955 Italian Grand Prix. Team leader Fangio and his young apprentice Stirling Moss had use of the fully streamlined cars for the flat-out sweeps of the Villa Reale, but the open-wheel chassis 00006 was made available for Karl Kling.

Kling and 00006 are third in the W196 train behind Fangio and Moss

Kling and 00006 are third in the W196 train behind Fangio and Moss

It was another fiery and wayward performance by Kling, who ran a strong second behind Fangio’s Stromlinienwagen until the prop shaft let go, due to a rare error by Neubauer’s engineers. With that ‘Don Alfredo’ Neubauer tearfully drew a veil over the competition department at Unterturkheim and the 14 W196s went into retirement.

Fangio and Moss help Neubauer put the legendary 'silver arrows' to bed

Fangio and Moss help Neubauer put the legendary ‘silver arrows’ to bed

Chassis 00006 was delivered to the Daimler-Benz Exhibitions Department in December 1955, having been fully refettled. It stayed with them for more than a decade, being taken to exhibitions and public appearances around Europe and being used for tyre testing. A Daimler-Benz Museum archive document records that – as of November 5, 1969 – “Car should be available at any time for R. Uhlenhaut for testing purposes”.

On May 22nd, 1973 it was presented to the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, Hampshire, England.  It was then sold after many years in order to fund the museum’s John Montagu Building, being bought by historic racer and collector Sir Anthony Bamford of JCB Excavators in a deal brokered by Adrian Hamilton, son of Le Mans winner Duncan Hamilton.

Sir Anthony Bamford bought the W196 from Beaulieu

Sir Anthony Bamford bought the W196 from Beaulieu

Bamford sold the car to French collector Jacques Setton. It then passed to Herr Loh, who in 1999-2000 ran it in such events as the Monaco Historic Grand Prix and the Goodwood Festival of Speed with Willie Green at the wheel. The car was then re-sold  to Qatari ownership.

Now, in 2013, this old stager has set a new benchmark for cars at auction – but are there any more such valuable Grand Prix racing gems out there? It must be doubtful. There are certainly cars in existence that would trouble the Richter scale if they were to see the light of day – but they remain tucked up far away from the public gaze. Perhaps once again a car built at Unterturkheim has set the bar higher than any rivals can match.

Off to her new home - 00006 as she is today

Off to her new home – 00006 as she is today

José Froilán González

There was something about José Froilán González which seemed indestructible… making the announcement of his passing this weekend, even at the ripe age of 90, something of a shock. Known as the ‘Pampas Bull’ by the British press and ‘El Cabezón’ (fathead), by his countrymen, he was the Argentine star who claimed Enzo Ferrari’s first Grand Prix victory as a constructor enjoyed tremendous affection from fans both in his prime and in his latter years.

The Pampas Bull prepares to wrestle his Ferrari, 1952

The Pampas Bull prepares to wrestle his Ferrari, 1952

Rotund and ready-smiling, González was born in the city of Arrecifes and was a keen athlete in his youth – whose competitiveness was somewhat at odds with his naturally chunky frame. At 10 years of age he got himself behind the wheel of a car and this produced an even bigger thrill, so he contrived to find ways to drive vehicles of all shapes and sizes from that moment on.

Racing duly followed, at the age of 24, when he embarked on some of the great cross-country events of the era. He took a typically South American approach by using a pseudonym to avoid his family finding out about his antics – although they did, despite his best efforts. His father then helped González establish a trucking business – no doubt hoping that this would occupy him too fully to go racing – but although it was successful, the whole operation was duly sold after a couple of years in order to pay for a Maserati 4CL with which to make his international debut in Buenos Aires.

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Ferrari's first Formula One win

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Ferrari’s first Formula One win

González clearly had talent and this earned him sponsorship from the Argentine government of Juan Peron – just like his older rival from national road races, Juan Manuel Fangio – which took him to Europe in 1950. Once again his talent was clear and he was signed up by Enzo Ferrari – although with some reservations from the Old Man about the state of high anxiety that González would work himself into before a race.

On July 14th 1951, fate decreed that it was González who would enter the record books as the first man to drive a Ferrari to victory in a Grand Prix, when he mastered a race-long battle with Fangio’s Alfa Romeo 158 to win the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. He drove out of his skin that day, hurling the big unblown V12 around with all his might to hold the waspish supercharged Alfetta at bay in what was undoubtedly his finest Grand Prix performance.

There was no onward momentum from that first victory, however, in what fast became the ‘Fangio era’. He would win at Silverstone with Ferrari once again in 1954, the year when he also anchored the Scuderia’s victory at Le Mans with Maurice Trintignant, but spent the majority of his European racing days as a journeyman. González not only drove for Ferrari but also Maserati, BRM and Tony Vandervell’s Thinwall operation – the British teams usually in non-championship events such as Goodwood meetings.

Gonzales (no.5) blasts off in the BRM at Goodwood

Gonzales (no.5) blasts off in the mighty V16 BRM at Goodwood

González returned to live in Argentina before the start of the 1955 season, establishing a successful car dealership business. He did not often choose to hark back to his racing days, but when he did he was always cheerful and grateful – if somewhat bemused – by the affection in which he was held by fans of the sport from thousands of miles away. He will be missed.

 

Behind the scenes at the 1956 Monaco GP

Moss was magnificent but Ferrari left a tale or two

Monaco 1956: Moss was magnificent but Ferrari left a tale or two

Life magazine has a treasure trove of images including the following selection from a series taken in the period leading up to the 1956 Monaco Grand Prix. They give an insight into the world inhabited by teams taking part in the Formula One World Championship that absolutely none of today’s teams would recognise, sadly.

Despite achieving unprecedented dominance in the 1952-53 world championship seasons for Formula 2 machinery, Scuderia Ferrari had dropped off a cliff in 1954-55. After the glorious little 4-cylinder F2 500 had carried all before it in the hands of Alberto Ascari and Mike Hawthorn, the subsequent 2.5-litre Formula One cars such as the 625, 553 Squalo and 555 Supersqualo were dismal failures and the team was on the brink of going under before Lancia went bust and it took over the promising D50 cars at the end of 1955.

After the International Trophy at Silverstone the cars are rebuilt for Monaco

After the International Trophy at Silverstone the cars are rebuilt for Monaco

Not only did Lancia’s departure grant a lifeline to Ferrari, but also the departure of Mercedes-Benz after its two years of dominance meant that the greatest driver of the era, Juan Manuel Fangio, was available and keen to drive the D50. There was little love lost between Fangio and Enzo Ferrari, but both knew that the other gave the best chance of success in 1956.

The season began with Fangio’s home race in Argentina, which saw the Ferrari-entered D50s dominate qualifying. Fangio’s own car broke its fuel pump but team-mate Luigi Musso was running strongly and so was called in to the pits to hand over his car to the Maestro, who duly won by 25 seconds from the Maserati of Jean Behra.

Then came the non-championship International Trophy at Silverstone, where the two cars entered for Fangio and Peter Collins both retired with clutch failure. After rushing back to Maranello to diagnose the ailment, a full squad of Fangio, Collins, Musso and Eugenio Castelotti was ready for the next world championship round in Monaco just a couple of days later.

The cars arrive in the Monaco pits ready to get practice underway

The cars arrive in the Monaco pits ready to get practice underway

Then as now, Monaco was an extremely crowded place for a Formula One event to take place, but the milling crowds were simply part of the ambiance. Today’s teams would run a mile at the prospect of living and working cheek-by-jowl with the ‘great unwashed’ – even if that meant well-heeled Monegasques. After all, they have social media campaigns for that sort of thing!

Fangio attempts to keep the fans happy - today teams use Twitter instead

Fangio keeps the fans happy – today teams use Twitter instead

Fangio stuck his car on pole position ahead of Moss’s works Maserati 250F. The young Englishman got the better start, however, and completed his first lap with a five second lead. Fangio was clearly rattled by the challenge to his authority and managed to spin his D50 at Ste. Devote, causing the sister car of Luigi Musso and the Vanwall of Harry Schell to crash out in avoidance.

Musso's D50 sits forlornly after avoiding Fangio's sister car

Musso’s D50 sits forlornly after avoiding Fangio’s sister car

Fangio set off unabashed, working his way back up to third place with some fairly lurid cornering before the remaining Ferrari of Peter Collins slowed up to let him past for second place. Fangio howled off after Moss but once again there was a lapse in concentration and he clobbered the nose of his car against a wall, allowing Collins to close up once more and sit dutifully on the Maestro’s tail rather than get past and press on after Moss.

By lap 40 this was becoming a bit of a farce and Fangio pulled in with his wounded machine and handed it over to Castelotti, whose own car had suffered a clutch failure. Now it was the turn of Peter Collins to get the summons to bring the last undamaged D50 in for Fangio to use. The young Englishman did what was expected of him and Fangio made his third bid to catch Moss, who had himself suffered a drama when lapping his team-mate Cesare Perdisa, getting a knock which loosened the engine cover and caused it to flap about.

Fangio's damaged D50 in the pits

Fangio’s damaged D50 in the pits

A nail-biting charge to the finish saw Fangio hauling in Moss’s advantage by two seconds per lap, but the Maserati team leader did not wilt under the pressure. He kept his head and took the flag six seconds clear of the charging Argentine star. So cool was Moss that he took time to wave to the crowds on the final lap as he savoured this, his first Monaco victory and the first time he had put one over the Maestro in a Grand Prix.

If Fangio was disappointed then doubly so was Peter Collins. The young star had driven faultlessly in the first half of the race and had been the only member of Scuderia Ferrari with a realistic shot at challenging Moss for the victory – only for the team to defer to Fangio’s wishes. Nevertheless, the cup was always half full for Collins, who could be relied upon to find something to enjoy – and someone to enjoy it with – in most situations.

Collins with his 'belle du jour' enjoys a glass of chilled refreshment

Collins in the pits with his ‘belle de jour’ and a glass of chilled refreshment

Life states that the lady photographed repeatedly in Collins’s company over the Monaco Grand Prix weekend was his future wife, Louise King. It’s not in fact the future Mrs. Collins – although the couple did both go to the same party that weekend without really noticing one another. Rather it is one of the many glamorous young ladies with whom the Ferrari ace enjoyed spending time before he tied the knot.

Almost 60 years later the world of Grand Prix racing looks rather different on many fronts…

Alonso Shows ‘The Right Stuff’

In general, S&G feels that Formula One lost much of its appeal when it decided to put the cart before the horse. This is not a place for those who get dewy-eyed about lightweight Lotuses or develop a slightly hoarse tone when they utter the letters ‘DFV’ in short succession.

However, racing drivers remain racing drivers, regardless of whether their public persona is contractually obliged to be less lifelike than a store-front mannequin. That’s why this is a rather special clip.

Every 10 years, Ferrari likes to remind the world of its longevity by paying Bernie Ecclestone a fee to borrow the car with which it won its first Grand Prix as a constructor – the glorious 4.5-litre V12 375. Contrary to popular opinion it’s not the actual car with which José Froilán González defeated Alfa Romeo at the 1951 British Grand Prix – in fact it’s Alberto Ascari’s car from that same race – but in every way it’s identical.

Current Formula One drivers tend to get rather baity about being required to drive old cars. They complain about the brakes, the grip and the fact that they are suddenly reminded that their job used to be mortally dangerous. Mika Häkkinen detests driving Fangio’s dominant Mercedes-Benz W196, for example.

But in this respect, Fernando Alonso proved to be a glorious exception. Here we see him marking the 60th anniversary of Ferrari’s first win by taking his turn at the wheel of Bernie’s 375. It’s all fairly standard stuff with a few waves to the crowd for his first lap, while self-important F1 types – Pasquale, naturally – line up for their moment on the TV screens.

But while all this is going on, Fernando’s been sussing the car out. That racer’s brain has been having a good fondle of this particular old girl and the blue touchpaper is duly lit.

At 3:40 on the video below he stops waving his hand to the crowd and starts waggling the backside of the car instead. Bernie’s face is a picture: then he clearly can’t bear to look any longer. As a result he misses all the best bits as, for two fabulous minutes, Fernando hustles the Ferrari in the style she was built to be driven.

One to enjoy!