Advertisement feature: S&G’s book

Did you know that Ronnie Peterson agreed terms with Ferrari to fill Niki Lauda’s seat after the Austrian’s fiery crash in 1976?

Or that Lauda himself fully expected the whole field to pull into the pits behind him at Fuji?

Or that James Hunt’s deal to drive for Ferrari was scuppered by Vauxhall?

Or that one of Ferrari’s senior designers was kidnapped and, sadly, murdered in a story that could have been ripped from the pages of an Inspector Montalbano mystery?

Not for the first time, the S&G has written a book. It is the latest in the series of Haynes Manuals for enthusiasts of the most iconic cars in motor sport history – in this instance, the Ferrari 312T series. So if you like pretty red things and are looking for something to leaf through on holiday this summer, here’s the sales pitch:

This manual contains a guide to owning, restoring and enjoying one of these iconic 1970s Formula 1 cars.

If you happen to have a spare couple of million dollars that you don’t know what to do with, there is guidance on owning a 312T, T2, T3, T4 or T5. Even a T6, if you will… although not the fictional T8. There is also expert advice how to tackle an auction from the chaps at Bonhams and insights into ownership and maintainance from Hall & Hall.

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If you want to get under the skin of this little beast, there’s now a book for you

This book won’t follow Haynes tradition and give you a step-by-step guide to replacing the wiring loom but then we are talking about a Formula 1 car and not a Morris Ital. If you can afford a 312T then you’ve doubtless got a man in a mews garage with grubby fingernails who can handle that sort of thing.

Alternatively, you might want to give it back to Ferrari, where Gilles Villeneuve’s former crew chief, Pietro Corradini, will tend to its needs in the Corse Clienti workshops. He is also a prominent contributor to the book.

But for those who want to revel in the history of the 312T there is, we hope, plenty to enjoy. Lots of pictures. Quite a few words. Many of those words came from the mouth of Mauro Forghieri, designer of the breed and of pretty well all things Ferrari from 1962-82. That interview, ladies and gentlemen, was a good day’s work.

Forghieri also had plenty to say about the storied summer of 1976 and the epic battle for the Formula 1 world championship between Niki Lauda and James Hunt. And if Forghieri had plenty to say then the team manager from that fateful season, Daniele Audetto, was a positive Vesuvius of information that had been bubbling away unseen by anyone for decades.

Certainly unseen by anyone in the English speaking world. The story of that summer of ’76 is often told but much of Audetto’s version of events was news to your humble scribe as it will be to any of you in the English speaking world because, let’s face it, the coverage at the time was rather patriotic in tone.

Unsurprisingly the Italian version of events is significantly different to the ‘official story’ as told by the Anglo-Saxon contingent and benefits from a whole host of scandals and intrigues never before mentioned in polite society.

This was all somewhat exciting to be told, but then it was rather an exciting project to be given. The 312T belongs to an age of unalloyed heroism exemplified by Lauda’s return from the Nürburgring, the likes of Hunt, Scheckter and Reutemann wrestling with their considerable fears about surviving each and every race weekend and Gilles Villeneuve’s devastating speed. Revisiting those days with such expert guides was a joy.

The making of the movie Rush and the cars that starred in it is also a feature. So too are those vital ingredients to the true story of 1976 that Rush missed out like the British Grand Prix riots – as reported by someone who was there lobbing beer cans onto the track.

The Ferrari 312T Owners’ Manual marks the second time that Haynes has offered the S&G an opportunity to write about the red cars. Almost 14 years ago your scribe was allowed into the inner sanctum at Maranello to document Ferrari’s resurgence under Jean Todt, Ross Brawn and Michael Schumacher. This resulted in the book Cavallino Rampante, which was one of the few times when life offers the chance to create something that will last a good deal longer than you will.

It’s been a pleasure to revisit that sort of territory again and one hopes that some of that enjoyment is passed on to the reader. So if all that tickles your fancy, please do dive in with both feet.

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There are a few handy hints for those awkward plumbing and wiring jobs

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The first Nürburgring Grand Prix

A great debt is owed to Dr. Otto Creutz, once the councillor for Germany’s sleepy Eifel district. It was he who had the bright idea, some 90 years ago, to build a race track in his constituency.

Dr. Otto Creutz - the man who sold a million boot stickers

Dr. Otto Creutz – the man who sold a million car boot stickers

The idea would require national government backing and Creutz achieved this through the offices of Konrad Adenauer, the then Oberbürgermeister of Cologne, who would end up as Chancellor after World War 2. With Adenauer’s support a budget of 15 million marks was amassed in order to construct Creutz’s 28.265km (17.58 mile) test track for the German motor industry – the Nürburgring.

The ‘Ring was not yet completed in 1926 when the inaugural Grosser Preis von Deutschland was due to be staged, so instead the event took place on the tree-lined duel carriageway of the AVUS in Berlin.

The Mercedes team always travelled in style to Grands Prix

The Mercedes team always travelled to Grands Prix in style

A road race within the Grünewald, right within the nation’s capital, must have seemed like a bright idea… but it was not a great success. The turn-out among non-German teams was small and the race was marked by a crash in which Alfred Rosenberger’s Mercedes ploughed off the circuit at the densely populated North Turn; demolishing the timekeeper’s hut and killing three people.

It did, however, bring victory to the precociously talented young man who had become the darling of the Mercedes squad: Rudolf Caracciola.

It was Caracciola who would lead Mercedes in to the second Grosser Preis a year later – and this time it would be held on the Nürburgring. On this occasion absolutely no concession was made to potential overseas entrants and the race was held for sports cars rather than thoroughbred grand prix machines.

The mighty Porsche-designed Mercedes S, star of the 1927 Grosser Preis

The mighty Porsche-designed Mercedes S, star of the 1927 Grosser Preis

It was also the case that Mercedes had just merged with Benz, with both factories closing their racing departments in the interim. This meant that a suitably competitive production car would have to be found – and it was.

The supercharged 6.8-litre Mercedes S, designed by Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, was light years ahead of any comparable car. As a result seven of them arrived at the Nürburgring, dominating a field of 21 cars and putting the result beyond doubt in many minds even before the race began.

The action was to take place over 18 laps of the complete circuit for total distance of 509.4km or 316.5 miles (compared to the 308km of the modern Grosser Preis which is held over 60 laps of the little 5.1 km circuit laid out around the original start/finish straight). A total of 75,000 people arrived on the morning of 17 July 1927 to witness the spectacle and celebrate the almost inevitable Mercedes victory.

The field lines up for the first Grand Prix at the 'Ring

The field lines up for the first Grand Prix at the ‘Ring

But which Mercedes? Caracciola was notionally the top dog but it was an all-star team and at the start it was Rosenberger who surged off the line from the second row of the grid and through to take the lead for the whole of the first lap while the rest of the squad battled in his wake.

Caracciola headed the chase but was soon passed by the sister car of Willy Walb and was soon under increasing pressure from Mercedes stalwart Christian Werner. On lap 5, after running neck-and-neck for the full length of the mighty run down from Dottinger Hohe, Caracciola suddenly pulled off into the pits claiming engine problems and retired from the event.

Paul Reich comes to grief behind the imperious Mercedes fleet

Paul Reich comes to grief behind the imperious Mercedes fleet

Walb meanwhile caught and passed Rosenberger, whose engine sounded off-colour and would let go completely on the ninth lap. By then Walb was coming under pressure from yet another of the Mercedes entries – this time that of Otto Merz.

The Swabian giant Merz, known among the team as Kolossus, was usually the reserve driver but he rose to the occasion in style. Despite repeatedly being forced to pit for new tyres, he was able to hold his team-mates at bay to the finish in a time of four hours and 59 minutes to enjoy the adulation of the crowd.

Three minutes behind Merz came Christian Werner and then Walb completed the longed-for 1-2-3 finish for Mercedes a further eight minutes later. It was a fine performance from a man with plenty of stories to tell outside the world of motor racing, whose position as reserve would remain despite taking the biggest prize in Germany.

Kolossus! Merz takes the plaudits as the first man to win a GP at the 'Ring

Kolossus! Merz takes the plaudits as the first man to win a GP at the ‘Ring

Crossing the line in fourth place was the Bugatti of Franz Baader but he was disqualified from the results. Thus the popular Czech driver, Madame Elisabeth Junek, claimed fourth overall and first in the 3.0 litre class in her own Bugatti.

The first Grand Prix to be held on the Nürburgring was far from its most dazzling in terms of entertainment, but it nevertheless delivered exactly what Otto Creutz had envisioned: a challenge stern enough for motor manufacturers and drivers to show their class around the world.

Long may it remain so.

The racing driver’s bride

The website of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Sarasota is not the first place one would think of looking at when seeking out members of the rip-roaring Grand Prix racing community of the 1950s.

And yet here is a profile of a trustee of the church who is in charge of Sunday Services; who rounds up ushers and greeters for duty every Sunday morning and hosts a monthly discussion group about movies. Not very F1, perhaps, but the photograph of a twinkly-eyed lady with an elfin haircut gives the game away… this is indeed the widow of that great British racer, Peter Collins.

Peter Collins and his wife Louise entertain ‘Fon’ de Portago (l) and ‘Taffy’ von Trips (r)

The story of Peter Collins is too rarely retold. This dashing young man with the carefree approach to life cut a swathe through the racing scene in the 1950s alongside such contemporaries as Sir Stirling Moss, Tony Brooks and Roy Salvadori – although he is best remembered for his symbiotic partnership with Mike Hawthorn in which each christened the other ‘mon ami mate’.

Born in Kidderminster in 1931, Collins’ father owned a garage and a haulage company, and to no great surprise young Peter developed an affinity for mechanical things very early on. As a teenager he thrived in the rough and tumble of 500cc racing on abandoned airfields alongside the likes of Moss and a certain Bernard Ecclestone.

The rakish young Collins gets ready for action

At a party hosted by the great pre-war lady racer Kay Petre in 1951, Collins managed to inveigle himself with the Aston Martin sports car team boss, John Wyer, and earned a test drive. On the appointed day at Silverstone not only was Aston present but also the HWM Formula 2 team – and by the time the teams were packing up to go home, Collins had a contract with both!

Throughout the first half of the 1950s Collins was a stalwart performer for the Aston Martin team in endurance racing and rallies.  He also kept trying to break into Formula One with the British teams BRM and Vanwall but without great success, while first Hawthorn then Moss took the Grand Prix world by storm.

Finally Collins got his big chance when Moss requested that his old 500cc sparring partner be drafted in by Mercedes-Benz to partner him in the 1955 Targa Florio. They won the race and Collins found himself signing a contract for 1956 with none other than Enzo Ferrari.

Formula One drivers were expected to compete elsewhere, which meant that Collins’ first landmark result with the Scuderia came not at a grand prix but with second place on the Mille Miglia. Nevertheless this was swiftly followed by victories in both the Belgian and French Grands Prix, and these early days earned him the unstinting admiration of the ‘Old Man’, devastated by the untimely death of his son, Dino, and who turned to Collins for solace, treating him as a member of the family.

Ferrari holds court with Collins (l), Musso (r) and Castelotti

Ferrari holds court with Collins (r), Musso (l) and Castelotti

Meanwhile those mid-season victories ensured that the championship boiled down to a two-way fight between Collins and his three-time world champion team-mate Juan Manuel Fangio. At the final round, the Italian Grand Prix, Fangio’s car suffered a steering failure and left Collins with a clear run to the title – only for the young Englishman to voluntarily pull in and give his car to the older man, whose second place finish sealed his fourth title.

“It’s too early for me to become world champion – I’m too young,” Collins said afterwards. “I want to go on enjoying life and racing, but if I become world champion now I would have all the obligations that go with it. And Fangio deserves it anyway!”

This was astonishing behaviour, even by the more sportsmanlike days of the 1950s. As even Fangio admitted later, if the position had been reversed, nothing on Earth would have persuaded him to get out of that car.

Yet Collins was happy and after the clamour of his first season at Ferrari came the enjoyment of some leisure time. Each winter the drivers kept themselves busy – and earning money – with off-season appearances in the Americas and at the Nassau Speed Week. They also pursued their other great interest in life – women. It was in January 1957 that Stirling Moss told Collins about a beautiful girl he knew in Miami who loved grand prix racing – an actress called Louise King – and gave his old pal her number if he was at a loose end while in the States.

As close off the track as on it: Collins leads Moss, Silverstone 1956

As close off the track as on it: Collins leads Moss at Silverstone, 1956

In fact Collins had met Louise at Monaco the previous year. Evidently this fact slipped his mind as he stood waiting for his ‘blind date’ at the Coconut Grove Playhouse bar and got talking to a bright young thing – who turned out to be the very girl he was waiting for all along. Not only did Collins get away with this gaffe, it was the start of something special.

As you can doubtless tell, Louise was no ordinary girl. The 24-year-old beauty was starring in the Broadway production of The Seven Year Itch alongside Tom Ewell, the star of the movie adaptation alongside Marilyn Monroe. The independent daughter of a distinguished diplomat, not only did the young divorcee willingly spurn Hollywood’s advances, but she was also an Austin-Healey driving member of the Sports Car Club of America with a passion for motor racing. It’s hardly surprising that Collins was besotted.

Collins and Louise relax by the pool between races

Two days after their first date, Louise lay next to Collins beside his hotel pool in Miami. It was at this moment that, whispering so that his friend, the American driver Masten Gregory, didn’t overhear, that Collins proposed – and Louise accepted. They were married the following Monday, to widespread disbelief.

Although Louise’s father was quickly won over by Collins’s natural charm, his own parents were appalled by the prospect of their beloved son marrying an actress, never mind that she was already once divorced and, as the last straw, an American.

His friends in the motor racing set however were astonished that Collins, a legendary swordsman, was seemingly going to turn down the pleasures of the many available – and occasionally unavailable – women with whom he had previously wiled away the hours. There was, by general consensus, more chance of Moss joining a monastery or Hawthorn going teetotal.

Few in the paddock believed Collins could adapt to domestic bliss

It was also widely expected that Enzo Ferrari would take this turn of events worst of all. He had lavished Collins with a paternal care in an era when drivers took lives in their hands on every lap and it was assumed that Ferrari would feel that a man with priorities off the track was never going to give him 100% commitment – but in fact the reverse was true.

The newlyweds were made welcome by Ferrari and his wife, Laura, who insisted on accompanying the glamorous new girl on every shopping trip and lunch date despite her complete lack of English and Louise’s equal lack of Italian. Initially they took a room in the old farmhouse above the Cavallino restaurant, but that summer they were gifted the use of an old villa on the factory grounds which had lain empty since the war.

For 1957 Fangio chose to rejoin his friends at Maserati and, when Eugenio Castelotti was killed in pre-season testing, Collins was the established star. He was teamed with the returning Mike Hawthorn, Italian driver Luigi Musso and Spanish nobleman Alfonso de Portago but it was to be a dismal season.

A publicity picture taken before the start of the fateful 1957 Mille Miglia

The greatest pall hung after the death of ‘Fon’ de Portago, together with his co-driver Ed Nelson and 10 spectators, in a crash on the Mille Miglia. The race continued, of course, with Collins leading for much of it until the transmission failed 130 miles from the finish. Recalling that night in Chris Nixon’s seminal book Mon Ami Mate, Louise said of Portago’s loss:

“…it was almost as though they expected it and although he was a very popular guy no-one could get upset about it. That night a group of us went out to to a restaurant and after dinner we danced the night away. We didn’t set out to go dancing. It was just a regular part of the evening at that restaurant and it provided a sense of release for us after the race.”

Death was an ever-present part of life as a racing driver, and therefore of life as a racing driver’s wife. The Collinses and the rest of the sport moved on, and in Formula One the most memorable grand prix of the season came in Germany, when Hawthorn and Collins, lapping together, managed to get beaten by Fangio, who put in the drive of his life to regain a 40 second deficit.

“I motioned Peter to come alongside and pointed behind us with thumb down to indicate that Fangio seemed to be in trouble,” Hawthorn later recounted in his book, Challenge Me The Race.

“He nodded, put his thumb up, then pointed to me with one finger and then back to himself with two. He wanted me to win and was prepared to come second himself, which I thought was a very sporting gesture…”

Fangio has passed Collins and tracks Hawthorn, 1957 German GP

Fangio has passed Collins and tracks Hawthorn, 1957 German GP

It was also a plan doomed to failure, brought about by Fangio’s last and most celebrated victory. Yet increasingly Collins’s attention was not on his sport. He was planning to build an ‘American-style’ home in England, to invest in the new Austin-Healey factory in Nassau and to opening a Ferrari dealership with his father. He also wanted children, and his aims for family life began to preoccupy him as the 1958 season loomed.

After the disappointing Lancia-derived 801 of 1957, the new Ferrari 246 Dino held plenty of promise. Yet in the opening rounds of 1958 Collins was off the pace next to Hawthorn and Musso. When, in April, he and Louise left Maranello to live instead on their yacht Mipooka, moored in Monaco, Enzo Ferrari was cut to the core by what he perceived to be treachery.

Louise at home aboard their yacht, the Mipooka, to Ferrari’s chagrin

At Le Mans for the 24 Hours, Collins shared a new Testarossa with Hawthorn, who joked that racing for so long was no fun and that they should break the car in time to be back in England for Sunday lunch. When the clutch overheated, Collins was forced to retire and Hawthorn’s prophecy came true – while the team was able to drive the ‘broken’ car back to the pits once the clutch had cooled sufficiently.

All this was fuel on the fires of intrigue at Maranello, and an enraged Enzo Ferrari turned to Musso as the stick with which to beat the ungrateful young Englishman.

Collins at speed in the British GP - his last victory

Collins at speed in the 1958 British GP – his last victory

Both Collins and Musso retired from the Belgian Grand Prix but in France it seemed that Musso was thoroughly wound-up to win at any cost. Ferrari initially forbade Collins from driving in the main race but later relented. Nevertheless Reims was a circuit on which the lionhearted Hawthorn thrived and he claimed victory for the Scuderia while the tragic Musso crashed fatally while trying to keep up.

The British Grand Prix saw the return of the old Peter Collins. Perhaps inspired by Ferrari’s attempt to drop him from in France, he was simply unbeatable despite the presence of both Hawthorn and the Vanwall of Stirling Moss… with much talk of the 1959 season, it seemed that Collins was now firmly back in the saddle at Ferrari.

To the victor, the spoils. Hawthorn and Collins celebrate Silverstone sucess

To the victor, the spoils: Hawthorn and Collins celebrate Silverstone success

The next stop was the Nürburgring one week later for the German Grand Prix. Initially Moss led but his Vanwall’s magneto broke, leaving Hawthorn and Collins out in front from a charging Tony Brooks in the second Vanwall, who duly caught and passed them.

Determined not to be caught napping twice at the ‘Ring, the two Ferraris fought back but at Pflanzgarten Collins ran wide, hit the earth bank and was catapulted from his car as it somersaulted through the air. He was thrown head-first into a tree and did not survive the journey to hospital.

Louise’s 18-month fairytale ended as abruptly as it started. The Collins family lost no time in getting her to sign over any claim to her late husband’s estate and, in the depths of mourning, her friend Peter Ustinov scooped her up and put her on tour with him in Romanoff and Juliet as a distraction while ‘mon ami mate’ Hawthorn raced on to claim the world championship.

Louise still delights that, in Marilyn’s arms, Tom Ewell’s eyes are on her!

By 1959 she was back in America and back in the spotlight, becoming a regular on TV staples What’s My Line and the Today show. Eventually she stepped away from showbiz, finding new avenues as a real estate broker in New York City and Connecticut before retiring to Florida almost 20 years ago.

It seems unfair that so rich and varied a life as that of Louise King can be so defined on this blog by 18 months spent as the wife of a racing driver. And yet perhaps not. For her part, Louise remains staunchly proud of the life she shared with Peter Collins, the man she still describes as ‘the great love of my life’.

This summer will mark the 55th anniversary of that fateful German Grand Prix, and doubtless there will be many heartfelt prayers said in a certain church in a corner of Florida. And we should raise a glass to the brief, bright lives of the two ‘mon ami mates’ and the ongoing good health of their ‘mon ami matess’, Louise King.

The former Mrs. Collins, today a pillar of the church in Sarasota

The former Mrs. Collins, today a pillar of the church in Sarasota

Porsche’s Greatest Strength (through joy!)

It is the summer of 1937 and, in the run-up to the annual Eifelrennen on the twisting, rolling Nürburgring circuit, the Auto Union grand prix team receives a welcome visit from the man to whom they owe their very existence: Dr. Ferdinand Porsche.

Of late Porsche has been only a sporadic visitor to the team, because he is understandably preoccupied by his latest venture as managing director of the “Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Deutschen Volkswagens mbH” or “Gezuvor” for short (translated as the “Company for Preparation of the German People’s Car Ltd”)

The Volkswagen – rebranded by the Nazi government investors as the KdF-Wagen as part of its ‘Strength through Joy’ economic reforms – shares much in common with the mighty Auto Union grand prix cars – not least its suspension design and rear-engined layout.

So who better to hand the latest prototype to than the racing team’s lead driver, Bernd Rosemeyer? Bernd, who has flown himself to the Nürburgring in a Bücker Jungmann trainer aircraft that he landed on the pit straight, sets out for a jaunt in Porsche’s latest marvel while Dr. Porsche looks on – what impressions the future ‘Beetle’ made upon the racing ace we can only guess!

Dr. Porsche sees his latest masterpiece head out into the unknown...

Dr. Porsche sends Rosemeyer out into the unknown…