THE KEY TO IGNITION
When I was kindly invited to exhibit at the 2017 Cotswold Model Railway Show I had to come up with a presentation to top the 2016 appearance of my N gauge layout Runport St Nicola. At the time the media was full of the Government announcement that production of petrol and diesel engined road vehicles would end in Britain in 2040. As such I felt that a look back at the past century of liquid hydrocarbon fuelled transport was in order. And what better name for petrolhead heaven than Clarkson’s End ? Not least as the most famous motoring journalist … in the World .. lives in the Cotswolds at Chipping Norton.
On the face of it, cars, lorries and buses might seem to be the natural enemies of railways. And under laissez-faire capitalism this situation has sadly come to pass. In the 1950s, Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government invested heavily in a network of motorways and bypasses which in turn paved the way for Margaret Thatcher’s “Great Car Economy” of consumer choice and factories adapting to “just in time” production methods rather than stockpiling components. At the same time, despite the 1955 Modernisation Plan, the nationalised railways of Britain were denied the same levels of investment that had been lavished on the post War rebuilding and electrification of railways in Germany and France.
Indeed, on Continental Europe, a better “joined up” approach to public passenger transport united long distance and local trains with civic bus networks and in turn reduced the demand for private car use. In Britain meanwhile, passing the driving test is seen as a more important rite of passage – especially in rural areas where buses are infrequent and the branch lines closed half a century ago.
In the 21st Century however, Britain’s roads are congested with ever increasing car numbers which in turn slow the journeys of the lorries that bring food to supermarkets and components to factories. As a result, new parkway stations and old branch lines are being re-evaluated along with cycle ways and hybrid buses. Alongside congestion, the challenge of climate change and particulate pollution from large volumes of road traffic is being addressed by developments in hybrid and pure electric cars and other vehicles. Despite battery technology improving though, the question of charging infrastructure and larger scale electricity generation remains. How many power stations using which kind of fuel will be needed when all the commuters plug in their electric cars at the end of the working day?
Hopefully, the industrial civilization that brought us cars – and trains and aircraft – will once again rise to the challenge of maintaining our ever more abundant lives. First of all there were the pioneers of steam driven pumping engines that drained mines. The plentiful coal that was then available allowed cheaply smelted iron and steel to be forged into rails and trains. Which could move coal, iron ore and everything else so that people in cities could eat fresh fruit and milk. Then came Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz who gave us our own personal horseless carriages and Orville and Wilbur Wright who invented the globe-shrinking aeroplane. Indeed, both more traditional railway and automotive technology was to combine with aerospace construction methods in the racing sports cars of the 1950s. Which is where the story of Clarkson’s End begins….
ON THE STARTING GRID
Seventy years ago, in 1947, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) was founded in Paris to co-ordinate World motor sport. This included what developed into the Formula 1 Grand Prix series, World Land Speed Records and, from 1953, the World Sportscar Championship.
This was, of course, not the start of one car being tested against another for speed and endurance. Nine years after Daimler and Benz drove their first experimental tricycle in 1885, 22 June 1894 saw Albert Lemaitre drive his Peugeot to victory in the first organised race between Paris and Rouen. Then, In 1899, the flamboyant American millionaire James Gordon Bennett Junior offered the Automobile Club de France the Gordon Bennett Cup for a series of international races on public roads. Each national racing club could field up to three cars – each of which had to be built entirely in the country they were representing. These cars had to have two side by side seats – one for the driver and one for a riding mechanic – both of whom had to weigh no less than 60 kg.
National colours were identified as red for the USA, white for Germany and blue for France with Great Britain using olive green in 1902 when Australian driver Selwyn F. Edge won the Gordon Bennett race from Paris to Innsbruck, Austria, in a 35 bhp 6.4 litre Napier. This was designed by Montague Napier, the grandson of David Napier whose firm would later build aero engines and the famous rail and marine Deltic diesel engine.
As a result of its first ever international motor racing victory, Britain hosted the 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup. However, as road racing was banned in Great Britain, the race was held in Ireland on a circuit of ordinary roads especially closed and marshalled for the event. This was the first ever closed circuit motor race and followed numerous fatalities during 1903’s Paris Madrid race, after which road racing was banned in France.
The 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup also saw Irish Shamrock Green renamed British Racing Green and applied to British racing cars thereafter. Red was adopted by Italian racing cars after 1907 with the USA eventually settling on blue and white. Germany stopped painting its cars white in 1934 – apparently to save the weight of paint – and the Reich’s racing teams became known as “silver arrows”. By this time riding mechanics had been dispensed with in 1925 and the 1933 Monaco Grand Prix was the first in which starting grid positions were determined by qualifying sessions.
Following the end of the Gordon Bennett Cup races – held on closed circuits in 1904 and 1905, the Automobile Club de France had held its first Grand Prix event at the Circuit de la Sarthe, Le Mans in 1906. However, the mixture of purpose built closed track and public roads which could be closed became known around the World simply as Le Mans from 1923 for a different kind of race.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans was designed to test not only the speed of cars but their ability to reliably run for as long a distance as possible in 24 hours. By the same token, fuel efficiency would be prized as fewer pit stops for petrol would maximise racing time. Indeed, cars which have to stop for fluids other than fuel in the first hour of racing are disqualified and engines have to be switched off during pit stops – ensuring that only the cars which can be reliably restarted are able to finish.
During the 1930s, Bentley, Bugatti and Alfa Romeo dominated the 24 hour race at Le Mans although when racing resumed in 1949 after the Second World War it was the turn of Ferrari, Jaguar, Aston Martin and Mercedes-Benz. At this time the rules allowed one driver per car for the entire race ( further cutting down on pit stops) although this practice was later banned and today each car must have three consecutive drivers. Similarly, until 1970, the drivers would begin the race by running across the track, getting into their cars and starting off unaided – the famous Le Mans start.
TRACKS OF THE JAGUAR
The Jaguar Company was founded by Sir William Lyons who originally manufactured motorcycle sidecars and then special “Swallow” bodywork on other manufacturer’s chassis. His first pre-Second World War SS (Standard Swallow) cars introduced in 1931 had Standard chassis and engines but in 1948 the XK120 was manufactured entirely by Jaguar Cars Ltd having been designed by Claude Baily, William Heynes and Walter Hassan. From this car, designed for 120 mph but having set a record of 172 mph, sprang the even more famous C and D Type Jaguars.
The 1951 vintage C Type, designed specifically with the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in mind, featured a more powerful version of the 3.4 litre 6 cylinder inline XK engine but more radically had a tubular steel chassis – designed by William Heynes – and a normal rear axle connected to a single transverse torsion bar by trailing links and damped by Newton hydraulic shock absorbers. On the off side a reaction member above the axle tube provided rigid placing, taking all the various axle forces and providing excellent road holding. The front suspension was by wishbones and torsion bars in similar units to those used on the XK120.
Jaguar C Types first appeared at Le Mans with Peter Walker and Peter Whitehead the clear winners in their class. In 1952 modifications made to the nose caused overheating troubles and none of the Works C (for Competition) Types finished Le Mans but in 1953 Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton finished first with second place going to a C-Type driven by Stirling Moss and Peter Walker.
Following on from the C Type with its minimalist Barchetta style aluminium body, the D Type of 1954 kept many of its predecessor’s mechanical components including the basic XK engine. The body however was an innovative monocoque, comprising sheets of aluminium alloy and bringing aviation technology to competition car design. The monocoque was built up round an elliptical tubelike centre section. From the rear of this section the rear axle was attached in a similar manner to the C Type. From the front of the centre section, a sub frame assembly went forward to take the power unit and front suspension.
The aerodynamic bodywork was largely the work of Malcolm Sayer, who had joined Jaguar following a stint with the Bristol Aeroplane Company during the Second World War and later worked on the C-Type. For the D-Type, he insisted on a minimal frontal area. To reduce the XK engine’s height, Jaguar’s chief engineer, William Haynes, and former Bentley engineer Walter Hassan developed dry sump lubrication and it has been said that the car’s frontal area was also a consideration in canting the engine at 8½° from the vertical (which necessitated the offset bonnet bulge). Philip Porter, in his book Jaguar Sports Racing Cars, says that “[a] more likely reason was to provide extra space for the ram pipes feeding the three twin-choke Weber carburettors.”. Reducing underbody drag further contributed to the car’s high top speed
The distinctive tailfin added aerodynamic stability and was aimed specifically to gain maximum speed on the long Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans. Fuel was also carried in the tail and the designers followed aviation practice by specifying a deformable Marston Aviation Division bag in place of a conventional tank. Another recognition feature was the one-piece wrap-around windscreen that extended along the sides of the car to the edge of the doors.
In the June 1954 24 Hours of Le Mans race, the D Type finished second on its first outing to a 4.5 litre Ferrari. However, the substitution of the original nose for a 7 1/2″ longer one was to give the sports racing car a speed advantage, as did larger engine valves and asymmetric cylinder heads to accommodate them. As a result, D-Types won the Le Mans 24-hour race in 1955, 1956 and 1957.
However, the victory of Mike Hawthorn and Ivor Bueb in 1955 was hollow after the worst crash in motor sport history. 84 spectators were killed when Pierre Levegh’s Merecedes 300 SLR collided with Lance Macklin’s Austin Healey and flew into the crowd behind the pit lane. The organisers decided to continue with the race to stop the crowd leaving en masse and blocking the path of ambulances. Unfortunately fire crews tried to douse the burning Mercedes with water, making SLR’s magnesium body burn more fiercely.
British Racing Green D-Type Number 1 – with the chassis number XKD605 and trade registration 393RW at the rear and under the right wing – was driven to sixth place at Le Mans by Mike Hawthorn and Ivor Bueb in 1956.
This was the penultimate D-Type, built in March 1956 but despite having an improved fuel injection engine, a cracked pipe hindered performance. In that year, the Le Mans 24 hour race was held at the end of July – later than usual to allow for reconstruction work after the disastrous 1955 event. Cars were also required to be fitted with a passenger door, a full-width windscreen, and a smaller fuel tank. The winner that year – 20 laps ahead of them – was D-Type Number 4, driven by Ninian Sanderson and Ron Flockhart in the blue and white colours of Edinburgh based Ecurie Ecosse ( literally translated from French as Scottish Stable). Sanderson and Flockhart’s machine – with the chassis number XKD501 – raced more than 2 400 miles, completing 300 laps at an average speed of 104 mph. Second place that year was Stirling Moss and Peter Collins in an Aston Martin DB3S while in 2017 the winning D-Type changed hands for £ 15 000 000.
On 13 October 1956, Jaguar announced the company’s withdrawal from racing. and XKD 605 was then lent to the American Cunningham/Momo team and was temporarily repainted in the American racing colours of blue and white. In the 12-hour race at Sebring in 1957, the car was driven by Hawthorn and Bueb who finished third. The car stayed in the USA until 1961 and then returned to England.
It was subsequently painted in its original British Racing Green again, and was lent to Italy’s national motor museum, the Museo Carlo Biscaretti di Ruffia in Turin, where it remained for almost twenty years before again returning to its place of birth, the Jaguar factory at Browns Lane, Coventry.
Although not the oldest road racing circuit in North America, Connecticut’s Lime Rock Park circuit is unique in staying exactly the same since 1957 and it was here in its first year of racing that 1955 built D-Type XKD507 was driven to the Sports Car Club of America National Championship by Walt Hansgen. Wearing the racing Number 58, it was also painted white with blue stripes.
In 1957 neither Mercedes and Jaguar entered works teams but D-Types took the first four and sixth places, the chequered flag going to Number 3 in the blue and white markings of Ecurie Ecosse: driven by Ron Flockhart and Ivor Bueb. In this race, 3.8 litre engines were permitted – and used by the competing D Types but in 1958 cars were limited to 3 litre engines. Although Jaguar made a 3 litre engine available for racing D Types in 1958-60 this proved under powered and unreliable and D Types were never to take another podium finish at Le Mans.
Some remaining D Types were completed as to road user friendly XKSS sports cars – which were eligible for production sports car racing in the USA – but a fire at Jaguar’s Browns Lane, Coventry, works on 12 February 1957 destroyed nine out of 25 unfinished cars as well as the jigs and tools used for conversion.
“THE MOST BEAUTIFUL CAR EVER MADE”
E Type Jaguar, successor to the D Type, shared a 3.8 litre variant of the D Type’s XK6 engine and was in production from 1961 to 1975. Its combination of beauty, high performance, and competitive pricing established the model as an icon of the motoring world. The E-Type’s 150 mph (241 km/h) top speed, sub-7-second 0 to 60 mph acceleration, monocoque construction, disc brakes, rack and pinion steering and independent front and rear suspension distinguished the car and spurred industry-wide changes. Enzo Ferrari himself ( who also owned three BMC Minis) called the Jaguar E-Type “the most beautiful car ever made” and it was portrayed as a Union Jack covered “Shaguar” in the Austin Powers films. It was the epitome of William Lyon’s maxim of cars with “Grace, Pace and Space”. The first 500 cars built had flat floors and external bonnet latches. These cars are rare and more valuable. After that, the floors were dished to provide more leg room and the twin hood latches moved to inside the car.
GUNS AND COMPETITION
The 3.8 litre engine fitted to the E Type Jaguar was increased in capacity to 4.2 litres in late 1964 and from 1973 the same powerplant appeared inside the British army’s new Alvis Scorpion Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance Tracked. Back in 1961 however, an alternative two-door two-seat sports coupe was the Volvo P1800 – which had a similar production life until the last example was finished in 1973.
The roots of the rear wheel drive P1800 lay in the need for Volvo to produce a sports car to compete in the US and European markets. Project development was the brainchild of Volvo engineering consultant Helmer Petterson and the car was designed by his son Pelle Petterson. However, due to opposition from rivals who feared a drop in sales of their own cars, difficulties arose in actually getting a car manufacturer with the capacity to tool and build it. Finally, Jensen Motors agreed to make an initial 10,000 in their Scottish plant for assembly at their West Bromwich factory. In 1963, production moved back to Volvo’s Lundby plant in Sweden, following which the car name was changed to 1800S and the badge on the car body changed accordingly.
Despite engine upgrades over the years, the Volvo 1800 which also offered three gearbox options – 4-speed manual ; four speed with overdrive; or 3-speed automatic, only ever reached a top speed of 118 mph and was deemed more of a high end tourer than a sportscar. However, during its lifetime, nearly 40,000 of the coupé version were sold and around 8000 of a 3-door sports estate model. Volvo is noted for the longevity and reliability of its cars and it is interesting to note that in 2013, a P1800 in the hands of its original owner was acknowledged as the highest mileage private car in original ownership, having clocked up over three million miles. Oxford Diecast’s product 76VP001 (pictured left) bears the 1967 British registration RYN 480E with the 1800S logo indicating its manufacture in Sweden post 1963. The blue and silver Volvo badge sits on the front of the bonnet above the silver radiator grille.
While Volvo and other manufacturers made memorable sports cars in the 1960s, coupes with even longer pedigrees were available from Le Mans competitors Mercedes Benz and Aston Martin.
Mercedes has once again become a popular girl’s name in recent years – just as it was in 1901 when Austrian businessman Emile Jellinek named the car he had just financed after his daughter rather than the manufacturer Paul Daimler or the designer Wilhelm Maybach. This was to appeal to French car buyers, still resentful of all things German after the Franco-Prussian War of 1871. The ruse worked and in 1924 Mercedes was amalgamated with the Benz company.
The Mercedes Benz 300 SL is still one of the most distinctive and stylish cars ever made. The fastest production model of its day, the 3 litre grand tourer with gull wing doors also broke new ground in offering a fuel injection engine. The 300 SL (standing for Sports Light) was a development of the Mercedes Benz W194 Grand Prix car aimed at affluent American performance car enthusiasts. It was thus launched at the 1954 New York Auto Show rather than in Frankfurt or Geneva. The gull wing doors in fact made a virtue of a necessity. To make the most of the engine power available, the 300 SL body was made of lightweight magnesium on a tubular framework. The low side members of this framework meant that conventional hingeing doors were impossible, although after a three year production run the 300 SL coupe was adapted as an open topped roadster and was sold from 1957 to 1963. A smaller, slightly heavier, less luxurious and much cheaper 1900 cc roadster using the Ponton class 4-cylinder engine was introduced in 1955 as the 190 SL and both the 300 SL and the 190 SL (pictured above) were followed in the Mercedes line by the 230 SL. This in turn led to the 280 SL of 1967, pictured below.
Also derived from Rudolf Uhlenhaut’s W194 Grand Prix design in 1954 was the Mercedes Benz 300 SLR (Sports Light Racing) with a straight-eight three litre engine and two seats rather than one with the aim of competing at Le Mans and other long distance races. At 0722 on the morning of 30 April 1955 for example, one of the nine 300 SLRs built began the Mille Miglia (1 000 mile race) at Brescia, Italy, and returned in triumph ten hours, seven minutes and 48 seconds later. Stirling Moss and Dennis Jackson had driven to Rome and back at a never-to-be-surpassed average speed of 97.94 mph, with Jackson, a motoring journalist, giving Moss guidance from prepared geographical notes. This practice later became standard in rallying.
After a number of closed circuit victories, Mercedes won the 1955 World Sportscar Championship while at that year’s Le Mans the competing 300 SLRs were also equipped with a large rear mounted “wind brake” that hinged up above the rear deck to slow the cars at the end of the fast straights. The idea came from director of motorsports Alfred Neubauer, who’d been seeking to reduce wear on the huge drum brakes and tyres during long-distance endurance races where cars repeatedly had to decelerate from 180 mph. The 0.7m² light-alloy spoiler also improved the 330 SLR’s cornering, helping to compensate for the superior new disc brakes on the Jaguar D-Type. However, even this aerodynamic feature could not prevent Pierre Levegh’s tragic and deadly collision at Le Mans in June 1955. As a result, Mercedes would not participate in motor sport for another three decades.
As mentioned earlier in this article, second place in the 1956 Le Mans 24 Hour race went to Stirling Moss and Peter Collins in an 3 litre Aston Martin DB3S. Despite having half a litre less engine capacity than Sanderson and Flockhart’s winning D-Type, the DB3S ended within ten miles of the Ecurile Ecosse Jaguar. This was an improvement on even the very credible 1955 result when Peter Collins and Paul Frere’s Aston Martin came home 63 1/2 miles behind Mike Hawthorn and Ivor Bueb.
Like Sir William Lyons, Lionel Martin had a background on two wheels and in improving other manufacturer’s cars before he built his own in 1913. The name of the company he founded with Robert Bamford was partly derived from the unofficial Aston Clinton hill climb near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire where the Old Etonian used to race his tweaked up Singer Tens. Aston Martin became, according to legendary motor sport writer William Boddy, “one of the greatest of all sports cars” and unlike a number of wind-in-the-hair British marques of the 1930s, it survived. This was mainly due to Huddersfield born tractor magnate Sir David Brown who bought Aston Martin and Lagonda between 1947 and 1949 and then added coachbuilder Tickford to his Newport Pagnell based operation. Possibly the most famous of the post Second World War Aston Martins was James Bond’s DB5, but the 1959 vintage DB4 should be remembered for its pioneering platform frame allied to a tubular framework body and six cylinder 3.7 litre light alloy engine.
With a top speed of 140 mph the DB4 could accelerate from 0 to 100 mph in 20 seconds and 1390 units were built. Within that number however was a much smaller number of Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato, introduced by the company at the London Motor Show in October 1960. It was effectively a DB4 GT lightened and improved by Italian designer Ercole Spade at the Zagato factory in Italy, where an initial 25 of this grand tourer coupé were planned. Unfortunately, the demand proved disappointing and only 20 were actually made between the 1960 and 1963, which came with a straight 6-cylinder 3 670 cc engine and 4-speed manual gearbox. Although commercially short-lived, subsequent demand saw a few cars being turned into ‘Zagatos’. With the co-operation of both Aston Martin and the Zagato works, four further cars were produced which became known as Sanction II and Sanction III models.
One of the Zagatos, registered 2 VEV was driven by Jim Clark at the Goodwood Tourist Trophy Race on 8th August 1961. Racing as No. 3 for the Essex Racing Team, he came fourth, covering 107 laps. His other great British rival, Stirling Moss won the race in a Ferrari. In those days, the cars which took part on the racetrack soon reverted to their normal and much tamer road car role afterwards.
By the 1960s however, Britain and the World was changing. Old concepts of deference were being challenged by new upwardly mobile meritocrats such as David Bailey, Twiggy and The Beatles and motor sport similarly became more accessible
Originally conceived as an inexpensive and economical means of transportation following the 1956 Suez Crisis, the fuel-sipping Mini designed by Sir Alec Issigonis – first produced by the British Motor Corporation in 1959 – had been transformed into the hot-blooded Mini Cooper and Mini Cooper S thanks to the legendary John Cooper of Formula 1 fame.
John Cooper recognized the transverse-engined Mini’s excellent attributes as a quick and nimble performer with great potential on the motorsport circuits. As well as combining its gearbox and engine casing, the ” traction avant” Mini had a “wheel at each corner” with all-independent variable-rate rubber suspension, letting it hug every curve like a Kart. The Mini Cooper and Mini Cooper S clearly stood out as the “every man’s sports car”. There was truly no other car in the market able to offer the same kind of sporting performance for so little money and providing outstanding driving pleasure within such compact dimensions.
Wherever the Mini – either in standard trim or in highly modified form – appeared at the start of a race, newspaper headlines were never far behind. And from 23 January 1964 Belfast born Paddy Hopkirk – hunched over the wheel next to his skilled navigator Henry Liddon -gave the press plenty to write about.
On snowy sections of the route from Minsk over twisting mountain passes, red, white-roofed Mini 37’s front-wheel-drive proved advantageous over the more powerful – albeit heavier and larger – rear-wheel-drive competition. “The snowplow had been on the roads, they were very narrow so it suited a small car,” Hopkirk said. “We were also well prepared; it was a very … grounded car.”
And in the final moments of the rally on the Grand Prix circuit, Paddy and Henry pulled a sensational victory over the second place contender by little more than 30 points. After his victory, Hopkirk was feted as a hero. His fame was such that he was invited on Britain’s biggest television programme, Sunday Night at the Palladium, and he even got to meet the Beatles.
Around the country too, young men were adding rally style spotlamps to the front of their own Minis. Or failing that, attaching saucepan lids and covering them with rally style covers to save money!