Friday 20 May 2011

"Driving Cars" (1947)

Sourcing old motorsport books I came across an hilarious volume called "How to be an Alien: A Handbook for Beginners and Advanced Pupils" by George Mikes first print in 1947. Apart from being a delightful specimen of English Humour at its best, it has a fantastic chapter dedicated to the driving experience at the time. I couldn't resist publishing it in here.
"It is about the same to drive a car in England as anywhere else. To change a punctured tyre in the wind and rain gives about the same pleasure outside London as outside Rio de Janeiro; it is not more fun to try to start up a cold motor with the handle in Moscow than in Manchester; the roughly 50-50 proportion between driving an average car and pushing it is the same in Sydney and Edinburgh.
There are, however, a few characteristics which distinguish the English motorists from the continental, and some points which the English motorists have to remember.

( I ) In English towns there is a thirty miles an hour speed-limit and the police keep a watchful eye on lawbreakers. The fight against reckless driving is directed extremely skilfully and carefully according to the very best English detective-traditions. It is practically impossible to find out whether you are being followed by a police car or not. There are, however, a few indications which may help people of extraordinary intelligence and with very keen powers of observation:

( a) The police always use a 13 h.p., blue Wolseley car;
( b) three uniformed policemen sit in it; and
( c) on these cars you can read the word POLICE written in large letters in front and rear, all in capitals-lit up during the hours of darkness.
( 2 ) I think England is the only country in the world where you have to leave your lights on even if you park in a brilliantly lit-up street. The advantage being that your battery gets exhausted, you cannot start up again and consequently the number of road accidents are greatly reduced. Safety first!

( 3 ) Only motorists can answer this puzzling question: What are taxis for? A simple pedestrian knows that they are certainly not there to carry passengers.
Taxis, in fact, are a Christian institution. They are here to teach drivers modesty and humility. They teach us never to be over confident; they remind us that we never can tell what the next moment will bring for us, whether we shall be able to drive on or a taxi will bump into us from the back or the side. ". . . and thou shalt fear day and night, and shalt have none assurance of thy life" (Deut., chapter 28, verse 66 ).

( 4) There is a huge ideological warfare going on behind the scenes of the motorist world.

Whenever you stop your car in the City, the West End or many other places, two or three policemen rush at you and tell you that you must not park there. Where may you park? They shrug their shoulders. There are a couple of spots on the South Coast and in a village called Minchinhampton. Three cars may park there for half an hour every other Sunday morning between 1 and 8 A.M.
The police are perfectly right. After all, cars have been built to run, and run fast, so they should not stop. This healthy philosophy of the police has been seriously challenged by a certain group of motorists who maintain that cars have been built to park and not to move. These people drive out to Hampstead Heath or Richmond on beautiful, sunny days, pull up all their windows and go to sleep. They do not get a spot of air; they are miserably uncomfortable; they have nightmares, and the whole procedure is called "spending a lovely afternoon in the open"."

I just found out the whole book is available here online. I really recommend buying the real thing thou. It's available for few pounds on and reading it on those yellowy pages, with those beautiful illustrations and the lovely smell of old book. It sure all adds up to the reading pleasure.

Thursday 12 May 2011


I've been knowing Tim for years now and I can easily say that he was the one opening my eyes on the lively underground of motorsports enthusiasts. The crowd that preserves and research the history and heritage of obscure and bizarre makers that are sadly long gone. I owe lots to Tim and to me he represent all the good things of passion for classic cars. He is a Crosley guy and he is extremely active in publishing, clubbing and restoring them. As far as I remember he's got 4 at the moment.
He's the editor of Tin Block Times and he's extremely active on his blog Crosleykook which both never fail at being interesting and well written reads, to say the least.

Find here a video about him from lovely wife Liv. 

Thanks for everything Tim.

Tuesday 3 May 2011

24h Hours of Le Mans, June 14/15 1952

In 1951 the XKI20C came as a surprise to other Le Mans contenders, but in the following year the reputation of Mercedes-Benz and the 3.0 300SL preceded them. The performance of the streamlined coupés in the Mille Miglia suggested that they were superior in maximum speed to the Ferraris and Jaguars and certainly not inferior in road-holding, thus provoking some over-hasty revision in rival equipes' preparations. The Jaguars arrived with new bodies and ran their first high-speed trials during practice. They overheated and were partly and hopefully modified on the spot; many British hopes for victory were consequently centred on the DB3 Aston Martins. Ferrari was represented by an assortment of cars: 4.1, 3.0, 2.7 and 2.6, open and coupé.
Briggs Cunningham entered two lighter, shorter C4Rs and a C4RK coupe. Of the Talbots Levegh's at last looked like a contemporary sports car, and Gordini entered the dainty 2.3 which had done so well at Monte Carlo and was expected to put up another good performance at Le Mans (if it lasted). Lower in the capacity order came a 2.1 Morgan; two Frazer-Nashes and two Lancias in the 2-litre class; a Gordini, three Jowetts, a Porsche and an Osca in the 1.s-litre class; two IIOO-C.C. Porsches and one IIOO-C.C. Simca, six Renaults, a Panhard and two D.B.s; and, in the 750-c.c. class, three more Panhards. A first-class entry, despite the non-appearance of the expected Alfa Rameo and Pegaso teams, which on paper at any rate, promised a close-fought race.
The Cunningham coupe led at the end of the first lap but was soon overwhelmed by the two Ferraris of Ascari and Simon, which were setting a quite unrealistic sprint pace. The Jaguars, and the Mercedes, were quietly holding back at their pre-determined speed. On the sixth lap Ascari stopped with a slipping clutch, and returned to the race apparently intent only on putting the lap record out of reach of his rivals. Moss moved into second place and on the eighth lap Manzon took the Gordini past the two other Jaguars. Within the hour Parnell's DB3 coupe went out with rear-axle trouble and Poore soon followed with the second works Aston. The overheated Jaguars all retired in the second hour, the Mercedes began to move up and, as Simon faltered, Manzon led. He was followed by WaIters' Cunningham and Kling, the latter shortly to be delayed by the defective dynamo which ultimately put him out of the race.
At midnight the Gordini led (at 104.4 m.p.h.) by a lap from Levegh (95 laps), Lang and Helfrich (94), Chinetti (Ferrari, 92) and the Macklin Collins Aston Martin (91 laps). Fog in the small hours slowed the race to about 95 m.p.h. and positions remained unchanged until dawn. Then brake failure ended the Gordini's "win or bust" run, whereat Levegh's Talbot led the He1frich Niedermayer 300SL by the healthy margin of four laps and the Hemard-Dussous Panhard took over the lead on Index.

Mercedes-Benz seemed content to hold their  position on Sunday. The Porsche and Osca entries, still disputing the I.5-litre class, fell out, leaving it to the Becquart-Wilkins Jupiter (in repetition of the 1951 race). Aurelias, eighth and ninth overall at noon, commanded the 2-litres, while Porsche and Panhard led the 1100c.c. and 750c.c. classes respectively. Briggs Cunningham, who drove his own car for 20 out of the 24 hours, pushed on in a passionate effort to succeed.
In the early afternoon Lang's Mercedes passed its slowing sister car, a rear-axle failure put the last works Aston Martin out (leaving one privately-entered DB2 to represent the marque) and the Talbot in fifth place crashed. Then, with an hour and a quarter to go, a connecting rod on the leading Talbot snapped, and Levegh, who had consistently refused relief and was bemused with fatigue, was out of the race. The two Mercedes automatically won, deservedly in view of their superb preparation and control, but not perhaps without an element of luck. The Nash Healey was third, followed by the Cunningham, the Simca-Vincent Ferrari and the first of the Lancias. Altogether 17 oddly assorted cars of the brilliant field of 57 which started 24 hours earlier survived this most eventful race.

(source "The LE MANS 24-Hour Race" by David Hodges, Temple press Books, 1963 London)