Monday 12 November 2012

Jack Brabham, documentary and Pub story

I have realised that I have been keeping Jack Brabham in that corner of the mind dedicated to legendary drivers that are no longer with us. But Jack is very much alive and well, considering his age.

Class of '26, he has been racing in Formula One all the way across ‘The Killer Years’ from 1955 to 1970. He was 44 by then but still as competitive and ruthless as he had ever been. Jochen Rindt, sadly posthumous World Champion in 1970, would have to battle him to the last lap twice in that championship. 
Click HERE to be linked to a nice documentary about the man Jack Brabham.
The internet is full of stories about Jack, including his undefeated record of being in ‘66 the one and only man that managed to win the title in a car bearing his own name, so here at CCT we decided to tell the obscure story of the Jaguar Mark I related to this amazing driver - a story we were told in a London pub.

Back in the sixties K.M. was one of the many young lads working as a mechanic in the flourishing British automobile market. Courtyards and small garages all over the island used to be the place where small teams of friends were having a shot at building race cars one way or another. K was in the second hand car trade, with a healthy network of mates all over the place and managed to buy for scraps a Jaguar MkI with a friend. The car didn't have external mods but was race prepped by Jack Brabham's workshop. I would love to have more information about Jack's involvement in the car but by the time K managed to get his hands on it it was nothing more than an old racer and that only.
We all know that ‘MkI’ is a retrospective name introduced to name the older version of the MkII in 1959. This "baby" Jag, presented in 1955 and produced from '57 to '59 was a well trimmed entry level sedan offered in a 2.4 and 3.4 straight 6. The model was extensively raced by the likes of Sir Stirling Moss and Mike Hawthorne and would go on to win two Australian Touring Car Championships.

K got his 2.4 in 1966 and by that time it wasn't any more than an outdated banger. With his friends he decided to update the rear fenders, removing the spats and reshaping the wings in fibreglass. He became friends with the young heir of a famous banker who had just stolen a considerable sum from his parents and was pretty much on the run looking for his summer of love. They fitted a roof rack and filled with the sixties spirit they set off for Morocco with K's savings and his friend's loot.
The plan was to stay over there as long as possible and I can only imagine their faces while on top of the deck of that ferry they were looking at England getting smaller and smaller wave after wave.
The poor Jag must have looked pretty scruffy on French highways with a lot of junk on the roof and two long haired jacks puffing cigarettes and whatnots.
"...We were going our own way pretty relaxed even if we knew that the car was capable of great things, we already had fun with it back home and we were honestly in ‘trip mode’, but when that guy with a brand new 911 passed us and cut our lane with arrogance I sort of lost my temper. I stuck to his bumper and he started to push hard trying to lose us but it was simply no match, even with the car on full load. I let him get out all he had and then left him in the dust. He had a girl with him in the car, I guess she must have lost a bit of respect for him that day."
The 2.4 had an unusual setup with a rear track 114mm narrower than the front. Some thought this was a design choice giving the car its unique look and allowing the stylish rear spats but it seems more likely that Salisbury didn't have a suitable rear axle available. One way or another, the narrower rear track made the car exceptionally stable at high speed. And K's car must have tested this many times along the way. 
After crossing Franco's Spain our heroes landed in Morocco where they enjoyed the best sort of holiday, the one that doesn't have a definite end. But the end eventually came one day with the realisation that there weren’t even funds enough to get back.
The only solution to get money fast and on the way home was smuggling. They invested most of the money left in the best hashish they could find and hatched a plan to get it into Franco's Spain. 

Tinkering with the fibreglass rear wings in the Tunisian desert didn't seem like a good idea, so they resolved to cut open the front wings and stuffed them with the precious high. They then used all their craft to seal everything up. Money was getting seriously short now and the car "hotter and then the transmission became rattly, and I mean, really rattly". 

I can picture the scene. The ferry from Nador is slowly approaching the dock of Almeria after a night haul. Our lads have spent the last night taking all life had to give before the tricky trip. They don't even know what would have happened to them if caught with a couple of kilos of hashish in Franco's land. They really have no idea and probably never want to know, but know that it would be bad, very bad. But anyway, the plan was not to get caught.

Sailors and harbour dockers have just finished securing the ferry to land. The hatch starts to open, revealing the usual dusty first row of lorries that have just been travelling too much. The first row rolls away, the second starts its engines with the usual mechanical growl and so forth. The customs officers hide their chins in ordinance jackets after each cigarette puff. It's bloody cold at 5am in Almeria's harbour, the sun only a faraway shimmer in the east. Then they turn their heads with a jump. Something foreign has stirred in the bowels of the ferry. A different, deeper, rattlier noise. It's our Jag. Thanks to Brabham's service, louder and more savage. The officers weren't ready for what they saw - two bloody hippies in a rattling old Jag. Usually they saw these sorts of rats going the other way, what the hell were these guys up to?

K drives slowly between the lorries and buzzes towards the empty cars lane. The gate is closed, one officer holds a cup with two hands behind a glazed door, the other holds his collar shut while a wet cigarette looks at the ground from his deep, unshaven face. He approaches the car only to find a sleeping guy without a steering wheel in front of him. K politely waves the documents from the other window. The officer sighs at the sky and hates the Queen a bit more, he just can not be arsed this morning. K's mate needs to sneeze, but he has decided to be asleep and is going to stick to that plan.

The officer steps back to look at the registration plate and K reaches for the packet of cigarettes, only three left. Now two. The officer walks around the car and grabs the documents, mumbling.

The Jag shivers in the morning haze and doesn't like to idle. K is forced to rev as little as he can, the situation is already out of the ordinary and he doesn't need any more attention. The smoke from the exhaust wraps the boot of the car in a frantic effort to dissipate the morning myst. Drops of condensation shine on the bonnet, itself otherwise matte with dirt that has been there way too long. The officer mumbles something more and looks K in the eyes, who decides the answer is “London.”

The official spits out the fag and steps back from the car. K takes another puff from his cigarette. Time stops. The other officer, no longer behind the glazed door, has kicked it open and shouts something that makes the smoker with the deep face look from K to the sleeping figure on the passenger seat, throw the documents inside the car and bang his hand twice on the car roof, just above K. The gate opens and K brushes away the cigarette ash that has fallen into his lap, again. The car starts to roll slowly but just as it’s halfway through the gate, the engine stalls. K raises his eyes to the rear view mirror, his friend opens his wide. In the reflection the deep faced smoker gets a smoking hot mug from his colleague. They laugh and look the other way.

K restarts the engine and slowly joins the lonely traffic on Calle de Nicolás Salmerón, becoming just any other car. From the passenger seat a voice says “shall we eat something?" "Let's get out this town first".
They eventually managed to sell the car to someone on the coast. I never completely understood if the hash was included in this transaction or if it was sold separately. All I know is that if somewhere in the south of Spain you find  a 2.4 with fiberglass rear wings, then you could do worse than take a look at the front wings too. You might be in front of a Jag tuned up by Jack Brabham.

NB - Unfortunately there is no photographic record of the Jag and that amazing trip, all the ones you see here have been found randomly online and have been modified in order to suit the story.

Friday 19 October 2012

Marcello Gandini Story - Part 2: The Miura

It's possibly the most widely represented car ever, queen of all car magazines. A milestone and an icon. The first supercar to many and a revolution in the streets. So how did an interior designer end up designing this as his first ever job? There's no discussion about Marcello Gandini's genius but there might be some surprises in this story. Surprises that literature hasn't disclosed yet.

Let's start from the beginning. We all know that Ferruccio Lamborghini was very determined in his vision for a car delivering the power and the thrills of a race car without the uncomfortable downsides. He hired the very best people in the market for it, Dallara for the chassis and Bizzarrini for the engine. Bizzarrini had a hard but theoretically straightforward task. “I want to be able to drive it smoothly in Bologna at 40 km/h, but give it 350 hp, ok? No racing business.” So Bizzarrini started from one of the Ferrari units he had been working on and gave Lamborghini a dry sump engine giving 380 hp. Wrong type of engine and too much power. This is the genius of Bizzarrini for you. Lamborghini didn’t find this funny, so interrupted the collaboration and set his engineers about “taming” the beast, converting it to wet sump. Dallara’s chassis was incredible and the decision of placing the engine transversely behind the driver presented huge challenges but also allowed for the cosmetic freedom that designers coveted. Ferruccio took the chassis to Turin's motor show and the reaction was immediately incredulous.
At the time Gandini was already trying hard to start a career in car designing. A friend hired him to rebody an Osca 1500 Barchetta (of which I couldn’t find further information) and since then he was lucky enough to collaborate with small coachbuilders, quite often having to commute to Milan. In his own words “at the time the famous companies like Moretti and Viotti already produced the design internally and didn’t invest in external freelances. It was hard to have a chance to become known. (...) A few years before Bertone wanted to meet me after having seen some of my drawings but we didn’t manage to find an agreement for a job. Only after Giugiaro left I managed to get the job.” Giugiaro would move to De Tomaso-owned Ghia and design the Mangusta there before leaving to found his own Italdesign in 1967. Did Giugiaro leave because Bertone wanted to hire Gandini or was Gandini hired because Giugiaro left? I don’t have sufficient evidence to support either claim. Nuccio was all the more happy to have someone to finish off the Miura and even today it is not clear what can be attributed to whom. Nuccio in an old interview stated that Gandini was quite protective with the final result and he literally intercepted the drawings going to the workshop to add or modify details without having to argue. To the day Gandini never helped solving the mystery once and for all but said once: “the Miura was very much like a Giugiaro car in some detail, its lines were quite soft and it had similarities to cars he had done previously – the Maserati Ghibli, De Tomaso Mangusta and Iso Grifo. But what shows my stamp, I feel, is the effort to make the car into an integrated shape, not just a top and a bottom, as so many cars of the time had. The side-scoops, in particular, were intended to give the car a kind of global shape.”
In these sketches of the development it's very easy to distinguish the two hands at work. In the early ones hints of the showcar Testudo give way to ISO details, and all this will be considered but left aside in the last, final Gandini proposal. According to one of Bertone's secretaries at the time (thanks to Emanuele Vanzetti for the first hand info) the team at Bertone was very close, as you would expect from a relatively small Italian company in the mid sixties. Giugiaro's sudden departure and Gandini's subsequent arrival was not painless and Gandini’s quiet and guarded demeanour in the office certainly didn't help. Furthermore, Nuccio was known for his desire to have a hands-on involvement in developments, just as much as Gandini was known for wanting to be independent in the process. One way or another, as soon as the new buildings in Caprie became available Gandini successfully requested to have his team transferred there, possibly denying any chance for him to replace Giorgetto in the heart of Bertone's team.
The Miura approached the automotive world with all the power and blast that you would expect from the breed of bull that it took its name from. But there is also the line that gracefully lowers just before the windscreen and raises towards the canopy with godly proportions. The elegant lateral air intakes that wrap and underline the side windows cleverly disguising the door handles. The same intakes that quote the horns of a raging bull when both doors are open. Campagnolo’s iconic magnesium alloys the center-piece in the sinuous lines of the front arches while the rear end with the signature six black louvers wraps the engine and transmission tightly. Too tightly in fact, as it would transpired the night before the official presentation.
Meeting the deadline in time for the 1966 Geneva Motor show was proving a huge task for Lamborghini, as was the case for Bertone. One of Nuccio’s secretaries remembers being up way into the night hand stitching the seats. Even worse, when they finally got to the point of mounting the engine it just didn’t fit. In order to make it in time at the motor show they had to resolve in applying a ballast in place of the propulsor and bolt the bonnet to avoid the avid press trying to sneak an impudent shot. Needless to say all went well, the project called P400 (Posteriore, 4 litres) was named Miura and the Lamborghini badge that we know today appeared for the first time. 764 would be produced between 1966 and 1972.
Two stars were born. The Lamborghini Miura and Marcello Gandini.
Have you read Marcello Gandini Story - Part 1 yet? Click HERE to be redirected.

Many thanks to, and for some interesting interviews and articles. Thanks anso to Emanuele Vanzetti, Tom Sherriff and D.S. for the invaluable help and support.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

1964 Maserati 151/3

I've been obsessed with these images for years. 
They were shot in the paddock of the 1964 Le Mans. The incredible contour line of the car, the brutal bare metal effect, the slightly underexposed picture and the "homely" feeling of the paddock wrap together all the best emotions I can get from researching the history of classic cars. 
The Maserati 151/3 has got an extra value. It represent the ultimate, loud and romantic failure. It carried on its shoulders the expectations of 10 years of close calls and isolated glories for the marque. Arguably this particular car - chassis 151.002 - will take all these hopes away with it on the 10th of April 1965, Le Mans Test day.
Lloyd Casner was pushing the car hard after a couple of warm up laps. The car must have been very close to its top speed of 198mph when approaching the "hunaudieres"'s bump, a particularly tricky bit. Cars were usually going slightly airborne at the time and with all four wheels off the ground, the only way to avoid disaster was to tap the brakes to point down the nose and partially lift off the throttle, trying to maintain the perfect speed at the rear wheels for the contact with the tarmac. Casner might have lifted off completely, according to Maurice Trintignant, but he will never be able to tell his side of the story. The car barrel rolled out of the track taking two trees with it. It was the horrible end for car and driver. Its engine would have been recovered and fitted to a mid engined prototype, the Maserati Tipo 154 (or Tipo 65) and tried again, in less than a month at 24 Heures. But Jo Siffert crashed it in the effort of keeping up with the Fords and it was the very end of Maserati at Le Mans.
The 151 project always had it an yet never stood a chance, a great design that didn't benefit from the necessary testing but still developed effortlessly. Only a handful of chassis were ever created and we owe much of this story to Johnny Simone, who ordered .002. Two more sister cars were sent to Briggs Cunningham in the USA where they would have been raced much more often than the European counterpart. Changes in regulations stopped and restarted the development of the engine that started as 4 liter V8 and would raise to 5 liter with a development up to 5.2. But it wasn't a good time for Maserati that didn't have money to invest in proper development even after having graced the world in the fifties with the 450 and the notorious Tipo 61 birdcage.
The 151 would be competing Le Mans in '62, '63, '64 and for the last fatal time at the testing in '65. They always stood a chance and quite often had the honour of leading the race. But lack of testing and factory development would curse the car. Gearbox failure, electrical failure, stuck throttle, alternator, battery and brakes showed up in one race or another, but the worse problem was possibly the useless De Dion suspension that was causing the internal rear wheel to toe in, literally eating the tires. The car would have to live with this issue until the winter of '63/'64 when one of the last upgrades turn the 151/1 into the 151/3. The car would receive extended track and wheelbase and a diet that took the weight from 975 to 940kg. The upgraded 5.0 V8 with its excess of 430 bhp and the new Drogo body would have been good enough to grasp 200mph (198 recorded). This last development is the shape in the pictures on top of this post. The amazing line gently wraps the front arches so tight that they would have to be hammered away in the pits. The extreme rear Kamm offered space only for a small vertical rear window. The scrutineers wouldn't like that during '64 test day and this would have to be enlarged with a flat, almost horizontal, roof window. These are just some examples of how little testing the car received and there's plenty more, like when one of the "American" sister cars had to be raced without doors for the extreme heat in the cabin (finishing second overall) or like the hilarious start at the 1963 Le Mans Start.
I'll report this story in the words of Marc Sonnery:
"Picture the bright and sunny scene of the 151's greatest moment: In front of the packed grandstands, André Simon is uncharacteristically hopeful and feels ready for the sprint to the cars. A pompous official drops the flag, and 49 drivers dash across the tarmac. Simon reaches the Maser, and...the door is stuck closed! Adrenaline spurting from his ears, Simon yanks again harder and the recalcitrant portal pops open and smacks him in the face as the rest of the field roars away! Nose bleeding, badly delayed, and hotter than a jalapeño, Simon finally blasts away, flooring it through Tertre Rouge and onto Mulsanne Straight."
I've been looking for the story behing those underexposed pictures for a long long time, collecting bits and pieces and sometimes being side tracked. I finally found a comprehensive and satisfactory story in an old article that Sonnery wrote many years back. Please take some time and read it HERE. It's typically very well written and maniacally researched.
The car remained as a wreck and without the engine for at least 15 years before Peter Kaus restored it and sourced a correct engine for it. Carrozzeria Allegretti also managed to savage the original body buck to recreate that amazing body. After some races the car was supposed to be resting at the Rosso Bianco museum in Aschaffenburg, Germany, so you can imagine my excitement in seeing the car at this year's Goodwood Revival driven by none less than Jochen Mass. Seeing and hearing the car at speed is a feeling I shall never forget. Find here a selection of the pictures I took and notice how low the car is in comparison with the Astons and SWB. Click to enlarge. 

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Ted Blake's 356 Restorations, Sacramento.

During my recent visit in the United States I've been lucky enough to stay few blocks away from Ted Blake's garage on 21st in Sacramento. I was a bit intimidated by the gorgeous array of cars always parked outside and the spotless look of the garage. I approached them asking if it was possible to take some pictures and found myself embraced by an incredibly warm welcome and endless competence. Ted Blake has been working on the brand for almost sixty years and focuses almost exclusively on 4 cylinder because "after 1965... we think they were not Porsche anymore". Six cylinders are complicated and not fun to tinker with.
I was welcomed by Carrera Panamericana veteran Paul Frame who literally dropped what he was doing and spent half an hour of his time going through each and every car and engine available in the garage. He also went to the extent of digging out two sets of photographs from his Panamericana's adventures in which, to my surprise, he was focussing mostly on how local people and kids were welcoming them rather than on racing stories. People like him are what classic car's enthusiasm is all about: passion for daring technology and history and other fellow enthusiasts alike. Him and Darrel Bailey compete regularly in the famous race with a 356A that they turned into a replica of the car driven by Salvador Lopez Chavez in 1953. The racer sports a livery of Chavez's notorious shoemaking company Canada based in Gadalajara. How appropriate is that?
Paul kindly showed me every corner of the workshop and uncovered all the "guests" describing all the little details and tiny differences between them. In the pictures you can see a couple of SC Coupe' and also a rare and beautiful Super 90 with sunroof. The cars were all in concourse condition, even those that were still being worked on.
The guys don't like funny upgrades too much and they seem all the more fascinated in preserving the incredible initial design. The only upgrade I could see in that moment in the shop was the cleverly concealed disc brakes instead of the original drums. Paul also showed me the ultimate treasure of the company: a cabinet stuffed with original switches, badges and all sorts of rare parts. "Ted has been savaging them since the fifties" says Paul, a consistency that sure saved a lot of restoration projects from frightening imperfection.
If you have a 356 in needs of attention you might try Ted's garage, but to put it in their own words... "we have 10 years worth of work to deal with" at the moment. If on the other hand, you're a young lad that wants to "go to 356 school" you might be lucky here. Young, talented and hard working mechanics are apparently more rare than old badges these days, and it sure will be a waste of incredible experience when Ted will decide to retire.