Much has been written about the legendary ‘Green Hell’ that is the Nurburgring. But one of the most fearsome circuits in Germany is the banked incarnation of AVUS, the northern corner of which was known as the Wall of Death.
AVUS had a relatively short shelf life as a race track, and exists now as part of the German road network, Bundesautobahn 115 heading out of Berlin in the direction of Potsdam. You can power along one of the straights in a car of your choosing, but the Wall of Death was dismantled in 1967. Revised versions of the track were raced on until 1998.
But in its heyday, AVUS played host to landspeed record attempts, pre-war Grands Prix, and one Formula 1 World Championship race. In October 1934, Hans Stuck went for gold, attempting to break the records for the standing kilometre, the standing mile, the 50-kilometres, the 50-mile, and the 100-kilometres. You can see his efforts – and drool over his car – in this clip
First conceived in 1907, work on AVUS began in 1913. But construction was disrupted by the outbreak of the First World War, and attempts to finish the job using Soviet prisoners of war were unsuccessful. As a result of the demands for German reparations laid down by the Treaty of Versailles, there was no money to complete the track. But when the reparations bill was reduced in 1921, Germany found the money to complete the circuit in the Berliner Forst Grunewald. In order to make the track financially viable, it was used as a toll road from 1921 onwards.
As part of works done for the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics, the northern corner of AVUS was completely remodeled. Steep banking – of 43°! – was constructed out of brick, and the speeds cars were able to obtain on this section were mind-boggling. It would be thirty years before the Indy 500 saw speeds reached at AVUS in the 1930s. There were no safety barriers at the top of the banking, and a minor error of judgement turned many a car into an aeroplane, leading to the ‘Wall of Death’ nickname.
Perhaps the most impressive AVUS footage comes from the 1937 German Grand Prix. The presence of prominent members of the Nazi Party and the accompanying swastikas makes for uncomfortable viewing, but it is an inescapable fact of late-‘30s Germany.
In an attempt to get maximum publicity and a wide range of entrants, the 1937 German Grand Prix was a Formula Libre event, pitting landspeed record cars against sportscars, single-seater racers, milkfloats… (Okay, so maybe not that last one.) The race was won by Hermann Lang for Daimler-Benz; he was behind the wheel of the legendary Mercedes-Benz W25K Streamliner. But Lang’s victory was sidelined by Bernd Rosemeyer’s extraordinary achievement in the in the first heat.
Rosemeyer’s fastest lap was more than just the fastest lap of the race – at a speed of 276.39kph (171.78 mph), it was the fastest pre-war race lap, and faster than the fastest lap in Formula 1 (which I believe is Juan Pablo Montoya’s 259.845kph, set in qualifying for the 2003 Italian Grand Prix).
In 1959, AVUS played host to its only World Championship F1 race. The 19.573km track had been shortened to 8.3km, and Tony Brooks won the race for Ferrari from pole, behind the wheel of a Ferrari Dino 246. The race belonged to the Scuderia, and the three men on the podium were all Ferrari drivers. Brooks set the fastest lap of the race, at 2.04.5s.
Sportscar racing continued at the track until 1998, but when the Wall of Death was dismantled in 1967 and replaced with a flat corner, the fearsome circuit lost much of its bite. Much, but not all – AVUS continued to take the lives of drivers, and the last man to die on the circuit was British STCC racer Kieth O’dor.
AVUS held a farewell event featuring former veterans in 1999.
Unfortunately, Bristol Cars are no more.
As of 2011, the marque is in administration, jobs are at risk, and the company’s future is far from secure. But before the firm went into administration, they designed the odd hand-built beauty that should have a place in your heart. Or, at the very least, in your nostalgia file.
Bristol Cars was founded in 1946, when the former RAF suppliers wanted to find a way of preserving the 40,000 jobs they had created when building airplanes in the Second World War. The owners of what had been the British Airplane Company turned their attention to the nascent car market, and put their staff to work hand-crafting custom vehicles for the luxury market.
The first model was launched in 1947. The Type 400 was pre-war in styling, with bodywork detailing that brings to mind that classic custom Bentley, the Embiricos (although others point to the BMW 327 as the source of design inspiration). But whatever you think of the styling of the various Bristol models – and the range catered for every taste over the years – you cannot argue with the build quality, the attention to detail, and the passion that epitomized the brand.
The top clip below is a brilliant introduction to the marque, showing some cars and giving an overview of their design philosophy. As with all high-end consumables, it was in the small details that Bristol set itself apart from the competition. All cars had fuel filler caps on both sides, negating the need for petrol station queues. Screw heads were left exposed for easy repairs. The spare tyre was stored in a clever cubby behind the front wheel, leaving room in the boot.
While the designs of the cars evolved over the years, one thing that never changed was the insistence on hand-tooling, high build quality, and a marketing plan based on exclusivity. It used to be said that Bristol’s annual manufacturing output was ‘a few less than people wanted to buy’, and it was a source of pride to the company that their name was not common knowledge even among petrolheads. Unfortunately, the lack of name recognition was a factor in the company’s financial difficulties. It’s something of a challenge to buy a car if you don’t know it exists.
Over their six decades as a manufacturer, Bristol developed a range of 21 cars, from sportscars and roadsters to chairman of the board saloons. Each model improved on the car before, as a key part of the company’s philosophy was to see vehicle design as an evolving process, one in which the application of lessons learned was key to progress. Seemingly alone in the luxury car market, Bristols could be beautiful, reliable, and economical. Once you’d finished paying the bill for a hand-made machine, that is.
Should you need further cause to love the late Bristols, they’ve been given the Giles Coren seal of approval. All it took was a little time travel…
The Goodwood Festival of Speed is one of those events that should need no introduction.
Described as a ‘motoring garden party’, the Festival of Speed is a three-day extravaganza showing off classic cars, purebred racing machines, and whatever the manufacturers feel like publicising that summer. In the first clip below are some of the highlights from the 2010 Festival of Speed.
In 1936, the Earl of March hosted the first Goodwood hillclimb, little knowing that he was sowing the seeds of the Festival of Speed in the process. Since 1993, his grandson, the current Earl of March, has welcomed British petrolheads to the grounds of the Goodwood estate, where 150,000 people a year spend the weekend photographing a seemingly endless stream of cars.
Each year the organisers choose a theme, and cars are invited based on their adherence to that theme. This year’s will be 'Racing Revolutions - Quantum leaps that shaped motor sport', which, according to the website, means “celebrating the ceaseless quest for increased power; greater efficiency; more speed. From motor racing’s pioneering early days, engineering ingenuity has been the irresistible force behind the sport’s inexorable rise, with designers constantly pushing technical boundaries in search of ‘the unfair advantage’.”
Expect to see turbo-era F1 cars, ground-breaking four-wheel drive rally cars, and grand prix machines from the early days of rear engines.
Goodwood is about celebrating motoring in its entirety – making the most of the misses, as well as the greatest hits. In keeping with that spirit, the organisers say, “it is therefore especially fitting to celebrate the innovations – both giant strides and iterative evolutions; masterstrokes and blind alleys – that have seen the racing automobile develop from crude behemoth to space-age projectile.”
Cars old and new take to the famous hillclimb, which sees legendary cars from every era of motoring power up the 1.6 mile course with fans only metres away on the other side of protective straw bales. The middle video of F1 cars tackling the hillclimb is a long one, but worth watching in its entirety. Some of the cars shown are real classics.
Another Goodwood highlight is the forest rally stage, a specially-designed loose-surface course designed to test machines old and new.
But the real delight of Goodwood is the way there’s always something new to see, even when you think you’ve covered all the ground there is. A lucky paddock arrival can see you running away from an RB6 looking to park, or chatting Delages with a man who owns several.
Incredibly, Stirling Moss has his detractors.
There are those, especially online, who say that because he never won the World Drivers’ Championship, because his successes come from a bygone era of motorsport, Moss does not have the right to comment on Formula 1. Those nay-sayers would do well to read up on the history of Formula 1, with particular reference to the 1958 season.
No less a man than Enzo Ferrari considered Moss to be one of the greats of motorsport, on a par with Tazio Nuvolari. Privately, Ferrari is said to have regretted that he never signed Moss to drive for the Scuderia, saying that his failure to do so cost the team many wins.
One of those wins will have been at the 1956 Monaco Grand Prix, which Moss won behind the wheel of a Maserati 250F, beating no less a driver than Juan Manuel Fangio, who had managed to put his Lancia-Ferrari D50 on pole. The first clip below shows highlights from the race.
There is no point in writing a précis of the great man’s career – hundreds of thousands of words have been dedicated to his achievements, both on track and off. This column exists to convince you to love the man, not to help you memorise his biography. So why should you love him?
Sir Stirling Moss is a perfect example of all that has changed in motorsport since the middle of the twentieth century. Where drivers now are contracted to a team almost from birth, Moss raced in an era that allowed him to change his car more often than most of us change our knickers. Over the course of his career, he could be found behind the wheel of every great marque of the 1950s – in F1 alone, he raced Lotuses, Maseratis, Mercedes, Vanwalls, and BRMS, to name but a few.
Rather than spend a weekend preparing for a single race, Stirling Moss raced across a range of formulae, often on the same day. Best known for his time in Formula 1, Moss also won the Mille Miglia, the 1000km of the Nurburgring, and competed in a range of rally and sportscar events. The second clip below shows some on-board footage from 1961, of Moss putting a Lotus 18 through its paces around the legendary Green Hell of the original Nurburgring.
Perhaps the defining moment of Moss’ career, the incident which cemented his reputation as one of Formula 1’s great gentlemen, came about at Boavista, site of the Portuguese Grand Prix. Moss was fighting Mike Hawthorn for the 1958 drivers’ title, and the two men finished 1-2. The victory belonged to Moss, and Hawthorn faced disqualification by the stewards, who took issue with the fact that he had push-started his stalled car against the flow of traffic. Moss argued Hawthorn’s case with the stewards, and his efforts ensured that the race results – and subsequent points – stood. At the end of the season, Moss lost the WDC to Hawthorn by a single point. He has never regretted his defense of Hawthorn.
Just for fun, the last clip is a video from The Times with a Through the Keyhole glimpse of Moss’ gadget-filled London home.
Few things divide car fans more than the subject of modded vehicles. Modifications are car marmite – you either love them or hate them.
Usually, I fall into the latter camp. After all, the bulk of modded cars that catch your eye do so for a very bad reason – someone’s got more spoiler than car, has let their toddler loose with the finger paint, or has added an exhaust you could sleep in comfortably. Often, the car underneath the mods is a bit of a banger, and worth considerably less than the cost of the added bells and whistles. (And yes, I have seen cars with literal bells and whistles.)
There are always exceptions to such rules, and there are hobbyists out there who have made good use of their weekends under the hood – tweaking, tuning, and improving their ride so that they’ve got a better car, and one that’s unique to them. But those aren’t the sort of mods I’m on about.
It’s the Citroen Saxos weighed down with so many extras they can no longer clear a speed bump. It’s the Golf GTis that are no longer recognizable. It’s the cars with cardboard splitters, or just about any machine left in the hands of the Top Gear boys during a challenge. The clip below claims to show the world’s worst modded cars, and many of them are. But – as seems to be the case with all modified vehicles – the first video includes a few examples of utter genius, road legal or not.
Because while these modified cars are enough to make an aerodynamicist weep buckets, there is one thing they’re undeniably good at – giving the rest of us a bloody good laugh. But while the rest of us might find humour in those overdone machines, simple really is best. Volkswagen illustrated the point perfectly in this classic advert from 2006.
Having said that, there is one car kit that I fell in love with the moment I saw it, parked outside a pub on the outskirts of Brighton. While the Ford Ka is pretty unremarkable in appearance, the same cannot be said for the KillerKa. Is there anything better than a road legal Orca, featuring fins, teeth, and a bona fide whale tail? No, there is not.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is a video worth?
I could spend hundreds of thousands of words explaining what makes Brooklands so great, or I could show you. Thanks to the British Pathé archives, race fans can treat themselves to hours of silent movie footage of early racing, complete with wonderful intertitles.
Of course, YouTube also has a few gems to offer, and two can be found below this post: Brooklands 500 1932
(top) and Campbell Trophy 1937
(bottom). The first British Grand Prix 1926 Sir Malcolm Campbell takes Blue Bird for a spin 1928 Women Speed Queens 1932
2½ year-old Wendy Shipwright laps at 100mph 1932
Racing season opens 1933
First use of team radio 1933 Kay Petre duels with Gwenda Stewart* 1935
And if all that vintage car porn isn’t enough to convince you, then I have just two words to change your mind: the banking.
* Gwenda Stewart was also known as Gwenda Hawkes, Gwenda Glubb, and Gwenda Janson.
[Note: It turns out I *really* think youshould love Lotus, as this is the second piece I've written on the subject. Plus one on Colin Chapman. Oops]
Not Lotus-Renault, or Lotus-Renault. Lotus-Lotus. Chapman-Lotus. Throw-your-hat-in-the-air-like-you-just-don’t-care-Lotus.
Putting to one side all of the drama surrounding the current incarnations of Fernandes-Lotus, Bahar-Lotus, Hunt-Lotus, Lotus-Notes, and Lotus-Flower, Lotus is worthy of your love.
This week marked the 28th anniversary of Colin Chapman’s death, but the iconic name was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Let’s take a look at what made the Lotus brand one worth fighting for.
In sixteen years, Colin Chapman’s babies won seven Formula 1 World Constructors’ Championships, six drivers’ titles, and the Indy 500. The team gave Ayrton Senna his first Grand Prix victory (although that honour could have gone to Toleman if Alain Prost hadn’t felt the fear in the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix and had the race cut short), and made world champions of Jim Clark, Graham Hill (his second WDC came with the team), Emerson Fittipaldi, Jochen Rindt, and Mario Andretti.
Team Lotus dominated Formula 1 in the 1960s and 1970s, and Chapman’s record of seven constructors’ titles has only just been equalised by fellow design superstar Adrian Newey.
Colin Chapman was one of the key innovators in Formula 1 history – his team was the first to explore the then-revolutionary concept of ground-effect, the first to make the most of title sponsorship, the first to use a monocoque chassis, the first to play with active suspension…
But Lotus was about much more than just Formula 1. In addition to the well-known Lotus Cars brand, Team Lotus could be found in Formula 2, Formula Ford, IndyCar, and sportscar racing. Lotus cars won the British Touring Car Championships in 1963 and 1964, and the Lotus Type 51 was used as the model for the first Formula Ford car. The Type 14 won six class victories at the Le Mans 24h.
Stats and achievements aside, Colin Chapman’s racing beasts were some of the best looking machines ever to line up on a track. Fans can spend hours debating the merits of the Lotus 72 or the Lotus 78, but my personal favourite is the somewhat less popular Lotus 18, the first Lotus to win a World Championship Formula 1 race. Stirling Moss drove the privately-entered car to victory at Monaco in 1960, under the Rob Walker Racing Team banner.
Everyone knows that Sir Jack Brabham was the only F1 driver to win a championship in a car he designed.
What you might not know is that Daphne Arnott is believed to be motorsport’s only female driver-constructor, team manager, and talent-spotter.
Daphne Arnott was born to a motorsport-obsessed family in 1926. As a child, she spent many family days out at Brooklands, where the smell of petrol and roar of engines got under her skin.
Encouraged by her family to pursue a career in engineering, Arnott was a competent mechanic by her early teens, and began her working life at the Hawker Aircraft Company during the Second World War.
In 1948, Arnott joined the family engineering firm, working as a garage proprietor. The Arnott family tree is steeped in engineering history: her father was known for designing the Arnott supercharger, and her grandfather ran Werner Motor Cycles.
Daphne Arnott was first inspired to design a racecar during the 1951 500cc season. Watching races at Brands Hatch, she noticed that motorsport was dominated by two marques. “It seemed to me there was room for another,” she told Iota, the magazine of the 500 Club, and so she set about designing a challenger.
Arnott worked with George Thornton, manager of the family business, to design what would become the first in a string of nine cars. The first machine, built in four months, was a 500cc Formula 3 car with a tubular chassis and torsion suspension. In the same Iota interview, Arnott said “George Thornton and I made the prototype for fun. One day at Brands Hatch Bob Brown of Bromley saw the car and fell in love with it. He drove the car to win its first race, and then, encouraged by his enthusiasm we decided to manufacture some more.”
In 1951, Daphne Arnott and George Thornton set up a separate business for their manufacturing efforts, and the Arnott marque was born. Other cars built by Arnott in its seven years as a constructor included a supercharged Austin A30-powered sportscar, a streamliner for record-breaking attempts, and a GT car, although a variety of other cars were also made.
While Arnott did not blow away the field in races, they did manage to break nine International Class I records at Montlhery in October 1953. John Brise, father of Formula 1 driver Tony Brise, piloted the 500cc streamliner – based on the standard 500cc chassis but with beautifully sculpted bodywork – to a fastest lap of 122mph, and set new records for 50km, 50 miles, 100km, 100 miles, 200km, 200 miles, 500km, 1 hour, and 3 hours.
In 1955, Daphne Arnott took an eight-person team to the ill-fated 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race. Their 1,100cc Coventry-Climax powered car suffered an accident in practice, and so the team did not start the race. Only two of the eight drivers had completed any running at the time of the accident, and Arnott was not one of them.
Arnott was more slightly successful at the 1957 Le Mans event, when the team ran a Cooper-Climax powered version of their GT car – the team did not finish the race, thanks to a dropped valve, but they were able to start it. It would be Arnott’s last attempt at the legendary endurance event, and the failure led to the end of the marque.
I know, I know. It won’t be out for ages (unless you’re reading this from Brazil or Japan), so it’s borderline cruel to tease you.
But writing about why a motorsport fan should love Ayrton Senna is akin to informing you that oxygen is important, or that the sun is warm. The movie is at least slightly less obvious. Ahem.
I’ve already written about my impressions of the Senna film; I was lucky enough to attend a media screening in Sao Paulo during the Brazilian Grand Prix weekend. But watching the film was such an emotive experience that my first impressions were coloured by the lump in my throat.
Upon reflection, the film is even better than I thought it was.
Putting aside the subject matter for a moment, the filmmakers have achieved the near-impossible. Thanks in no small part to the dramatic arc afforded by Ayrton Senna’s life and career, director Asif Kapadia and writer Manish Pandey have managed to turn a documentary with a well-known conclusion into a nail-biting drama.
That the drama is populated with heroes and villains well-known to the audience only adds to the tensions on screen. It is impossible for the audience to forget how the film will end, and that knowledge gives added weight to every throw-away comment that Senna has plenty of time to achieve all that his heart desires. Sitting in that darkened room, the fore-knowledge feels like the weight of the world on your shoulders, enabling you to better empathise with the pressures Senna faces.
For a film that could easily be described as emotionally harrowing, there are well-timed moments of levity, be they private footage of Senna relaxing with his family, or light-hearted interviews for TV entertainment shows. But not a millisecond is wasted – every moment in the film makes you feel a step closer to knowing Ayrton Senna, to understanding both the man and the legend.
The close camera angles and on-board footage used in race scenes put you – literally – on the shoulders of motor-racing’s greatest giant. Zooming round the tight streets of Monaco, you hold your breath through the tunnel, part of the experience in a way the FOM TV feed has never managed to pull off. The well-judged use of voiceover and archive interviews mean that for the bulk of the film, Senna narrates his own life, making the audience feel even closer to the great man.
Special mention must be made of the soundtrack, composed by Antonio Pinto, whose work you will remember from City of God, Quantum of Solace, and Love in the Time of Cholera. Sometimes music can overwhelm a movie, but Pinto’s score complements the visuals, echoing the roar of the engines, Senna’s measured voice, and the rhythms of Brazil. Every time I hear a snatch of music from the film, I see clips in my mind’s eye.
Trying to write this piece, emotionally I am right back in the movie theatre, crushed by both the weight of expectation and the knowledge of its tragic ending. What makes the Senna movie so special is the way in which it uses the life of one man to perfectly encapsulate the passion a serious fan feels for Formula 1.
To a non-believer, the sport is cars going round in circles. But for anyone who has seen the Senna movie, the sport is so much more. Two hours of drama, passion, betrayal, and hope demonstrate to all and sundry that motorsport is about so much more than racing. It is about people, about faith, about love.
I’ll admit it – I’ve got a thing for South Africa, even though I’ve never been. Yet.
But despite my bias towards the home of great wine, delicious biltong, and some of my favourite people, Kyalami is a little bit special and is definitely worthy of your love.
Kyalami Circuit is not South Africa’s first race track. As far as I’m aware, that distinction belongs to East London’s Price George Circuit, which first played host to a grand prix in 1934. The East London track was built into a seaside amphitheatre, and was used sporadically from the 1930s through to 1965, where it saw Jackie Stewart’s Formula 1 debut.
But when Kyalami was built in 1961, the world of South African circuit racing moved to Johannesburg. The purpose-built clockwise circuit held its first Formula 1 World Championship event in 1967 and quickly became one of the fastest on the calendar. A year later, the track was slightly reconfigured and the widened Kyalami remained on the F1 calendar unchanged until 1985, when Formula 1 bowed to international pressure to cancel the event in protest of the Apartheid regime. You can find footage of the 1985 race online.
Kyalami returned to our screens briefly in 1992 and 1993, but the revised counter-clockwise track was but a shadow of its former self. While other race series continue to use the circuit, Formula 1 has not been back to South Africa since.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
You should love Kyalami because it was fast, furious, and challenging, a real racer’s circuit. The list of those to have won at Kyalami between 1967 and 1985 is a list of the great and the good of Formula 1 history – all of the winners are household names, from Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart to Niki Lauda and Gilles Villeneuve. No one won at Kyalami through sheer fluke, or because they had a good car. They won because they were brave and audacious enough to give the track their all, and their efforts were repaid many times over.
The earliest footage I’ve been able to find of racing at Kyalami comes from the 1970 South African Grand Prix, won by Jack Brabham behind the wheel of a Brabham-Ford BT33. It was Brabham’s last Formula 1 victory, and a well-deserved one. An accident off the start pushed the Australian driver down from P3 to P6. But by lap 6 he had overtaken four of the five cars ahead of him, and began pursuing race leader Jackie Stewart. By lap 20, Brabham was in the lead. He held the position for a further 60 laps, despite the best efforts of first Stewart and then Denny Hulme to pressure him into a mistake.
While racing at Kyalami could be a joy to behold, it was also the scene of tragedy. In 1977, up and coming British racer Tom Pryce died in one of the strangest accidents in F1 history. Two marshalls were running across the track to put out a small fire in Renzo Zorzi’s car. Zorzi had pulled off track just after the brow of a hill. Pryce came over the hill at full speed while the marshalls were still on track, and he hit and killed Jansen Van Vuuren, who was carrying a 20lb fire extinguisher. The fire extinguisher hit Pryce in the head, killing the young racer.