Formula 1 transport
- Denis Jenkinson; copyright The Denis Jenkinson Estate, published with permission from A Story of Formula 1, Grenville Publishing Company, 1960
- October 24, 2007
Team Tyrrell transporter, Elva van
Goodwood Revival Meeting (August 31, 2007)
It is all very well to build or buy a team of Grand Prix cars, but an equally important part of racing is to make sure you can get them to the racing circuit. Many years ago racing cars could, and often were, driven to the circuits, even over quite long distances across Europe, but as the racing developed into the more specialised Grand Prix machine they became less practical to drive on the public roads, and also conditions changed which made it inadvisable, apart from wearing out the machinery. Of course, there are still many occasions when Grand Prix cars do get driven on the public roads, but they are not normal, and the most important part of equipment in a Grand Prix team is its transporter. Each team seems to have its own ideas on the best arrangement, B.R.M. for example starting off with individual small Austin trucks for each Grand Prix car, but in 1960 they changed to a single vast three-car transporter van built on a Leyland Royal Tiger chassis. The Vanwall team favoured Leyland for their transport, though they spent some time with a Bedford that was rather overloaded and under-braked. They had a three-car van body built on a Royal Tiger chassis, which was very advanced as far as commercial vehicles were concerned, having a diesel engine lying on its side in the middle of the wheelbase, driving through a preselector gearbox operated by compressed air and hydraulics, so that gear changing was simplicity itself. This gearbox was a five-speed unit and I had a demonstration run in this huge truck one day and there was no more effort needed to drive than was required by the average large family saloon car, while the visibility was superb, the driving cab being the most forward part of the body, with no bonnet out in front. The B.R.M. transporter was very similar, except that it was made with left hand drive as most of its life would be spent travelling about Europe from one Grand Prix to the next. These really big modern trucks have very powerful brakes that are vacuum-servo assisted, so that a very little pedal pressure is required, and in an emergency they can really stop in a hurry. On one occasion the Vanwall Leyland was motoring pretty smartly along, unladen, and it had a following wind, when a little man in a 4 c.v. Renault motored smartly out of a side-turning right in the path of the Leyland. The Vanwall driver trod heavily on the brake pedal and this big lorry practically locked all its wheels and stopped in a very short distance, generating a veritable fog of rubber and brake lining smoke, and this coloured cloud was wafted forward by the following breeze and completely enveloped the unhappy 4 c.v. and its owner who thought he was going to run over in a big way.
The Italians use equally big Fiat or Alfa Romeo lorries, and in recent years the Italian commercial coach-building firm of Bartoletti have built some magnificent transporters, on Fiat chassis, especially for racing transport. These can carry three cars apiece, two on the top deck and one on the lower, and the forward part of the lower deck is closed in to form a box car in which all the spare tyres, tools, spare engines, gearbox and so on can be stored. Power winches driven from the main diesel engine drive cable-operated lifting mechanism which lowers the cars from the top deck down to the lower deck, from whence they can be run down ramps onto the ground. The Scuderia Ferrari have two of these magnificent transporters, their only drawback seeming to be the fact that the racing cars are out in the open, or under dust sheets, so that in bad weather the racing cars often arrive at a race meeting looking pretty travel-stained. When the Ferrari team are overworked, with Grand Prix races and sports car races in quick succession, the transporters often have to be supplemented by an ordinary open lorry to take extra cars, and quite often, if you arrive bright and early for practice, you will see the Ferrari mechanics indulging in a precarious manoeuvre, getting cars off the ordinary open truck. At one meeting they arrived with a lorry fitted with a tubular structure on its back to carry two Grand Prix cars, one above the other, and to get the top one down from its great height they back this lorry up to one of the Bartoletti transporters. Then they placed planks from the top deck of the transporter across to the improvised carrier, wheeled the car backwards onto the transporter and then winched it down to the transporters lower deck, and after moving the lorries apart they ran the Grand Prix car down ramps to the ground. It was all pretty straightforward, except that the planks to carry the car from one top deck to the other were a bit thin and they sagged under the weight of the Ferrari, so that there were some heart-stopping moments until the valuable racing car was safely across the gap. After the race they had to go all through this business again when loading up the improvised carrier.
Monza 1958: Gerino Gerini's Centro Sud Maserati standing in front of
one of Ferrari's Bartoletti Fiats as well as BRM's Commer workshop car.
(© The Klemantaski Collection)
The driving cabs on these Italian transporters have to be seen to be believed, for they are the last word in comfort and space and can hold six or eight people, and usually have a couple of bunks at the rear. With races being as much as a 1,000 miles from their factories the Continental lorry drivers are hardened to travelling non-stop for days on end, taking turns at the wheel while the others sleep. Unfortunately the British Ministry of Transport has strict rules about the dimensions of commercial vehicles, so that by the time a transporter has been built to take three cars and all the spares there is little room left over for the driving cab without going over the legal limit of overall length. The Italians are not hampered by such legislation, so in consequence can have more lavish driving quarters. Before they withdrew from Grand Prix racing at the end of 1957 the Scuderia Maserati used a Bartoletti transporter, identical to that of the Ferrari team, apart from the colour being blue and yellow, against Ferraris red. In 1960 the Scarab team had a similar transporter built for their Grand Prix cars, and theirs was painted a light blue, but before they could make real use of it Lance Reventlow returned to America to repair his racing programme.
These big Italian transporters are certainly comfortable to ride in, and on one occasion while staying in Modena a group of us decided we would go to the Opera at Verona, some 60 miles away, so rather than take a selection of private cars, we all went together in one of the Maserati transporters. It cruised happily at 55-60 m.p.h. and being empty of racing cars it accelerated very well, so that we had a most enjoyable ride. We even parked it in a car park just outside the Verona Arena, and there was a bit of a fuss because the man wanted us to pay for the space rather than the vehicle, grumbling that he could have parked about a dozen Fiat 600 cars in the space we had taken. When he saw how many people got down from the cab he was even more upset!
The big Leylands of B.R.M. and Vanwall can also crack along when crossing Europe and I followed the Vanwall team back from Pescara in 1957 at a steady 55 m.p.h. and in 1960 I came up behind the B.R.M. van at close on 60 m.p.h. Having a transporter that can cover the ground at that speed can be a boon to a racing team, for it is impossible to anticipate every likely delay, and if bad weather crossing the Channel, or detours on the roads, or even the Tour de France bicycle race cause a hold up, then it is nice to be able to regain some of the lost time during a three- or four-hundred mile trip across France. The Mercedes-Benz team were very mindful of the need for having fast transporters that could be really motored in the case of an emergency arising, and I recall one day in 1955 when I was with Moss in an SLR sports Mercedes-Benz and the engine blew up some 300 miles from Brescia. We were told on the phone to sit and wait and help would arrive, and 5 hours later one of the engineers arrived with Stirling’s 220S saloon Mercedes-Benz, so that we might carry on with our practice lap of the Mille Miglia course. In a little less than a half an hour more one of the Mercedes-Benz diesel lorries drew up to collect the stricken SLR, having averaged just over 50 m.p.h. from Brescia, with four solid-looking German mechanics sitting on the bench-type front seat. We were pretty impressed, knowing how long it was since we had telephoned to Brescia, and set off in the 220S hoping we could improve on their average.
Monza 1958: Vanwall's Bedford S and their Leyland as well as
the Lotus Bedford 'bus' lined up next to a tilted lorry from Ferrari.
(© The Klemantaski Collection)
In 1955 the Mercedes-Benz racing designer, Rudolph Ulenhaut designed the last word in transporters. It was built to carry one car, and was made from 300SL components, this model Mercedes-Benz being the 150-m.p.h. sports coupé with the “gull-wing” doors, and fuel-injection six-cylinder 3-litre engine. Ulenhaut took one of these power units, and gearbox, a front suspension, brakes and rear suspension from the production line and built them onto a back-bone chassis with a forward-control driving cab, where the driver and his mate sat on each side of the inclined 300SL engine. It had a very futuristic looking cab, and a frontal aspect like the latest Mercedes-Benz lorries, and was good for 110-m.p.h. unladen, or 100 m.p.h. with a racing car on its back. The first time I saw this all-independently sprung, fuel-injection lorry, was during some tests at Hockenheim, when one of the Mercedes-Benz mechanics said “Have you seen Ulenhaut’s High-Speed transporter?” I told him I did not know about it and he chuckled and said it would be arriving pretty soon. When it came it appeared in the distance on the fast Hockenheim track and came towards us at about 85 m.p.h. carrying a W196 Grand Prix car on its back, and it sounded just like a rorty 300SL coupé arriving. It was a truly wonderful machine and had cost a fortune to build, but Ulenhaut was very pleased with it, and during the season it was often used for rushing a new car to a race meeting, or taking the last car if preparation took longer than anticipated. After the German firm withdrew from Grand Prix racing, in 1955, it was used for various publicity tours, carrying a racing car on its back, and was also used to take the 1937 Grand Prix car to Oulton Park, on the occasion of Vintage Sports Car Club’s demonstration of pre-war Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix cars.
It is not everyone that can afford to build such expensive transporters themselves, or even have special ones built, so that some of the less wealthy team have to make-do with second-hand vans and lorries, while private-owners are often hard put to running a truck and prefer to tow a trailer behind a saloon car. Whatever the answer to the transport problem, it usually depends on the financial situation of the owner-driver or the team, but in all cases it is false economy to skimp the expenditure on transport for your racing car.
While transporters are a straightforward enough job, there is the added problem of finding someone to drive them. With most teams this usually falls to one of more of the mechanics, though some employ drivers who do nothing else except maintain the team’s transport. The Vanwall team did this, having two lorries so that he had plenty to do to keep them serviced while at race meetings, especially if they had done a 1,000 miles or more to get there from base, and had another 800 miles to do to the next race meeting, as often happens. Mostly it is the mechanics who drive the transporters and they have to find time to maintain them in between looking after the racing cars and travelling about. As can well be imagined the boys in the lorries have plenty of stories to tell about their travels which take them all over Europe and many are the epics that have been enacted in order to get to a race in time, about which the drivers and team manager often know nothing. No matter which team of mechanics you get talking to, Cooper, Ferrari, B.R.M. or Maserati, they can all tell you the most incredible stories about things that happened to them on their travels, such as the time when I met the Maserati lorry all smashed in at the front, and enquiring as to what happened discovered that Amedio, the driver, had been following the Ferrari lorry a bit too close and run into the back of it; or the time when Derek, who drove the Vanwall lorry had to get a platoon of Italian military to stand in the back in order to compress the springs sufficiently for the truck to pass under the tunnel at Monza. To whomever you talk you will be impressed by one thing, and that is that no matter what bas happened to them they all take it as part of the job, there are never any grumbles about Union rules, or any gripes about overtime, while to go on strike is something that would never enter the head of any self-respecting mechanic. They all have a sense of devotion to the team for whom they are working, and their greatest satisfaction is to see their car win. Unless a man bas a willingness to work for his driver or his team, he will never become a racing mechanic and will find that he is not very acceptable to the other mechanics. Between them they have a remarkable code of ethics, all unwritten, of course, and time and energy must be unlimited, while above all else must be a devotion to duty, and that duty is to make sure the racing car is on the starting line in the best possible condition for racing.
Of all the stories I could write about things that happened to various mechanics, I think the one that I shall always remember is the epic of Tony Robinson in 1957. This was a wonderful example of devotion to duty, imagination, and initiative and I only quote this one because I happened to have been connected with it. Tony was working for Bruce Halford in those days, maintaining his 250F Maserati and transporting it about the Continent in a converted Royal Blue A.E.C. coach and at the time of this particular incident he was in Modena at the Maserati factory, preparing the car for the Caen G.P. Bruce was in England, and as I was going to Caen, which is in Northern France, from Aintree, I arranged to pick him up on my way and we would travel to Caen together. We arrived there on Thursday evening as practice was due to start first thing on Friday morning and the first sign of trouble was that there was no sign of Tony, the Royal Blue or the Maserati at the garage where we had arranged to meet. The garage man told us that Mr. Robinson had telephoned to say he would be late and was going to ring again later. Having no idea what could have gone wrong we could only go to bed and hope that Tony would arrive in the night. Next morning there was a gloom for there was still no sign of the Maserati, and as practice was before breakfast Bruce had to content himself with watching the others. We did more to-ing and fro-ing between hotels, the Automobile Club and the garage than I care to remember, and after breakfast there came another ‘phone call from Tony. He was at Briancon some 500 miles away and the Royal Blue had broken down, but he now had another lorry organised and should be with us by Saturday morning, in time for practice on Saturday afternoon. Tony had been on his way from Modena and was coming over the Mont Genevre, between Susa and Briancon, and had just got to the top of the pass when a big-end broke up on the A.E.C. engine. Not really knowing what the trouble was he decided to coast down into Briancon before he investigated the trouble, knowing a garage there in which he could work, for this was one of the normal routes chosen by the racing transport lads when going to and from Italy, as it was a less severe pass than the Mont Cenis, which is a little further north, and it is open much longer than most others. Setting off down the pass in neutral Tony suddenly realised that he would only have the mechanical hand-brake for the footbrake worked off a vacuum servo system from the engine, so that his descent was something of a nightmare as he did not want to run the engine for fear of it breaking up completely. Perspiring heavily he eventually arrived in Briancon and went to the garage and started work on removing the sump of the A.E.C., all on his own for he had no helping mechanic with him. By the time he had ascertained the trouble and come to the conclusion that it could not be fixed there and then, Thursday was drawing to a close. Now he could have sat down and said, “Well, that’s that, I can’t get to Caen in time so Bruce has had that race.” He could have said that, but he didn’t, for he knew that Bruce was dependent on racing at Caen to pay for the Maserati overhaul, and the outcome of the Caen race was going to decide whether he got an entry for the German Grand Prix the weekend following. So there he was, in the middle of the French Alps with a derelict transporter and 500 miles still to do. Now Briancon is not a very big town and there was no hope of getting the A.E.C. engine repaired there, and he worked it out that if he hired a car and took the damaged parts to Grenoble and then came back and fitted them he would not have sufficient time, and anyway there was no guarantee that he could find anyone to do the job immediately in Grenoble, if at all.
There was only one thing to do and that was to hire a lorry so Friday morning he started searching Briancon bright and early, to find a lorry big enough to take the Maserati and some spares, such as wheels, jacks and tools, and this itself was no easy task, and having done that he had to find an owner that was prepared to do a hire job of 1,000 miles. He found plenty of people prepared to do a transport job of 50 miles, but not 500 miles, while there was nothing in the lorry line between something too small and something much too big, and he finally had to settle for an enormous Berliet diesel that would have taken two Maseratis, but time was now getting very short. It was owned by a one-man business that was engaged on carting rubble about, and the owner agreed to drive Tony and the Maserati to Caen and named his price, which was pretty high, as can be imagined. This was where Tony was put in a bit of a spot, wondering whether he was justified in spending so much of Halford’s money, not that he had that much money with him anyway, but he worked out that the starting money at Caen would just about cover what he owed Maserati, and pay for the hire of the lorry, so that providing the Maserati did not blow up in the Grand Prix they would break even when it was all over. He was in no position to argue with the lorry owner, for having agreed on the price he then had to explain that he could not pay him until after the race on Sunday night, and that they must hurry or they would be too late to race anyway. It says a great deal for Tony’s powers of persuasion that he talked the burly Frenchman into this rather dubious one-sided deal, but the important fact was that he did. Then came the problem of getting the Maserati onto the Berliet, for it was nearly five foot from the bottom of the tailboard to the ground. Wheeling the racing car out of the back of the coach was easy enough, as he had special ramps, but they were nowhere near long enough to reach up to the Berliet, and anyway it would have been too steep to push the Maserati up. Once again the Robinson never-give-in spirit took charge and he dashed off all over Briancon in a borrowed car until he found a garage with an hydraulic greasing lift, and there was only one, but that was enough, so back to the garage and they towed the Maserati behind the Berliet, put it on the hydraulic lift and raised it up to the height of the lorry so that they could then wheel it across the tailboard and into the back. Time was ticking rapidly by all the time, and when his ‘phone call to Caen eventually came through he was more or less ready to leave and it was mid-morning on Friday. They set off with the owner of the lorry at the wheel and he took along with him a young apprentice labourer, to help with the driving for he was not insured for Tony to drive and they were going to have to go right through the night. Once they had started Tony was able to urge them on by impressing on them that unless Bruce started in the Grand Prix on Sunday there would be no money for anyone, especially them, and the farther they got from Briancon the more conscious they became of this. But this was not all, for they had not gone far before Tony realised that the burly owner was getting too enthusiastic about the trip and was driving like a lunatic, and he felt sure that if they didn’t crash and all get killed then at least the Maserati would bounce off the back of the lorry and be smashed to pieces, for there had been no way of fastening it down. Poor Tony did not know whether to be more concerned about his own life or possible damage to the valuable racing car in the back. Finally he could stand it no longer and suggested that the young lad should have a drive, saying that the owner should conserve his energies for the night driving. This was agreed upon but then more trouble arose, for the owner proudly explained that the young lad was just learning to drive, and in fact he was teaching him, and they crawled along at a snail’s pace, being ever 50 cautious everywhere. After some hours of this Tony came as close to giving up as he has ever been, having had very little sleep over the past few days, most irregular meals. All the worry of making decisions that were a great responsibility for he was dealing with someone else’s money and property, and the general strain of organising the whole trip nearly brought him to tears. He really did not know whether to let the other drive and risk a crash and fail to get to Caen, or let the apprentice drive and go so slowly that he knew they would arrive too late, and they refused to let him drive. Rather than making another decision he felt like getting out and just lying down beside the road and weeping, and no one would have blamed him for that. However, he realised that that would do nobody any good so he steeled his nerves and got the owner to drive again, for that way they at least had a sporting chance of getting to their destination on time. That journey was one of Tony’s biggest nightmares, the brakeless descent of the Mont Genevre being nothing in comparison, and they would thunder on until his nerves needed a rest and then the apprentice would take over. They would crawl along until the tension of losing time became too great and then the nerve-racking dice would start all over again, and so they went on right through the night.
Practice on Saturday was due to take place in the afternoon and Bruce and I were up bright and early and round to the garage to see if there was any sign of Tony, or any further ‘phone calls, but all was quiet so we could only sit and hope. We worked out average speeds, we pored over maps, we peered up the road, and shortly before lunch the big blue Berliet lorry came into sight and stopped outside the garage. A very tired, hungry and harassed looking Tony climbed down from the cab, for they had come non-stop, without eating or anything. It was a truly remarkable sight to see this huge French lorry, and they really are huge, dusty and dirty and in the middle of it the tiny Maserati. The next problem was to get it down onto the ground, for time was getting short and already other teams were getting their cars ready to go out to the circuit. We had to find another garage with an hydraulic ramp, and that itself was not easy, even in Caen, for it had to be in such a position that the lorry could back right up to it. There were plenty inside service stations, but at last we found one out in the open and away they went to reappear shortly with the Maserati on tow. We all mucked in to help Tony get fuel in the racing car, check the tyres, water, oil, plugs and so on, all in a matter of minutes and away we went just in time for practice.
The car went splendidly in spite of its rough journey, and though Bruce could not hope to equal the times of the works B.R.M. cars, his was the fastest Maserati and equalled the previous years’ lap record, and that alone more than justified all the effort in Tony’s eyes, so that he quickly forgot the previous two days and prepared for race day. The lorry driver and his mate had to be found accommodation, no easy matter when there is a race on, and extra pit tickets had to be scrounged for them as they were being useful around the place and wanted to see the race anyway as they were obliged to stay until it was over before they could get paid. The race itself went off splendidly for Bruce and he finished in 3rd place, on the same lap as Jean Behra who brought the B.R.M. to its first victory on that day. Every one was overjoyed by Bruce’s effort, most of all Tony for he had gambled with a large amount of money and it had paid off, for not only would they break even with the starting money, but there was prize money for 3rd place so they would now show a small profit. After the race Tony went for some hard-earned sleep while Bruce and I went to the prize giving, and during the evening we started in motion some telegrams between Caen and Germany to find out whether the organisers of the German Grand Prix would accept Bruce’s entry on the strength of his 3rd place at Caen. Next morning we all gathered at the garage once more and the lorry driver and his mate were beginning to make “going-home” noises, but before they were paid in full a reply came to say that the Nurburgring entry had been accepted, so in double-quick time we had a conference to decide how best to get the Maserati there. It took quite a lot of hard French talking, a certain amount of bribery and a great deal of persuasion to get the owner of the Berliet to agree to making a 300-mile detour on his way home to take the Maserati to Germany. He studied the map for a long time while we showed him where the Maserati had to go, and he finally squashed the whole project by telling us he had no passport or papers for his lorry to go out of France, and he added as an afterthought that his permit only allowed him 50 miles away from Briancon anyway! After waving bunches of French 1,000-franc notes in front of him he eventually agreed to take the Maserati as far as the German frontier and what we did there we had no idea, but Tony told us not to worry, he’d sort it out when he got there. Luckily the Frenchman did not realise that Caen to Germany was one side of a triangle of which he had covered the long leg, the 500 miles from Briancon to Caen, and that Germany to Briancon was another 350 miles, so that he had got 650 miles to do before he got home. Anyway, he had been paid well over the odds for the journey to Caen and it had been worth it so we all kept quiet, and while Tony set about loading the Maserati onto the Berliet once more, Bruce and I went about various bits of business we had to deal with and arranged to meet Tony at a certain German frontier post that we both knew. There was now plenty of time available, so Tony’s ride across Northern France was fairly peaceful and Bruce and I had a good run in the Porsche, and got to the German border at the time arranged. At the French frontier post, which was the farthest point to which the Berliet could go, there was no sign of Tony so we presumed that we were ahead of him, until one of the Customs men told us that the Maserati had gone through into Germany. The German barrier was quite a way up the road, and we motored on and there beside the road sat the red Maserati, loaded with tools and odds and ends, and Tony was sitting on the grass bank smoking a cigarette. He had pushed it from France into Germany, and cleared the paperwork which was still required in those days, and had set in motion the next step from the frontier to Adenau, a further 80 miles. We had thought the sight of Tony arriving in Caen with the Maserati on the huge French lorry was remarkable, but it was nothing compared to the sight of him at the German frontier with a Grand Prix car and nothing else in sight. There was still a lot to be done regarding the entry for the German Grand Prix, and Bruce wanted to get in some practice laps in the Porsche before official practice began, so Tony told us to go on and he’d fix everything. By this time even the greatest doubter must have begun to have faith in his ability, and we certainly had, so giving him a fistful of German money we bade him goodbye and set off. He had explained that he had already got friendly with the frontier guard and that he had got him to telephone a friend in the next village who would take the car to the Nurburgring on his lorry. As we motored along we saw a large muddy Mercedes-Benz lorry approaching and we just knew that it was the Customs man’s friend on his way to pick up Tony and the Maserati. Indeed it was, and they had to go through the little pantomime again of finding a garage with an hydraulic ramp, and you would be surprised how difficult that is. Later that day the lorry arrived at Nurburgring and once more the unloading problem presented itself, only this time there were no garages, for the paddock area at Nurburgring is out in the country away from towns and villages. The ever resourceful Tony soon solved this one by disappearing off into some woods with the lorry driver, where they found a steep bank against which the lorry could reverse and then with the aid of planks we manhandled the Maserati onto the grass bank and by making a circuit of a field Tony found a way out onto the road and we towed it into the paddock and went and had supper, all very relieved and somewhat haggard after the last few days. While eating we had a quiet chuckle about the driver of the Berliet, for he had no maps and had no idea where he was in France, but had disappeared at high speed assuring Tony that he could find his way back to Briancon alright.
The German Grand Prix was another good race for Halford, and he finished in 11th position, and only one lap behind the winner, who was Fangio, and when it is remembered that this was the classic German Grand Prix when Fangio drove one of the greatest races of his career, to finish at all for a private-owner was satisfactory.
That little epic, of getting to two races in that particular season, will always stand out in my mind as an excellent example of the character of a true racing mechanic, who loved racing and racing cars and all that went with the “Continental Circus” style of racing, where you literally lived from one race to the next. The story of Tony Robinson’s efforts on behalf of his driver is not unusual, and I could fill the whole of this book with similar stories of other mechanics and their trials and tribulations while driving about Europe, but they all take it as part of the life and though it may have seemed like hell at the time, if you get them talking about such incidents afterwards they will all treat them lightly and not consider them heroic at all, but personally I think some of them are the greatest heroes I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet and yet how often does anyone ever give a thought to what went on before a race to ensure that the cars are ready on the starting line when the flag is raised? Not often enough I’m afraid. Looking through my Motor Sport notebook for 1957 in which race notes were made at the time I found an entry under the Caen Grand Prix which simply said ”First practice, Halford (Maserati) no practice, lorry broken down at Briancon.” This gave no idea at all of what had been going on, but my private diary told a very different story, as it so often does. If some of the workers in industry had the same devotion to duty as Tony Robinson had, and still has, for he is now a Director of the British Racing Partnership, having been chief mechanic for the Yeoman Credit Team for a year, then a lot of the world’s labour troubles would be over, and most of the racing mechanics work for a lot less than the average factory worker takes home each week, while they would consider a 40-hour week to be a holiday. The life of a racing mechanic is not an easy one, but with the right outlook on life it can certainly be a pleasant one, but above all else it is devotion to duty that counts.
Although this chapter was intended to be mainly about the transport as it concerns Grand Prix racing, it seems to have been more about the men who drive the transport. Of course, this is only right as transporters without men won’t get very far, whereas we have seen that men without transporters can get along reasonably well, providing the men have initiative and an enthusiasm for racing that knows no bounds. As I have said, one could fill a book about the adventures of the racing transports, about breakdowns, landslides, frontier strikes, paperwork difficulties and a thousand other things that are liable to make an easy passage difficult, to say nothing of a shortage of time that usually harasses the racing teams. I often wonder whether the drivers of Grand Prix cars ever give a thought to the difficulties that might cause a transporter to arrive a bit late, or if it is on time I wonder if they ever realise that it meant the mechanics driving as much as seventeen hours a day for days on end.
This was the sort of effort that Connaughts had to put in to get to Syracuse for that great race of 1955. Mike Oliver was acting as team manager as well as chief engineer on that occasion, and he preceded the A.E.C. buses carrying the cars, driving his hot Zephyr. They had unfortunately taken the mountain route to Sicily, not knowing any better, and at times Mike was having difficulty putting 22 miles into an hour’s motoring, and he was naturally feeling pretty worried about the transporters which were following the same route. In actual fact, what he did not know was that one of the buses was having its brakes re-lined in the middle of the high street of a mountain town, for they had been used up completely going through the mountains. As Mike said afterwards, “those A.E.C.s were definitely long-dogs, not made for corners or hills.” That trip saw the mechanics eventually driving non-stop, there was no question of how many hours a day, it was just continual day and night. One team of mechanics summed up a trip to Sicily, the mountain route, by saying drily, “We took turns in driving — doing 12-hour shifts!”
The life of a mechanic on the transporters is not an easy one, but if the car wins then it has all been well worth while, if it doesn’t win, well, there is always next time.