Posts Tagged ‘Froilan Gonzalez’

Briggs Cunningham and his huge entourage of racers, technicians, pantechnicons and Caddies arrive in France for the 1954 Le Mans classic- ‘The Eagle Has Landed’!…

The racers are two Cunningham C4R’s whilst on the trailer is a Ferrari 375MM, the shot above was taken at the village of Bolbec, 35 km from the port of Le Havre where the team and all of the equipment above arrived from the United States on the ship ‘Mauretania’.

This article is about Briggs, his Cunninghams and the team’s 1954 assault on the event. In researching the C4R I discovered this fantastic website about all things Cunningham, so rather than using copious amounts of it here, take the time to explore, it is exceptional;

http://www.briggscunningham.com/home/cunningham-c4r-continuation/

This piece comprises a bit of context about Cunningham, some background on his cars and the main game which is the 1954 event. There are other images of the race but I have stuck as much as possible to the Getty Archive to keep the flavour of the shots similar, this Maurice Jarnoux chappie, whose work I am becoming increasingly familiar with, is a bit of an artiste.

Cunningham beside one of the C4R’s and the ‘Mauretania’ dockside at the port of Le Havre about 215 km from Le Mans (Getty-Jarnoux)

Briggs Cunningham…

Lived a life surrounded by extraordinary wealth and also one of considerable sporting achievement as both a yachtsman and racer, this slightly truncated obituary is as good a place as any to start.

‘Briggs Swift Cunningham II, a sportsman whose affinity for yachts and cars drew him to sailboat racing as an America’s Cup skipper and to auto racing as the creator and driver of his custom sports car, died Wednesday 2 July 2003 at his home in Las Vegas. He was 96. Cunningham sailed in the 1958 Cup races off Newport, R.I., as skipper of the 12-meter sloop Columbia, successfully defending the America’s Cup against the British challenger, the 12-meter yacht Sceptre.

”Briggs was like a fine violinist with boats,” said Victor Romagna, who sailed with Cunningham in the competition. ”He would need someone to do the tuning, as one might with a Stradivarius, but afterwards, we would hand the boat back to Briggs. Then he would play the instrument absolutely perfectly.”

‘Columbia’ – US16, the first 12 Meter America’s Cup winner in 1958. Cunningham skippered the boat which beat the Royal Yacht Squadron’s ‘Sceptre’- Columbia won 4 straight races by margins of between 7-12 minutes

Cunningham was born Jan. 19, 1907, in Cincinnati. His family helped finance railways, telecommunications, meat-packing and commercial real estate and his father was the chief financier of two young men who had developed a bath soap that floated. Their names were William Cooper Procter and James Norris Gamble.

Briggs spent his summers in the Northeast and learned to sail by the time he was 6. His family moved to Southport, Conn., when he was a teenager. At age 17, Cunningham joined the Star Class racing fleet at the Pequot Yacht Club in Southport. The venture was the beginning of his 30 years of sailboat racing on Long Island Sound.

He attended Yale for two years, then left in 1929 to marry Lucy Bedford, daughter of a Standard Oil heir, Fred Bedford. It was during this period that he entered into sport as a way of life.

As a member of the New York Yacht Club, he continued to sail the Columbia in club races through the 1960′s. He also developed ‘The Cunningham’, a common device on sailboats that adjusts sail tension.

Cunningham’s interest in racecars began in 1939 when he participated in the New York World’s Fair.

After World War II, he began competing in the 24-hour auto races at Le Mans, France, and in 1951 he showed up with the Cunningham C-4R, a racecar he had designed and built. Made with a sleek, hand-hammered aluminum body and Chrysler’s newly introduced V-8 engine, the Cunningham has been called America’s first sports car. A year later, Cunningham and his partner, Bill Spear, placed fourth with the car at Le Mans, averaging 88 miles an hour.

Time magazine cover in 1954

”Cunningham himself was never particularly interested in short races,” Road and Track magazine said in 1979. ”What he liked to do was get out and drive and drive and drive, which was why Le Mans was so fascinating to him.”

Having raced his sports car for the last time in 1955, Cunningham began competing on a Jaguar team and became a Jaguar distributor in New England. After moving to California in 1962, he bought several vintage powerboats and, in 1964, opened the Briggs Cunningham Automotive Museum in Costa Mesa, Calif., which has since changed ownership and was moved to a private museum in Florida.

In 1993, he was inducted into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame at the Herreshoff Marine Museum in Bristol, R.I. Earlier this year, he was inducted into the Motor Sports Hall of Fame.

Cunningham was married 40 years to his second wife, the former Laura Cramer. He is survived by his wife; a son, Briggs Cunningham III of Danville, Ky.; two daughters, Lucie McKinney of Green Farms, Conn., and Cythlen Maddock of Palm Beach, Fla.; two stepsons; 19 grandchildren and 31 great-grandchildren’.

The George Rand/Fred Wacker Cunnungham C2R Chrysler 5.5 V8 at Le Mans in 1952 (unattributed)

 

Cunningham Cars…

Briggs first came to international attention with his Cadillac entry for Le Mans in 1950.

There were two cars, one looked standard, the other had somewhat bizarre streamlined open bodywork and was immediately nick-named Le Monstre by the Frenchies. Cunningham was encouraged by the results when the coupé finished tenth and the streamliner eleventh.

Cunningham’s original plan was a Cadillac-engined Ford, a high-power, low-weight recipe concepted by Phil Walters in the States, but the ACO turned it down.

The 11th placed Cadillac Spider ‘Le Monstre’ driven by Cunningham/Walters ahead of the 10th placed Cadillac 50-61 Coupe de Ville raced by Miles and Sam Collier at Le Mans 1950 (unattributed)

In a path that became well travelled, Briggs was convinced that a strong, simple American V8 with an equally sound, simple chassis would produce a competitive car to go head to head with European marques of more exotic specification.

Three specially-built sport-racers with Chrysler engines started the 1951 Le Mans classic. Two crashed, the third had engine bearing problems but finished eighteenth. Before its contretemps with the scenery one of the C2s was running in second place, a significant achievement for a new marque.

‘For 1952, less weight and more power were the goals. By now, having noted the C2’s promise (it had won at Watkins Glen and Elkhart Lake) Chrysler itself was tacitly backing the team’s attempt to defeat the Europeans on their home ground. The Detroit giant now had a standard engine with real performance potential, and the sales impact of victory was tempting. The ‘hemi’ V8 engine used lateral push-rods to operate splayed valves from the single camshaft in the Vee. This gave it the advantage of hemispherical combustion chambers with less complexity than using twin cams, and the stock output was somewhere around 180bhp’, said MotorSport.

Extensive engine development included ‘all the usual bag of hot-rodders tricks’- valve-gear lightening, needle-bearing roller rockers and cam followers, solid lifters instead of wheezy hydraulic components, special crankshafts and hi-lift cams. Four Zenith carbs fed the beast which used a compression ratio variously quoted from 7.5:1 to 8.6:1. The engine’s capacity was 331cid or 5425cc, power quoted was between 300 and 340 bhp and torque some 312Ib ft at only 2000rpm.

The big cast-iron, 625 pound plus lump with its two-inch overhead valves was understressed- down the decades this formula of worked Detroit V8’s was very successful as long as the limitations of the inherent layout and design specification were not exceeded. The big step forward for American V8s’ from a racing perspective was the small-block Chevy with its (relatively) lightweight thin-wall casting techniques, but the Chrysler, pound for pound was a competitive unit ‘in period’, the 283 Chev was still a few years away in 1954.

1952 C4R engine detail (unattributed)

 

Pit shot of the #2 Spear/Johnston car at Le Mans in 1954. Note the Halibrand alloy wheels, deatil of the body and unique scuttle mounted oil coolers (Getty)

The chassis was a period typical ladder frame comprising two pairs of steel tubes joined vertically by tubing and gussets which carried the big bent eight.

Suspension up front comprised coil springs and double wishbones, a coil-sprung rigid axle replaced the De Dion set-up of the C2 at the rear, it was well located by trailing arms and a Panhard rod. Hydraulic tubular shock absorbers were used front and rear.

Chrysler engineers were involved in sorting the suspension geometry, spring rates and shock absorber settings together with Cunningham’s team of Phil Walters, Jack Donaldson and Briggs Weaver.

A stock or even modified Chrysler transmission did not offer the number of ratios required let alone the strength with all that torque tearing away at it. It took a truck unit to cope- an Italian Siata gearbox was used containing four ratios in a light aluminium case, it proved to be sweet shifting and great to use over long distances.

Sexy alloy Halibrand (as used at Indy and on America’s sprintcars and midgets) 7 X 16 inch wheels were used with big, 13 inch, finned drum brakes but they were not really up to the task. The brakes had to be used sympathetically in the manner of the day, albeit by 1953 Jaguar was pioneering the disc brake paradigm shift, an advantage they would press home to the end of the decade, especially at Le Mans.

The cars track was 4ft 6in front and rear, its wheelbase 100 inches and weight circa 2410 pounds, not a lightweight but much less bulky than the ‘pork-chop’ C2.

Briggs, sans helmet, parade lap perhaps, during the September 1952 Watkins Glen GP, 6.6 mile road course weekend- C4R. Cunningham led from the start of the 15 lap journey but a first lap racing incident between John Fitch C4R in second and third placed Fred Wacker’s Allard J2 Cadillac caused the latter’s tail to run wide over a kerb, killing a young boy and injuring 12 people. The race was abandoned- and caused the end of road course racing in the US (B Tronolone Collection)

 

The 10th placed C4R Coupe at Le Mans in 1953- raced by Charles Moran and John Gordon-Bennett

Three C4Rs were built. One was a Kamm-tailed coupé the other two slab sided spyders designed by Bob Blake.

Big grille and cutaway wings channelled huge swags of air to the radiator and finned, iron brake drums. Rear wing scoops cooled the tyres, neat slots in the trailing edges of the rear wings kept the flow going. For the spyders, instead of siting the oil-cooler low, where it would be vulnerable to stones, the team adopted a distinctive cylindrical aircraft-style unit mounted high up on the cars scuttle.

The C4R’s race debut was at Bridgehampton early in 1952. For thirteen laps Phil Walters led, then a tail-pipe came loose and he was black-flagged. It was a minor disappointment but the team’s spirits were lifted for Le Mans.

Cunningham entered a spyder for himself and Bill Spears, another for John Fitch and George Rice, while Phil Walters and Duane Carter handled the coupé. By Saturday night, Carter had stuck his car in the sand, and Fitch and Rice had retired with valve problems. But they had been quick, and Briggs Cunningham drove solo in the remaining car for nearly 20 hours before letting Spear cruise home fourth. It was an amazing, gritty performance by the American sportsman.

The following year, 1953, a new streamlined Cunningham, the C5 raced, the winning Jag D’s top speed reaching 154mph on Mulsanne. The Coventry team’s Dunlop disc brakes were the difference between the cars. The C5 was third, the C4R spyder seventh, and the coupé tenth.

‘Smiley grille’ C5R Le Mans 1953- 3rd place driven by Phil Waters and John Fitch (unattributed)

 

#1 Briggs Cunningham/John Gordon-Bennett C4R Chrysler, Le Mans 1954

Strong progress was being made on chassis, aerodynamics and engine by both Cunningham and Chrysler, but Briggs’ personal desire to win Le Mans was tempting him from Detroit to Maranello.

A string of national and international successes in the States ought to have been supremely satisfying, since the blue and white cars were beating the twin-cam Europeans handsomely there. Best of all was a hard-fought win against the works Aston Martin team at Sebring in 1953.

Two of the new DB3Ss, crewed by Reg Parnell/George Abecassis and Peter Collins/Geoff Duke, traded positions with Fitch and Walters from the start. After Duke collided with another car, the other Aston couldn’t close the small gap- at the end of 12 hours racing the Cunningham scored by 3 1/2-minutes’, the car won from the Parnell/Abecassis Aston Martin DB3 with the Johnston/Wilder Jaguar C Type in third.

And so, lets look at the 1954 Le Mans classic.

Jaguar raced three new works Jaguar D-Types driven by Peter Walker and Stirling Moss, Peter Whitehead and Ken Wharton and Duncan Hamilton paired with Tony Rolt- the winning combination aboard a C Type the year before.

(unattributed)

Jaguar HQ before the off- its all happening.

The #12 Moss/Walker car DNF brakes 12th hour, #15 Whitehead/Wharton D Type DNF ‘box 13th hour and the #16 Laurent/Swaters Ecurie Francorchamps C Type 4th place- see the spare bonnet for the C upstairs. The un-numbered car is a spare or the #14 Hamilton/Rolt car.

Some immaculately attired Porsche technicians and 550 RS 1500 Spyders. #40 von Frankenberg/Glockler DNF engine in the first hour, #39 the 12th placed Claes/Stasse car and #47 14th Arkus-Duntov/Olivier machine (unattributed)

Ferrari, Maserati and Osca entered cars, Ferrari’s challenger was the V12 375 Plus to be driven by Umberto Maglioli and Paolo Marzotto/Froilan Gonzalez and Maurice Trintignant/Robert Manzon.

At the endurance racing seasons opening round, Sebring on 7 March the Lloyd/Moss Osca MT4 1450 triumphed over the might of the Aston Martin and Ferrari teams. Now Briggs wanted a Ferrari engine for Le Mans!

To achieve this he needed to buy a car, so John Fitch and Phil Walters accordingly arrived at Le Mans with the 375MM pictured on the quayside above.

The new Cunningham C6 was not ready, the fast but unstable C5 had been destroyed at Reims the year before, so the two C4R spiders were again entered as well as the Ferrari. The C4R Spyders were driven by Bill Spear and Sherwood Johnston with Briggs and John Gordon-Bennett in the other car.

The Cunningham page from the 1954 Le Mans program (S Dalton Collection)

 

(unattributed)

The pre-start Le Mans panorama with the #54 BG Le Mans Renault of Brevil/Py 18th, #51 DB HBR Renault Louis DNF and #55 Monopole X84 of Hemard/Flahault thirteenth in focus. Amazing just how well these sub-one litre buzz-boxes place.

(unattributed)

The cars were lined up in order of engine capacity from largest to smallest- the 5482cc Cunninghams at the head of the queue- above the two C4R’s of Cunningham/Gordon-Bennett and Spear/Johnston and the three works Ferrari 375 Plus of Maglioli/Marzotto, Gonzalez/Trintignant and Manzon/Rosier.

The sprint has begun above.

The # 2 Spear/Johnston C4R and #6 Walters/Fitch Cunningham Ferrari 375MM from the #14 Rolt/Hamilton D Type (unattributed)

The 375’s of González/Trintignant, Manzon/Rosier and Maglioli/Marzotto led almost from the start, but Moss kept the D-Type in touch with them and Rolt was not too far behind. In its early stages the race looked like a 10 lap sprint rather than a 24 hour grind. At the end of the first hour, González led with Moss, the best placed Jag in third.

(unattributed)

Merde! or words to that effect.

The beached Chinetti Ferrari 375 Berlinetta of Rubirosa/Baggio, DNF after 5 laps, not a great return on a significant investment.

Three finishers on a damp track, so its early Sunday. Porsche 550 Spyder of Arkus-Duntov/Olivier 14th from the 2nd placed Jag of Hamilton/Rolt and 3rd placed C4R Chrysler of Spear/Johnston (unattributed)

Problems with blocked fuel filters delayed the Jags during the third hour. As darkness descended González and Trintignant led, the 375 Plus Ferrari of Maglioli and Marzotto had dropped out with transmission failure.

A large number of cars had fallen out of the race during the initial hours. By the seventh hour the number of retirements increased including the Shelby/Frere Aston DB3S and the Behra/Simon Gordini T24S.

Eric Thompson ponders his next move to get the Lagonda DP115 moving. The third placed Spear/Johnston C4R Chrysler rumbles past en-route to its finish (Getty)

The Lagonda was out during the seventh hour as well, having completed 25 or 26 laps after which Eric Thompson spun into the bank at the Esses. I wrote an article about this car and incident a while back, click here to read it; https://primotipo.com/2016/08/12/dyer-want-the-good-news-first/

So too, seven hours in, Ian Stewart rolled his Aston Martin DB3S on the fast stretch between Arnage and White House corners, destroying it with Stewart severely injuring his arm.

The slinky, aerodynamic, XK engined D-types steadily moved up the field. By midnight Whitehead and Wharton were second, two laps behind the leading Ferrari. Manzon/Rosier were third, ahead of Rolt and Hamilton, with the Aston Martins of Parnell/Salvadori and Collins/Bira completing the top six.

(unattributed)

The #9 Talbot-Lago T26GS above of Rosier/Megrat DNF,  ahead of the eighth placed Bristol 450 of Wisdom/Fairman.

In an amazing team performance the three Bristol 450’s finished seventh, eighth and ninth. Seventh were Wilson/Mayes and ninth Keen/Line. I’m not sure who that is beside the road, Eric Thompson perhaps.

Moss from the Monopole X84 Panhard of Hemard/Flahault with the parked Thompson Lagonda still sitting in The Esses (unattributed)

Early on Sunday morning, Walker/Whitehead and Rosier/Manzon retired, both the Jaguar and Ferrari had shagged gearboxes. The Moss/Walker D succumbed to braking problems on Saturday evening. By the time dawn arrived the battle at the front was between a car from Coventry and Maranello apiece.

What’s more, as the clouds built up and rain became a threat, the Ferrari power advantage would be negated by the conditions- by breakfast it was raining heavily. González and Trintignant could afford to ease back a bit but any problems would place them into peril, as the rain intensified, the remaining Hamilton/Rolt D-type applied the pressure with nothing to lose.

(LAT)

The works Reg Parnell/Roy Salvadori supercharged Aston Martin DB3S ahead of the winning works Ferrari 375 Plus of Froilan Gonzalez and Maurice Trintignant. The Aston retired during the twenty-first hour with head gasket failure.

Later race wet pits top for the Rolt/Hamilton D Type (unattributed)

The two Brits, Rolt and Hamilton threw caution to the wind and raced their D-type hard. On one lap Rolt glanced the bank out of Arnage and stopped for a bout of impromptu aluminium panel beating. He had been forced off line by a slower car.

The rain eased, allowing the Ferrari to put its horses to the road and use its power to better effect but the Jag kept on coming, the rain intensified again and the Jaguar drivers began to close the gap further.

With two hours to run, González and Trintignant were still nearly two laps ahead of the Jag, with ninety minutes to run Trintignant brought the Ferrari in for a routine stop. González took over, but the big V12 refused to fire. Gonzalez jumped out whilst the mechanics fumbled with the plugs.

Rolt was now in sight, the Englishman intent on stopping for new goggles, but his crew waved him on now that the XKD was on the same lap as the leader

Gonzalez in the victorious Ferrari 375 Plus (unattributed)

The Scuderia Ferrari mechanics fiddled beneath the bonnet, they knew the engine was strong given its perfect state prior to the stop. The car sat for seven minutes, then suddenly burst back to life, González jumped aboard and accelerated away barely ninety seconds ahead of the chasing Rolt, but now his V12 sounded less healthy than it had before.

With thunder and lightning assaulting the circuit and an hour to run, Rolt handed over to Hamilton for the final stint.

In a fierce sprint to the finish, Hamilton cut the lead down to 1 minute 26 seconds, but as the track began to dry for the last few laps, González sped away to win by just under three minutes.

4pm- Froilan Gonzalez and Maurice Trintignant the winners after completing 302 laps or 4061 Km (MotorSport)

González and Trintignant had driven their Ferrari 375 Plus to victory, covering a distance of 2,523.486 miles over 302 laps, averaging 105.145 mph. Rolt and Hamilton were second in their very hard worked D-Type, one lap behind at the finish. Third were the American Cunningham duo of Bill Spear and Sherwood Johnston on 283 laps 19 laps (over 157 miles) behind the winners.

Three years before, in the 1951 British Grand Prix González scored Scuderia Ferrari’s first Championship F1 victory in a Ferrari 375 at Silverstone, in his last appearance at La Sarthe he won Scuderia Ferrari’s first Le Mans, a unique Ferrari double. The Lord Selsdon entered 166M took the first Ferrari victory at Le Mans in 1949 when he and Luigi Chinetti won the race having covered 235 laps in the 2 litre V12 engine car.

In terms of the overall performance of the two outright contenders the Jaguars were faster due to a much more slippery shape (Moss was timed at 154.44 mph/278kph), but the Ferrari was said to have superior acceleration and brakes, which is counter-intuitive given the new-fangled discs fitted to the Jags.

Whilst finishing third and fifth, the Cunninghams were unable to match the pace of the leaders, giving Briggs and his team plenty to focus on for 1955. None of the Astons lasted the distance and of course Jaguar would be back, and Mercedes Benz…

Cover of the 1954 Le Mans booklet put together by the staff of ‘Motor’

 

Etcetera Le Mans 1954…

 

(unattributed)

Jaguar works cars all lined up all ready to rock and roll.

The Moss/Walker, Hamilton/Rolt and Whitehead/Wharton D Types with the Laurent/Swaters C Type at the rear.

(unattributed)

Moss, lightning fast always from these run and jump starts, en-route to the #12 XKD, #14 crewed by Hamilton/Rolt and #8 is the supercharged Aston Martin DB3S raced by Reg Parnell and Roy Salvadori- DNF after 222 laps in the twenty-first hour with head gasket failure.

(L Klemantaski)

The Eric Thompson/Dennis Poore Lagonda DP115 4.5 litre V12 heading towards White House early in the race- a famous Louis Klemantaski photograph, before its fateful spin in The Esses.

Thompson, after his lose, manoeuvres the car to a safer position below, before working out how to get it back to the pits.

 

(unattributed)

OKV 1. Duncan Hamilton aboard the works second placed D Type, by the look of the car its early in the race before nightfall. The machine was well and truly tested to its limits by its intrepid pilots especially in the final stages of the race.

(unattributed)

The twelfth placed Claes/Stasse Porsche 550 Spyder leads the 3 litre Aston Martin DB2/4 Vignale of Colas/da Silva Ramos which retired with gearbox failure in the fourteenth hour. None of the six Aston Martins or Lagonda which started the event finished it.

(unattributed)

Moss chasing the works Maglioli/Marzotto Ferrari 375 Plus early in the race- the beached Chinetti entered 375 MM in the background. The works 5 litre car retired with gearbox trouble in the eighth hour

Spin.

Even if you don’t win there is a clever marketing angle to be communicated- Jaguar press ad 1954.

And yes, the results do rather tend to speak for themselves!

Happy Scuderia Ferrari crew gather around the winning 4954cc V12 375 Plus of Gonzalez/Trintignant. Car looks rather good, I suspect this is before the off.

Dockside at Le Havre, ship is the ‘Mauretania’

Briggs Cunningham and his team staged a campaign of military scale, organisation and precision- the only thing missing was the kitchen sink and a car with just a smidge more speed.

What a marvellous Le Mans it would have been to witness in 1954?

Bibliography…

Briggs Cunningham website- briggscunningham.com, MotorSport magazine, Wikipedia, Team Dan, F2Index, thanks to ‘The Nostalgia Forum’ boys work on the ‘Then and Now’ thread for great work in identifying the dockside and travelling photograph locations

Credits…

Getty Images, Louis Klemantaski, Tom Sangen, briggscunningham.com, Bob Tronolone Collection, Bernard Cahier, LAT, MotorSport, Stephen Dalton Collection

Tailpieces…

Apart from anything else Briggs Cunninham was a sportsman who just loved to compete.

Here he looks forward to his week in France, dockside with his family and team.

(B Cahier)

Finito…

gonzalez silverstone

(Louis Klemantaski)

Froilan Gonzalez plays with the limits of adhesion of his victorious Ferrari 375 V12 at around 140mph. Copse Corner, Silverstone, 14 July 1951…

The dominant force in Grand Prix racing in the immediate post-war period was Alfa Romeo, the pre-war ‘Alfetta’ voiturettes progressively modified to remain winners; they had not been beaten since 1946.

Ferrari had achieved success at Le Mans, the Mille Miglia and the Targa Florio and now took an alternative Grand Prix design path to Alfa and BRM for the 1951 season in building cars powered by a normally aspirated 4.5 litre V12 rather than the supercharged straight 8/V16 route of his rivals. Instructive had been the reliability and speed of the Talbot-Lagos despite the cars relative lack of sophistication given the French machines road-car origins.

gonz

Gonzalez, Silverstone 1951, Ferrari 375, the burly Argentinian master of this car. Note exhaust system of the V12 and twin radius rods locating rear axles (unattributed)

Ferrari’s Type 375’s were first entered at the Pescara Grand Prix on 15 August 1950, but were not ready. The cars made their championship debut at Monza on 3 September 1950 with entries for Alberto Ascari and Dorino Serafini. Ascari qualified 2nd and was dicing with the lead group of Fangio and Farina both 158 mounted, before retiring on lap 21 with engine overheating.

Click here for an article on the Type 375 i wrote a while back;

https://primotipo.com/2014/11/10/vi-gran-premio-del-valentino-april-1952-ferrari-375/

In order to test the cars over a full GP distance,375’s for Ascari and Serafini were entered for the GP do Penya Rhin, at Pedralbes, Barcelona on 29 October. The cars finished 1/2, no Alfa’s were entered but the cars completed a GP distance without problems. With further development over the winter the 375’s were ready for 1951.

british alfa pit

Alfa Romeo pit British GP, Silverstone 1951 (unattributed)

By 1951 the supercharged Alfa’s, designated ‘159’ developed around 410bhp from their supercharged 1.5-litre engines, while Ferrari had been working on a twin-plug version of the 4.5-litre V12. It wasn’t as powerful as the Alfa but it was more efficient, less fuel meant less pit stops.

Alfa ignored most of the early season non-championship races. In their absence Ferrari 375’s won at Siracuse and Pau on 11 and 26 March, Gigi Villoresi the winning driver on both occasions. Ascari won the San Remo GP on 22 April.

The Alfa’s finally appeared for the ‘BRDC International Trophy’ race at Silverstone on May 5, but the works Ferari 375’s did not. Fangio and Farina each won a heat for Alfa with the final held in torrential rain led by Reg Parnell’s Ferrari 125/375 when the race was ended after 16 minutes on lap 6.

alfa 159 engine

Engine and brake detail of the Alfa Romeo 159, Silverstone 1951. 1.5 litre two-stage supercharged straight-8 (unattributed)

The first 1951 Championship GP was at Berne for the Swiss Grand Prix. Ascari was suffering from a burn to the arm received during a Formula 2 race at Genoa the weekend before and Villoresi slid off the road in wet conditions. Progress was indicative of Taruffi’s Ferrari second place splitting the Alfas of Fangio and Farina, first and third.

At Spa, a jammed wheel at a pit stop cost Fangio his second successive win, Farina took Belgian GP win for Alfa Romeo from Ascari and Villoresi in Ferrari 375’s.

The French Grand Prix was a furious battle between Ascari and Fangio, both of whom changed cars with Fangio taking the win for Alfa. Ascari’s 375 had gearbox failure and Froilan Gonzalez, who had led the race briefly and pitted to refuel, was asked to hand his car over. Fangio took over Luigi Fagioli’s Alfa, JM’s car failed on the first lap of the race. This was Gonzalez’ first race for Ferrari. Just before the French Grand Prix, Enzo Ferrari had approached him to replace the unwell Piero Taruffi. The Fagioli/Fangio car won the race from the 375 of Gonzalez/Ascari.

gonzalez french

Gonzalez in his first Ferrari drive, he lead the French GP at Reims before offering his 375 to Alberto Ascari, the pair finished 2nd to the Fangio/Fagioli Alfa 159 (unattributed)

Froilan recalled the French GP in Gonzalez ‘The Pampas Bull’; ‘The dream was to be very brief. I was utterly determined to make my mark at Reims in the Grand Prix de France and after a tough battle I managed to lead the race. But when I stopped at the pits to refuel (Ferrari Team Manager) Ugolini told me to hand over my jewel to Alberto Ascari who had walked back to the Ferrari pits after his own car had broken down’.

‘Recalling it now I suppose it was understandable. Ascari was more experienced in the Grand Prix arena than I, and since he was now available, it was obviously more sensible to let him take over. But at the time I was mystified and wounded. I assumed I had in some way failed one of Ferrari’s mysterious tests. Yet nobody would tell me where I had failed’.

‘I was just as puzzled when Enzo Ferrari sent for me. Puzzled and timid, for Ferrari was a powerful experienced man of the world while I had only recently arrived in Europe I had no idea how to address the ‘sacred monster’ of the motoring world when I was led into his office. I managed to say ‘Good morning’ in Spanish and then stood there speechless, wondering why I was there and what to do next. Don Enzo, realizing my embarrassment, helped me out by smiling and shaking my hand. And to my utter amazement he – the greatest figure in world motor racing – actually congratulated me for what I had done at Reims. I was even more astounded when he suddenly asked me: ‘Would you like to sign a contract to drive for the Ferrari team?’ I can feel even now the almost painful thumping of my heart. This just isn’t true, I told myself.’
british ascari

Ascari cruising the Silverstone pitlane, Ferrari 375 during practice DNF lap 56 with ‘box failure (Getty Images)

Alfa Romeo brought 159’s to Silverstone for Fangio, Farina, Consalvo Sanesi and Felice Bonetto. Ferrari brought three Type 375s for Ascari, Villoresi and Gonzalez with Peter Whitehead in Tony Vandervell’s  ‘Thinwall Special’ Ferrari…

Talbot returned with three T26C 4.5-litre, straight-6 cylinder cars. Maserati relied on ageing 4CLTs for David Murray and John James, while Philip Fotheringham-Parker raced an older 4CL. ERA had Bob Gerard and Brian Shawe-Taylor and Joe Kelly was in his Alta.

british ferrari drivers

Scuderia Ferrari drivers Silverstone 1951; Gigi Villoresi left, Alberto Ascari and Froilan Gonzalez, all remarkably ‘well-nourished’ by driver standards of today! And older of course (Getty Images)

BRM turned up on the morning of the race having missed practice. Reg Parnell and Peter Walker started from the rear of the grid as a consequence.

british walker

Peter Walker’s BRM Type 15, 7th being given a shove during practice (unattributed)

John Bolster of Autosport commented about Gonzalez’ speed and technique; ‘Thursday found me walking round the circuit, trying to work out how on earth these boys get round the corners the way they do. My stopwatch was busy in my hand, and I had a conversion table, so it was with immense excitement that I observed that Froilan Gonzalez had lapped at 99mph. His next tour looked even faster and, yes, the magic 100mph had been topped at last!’

‘The interesting thing is that he brakes later than anybody else, actually enters the corner faster, and gets through in an immensely long drift. He has none of the ease in the cockpit that Farina exhibits, and certainly does not follow the same path every time. Unlike all the other drivers, he changes down without gunning his motor, and yet there is no clash of gears and the box stands up to the treatment. John Wyer and I listened to this for lap after lap at Woodcote, and were fair amazed. A phenomenon, this Froilan!’ Bolster observed.

gonzalez portrait

Froilan Gonzalez Ferrari 375, Silverstone 1951, lovely portrait of the Argentinian Champion (unattributed)

Gonzalez lapped Silverstone in 1 minute 43.4 seconds and was on pole, a second quicker than Fangio’s Alfa. On Friday the track was damp and those times prevailed. Froilan’s time was set without the latest the latest twin-plug V12 fitted to Ascari’s car.

Gonzalez; ‘Ferrari had the gift of instilling confidence in its drivers. Although I was still very inexperienced I arrived at Silverstone for the 1951 British Grand Prix feeling that I really belonged in the Scuderia Ferrari, feeling eager also to pit my car’s power against the almost unbeatable Alfa Romeos – and my own skill against the world’s greatest racing drivers. Silverstone was the meeting place for international statesmen, industrialists, and millionaires, all looking for excitement’.
british program

Silverstone was the first time an Alfa Romeo had not been on pole position since the world championship began the year before…

Around 50,000 spectators arrived at the Northhamptonshire circuit on the Saturday, eager to see a great contest between Alfa, Ferrari and BRM.

start

Start of the GP with Gonzalez, left on pole Fangio and Ascari #11 on the outside. Ferrari 375, Alfa 159, Ferrari 375 (unattributed)

Felice Bonetto made the best start from seventh, the front row delayed with excessive wheelspin,  and lead at the end of lap 1 but Gonzalez took over with Fangio chasing.

Gonzalez; ‘As we passed the pits for the first time I noticed that both the Alfa and Ferrari team managers were signaling the same instructions, which were in effect that we should drive our own race. The alarming start meant that team tactics must be abandoned. ‘Go for the lead’ came the urgent message and soon as I saw that I went flat-out. By the next lap I was leading’.

british bonetto

Felice Bonetto Alfa being chased by #12 Gonzalez Ferrari and #1 Farina Alfa 159 with #11 Ascari Ferrari just in shot (unattributed)

‘I could not hear them but I had the feeling that the British crowd had forgotten their usual restraint. They were jumping and waving and, it seemed to me, yelling like mad. ‘Pepito. You are ahead of the Field Marshals,’ I thought, and kept my foot hard down on the accelerator pedal. Then suddenly my rear-view mirror showed a red car, growing bigger and bigger. A signal from my pit as I shot past told me it was Fangio’s Alfa Romeo. ‘Pepito. Don’t do anything foolish. Don’t panic. Even Fangio will have to do a re-fuel.’
Within 15 laps, Fangio was five seconds ahead of Gonzalez. the duo were 44 seconds ahead of third-Farina who was scrapping with Ascari from Bonetto and Villoresi. It was Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari. The fuel stops would settle the issue.
british gonz color

Nice color panned shot of Gonzalez on the way to victory. Shows the big, butch lines of the Ferrari to good effect, the delicacy of touch required to drift the thing at 140mph readily apparent, and appreciated!  (unattributed)

Gonzalez hit the straw-bales at Becketts but gradually closed on Fangio to retake the lead on lap 39. At the end of lap 48, Fangio pitted and Gonzalez came in 13 laps later. Ascari had retired with gearbox trouble and Gonzalez climbed from his car and offered it to his team-mate.  Ascari refused and urged Gonzalez to continue. The stop took 23 seconds, Fangio’s 49  seconds, JM had his rear wheels changed and his fuel tank filled. The gap between the leaders was then 1 minute 19.2 seconds.

british pitstop

Pitsop for the thirsty Parnell BRM Type 15 ; passing is the Farina Alfa being closely watched by Alberto Ascari, astride the white line, retired from the race. The balding Raymond Mays looks away from the BRM , to Mays right beside ‘the copper’ is journalist and racer John Bolster (unattributed)

‘When Fangio caught me in the 10th lap I let him overtake, placing myself directly on his tail. We traveled in tandem, our two cars seeming to be roped together. Even when he increased speed we remained like this, driving like men pursued by the Devil himself. There was a moment of danger around the 25th lap when I took Becketts Corner too fast and hit the straw bales. But this made me keener than ever and I set off again after Fangio. I began to close on him, having been perhaps 5 or 6 seconds behind him with both of us averaging about 97 mph until, on the 39th lap, I eventually took him. Towards the end of the race I was more than a minute ahead of him’.

british gonz fangio

Gonzalez leads Fangio during their great Silverstone race (unattributed)

‘Motorsports’ August 1951 issue described the events as follows: ‘Try as Fangio could and did, it was over. Gonzalez came round, crash hat and visor in his left hand, waving them to the crowd.

‘Ferrari with the unblown 4.5-litre had at last broken the might of the two-stage supercharged 159 Alfa Romeo, as they have been threatening to do since Monza last year. Froilan Gonzalez had driven impeccably and is now in the front rank.

‘Fangio drove like the master he is, but couldn’t catch the Ferrari, nor could his longer pit-stop explain the 51 second gap and he was the meat in the Ferrari sandwich. And how these Argentinians drive!’

british win

Froilan Gonzalez takes the Silverstone chequered flag to record an historic personal and team win, Ferrari 375 (unattributed)

Villoresi was third after Farina retired at Abbey Curve, with smoke billowing from the engine compartment but the failure reported as ‘clutch’. Bonetto was a further lap behind the Ferrari in fourth.

british farina

Farina’s Alfa 159 hors ‘d combat on lap 75 with a failed clutch (unattributed)

Reg Parnell was 5th in the BRM with Walker 7th. The BRM drivers completed the race burned by their exhausts and dazed by fuel vapours. In the hurry to complete the cars for the race, the exhausts hadn’t been properly insulated and the drivers were ‘cooked’.

brm

The BRM Type 15′ s get away at the start; Walker left 7th and Reg Parnell #6 5th (unattributed)

‘It was very confusing’ said Gonzalez aftewards, ‘But very exciting. Everyone was shouting and talking; the mechanics saying over and over again that the Alfa Romeos had been beaten. Then I was taken to meet the Queen and given a laurel wreath. Of course, I understood little of what was said but it was a very nice feeling to have all those people congratulating me.

‘On the winners podium I was embraced warmly by Fangio. That meant a lot to me. Then they played the Argentine National Anthem. I had never experienced anything like this before. When I saw my country’s flag being hoisted, it was just too much for me and I cried. That moment will live with me for ever.’

british wife

Gonzalez being congratulated by his wife and crew after the historic win, the enormity of it all still to set in (unattributed)

Enzo Ferrari’s dogged determination to win Grands Prix with his own cars was achieved against Alfa Romeo, for whom for many years he lead their pre-War racing programs. It was the first time the Alfas had been beaten since the first post-war French Grand Prix in 1946.

At the end of the season, Alfa Romeo applied for a significant increase in their government grant, the company still within the control of the agency which took it over after its insolvency pre-war. It was refused and the team withdrew from Grand Prix racing, a return finally made with the provision of engines in 1970 and more wholistically as a team in 1979.

In his Richard Williams biography, Enzo Ferrari said of his first Ferrari GP victory: ‘I cried for joy. But my tears of enthusiasm were mixed with those of sorrow because I thought, today I have killed my mother’…

Etcetera…

alfa paddock

Alfa’s in the Silverstone paddock; #3 Consalvo Sanesi 6th, #1 Farina DNF (unattributed)

start 1

Front row makes a poor start; #12 Gonzalez, Farina  better away and Ascari #11 on the right with Fangio’s Alfa almost beside Ascari and Felice Bonetto, Alfa coming up quickly behind Fangio (unattributed)

ascari farina

Alberto Ascari from Giuseppe Farina Ferrari 375 and Alfa 159, Silverstone 1951, both DNF (unattributed)

pitstop

Gonzalez supervises his Ferrai pitstop whilst Ascari, right, looks on having sportingly declined to take the car offered to him by Froilan allowing him to take the well deserved win (unattributed)

Bibliography…

f1fanatic.co.uk, grandprixhistory.org, Team Dan, silhouet.com, J Perez Loizeau and Ors ‘Jose Froilan Gonzalez:The Pampas Bull’

Photo Credits…

Louis Klementaski, Getty Images, Michael Turner art

Tailpiece…

britsi art

Painting depicts Gonzalez’ pursuit of Fangio with a blue Talbot-Lago T26 ahead (Michael Turner)

 

 

ferrari

Max Staub’s painting depicts the battle between the first and second placed Ferrari 375 Plus and Jaguar D Type at Le Mans on 12/13 June 1954…

There was a lap between the cars at the end of the race, Froilan Gonzalez shared his Ferrari with fellow GP driver Maurice Trintignant and Duncan Hamilton the ‘D’ with Tony Rolt. The Brits won the race in an XK ‘C Type’ the year before.

In one of the most exciting events at Le Mans to that point the large lead of the Ferrari was diminished to about 1.5 minutes when the Fazz refused to fire at a pitstop with about 2 hours to go. Eventually a flooded magneto head was diagnosed and rectified, the Ferrari sped on to win a famous victory despite the efforts of Hamilton in the final stint.

le mans

Fantastic shot taken at about 9pm in the evening, at that time on Saturday night competitors lights had to be turned on and remain operational all night. (Yves Debraine)

Here is a longer 1950’s Le Mans Article with a Ron Flockhart twist for those with an interest in this period…

https://primotipo.com/2015/01/17/le-mans-1957-d-type-jaguar-rout-ron-flockhart-racer-and-aviator/

Credits…Max Staub, Yves Debraine, Charles Avalon

le mans 1954