Formula One

This is where I came in

December 1975. A good month, if only because I was born in it (well, a good month for me, anyhow). Of course, the December 1975 issue of R&T was probably not published in December, landing on newsstands sometime in November, and it certainly didn’t report stuff happening in December. But it’s still, to a certain degree, “my” issue.

Starts off with a good cover for me. No econoboxes on my month, but no overly ostentatious exotica, either. Just a weird, one-of-a-kind concept car that was too strange to build more of. Sounds about right to represent me, so I’ll leave off the analysis and dive into the mag.

As an old-car enthusiast, I found the article on the 25th Anniversary of the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance to be a wonderful piece, especially since it speaks to the origins of the concours which is still going on 45 years later. Delightful.

The rest of the issue also worked for me, as Road & Track went the interesting cars route for this issue, eschewing the more mundane stuff your neighbor was driving in ’75. So Alfas and Maseratis and Porsches (lots of Porsches) instead of Fords and Cadillacs.

A side note when talking about the competition pieces is that this is the issue where R&T reported the death of Mark Donohue. If this hadn’t been the December issue, this post would have dealt entirely with Donohue, who was truly a one-of-a-kind driver. He raced, retired and was miserable out of the cockpit, so he returned and was killed in an F1 practice. Knowing just how bad his life was without racing, maybe it was for the best… but the sport lost a beloved ambassador and a man equally at home developing race cars as driving them. The hole he left is still felt today.

Other than that, the racing coverage was amazing, which ended up making me think that the good folks at R&T built it especially for me.

They didn’t, of course, but who’s going to take away a newborn baby’s fantasy?

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is a fast-paced action adventure romp with genetically modified monsters. Fun from page one. You can check it out here.

A Great Man in the Old Tradition: Rob Walker

I was recently in the US and bought a couple of issues of Road & Track on the newsstand. They are slim things, quite glossy but devoid of the dense content that made magazines worthwhile in the past. I suppose they’re a victim of the mania for online stuff, but people in the future are going to have cause to regret this generation’s lack of taste in media, as they won’t be able to delve into the past in the same way that I have… and if you’ve ever tried to recover content you saw once on a long-gone website you’ll understand why this is important in more than an aesthetic sense.

Back in the 1970s, however, this things were different and magazines were not only the principal way for people to get information on their interests, but they were rich enough to be able to afford contributors who were not just great, but memorable.

We’ve already mentioned Henry N. Manney III here, but there’s another colossus of the motoring industry who was writing for Road & Track in the seventies (and was still doing so when I came in in 1989, and remained on the payroll for some years afterwards). That man is Rob Walker, and as I read the October 1974 issue above, I realized that I had to talk about him.

And now it’s time to admit something painful. As a thirteen-year-old reader of Road & Track who hadn’t intentionally missed a live Formula One race since I discovered the sport in 1983, I had no idea who Rob Walker was or why the fact that this man was writing the F1 race reports was a privilege which put other publications to shame.

But I found out.

Briefly, Walker was the heir to the Johnny Walker distillery fortune, and he used some of this money to become the most successful private entrant in the history of F1. Imagine winning the lottery and buying a car from one of the teams today… and using that car to win several races with drivers the likes of Stirling Moss or Jo Siffert at the wheel. Well, that is exactly what walker did. (it speaks to why F1 was also much better back then, but this isn’t a rant, it’s a celebration).

Better still, Walker was a apparently good guy, which meant that he got invited to the parties, which, in turn, meant that his prose is rich with anecdote and detail. As a teenager, I was hooked, and now that I’m reading his work in the 1970s, it gives me a look into how R&T became the top automotive publication in the world, to the point that a random teenager would pick it off a newsstand in Argentina in 1989. Walker is a huge part of that. I don’t think the magazine could ever have achieved its status as the class of the field without that man writing F1 reports. They are, reading them fifty years later, perfection… and again, I hope there are similar reports of today’s races being produced in hardcover somewhere, because if not, people in fifty years are going to hate us.

Best of all, though, is the fact that Walker was a gentleman in the traditional sense of the world. Rich enough to know that life exists to be enjoyed, but educated in the liberal old British way that informed him that the enjoyment is to be shared by all, without regards to class or economic level. He is the epitome of what a gentleman in the 20th century should be–and what so few managed.

The fact that he resembled Ken Tyrrell is, of course, unfortunate, but no one is perfect (both Rob and Ken were nearly so, so the fact that they had imperfections to deal with is only fair).

As a car nut, I would have loved to live his life… but he was more than just cars, and that comes through in his writing. A truly great man in all meanings of the word, and the kind that the world would be better of having more of today.

Gustavo Bondoni’s fiction has appeared in hundreds of publications. His debut novel, Outside, extrapolates the current trends in digital civilization to their logical conclusion–and is also a rousing tale of love and hope. You can check it out here.

Small Station Wagons and the Death of Peter Revson

For the July 1974 issue of Road & Track, the results of the fuel crisis were still being felt, even though supply had been restored. Americans, who’d never cared for piddling little cars were starting to consider compacts with a little less derision, at least on the coasts (middle America would need the imports and small cars to get a lot better before they cared).

So what you end up with is a beach photo… when the cars are as unsexy as the wagons on the cover, you need to try something, anything, to make the magazine catch the eye. A California beaches work.

As always with these, it’s the racing articles that make these compelling reading. While the social insight on the era and the articles on cars people could actually buy are interesting, this was a golden era for racing.

Albeit an often sad one. The mid-seventies were the beginning of the serious safety crusades that have done so much damage to the romance of auto racing… but they still hadn’t taken hold, and it was still an era of real men driving cars that would put hair on your chest in circuits that bit you hard if you overdid it.

So sometimes the news could be sad, and this issue includes a tribute to recently-deceased Peter Revson, heir to the Revlon fortune who worked hard to get rid of the rich playboy image. Just as he had gained others’ respect in the sport, even winning multiple Grands Prix–the sign of someone who is NOT a dilettante–he lost his life. But we remember him today… something people in fifty years are unlikely to say about today’s formula one “heroes”.

Most interesting article is one in which the editors compiled the results of all the top-level races from the late 19th century until 1973… and created a points system that declared Juan Manuel Fangio the champion to date.

Considering that there was also a race report chronicling the first of Carlos Reutemann’s F1 wins, it was a good issue for my countrymen.

So the seventies march on in their oh-so-seventies way.

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer. His latest collection of science fiction and fantasy tales is entitled Off the Beaten Path. Exotic locales, incredible adventures and looking both to the future and the uncanny make this one a treat for anyone looking to escape for a while. You can check it out here.

Musing on the Current State of Grand Prix Racing

Every once in a while, we complain about the current state of Formula 1.  But we need to be really unhappy to do so.  The last time, Bernie was still in charge.
Dan Gurney at Spa.jpg
So, after watching the Belgian GP, I think the F1 rules need to be completely thrown away.
 
Not the technical ones… those are fine. It’s all the stupid around it that needs to go, the testing and development bans, the need to use the same engine for five races. That’s what has made GP racing garbage for years, and makes the races utter crap.
 
Just allow the teams to show up for the race weekend with cars (at least two per team, but it would be fun to allow any number) that meet the technical rules and… that’s it.
 
Qualifying engines with 2000 bhp that last a lap? Sure, as long as they meet the rules.
 
Hand-grenade type motors that might–or might not–last five laps? Sure. Let teams take technical risks with high potential rewards. Let a backmarker take a chance with an engine that has a ten percent chance of finishing… but which will run up front until it blows.
 
And a new development every race? Of course. Sure, it will mean expense, but this is the pinnacle of motorsport.
 
The current setup is about as boring as can be. There will always be one team ahead of the rest… and the rules ensure that that team will stay there until the next major technical overhaul. It was Red Bull during the blown diffuser era, now with the hybrid powerplant era it’s Mercedes… That’s just stupid.
 
When I saw the clear skies in Belgium (rain would have helped), I nearly gave the race a miss… and it would have been the first F1 race I intentionally missed since 1983. I stayed the course, but it wasn’t really worth it.
Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer from Argentina whose latest novel, Jungle Lab Terror is a romp combining geopolitics, special forces, terrorists and, of course, monsters.  If that sounds fun, you can check it out here.

An Obsessive’s Delight

As longtime readers of this blog already know, I often throw in a review of a book about auto racing.  While the modern game is a bit tame, I think the history of the sport represents a romantic, hard-nosed and dangerous pastime worth reading about.  Our most recent post dealt with the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but I also like reading about the heroes of earlier ages.

Of course, at some point one needs to talk about Formula one, right?  Well, we need to do more than just this

Peter Higham - Formula One- Car by Car- 1960-1969

So I picked up a copy of Peter Higham’s book Formula 1: Car by Car: 1960-69.  Now, this book does exactly what one would expect, namely discusses  every single car that raced in the hugely innovative decade of the sixties, a decade that began with the last vestiges of the front engined cars of the sixties still on the track and ended with (as you can see on the bottom right photo of the cover above) with cars that had begun to sprout 1970s style wings.

All right. It does what it says on the cover.  So what?

So, the sheer amount of research, looking for the information, the description and, especially, decent photos of every car that made it onto the grid of every race is not an easy task.  In fact, I’d call it Herculean.

Of course, front runners are easy.  We all know everything about every chassis that Jim Clark ever drove, tested or even glanced at, but what about the LDSs and Sciroccos of the world?  Can anyone keep track of the different engined people shoved into Lotus 18 chassis?  Apparently Higham can, and you can follow along with this book.

Of course, labors of love of this sort can often be boring reads.  If you are at all interested in race cars, this one bucks that trend. The accompanying text is not only full of information, but also of interesting anecdote and period feel.

So for any car buffs out there looking for a definitive guide to what raced when, this series (there are books on other decades) is a great place to get the data.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine author.  For completists looking to get his previously-published stories all in one place, a good starting point is Virtuoso and Other Stories.