Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Poignant Moment In Time

Ferrari Dino 246's, French Grand Prix, Reims, July 4-6, 1958.

Have you ever been this close to the cars at a major race as whoever snapped this picture?  I haven't, or, if I was, there was a rope line to keep me from going closer.  Even if this picture was shot early on Friday morning, before the first practice, it's still amazing.  And the rear of Peter & Louise Collins's Ferrari 250 GT appears to be peeking into frame at the left.  Imagine that!  A front-rank driver arriving in his personal car and just parking and walking around the paddock!

The picture captures not just a moment in time but firsts, lasts, and soon-to-be's.  Reims '58 was a kind of marker, although few (maybe nobody) knew it that weekend.

Mike Hawthorn's car was #4, Luigi Musso's was #2, and Wolfgang von Trips's was #6.  Von Trips? Where's Peter Collins's car?  Enzo Ferrari was convinced that Collins had prematurely abandoned his car at LeMans a few weeks before.  So Collins was being punished by being entered only in the Formula 2 race.  Collins prevailed upon Team Manager Romolo Tavoni and Enzo to let him start the Grand Prix, in another Dino wearing #42.  (It must have been shipped from Maranello after the weekend began.) Mike Hawthorn won the GP, von Trips finished 3rd, and Collins finished 5th after recovering from car trouble.  Musso was killed when he went off in Muizon, the very fast sweeper after the pits, trying to catch Hawthorn.  Collins was killed at the Nurburgring a month later.  Hawthorn died in a road accident that winter after winning the World Driving Championship.

This race was Juan Fangio's last Grand Prix, and Phil Hill's first.  Fangio, by then a five-time World Champion, retired from racing after finishing 4th in a Maserati 250 F.  Hill finished 7th in a similar borrowed car.  He had arranged the drive because he was disgusted that Ferrari wasn't letting him race in Grands Prix.  (He had a much better record in Ferrari sports cars than von Trips did.)  After Collins's death, Hill became a regular Grand Prix driver for Ferrari.  One source says that Olivier Gendebien also lost a start in this race to von Trips, which is at least possible.  That's because von Trips started at the back of the grid with no qualifying time: Tavoni did not nominate a driver for #6 until qualifying was over.  1958 was a height, if not the height, of the team politics and driver deaths for which Ferrari was famous in those days.

If you look closely at Hawthorn's car, you can see that it is 4 inches longer in the cockpit area than the other Ferraris.  Enzo did this to accommodate Hawthorn's height.  You can also see subtle differences in the nose cones of the three supposedly identical cars.  Racing cars were truly hand-built in those days.

The Collins 250 GT Spider is itself a notable car.  It was a one-off, done for the 1957 Geneva Auto Show by PininFarina.  Enzo Ferrari personally arranged its sale to Collins at a friendly price because he wanted Collins to stop driving his own Lancia road car and "represent."  Collins had the car fitted with Dunlop disc brakes in England, some say in an effort to demonstrate to Ferrari that they would work and were superior to the drum brakes Ferrari still ran on his racing cars.  So Collins's Spider was the first Ferrari with disc brakes.  But Enzo had nothing to do with it.  By the end of the 1958 season, Ferrari sports cars were being retrofitted with disc brakes.  And his 1959 Grand Prix cars were introduced with discs.

Source: Mon Ami Mate, by Chris Nixon, Transport Bookman Publications, 1998.

The ex-Collins Ferrari 250 GT Spider, as restored to original specification (without disc brakes).  This one-off body
for the 1957 Geneva Auto Show was noted for a header-less windshield (the top attached to the side frames) and its
British roadster-style  cut-down doors.  Compare the rear of this car with the one in the left edge of the photo above.
Collins may have been one of the first of a long string of British "tax exiles," like the Rolling Stones.  He and Louise
lived on his yacht in Monaco harbor in 1958.  It was said that the sight of Louise backing this car down the quay after
a grocery trip into town brought all activity to a halt.

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