Atlas F1   Rear View Mirror

Backward glances at racing history

Disjointed Thoughts and
Other Excuses from Our Scribe...
by Don Capps, U.S.A.

1963: Clark X 7 and Other Musings

I really hate it when I sit down to write this column thinking I am going to write on one topic and then I end up writing on something entirely different. I had all the good intentions in the world of following up where I wandered off last time - Ferrari as a Grand Prix wannabee, when I meandered off into another dimension.

Guess what? It happened again!

You see, I was actually going to talk about my favorite Ferrari Grand Prix cars - the Dino 156 vee-sixes from 1961 - when I made the mistake of taking along my copy of Big Lou Stanley's GRAND PRIX World Championship 1963 (and a few other items to read...) when I went on the road for a few days on business. I really hadn't given 1963 that much thought lately. But, for about two days, 1963 was nearly all I thought about. Well, not really, but when I sat down to finally hammer out this RVM column, my mind kept drifting back to 1963.

It was an odd year, really. Quick, what do the Monaco, German, and US Grands Prix have in common for that year? Easy, they were the only races in the World Championship series that Jim Clark DIDN'T win! Really! Graham Hill won the Monaco and US races while John Surtees won the German race. Clark won the other SEVEN.

The fastest lap in the German race, set by Surtees, was 8min 47.0sec: and, I didn't even have to look it up! Funny how after all these years I still can remember that! And Gerhard Mitter (who?) was fourth in a Porsche 718/2 entered under the Ecurie Maarsbergen name by that most interesting and fascinating of Dutch racers, Carel Godin de Beaufort. And I even remembered that!

Joakim Bonnier managed to finish in sixth place in the German race even though there were several tubes that were broken in the chassis of the Rob Walker Cooper. And Jim Hall - yes, Jim 'Chaparral' Hall! - finished fifth in his Lotus 24 - BRM entered by the British Racing Partnership. Clark finished second with an engine that was barely hanging to together. During most of the race it was on only seven cylinders and at the end it was supposedly only firing on perhaps five or six cylinders. And Clark still managed to hang close to Surtees until it was apparent that the engine was simply waiting to find an inconvenient place to die. It was at this point that many started to truly believe that Clark had supernatural powers. That engine was simply incapable of running, but it got Clark home in second position.

That Fearless John won was a great relief to everyone. Had he not won the race, it was Game, Set, Match for Lotus and Clark. That Surtees won for Ferrari for its first Grand Prix race in more than a few months also did not go unnoticed. And it was a very peculiar looking Ferrari in many ways. The suspension was very similar to that of the Lola 4 which Surtees had driven during the 1962 season. And the chassis actually seemed to work for a change rather than merely being a support mechanism for the engine and transmission.

The previous race that had someone besides Clark as the winner was Monaco. And it was only wretched luck Clark didn't win that race for Lotus.

At Monaco, Jack Brabham drove a Team Lotus type 25 when the Climax FWMV in his own Brabham BT3 developed a death rattle. Then as the mechanics were preparing to drop the spare into the Brabham chassis, the Climax in the Dan Gurney chassis made some gruesome noises and ceased to function. After a round of oaths - highlighted by the excessive use of The Great Australian Adjective (as reported by a certain Henry N. Manney, III), they knuckled down to the business at hand. An attempt to get another one of the Climax vee-eights to Monaco ended in frustration when severe weather (snowstorms!) in Northern France prevented the Brabham Cessna from flying out of Nice to collect another engine and return in time for the race. So, a deal was worked out and Brabham started at the rear of the grid in a car he never even sat in until the last few minutes of practice. Ah, yes! I can just see Ron telling Frank that Ralf can have the spare chassis for the race...or Jean letting Mika use the spare since his last engine was now in Mechanical Heaven.

One major change at Monaco that year was the start finish line was moved to its current (more or less) location from the Quai Albert Premier on the harbor. Once upon a time the Hotel Bristol was located just about where the start line is. It was turned into an apartment complex in the early 1960's or so. I think. Maybe it was the late 1950's. Anyway, there was once a hotel across from the pits that many of the drivers and team members stayed. They would walk out of the hotel, turn right and walk down to the Virage des Gazometres and then into the pits and the grid. Another book I just happened to take with me was Peter Garnier's 16 on the Grid: the Anatomy of a Grand Prix. The race it examined was - how did you ever guess? - the 1963 Grand Prix de Monaco.

At Spa-Francorchamps that year, they had a bout of weather that would have halted the race these days - and almost did so then. The day started with heavy showers and thunderstorms throughout the region. In the hours prior to the start, it was dry in the pit area, but the streets of Spa itself were flooded! Clark did not start from the pole, but on the outside of the THIRD row of the 3 x 2 x 3 grid. When the flag was dropped, a green car seemed to rocket past everyone and lead the field going up the hill. The sun had appeared for the start of the race, but was soon replaced by dark, nasty clouds.

There was a fair amount of bumper cars in the early laps. One incident saw Lucien Bianchi in his Reg Parnell Lola dive under the (even then elderly) Porsche of Carel de Beaufort. They touched and Bianchi spun and was soundly punted by the orange Porsche. Bianchi stalled the Lola and sat there blocking a portion of the track, particularly the part in front of de Beaufort. The Dutchman couldn't find reverse (there were dark rumors to the effect that the Porsche gearbox didn't have a reverse gear) and so de Beaufort merely drove through the fiberglass nose of the Lola and went upon his merry way! The Good Ol' Days!

The clouds eventually opened up and reduced visibility to virtually zero. This merely made life all the more interesting for Clark. The ZF gearbox was acting up - at Monte Carlo it had selected two gears at once rather the one Clark wanted - and Clark was holding it in gear as he raced around the 14.1km circuit. Indeed, he sat the fastest lap while the gearbox had to be held in gear the entire lap. Think about that for just a minute. I was impressed then and I am still impressed even today.

Clark was soon reduced to navigating by the telephone poles lining the circuit! The circuit was awash in many places. On the Masta straight, Bianchi - now with a replacement nose on the Lola - hit a small river and skated off the track and through a hedge into the side of a house. Naturally, he hit the house nose first. Tony Settember - driving an atrocious beast called a 'Scirocco' (a bitsa sort of thing cobbled together by Paul Emery of 'Emeryson' fame) - followed suit on the same piece of track but after flying through a hedge didn't collect a house.

Josef Siffert left the road at Blanchimont and was fortunate to emerge alive much less escaping any serious injury. Tony Maggs, then running in third place, spun his Cooper and hit a woodpile! The car was heaved back off the offending stack of firewood by Maggs. His reverse actually worked so he was able to get back to the track. The car was able to continue once on the track and Maggs limped back to the pits for new goggles (! - personally I would have needed a new set of overalls after something like that, but they were Different 'Back Then') but then returned when the oil cooler wasn't working any more - mostly because there wasn't an oil cooler to cool the oil! The collision with the woodpile loosed it and it fell off on the last long, slow lap Maggs made around the track.

With nearly a half dozen laps left in the race - it was over a distance of 32 laps or a tad over 450km - both Colin Chapman and Tony Rudd pleaded with the race organizers to halt the race. Their appeal fell on deaf ears and the race ground out the full distance, although only six cars were left to take the very soggy checkered flag. Clark crossed the line nearly five minutes ahead of the Cooper of Bruce McLaren.

It was an amazing performance by Clark. However, most of the opposition were now praying that the dreaded Lotus Unreliability would strike and strike often since it did not look good for the mere Mortals.

As an aside, the tires Clark used at Spa were used at Zandvoort and then at Reims for the French Grand Prix - or for us purists, the Grand Prix de l'Automobile Club de France. The tires were used in all the practice sessions and in the three races - all of which Clark won. They were replaced for the British Grand Prix although it was thought that they were capable of running another race. What was remarkable about the tires was that the wear was virtually even on all four. The Stuff of Legends....

Perhaps the high point of the season was Clark and the Dutch police getting into a Serious Disagreement at Zandvoort. Clark was watching the opposition at the Hunze Rug corner when he was accosted by a policeman demanding an explanation of what did he think he was doing there? Where was his circuit pass? Was the young man trespassing? Clark took exception to the attention of the by now several policemen and when one grabbed him, Clark resisted. Only Fate intervened to spare him being clubbed about the head and ears. It took some fancy footwork by the track president, J. H, van Haaren, to prevent Clark from spending time in the local detention facilities - including the race! Several times were disappointed that his efforts were successful...

And then there is Tex Hopkins in his lavender outfit - and massive cigar - at Watkins Glen...

Enough, already! I will try to do better next time. Until then, Ciao!

Don Capps© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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