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The Race Of Two Worlds

On 29 June 1957, the new banked track at Monza (completed in August 1955) rang to the unfamiliar sound of Offenhauser 4-cylinder and Novi 8-cylin-der racing engines. The occasion? An event organized by the Automobile Club of Italy and intended to pit American Indianapolis cars and drivers against their European GP counterparts.

That was the plan, at least—this "World Series" had been foreseen ever since the completion of the banked track. But when it actually came time to hold the battle the Grand Prix drivers boycotted it, calling the event "too fast" and "too dangerous." Drivers such as Juan Manuel Fangio, Mike Hawthorn, Peter Collins, Stirling Moss, and Harry Schell declined to risk their necks under the conditions presented.

The imported Americans were either less cautious or less enamored of their skins. Ten cars that had participated in the Indianapolis 500 traveled by boat from New York to Genoa and on to Monza, courtesy of lorries supplied by Alfa Romeo. The ten main plus four reserve drivers flew to Milan later. Alfa Romeo also loaned two works mechanics per American car to help in the general preparation.

After the boycott, the only European entries of note were three Ecurie Ecosse D-type Jaguars, to be driven by Jack Fairman, John Lawrence, and Ninian Sanderson. Fairman had been one of the drivers of an XK120 FHC that had circulated the banked track at Montlhery in 1952, and thus he was one of the few European drivers to have some experience on banked corners. Of the American visitors an impressed Fairman wrote, "These Indianapolis professionals and their supporters struck me as being a race apart, extremely keen and efficient people who lived and dreamed track racing to the exclusion of everything else..."

On the Tuesday before the Sunday main event, a few cars took to the track to try it out. Eddie Sachs (Jim Robbins Special) was the only one to get down to a time of one minute. Jimmy Bryan was next up in the Dean Van Lines Special at 1:01.3. Jim Rathmann (a reserve driver in the John Zink Special) saw 1:04.1, and Johnnie Parsons in the Agajanian Special circulated in 1:05.8. Wednesday saw the start of official practice, and each driver had first to complete three laps at an average speed of 185 kph, then do three at 200 kph, and finally another three laps at 225 kph. All these tests completed, the drivers started to find out just how fast they could really push it. Bettenhausen's 500-bhp Novi Special got down under a minute for a blistering 57.7 seconds, and later Eddie Sachs took the Jim Robbins Special to a 56.4-second lap for an average of 168 mph.

On Thursday, matters began to get serious, the Novis in particular going past the pits far faster than anything seen previously in Grand Prix racing. By day's end, Pat O'Connor had completed one lap in 55.7 seconds, marking an average speed of 170.6 mph. The Ecurie Ecosse D-types were out as well, but they'd been forced to limit their speed due to their standard 15-inch-diameter Dunlop road-racing tires. The Americans, meanwhile, had no such problems with their 17-inch track Firestones. At the end of the afternoon, Maserati arrived with two cars for Jean Behra, who was ignoring the Grand Prix drivers' boycott. First he drove a 250F fit with a 3.5-liter V12 and Halibrand rear wheels with Firestone tires. Up front they substituted 7.60-section tires in place of the usual 5.25's but made no attempt to alter the steering or suspension geometry. This made the 250F almost impossible to steer, and Behra could only achieve a 1:03.2. Thus Behra tried the second car, an open 450S sports-racer fit with bigger wheels and tires, and this also proved reluctant to steer. When a rear universal joint seized, Maserati packed up Behra and the two cars and returned to Modena.

The next day saw the Americans really coming to grips with Monza. Linden recorded a shattering 54.6 (174 mph), after which a few of his companions tried without luck to lower the bar still. It was left to Bettenhausen to grab the Novi by the neck and hurl it around the track in a record 53.7, for an average speed of 177.046 mph. Denis Jenkinson, Motor Sport's illustrious continental correspondent, was moved to write, "(The Novis) were going past the pits at a fantastic speed, far higher than anything witnessed before at Monza."

Your author interviewed Troy Ruttman recently who, after handling the Novi, commented, "It was the most powerful car I ever drove. It would smoke the tires at any speed, any time." Not that all the Novi pilots had it so well: Russo, driving the other Novi Special, had the flywheel come out of the clutch housing later on while trying for a record lap, and that, sadly, was his race run.

Meanwhile the Ecurie Ecosse Jaguars were not being disgraced. Fairman recorded a very respectable 59.8 (about 161 mph). Unfortunately for the Scots, instead of being a 500-miler as its title would suggest, the race was run in three 63-lap heats with an hour between each for repairs and maintenance. During practice, the welding gear was much in evidence as the Indy mechanics repaired cracked chassis, broken engine mounts, and twisted shock mountings, all of which were wilting under the pressure of Monza's bumps. The more versatile D-types, on the other hand, could have relied on their endurance to run the entire 500 miles in one go.

Sunday brought the race proper. Nine American cars and drivers headed the grid with the Ecurie Ecosse Jaguars bringing up the rear. An Alfa Romeo Giulietta was the pace car for the rolling start, and a waving Italian flag signaled the beginning of the race. But as Rathmann recalls, "We weren't used to flag starts. This fat guy stepped to the side of track and waved a big flag, and suddenly Fairman took off into the distance! Me and Jimmy Bryan looked at each other and decided it was time to go." Sure enough, Jack Fairman made the most of his chance and the Jaguar's 4-speed gearbox, leading through the opening lap. The Indianapolis cars used a 2-speed transmission and needed time to get rolling.

But it was not to last. Jack Fairman again: "On leaving the banking at the end of the first lap, a quick glance in my mirror showed nothing but bare concrete, which was astonishing. For a ghastly moment I thought there had been a false start and that I was the only idiot pressing on. But nobody waved a red flag, so I kept going." The next time around was a very different story: Bryan, Sachs, O'Connor, and Bettenhausen came off the North Banking four abreast as they howled down on Fairman, whom they quickly overtook. Soon afterwards, the D-type was once again relegated to the back of the pack.

Bettenhausen, having taken the lead, shot into the pits on the fourth lap when his throttle linkage broke. O'Connor and Bryan now dueled side by side for the next 20 laps, with Eddie Sachs pulling up to them as they lapped at over 160 mph. Bettenhausen later rejoined the race, by which time Jimmy Bryan had pulled away from O’Connor and Sachs. Linden passed Sachs when his car began to give trouble, and managed to catch but not pass O’Connor. O’Connor fought back, and had closed to within three seconds of Bryan at an average speed of 162.5 mph.

Apart from Jimmy Bryan’s Dean Van Lines Special, the Jags were the only cars not to need work before the second heat. This time the Americans bunched together at the start to ensure that Fairman didn’t have another moment of glory. Ruttman, O’Connor, Sachs, and Bryan were so close it was difficult to see in exactly which places they were running at first, but then Ruttman drew away, only to be caught again by O’Connor and Sachs with Bryan bringing up the rear. Fairman, however, was not to be disgraced, his D-type somehow hanging onto the American cars. O’Connor retired after 16 laps when his fuel tank split, and Sachs seemed to have everything in hand until the 41st lap when Jimmy Bryan sped up and caught him. Sachs soon pulled into his pits, two studs in the cam-box having sheared. In the end, Ruttman followed the victorious Bryan home with Parsons and Crawford third and fourth. Once again, all three Jaguars finished albeit far from the glory.

And so on to the last heat. This time Bryan and Ruttman led with Parsons and Lawrence following and the three D-types running next. Sachs and Crawford were still having their cars tended to in the pits. Fairman held fourth for a while but then, in respect for his Dunlops, had to give way to Parsons. O’Connor retired after just eight laps – again a split fuel tank – and soon Bryan and Ruttman were fighting for the lead. Both contenders lapped regularly at under 58 seconds, and while Ruttman came out the winner of the heat, Bryan proved the overall victor that day. His average speed was more than 160 mph for 500 miles. Ruttman and Parsons finished second and third while the highly reliable Jags nailed down the next three places.

1957 MONZA 500 MILES
1: J. Bryan, 189 laps (Dean Van Lines Special, 4.2-liters) 257.504 kph
2: T. Ruttman, 187 laps (John Zink Special, 4.2-liters)
3: J. Parsons, 182 laps (Agajanian Special, 4.2-liters)
4: J. Fairman, 177 laps (Jaguar D, 3.5-liters)
5: J. Lawrence, 171 laps (Jaguar D, 3.8-liters)
6: N. Sanderson, 159 laps (Jaguar D, 3.5-liters)
7: R. Crawford, 117 laps (Meguiar’s Mirror Glaze Special, 4.2-liters)
8: E. Sachs, 107 laps (Jim Robbins Special, 4.2-liters)

The crowd left Monza knowing they’d seen a spectacular demonstration of speed – and Europe’s GP drivers, duly chastened, vowed to join them next time.

That opportunity came 12 months later. Motor Sport captioned their report “Europe has a bit of a go,” and sure enough the Continentals had swallowed their pride, noted just how much prize money was available, and built some cars specifically for the 1958 running of the Monza 500.

Maserati’s entry was financed by M. Zanetti, the head of the Eldorado Ice Cream Company. The Modenese firm constructed a space-frame single-seater into which was inserted a 4.2-liter, alcohol-burning 4-cam V8. Suspension at the front was by double wishbones and coil springs while a de Dion tube was used at the rear. Behind the wheel would be no less a talent than Stirling Moss.

Ferrari, too, was cajoled to join in – they had to enter a car at this race to be eligible for the Automobile Club of Italy’s annual cash prize to the country’s most successful constructor! Thus the Maranello crew resurrected the designs for their 1951 4.5-liter V12 GP car, cut the transmission (in unit with the de Dion rear suspension) down to three gears, and dropped in one of their sportscar engines from the previous year, a 4-cam V12 with 24 sparkplugs and six twin-choke Webers. Ferrari also entered a current Dino F1 car modified with a 3-liter V6, twin dampers at each corner, and stronger springs and wishbones. Luigi Musso, Phil Hill, and Mike Hawthorne were the team drivers. Luigi Chinetti entered a “very old and tired” (Jenkinson) 1952, 4.5-liter GP Ferrari with, it was observed, a 4.1-liter V12 installed.

Ecurie Ecosse, having the benefit of experiencing the race a year before, took a different approach in 1958. They started with a Lister chassis, inserted a 3.8-liter D-type engine, placed single-seat bodywork on top, and used Dunlop peg-drive wheels up front with oversized wire wheels at the rear carrying special Firestone track tires. Ecurie Ecosse also entered two D-types with special airscoops fit over the right rear wheels to try to keep tire temperatures down. Jack Fairman would drive the Lister while Masten Gregory and Ivor Bueb handled the D-types. A total of seven European cars faced 12 American Indy machines, all powered by the ubiquitous 4.2-liter Offenhauser engine but each displaying subtle differences of design.

Fangio had been lent one of the American cars – the Dean Van Lines Special – and on the Wednesday before the event he set the ball rolling by posting a lap at over 167 mph. Jim Rathmann countered with a 54.4-second circuit, or 174 mph! Rathmann proved it was no fluke, either. When he went out again, he was halfway through a series of laps at that speed when unfortunately the Zink Leader Card Special burned a piston. Rathmann had to kill the ignition to save his engine.

On Thursday, rain interrupted the proceedings, but Stirling Moss took the Eldorado Maserati out anyway and was soon turning laps at over 145 mph – a performance which the Americans raised a respectful hat to. If it rained on Sunday, they said, they might as well go home! Luckily for the Indy crew, the weather went dry at 4:00 p.m. the next day, so practice and qualifying took place as scheduled.

To qualify, each driver had to post three consecutive laps at speed. Fangio started things off with a hot 55.2-second (172.2 mph) lap, and then Musso took the big Ferrari around in an equally laudable 55.3 (171.9). In contrast the fastest Americans were between two and four seconds off that pace, and it became clear to them that this year they had a real race on their hands.

Saturday morning dawned clear and qualifying continued. Veith took the Bowes Seal-Fast Special to a 54.0-second (176 mph) lap, responding to the Europeans’ threat. After lunch, Maurice Trintignant drove the USAC Sclavi & Amos Special roadster to 160.7, but then Musso took out the big Ferrari and, in an incredible show of courage, posted 174.5 mph! To accomplish it, he had daylight showing beneath the wheels and carried full opposite-lock slides at the top of the banking. (While his bravery was admired by all, Luigi Musso would die at Reims the following week.)

Phil Hill and Mike Hawthorn both tried the same Ferrari later but neither could approach Musso’s demon time. Bob Veith and Jimmy Sachs also tried to beat the high mark, but while Veith was a tenth of a second off the pace, Sachs could do no better than 171.4.

Sunday was fine and clear for race day, and once again the event was to be run in three 63-lap heats. An hour and a half was scheduled for repairs and maintenance between heats. Just before the start, Fangio’s Dean Van Lines Special was found to have a cracked piston and so was wheeled off the grid to the garages, where the mechanics set upon it in a frenzy. The grid formed up in the following order:

Veith Musso, (Bowes Seal0Fast) (Ferrari 4.1), 278.857 kph 281.077 kph
Sachs Fangio (DNS), (Jim Robbins Special) (Dean Special), 275.841 kph 275.841 kph
Bryan Freeland, (Belond AP) (Estates Special), 275.014 kph 275.180 kph
Thomson Rathmann, (D.A. Lubricant) (Zink Special), 269.682 kph 274.521 kph
Ruttman Ward, (Agajanian Special) (Wolcott Special), 268.578 kph 268.735 kph
Crawford Moss, (Meguiar’s Special) (Eld.-Maserati), 363.641 kph 264.553 kph
Hill Reece, (Ferrari V6) (Hoyt Special), 259.468 kph 263.188 kph
Gregory Trintignant, (Jaguar D) (Sc. & Amos), 254.293 kph 258.591 kph
Schell Fairman, (Ferrari 4.1) (Lister-Jaguar), 245.586 kph 246.376 kph
Bueb, (Jaguar D), 241.96 kph

A Ford Fairlane was the pace car this time, and at the start Musso tore away with Sachs, Rathmann, Bryan, and Freeland in the first bunch of cars. Behind them came Phil Hill in the Dino F1 Ferrari ahead of Veith, Thomson, and Moss. Lap 3 saw Sachs catch up to Musso and the pair battled wheel to wheel around the bankings with Rathmann just behind.

On Lap 8, Rathmann moved ahead of Musso and Sachs, and the sight of these three lapping several slower cars on the pit straight made an unforgettable spectacle for the crowd. At the height of the battle Musso would lead, then Rathmann. The leaders’ average speeds were in the region of 170 mph – the crowd had never seen racing like this before!

By Lap 17, Eddie Sachs was up with Rathmann, Musso close behind, but three laps later Sachs was out of it, coasting into the pits with a conrod poking out the side of his Offenhauser’s block. Jimmy Bryan inherited second place, and by now poor Musso was giving his pit crew signs of fatigue. On lap 26, he came into the pits and staggered out of the Ferrari which had taken all his strength to drive at such fantastic speeds. Mike Hawthorn took over, but he couldn’t match the Italian’s times and steadily dropped back.

The order was now Rathmann (Zink Leader Card Special), Bryan (Belond Special), Moss (Eldorado-Maserati), and Veith (Bowes Seal-Fast Special). Ruttman and Thomson were next, having been locked in a wheel-to-wheel battle since the start of the heat.

Rathmann still held the lead on Lap 47 when Veith caught and passed Moss and Troy Ruttman. On Lap 52, Rathmann lapped Moss, and in doing so he towed fellow Indy expert Ruttman past Stirling for fourth place. On Lap 57, Ruttman displaced Veith for third, but then the Agajanian Special began running low on fuel and pitted, dropping Ruttman back down to seventh. Rathmann thus came out the winner of the heat.

Ninety minutes later, Fangio’s Dean Van Lines Special was still being worked on, so the grid for the second heat was exactly the order of the first heat’s finish. Luigi Villoresi drove this heat’s Lancia Spyder pace car. As it peeled off into the pits, Jim Rathmann had no trouble taking the lead with Veith, Musso, Bryan, and Moss scrapping over second place. After 12 laps, Bryan had dropped back and Veith pulled away from the Europeans. After seven more, Musso stopped for fuel and tires and Phil Hill took over the car while Moss settled into third.

On Lap 24, Stirling finally began taking the big Maserati to its full potential. The Englishman drew up to Bryan and Ruttman and for the next 21 laps this trio blasted along at more than 168 mph, lapping the smaller fry. At one memorable point, they even passed Foyt, Reece, and Crawford as they themselves prepared to lap Fairman, all in front of the main grandstand.

Still Rathmann held onto his lead, and when Moss saw on Lap 55 that his tires were almost down to the canvas he eased off to finish in fifth. Rathmann won again with Veith in second, Bryan in third, and Ruttman fourth. Poor Jack Fairman’s Jag expired as he crossed the finish line.

Fairman, it turned out, would be unable to start the third heat. So were Ward (broken chassis) and Thomson (crankshaft failure). On the other hand, for this final leg, Fangio was able to start, albeit from the back of the grid. This time as the race got underway, everyone got moving quickly except for Stirling Moss whose Maserati was now having gearbox troubles. Eventually Moss was off after losing half a lap, but Rathmann was leading again with Bryan and Veith trying to nudge in.

For 18 laps these three fought it out, but it was always Rathmann who had a little extra something in hand to keep crossing the line first. (A good thing, too, as prize money was awarded each time.) The three leaders were lapping at 171+ this time out – at one point the trio lapped Moss who was “puttering along” at 165!

On Lap 29, Bob Veith dropped back (and soon retired) with a broken stub axle and Jimmy Bryan fell slowly into a more distant second place. The order now was Rathmann, Bryan, Foyt, Moss, Crawford, Hill, Reece, and Bueb, Fangio having retired earlier with a broken fuel pump. On Lap 44, poor Moss had the steering break on the big Maser and the car hit the wall, blowing out both righthand tires before spinning down the banking to a stop. Moss emerged from the crippled machine shaken and pale but unhurt.

Jim Rathmann once again took the heat, and naturally he clinched the entire race as well. Rathmann averaged 166.756 mph, making it far and away the fastest closed-course race to date. Indeed, except for American track races such as Indianapolis and those in the NASCAR series, few others have been run at this speed even today!

1958 MONZA 500
1: J. Rathmann (Leader Card Special, 4.2-liters)
2: J. Bryan (Belond AP Special, 4.2-liters)
3: Musso/Hill/Hawthorn (Ferrari, 4.1-liters)
4: R. Crawford (Meguiar’s Mirror Glaze Special, 4.2-liters)
5: J. Reece (Hoyt Machine Special, 4.2-liters)

The Monza 500 was not run again – a shame in this author’s opinion, as the spectacle, color, and sheer speed of the race must have made it a favorite with spectators. Why not organize a historic re-run on the old banking?

Site Contents © John Starkey 2004