On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff
DENIS JENKINSON, Jenks, was a premiere motor sports journalists from the 1950s until his death at age 75 in 1996. A bearded gnome of a guy, he was larger than life in so many other ways.
Jenks began his racing career on post-war sidecar motorcycles: He performed the “monkey” role, climbing around these three-wheeled racing machines to optimize their handling. Later, he navigated for Stirling Moss in a record-setting victory in the 1955 Millie Miglia. And, in 1959 his book Grand Prix Cars was a concise 134-page history of this pinnacle of motor sports.
Here are tidbits gleaned from Jenks’ book, together with citations of Grand Prix history already seen at SimanaitisSays.
The Earliest Grands Prix. Jenks wrote, “In the early days of racing the classification of the competing cars was pretty much free-for-all, but from 1902—and specifically for the Gordon Bennet race—the competing cars had to comply with a formula decided upon by an International body of representatives from those countries interested in motor racing.”
Those Muddled Pre-war Formulae. Jenks noted, “… rules were changed every few years seemingly in the light of previous experience, but more often than not through the eternal unending French cry of ‘too fast.’ ”
“Although the German cars of the 1934–1939 period showed enormous technical advances, especially as regards engine design and supercharging knowledge, and provided some truly homeric racing, they look very crude and unimaginative beside the Grand Prix cars of today.
Of course, “today” in Jenks’ context refers to the 2.5-liter era, 1954–1960.
“In 1939 when European racing ceased for the war,” Jenks wrote, “the supercharged 1 1/2-litre car, as exemplified by the quite small Alfa Romeo, was just beginning to show its possibilities.”
Early Post-war Grands Prix. As described in “Alfa Romeo Versus Ferrari,” here at SimanaitisSays, Grand Prix racing received international recognition in 1950 with establishment of the World Drivers’ Championship. Then, abruptly, at the end of the 1951 season, Alfa withdrew leaving Ferrari utterly dominant in Formula 1.
A new 2.5-liter limit beginning in 1954 was already on the books, so in the meantime organizers chose to run Grands Prix to Formula 2 rules for the interim two years.
Formula 2 Evolves into the New Formula 1. Jenks observed, “Formula 2 had been quite active for some time before it became the most important type of racing, and during 1951, when it was playing the part of ‘voiturette’ racing to the really fast cars, the 12-cylinder 2-litre Ferrari had often been seriously challenged by an English team known as HWM, the initials of the garage [Hersham and Walton Motors] in which they were designed and built.”
Jenks noted, “The team was a private venture financed by John Heath and had a chassis designed by him using a number of stock components, such as the front suspension from M.G., steering from Morris Minor and other components from Standard Vanguard, and an Armstrong-Siddeley pre-selector gearbox.”
As described here at SimanaitisSays, Stirling Moss was an important member of the HWM team at the time.
Maserati was another entrant in Grands Prix during this Formula 2 period. As Jenks noted, its 6-cylinder 2.0-liter racing car developed into the successful Maserati 250F.
Also, Jenks noted, “From France came Gordini with his very effective little 6-cylinder 2-litre cars that had been developed from his earlier 1 1/2-litre ‘voiturette’ racing cars.”
Enhanced Chassis and Suspensions. “With so many small firms engaged in racing,” Jenks observed, “there was never a lack of entries for all the Grand Prix races held during the season, and though engine design lagged badly, there was a great deal of progress made in chassis and suspension design.”
Jenks described, “Among the many things that were developed during the season were light alloy wheels, improved brake drums, the development of bi-metal drums, lightweight construction of suspension parts compared with the usual heavy forgings currently in use and other ways of weight saving such as the use of light alloy radiators, and welded fuel tanks instead of the heavier type of riveted tank.”
These technical enhancements of chassis and suspension were soon wedded with 2.5-liter power, both of which made Grand Prix from 1954 to 1960 so very exciting.
Thanks, Jenks, for putting things in perspective. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022
Always enjoy your posts. Jenks’ Glossary in his Directory of Historic Racing Cars is still relevant today.
I’ve just re-read this treasure from Jenks. It’s a timeless look back to the very best period of motor sports. Every book Jenks authored takes me back like few others.