Between the wars, when auto racing in Britain was a gentleman's pastime, a race weekend without champagne was unthinkable. An English car that finished higher in Grand Prix events than an Italian, French or German auto was unthinkable, too. But the English became serious a few years ago. Four of the five Grand Prix world championships (there has been an official title only since 1958) have been won by their cars, and Britain should win again in 1963. The rivalry between U.K. firms, in fact, has grown intense. If there is any serious opposition to British makes, it will come only from Italy, where a revitalized Ferrari and the new, promising ATS (Automobili Turismo Sport) team will be at each other's throats—as well as at the Briton's.
A tour of today's racing Britain logically starts at Bourne, a three-hour drive north from London. There, in a cluster of small drafty old structures, is built the BRM (British Racing Motors), the world-champion car for 1962 and the equipage of the Champion Driver Graham Hill. At Bourne, BRM's chief engineer and racing manager, Tony Rudd, wanted mostly to talk about 1962, but promised a much-improved BRM for 1963. Not so fast last season as the smaller, lighter British Lotus, BRM won on greater reliability.
"We had a new, lighter chassis with a more powerful engine for the last race," Rudd said. "We were confident that it was as fast as the Lotus. Unfortunately for us, the engine blew in practice. Unfortunately for Lotus, their best car failed while leading the race.
"Our 1963 cars will be still lighter, mainly due to a new, smaller gearbox, and we have a still more powerful engine." With Graham Hill and the fine American, Richie Ginther, driving, BRM is the conservative man's best bet for 1963.
There is nothing conservative about Lotus. Lotus racing cars, built in a hectic, brick-fronted works in Hertfordshire, an hour from Piccadilly Circus, express the restless brilliance of their designer, Colin Chapman. A blue-eyed, mustached man of only 34, Chapman possesses a certain brisk charm, but he is also capable of major rudeness. Certainly he is the most daring of the Grand Prix builders. His cars are invariably the lowest and lightest around. In 1962 they were easily the fastest. They were also, however, very brittle.
Chapman's novel one-unit chassis (the British call it "monocoque") was the sensation of 1962. It was a sort of shallow bathtub to which the engine and gearbox were attached at the rear. All other builders turned out what has become the orthodox Grand Prix design, based on a tubular space frame, but of course with rear-mounted engines.
Of the major builders, Chapman probably will have the only monocoque car again in 1963. He says his 1963 model will be little changed, except for modifications to the suspension system. Jimmy Clark, the Scottish farmer who came close to winning the 1962 championship for Lotus, will again be No. 1 driver and Trevor Taylor again No. 2.
Like all other British builders except BRM, Lotus employs the Coventry-Climax V-8. There was dismay last fall when Coventry-Climax announced that it would stop building the engine. After frantic appeals the firm relented but will sharply reduce production—and double the price to about $15,000.
At his tiny, frigid shop in Surbiton, a suburb south of London, solid John Cooper was ecstatic about the new Climax engines in his Grand Prix cars.
"The best we had from the Climax last year was 175 hp," said Cooper. "Now we have a new short-stroke fuel-injected Climax that should develop at least 200 hp. Later on the engine will be fitted with four valves per cylinder instead of two and will put out additional power.