When I hit the wall, made of two-ton concrete blocks, it hurt. The car stopped dead with the engine underneath it, hard up to the broken wall. My right shinbone had a couple of hairline cracks and it was six weeks before I could walk. But I could still drive – just. A physiotherapist enabled me to win the race five days later.
That’s Tony Dron, in a Triumph Dolomite, in 1977. Imagine what he could do in a Mercedes W125, the most powerful unturbocharged Grand Prix car and the most powerful altogether between its birth in 1937 and the election of Margaret Thatcher:
So far so good. I have braked, changed down with heel-toe action while double-declutching, and turned into a corner. Now I open the throttle, smoothly but deliberately: the engine roars, delivering a vicious mountain of torque, the wheels spin again and the tail slides out. It is violent and tricky…
Here he is doing just this at Donington last month:
The racing rule-makers of the day had made a mistake, thinking their imposed maximum weight limit of 750kg (1,653lb) would keep power and speed within reasonable bounds. They had no idea that German engineers had the ability to design a chassis that could cope with more than 600bhp, let alone a 5.6-litre supercharged straight-eight engine that produced such power.
1937 was still what most Europeans could call “peacetime”, and never more or less so, if you see what I mean, at the Grand Prix races of that year. Bern Rosemeyer recounts what he did when his wheel fell off at Coppa Acerbo (“..so then I had to drive the last 300m on the brake drum..”):
In 1962, the car celebrated its quarter century by returning to the ‘Ring in the hands of one of its original drivers, Herman Lang. The late – most regrettably, the late – Graham Hill talks us round the terrifying circuit whilst we hang on to the steering wheel and pray: