Words and pictures by Billy Dulles
The 500km race was open to prototypes, sports and saloons.
We stripped down the engine of 270 DGJ, actually Tim Lalonde's engine, and found nothing really wrong with it that a pre-race teardown wouldn't cover. So I asked him if he had any plans for it, and if not could we borrow it for the 500 Ks. He seemed happy to do so, on a 'U bend it U mend it' basis and it saved us the expense of building another race engine. I bought a new Weber 45 DCOE and long inlet manifold, which worked better than short ones normally fitted to Minis, and retired the SUs.
The single Weber in fact never produced more power than a properly jetted SU on the bench but the Weber, with its centrally located dual float-chamber, didn't suffer from fuel surge, a characteristic of transversely mounted engines. Richard Miles, London agents for Downton Engineering, jetted the Weber for us. We changed the 5th gear set on the Colotti box, which looked a little pitted, as a precaution, and wrote letters to Castrol, Shell, Ferodo, Dunlop & Champion for a little sponsorship. They all came in with something, oil and cash from Castrol, vouchers for as much gasoline as we could want from Shell, Ferodo sets of pads, Dunlop a 60% discount on tyres, which put them at a price cheaper than road tyres. No wonder people ran their trailers on worn Dunlop Racers. Champion gave us boxes and boxes of plugs, although I think we used mostly KLG. That's how sponsorship worked in those days.
Dave Meer was taking his Cooper S. Jeremy Delmar-Morgan was fielding a team of Jems. Mike Pigneguy from Richard Miles was spannering for D. Meer and Mick was taking another unpaid leave of absence to help me. So we felt we were in good shape to go racing, a bunch of friends were going out too and we had accommodation booked in a farm B. & B. a few miles from the circuit in the Black Forest. Jeremy and I had known each other at school, he was going out with Nicky Eden-Smith, whom he subsequently married. Nicky did the accounts at John Sprinzel's and also helped out in the Spares dept there. Ron Parkes used to work for Paul Emery on the Emery GT and Emery's version of the Twin Min and was now either in partnership or working for Jeremy.
Somehow word had got around that we were hard on trailers and nobody was too keen to lend us one. But I think Mike Pigneguy lent us his which he had made from a Mini rear sub frame, so I drilled two holes in the rear bumper of my 1949 Cadillac Fleetwood and simply bolted the tow hitch on. Voila! This time we were going in style, even if tow speed would be limited. The cavernous boot was full of spares and tool boxes, and there was even room for luggage.
The great thing about the 14km Mountain Circuit is that you could pay to do as many laps as you could afford, when there is no racing activity, so as soon as we got there we went round in the tow car to try and learn it. Both Dave Meer and Mike Pigneguy had raced there before and pointed out what lines to take, but they saw it from the point of view of a Mini Cooper S saloon, which was a good starting point until I got my groove. The Marcos was potentially faster, but had a few quirks of its own. See the wheel attitudes in the photos.
In the event I did not get to practice much as I burst a rear tyre due the sidewall rubbing on the inner wheel arch. I spun off at the horseshoe bend at the end of the start/finish straight after a couple of laps and had to wait for practice to finish before getting back to the paddock.
We then scrounged a piece of aluminum and hand cut a wheel spacer. This is why the rear of the car is on a jack in the Klaus Tweddell picture.
Practice the next day was shorter and although I got a time I started well down the grid. The hot money was on the Alpine 210 streamliners and the very pretty Abarth Simca 1300 in the prototype class.
It was a Le Mans start and I left the car in gear and the door unlatched. I don't think we bothered with seatbelts in 1966. What would they have been attached to anyway?
I got a fantastic start, I just jumped in, hit the button, dropped the clutch and let inertia slam the door. I had got to about mid field when Ian Alexander in a Diva was either struck or was struck by another car. Cars were spinning every where behind the Alpines and the Abarth SPs. I managed to weave through this mess and followed the leaders as best I could. Suddenly there were yellow flags everywhere and I think Mauro Bianchi had come off, probably at the little Karrussel, and taken another Alpine, Vinatier or Grandsire with him and I think an Abarth. But I also managed to clear that wreckage. So I think on the first lap I may have been in third or fourth position, not a position I was likely to keep as the combined might of Abarth and Alpine overhauled me.
There is picture of me just airborne. Basically I just kept my foot flat down all the way round the circuit except for the Karrussel and the Kleiner Karrussel. I was having fun and putting in some respectable times. Then I noticed Dave Meer parked by the side of the road at Fuchsore and the following lap fatally losing oil pressure I decided to retire. But I carried on for the rest of the lap and stopped to pick up David. A silly decision really, because coming down towards the Audenau Bridge I lost ALL the oil pressure.
I wasn't fast enough shutting off to prevent a con rod going and coasted down the hill trailing a plume of oil smoke.
Fortunately there was a little bar down there and we drowned our sorrows until Mick & Mike came looking for us.
Mick took one look at my tachometer and said "What's all this 8,500 rpm stuff Billy?" I had a chronometric tachometer like the Formula III boys with a tell-tale. So the consequences of my overenthusiastic start had caught up with me.
We agreed on a rev limit of 7,000 for long distance racing but braver souls would rev to 9,000 in a sprint race at the risk of bending rods on the long stroke engine. Chronometric tachs. were always a little behind on rising revs so in reality I was probably doing 9,000 past the pits at the start.
I collected enough start money to cover our expenses, and in fact I always maintained it made better sense to go racing on the Continent rather than paying 15 quid entry fee for a Club meeting at Brands Hatch and end up out of pocket.
Well that was my theory, but you know the saying about 'many a slip betwixt cup and lip' or something like that. We set off for the ferry, Zeebrugge or Ostend. We were pretty bushed and I didn't feel like driving any more so I let Mick take the wheel and dozed off full length in the back of the Cadillac. Oh and did I mention that Mick was a hopeless driver, but I was too tired to care. As I slept I could feel the speed rising, and the trailer swaying a bit. Then I heard a loud Pop and the trailer was swaying all over the Autobahn, but Mick managed to pull in to the side. The trailer tyre was shredded and the rim buckled. We carried no spare but thought, as we set out, if we needed to we could just use one of the racer spares. It was there that we noticed that the offset of the rim was wrong and the wheel fouled the suspension. This meant buying a tyre so we unhitched the trailer and drove to the next service station on the Autobahn. No 5.20 x 10 to be found in Germany. They rang around and told us we had to go to Belgium to buy a tyre. This really worried us as we were concerned that we would get back to find a stripped car if anything at all. With a sinking feeling we went into Belgium, bought a tyre and drove back to where we had left the Marcos. Behold it was still there untouched and intact!
British Customs gave us a lot of hassle at Dover. Searched the car for booze and cigarettes and then asked us where we bought our tools and had we had the car modified while abroad. Fed up; we said "YES we blew up the engine!"
We were on thin ice here as we had RAC International Carnets for the car and a separate one for the engine to go racing abroad. They took a dim view if you swapped engines and the numbers didn't match. This was a perpetual nuisance as every time we machined a block or faced it to get the correct piston height one had to remove the engine number held on with two rivets. The aluminum tag often got mangled on removal and didn't look good when replaced. BMC made it very difficult to purchase the rivets, in fact a sort of driven in spiral screw, which was not designed to be removed, and we sometimes had to resort to a little imaginative epoxy.
I did discover a machine at Paddington Station, next to the I Speak Your Weight machine, (yes this really existed) that for an old pre-decimal Penny would make a very acceptable embossed aluminum tag similar to a BMC engine tag. You swung an arm round a dial and pulled a lever for each letter or number.
Jeremy Delmar-Morgan thought he had achieved a breakthrough when he conceived the idea of pop riveting the engine number tag onto the rocker cover. This worked for a few trips until he came across a French Douanier who must have known something about cars and Minis in particular.
Last updated 7th September, 2016