Post 1945 Drivers
A day in the Life of Graham Hill


WHAT do Grand Prix drivers actually do when they're not at a Grand Prix, judging beauty contests or explaining to their wives that the glamorous bird giving them a hearty kiss in all the press photos of their last victory was "just for publicity, darling"? Well often they test. This, like war, can be both dreadfully dull and highly dangerous, for the object of the exercise is to find out
what is wrong with a car, and at high speed any defects or deficiency can manifest itself with startling abruptness and breathtaking results.
A few weeks ago I rose at an unearthly hour and drove to Graham Hill's house at Mill Hill, the early start being required as Graham hoped to put in a full day's testing at Silverstone before flying to Rome that night en route to the Targa Florio in Sicily. "We'll start at 8.30 a.m.", he had said, but at 8.30 a.m. the deep silence of Maison Hill was broken only by the distant song of a vacuum cleaner while outside on the lawn an early worm of gigantic proportions got the bird from a hungry blackbird.
About nine o'clock we set off in the general direction of Silverstone in an automatic Ford Zodiac on loan to Graham, as his Jaguar 3.8 had shown evidence of its 50,000 hard,miles by burning an exhaust valve on the way back from Snetterton the previous day. The Jaguar is only the sixth, car that Hill has owned, but then one is apt to forget that he did not even learn to drive until 1953 when he acquired a 1934 Morris Eight. Then came a 1929 Austin Seven which he bought from Hazel Chapman in 1955, when working for Lotus. The lack of brakes taught him to assess situations two miles down the road, and the slack in the steering has made high speed in any other car since quite tame by comparison.
Graham's first new car was an Austin A35 which he acquired in -1958 and had extensively modified by Speedwell, of which concern he is a director. For the next two years, the A35 was used for going to Continental circuits, learning the afore said circuits and for the occasional race in this country, forming part of the winning A35 team in the 1958 750 M.C. Relay Race. An A40 followed, also extensively Speedwell modified, and then when Graham joined the B.R.M. team he bought a Ford Zephyr Mk.2, with Raymond Mays head. And so to the present Jaguar Mk.2, also modified, which will probably be succeeded by another Mark 2 in the near future. "What else is there which offers so much performance for the money?" asks Graham. "The S is more comfortable, but it's heavier. The Mark 2 is practically a four-seater GT car."
"Do you still enjoy driving on the road, or do you regard it as rather a chore these days?" I asked, recalling that Tim Birkin and Jimmy Gutherie were always chauffeur driven whenever possible between races, even in pre-war days when traffic density on main roads was nothing like so high as it is today.

"Oh, no. I still enjoy driving very much, especially at the wheel of something fairly fast like the Jaguar. The run to and from Snetterton is usually most enjoyable, for instance-the roads are fast and do not carry too much traffic."
We sailed up to a roundabout with a "Yield to the Right" sign in our favour, myself rather hoping all the characters coming from the left could read. They
could: we survived. "Very good system, this," said Graham. "Pity it doesn't-apply to all roundabouts. Very confusing at present but it's so much better than traffic lights which just gum everything up." On M 1 the Zodiac cruised at a steady indicated 90 until the usual road repairs slowed us and drew caustic comments from Hill on the lack of advanced warning signs. Which led him to hold forth disapprovingly on the new "Keep Left" road sign with its downward pointing arrow. "In all other road signs, you follow the direction in which the arrow is pointing, but you can't in this case. The arrow should be pointing upwards at an angle, not downwards."
When testing at Silverstone teams do not use the paddock but park on a road on the outside of the circuit between Abbey and Woodcote almost opposite the farmwhere, in fact, the start line used to be before the pits were moved to their present position. Awaiting us was the big B.R.M. transporter with parked alongside it a B.R.M. and John Coombs' Formula 2 Brabham-B.R.M. Also present were the Cooper transporter which had disgorged a Cooper Formula 1 car and the works Formula 2 Cooper powered by the B.M.C. twin overhead camshaft engine. Alongside the Cooper transporter was Ken Tyrrell's van with a pair of F2 Cooper B.R.M.s which John Surtees, driving a red Alfa Giulia Sprint, arrived to test, and farther down the road stood the Firestone van with the works McLaren-Elva driven by Chris Amon in attendance as a tyre testing machine.
The usual chill Silverstone wind swept through the encampment, and an occasional rain shower would damp the circuit, sometimes on one stretch only. The B.R.M. was warmed up, Graham fetched his helmet from the boot of the Zodiac and climbed aboard to begin the usual test routine of a series of five laps or so, followed by a pause for chassis tuning. Damper settings would be modified, thefrontlocation of the rear suspension radius arms changed, the anti-roll bars at front and rear given different settings, spacers'added or subtracted between the front wheels and the hubs and even the rear coil springs changed for softer ones. And after each change Hill would set off on a few highspeed laps to try the effect. By 5 p.m., he had covered over a hundred laps in the B.R.M. alone--the British
G.P. when at Silverstone is only 82 laps plus many laps in the Formula 2 Brabham.B.R.M., and with the departure time of that Rome-bound aircraft now uncomfortably close, we set off for London again in something of a hurry. "Better belt-up"said Graham as we swirled round a right hander and the heeling Zodiac nearly deposited me in his lap. "How do you like. the Zodiac?" I asked.
"Oh, a bit barge-like on comers, but the steering is pleasant, surprisingly light and quite accurate."
"Do you like an automatic transmission ?"
"No, not at all. You're not in complete charge when driving a car with an automatic transmission. When you lift your foot to slow down, an automatic system will at once change up and the car surges forward-the complete opposite of what you want."
Graham was hurrying now, building up speed on even the shortest stretches of
more or less straight road and then holding 80 or so until the very last moment before braking really hard. The Zodiac swept into that abrupt right hand comer on the twisty lane between Blisworth and M1 at what seemed an impossible speed. "He's overdone it this time" I thought, but the car swept round in a controlled slide which took us right up to the outside verge, but no further.
"Does normal main road motoring seem irritatingly slow after you've been racing
or testing?" .
"On the contrary, I feel much more tolerant, much more relaxed. Probably it's
because I've got all the speed urge out of my system. We're only motoring fast now because I've got that plane to catch. I sometimes think it would be a good thing if normal drivers could have a bash round a circuit now and then to get the stupid aggressiveness out of their systems. I can't understand the aggressiveness of many drivers. It's so very stupid." ,
" We continued to press on, but Graham never took a chance, never overtook unless it was obviously safe to do so, although he did grasp every opportunity with that flashing decision and marked precision which are the hall mark of a good driver.'
Back on M 1 we encountered more than our fair share of drivers cruising earnestly along in the fast lane at around 60 m.p.h., but Hill would merely close right up on their tails and wait. At the far end as we passed the Watford leg,' closed to South bound traffic by the extensive repairs it now requires, he commented acidly on the lack of vision in its planning and construction. "It's an absolute disgrace and a national scandal. Anyone would think it was the world's first motorway. Why didn't they learn from Germany or Italy where they've been building motorways for over 30 years?" We came off the motorway into the
home-bound rush-hour traffic, and with the time fleeting by, Graham tut-tutted at little men who sat blocking the traffic stream at roundabouts, too terrified to move. A complicated back street route to dodge a congested roundabout, and we were back at his house at last at 6.15 p.m. Still in his overalls, he hurriedly collected his gear from the boot of the Zodiac, gave affectionate acknowledgement to the noisy welcome of his two children and hurried inside to change.

That night he slept in" Rome and the following day he began practising in Sicily for the Targa Florio.

Author: ArchitectPage

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