THE RAUCOUS SAYING OF 260bhp assaults the eardrums; the wind is rushing over the top of the perspex aero screen, nibbling at the peak of the oid-fashioned helmet; the front wheels, which seem almost to be as far back as your toes, are moving up and down reacting to the changing surface, almost pattering, and you can feel it all through the big wood-rimmed steering wheels. Seated high over the prop-shaft you are looking down the red cigar-shaped nose and there's right handed Copse Corner ahead, 80mph or so of Silverstone's first corner. You are doing 120mph.
Firm pressure on a drilled pedal (for lightness as well as improved grip) makes big brake shoes bite on Alfin drums with almost as solid a feel as with discs; speed scrubs off, your knuckles catch a chassis tube as you select third gear on the right moving a stubby lever solidly through a conventional gate as your clutch foot does a tap dance and the right blips the throttle (no longer in the centre).
The steering wheel is less than arms length away; it's better like that with heavy steering and a car built for real 300mile Grands Prix; foot off the brakes and you turn into the corner; the car feels a little uncomfortable, nervous, like a thoroughbred unsure of who is master. Some power on and the firmness returns, the back end. steps sideways by what feels like a yard, but is probably only six inches; now the slack is taken up and the power can be increased with just a touch of opposite lock as the nose points at the infield and the car drifts through the apex and out with the power still on not all of it but enough to dictate the attitude. Now comes the tricky bit; you are pointing up the straight but still sliding; power off will restore full control but so will more power on if you can just balance all the forces, perhaps applying a shade more opposite lock in anticipation. Get it wrong and the tail pirouettes gracefully, get it right and no-one will believe you. Only Moss and Fangio were that good.
Anyway, Maggott's fast left is looming and you have to be back on the inside of the track again to take it almost flat if you are to avoid the nasty bump on the apex of adverse camber; without the same power surplus to play with, the car's attitude depends on what you do with the wheel- a flick will give you controlled oversteer, gentle nursing will keep an aimost neutral posture.
Now it's back to the left of the circuit for the tight Secketts hairpin of Silverstone's Club Circuit, doWn two gears and there is Dlentv of SDace to play with, and a lot of power too; it's difficult to get your even power slide here and there will be corrections, some of hand, some of foot, but you exit on full power up to 7200rpm - 8000rpm used to be the works peak power point - through to third and top and 135-140mph down Club Straight.
Wood cote ahead is an awkward one with third too high and second too low, but either way you need to brake quite fiercely. Taken in third" the corner is comfortable with the engine getting fully onto the cam as you exit with mild oversteer to tighten the line. The 2.5litre six will pull from lower than 4000rpm, but that is where it starts to pull strongly.
To be honest, I didn't achieve quite the smoothness of drift and line that the foregoing implies, but I was near it at times. In the car's heyday, there weren't many who really could set up a 250F in that classic drifting style and there are even fewer who can' recapture it now. It isn'tjustthe skills that are less abundant; the tyres, which have allowed even the slightly gifted amateur to surpass Fangio's best at Silverstone (but not Nurburgring), just do not allow the same degree of sustainable car balance. By gripping more they upset a whole train of parameters, of body roll and weight transfer, of chassis stiffness, of steerihg feel for which older tyres gave an earlier warning of the impending loss of a lower level of grip.
The 250F, and particularly the 1957 lightweight, was the car that best demonstrated the four-wheeldrift. Anyone who generates a slip angle in a corner is arguably in a controlled drift, but to me the real thing is sustained power oversteer with the merest opposite lock - or even wheels straight ahead. The 250F had that combination of weight distribution, power surplus and suspension design that could generate cornering in the classic style.
A Vanwall couldn't do it, that belonged to the next generation, and had power understeer for high speed stability.
What makes the 250F so desirable, when it isn't actually a winner in today's historic events, is its unique position in motor racing history. Its one basic design actually spanned six years of racing, the complete life of a formula. It won the first 2.5litre race for Fangio, the 1954 Argentine GP, and was still there in the last race of 1960 when the American Bob Drake was engulfed by the swarm of midengined sprint cars.
There was nothing startling in the 250F's basic design. The thinking behind its chassis and engine designs was an extension of that for the A6GCM which had been Maserati's contender in the 1952-3 era of the 2.01itre Grands Prix. The space frame chassis used four full-length tubes with vertical struts and cross-bracing wherever mechanical components would allow; the front wheels were carried on unequal length wishbones with coil springs, and an anti-roll bar appeared late in 1956. At the rear, where the 2.0litre car and its 4CL T predecessor used a live axle sprung and located by splayed quarterelliptic leaf springs, the new car used a transaxle (four speeds for the first year) and a De Dion tube ahead of it, located by fore-and aft radius arms and laterally by a roller-peg in a slot in the transaxle housing. Moving the De Dion rube ahead of the gearbox allowed the petrol tank to be more central. Rear springing was by a transverse leaf.
The heart of this Trident was a classic all-alloy six-cylinder engine with gear-driven overhead sump lubrication; initially the oil reservoir for that was beside the engine, but it was moved behind the fuel tank for the less-louvred cars of 1955. In 1954-form the 250F was claimed to produce 240bhp at 7200rpm, and this rose to 270bhp at 8000rpm by 1957, the last year in which special fuels were allowed. In fact Italian horsepower is always measured in cavallinos and the Jaguar figure on Moss's engine at the end of the 1954 season was 215bhp.
Maserati set out to make the 250F a customer racer for which they would provide works assistance, but Italian enthusiasm and Fangio's victory on the first outing caused a change of heart. Fangio also won at Spa in a 250F but by then the Mercedes W196 was ready and he finished the season with the Germans. Moss also went to join the Mercedes steamroller for 1955, and Musso's third at Zandvoort was the best GP result the team achieved that year.
Mercedes dropped out at the end of 1955 so Fangio went to Ferrari (to join Collins and Hawthorn) and Moss went to Maserati with Behra. It was Ferrari's year. They scored five wins to Moss's one until the final round at Monza. Here Maserati produced a pair of cars with angled engines and offset transmissions which allowed the driver to sit much lower, but with high cockpit sides to improve the aerodynamics; the result was victory for Moss.
For 1957 Moss went to Vanwall and Fangio returned to Maserati, who rationalised their programme to produce three new cars lightweights that used the offset car's lessons, but not its transmission. Moss (Vanwall) and Fangio shared the seven GPs between them, Fangio taking four to give manufacturer and driver championship victories in what was to be their swansong year.
The V12 engine that was being developed was at best only a match for the existing six which the Vanwalls were beating at the end of the season, and a disastrous sports car season left the firm no option butto close the racing department. The engineers did produce a further lightened and shortened car, the' piccolo', which Fangio ran unsuccessfully at Rheims in 1958, they made a further pair for the American Temple Buell team, albeit with no success. The Colotti-designed Tec-Mec appeared in 1959 using Maserati components in an even smaller and lighter chassis but it was too late. Cooper and Lotus were soon upon them and the Tec-Mec had lost the lovely handling balance that had made the lightweight 250F a master.