A Precariously Perched Silver Arrow

Mercedes W154 being unloaded at Tripoli

I’ve been reading Sandro Martini’s wonderful novel Tracks: Racing the Sun about the golden age of Grand Prix racing and the exploits of Tazio Nuvolari, Achille Varzi and other (mostly Italian) heroes of the 1930s racing scene and the worrisome political climate of the era (full review to come—short version: I love it).

The passages that take place during the contentious and controversial Grands Prix of Tripoli are so evocative and romantic that I couldn’t help trying to dig up some photos of the era. This dockside image of the Mercedes W154 so perfectly captures the clash between the huge technological leaps that racing machines were making with the almost quaint simplicity of the rest of society. These ropes and cables jerkily transferring this rocketship of a car to the docks must have been as much a test of nerves as the race itself. You think about racing teams having to trust their drivers but rarely do you consider the faith being placed in the longshoremen.

Arthur Schening’s Historic Racing Car Prints

Lotus 49 illustration by Arthur Schening

I find the relationship between the medium and the subject of an artist’s work fascinating. In an Instagram filtered landscape, we’re used to seeing contemporary imagery processed to look vintage. Illustrator Arthur Schening has taken the opposite approach. These representations of 50 year old (and more) racing cars crafted in a very modern aesthetic makes for a compelling balance. Arthur’s illustration style is something akin to what we’re used to seeing as a representation of architectural renderings or a more polished take on fashion illustration. Schening has taken this aesthetic reminiscent of Wallpaper Magazine’s hayday under Tyler Brûlé and applied it to old sheet metal in brilliant technicolor saturation. I dig them.

Prints of these and more at his site.

Ferrari 250 GTO illustration by Arthur Schening

A Nearly Private Grand Prix

Rudolf Caracciola at Coppa Ciano
When I see images like this one of Rudolf Caracciola in his Mercedes-Benz W154 at the 1938 Copa Ciano, I am both energized by it and saddened.

Imagine the cacophony reverberating off the buildings of this narrow alley in Livorno, Italy. Imagine the show that this handful of people are having as they peer out from entryways and lean out of windows along the Montenero Circuit. It’s almost an intimate moment captured between driver and spectator as Rudolf glances up from his racing line and makes eye contact with a racing fan poking his head out of a doorway.

It’s most noticeable in the restrictions on pit access, but these opportunities for racing driver and enthusiast to connect are just as lost during the race as before and after. The farther and farther we push fans from the action—for good reasons, as Daytona recently pointed out—the more isolated the driver is from the fan.

Auto Union at Vanderbilt. 1937.

Gorgeous Silver Arrows-era Comic

You don’t have to be able to read French to enjoy Marvano’s Grand Prix series of graphic novels. These images speak for themselves and should probably work their way onto your bookshelf. I’m afraid I suffer from that dreaded affliction of believing that color was invented somewhere around 1959 so seeing the vibrance in these renderings of the French Gran Prix and Tripoli Grand Prix and Brooklands is a wonderful treat.

Marvano’s vibrant and wonderfully realized ligne claire illustrations naturally bring to mind fellow Belgian Hergé and—like Hergé’s Tintin–the characters surrounding the Silver Arrows in the 1930’s take us to marvelously exotic locations and stirring drama. And that’s all without being able to read a word of it. Reviews say, and Marzano appears to have confirmed, that while the people and locations are true, the story is somewhat fictionalized. As the author puts it: “The ingredients are historical but the dishes are fictitious.”

I suspect that this doesn’t diminish the work in the slightest but race historians may cry fowl as they see cars that crashed out early in Avus continuing to circle the track. I will not be among them and quite enjoyed the first volume of the three part series, which is currently available on Amazon (Grand prix, Tome 1 : Renaissance) with a forward by Jackie Ickx.

Here’s an interview with Marvano on the work.

Stefan Marjoram’s Goodwood: Silver Arrows Edition

It’s become a bit of a tradition here to feature some of Stefan Marjoram’s sketches in the days following the Goodwood Revival. I just popped over to his sketch blog to see if he made the rounds this year.

Did he ever.

The volume of amazing racers at Goodwood might prove overwhelming for anyone; particularly for someone trying to take it all in. The temptation to take a few quick snapshots and run to the next GTO or GT40 or insert-amazingly-iconic-racecar-name-here, must be strong indeed. That’s why I so appreciate Stefan’s patience to sit down for 10 or 15 or 30 minutes and focus on a single machine from a single view and pull out a sketchbook.

Click on through for more of Stefan Marjoram’s Silver Arrows studies.

A Bit of Starter Fluid and an Auto Union Type C