I am a big fan of reliability, especially when it comes to my own cars. But what about reliability in motor racing?

ViaRETRO write a lot about the important fact of life that you have to drive your classic. In my humble opinion this concept works very well with reliability and the more the merrier. I love it when all I have to do is to turn the key and drive. Polishing a bit is OK too. But in general I much prefer driving over tinkering. Funnily enough this also applies to my race car.

But what if I am not racing my self, but just watching others race? Then reliability is not necessarily of benefit. These thoughts came to me after posting the below photo on Facebook (remember to like us if you don’t already!).

Nelson Piquet in the Brabham with an early BMW turbo engine and lots of flames.

Nelson Piquet in the Brabham with an early BMW turbo engine and lots of flames.

I posted this photo to make the point that I missed flames in modern Formula 1 although the turbo engines are back. Whereupon one commentator wrote that the engine management today is so accurate that excess fuel is not wasted on spectacular flames like this – but that this also meant that we no longer have exploding Ferrari or Renault (or both!) engines in every other race. 

Back then we did!  But was it a problem for the racing? No, I did not think so then and I do not think so now. In the transition years of 1981-1983 when naturally aspirated engines fought it out with turbo engines the aforementioned won on reliability, the latter on power. I loved this duel of principles, and in my opinion stamina or lack of it just added another aspect of  the duel. In the dramatic Formula 1 season of 1982 we saw the last World Champion powered by a naturally aspirated engine: Keke Rosberg in a Cosworth powered Williams took to title with one victory. He was rarely fastest, but he beat the turbo hares anyway.

Rosberg followed by Prost in the United States in 1982: Will the  Renault explode before or after overtaking - or COULD it possibly keep going this going? The tension was unbearable.

Rosberg followed by Prost in the United States in 1982: Will the Renault explode before or after overtaking – or COULD it possibly keep going this going this time? The tension was unbearable.

The same way as I love diversity amongst street cars so I do in motor racing: That was part of the reason why I found Group C racing of the eighties so exciting. This brilliant class encouraged diversity by allowing cars to achieve the same goal with very different approaches. Unpisputed King of the Hill in the early years were the Porsche 956/962 which had such a terrific combination of speed and reliability that the endurance racing scene was overwhelmed, winning their debut Le Mans 24 hours and  even taking second and third as well.

Porsche 956 dominated Le Mans in 1982 …

But actually the Porsches were not the fastest cars at Le Mans in 1982. Those of us that love underdogs (and French racing cars, very often overlapping phenomenae) will recall that the Rondeau M382 posted the fastest lap that year. And it goes without saying that particularly in endurance racing reliability is of the utmost importance. Very often reliability or lack thereof added sudden excitement and surprise to an otherwise static race situation. Well, to me this is all endurance racing is about – otherwise they would simply be unbearably long races!

... but fastest lap was run by this guy: Jean Rondeau in the car that bore his name.

… but fastest lap was run by this guy: Jean Rondeau in the car that bore his name. What if it had finished?

Even the rally scene saw these duels of speed and reliability in 1982: Audi quattro was a revolution on the stages and went on to almost the same iconic heights as the Porsche 956. Nonetheless but Walther Rörhl took the title – in a very conventional Opel Ascona 400. There were other competitors that, under the right circumstances, were even faster than the quattro and Ascona, but both the Renault 5 Turbo and the Lancia Rally 037 made a point of the importance of reliability.

Rörhl did not drive just to finish, as this photo shows.

Rörhl did not drive just to finish, as this photo shows.

Therefore when it comes to reliability I salute the small difference: The hare against the tortoise and the odds about even and both standing a chance over a full season – that’s how it should be. While I can barely accept when a victory is won by a theoretical overtaking manouvre during a tire change, I can understand and savour it when a victory is due to an otherwise faster competitor’s turbo engine goes off in spectacular flames.

Just don’t let it be my engine.

Very nice with 1000 horsepower. But will it last?

Very nice with 1000 horsepower. But will it last?

About The Author

Claus Ebberfeld

Broad car taste. Prefer them working, though. Coupés, estates, racing cars - and so on. Origin less important, but I love Italy. And Britain. Germany. And so on. By the way, I believe everything was better in the old days. Except the internet. Claus' keeper is a 1978 Reliant Scimitar GTE. As a true Scandinavian of course he also has a Volvo - a 445 of the 1956 vintage.

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