Lapping the Nürburgring in a Maserati 250F – evo Archive
How the ultimate celebration of Fangio’s greatest moment was orchestrated
Talk about dreaming big. Over the years there have been some stories in motoring magazines that I’ve admired hugely, not just for the way they were written or photographed, but for the sheer audacity to try to set them up in the first place. And Dickie Meaden following in Juan Manuel Fangio’s tyre tracks in a Maserati 250F around the Nürburgring is right up there with the best of them.
‘It was an idea that had been rolling around in my head for a long time,’ recalls Meaden. ‘I’d first thought about it when I was at a magazine called Car Week, but it was over ten years later when it all finally came together, for the 50th anniversary in 2007.’
The feature appeared in evo 112, and the elapsed half decade it was marking was since Fangio drove his (and possibly F1’s) greatest ever race. Setting lap record after lap record in his 250F, the Argentinian came back from a bungled pit stop to beat the Ferraris of Hawthorn and Collins, in the process winning not only the race but his fifth and final drivers’ title. It’s one of the ultimate motorsport tales and it was ripe for the retelling. But first you’ve got to get an almost priceless Maserati…
‘The 250F we used was run by Ten Tenths Racing,’ says Meaden. ‘The owner, Nick Mason, thankfully liked the idea. Obviously the bill to get the team and the car out to the Ring was pretty enormous, but thankfully Harry Metcalfe [evo’s then editorial director] signed it all off as only Harry could.’
Then there was just the small matter of getting some exclusive track time on the Nordschleife. ‘Pagani was attempting a Ring record, and being Argentinian himself, Horacio Pagani is obviously a huge admirer of Fangio. I think he liked the idea of seeing the 250F lined up with the Zonda, so we managed to get him to agree to let us use any downtime that they might have while they had the track booked for the record attempt.
‘I remember it was a perfect day: crystal clear, blue sky. I was fully in love with the Nürburgring at that point, having competed in my first two 24-hour races – the first of which, appropriately, was in a Maserati 4200 in Fangio’s colours. Normally I’d be a bundle of nerves, but when the opportunity arrived there wasn’t time to get nervous. I jumped in – no belts – and they just pushed me across the public car park to bump-start it. Then it was out through the barriers onto the empty Döttinger Höhe straight and into the most surreal lap of skinny tyres and a straight-six.’
Just before it all gets too wistful, however, Dickie then paints a more prosaic picture that we can all relate to…
‘Driving a 250F is actually a bit like sitting on the toilet, reading a magazine with your legs going numb. Imagine the toilet brush to your right is the gearlever. You feel totally exposed.’
I’m puzzled: ‘Surely you just shut the door?’
‘A 250F doesn’t have any doors, Henry.’
‘No, on the… Oh, I see. Right. Sorry. Anything else you remember?’
‘It was unlike anything I’d driven before. Even compared to the 1950s Jaguar sports cars I’ve driven since, this was a different animal. A proper Grand Prix car, whatever the era, is just on another level. The gearbox was lovely and the steering started to make sense once you adopted the approved elbows-out technique. I’d have loved to have felt how the balance of the car changed over time as that massive fuel tank behind the seat began to empty, but I only had one proper lap that day. Somehow, that made the whole thing seem even more special, though.’
Over a decade of plotting and planning to get one lap. And absolutely worth it.