Letters From Readers, April 1946

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Sir,
I am enclosing a photograph of my “Type 40” Bugatti on the starting line with a blown front-drive Alvis at the Vintage S.C.C. of A. Standing 1/4-Mile Trials a few months ago. The photograph is of interest not merely because it shows two fine old motorcars in excellent condition, nor even for the handsome view of myself mediating between S/Lt. (A) R. H. Rhodes, R.N.V.R., and the Starting Marshal, but because it illustrates a technique of running a speed trial which makes the event very much more exciting for drivers and spectators alike.

The first runs, electrically timed, were made individually in the usual way. But thereafter the cars were run in pairs on a knock-out tournament basis, the difference between times of first run being used as a handicap. This resulted in some really exciting finishes and is about as near as you can get to racing without actually having a race.

Obviously, this type of event is only suitable for courses of adequate width, such as disused aerodrome runways or newly-built roads not yet open to the public. Secondly, with two cars on the course simultaneously, the timing becomes less accurate, as the first car to move on handicap trips the timing gear and this car is not necessarily the first to pass the finishing line. Thirdly, the success of the scheme depends upon the good sporting spirit of every competitor, it being obviously possible to ensure final victory by making a very slow first run and progressively speeding up a little each round.

There are probably other snags, but I still think it a good scheme and enclose also a photograph of Jack Jeffery’s “E”-type “30/98” passing my Bugatti (myself at the wheel this time) some 200 yards after the finishing line. I actually beat him, after receiving due handicap start, by about half a car’s length.
I am, Yours, etc.,
Peter C. T. Clare,
S/Lt. (E), R.N.V.R.
Australia

Sir,
You may be interested to know that the Cambridge University Automobile Club is being restarted after its wartime retirement.

Nearly fifty members have been enrolled so far, and we have a good selection of vehicles of all types. The petrol ration and present University regulations regarding motor vehicles present serious obstacles, but events are being organised despite these difficulties.

Any help from old members to revive the spirit of the club would be most welcome.
I am, Yours, etc.,
D. Hodkin, Secretary.
Cambridge.

Sir,
Mr. G. Robson apparently wishes to form various “clublets” for owners of certain vintage cars. Such ventures are foredoomed to failure, as there can never be sufficient support to maintain them. Invicta owners discovered this when they formed a club against the advice of the Vintage Sports Car Club. The existence of this latter body provides the necessary framework within which owners of particular makes can easily get together, and although Mr. Robson ignores its existence in his letter, it has been the accepted “clearing house” for such purposes during the past ten years.
I am, Yours, etc.,
Cecil Clutton
London, W.11.

Sir,
May I be permitted to correct a slight error which occurred in the published description of my “Speed Six” Bentley.

This car was first registered in March, 1926, and the present body is the original built by H. J. Mulliner & Co., Ltd. Whilst the chassis was undergoing McKenzie’s rebuild, the bodywork was modernised and a newly designed hood and windscreen were fitted by Corsica.
I am, Yours, etc.,
Leonard Taylor.
Portishead, Somerset.

Sir,
Dr. Smallhorn’s letter regarding Lancias in the December issue was very interesting and very informative. Having owned and driven four Lancia “Aprilias” since 1939, I would venture to suggest that he is a little wrong in his statements about their controllability.

It is hardly true that their factor of safety is such that one can be driving them to the limit and if one exceeds this they become uncontrollable. This can appear to be the case to a person not fully conversant with handling the car under extreme conditions. This really comes about, in my opinion, due to insufficient experience and thus not acquiring the rather different technique required to drive one really fast.

The consensus of expert opinion, and from practical experience in my case, is that it takes at least 20,000 miles to begin to know an “Aprilia.” After over 60,000 miles I think I can now push one along without ever coming to grief through my own fault.

As for sliding: Dr. Smallhorn’s remarks on this are absolutely contrary to my experience and may account for him thinking that an “Aprilia” can become uncontrollable. In actual fact, I find it best when in some hurry to slide round most corners and bends. I can vouch for this from practical experience, and have never lost control due to sliding. On one occasion when I went into a corner too fast for normal cornering, about 45 m.p.h., I had no alternative but to go into a slide, which was performed perfectly in spite of a dead weight of 50 stone in the back and no shock absorbers fitted. I think Dr. Smallhorn will find the experience of any other ardent enthusiast the same as mine unless, as previously mentioned, said enthusiast has not had sufficient “Aprilia” experience.

A most important point about the “Aprilia,” not mentioned by Dr. Smallhorn, which cannot fail to impress when one knows of its capabilities, is the gearbox. In my opinion there is only one box on the market with which one can change gear quicker, and that is the Cotal, but even to be quicker with this one has to forgo using the clutch, which is not good for the box. On any other box one cannot change gear quicker than one can operate the clutch. On the synchromesh one has usually to pause whilst passing through neutral, which makes it slow. On the preselector one changes gear at the same speed as one operates the clutch, but has the disadvantage of high frictional losses in the gearbox, but with the slight advantage that one can change gear with both hands on the steering wheel. On the “Aprilia” gearbox one can change up or down between any two neighbouring ratios as quick as or quicker than one can operate the clutch. This includes 3rd to 2nd, 4th to 2nd, and 2nd to 1st. No change involves or needs double declutching and I should imagine takes approximately 1/20 sec. or even less. Also no change involves any heartrending noises or transmission shocks and it is possible to change down into 3rd at 45 m.p.h. without the passenger being aware of the fact unless he was watching the driver very closely.

The gearbox of my first “Aprilia” stood up to 47,000 miles of this pukka gear-changing plus 20,000 miles before I had it without any trouble whatsoever, the only maintenance being oil changing.

Another important point on this model — a little technical perhaps — is the phenomenally low piston speed, representing over 85 m.p.h. at 2,500 ft. per min. This means that one can drive flat out all day without ever reaching this rather critical piston speed. This is the main reason for its hard-wearing qualities and low petrol consumption even when driven hard. Altogether a most delightful car, which up to date has no competitor in its class.

If any reader is at all dubious about any of my remarks I will be only too pleased to demonstrate if a meeting could be arranged.

All the best to all enthusiasts.
I am, Yours, etc.,
“Lancia ‘Aprilia’ Exponent.”
R.A.F.

Sir,
So Brooklands has gone. But with the realisation of the fact memories come back in a flood — memories of things both big and little that were part of something very English in its happy freedom from red tape and all that that implies.

We who went there to learn to fly in 1913 had a good time and did, to an extent astonishing to look back upon now, much as we pleased. As a pupil at the Bristol School I had the right to take my car on the track at any time except when racing was taking place and, consequently, I was able to stable it in one of the aeroplane sheds close to the Iron Bridge.

My 1913 15.9 Sporting Sunbeam became well acquainted with the track in various ways, some of which can hardly have been contemplated by the makers of that famous speedway. For example, I soon noticed that large numbers of rabbits lodged in the outer banking, but boarded in the aerodrome. In other words, they crossed the track in the evening to enjoy the nice, short, green grass inside.

So a new sport was born. R.S., who lived not far away, produced a singlebarrel .410 and we tried out the idea. I always drove because it seemed that if the car was to be piled up the owner had better be responsible. R.S., C.C.D., or E.G. sat on the back of the other front seat with the gun. The windscreen was let down flat. Rabbits are apt to become a little confused in the glare of headlamps (even the old acetylene ones) and that gave the marksman his chance. We drove hundreds of miles round the track at night in this engaging pursuit and helped to keep the rabbit population within limits. Keeping the lights on a bunny sometimes took us, at surprising angles, right up the banking; but we never had any trouble. Rumour of such a possibility came from outside when we heard that Mr. Locke-King intended to take proceedings to stop us. Like most country-bred folk I had a good idea of the position of ferae naturae in the scheme of things, so we went on undismayed and nothing ever happened to deter us.

After these trips we generally went to the “Blue Bird,” the famous restaurant in the aerodrome kept by Mrs. Billings, for drinks. There one might and did meet all sorts of people connected with ‘planes and cars. There was a good deal of motor racing to be seen and many famous cars took part. Percy Lambert’s Talbot, which might almost be considered the first modern racing car, was outstanding among them and Lambert’s skill and daring were things to be seen and remembered. I can never forget one handicap in which he started as back-marker. On one circuit he took the top of the banking after the Railway Straight. There were several cars in his vicinity including one directly in front of him. At a good bit over 100 m.p.h. Lambert came down diagonally from the top of the banking to the flat, passing behind some cars and in front of others, and returning to the top of the banking immediately afterwards. He won the race.

Tests were interesting to observe if maddening to listen to. The sleeve-valve Argyll did 24 continuous hours and it came past the “Aviary” (where I lodged, near the Iron Bridge) roughly every 21 minutes. In the day-time it did not matter, but during the night it caused some hard swearing.

Of course I had a number of little private races with other owners. The one I remember most clearly was against a 2-seater Crossley which was just too good for the Sunbeam.

It was, I think, in July that Mr. Noel Pemberton-Billing put up the remarkable performance of taking his ticket in one day. He began to receive instruction from the head of the Vickers School in the early morning and took his ticket after tea on the same day. I knew H.B. of the Vickers School rather well and I asked him on the following day how the thing had gone. His reply remains with me still. “Quite all right, but if he thinks he knows anything about flying — God help him!”

One Sunday afternoon the news was blared out through a megaphone that Cody was approaching and a few moments later he landed. Many years afterwards when I saw the “Flying Cathedral” at the Science Museum I found it hard to believe that I had seen this extraordinary contraption in flight. The heroic pilot, who at one time or another had broken most of the bones in his body, had his last and fatal accident on the following Wednesday.

In the autumn a profoundly impressive thing happened, but it would have been still more impressive if one had known what was coming. Pégou brought his Blériot monoplane to Brooklands and looped the loop. It was hair-raising to watch it because he dived the plane for such a long way before he pulled the stick back. That marked the beginning of aerobatics in this country. Within a few months B.C. Hucks was outdoing Pégou in every direction, so quickly was the idea followed up.

It would be possible, indeed easy, to go on raking up memories of half a moderate life-time back “until the thing became almost a bore,” What I want to suggest is that those who think of Brooklands merely as a racing track for motor cars are not within leagues of the truth. The place was a sort of breeding-ground for the internal combustion engine and for a thousand things that have grown with it. How great a part it played in helping us to win two wars one cannot guess, but it must have been an important one. Thirty-three years ago Brooklands was helping to mould the shape of things and, in the best English tradition, it did not take itself too seriously. Now it has gone and we shall never see anything quite like it again.
I am, Yours, etc.,
No. 596.

Sir,
As a motorist of some discernment, I congratulate you on your unbiased attitude and policy of giving praise only where it is due.

In particular it has given me great pleasure to see such frequent and favourable mention of that, much-criticised but really remarkable little car the Opel in your columns, for I feel that only by observing their foreign competitors to be frequently and loudly praised will British manufacturers begin to realise that such devices as independent susliension, short-stroke engines, integral construction and real weight reduction are worthy of their serious consideration.

After five years of careful observation in many countries. I consider that our present policy of exporting outmoded, inferior, and absurdly unsuitable small motor cars, is likely to prove absolutely fatal to any hope of maintaining our overseas sales when continental cars again become availalile in quantities.

It is obvious that Motor Sport, with its policy of unvarnished criticism, can help considerably in convincing the manufacturer that even if the British public are prepared to endure, and even to enjoy, the discomfort and tedium or travel in fussy, obsolescent and ill-sprung little cars, the overseas buyer has learned to appreciate the modern features of the continental small car, and will buy British only so long as he has to.

Incidentally, it is obvious that, when these facts are at last fully appreciated, the impecunious enthusiast will be able to buy something which looks, feels and performs like a motor car, at a reasonable figure.
I am, Yours, etc.,
Philip Buttlebank,
Maidstone, Kent.

Sir,
I see in your March issue, in “Rumblings,” on page 57, where you are describing Mr. Charles Mortimer’s new venture at Byfleet, that you mention that his 1 1/2-llitre Alta holds the 1 1/2-litre record for Lewes.

This obviously cannot be so, because I hold the Lewes course record at the moment, having taken it on August 20th, 1938, in 18.27 seconds, in lan Connell’s E.R.A. This is a 1 1/2-litre car, so it. presumably also holds the 1 1/2-litre record.

I trust that you will be kind enough to make the necessary correction in your next issue.
I am, Yours, etc.,
P. H. Monkhouse
Wattford.
[Let justice be done. – Ed.]

After the May issue the Readers’ Sales and Wants advertisements will be Discontinued. Small advertisements will all be inserted in the Classified Advertisements Section and charged for at the appropriate rates.