Lord Brabazon of Tara, in the course of the debate in the House of Lords on the Road Traffic Bill, rose at. 6.39 p.m. on February 22nd. to speak on a subject very close to our hearts–namely the closing of roads in this country for the purpose of holding motor races over them.
Lord Brabazon wanted to legalise the closing of British roads for racing, under orders of which not more than ten should be made in any calendar year, no order to permit the closing of roads on more than six days in each instance. The noble Lord used some very convincing arguments in the course of his speech in favour of this country falling into line with all other European countries. He emphasised that times change and “now, instead of conversation amongst the young in the clubs or in the public houses being of hocks and spavins, the conversation now is about blown bugs and v.p. propellers,” (Hansard delightfully omits to recognise Lord Brabazon’s reference to supercharged versions of the famous French marque by using a capital “B ” !)
The Alners report, he said, was the most up-to-date and impressive report upon motor cars that has ever been made—basing on this his hopes that the House would listen sympathetically to this appeal for road-racing in Great Britain. He referred to the enormous crowds attracted to the Le Mans race, of how racing improves the breed, with especial reference to Jaguar’s disc brakes and Mercedes’ fuel-injection, and went on to state that road-racing in this country would benefit the tourist industry, for, excellent as are the closed-circuit races we have. road-racing is a greater attraction.
Lord Brabazon touched on the temporary closing of roads by such happenings as the Quorn Hunt and the running of the St. Leger and said he did not think that motor racing over suitable roads would shock the populace; indeed, he expressed the view that “it would be welcomed up and down the country, because the interest of the man in the street in the ordinary motor car is enormous —and much more than in other forms of racing, I beg to move.” And so say all of us !
This courageous Amendment was supported by Lord Teynham. Lord Strathcarron and Earl Howe. It was opposed by Lord Moyne and the Earl of Selkirk.
Lord Teynham gave his support because such racing would be of great benefit both to our great motor industry and to our tourist industry. He expressed surprise that Great Britain failed to provide facilities which were available in Europe, Australia and New Zealand and which he understands a number of local councils, notably the County Councils Association of Scotland, would welcome.
Lord Strathcarron referred to the great, permanent grand stands which the French, who are a practical people, have built at Le Mans and Reims and recalled the sales promotion of German family cars in South Africa before the war due to racing successes. He felt that we have many roads in open country, such as Salisbury Plain, suitable for racing and that closing them for perhaps two days at a time would not cause undue hardship.
Earl Howe spoke of crowds of half-a-million at Germany’s Nurburgring last year, and 80,000 at the Avus track just outside Berlin, whereas our big fixtures attract crowds of up to 150,000 people. (In this he slightly confused the issue as the Nurburgring and Avus are not public roads in the ordinary sense, although open to the public when not in use for racing.-Ed.). He enlarged on Lord Strathcarron’s reference to German exports to South Africa. saying that Auto Union increased sales of the little D.K.W. cars in that market from 30 a year to over 3,000 a year, directly as a result of their racing activities. [It can be said that the tremendous sales success of the VW since the war, which has made the Wolfsburg plant the third largest car manufactory in the world, is to some extent an extension of this, because the efficiency and appeal of the VW stems from the ability of designer Dr. Porsche who designed those Auto-Union G.P. cars.—Ed.] Earl Howe emphasised the desirability of the R.A.C. controlling British motor-racing, and after some cautionary words on limiting the number of races—”There are not enough drivers and cars to go round” or allow for “racing to be extended as an addition to amenities”—he expressed concern that this country is denied motor-racing facilities which are granted to the Channel Islands. the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland. Cycle racing takes place over the (unclosed) roads of this country, and good luck to it, but we cannot close roads for motor racing, said Earl Howe. He then referred to a road circuit “way up in the Midlands,” which the Minister of Transport knows all about and which has been inspected by officials of the Ministry of Transport, where local authorities are quite ready to have the roads closed. For some reason this exciting revelation was masked in secrecy, Earl Howe remarking that perhaps the Ministry of Transport would not like too much information to he spread about it, which he repeated when asked by the spirited Lord Lucas of Chilworth for the location, Lord Mancroft rising to say it would be better if Earl Howe did not disclose it.
Earl Howe continued to stress the amenities of this secret circuit in the Midlands, which he clearly regards as the ideal National road circuit. Having earlier related that Jaguar’s exports to America have been achieved entirely by success in racing (Lord Strathcarron also underlined the pre-eminent position held by Britain in sports-car racing), Earl Howe concluded : ” There is hardly a feature of the modern motor vehicle, bus, lorry or private car, which has not at some stage in its development owed something to racing; so this is not a proposal to be lightly turned down. It may be found impracticable but I hope the Amendment will be considered by Her Majesty’s Government with an open mind. I believe that if it could be agreed. even on a limited basis, it would be of the greatest value to industry and to the country.”
What reception was accorded to this proposal so ably presented by Lord Brabazon of Tara and supported in detail by Earl Howe ?
Lord Moyne complained of the fearful and appalling noise “which can be heard for miles” [Shades of 1907 !—Ed] and the great Inconvenience he had experienced from motor racing while living in Southern Ireland. He felt the industry should have its own tracks and not use the roads and “thus spoil the peace of the countryside.” [Presumably tracks in the centre of towns !—Ed.]
The Earl of Selkirk, after generously conceding that the point raised was important and that “anyone accustomed to talking to young men of fifteen or sixteen will know how their minds are inflamed with interest in motor or motor-cycle racing. These are subjects which are today in the minds of many people. I believe no one will misconceive the importance of racing in the development of the modern motor vehicle …” fell back on the red herring of this being the most densely-populated country in the world, offering an alternative to closing public roads “a certain number of private racing tracks, such as Aintree, Donington [and spelt incorrectly in Hansard !—Ed.] and Silverstone.”
Earl Howe pointed out that Donington is occupied by the Government, and the Earl of Selkirk made it clear that he appreciated that such tracks do not meet what the noble Lords had in mind. “Her Majesty’s Government,” he continued, “are very much alive to the importance of the problem, particularly to the motor industry, which today has such a great export potential.” Having said this, however, the Earl of Selkirk expressed horror at the “invasion of personal liberty” which closing a few remote roads for motor racing would, in his opinion, entail. “It would become a statutory offence to walk on the road or to drive a motor car on it. It would become an offence even to walk on the road. Those who are on the wrong side of the road might find it impossible even to get where they wanted to, or even, in some cases, to get home.—[ Not if we could close a Royal Park for racing.–Ed.] They were, concluded the Earl of Selkirk, producing a bill to promote road safety in which he found a racing provision a little incongruous. He asked Lord Brabazon to withdraw his Amendment and to proceed by Private Bill.
So there we are, and if foreign cars win this year’s great road races in Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, Mexico and elsewhere. who shall we blame ?
Although the Bill referred to proudly by the Earl of Selkirk it intended to promote road safety, to free congestion, and to assist freedom of traffic, it is significant that sensible suggestions made in respect of controlling abnormally obstructive loads, better road lighting, controlling stray dogs, which can cause serious accidents, and to revert to the Law of the Land in respect of trapping motorists in built-up areas (Lord Brabazon had made the brilliant point here that the Road Traffic Act of 1934 calls for more than one witness of the motorist’s speed, which has been changed not by a new Act but by interpretation of the courts !) all these Amendments were withdrawn, largely because Lord Mancroft poured metaphorical cold water over them.
This led Lord Brabazon to remark, when requested by the Earl of Selkirk to withdraw his motor-racing Amendment, that the Almighty never constructed us to pat ourselves on the back and that he was interested to see that the Minister is very pleased with himself about the Road Traffic Bill and Lord Brabazon wished other people were of the same opinion. He would present his Amendment as a Private Bill providing it would not be opposed automatically by the Ministry. The Earl of Selkirk readily gave this assurance and Lord Brabazon’s Amendment was withdrawn. We wish Lord Brabazon of Tara every success with this Private Bill, because, excellent racing that we have in this country over private circuits, the majority of them, Oulton Park excepted, are of the airfield-perimeter kind, which lag far behind Continental road circuits in respect of spectacle and test-value. If British cars are to continue to wave the Union Jack abroad for the promotion of our export trade, we must have adequate circuits here over which they can be raced. The Earl of Selkirk’s “young men of fifteen and sixteen inflamed with interest in motor racing” are not the only persons we have to serve—nor do people in Italy complain that the Mille Miglia, never yet won by a British driver or car, makes a ” fearful and appalling noise” and prevents her citizens, unlike the proverbial chicken, from crossing the road !
From the above it can be inferred that we have not come far in the past thirty-one years ! In March 1924, the A.C.U., with the backing of Lt.-Col. Moore-Brabazon, Sir Robert Bird, Sir Edward Iliffe, Mr. Ben Tillett, Mr. Ben Smith, Mr. A.A. Purcell and Col. Howard Bury, promoted a Bill of the same sort, seeking Government Sanction to close public roads, with the consent of the local council, for motor-cycle racing on not more than four days a year. The Autocar expressed the view that the R. A.C. should have promoted this Bill and included car racing.
The Motor Cycle Races Bill, 1924, was promised a second reading but, as you all know, it was never passed.
In 1955 the matter is of far greater importance to this country’s future well-being. Let us thank Lord Brabazon of Tara and cross our fingers.
Easter sees the English motor-racing season really commence. On Easter Saturday the Bristol M.C. & L.C.C. will hold a Closed Invitation Race Meeting at their excellent Castle Combe circuit open also to B.R.D.C., B.A.R.C. and R.R. & S.C.C. members. The programme will include a sports-car race over approximately 54 miles, all cars running together but with class awards, while there will be a similar race for production touring and sports cars, over 25 laps (27.6 miles), and the usual 500-c.c. and Formule Libre races. Castle Combe deserves your support at a time when new circuits tend to steal some of the success of those already well established. Racing starts at 1.30 p.m. and the course is close to Chippenham, Wiltshire. Full details are available from Mrs. K. Maurice (owner of the circuit and keen Frazer-Nash owner), at Castle Combe, Chippenham. Entries have closed.
Easter Monday will see the B.A.R.C. International Race Meeting, at the popular Goodwood circuit, near Chichester, Sussex. The programme, which commences at 1.30 p.m., will comprise the Earl of March Trophy over seven laps for 500-c.c. racing cars, the Levant Cup Race, also over seven laps, for 2-litre racing cars, the 7-lap Chichester Cup Race for Formule Libre racing cars (the big fellows!) two 5-lap races for non-supercharged sports cars of, respectively. under and above 2 litres, all the foregoing being scratch contests. backed up by one or more 5-lap handicap races for racing cars. In addition, there is the big race of the afternoon, in the form of the Richmond Formula 1 Race for the Glover Trophy and 100 guineas (with prize to encourage 2-litre cars), over 21 laps or 50 miles. Entries have closed.
Goodwood can be reached by train and special ‘bus connection, and coach excursions are run from London and elsewhere. Grandstand seats can be booked and details are obtainable from the B.A.R.C., 55, Park Lane,. London, W.I.
Practice will take place during Easter Saturday, when the organisers usually allow free admission to the public enclosures— which should whet anyone’s appetite !
On Easter Monday the B.R. & S.C.C. have a National Meeting at Brands Hatch, the circuit within easy reach of London, being situated near Farningham. in Kent.. with races for sports cars and 500-c.c, racing machines. Racing starts at 2 p.m. Entries have closed.
On the Continent Easter will see the first really big Grand Prix, at Pau, when all the leading G.P. teams will no doubt be engaged. At home, the M.C.C. will run its traditional Land’s End trial and numerous lesser sporting events are due to be contested.
A busy holiday ! Motor Sport will carry reports of the leading race meetings in the May issue.
Ford versus the imported sports-car.
In February, 1954, we devoted a page of Motor Sport to a description of General Motors’ new sports car, the Chevrolet Corvette, and in July last year we thought it time to refer Editorially to the prospect of this new American high-performance car eating into the U.S. market for imported sports models.
At the time the Corvette looked as if it constituted a serious threat to British sports-car manufacturers who were raking in the dollars with sports-car exports to America. In fact, it hasn’t turned out quite that way. Corvette production slowed down as sales clogged. perhaps because dealers and public were suspicious of the plastic body.
But if the Chevrolet Corvette has receded somewhat, Ford now has a sports model, or, as Detroit prefers to call it, a “personal car,” in the new Ford Thunderbird.
To us this Thunderbird may look an ungainly, over-elaborate vehicle, but it seems that already it has cost the British Motor Industry some valuable sports-car sales.
Performance figures for the Thunderbird, which has a push-rod o.h.v. 4,788-c.c. Mercury V8 engine developing 198 b.h.p. at 4,400 r.p.m., on a compression ratio of 8.5 to 1, in an 8 ft. 6-in, wheelbase chassis, have been published in our American contemporary Road and Track. That journal gives a top speed for the Ford Thunderbird of 112.3 m.p.h. and 110.1 m.p.h. for the two-way run, and acceleration figures of 0-50 m.p.h. in 7.6 sec., 0-70 in 13.9 sec. and 0-80 in 17.8 sec., and the best standing-start 1-mile was covered in 16.9 sec. (average 17.1 sec.), so this metal-bodied, 29-cwt. 2/3seater leaves the Corvette rather far behind. And the Chevrolet Corvette out-performs the normal Austin-Healey, for instance.
The Ford Thunderbird costs only 2,695 dollars, gives 15/18 American m.p.g., and can be had with power steering, servo brakes, power seat and windows, folding cloth hood, Fordomatic transmission and heater, when the price soars up to almost 4,000 dollars. But the normal version is excellent value with three-speed gearbox pulling a top gear of 3.73 to 1 and with close-ratio lower ratios.
The Thunderbird suffers from lack of a four-speed transmission, and a minor irritation is a very optimistic speedometer, 10 m.p.h. fast at a true 90 m.p.h. Ford do not call it a sports car, and our American contemporary, although expecting to see the Thunderbird in sports-car competitions, expresses the view that, even stripped and modified, it will not stand much of a chance in Class C (3,000-5,000 c.c.).
Nevertheless, manufacturers of our softer sports cars and roadsters are advised to keep an eye on Ford’s successful entry into the specialised, or “personal car,” market.
A new badge.
The Royal Automobile Club announces a new form of membership, that of Motor Sport Member. This membership is open to all past and present holders of a Competition Licence and will no doubt appeal to a large number of sportsmen and sports-girls. It must be emphasised, however, that anyone who has a driving licence can obtain a Competition Licence from the R.A.C., on payment of 10s. for a Restricted or 30s. for an International Licence. He or she has no need to take part in a competition—although presumably this will be in mind when the licence is applied for—and is not normally examined for competence to do so. Consequently, display of the R.A.C. Motor Sport Member badge means nothing beyond the enthusiasm of the member for motor sport—unlike the pre-war Brooklands (B.A.R.C.) 120-m.p.h. and 130-m.p.h. badges, which had to be earned, and the B.R.D.C. badge which, at all events until recently, indicated that its possessor had taken an active part in motor-racing. [Point is lent to this argument by my need, last year, to acquire an International Competition Licence in order to drive one of the slowest modern cars as slowly as possible a 2 c.v. Citroen in the Cheltenham M.C. Fuel Economy Contest !—Ed.]
We acknowledge the snob value of this new badge—although we confess we should raise our eyebrows at similar badges for other sports, such as CRICKET LOVER or GOLF ADDICT—but it can be questioned whether its display is altogether prudent in a country which is by no means 100 per cent, in favour of sporting motoring, so that the carrying of competition-numbers in road events is deemed unwise in many quarters. The wording “Motor Sport Member” will inevitably be associated with fast driving and racing on the roads in some people’s minds.
These objections apart, we must confess we have no grumble with the title chosen by the R.A.C. !
This new class of membership costs £2 2s. per annum and £1 Is. for the badge, and carries with it the facilities previously enjoyed only by full and associate members of the R.A.C., i.e., free legal aid, the “Get You Home” service, use of R.A.C. telephone boxes, etc., etc.
To date there are 13,000 holders, past and present, of Competition Licences in this country and, assuming none to belong already to the R.A.C., the new Motor Sport Member badge, coupled with the undoubted benefits which R.A.C. membership confers, could induce these licence-holders to join, representing a turnover to the R.A.C. of £40.950, exclusive of the payments for C.L.s.
In order to get the new Motor Sport Membership off to a good start, the R.A.C. presented badge No. 1 to Stirling Moss, in their view Britain’s leading racing-driver, on March 24th. We feel it would have been a nice gesture to have had Hawthorn, as winner of two Grands Prix, along as well, when he and Stirling could have tossed up for the honour of being the first Motor Sport Member.
However, in its choice of wording on its new badge, we are convinced the R.A.C. is in the best possible company !