Letters From Readers, April 1956



N.B.—Opinions expressed are those of our Correspondents and “Motor Sport” does not necessarily associate itself with them. — Ed.

The Worth of American Engines


I looked forward very much to reading the replies to the letter from your Cheltenham correspondents in the January issue of Motor Sport, but the letters published positively oozed with prejudice. Before I give my own views on this controversy, please let me point out the worst errors made by your readers.

If one is going to compare the b.h.p. output of two engines, then the r.p.m. at which the maximum power is produced must obviously be given. Maximum torque (much more important in most cases than maximum b.h.p.) is casually ignored by your correspondents. How naive can one get? The Aston Martin DB2/4, incidentally, gives 178 ft. lb. at 3,000 r.p.m., while the Oldsmobile produces no less than 332 ft. lb. at 2,400 r.p.m. It is a pity Mr. Dixon cannot quote correct figures; a contemporary gave an output of 245 b.h.p. from 5,768 c.c. for the Packard.

But surely anyone with any knowledge at all of engineering — even a youth of 16 — will agree that to compare the engine of a Packard with that of an Aston Martin DB3S is tantamount to matching a high-grade hunting rifle against an equally good shotgun. Each has its own job to do, and each does it well, but the one cannot be compared to the other.

As the four readers from Cheltenham seemed to have aroused the ire of the pro-British enthusiasts, I cannot resist joining in on their side and giving a few figures which will make even the most ardent of English motorists think. As tested by Car Life, a U.S. Cunningham sports car, with an absolutely standard Chrysler V8 engine (with the exception of a four-carburetter unit and dual exhaust system), gave the following figures:–

Top speed: 140 m.p.h.

Fuel consumption: 17-23 miles per U.S. gallon.

Acceleration: 30-60 m.p.h., 3.7 sec.; 60-90 m.p.h., 3.6 sec.; and 0-100 m.p.h., 11 sec. — repeat, 11 sec.

This, friends, is acceleration and is the direct result of the excellent torque inherent in U.S. engine design. For comparison, an Aston Martin DB2/4 with a DB3S engine fitted, as tested by a contemporary, gave a maximum speed of 131 m.p.h., a fuel-consumption reading of 18 miles per English gallon (larger than an American gallon), and a 0-100-m.p.h. acceleration time of 21 sec. And this with a racing-car engine! Both cars, incidentally, have a power-to-weight ratio of about 14 lb. per b.h.p.; the Cunningham being a genuine sports car, of course, and not to be confused with the Chevrolet Corvette and similar cars.

The above figures speak for themselves, but I feel I must quote Ted Koopman who tested the Cunningham. He praised the whole car in the very best American journalese, and then added:–

“In the eyes of Continental and British engineers, the 5½-litre Chrysler . . . is deemed inefficient, wasteful and clumsy . . . the slower-turning, medium-output Chrysler will be running when overworked foreign engines have become fodder for the steel mills.”

How true.

I would now like to give my views on Continental, American and English cars. My personal opinions of American styling and the policy of handing one’s driving over to a system of oil pumps and servo systems do not enter into the argument. I am afraid that if they did, I should quarrel most violently with Cheltenham!

American cars are designed with a set purpose in mind. They fulfil their obligations to the full. Beneath a gaudy exterior lies a good, solid, well-designed chassis and transmission. No monococque construction which causes a car to be written off by a small collision. British roads are not suitable for American cars, but this implies no criticism of their automobiles, just consider how well they stand up to hard work abroad. A fast-revving engine delivering a high power output is not required, an American car requires a smooth, slogging, engine delivering good torque — hence the popular and eminently suitable V8.

British cars will not, in general, stand up to the hard life and high speeds expected of an American car.

If one must generalise, however, I believe that the best cars come not from Great Britain or the U.S.A., but from the European Continent. The Continent always has produced the best, sports and high-performance cars in particular. What car ever made could compare as regards handling and performance with a Bugatti? In case this annoys any member of the Bentley Drivers’ Club, let me say at once that I agree wholeheartedly with Le Patron — Bentley did make the world’s fastest lorries!

To summarise. For a cheap, fast, sports car with not too much refinement, one can do no better than shop in Britain. For a better-class, high-performance machine Germany or Italy will satisy the connoisseur (unless one has the necessary dollars to import a Cunningham, of course). For good solid workmanship compatible with a reasonable price, Germany or the U.S.A. offer the best machine. The single exception which proves the rule is Jaguar.

To end on a personal note. I no longer believe that the slogan “The Best Car in the World” can stay in England. Rolls-Royce have rested on their laurels for too long. The world’s best small car — by a long way — is the inimitable Volkswagen, while the best saloons, sports and racing cars come from Mercedes-Benz.

I am, Yours, etc., John M. Bell. Kidderminster, Worcs.


Possibilities in Lakeland


Lest any enthusiast should take Mr. Rayner’s advice, I must tell them that Sadgill-Kentmere is passable only to pedestrians, ponies and motor-cycles. There is a bad washout on the triple hairpin, and those cars which have tried it during the last five years have all failed — on two occasions somewhat expensively. It’s not so much the value of the car, as the cost of getting heavy unditching gear to the site!

Quite an interesting route is to the “iron gate” at the top of Longsleddale (the “road” to Mardale and Haweswater on the map). This is very rough, and includes a double hairpin on 1 in 3, but Mr. Tom Fishwick’s tractor roars up in fine style. The way down is the way up — it is a dead end — but much more exciting! It is about four miles (there and back) from Sudgill Bridge — don’t cross this, just go straight up the valley and press on regardless.

Sadgill-Kentmere has quite exciting spots for motor-cycles and is often used by W.M.C. But may I appeal to all using it to close gates and to keep an eye open for two small children on ponies?

I am, Yours, etc., T. D. Walshaw. Staveley, Kendal.


Objective Reporting


Your “Matters of Moment” this month, as in every month, aptly singles out the moments that matter. The moments when: “a couple of wheels come off,” “the collapse of a rear suspension occurs,” you “lose your headlights and the ignition distributor.”

It is rewarding and encouraging for those who have regard for scrupulous reporting and unbiassed commentary, to find in a British motor journal information of the type you provide. Information which is otherwise very, very hard to come by. One is tempted to ask whether the makers really believe themselves to be well served by a Press which provides for the readers a supply of carefully-screened facts or, more often, no facts at all.

The chief case in point is road tests which, in some publications, have become so stereotyped in opinion as to atrophy interest and challenge belief. If British manufacturers care to analyse the proportion of their small cars on Irish roads to cars of European makers, in relation to the road tests in motoring journals, they will get some idea of the value of these reports — at least as far as the Irish market is concerned; almost precisely nil!

It is accepted in Ireland that in the line of “informed” reading on motoring matters generally Motor Sport has the last word. This reputation has been earned, I respectfully submit, by a policy of objective reporting and critical appraisal.

I am, Yours, etc., H. McGrillen. Co. Dublin.


The Bristol 404 — UHT 405


I was, of course, most interested in your report on UHT 405

She is the actual car in which I had a trial run and she was the subject of an article last year. She must have been pushed around by all and sundry and it says much for the car that you found her free from rattles and using very little oil. It would be interesting to know what mileage she has covered.

I noticed that UHT 405 is now shod with Michelin SDs! Somebody has exchanged the Michelin X tyres which she wore last year and I was interested, therefore, to see that her cornering ability is still approved in your report.

May I, as a 405 owner, say that the report confirms all the pleasure I have obtained from this excellent British car.

I am, Yours, etc., P. G. M. Talbot. Winchester.


Not at Oulton!


In “Matters of Moment” (March issue of Motor Sport) reference was made to B.A.R.C. fixtures in general and the “drab North” in particular. We Northerners hasten to endorse the use of the adjective “drab,” as applied to Aintree. No circuit could possibly be located in less inspiring surroundings. But, please, do not generalise! In Oulton Park, the North can boast of a circuit located in surroundings anything but drab. In fact, typical of the best rural England can offer. Not only is this road circuit popular with a number of drivers, but, furthermore, it seems to have become a favourite rendezvous for “picnic parties,” for whom the actual racing holds but a passing attraction!

In conclusion and in fairness to the writer, it is to be hoped that his choice of adjectives on this occasion was the result of an Aintree hangover and does not reflect a somewhat limited knowledge of the country lying to the far side of the Midlands?

I am, Yours, etc., Richard W. Statham. Ffestiniog, Merioneth.

[ln case any other readers read into our reference to the “drab North” what Mr. Statham did, we hasten to assure him and them that we do not include Oulton Park under that heading — the B.A.R.C. does not organise racing at Oulton Park, so we had hoped we had made ourselves clear! — Ed.]


Ahead of its Time


In these enlightened days of fuel injection, over-square engines and critical piston speeds, the following design data relating to an internationally famous power unit should be of interest to the technically-minded reader:–

“There is very little departure from standard practice in this motor. It has four separately-cast cylinders of 4.40 in. bore and 3.90 in. stroke, fitted with separate water jackets and mounted on an aluminium crankcase. All valves are in the head, the exhausts being mechanically operated by a simple vertical spindle and rocker arm, and the inlets being automatic, The only really distinctive feature about the engine is that there is no carburetter, the petrol being supplied by direct injection by means of a pump on the right-hand side of the engine, worked by worm-gear off the camshaft and by a short shaft to the interior of the crankcase. On the same side of the engine is a lubricating-oil pump which is worked in a similar way. Full-flow oil filtration is employed.

“Ignition is by means of a high-tension Eisemann magneto, carried on a platform at the base of the crankcase. The cooling water is circulated by a rotary pump mounted on the forward end of the camshaft, and the engine has free exhaust and has also auxiliary exhaust ports at the end of the stroke.”

The engine? — the Wright Brothers aero engine of 1908, the above being an extract from the Aero Manual of 1909. Incidentally, the engine was built to the design of the Wright Brothers by Leon Bollee of Le Mans.

I am, Yours, etc., Ivor R. Crabbe. Pershore, Worcs.


The Northern Bank Holiday


No one has yet spoken for the business man who is tied up on Saturdays and is unable to attend car-racing events unless held on Sundays or Bank Holidays.

Sundays appear to be absolutely out of the question, but why do we in the North never have the opportunity to attend on a Bank Holiday. We now have Oulton Park, and Aintree, but I am probably speaking for the many thousands of business men when I say that I have never visited these venues, because the organisers have yet to stage even a non-important meeting on a Bank Holiday. I did see a motor-cycle race at Oulton Park during 1955, and it had a record crowd in attendance, so why not a motor race?

Every Bank Holiday I look up the list of fixtures in your valuable journal, and I occasionally find one held as far south as Goodwood, Brands Hatch, Snetterton, etc. but never one in the North!

I am certain that they would be a great success, and have even larger attendances than if held on Saturdays, so why not give us the opportunity this Easter or August Monday, etc.

My heart is in motoring, and I am thus looking forward to seeing for the first time such men as Stirling Moss, Reg. Parnell, Peter Collins, etc., not to mention those excellent foreign drivers. At the moment I have to be content to read about them, but I am not giving up hope.

I am, Yours, etc.,  T. Unsworth. Ashton-in-Makerfield.

[Race organisers may care to note Mr. Unsworth’s remarks. — Ed.]


The Octane Value of Different Petrols


Your report on the Alexander-Laystall test day was most interesting, but I cannot understand Mr. Christie’s preference for Shell or B.P. Super. He worships at the shrine of high performance, but omits to recommend the fuels more suited to his power-raising conversions.

Surely Clevecol Special and Esso Extra are the petrols for the job, as they possess higher octane ratings, less tetra ethyl lead, and less harmful sulphur. Clevecol Special, with its alcohol additive giving it the edge on Esso Extra, must take pride of place, as you have stated yourself on occasions.

I am, Yours, etc., Leslie Singleton. London, N.W.11.

[Here is an excellent opportunity for Michael Christie and the P.R.O.s of the various petrol firms to reply to Mr. Singleton! — Ed.)


M.G. Spares


It seems that the M.G. Car Company needs to go back many years for publicity material to sell their current models. In fact, back to the days before their first withdrawal from racing. Had they mentioned the achievements of the J4, K3 and NE, for example, there would have been some real excuse perhaps.

If the M.G. Car Company is so proud of what it did 20 years ago, it is a great pity that they find themselves unable to turn out a few spares for the cars that helped them to do it. When I wrote to Abingdon for a new set of gears for my N-type M.G. I was informed that none were available, and that because of the age of the model none would be forthcoming.

I am, Yours, etc., J. A. Saunders. Nutfield, Surrey.



I should like to draw your attention to a half-page B.M.C. advertisement in today’s Times which suggests, on casual inspection, that B.M.C. power units propel the Queen Mary, and on closer scrutiny reveals that 600,000 B.M.C. horse-power would, amongst other alternatives, supply Birmingham’s street lighting for two years. I should be interested to know whether this period is intended to represent the life of a B.M.C. engine or has some connection with the duration of another kind of h.p.

I am, Yours, etc., A. E. Tumins. Leamington Spa.