The Future of Saloon Car Racing



The majority of spectators at the big International race meetings are unaware of the state of tune of the saloon cars which scrabble round the corners on their door handles in those quaintly named “Touring Car” races; all they are interested in is watching outwardly normal saloon cars travelling at sports/racing car speeds, and in the past they have usually gone away from the track voting the saloon-car event the race of the day. The drivers of these projectiles were obviously of the same opinion as, towards the end of last year, a band of them, representing some 80% of the drivers regularly participating in National and International saloon-car races, met in London and decided to press the R.A.C., S.M.M.T. and race organisers to run all touring car races to one formula, namely in accordance with Article 273b Group 3 of the Appendix “J” to the International Sporting Code. “Group 3,” as it is better known, allows for completely standard bodywork with mechanical modifications virtually on a “sky’s the limit” basis except that the chassis and body must not be cut or lightened and the suspension and axle parts must remain of the same type. With regard to the mechanics, the engine can be overbored, cylinder head modified, gearbox and differential modified to the extent of fitting overdrives, braking system can use disc brakes instead of drums, the number of carburetters can be increased and, all in all, some pretty hot motors have been built under this specification.

The alternative to Group 3 racing and, in fact, the formula which has been adopted by the R.A.C., is Group 2 (Improved Touring Cars), which merely allows the fitting of an anti-roll bar, modifications to springs and dampers, and any lightening, balancing and raising or the engine compression-ratio which may be deemed beneficial—but no components may be added to the engine in the way of carburetters, etc. There are a number of other small modifications allowed but few of them have any material effect on performance, so that it can be seen that a saloon car modified to Group 2 specification will be a lot slower than a similar car in Group 3, unless some pretty radical results are obtained from balancing and lightening operations. As an example, one well-known driver in the 1½ -litre class was getting something near 120 b.h.p. in Group 3 tune from his production engine at a reputed cost of £150, but in order to comply with Group 2 he has had to have a standard engine sent to the factory for balancing, etc., and having been there several weeks is still not showing much more than 90 b.h.p. If he is charged for the work it will undoubtedly cost more than £150. Thus, if this instance can be regarded as typical, the aim of Group 2, to make cars nearer to those we use in our every-day motoring and presumably cheaper than Group 3, looks to be defeated. At their original meeting, the drivers advanced a number of reasons for preferring Group 3 racing, which can he summarised as follows :—

(a) lt will make for faster race speeds and therefore call for a higher degree of racing skill.

(b) It will provide a better racing spectacle, i.e., faster and more competitive.

(c) It will permit greater attention to safety for the driver.

(d) It allows the application of the greatest technical skill on the part of the owner to develop the car’s performance and road-holding consistent with reliability.

(e) It aids to a very great degree the Motor Accessory Manufacturer, whose services can be called upon to the full and whose products can be proved before a vast audience.

(J) It will allow and encourage the competition between many more marques and will not give so great an advantage to the man with most money.

No one could quarrel with paragraphs (a), (b), (d) and (e), but paragraph (c) is questionable in that Group 3 cars will be considerably faster than Group 2 and therefore putting greater stress on all components. Presumably the drivers feel that the latitude allowed in modifications to braking and suspension systems will make the Group 3 cars safer. In paragraph (f) the drivers hit upon a very important point. Under Group 2 rules, where engine modifications are limited, no one in their right mind is going to choose a car with a single carburetter when another car of similar capacity and weight is available with twin carburetters, as in the case of Wolseley 1500 and Riley 1.5, Hillman Minx and Sunbeam Rapier. This will have the effect of reducing the number of marques taking part in saloon-car racing, and if one particular make gains an initial advantage then other drivers will either be discouraged and drop out or change to that make. For instance, the 3.8 Jaguar with twin overhead camshafts and twin carburetters as standard cannot help but win the vast majority of races, while the 2.4 Jaguar now stands a far better chance of winning the 2-3-litre class as the Zephyrs which previously beat it will not be so quick under Group 2 regulations.

The drivers have also brought up the point of drivers using expensive Continental cars. While this may sound like “sour grapes,” they point out that many Continental manufacturers, unlike most British car makers, offer alternative models which are homologated as Touring Cars. Examples are the Renault Dauphine and Dauphine Gordini, Mercedes-Benz 220 and 220SE, Panhard PL17 and PL17 Tigre, Fiat 600 and 600D, and Auto Union 1000 and 1000S, all of which have been produced in quantities of more than 1,000 per year. In Group 2 form these cars stand a much better chance against the less highly-tuned British cars, especially the two-stroke-engined cars, which benefit greatly from Group 2 as the lightening operations allowed enable port shapes to be altered, which approximates to the fitting of larger valves and reground camshaft in four-stroke designs, a procedure which of course is not allowed. The answer to this is, of course, that British manufacturers should build special models, and no doubt some of the more competition-minded firms will do so. The fact that Britain produces no two-stroke cars capable of taking part in saloon-car racing is a matter of hard luck for which the R.A.C. and S.M.M.T. can hardly be blamed.

However, under Group 2 racing we shall almost certainly see more Continental cars in the forefront, with Auto Union 1000S and SP doing battle with Saab in the 1,000-c.c. class against Mini-Minors and A40s, while the Volvo will provide stiff opposition for the Sunbeam Rapiers in the 1½-litre section. Anyone able to run to a Mercedes-Benz 220SE should be able to provide stiff opposition to the 2.4 Jaguars in the 2 – 3-litre class. Competitors will also be tempted to use other potent machines of Continental manufacture such as the twin-overhead camshaft Alfa Romeo Giulietta TI saloon which, despite being of 1,300 c.c. capacity, should be able to give a good account of itself in the 1,500-c.c. class. This will have the effect of pushing up the cost of saloon-car racing as these cars are fantastically expensive in this country and any successes will have very little effect on sales of these cars.

Perhaps the most powerful argument the drivers have against Group 2 racing is the problem of cheating. A number of internal modifications can be made which a scrutineer is unable to detect without stripping the engine, and it is doubtful if any of last season’s saloon cars complied with the Group 2 regulations. Naturally if a car is suspiciously quick and is continually better placed than its specification would lead one to believe, then there is a chance that the scrutineers may order it to be stripped, but this has not happened in saloon-car racing yet.

One stumbling block to the adoption of Group 3 racing was the fact that Group 3 Touring Cars are “assimilated to the Grand Touring Class,” therefore if a race were to be organised for Group 3 the organisers would have to allow G.T. cars such as Ferrari, Porsche, Alfa Romeo into races. However, a decision was obtained from the C.S.I. that it is possible to run races for Group 3 Touring Cars and exclude any other type of car, and vice versa, and in fact the Automobile Club de L’Ouest have barred Group 3 Touring Cars from Le Mans.

Despite this decision the R.A.C. and S.M.M.T. have opted for Group 2 racing, which means that all International and National trade-supported meetings will be run to this formula, although, of course, many other races will be run to Group 3 rules, including the Cibie Cup which caters for under 1,600-c.c. cars only. This brings up the further problem of drivers wishing to take part in both Group 2 and 3 racing having to have either two different cars or modify from race to race or, as will probably happen in many cases, leave the car in Group 3 trim and hope that the scrutineer doesn’t notice.

Once again, as in higher and faster spheres of motor racing, the wishes of competitors have been ignored, and once again it looks as if the spectator will be the loser. From this rather complicated situation emerges the fact that saloon-car racing at National and International levels will be slower and less spectacular than before and it is doubtful if the aim of providing saloon cars more akin to those we drive on the road will be achieved.—M. L. T.