Matters of moment, April 1974

Wanted – A motorist’s manifesto

Going West the other day and listening to the latest calamities on the BMW’s excellent Blue Spot radio—the worst-ever air crash, another air-liner hi-jacked, the indecisive Election result, and all the rest of it—we pondered on the need for a firm manifesto from the many millions of motorists who are as far as ever from getting a fair deal in return for the part they play in the life of the Nation and the vast sums they pour into the National Exchequer. Among Mr. Heath’s sane warnings and Mr. Wilson’s grand promises we can recall nothing of direct appeal to the country’s car-owners and drivers.

As our journey progressed into a rather beautiful snow-covered twilight landscape that was actually mid-Wales but which might have been an obscure part of the Soviet Union, we reflected that perhaps part of the Electorate had got what it wanted, including the appropriate weather! It remains to be seen how soon the Labour Party can implement all its generous promises and get Britain back into top gear. But whatever happens, the car-owners of this Island look like going on getting a raw deal. The futile 50 m.p.h. speed-limit is being enforced by the Police, under the pretext of fuel conservation, in spite of the fact that since the cost of petrol has risen in a huge jump it has been easily obtainable. There have been fewer accidents since the introduction of this “temporary” limit (as temporary as was the 70 m.p.h. limit?), because since petrol was “rationed” by slow deliveries, as it is now by price, fewer cars have been in everyday use. It is accidents-per-vehicle-mile that count, not overall figures—the opposite to an Election poll!—but will this ensure a speedy removal of this hampering, even dangerous speed restriction? You must know the answer to that . . .

But with a crawler-pace imposed on all, have you noticed any reduction in the “Road Fund” tax or a reduction in Insurance premiums? Have you observed fairer treatment of the overburdened drivers, in the Courts? The private-car becomes vital in times of threatened stoppages by train and ‘bus drivers. Yet this very expensive form of transport is still hounded from pillar to post. The Road Traffic Bill is dead, temporarily, due to the change of Government. But Labour may revive it. If so, note that it provides for owner-liability for driver-offences, compulsory wearing of safety belts, extension of the fixed-penalty fine, further restrictions on parking, and increased fines for driving offences, while restricting the right of drivers to elect to go for trial by jury. Surely we badly need a Motorists’ Manifesto to fight such action?

Meanwhile, the senseless persecution continues. Two instances will suffice. There was the driver who used the third-lane of a Motorway for a short, safe piece of lorry overtaking, overlooking the fact that he was towing a light trailer. He was reported by a Police helicopter pilot and his clean licence endorsed. There was the law-abiding chap out in a new Rover, which the Police stopped for no apparent reason and took 20 minutes to run the rule over. He, too, was fined. Why? Because they had discovered that the screen-washer bottle was empty . . .

Ownership and operation of a private-car is now becoming so costly that soon we shall find we are, to a degree, reverting to the state of motoring as it was in the 1920s, when only the more solid citizens ran motor-cars—do you remember how, in the remarkable Christobel Russell Divorce Case of 1923, Sir Marshall Hall, cross-examining Lord Ampthill, and requiring to prove to the jury that his client was not a rich man, put the question: “Do you keep a car?”? His Lordship replied that he could not afford to do so . . . If casts rise again we may soon become a country of crawling little cars, reduced in numbers because of the savage cost of running even these. But there should still be enough of us to stand up for our rights and to back a Motorists’ Manifesto.

Wanted-A VSCC Mandate

At this year’s Pomeroy Memorial Trophy Competition of the Vintage SCC (reported on page 332), the only VSCC fixture at which modern cars are permitted to compete against the pre-war cars which this Club fosters, the entry comprised a mere half-dozen vintage cars, backed up by seven post-vintage thoroughbreds. The remaining 44 entries were moderns, but it was some consolation to die-hard “vintagents” that both classes were won by pre-war cars, the standard section of the well-known competition Talbot 105, 0052, and the special sports-car class by a 328 BMW (which in itself sounds rather an anomaly).

Most VSCC members regard the “Porn” as great entertainment, when they can enjoy watching such cars as Ferraris, Morgans, ACs, Deep Sandersons, Triumph Stags, Ford RS Escorts, Daimler SP250s, Dino Fiats, E-type Jaguars, etc., which they do not normally see motoring in anger. But that is not to say that they wish this to become a habit, which it will if historic sports cars of the kind recognised by the HSCC are adopted by the VSCC.

Since the war the VSCC Committee has been strong-minded in keeping the ranks of this pleasant, efficient and influential Club closed to all except pre-1931 and better pre1941 cars, except for a lapse into historic, or post-war, front-engined racing cars. These were allowed in with the intention of preserving them and for a time these racing cars were a considerable spectator attraction and, being the fastest cars the Club fields, they encompass the greatest driving skill, in the modern idiom, to be seen at VSCC race meetings. But in recent times such historic racing car events have been less well supported, have tended to be distinctly processional (all following Corner into the corners) and now that such interesting cars are catered for by other Clubs and in the JCB Championships, the latter complete with decals, big prize money, more champagne and so on, they might perhaps now be given a diminished showing in VSCC pursuits?

The post-1940 sports cars were originally catered for, at a time when no one seemed to want them, by the Frazer Nash CC, to enable Bristol-engined Frazer Nashes, C-type Jaguars, AC Aces and the like to go racing. Then the HSCC took over, and now recognises GT and sports/racing cars from 1940 to 1959 and, in its Group 2, those from 1960 to 1964. This is all most commendable. But can the VSCC afford to include such cars in its fully-subscribed racing programme?

There is a move in certain quarters that this change should be made. Remembering, however, that the VSCC enjoys big “gates” at its meetings because it presents a quite di fferent sort of racing from that seen elsewhere, would it be wise to include cars which spectators will have seen racing at other venues? It can be argued that at present the VSCC enjoys about twice as much spectator support as the one-make Clubs which run events for these post-war historic sports cars. If it follows their lead, it might find its “gates” divided. Moreover, starting-grids are already restricted by RAC edict. Can the VSCC genuinely find room for additional entries? Then there is the question which arises with furniture and antiques generally, as well as with old cars, of where to draw the line that divides the historical from the less-old and rare. The Second World War has always been acceptable as a sensible division by the VSCC: (apart from its aforesaid excursion into the realms of “historic”—but front-engined l—racing cars) with a worthwhile backwards move to take in the Edwardians, which are seen on the circuits all too infrequently nowadays (because of their inflated, false, speculative values?). We believe that to accept ten-year-old machinery, however “one-off” or exciting, into VSCC circles would be a retrograde move. Better, maybe, to leave such things to the HSCC, the JCB organisation and the one-make bodies? It is a matter to which the VSCC should be giving serious thought. There is also the point that splendid as vintage cars are when seen in spirited action, they do not compare with the thrill of modern racers (or the faster historic cars) being cornered on the limit, especially if they have only rear-wheel brakes, their original shockabsorbers and the correct-size tyres. So it could be unwise to mix pre-war and post-war cars at the same meetings, remembering how feeble historic cars look to the bulk of the race-going public when their race comes as an anti-climax to an exciting Grand Prix— especially in the rain.

Meanwhile, whichever way it decides, the VSCC’s Silverstone Meeting on April 27th should be in the former tradition, with all the right sights, sounds and scents, and the pre-war cars scoring points towards the 1974 Motor Sport Brooklands Memorial Trophy and its accompanying cash prizes. So we suggest some of you may care to note the date.

Dodd again

We are aware that the Rolls-Royce Merlinengined fibreglass coupe belonging to John Dodd of Epsom is a very rapid car. Does it not hold the World’s Class A s.s. quarter-mile record in 6.3 sec.? But the claims made for it in the Daily Mail recently seem to invite comment, especially on April Fool’s Day. In their account this remarkable Rolls-Royce Special was claimed to have upset the West German Police by flashing through 27 of their radar-traps on the autobahn at 217 m.p.h. too fast to photograph or catch, “faster than Jackie Stewart ever reached in a Fl GP car”. Dodd claimed to have driven his 27-litre R-R from Madrid to Calais in ten minutes over ten hours (nearly 100 m.p.h. average), from Stuttgart to Ostend in 3 h. 10 m., and to have put it round the Nurburgring “within a mile or two of the lap-record at his first attempt”. Warming to his theme, according to the Mail his docile road-car gives 14 m.p.g. on two-star petrol, yet can be driven on a track at “250 or 300 m.p.h.” It has apparently proved reliable over 35,000 miles and does all this on what are described as “standard R-R front tyres”. It has an Austin Westminster front axle, a 10-gallon radiator and 10 gallon oil tank, a 37-gallon fuel tank, and is shod at the driving end with “John Wolf racing wheels and Mickey Thompson ‘Street and Track’ tyres”. The V12 Merlin engine has triple Webers, and drives through “a three-speed Turbo 100 transmission”. We can well understand that Dodd finds no inclination to use this car in Britain, with the prevailing 50 m.p.h. speed-limit. When he takes it out again we would like to put a watch on it.—W.B.

The things they say. . .

“And even if Sir John hadn’t wanted to be serious, the man who wrote of Miss Hunter-Dunn, nine o’clock Camberley heavy with bells, and snogging beneath the intimate roof of a baby Austin, could have had a wild old time with horse boxes, Badminton, faults and refusals.”—Alan Forrest, of Books and Bookmen, in a snide criticism of the Poet Laureate’s verses on the Royal Wedding. But Mr. Forrest isn’t very serious himself, about the person he seeks to slight, if he thinks the “snogging” (which is not, I feel, what Betjeman would have called it) between Miss Hunter-Dunn and her fiance took place in an Austin 7. In fact, they made love in a Hillman, which I have always assumed to have been a pre-war Minx.

“. . . the Motor Sport Brooklands Memorial Trophy . . . must he recognised as the world’s premier, trophy for this type of motor sport (vintage racing). Surely this makes the most splendid publicity for Lagondas today and really shows where they belong?”—from a report in the high-quality Lagonda CC magazine, describing how fain Macdonald won it last year.

Amoc film presentation

TheAston Martin Owners’ Club is organising a special London Film Presentation at the Collegiate Theatre, Gordon Street, London WC1 (opposite Euston Station) at 7 p.m. on April 10th. An interesting six film programme includes the recently unearthed “Ulster TT 1935”, when Freddie Dixon took his Riley to victory. All enthusiasts are welcome and tickets at 60p each can he obtained from Brian Joscelyne, 103 London Road, Braintree, Essex. For the thirsty, a licensed bar will open at 6.15 p.m.

Jaguar day at Beaulieu

Support for Jaguar Drivers Club XK Register meetings has been so strong that the Club is to organise an all model Jaguar day at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu, on May 5th when activities will include driving tests, concours and a cavalcade of Jaguars through the ages. Proceedings will commence at 11 a.m.