Letters from Readers
N.B. - Opinions expressed are those of our Correspondent, and Motor Sport does not necessarily associate itself with them. - Ed.
The Age of Magistrates
It is a pity that in an otherwise well-reasoned Editorial, "Matters of Moment" (February), you make a reference to magistrates in the following terms ". . .inasmuch as non-motoring, perhaps elderly, magistrates will not understand driving situations as we might ourselves".
In case any of your readers should assume from this that all magistrates are elderly and non-motorists, may I refer you to page 80 of Sir Thomas Skyrme's book "The Changing Image of the Magistracy" and the note thereto. He says "A better understanding of motoring cases has developed from the larger proportion of magistrates who are drivers themselves, though non-motorists claim that this has made the magistrates too sympathetic towards the driver." He supports this in a note to the effect that samples of a few urban and rural benches in 1951 and 1974 suggested that the percentage of magistrates who could drive had risen from 78 to 93 between the two dates. These samples were not wholly reliable but the latter figure is supported by a study conducted by Roger Hood between 1965 and 1967 which showed that in his sample nearly 90% of magistrates could drive and I suspect the percentage is even higher today.
As to the age of magistrates, Sir Thomas tells us on page 48 "The Lord Chancellor normally imposes a maximum age limit of 60 for first appointment, but so far as possible only persons below 50 are chosen. The lower limit is 21, but the youngest justice appointed since the war was 23. Eighteen were below the age of 30." Magistrates retire at 70. I trust this will give a more balanced impression to your readers.
Geoffrey Norman, Secretary, The Magistrates Association
"Matters of Moment" - February
I have read your article on the changes to the totting up procedure. Whilst I respect your opinions in the main regarding motoring matters your knowledge of the law relating to those matters is lamentable.
For example, unless the law has changed since last I read it, failing to give a breath test, going the wrong way in a one-way street and failing to comply with a no right turn sign are not endorseable.
The most disturbing error is that you seem to give the impression that the offence of allowing oneself to be carried in an unlawfully taken vehicle is an absolute offence. This is definitely not the case, for an offence to be proved both the mens rea and actus reus must be present.
I would point out that on any offence which carries an endorsement the Court may disqualify, unless it is an offence where they must disqualify, so that your young man may get two points for driving under age but he would also get five points for driving whilst uninsured. Further, if he was disqualified by the Court, if he did it again, he would be off the road because he would pick up another eleven points.
When commenting tin the law in future I would also advise you to acquire the definitive work on this subject, namely the tenth edition of Wilkinson's "Road Traffic Offences" by Halnan and Spencer, published by Oyez.
[I did say the new "totting-up" proposals could constitute a game for motoring Clubs and others but, not having the much-envied abilities of a QC I am willing to admit flaws in my arguments. — Ed.]
I feel I must write to you to point out what I believe is a factual mistake in your editorial "Matters of Moment" in the February issue.
Talking about the proposed points system, you state that a penalty of one point would be incurred for "carrying a passenger on a motorcycle while still a learner". The 1980 Transport Bill actually says "Carrying a passenger on a motorcycle contrary to section 16" (of the Road Traffic Act 1972), Now RTA 1972 S16 states:
"Restrictions of carriage of persons on motorcycles. - It shall not be lawful for more than one person in addition to the driver to be carried on a two-wheeled motorcycle, not shall it be lawful for any such person to be carried otherwise than sitting astride the cycle and on a proper seat securely fixed to the cycle behind the driver's seat; and if a person is carried on a cycle contravening of this section, the driver of the cycle shall be guilty of an offence."
That is the offence for which the Transport Bill proposes a penalty of one point.
The offence you were referring to (carrying a passenger on a motorcycle while a learner) is covered by the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) Regulations 1976, where Section 8(1) details the conditions attached to provisional licences as follows:
"The holder of a provisional license shall not drive or ride a motor vehicle . . .
(d) in the case of a motor bicycle while carrying on it a person who is not a qualified driver."
These regulations were made under RTA 1972 S88, and the offence is "failing to comply with the conditions of licence" for which the Transport Bill proposes a penalty of two points. This obviously negates your statement that a learner motorcycle rider is allowed to endanger his pillion passenger a dozen times.
The above comments are my own personal opinion after consulting the Transport Bill, and Stones Justices Manual to look up the details of the RTA 1972 and MV(DL)R 1976, but I believe that a lawyer would support my statements. Perhaps you would care to get a professional opinion on this?
David L. Oliver
[I thank Mr. Oliver and other readers who have told me of correct legal interpretations which apply to the proposed new "totting-up" system of driving licence endorsement. My Editorial thereon was not intended to more than scratch the surface of a controversial subject — Ed.]
"The Ultimate Driving Machine"
The above advertising claim may possibly apply to my two previous and larger BMWs, but not to my new 316 with a 5-speed manual gearbox.
Briefly, I get no satisfaction from Agents or the Managing Director of BMW (GB) Ltd., to my rather swingeing criticism concerning the clutch operation of this car, beyond that it is common to all their 5-speed boxes.
I would be most glad to hear if any of your readers with a 1980 316, 5-speed gearbox model, experience clanking noises in engagement of the clutch, such as I described to Mr. Hasselkus the Managing Director, as being more associated with a worn out farm vehicle than a new and expensive small car.
If so, perhaps we could take concerted action direct with the factory in Munich.
F. Kennedy Axten
The Giant's Despair Hill-Climb
Regarding our earlier correspondence on the subject of the Giant's Despair Hill-Climb, the following may be of interest.
Located just south of Wilkes-Barre in Pennsylvania's anthracite coal region, Giant's Despair Hill-Climb was one of America's first Auto contests. First run in 1906, the original course was 5,700 feet of steep oiled gravel. Legend has it that it's so named because the giant hill was a despair to those who failed to climb it. First winning car was a 4-cylinder, 45 h.p. Daimler, with a time of 2:11.2. Winning the following year was a locally built Matheson Six. The record time tumbled to 1:31.4 in 1909, when a Benz won. The hill also saw the first competition by a supercharged car, a Chadwick Six. Ralph dePalma rewarded an estimated 50,000 onlookers in 1910 when he set the record time of 1:28 with a Fiat. This time was fastest for the next 41 years.
After the 1910 race there came the first of three interruptions in the annual running of the hill-climb. In 1951 the Sports Car Club of America and a local group joined to reopen the event, run annually ever since. Shortened to 5,280 feet and paved, the course now rises 690 feet vertically with grades as steep as 22˚, and includes several tight turns. Winner in 1952 was Phil Walters in a Cunningham C4RK the Kamm-tailed coupe, with a time of 1:02.3. Don Flower ran a 1929 Bentley in the vintage section, with a time of 1:29.5, beating Jerry Gebby's 1:30.5 in a Dusenberg SJ.
In 1975 A.M. "Oscar" Koveleski set a new course-record of 45.123 in his 454 c.i. Chevy powered McLaren MG-B. Oscar, founder and only president of the Polish Racing Drivers Club, returned in 1977 with the same car to set the current record of 44.127 seconds.
John W. Bornholdt
Conditions in Canada
Without wishing to add more fuel (methanol) to the correspondence concerning 500's and their Formula 2 and hill-climbing derivatives, I feel I have the ultimate answer.
Emigrate to Canada!
In British Columbia we have a thriving Vintage Racing Club with enough drivers and cars to provide excellent racing from here to California — and we love 500's! (There are three in the club at present and more coming).
For a geographically remote place such as Vancouver our club can produce the following: LT1 the forerunner to the C Type, AC Cobras, a Lister Jag, several Formula Juniors (including two front engined Lolas) Lotus 11s, a fifteen and a seventeen, two 12 Allards, two or three 300 SL's, lots of lovely Alfas (including especially a Tubolari Zagato). Lots of the usual MG's Healeys, Triumphs, Morgans etc., several sports racing specials and a '33 Aston Le Mans, my supercharged ND Magnette. an AC engined Frazer Nash special, two 3-litre Red Label Bentleys, a D8 Lancia, a supercharged Gough engined Frazer Nash and one of T&T's pre-war Alfas.
I know I've missed out a lot of cars currently being restored for racing but that's not a bad selection for our part of the world.
We race about 7 or 8 times a year and usually about 8 of us go down to California for the annual Monterey Historic Race at Laguna Seca Racetrack — and usually we do very well.
I'm not suggesting for a minute that Messrs. Andrews, Wigglesworth etc., actually pack their bags, sell up and move but I thought you would be interested in hearing about a group of enthusiasts who are truly amateur and who consequently enjoy real club racing as it used to be with a minimum number of rules and regulations other than those to do with safety.
Oddly enough, about half of us are expatriate Englishmen with a few from Australia and Europe. Only about a third are Canadian born which may indicate something or other.
Incidentally, as a young man (16 or so) I worked for Andre shock-absorbers in Putney and, after my army service, for V.W. Derrington and Paddy Gaston so perhaps some of your readers may remember me driving Derrington's ancient truck with a workshop in the back to most of the races in the 1958 to '62 era.
[We hear that the VSCC are to hold an invitation race for 500's at their Oulton Park meeting in June — Ed.]
Inspired by Mr. Byrne's letter in the February issue and the current pre-occupation with costs and values, I have done my sums on 28 years' motoring with Austin (4) Clyno, Commer, Daimler, Fiat, Ford, Jowett Bradford (2), Morris (2), Morrison Electric and Volkswagen cars. For this exercise I have discounted motorcycle peregrinations and transactions, cars bought as non-runners and basket cases for partner future restorations, and other vehicles (such as employers' or relatives') of which I have had the use, however extensive. Annual mileage in my own cars always averages out around 12,000, taking any two or three years together.
If I were to estimate depreciation, it would be a substantial plus figure, as the present market value of the 11 remaining vehicles is several times their cost. If one disregards inflation, motor, costs over the entire period are about balanced by the appreciation of the remaining cars.
Using old vehicles in pre-MOT test days, the total annual maintenamce costs were sometimes almost measurable in old pennies (wait and see if it finally breaks — if so, scrounge a second-hand replacement part). Around 1961/62, running costs for a Jowett Bradford were about 1 1/2d. per mile, including all overheads. More recently, maintenance costs have at least stayed well below what professional charges would have been (on average) for routine servicing only on a newer car. The only car that has ever cost me more than "peanuts" to keep on the road has been my wife's 1975 Marina. Is there a lesson here somewhere?
My most modern vehicle (1967) cost me the colossal sum of £550. If we rule that one out of the reckoning, the other 20 run to £816, representing a more tolerable average of £40.80 each — happily below the average proceeds of those disposed of. Only eight of these were actually sold, the other two meeting a worse and unremunerative fate. My first car, 1926 Clyno of fond memory, was comprehensively destroyed by vandals, only a few parts being sufficiently undamaged to be salvable for spares. The 1939 Commer (alias Minx) 5 cwt. estate conversion, abandoned by its previous owner as beyond hope, covered a further 17,000 bizarre and masochistically entertaining miles, never failing to complete a journey, before the local police started to look more closely. I drove it hurriedly into a local scrap yard, where the proprietor treated with some hilarity my suggestion that he might like to give me something for it. "More like you should pay me for desecrating my yard."
Years later, I asked him why cars all around it had come in, been stripped down, disappeared and been replaced several times, whilst the groggy green ex-baker's van (known as The Howler or Lolloping Lulu) remained as complete as the day if arrived. "My dear David," he explained, "I rely on folk looking for spares to strip out the cars for me before I put the hulks in the crusher. Now I've had literally hundreds of people looking at your old heap, but no-one has yet found the smallest part in sufficiently usable condition to be worth the trouble of taking it off. Would you like to drive it away again, to save me the trouble of stripping it myself?" "No, thanks very much," I replied.
British Leyland versus Japan
Mr. Wilson's letter "A Market tor Leyland" in your January issue expresses an admirable sentiment in wishing to expand sales of British vehicles, perhaps though it is not a commercially realistic one.
One reads much in the British Press about the necessity for exports; every strike, change in Sterling rate etc., is examined in the light of the UK trade balance or employment figures. Little thought is given to overseas companies, who are committed to representing these products in their own market. They, their investment and their employees are just as aftected.
The vehicle distribution business is particularly capital intensive, more so in countries which have high import tariff structures. It is also highly competitive. If contemplating such an investment, imagine reading the following from a recent issue of the Economist:
"But BL argues that you cannot plan a business investing about £300m a year in new models if you do not know where your next billion is coming from. BL, which is likely to have lost £400m in 1980 and is faced with a shrinking British market in 1981, cannot pay its own way."
In the light of such comments the gamble in representing BL products should be quite clear. Mr. Wilson may well be bored by the "mediocre Japanese car" but he is possibly unaware of the enormous pricing flexibility that Japanese manufacturers seem able to offer their overseas distributors. In our market, model for model, the Japanese ex factory price can be as much as 45-50% of the comparative European unit. This not only gives a dealer a competitive selling price, but also a respectable profit margin.
As a distributor for a British vehicle manufacturer (albeit one of the multinationals) I can assure you that the frustrations involved are many; I would hesitate to judge the legitimacy of any strike action, wage claim etc., but at the same time British Industry cannot expect to retain the confidence of their overseas representatives and customers under such conditions. In our market we were the last remaining franchise representing solely British vehicles, but as from January we have begun importing Japanese products. Frankly I regret the decision, but it was inevitable. The BL dealer took on a Japanese franchise six years ago — smart fellow.
M.C. King-Harman, Director, Hunt, Deltel & Co. Ltd.
The Reliant Scimitar
I read with interest W.B.'s report (February Motor Sport) on the Reliant Scimitar GTC and was pleased to note his admiration for, rather than criticism of, certain features which may be considered out-dated. I object to changes in cars for reasons of fashion rather than good sense and would cite the way many controls and accessories have been re-located on modern cars from their traditional positions. Horn switches are now on a steering column stalk when they should be in the hub of the steering wheel; likewise headlamp dipswitches which should be on the floor next to the clutch pedal; external mirrors are now fitted to the doors instead of on the wings where they can be used without the driver turning his head and also viewed in bad weather through a clean windscreen rather than a misted or rain-spotted side window.
My ageing MG-B has a central horn button, foot dipper, wing mirrors and the white-on-black instruments which W.B. appreciates and I would not want it any other way. I wonder if other readers share the same views but feel, as I do, powerless to stop these changes being imposed on us by the manufacturers?
The Auction Game
Motor Sport being perhaps the only magazine to venture criticism of the auctioneers who have invaded the old-car world in the past decade, you may be interested to learn that your own classified advertisements are used by some of these indefatigable traders in order to tout for business.
When I recently advertised a vintage car in your columns, I had a telephone call inviting me to sell it via Mike Carter Ltd. — something that wild horses would not persuade me to do.
The skilled publicists of the auction world will tell us they perform a useful service by acting as intermediaries between those who want to sell and those who want to buy. Do they? As I understand it, they charge a substantial commission of both parties, while declining all responsibility for a vehicle's authenticity or mechanical condition, and even for damage done to it while up for sale. Impressively high bids are trumpeted to the housetops, encouraging every seller of a Blenkinsop V12 to demand the same price, whatever its condition. But nobody mentions the "expenses" charged to those whose cars go unsold. It seems to me the only one who cannot lose is the auctioneer, and when I have a car for sale I shall continue to offer it directly to fellow-enthusiasts, at an uninflated price, by way of the motoring magazines.
F. Wilson McComb