On planning for the peace – II

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In last month’s issue we discussed the possibilities of an early resumption of competition events after the war had been brought to a successful conclusion. We also touched upon the question of economy in motoring. Below, this latter point is further elaborated and the position of the impecunious amateur considered, more particularly in connection with motor racing and the unfair competition he was called upon to meet before the outbreak of hostilities temporarily put an end to the Sport. – Ed.

Of one thing I think we can be fairly certain, and that is that reasonably soon after the armistice runs and contests for early cars will be put on again by both the Veteran Car Club and the Vintage S.C.C., for the interest in this sort of motoring is really surprisingly evident. I sometimes feel that a real veteran car, that is, one constructed prior to December, 1914, is the very finest subject of all for restoration to new, or better than new, condition, inasmuch as this really is working for the sake of working on a motor-car. Your sports car, vintage or modern, can be just as thoroughly turned out, but always there is the thought that it had to be pulled asunder anyway, because to do so was essential if extra performance was to be instilled, and very desirable, anyway. if standard urge was to be turned up, and held, for long periods without anxiety. But to strip to the last nut and bolt and then painstakingly to rebuild a fairly normal sort of car is a labour of love indeed, although the motoring fanatic will agree every time that no lesser treatment would, in fact, do justice to any car that can claim the distinction of being “one off.” The ex-racing car, of course, repays such attention perhaps better than any other amongst interesting types. But, while the real antiques continue to turn up in odd places in no mean quantity, I rather believe that a certain Aston-Martin which I towed to Farnborough behind my Lancia not so long ago may well be the very last ex-racing job that will be found, at all events priced cheaply and in dire need of restoration. For that you may, or may not, blame Anthony Heal! I am only glad so many really historic cars have been decently restored during the past 12 years or so…. Certainly the two leading clubs catering for those who appreciate the historic owe it to the painstaking owners of old cars to organise runs for them as soon as ever it is possible to do so. If petrol is rationed for quite a time after hostilities cease, as some folk believe it will be, presumably rationing will be on a “basic” allowance per car and, we will hope, on at least as generous a scale as that which prevailed at the outset of this war, so that it would be worth while, and possible, to tax veteran cars for the especial sort of competitions open to them.

Some time after Victory celebrations are becoming forgotten, we will hope not too soon after, races and speed events should get going again. I sincerely hope that they do, but I consider that a little thought might be devoted now to how best they can be run and of what the basic rules and regulations governing them should say. I cannot help feeling that, in the past, the ordinary, impecunious amateur, or, to borrow a horrid but concise bicycling term, the clubman, has had much of his fun and enjoyment at such meetings overshadowed by entrants of expensive cars which were quite capable of performing outstandingly in more classic events. Let me explain in some detail the point that has been worrying me.

Some indication of the unfair competition which impecunious amateurs had to face in so-called club – or “clubmen’s” – events comes to light in examining the results of races run off at the B.A.R.C. inter-club meetings of recent years – a meeting expressly intended, one would have thought, for those amateurs who belonged to the smaller clubs and who could not afford the £3 3s. race entry fee, and the risk of three laps of the outer circuit, of B.A.R.C. open meetings. These meetings were discontinued after 1934, doubtless because entries had been falling off for some time. Little wonder, when you find that in that year races were won by an Austin Seven, which lapped at over 104 m.p.h.; by two Riley Nines, both of which lapped at over 100 m.p.h.; and by a Maserati – it won twice– which got round at over 115 m.p.h. The year before that a girl took one race with a Bentley capable of over 100 m.p.h.; another girl scored a first with an Alvis, also at over 100 m.p.h.; and another Alvis lapped at over 103 m.p.h. In 1932 things were not so bad, although the so-called sports cars which took the plums were mostly capable of nicely over 90 m.p.h., including a “touring” Rover which exceeded 100 m.p.h. In 1931 some attempt at distinction was evident, inasmuch as there were races for “sports” cars and other races for racing cars; but, even so, it was a little depressing for all but the owner to find a “30/98” Vauxhall getting away with a sports car race at something like 110 m.p.h. in full flight and a racing car lapping at over 120 m.p.h. – at a clubman’s afternoon out. Even in the year when the idea originated these fast amateurs existed, for three out of the seven races were won by what were patently 100-m.p.h. cars. I was at first happy to learn that one race was won at under 50 m.p.h. by a dear old Morris-Cowley, only to discover that all the other cars in the event were Morris-Cowleys – rather going from the sublime to the ridiculous; and having racing-car events at a club meeting seems ridiculous, too. If a car is a racing car its owner can hardly be considered an impecunious amateur using it to go to the office on every week-day; if only the owner thinks it is a racing car it will do him a power of good to be allowed to stick road equipment on it and run it in an event in which it will be beaten by road-licensed sports cars. It may be argued that these races were handicapped on the “individual merit” or Ebblewhite system adopted for B.A.R.C. handicaps, but the fallibility of the system is shown by the foregoing examples. If you agree that a considerable expenditure of time and cash will be required to raise the maximum speed of a modern sports car by a full 15 m.p.h. while retaining reliability and roadworthiness, it follows that you will expect a sports car so modified to do quite reasonably well in club speed events. The manipulation of such magic would endow the Meadows-H.R.G. with a maximum of about 100 m.p.h., the T-type M.G. with about 95 m.p.h., the Morgan “4/4” with about 90 m.p.h., and the “Nippy” Austin Seven with some 75 m.p.h., or just about sufficient to result in victory at the “clubmen’s Saturday afternoons” races of a decade ago! That should make you think. It makes me think that organisers of such amateurs’ afternoons have a very poor appreciation of how much hard work and hard-earned cash is absorbed in making already rapid motor-cars a deal more rapid. Presumably they wish to cater for the average club member; yet their events are a snip for garage proprietors who can devote a lot of time to playing about with parts purchased at cost price, in producing a fast car on which they are in no way dependent for business transport (indeed, there is even another car available to hop into when urgent bits are needed for the competition job) or for wealthy persons who can either afford all the performance in the world in a new car of real quality, or can easily pay away good money to have it professionally installed. How you can expect the impecunious amateur – who is late for the office because he has laid up his only car in order to tune it for “The Day” and who hopes to go off in it for his annual holiday after the dice – to compete against such opponents I cannot imagine. Do not for one moment think that I’m setting up a wail for standard car events, with hordes of little boxes buzzing round Brooklands at under 65 m.p.h. in a more or less solid bunch. I believe that a clubman’s (horrid, but descriptive word!) competition car should be developed along genuine engineering lines to show a real performance increase over that originally installed by its maker’s and that, moreover, it should be able to maintain this performance for a reasonable duration and be road-worthy withal. But I do think that, having achieved such ends, the amateur-owner should get some better return than that of being passed with a whoosh on the Byfleet by a new sports car costing four times what his did, hotting-up bills thrown in, and with a louder whoosh by something less respectable, but already a well-established performer in open events. That sort of thing just about takes the edge off those 700 extra r.p.m. that the personal motor was so nicely pulling out at the time and quickly drives the owner back to mud-storming or high-speed touring.

We have, I know, been discussing outer circuit events, but, proportionately, good acceleration, road-adhesion, directional stability and braking are harder to encompass than the higher maximum necessary for the straight bits. So that the result is much the same at club meetings held at Donington or at the Palace wiggles. Someone will inevitably tell me of a great success achieved under such conditions at such a venue with a £50 car, but, in general, it has seemed to me that the heroes of these meetings always possessed, apart from comic hats and vivid women, either Very Expensive speed models or admirable older cars which they would not part with for even quite a big sum of money, no matter how little they alleged had been changed in the internals.

Those excellent J.C.C. and M.C.C. One Hour High Speed Trials, in which you got your booty provided you exceeded a known average speed, were so very much better, but, even in these welcome events, the prestige went much too evidently to those who covered immense distances in the time.

I will say, here and now, that I do not pretend to know of a reasonable cure for this evil. It is inevitable that a man who has a car quite potent enough to run in minor Continental meetings will also enter for British long-distance classics and, when there is nothing of either nature on the fixture list, will enter for Mountain and Campbell circuit races at dear old Brooklands – races which are quite “classic,” as much by reason of the quality of the competition as on account of “tradition” and high entry fees, no matter what critics may say. If this same owner decides that he likes racing so much that he must run his car in club meetings at Brooklands, Donington and the Palace when nothing else offers, perhaps in sprint events as well, I really do not know that he should be barred. I merely feel that the happiness of lots of keen drivers of less effective cars is somewhat marred by his presence. So, if we can all put our heads together now and find a solution, the sort of motor racing which you and I will be limited to after the war, if we race at all, may well be all the better for such an effort – needless to say the columns of Motor Sport are open for free discussion of the problems and factors involved.

Do not think for one moment that I despise the really fast car. Indeed, the narrowing gap between the sports and utility type of car – which, however, postwar economy may temporarily check – makes the really high performance car a most covetous possession; 70 m.p.h. may be fairly common-place, 80 m.p.h. in a good handling modern may demand little skill and less effort for frequent and safe realisation, but habitual use of speeds over 90 m.p.h. calls for a motorist, as distinct from a car-owner. Unfortunately, although I can think of no finer after-the-war tonic than metaphorically to substitute, for a present maximum speed notice, one reading: “MAX. SPEED 120 M.P.H.,” I am afraid that the speed of ordinary cars climbs slowly with the passage of the years, whatever fighter aeroplanes and racing cars constructed regardless of cost are now able to knock up. Which is why I consider that we should start now to plan races for owners of under 100 m.p.h. sports racing cars, races that really will provide good sport in return for the heavy cost of hotting, entering and repairing the amateur-owned racing car.

If no solution is forthcoming, entries may well be hard to come by in the immediate post-war years, for touring will have a big appeal until we are all used to motoring freely once again – and I suppose lots of people will be all over Europe as soon as they are able, whether or not they really know the lesser roads of Wales, North and South, or the wonderful West Coast of Scotland. Apparently a breakdown on the Continent is so much more romantically adventurous than it is in this little land of saluting A.A. scouts….!