Letters from Readers, August 1955

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

Large or Small Engines?

Much has been written recently about the days of many litres being over. You, Sir, were apparently inclined to this opinion after your recent drive northwards in a Bristol and your recollections of a similar drive made in a Bentley 17 years ago. One must assume that the object in cutting down litreage is to cut down running costs for there can be no other reason for so doing except for competition purposes. This being the case, surely the main consideration is not the fact that the Bristol put up a rather better average but an appraisal as to which car would go on maintaining such averages the longer without running itself into expensive trouble. The second consideration must obviously be petrol consumption.

Now I own a pre-war Bentley, and having a particular interest in the Bristol, I have gone out of my way to examine many that have been driven far and fast. As a result, I am left in no doubt whatever that on a Bristol-Bentley comparison, the larger car stands up incomparably better to a prolonged thrashing, and here I am thinking not only of engines but of steering joints, transmissions and all the other bits and pieces that come in for their fair share of the pounding and cost so much to replace.

My own Bentley, which I have now owned for six years, was already thirteen years old at date of purchase. 120,000 miles are now shown on the clock. The top part was taken down shortly after the rigours of war-time motoring but the bottom to my certain knowledge has never been touched. Even so, she still seems to be quite unmoved by high averages. Never yet have I had the feeling that I have taken something out of her after a long journey at high speed and she certainly takes very little out of me, which is another point, I feel, in favour of the larger-engined car.

As for petrol consumption, the average put up by the Bristol was 21 m.p.g. on the journey in question. Passage of time would obviously not allow any figure to be quoted for the Bentley. I am sure, however, that any owner of one of these pre-war Derby-built cars would bear me out when I say that in normal trim they are capable of averaging 20 m.p.g. with a full passenger complement and that they will go on doing so ad infinitum, the speed at which they are driven having little or no effect upon the amount of petrol consumed.

That the pre-war Bentley is a very good car there is no doubt, but by present-day standards of engine efficiency there can be nothing exceptional about it. This being the case, I submit that for the job of fast touring, the car of several litres still gains every time.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Andrew Lloyd.

TR2 versus Austin-Healey

May I, as the owner of a 1955 Austin-Healey 100, state some facts concerning the relative merits of the Austin-Healey 100 and the TR2?

1. The performance of the Austin-Healey is far superior to the TR2, as evidenced by every competitive set of Road Tests published. All give the Healey faster; —
By .2 sec. 040 m.p.h.
By 2 sec. 0-60 m.p.h.
By 4 sec. 0-80 m.p.h.
By 6 sec. 0-90 m.p.h.

Top speed of the Healey is consistently above 110 m.p.h.; the TR2 never above 105 m.p.h. “Road and Track” could get only 95.9 m.p.h. in top gear (as standard) on the TR2. The standing start 1 mile is 17.5 sec. for the Healey and 18.5 sec. for the TR2.

2. Roadholding, suspension and steering of the Healey are superior. The only extra available (or necessary) for the Healey for competition work, is a stiffer anti-roll bar; the TR2 requires stiffer springs and shock-absorbers.

3. The Austin-Healey is possessed of the best lines of perhaps any British car; the TR2 is downright ugly.

4. The Austin-Healey has a specially designed sports car chassis; the TR2 has a strengthened Standard Eight chassis.

5. The Healey engine peaks at 4,000 r.p.m. and develops maximum torque as low as 2,000 r.p.m. The TR2 develops maximum torque at 3,000 r.p.m. and this is only 116 ft./lb. compared with 144 ft/lb. for the Healey. Thus the effortless and comfortable high-speed cruising of the Healey compared with the TR2’s buzzing (standard without overdrive), and its superior acceleration even to 30 m.p.h. No! the TR2 is not quicker off the mark than the Healey!

6. In price the Healey really is not so much more than the Triumph. It could be marketed for about the same price if the Healey Motor Co. wished, and stripped of its many standard extras. What does the TR2 cost with overdrive, wire wheels, Dunlop Road Speed tyres, heater and leather upholstery? All these are included in the Healey’s purchase price. Even with these extras the TR2 has inferior performance, standards of comfort not bearing comparison, and ghastly appearance. I will concede the TR2 better fuel consumption — about 25 m.p.g. driven hard, but the Healey gives 20-22 m.p.g. driven the same way. Also the TR2 has a nicer-looking gear leaver, but is it as functional as the Healey’s? Watch the Healeys accelerating at any sprint meeting and see if the gear changes are observable, then compare with the TR2’s erratic progress. Answering both Mr. Duncan and Mr. Thurkettle, the Healey gearbox has first gear blanked off; this can be unblanked in less than one hour. The results, using the four speeds, are startling and I can only conclude that the first gear is not used as standard to give the TR2s some, if small, encouragement.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Stanley Daniel.


As an enthusiastic owner of a TR2 I should like to join in the correspondence concerning the TR2 and the Austin-Healey.

Your correspondent S. M. Trimble puts the Austin-Healey in front partially because the TR2 has a hotted-up Vanguard engine, yet the Austin-Healey has also a slightly hotted-up Austin A90 (old type) engine so why hold that against the TR2?

As concerning top speed, my own personal TR2 will show 112m.p.h. on the speedo and 5,200 r.p.m. on the rev, counter and the book says 4,800 equals 100 m.p.h. Also on a recent Continental tour of over 3,000 miles I got 39m.p.g., all of this without overdrive. The Austin-Healey is very similar in top speed but what about petrol?

Another very large point for the TR2 is that they were not frightened to submit a car for a Road Test by Motor Sport, whereas the Austin-Healey is under the Bishop Ban; “Nuff said.”

May I end by saying how much I enjoy your journal and especially the “Cars I Have Owned “series.

I am, Yours, etc.,
J. Maughan.

* * *


I was interested in the recent correspondence regarding the Roesch-Talbots, as I owned a 1934 “75” sports saloon for thirteen years and had considerable experience with a 1937 “105” saloon. Whilst I agree with most of what your correspondents say about these fine cars, I feel there are several important points on the debit side of which they have made no mention.

For instance, on both these cars the quick and sensitive steering that was so pleasant on good surfaces was given to shaking the steering column and front end generally quite excessively on poor roads. As regards roadholding and comfort, these two pre-war Talbots were much inferior in these respects to my present 3-litre Alvis (1952) which is a comparable post-war type of motor.

I feel that in assessing the merits of such excellent cars as the Roesch-Talbots one shouldn’t blind oneself to the various ways they fall short of a good modern design.

Much as I enjoyed my motoring in the Talbots, I couldn’t revert to them now with any pleasure.

I am, Yours, etc.,
R. Pratten.


In view of the recent correspondence concerning the Roesch Talbots, I thought readers might be interested to hear something about my car — CYO 73 — particularly as it is now one of the few which is competing in club events.

This car started life as a 1936 Vanden Plas speed model, its early history being obscure. Some time before the war it was owned by Sydney Allard, who rebuilt it as a sprint car, taking 14 inches out of the chassis, lowering the radiator, and fitting a rather ugly two-seater body.

It was in this form that I acquired it, in conjunction with a friend, Nigel West, in March, 1948.

We did some work on it and both used it on the road without mishap until January, 1949. The joint ownership then ceased, as they say, for domestic reasons, and I became sole owner.

What Sydney had done to the engine I don’t know, but it had been potent from the start. Apart from the larger jets in the huge Type 48 VI Zenith carburetter, and a straight-through exhaust it appeared to be standard, and was then fitted with the correct Talbot cast iron skirted pistons in two halves with aluminium crown.

Being an old Talbot enthusiast (I have owned three others, two 65s and the latest 1938 — 110 sports saloon), I decided to rebuild the car for circuit racing. We sold the old body to a bloke, who put it on a 3-litre Bentley; and then stripped the chassis completely.

It was subsequently (over 18 months) rebuilt with new 3.85 to 1 E.N.V. rear axle and reconditioned Wilson gearbox. We mistakenly used standard aluminium pistons, originally made for the London ambulances. These were too long in the skirt and were fitted too tight.

On completion a new sports body, in keeping with the character of the car, was designed and fitted by Radpanels.

The dashboard, instruments and interior we did ourselves. The car now weighs 26 cwt. with full sump and tank.

At the Goodwood Members’ Meeting in 1952, the car went well in practice, achieving 96 m.p.h. down Levant straight, but was very difficult to stop from this speed, due to the springs twisting, upsetting the castor angle, and causing awful front-end flap.

In the third lap of the race a big-end ran, due, we subsequently discovered, to a kink in the oil gallery pipe in the block. We had tried to repair this in situ by sleeving, evidently without success.

Another engine was obtained (AV253). The block was bored, and we started again!

As stated the gearbox had been overhauled by experts (sic) who had cored up the oil feed from the engine, stating that splash lubrication would be adequate. As we found out at the next Silverstone Club Meeting — it wasn’t!

Back to force feed again and another recondition for the gearbox. At Castle Combe a piston picked up and we had to strip down once more.

AV253 is now a bit of a mixture, but is reaching racing form. The block has been linered to standard, and after consultation with John Bland, special H.C. pistons fitted with shorter skirts.

Our first race meeting in this form was the V.S.C.C. at Oulton Park. We suffered minor bothers after the first race, mainly a carburetter flange gasket that was sucking air, which was not located until we got home; but in the first race the car was running well and clocked 2 min. 43 sec. (61 m.p.h.) on more than one lap. Not too bad, as a 3.85 back-end with 18-in, wheels is a bit high.

I was stopping at 4,500 r.p.m. in third and achieving 88 m.p.h. down the straight in top. We have now fitted torque arms to the front axle and the car stops quite well from over 90 m.p.h.

Bottom-end and piston bothers seem to be over, and if our entry is accepted, we hope to be at the Vintage Silverstone Meeting in August, in one piece.

The car is not really suitable for Prescott on this axle ratio, but goes up in 58/59 sec. At the Shelsley Members’ Hill-Climb last year it clocked 54 odd sec.

Generally speaking it is a treat to drive, either on track or road, and has recently been my daily transport.

We (my mechanic and I) have learned a lot from club racing, there is no better way to prove your motor car, but don’t expect to get off scot free!

I am, Yours, etc.,
John Virr.

* * *

The Vintage Car Controversy

Mr. Rawnit seems to have been led astray rather badly, and I am glad you suggest it was by members of a club other than the V.S.C.C.

Regarding the expression “modern tinware,” now that Rolls-Royces have pressed-steel bodies we have to face up to it that “acres of tin” is inherent in modern design, and modern cars certainly can perform, even though a well-driven vintage car can even now beat an indifferently driven modern car on certain courses.

In many cases I feel that the way to appreciate a modern car is to get behind the wheel and drive it rather than to stand around looking at it too closely.

Now for Mr. Rawnit’s points: —

(i) Vintage enthusiasts have an almost desperate conviction that there have been no ” men’s cars” built since 1930.

Surely any fast car is a “man’s car,” and modern fast cars are invariably faster than vintage fast cars.

But if those who put forth this argument think of a “real man” as a muscular, pipe-smoking, beer-drinking, scrum-capped individual who demands a car that needs considerable physical strength to drive, and is fast and uncomfortable into the bargain, then surely there are few post-1930 cars which will fill this particular bill.

Fortunately the”real man” can still prove his manhood by driving his modern car really fast and skilfully.

(ii) Vintage people have a tendency to rate the quality of any motor vehicle from the volume of noise emitted by the exhaust.

If this means the noisier the better, then a TR2 rates as of higher quality than a Silver Ghost Rolls-Royce on the admission of members of the V.S.C.C. This is nonsense. If the reverse is meant that might be nearer the truth, but it is still nonsense.

(iii) Vintage members show an alarming ignorance of the wider facts of automobile engineering.

Demonstrably untrue. The following are members of the V.S.C.C. : Laurence Pomeroy, Alec Issigonis, Rodney Clarke, Mike Oliver, H. R. Godfrey, John Bolster, Archie Butterworth, David Hodkin, Leslie Johnson, Briggs Cunningham, Denis Poore, Tony Rolt, Jack Fairman, Leslie Marr and Paul Frère, not to mention Messrs. Boddy and Jenkinson.

Not o e of these gentlemen has, so far as I know, refused to take an interest in any car designed after Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang.

(iv) Vintage members dismiss modern motor-racing as boring. V.S.C.C. members are always prominent as marshals at the big Silverstone meetings, as are their cars in the car-parks. Some of them even bore themselves to tears at the wheels of modern Grand Prix and sports-racing cars. (See (iii) above.)

The comparatively large crowds at Vintage meetings (bigger than at nearly all other purely club meetings) prove that you don’t need to be a vintage addict to enjoy vintage races. And even the big meetings often include vintage races or classes these days.

(v) There is a vintage addiction to quaint headgear, with all the sinister motives that this implies.

All I can say is that so great is the interest in vintage cars these days that it is quite unnecessary to call attention to oneself when driving one by wearing a funny hat, if that is the object of funny hats.

I don’t think this addiction is particularly true of vintage members as a whole anyway — even if it were, it seems pretty harmless to me.

Finally, Mr. Rawnit, vintage cars are jolly good fun, and most of us who drive them can’t afford to buy modern Ferraris and Aston Martins. Those of us who can afford both generally run both.

The Vintage S.C.C. is full of nice people who are neither bigoted nor besotted, and most of them would agree that the vintage enthusiast who condemns modern cars out of hand is just as ignorant as the, modern enthusiast who condemns vintage cars out of hand.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Peter Hull (Flt. Lieut.).


With reference to Mr. E. Rawnit’s comments on “Vintagism”:

In the first place I would point out that by installing a 4 ½-litre Bentley engine in a 3-litre Blue Label chassis the owner was merely making for himself what was and still is a 4 ½-litre Standard Bentley of the 1928 period. Surely in these modern times you can find the same chassis being available with either large or smaller capacity engines.

I myself own a vintage “4 ½” Bentley on which I have just about completed 300,000 miles. It belonged originally to Lady Alness, and I bought it when 47,000 had been completed — the reading is now 337,000. I have in this Bentley a motor car which will just top the hundred mark and is thereby a bit faster than original. During the twenty years or so that I have had her my bills at Bentley Motors and McKenzie’s amount to something in the region of £800 — add to this the original cost of £105 and the result is that for £905 (plus cost of petrol, oil, tyres and insurance, etc.) I have had a very large mileage and still possess a reasonable motor at the end of it.

To me the fascination of the true Vintage car is that the driver knows what is going on. He can feel his front wheels on the road, hear his engine and gearbox and really feel that by intelligent driving he is getting the best out of his car.

My old Bentley is now having new fabric (the first time it has been renewed since built) and the Vanden Plas ash frame has been found absolutely solid and unbroken.

I would be the first to agree that such a motor car can become very tiring to drive, that the cost of petrol is high as is the consumption, and that a number of moderns will go faster, but after 337,000 miles many of these modern cars would, I submit, have had to have new engines, new bodies, new gearboxes, in fact that they would have ceased to exist.

The Vintage car has its place in this modern world as has the Modern itself whose warmth and comfort I sometimes strongly yearn for.

I am, Yours, etc.,
C. J. L. Mertens.

London, N.W.2.


Setting aside my strong suspicions that Mr. Rawnit is a keen vintagent taking the mickey out of us all, may I try to answer him objectively? Twenty-five and more years ago there were literally hundr ds of makes of motor car, each manufacturer trying to evolve the optimum family car according to his own ideas or else to develop some outstanding and desirable characteristic at the expense of all else. This led to an enormous variety in design, size and shape, each model possessing its own quality which we call “character.” Moreover, such was the golden future of motoring that every maker tried, within his limitations, to make his product as good as possible and in the many things that constituted that goodness, longevity ranked high.

Today manufacture rests in the hands of very few mammoth concerns and a handful of specialist makers, while the optimum family car is very much with us. “Rationalisation” and “automation” promise a further reduction in types, while the guiding principle has shifted from sheer goodness to ease of production and selling qualities at home and abroad. In short, the engineering aspect has yielded to the commercial, the designer to the stylist.

Can it be wondered therefore that we who love motor cars and motoring for more than bare transport, turn for interest and individualism to the vehicles of the past? We do not decry the modern car; the number of prominent vintage enthusiasts who use it for everyday purposes should convince even Mr. Rawnit of that. We say, merely, that each is very like its brother and that it won’t last twenty years for the good reason that it isn’t meant to. It has, in the main, become an expendable asset, a tool of transport, and not a cherished personal belonging as was its ancestor.

Mr. Rawnit seems to have a “thing” about Bentleys and Jaguars. As one who owns both, again may I reply? Between my 3 / 4 ½-litre Bentley and my 1940 3 ½ Jag. there is little to choose in performance. Both provide 19 m.p.g., an indicated 80 on any decent road, good but not superlative braking and both have extremely heavy steering at very low speeds. On long journeys the Jaguar scores by reason of its smoothness, comfort and a slight superiority in acceleration. In dense traffic the Bentley is less tiring with its superb all-round visibility and precision handling. Both cars are passed by the same number of Consuls and Zephyrs on any given journey, which may signify more to Mr. Rawnit than it does to me. I have an equal regard for each of the pair, so widely different in their appeal that a detailed comparison is rather pointless. If I had to part with one, it would be the Jaguar, for a Vintage Bentley, modified and adapted over the years to one’s personal fads, is virtually irreplaceable.

There is one striking difference; park alongside another 3 ½ Jag. and the owner is unaware of your existence, as are you of his. This is not quite so among Bentley drivers. It’s a small point, but there is no Jaguar Drivers’ Club (although there used to be an S.S. Car Club, and jolly good it was). All this may provide another reason why those of us with a sociable turn of mind tend to cultivate old motors.

I last heard the phrase “modern tinware” used, other than in fun, about 1948 at which time it may have been not unjustified. Come to think of it though, its a fair enough description of any vehicle made up largely of pressings and need not be derogatory. After all, Bentleys don’t mind being called “camions,” nor Jaguars “passion-wagons.” It is all part of the good-fellowship of enthusiasts, something which appears to have eluded Mr. Rawnit. When he has lived a little longer he may realise that there is more to all this than just besotted bigotry. The desire to retain something of a past which some of us found rather good fun, the love of craftsmanship and of good company, the personal solution of problems beyond any service station, all play their part.

He may realise too that motorists are an oppressed minority and that he who has vituperation to spare can vent it more usefully on those who threaten still more our freedom than upon his own kind. I hope I have explained to him what makes the vintagent tick. In return, it would be nice to know what makes Mr. Rawnit tick — or should I say detonate? Can it be that he has been outpaced, outdriven and outsmarted by one of those noisy old Bentleys?

I am, Yours, etc.,
W. H. Charnock.
[But see also page 477 — Ed.]

* * *

Gear Ratios

I was very interested to read Mr. Ian Lewis’s letter, which prompted me to regret, not for the first time, that the good sense expressed in your pages by some correspondents and, without fear or favour, by your editorial staff, is presented to the converted.

As Mr. Lewis says, the latest Minor is a travesty of the original model. The A30 engine, though admittedly livelier than the side-valve one in standard form, is not nearly so smooth, and its fussiness is exaggerated by the ratios of a gearbox which is markedly inferior to its predecessor in every way. A friend of mine, having bought a new Minor shooting-brake after long and pleasurable experience with his own early blown saloon, has in sheer desperation exchanged his engine and gearbox for those of the original type.

It is surely obvious that this sort of deterioration is an inevitable consequence of the merging of old-established firms managed by enthusiasts into one large combine run by business men who are not motoring-minded. It is consequently inevitable, too, that its products will then tend to be suited to the needs of a wider public which is equally ignorant of the finer points of a motor-car. Thus, apart from the Minor, a ride in the modern Riley evokes most unfavourable comparison with the wonderful 1 ½-litre of a few years ago, made before the rot had set in, and at a time when the old Riley tradition of good handling qualities still prevailed. The Magnette of nowadays is similarly deficient in those attributes of safety at high speeds, on wet or dry roads, and outstanding performance which characterised all previous models, and it is the opinion of many that apart from superficial styling and finish, and half-hearted copying of Continental or American body design, the latest Austins are inferior in the essentials to the first A40, if only by reason of the dreadful and unnecessary steering-column gear-lever. In this regard, only a week ago I wrestled in vain for five minutes to find the reverse gear of a Morris Oxford, thereby joining the far from exclusive band of sufferers from the same disability.

This is all most distressing and, in our national interest, to be regretted. “Progress” must apparently mean a throwing aside of those things which have made British cars of high repute both at home and abroad. True, we still have such stalwarts as Lyons of Jaguar, but otherwise the position is such that certain questions come inescapably to mind. Have the manufacturers ever driven their own products, and if so have they formed a standard of comparison by driving, for example, a really first-class Italian car? Have the designers and technicians of absorbed companies lost their cunning? Or alternatively have they in the interests of cheapness been forced to work to a lower standard, or been allowed to go where their genius is better appreciated?

As Mr. Lewis infers, the sooner the old honoured names are discarded the sooner will their prostitution be at an end.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Staney W. Fisher.