Rumblings, August 1959

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In the Salisbury Area . . .

The roads across Salisbury Plain and the country surrounding it are a never-failing attraction for many motorists. Although in the summer months A 30 and A 303 carry much holiday traffic en route to the West Country, in the winter they provide for fast motoring, being straight for many miles and many unflanked by houses.

Those who are competent to drive fast will remember with relish other roads on which high speeds can be used safely, notably that ruler-straight, if somewhat undulating, five miles of A 30 between Sutton Scotney and Stockbridge, and a similar 8½ miles of Roman road on A 33 between Winchester and the junction with A 30. If these fail to be free of traffic there are fast stretches of A 354 between Blandford and Salisbury, the route along which competitors in the early Land’s End Trials used to slog home in the fading light of December afternoons, assuming they had survived the rigours of the outward journey on Boxing Night.

Motor racing on public roads has never been officially sanctioned in England but if one day we come into line with Ireland, the Isle of Man and Jersey in this respect, the Salisbury area is where an appropriate course could easily be laid out. Indeed. in 1927 The Motor published an account of a fictitious Salisbury Grand Prix, England’s First Road Race. There is little doubt that the late Humphrey Symons, before he wrote his report, had driven over the 10½ -mile circuit on which this stirring race was run.

We went to look at it the other day, thirty-two years later, and found that the course is practically unchanged and, if only the Law allowed, could be just as easily used for motor racing today. Admittedly the main A 345 road now carries a good deal more traffic, so that closing it would result in more inconvenience than was envisaged in 1927, the racing cars coming into it from the hairpin at Old Sarum aerodrome, to climb uphill before leaving it four miles later at the right-hand Stockport turn, but traffic from Salisbury to Amesbury would suffer very little from being diverted via A 354 and A 303. After taking the Stockport turn the course travels over a well-surfaced road between high wire fences, flanking Boscombe Down airfield on the left, to Porton cross-roads, where it goes sharp right on to the twisty leg to Winterbourne Gunner, and than straight on over a Roman road back to Old Sarum hairpin. Winterbourne Gunner has no doubt expanded considerably but most of the development lies to the south of the circuit and the problems of racing through the village would be no more severe than those which had to be met in many places on the Newtownards and I.O.M. circuits. Boscombe may have encroached slightly on to the course at the northern end but this scarcely alters the situation, and traces of the cart-track along which, in that Salisbury Grand Prix of long ago, Strumpfelmeyer’s Blitzen took a short cut between High Post and the Stockport bend, causing Jake Harding’s Daytona-Special to crash as it re-emerged, can still be discerned. One wonders whether Symons calculated the record lap in the Salisbury G.P. as 78 m.p.h. by timing himself round the circuit in a contemporary sports car, and what modern drivers would make of it? Today a Halt-sign at Porton cross-roads would necessitate lapping anti-clockwise .

There probably isn’t a ghost of a chance of getting these roads closed for racing, which seems a pity, because the area is well served, as it was in 1927, by stations at Salisbury, Porton and Amesbury, and today the hotel at High Post would make an admirable headquarters. Who won there in 1927? Presumably Tommy Barr (Highbury Special), but it is difficult to be sure, because Symons woke up before the leader crossed the finishing line . . .

Because we are not permitted to have races on the roads of England, memorials commemorating famous drivers killed in action, which one finds in France and other countries, do not flank our highways. Instead, we find memorials to pioneer aviators who came to grief near our early aerodromes.

Still in the Salisbury area, at a cross-roads high on the Plain beyond Amesbury, is a simple stone paying homage to the memory of Capt. C. B. Loraine and Staff-Sergt. Wilson, who were killed near this spot on July 5th, 1912, when Capt. Loraine side-slipped on a turn while flying a Gnome-engined Nieuport monoplane and dived into the ground from 400 feet. Further down the road, on the edge of a wood, stands a far more elaborate memorial to Major A. W. Hewetson, who, while taking his tests on a Gnome-engined Bristol side-by-side two-seater monoplane on July 17th, 1913, overbanked while doing the figure of eight and side-slipped into the ground from 100 feet. He had taken off from nearby Larkhill and was the first pupil to be killed whilst taking the tests.

After chasing these Salisbury ghosts we felt that a return to the motoring affairs of today was called for and so we drove back through Amesbury and Salisbury to Downton, where Gaston’s Austin-Healey Sprite and other cars were being prepared for forthcoming races.

*

The Latest Simca Aronde

The writer was unable to attend the excellent party staged at Brands Hatch to celebrate the taking over of Simca sales in this country by Chrysler Motors, but to compensate for this was able to use the latest Simca Aronde P.60 Montlhery four-door saloon for a journey to Oulton Park on the occasion of the V.S.C.C. Seaman Trophies Race Meeting.

This handsome Simca was identical to that on which we reported fully in Motor Sport last March, except that it had the very latest “Flash Special ” engine, giving 61 b.h.p. at 5,200 r.p.m., an excellent output for 1,290 c.c. This engine endows the roomy Simca with performance equivalent to that of many 1½-litre cars, with a rather lower petrol-thirst. The car tested previously had not bettered 25 m.p.g. but on this occasion, in spite of an increase of 4 b.h.p., we obtained better results. On a really fast drive from London to Cheshire 27.3 m.p.g. was recorded. Driving somewhat more quietly, but still rapidly, consumption fell to 28 m.p.g., and pottering about, but with frequent stops and starts, improved economy to fractionally under 30 m.p.g. Nevertheless, we feel that Simca owners who regularly achieve the 35 m.p.g. spoken of in its publicity literature must be exceedingly light-footed.

Excellent acceleration is matched in this fascinating “French Fiat” by unobtrusively good brakes and an indicated top speed of 85 m.p.h., added to which this Simca runs quietly and its steering-column gear-change, although lacking refinement, selects the gears in a positive manner, the long travel of the lever making errors of selection less likely than with other, more smoothly-acting gearchanges of this kind. A high top gear gives this Simca long legs, and when starting from cold the automatic choke works very effectively.

Cornering is another good Simca feature, roll being well controlled and the tyres — Dunlop G.T. on the test car — protesting scarcely at all. The minor controls, clustered round the steering column, with a right-hand lamps-control stalk, are good without being outstandingly convenient, but the direction-flashers do not self-cancel soon enough after corners and at night it was irritating to have the petrol warning-light start blinking when sufficient fuel remained for a journey from Towcester to the South Coast, especially as this supplements a normal petrol gauge. The absolute fuel range was 270 miles. A good point concerns the rubber caps on the bumper over-riders, which enable car-park shunting to be done unobtrusively and without fear of scratching your neighbour’s chromium. Another commendable feature is the use of divided squabs for the bench front seat, which let down to form twin beds.

At an all-in price of £896 9s., complete with heater, screen-washers, reclining seats, etc., the Simca Aronde Montlhery is likely to have an increasingly enthusiastic following in this country, particularly as Chrysler Motors Ltd. are going to assemble and service these cars at their Kew works, using many British components. They propose to concentrate mainly on the Elysee and Montlhery models. The later derives its name from the great endurance run put up at the Paris track by one of these cars (63,000 miles at 70.2 m.p.h. with “Flash” 48-b.h.p. engine), and a reminder that it has had other notable competition successes was provided by a transfer in the back window of the test car, which recalled that Simca finished first in the 1,000-1,300-c.c. class and was second on General Classification in the last Monte Carlo Rally. Prospective buyers are referred to our full road-test report, published last March.