Matters of Moment, August 1967

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The commercial side of motor racing

King, the monthly which cannot decide whether to be a sex or a serious magazine, and which costs 7s. 6d., perhaps because only 7¾ of its 97 pages carry advertisements, devoted its July editorial to the future of motor racing. In an article called “Crisis On The Circuits ” it showed itself very favourably disposed towards motor racing but fearful that race promoters will soon run out of money. Said King, “How often we see really exciting races on television destroyed by unutterably boring commentaries. How little intelligent comment is given to the sport on the mass media. How rare, and sadly dreary, are the public appearances of the circuit heroes. Sometimes one wonders whether there isn’t a conspiracy to see just how dull we can make motor racing this year. Paradoxically it takes a tragic death, like Lorenzo Bandini’s, to bring the sport to life in the public mind.”

This editorial was followed by a discussion, led by Sir John Whitmore. Whitmore felt that, apart from the top F.1 drivers, entrants, drivers, circuit owners and clubs are not getting the return their investment in racing warrants. He would like to see Coca-Cola, Unilever and I.C.I. put money into motor racing, with Team-Lotus cars becoming Coca-Cola Specials with Coke signs all over their sides. Nick Syrett of B.R.S.C.C. was more cautious, but advocated brightly-painted cars. Whitmore drove his views home by snubbing the Old School “with its huntin’, fishin’ and racin’ green plus-fours” who have no idea of what it means to be in the entertainment business. Motor racing, he said, must he promoted for all your worth.

The discussion then resolved itself into the prize and starting-money systems operated by Grovewood and the B.R.D.C., whereby Grovewood promote racing themselves, merely paying an organising club to run a meeting for them, whereas the B.R.D.C. hires Silverstone to the organising club, which risks a loss on the gate. Syrett quoted the couple of unprofitable meetings the B.A.R.C. had at Silverstone which “nearly killed them” and which is why the B.R.S.C.C “will never go to Silverstone under that system.” To Whitmore’s query about how much Grovewood pay and how this relates to an organising club’s costs Syrett refused to be drawn, beyond saying that for an International meeting it is a “substantial fee” but that out it comes the £250 R.A.C. permit-fee. Whitmore pressed home the point but Syrett just replied that the B.R.S.C.C. is more secure under the Grovewood system. He pointed out that, if the B.A.R.C. had not had the Wills cigarette people behind them, the Easter Monday Silverstone Meeting would have put them in Carey Street. He did admit that if Grovewood lose on one meeting, as at the wet Mallory Park, they pay the organising club’s expenses, and the balance of the fee later, after a more profitable meeting. Whitmore concluded that the B.R.S.C.C. is better off than the B.R.D.C under the prevailing arrangements but that Grovewood must be in a precatious position. To which Syrett replied that they made about £100,000 last year.

The thing then hotted up, as Whitmore parried that all this money came from profits on Club meetings and Syrett responded that Grovewood only runs the International meetings, one at each circuit, apart from Brands Hatch and Oulton Park, “for circuit prestige and banner-advertising revenue.” The Clubs complain about the B.D.R.C. system, Syrett thought justifiably, because the B.R.D.C. is a profit-making body and should take the financial risk of race organisation. Until they do, the B.R.S.C.C. will never run a meeting at Silverstone. “much as Eason Gibson would like us to do so.” This was quite aside from the fact that it would be political suicide to do so, for the B.R.S.C.C. depends for its day-to-day existence on Grovewood and the Racing Car Show. The discussion then moved to starting-money. Syrett said that Grovewood give a combined budget for starting and prize money, which results in low prize money, as the bulk has to go to attract good drivers. But Syrett admitted he prefers payment-by-results. Alas, the F.2 Constructors’ Association stopped this, by telling him that, if he substituted prize for starting-money, not only would he not get top-line drivers but they wouldn’t build any new F.2 cars. To which Whitmore retorted that the B.R.D.C. didn’t have Surtees at Silverstone for the International Trophy, because it didn’t think it would get a return for the £2,000 demanded. But if the prize money had been £5,000 for the winner, £4,000 for 2nd and £3 000 for 3rd place, “I reckon Surtees would have come.”

Syrett next expressed the opinion that you will never get enormous crowds anywhere except possibly at Nurburg, for F.1 races, while they are contested by “small firms.” He thought that F.1 contested between Jaguar, Ford, Vauxhall, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Alfa Romeo (officially, not disguised as Auto Delta), Fiat, Mercedes, and Citroën would flood the circuits with paying spectators. Whitmore loved this idea, sagely observing that Ford and General Motors wouldn’t want any starting-money! Having said that [and in my opinion it would all depend on what F.1 rules the well-known manufacturers were required to build cars to — not overlooking the fact that today, with a different car winning each Championship G.P. and Ford pouring money into it, the public is still apathetic by the Whitmore/Syrett standards. And does Nurburg attract big crowds when Germany is unlikely to win? — Ed.] they realised that this will never happen. Which had Whitmore craving for his Coca-Cola Chapmans, or a 1968 Coca-Cola Special made by Lotus in return for a donation from this soft-drink firm of £35,000. “Not enough,” was Syrett’s comment. So Whitmore was encouraged to visualise a Coke bonus of £75,000 to Chapman, to augment the £50,000 he is supposed to be drawing from Esso. Then, thought Whitmore, Lotus shouldn’t need more starting money. [I should jolly well think not! Especially as they have Ford’s £100,000. — Ed.] Whitmore expanded this theme, of offering sponsors their own teams, with names on the cars, as better than the present arrangement of offering them one saloon-car race and some advertising hoardings for, say, £1,500. Syrett agreed. It was only then that these spokesmen for the B.R.D.C./B.R.S.C.C. paused to wonder if this method might not upset the tyre and fuel companies. Syrett thought not the tyre people but certainly the fuel companies, who have been invaluable to racing. But both he and Whitmore made it plain that they would like to get rid of fuel-company sponsorship — “They think they own it,” said Whitmore. Syrett would obviously prefer Kelloggs and Coca-Cola to Shell/B.P. and Esso. [This seems to me very ungrateful to the fuel sponsors and pretty poor “public-relations” on the part of these race promotor-spokesmen, with the game as it is being played at present. — Ed.] Syrett wondered if there was enough in motor racing to persuade corn-flake or soft-drink to part with £75,000 in return for a team of G.P. racing cars [Remember that only successful cars are good publicity — Ed.] with the existing poor gates, like the 35,000 or so at the May Silverstone Meeting. Whitmore was more optimistic, nursing his pet idea along with visions of the Coke-Chapmans winning Internationally [Does he, I wonder, take Coca-Cola with his breakfast Kelloggs?— Ed] and with Unilever, perhaps, running a two-car GT team that “would cost them £20,000 to £25,000 for a quite successful season.”

Syrett countered with doubts about getting sufficiently “large audiences” to make all this possible. Apart from Indianapolis, he thought no sporting events, even in America, got any sort of live audience. [But from the viewpoint of the mythical Coke-Kelloggs expenditure, why should this matter? — publicity on television probably being more acceptable than on the circuits — think of the “commercial” follow-ups! — Ed.] Anyway, Whitmore wouldn’t have this, citing American stock-car races. Syrett then remembering that the Daytona 500 brings in 70,000 people once a year, but Tallahassee “four men and a dog.” He compared this to 17,000 at a premier league baseball match. [I suppose we could bring in 300,000 at Wimbledon tennis, with around 25,000 at the Finals — Ed.] Whitmore spoke wistfully of 15,000 to 20,000 every Saturday night at Long Beach Drag Strip, 20,000 at a “tinpot Swiss hill-climb,” 109,000 waiting in snow at Nurburg for a F.2 race, and the financial success of Vienna, “an awful airfield circuit in the sticks, in pouring rain….” [I would guess the answers are: spectacle, rarity, Rindt and infrequency, respectively. — Ed.] This led Syrett to observe that there may be too much motor racing in Britain — which Motor Sport has emphasised on many occasions.

So it waffled on, with discussion on supporting races, the type of cars and drivers these should be composed of, and how to get close racing. Whitmore wanted more money to attract better drivers in the lesser races — “at Club corner at Silverstone only three blokes were going at all — Hawkins, Piper and Denny.” Whitmore next suggested a formula in which rim-width is restricted (“GT cars on 6 in. rims — superb”), and they advocated cutting down F.1 races in this country to two a year (but leaving Club meetings alone — it takes four Club meetings at Brands Hatch to subsidise each International meeting), and putting on something new, like ovals [could he mean dog biscuits? — Ed.], dirt-track and so on. Syrett was more realistic, mentioning better facilities for the crowd at most circuits. [Maybe he could make a start at Brands Hatch? — Ed.]

The thing closed with Whitmore going for big commercial sponsors, with trade names plastered over the cars “and be damned to British Racing Green and the Old School.” He asked Nick Syrett what he would do if he were Jesus Christ. [I do not propose to comment further, apart from thinking that, in reply to the poor taste of the last remark, with the World in its present mess He probably has too much to think about to come to the aid of motor-racing money-makers. Anyhow the overall subject is more D.S.J.’s than mine, for I do not think the V.S.C.C. is in any difficulty with vintage and historic motor races, whether it is hiring Silverstone from the B.R.D.C. and taking the gate or being paid by Mid-Cheshire C.C. to put on a meeting for them at Oulton Park. — Ed.]

Anyway, there is to be a follow-up to the discussion in the August issue of King. The topicality of the subject is a reminder of how far we have come from the days of — let’s get it right this time — “The Right Crowd and No Crowding.” It is a matter for speculation which happened first, competitors demanding their expenses which caused race organisers to fret about the size of the crowds, or race organisers deciding there was no money in motor-racing, which made the competitors ask for their share of the profits. The B.A.R.C. originated as a group of cyclecar fanatics intent on meeting to examine one another’s machines, the B.R.D.C. as a social club for amateur racing drivers, but today….

However, whatever the period, races that have no spectator appeal will lack a profitable attendance. Whitmore and Syrett should console themselves that things are not as bad as they were at Montlhèry in 1925, when it was reported that after the Grand Prix de Tourisme local hotel proprietors were left with 400 plucked chickens, the special train from Paris requested by the organisers carried only 21 passengers, the grandstands at noon accommodated 59 persons inclusive of soldiers and attendants, and of the 1,400 ‘buses which the Paris transport service had been asked to run to the track, 50 were found to be quite sufficient. — W. B.

Durability — 
pre-versus post-war

In the January issue, under this heading, I referred to an account by the late Laurence Pomeroy about how the 2-litre M.G. he was using as editorial transport in 1938 had performed over a distance of 20,000 miles, a snippet from the past which I came upon while checking something in pre-war issues of The Motor. The other day I had occasion, as I often do, to search through bound volumes of The Autocar of a similar period and chanced upon another reference to good service from a car used by a motoring journalist.

The scribe concerned was H. S. Linfield, the time the end of the year 1934. Linfield was then in charge of The Autocar road-tests and sometimes summarised his experiences in most fascinating special articles. The story I chanced upon was about the Armstrong Siddeley Twelve tourer, one of three built on the Twelve sports chassis for the 1934 R.A.C. Rally and registered ASM 336 because it was one of this “rainbow fleet” of red, white and blue team cars, all given this Dumfries registration for publicity purposes. Linfield had driven the car in the Rally and later it became his, “with the suitable passing over of moneys,” for the spring and summer of that year. Leaving Coventry on a wet and cheerless morning in March he noticed that the mileage reading was 00,086. Entering Coventry at the end of September it read 18,423. Now over 18,000 miles in less than seven months wasn’t bad going, especially as this took place 33 years ago. Motoring writers, like commercial travellers, cover more miles than most people, but while he was using this Armstrong Siddeley as a personal car, Linfield had some 40 other cars through his hands for road-testing. To counter this, the personal car was driven by two friends when its temporary owner wasn’t using it, so it went out almost every day.

Nevertheless, the equivalent of more than 36,500 indicated miles per 12 months isn’t to be sneezed at, even if Linfield says that this, in itself, is no excuse for writing up a car. Putting the matter on a personal basis, by consulting bound volumes of Motor Sport I find from the “My Year’s Motoring” series which I began in 1953, that between that year and 1966 I have averaged approx. 30,788 miles driving a year, including a period when petrol rationing cut testing down — miserable thought, is history about to repeat itself? Although Linfield was solely concerned with going out and driving, whereas I have an office to attend, his mileages are formidable, this stint with the Armstrong Siddeley alone equalling my all-over figure, and that back in 1934….

How did the car stand up? Much better, I would say, than many cars do today. Linfield took it over, for the purpose of the Rally, on March 2nd. By March 19th. the Rally over, it had done 2,990 miles. When it was just four months old, on the way to North Wales, the figure was up to to 10,000. During that long-ago summer the little Twelve put in approx. 3,200 miles in 29 days and on several week-ends it covered between 400 and 500 miles and, once, well over 600. The six-month period saw 16,000 completed. Incidentally, I cautiously called it indicated mileage, but I see that “the speedometer read slow on both speed and mileage.” It completed the entire 18,423 miles “virtually without trouble.”

We are told that the tappets were not adjusted for several months and the engine was not decarbonised until 13,000 miles. Discounting those chores that are unfamiliar to present-day motorists, the Armstrong Siddeley had its brakes adjusted twice, and tested on a Tecalemit machine, a sidelarnp bulb had to be replaced, oil pressure dropped on one occasion due to dirt under the release valve but the Twelve’s only serious trouble was a discharged battery caused by inadvertently leaving switched on a faulty screen wiper which wouldn’t work. Nothing else went wrong and not a minute was lost on the road through these faults.

Yet this rally Armstrong Siddeley seems to have been driven hard. It was used for a full road-test, which meant doing emergency braking on the unforgiving Brooklands’ concrete. It made not far short of the best time ever recorded by Linfield over his favourite test route from Salisbury almost to London in ten years of driving dozens of vehicles over it, from sidecar outfit to supercharged sports cars. This involved driving it “just about as hard as it would go, using the pre-selector box to the utmost advantage; but at the end there was no change in the car’s behaviour, no crackling of heated parts cooling off.” This with a maximum speed not much above 60 m.p.h., although the car would keep up 50 or 55 or even more. Praise of its cornering and similar aspects of performance would need to be related to the context of the nineteen-thirties but no excuse is needed for remarking on the great enthusiasm Linfield displayed over the comfort of the driving position (separate front seats with air cushions and rather hard curved back rest) and complete lack of fatigue after long journeys. That, and its unfailing reliability, endeared ASM 336 to him and three experienced friends agreed unanimously. He was less pleased with the fuel thirst, of about 22 m.p.g. overall, although this included “generous warming up every morning,” which we never seem to trouble about these days.

The tyres lasted the distance but at the end the gearbox, the special properties of which “were used unmercifully, though with proper throttle accompaniment,” although it had given no trouble, required a simple adjustment to overcome heavy pedal action.

Mr. Linfield certainly had some real motoring from this open Armstrong Siddeley 12/6 “which in its lines was virtually a scaled-down version of the big Siddeley Special tourer.” He took it to Scotland, as far as Stirling, and four times to North Wales. The Salisbury run was obviously very frequently done and it also went to Devon. Of hills, it ascended Allt-y-Bady, trials acclivity near Llangollen, most of the North Wales’ passes and Lynton and Countisbury of London — Land’s End fame, incidentally using no radiator water for weeks together.

When one has troubles with new modern cars in less than 10,000 miles it is interesting, though exasperating, to learn of the reliability of this Coventry product of the mid-‘thirties. Incidentally, Armstrong Siddeleys seem to have been as popular with motoring writers then as Rovers are now; apart from H. S. Linfield’s six months, “The Scribe” of The Autocar had a 12/6 coupé (some of us may look askance at his comment that “I don’t want a sports-car, but I do want some of the things a sports-car gives, and this little job gives those things,” but presumably he meant sporting or sportsman’s rather than sports), and Humphrey Symons used a 12/6. The late C. G. Grey, celebrated Editor of The Aeroplane in those days, was also very partial to the larger Armstrong Siddeleys, as those who have read the splendid “Cars I Have Owned” article he wrote for me (Motor Sport, June 1952) can well appreciate. — W.B.

Scale plans

Motor Sport is frequently asked whether scale plans of racing and historic cars are available. These are required mainly by model makers but also by artists, rebuilders and even for their own interest, as correctly portraying the dimensions of the cars concerned.

So it is worth noting that Model Aeronautical Press Ltd., 13-35, Bridge Street, Hemel Hempstead, Herts., run a very comprehensive plans service covering cars, boats, aeroplanes, locomotives, traction engines, etc. Apart from drawings for making working models, their list of scale plans of prototype cars runs from A.C. Aceca to 30/98 Vauxhall Wensum. The range of cars covered is quite remarkable. Almost all, if not all. recent G.P. cars, historic racing cars like the Novi Special, Monza Alfa Romeo, Auto-Union, P2 Alfa Romeo, 1922 G.P. Aston-Martin, 4 1/2-litre Le Mans Bentley, and many different Bugattis, etc., modern American cars, sports cars, veteran and Edwardian cars, and even rarities like the Disco Volante Alfa Romeo, Bluebird C.N.7, G.P. Cisitalia, 1922 Tropfenwagen Benz, 1923 G.P. Voisin, Rhiando Trimax, Fiat 8001 turbine-car, etc., are listed. Brooklands’ cars include the Napier-Railton, 350-h.p. Sunbeam, T.T. Vauxhall, Blitzen Benz., “blower-4 1/2” Bentley single-seater and 1907 G.P. Itala. These three- or four-view drawings are to scales of 1/32, 1/8, 1/10 and 1/12 and cost 2s. per sheet, plus 6d. postage. A by-return service is offered and 2s. Plans Handbooks are published, cataloguing the complete range. — W. B.

London-Rome in under 24 hours, by Ford Cortina 

Even before the war “record” runs between different towns tended to be frowned upon. I remember taking a 4¼-litre Derby-Bentley from London to John o’ Groats as fast as possible in the enthusiasm of youth (running average 50 1/2 m.p.h.) but being asked by Rolls-Royce Ltd. not to make anything of trying to set up a record time. Now Joyce Wilkins, whose previous claim to notoriety was her book called “Most Women Do It,” has won a bet driving herself from London to Rome in under 24 hours. She took 23 hr. 19 min. As she is the wife of a motoring journalist there is interest in knowing what car she choose for this long 42 m.p.h. run. It was a Ford Cortina — a sensible choice, we think, for Fords seem to go especially well when extended like this. The bet she won was a 300 gns. Dior dress, which suggests that Wilkins does rather better than many of us at this writing profession! — W. B.

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