Letters from readers, August 1974

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

***

Buy British

Sir,

I thought you might be interested to hear why I recently purchased a foreign car. At the beginning of April I had a four-year-old Triumph 2.5-litre Estate (power steering and automatic) which had only done 38,000 miles and was in excellent condition. I wanted to buy a new car and was willing to spend up to £2,000 in addition to my car.

My first choice was a Dolomite Sprint but my local Triumph agent could not even quote a delivery so he would not even value my car. A visit to a dealer in a nearby town brought an offer of £600 but only against a car in stock, which was not the colour of my choice. If a car was ordered I would have to take a price for the 2.5 at the time of delivery, but the dealer didn’t really want the car. I then considered a Rover 3500 but I could only get immediate delivery by paying over list price. (This also applied to a Stag.)

I then tried a BMW agent some fifteen miles from my home town who offered me a far higher price for my 2.5 and even said that it was a nice car which he could sell easily. This pleased me so much that I decided to buy a car from this garage if possible. I chose a 2002 Touring which may be slower than a Sprint but has the advantage of being a semi-estate. I could have had delivery in 48 hours but the colour and upholstery specification I chose were not in stock so I waited 10 days. As my old car was taken in exchange before the new one was delivered, I was lent an Audi free of charge.

After 2,000 miles of most enjoyable motoring I am convinced that I made the right decision but look forward to the day when I can purchase a Dolomite Sprint with a similar estate body.

Guildford — A. C. MUNTZ

***

Rebellious Briton

Sir,

Forgive me if I appear to boast, but I have just completed a trip to the Continent which involved driving to Barcelona and back. We averaged 45 m.p.h. from start to finish, including stops, 46 miles to the gallon and used no oil. Despite the fact that I have a crush fracture of a bone in my back, I was able to drive almost the whole way, which I was obliged to do because of the lack of experience of the other two passengers in the car, and which speaks highly for comfort and seat position. “What transport of delight may this be?” I hear you cry. No, it is not an Audi which I believe can keep up with a Mini, or any other exotic whatsoever. It is a Reliant Rebel Estate, which now has 65,000 miles on the clock.

This gem of the road is absolutely nothing to look at, apart from the fact that it is quite simply superior in almost every respect to its direct rivals.

Even in the traffic lights drag against the competitive French, there were substantially few motor cars who could leave us behind, and the renowned Citroen GS12 20 could not even gain on us up to about 50 m.p.h. What such cars then gain along the straights they very rapidly lose round the bends because the Reliant road-holding is superior to almost any other Continental car we came up against. The only one which seemed to be able to equal our speed round the corners was the sports version of the Renault 16, and that was flashing its skirts at us reeling round the bends as it tried to stay in front, which I may say it did successfully.

“Bravo a les petites Renaults,” their hour of glory was decidely up in every aspect of performance, a Renault 4 simply cannot keep up with a rather clapped-out Reliant Rebel in any aspect—up hill, down hill, straight line, round the bends, a heavily loaded Reliant Rebel is at all times a superior character to the Renault 4 which seems to be so fashionable in this country.

What is wrong with the traditional perspicacity of the British motor car buying public? It seems to me that many people in this country are buying cars not for their solid worth in performance and safety, but for the gimmicks which the Continentals add to make up for designs which are not up to the standards of ours. Perhaps a few more comparative road tests would help in this aspect (this was why we bought the Reliant) and for goodness sake, what can we do to get the leading manufacturers to take part in rallies such as the recent World Cup to demonstrate that our cars at least are as good, if not better, than the Continentals.

Personally, I would prefer to wait for the slow delivery of an English car rather than buy something with electric windows, 12-speed wipers and built-in sea-sickness.

I know you are always prepared to publish slightly outrageous letters, but then that is the character of your excellent and outspoken magazine.

Robertsbridge — ROBERT ELLIOT-PYLE (DR.)

[A leg-pull perhaps, Doctor? For Reliant appear to have abandoned the Rebel, and could it live with Renault R4s, which are still in plentiful supply, across rough fields and similar cross-country going?—ED.]

***

An MG Remembered

Sir,

I was interested to read your article “Memories” on page 574 of the June issue.

The MG TC Midget, registered No. MG 6963, is still in use and is currently owned by a Mr. Alf Hodgins. Mr. Hodgins drove this TC on the International MG Rally to Hansach in W. Germany last year. I was talking to Mr. Hodgins only a week ago about the early owners of his car and he said that it was first owned by “Goldie” Gardner. Perhaps some of your other readers will confirm this. As to whether Leslie Kesterton subsequently owned it, I cannot say.

This car was also well-known in MG Car Clubs events in the more recent past, when it was raced by Ken Cheeseman. I can recall several pictures of it in the club’s magazine Safety Fast , and in the T-Register bulletin.

My interest is that I also own an MG TC Midget—MG 6938. This car successfully carried two adults, two children, a pushchair and towed a trailer with camping gear for three weeks on a 2,500-mile tour of Germany, Switzerland and Austria last year.

Sudbury — B. G. BRYAN

***

When Racing Was FUN

Sir,

“C.R.’s” article in May Motor Sport entitled “Looking back with Dick Jacobs” brought back some happy memories of the days when racing sports and saloon cars was FUN! I was involved in a small way in sports car racing from 1952 to 1955, and saloons from 1956 to 1960.

I particularly remember the 1957 Production Touring Car Race at Silverstone in September of that year as I managed to get a drive in one of the three Borgward Isabella TS saloons entered by the UK concessionaires Metcalfe & Mundy Ltd. The other two Isabellas were driven by Tommy Bridger and John Wallwork.

In practice we were all slower than the Jacobs’ Magnettes, J. Waller’s MG doing 2 min. 23.4 sec., Alan Foster’s MG 2 min. 24 sec. and Bridger’s Borgward 2 min 25 sec.

On race day the German mechanics reset the carburetters on the Isabellas.

Result—at the Le Mans start all three Borgwards would not start first time, and we all set off with the A35s etc. John Wallwork over-revved his Borgward and retired in a cloud of blue smoke, Tommy Bridger got 3rd in the 1500 c.c. class behind Foster and Waller, followed by Bloxham, Simpson and Dalton (all Magnettes) then yours truly. A disappointing result, as I believe if Tommy Bridger had made a better start he would have given the MGs a run for their money.

I have the 1957 Daily Express Trophy Meeting programme in front of me as I write, hence all the facts and figures.

I spectate fairly regularly at Snetterton these days, and occasionally at Silyerstone. When one sees Group 1 saloons arriving by trailer or transporter, it reminds me of driving in an Aston Martin DB3 sports/racing car from Norwich to Goodwood and then competing in, and finishing, the 1955 9-Hour Race — times have certainly changed!

Having been a regular reader of MOTOR SPORT since 1933 I congratulate you on maintaining the high standard of what is still the best motoring magazine for the enthusiast — may it continue to flourish.

Norwich — TONY HIND

***

Seat-Belt Compulsion

Sir,

It was with horror that I encountered the following in the daily press recently under the heading “Belt Up Campaign Could Be Law by Autumn.” In the words of Transport Minister, Mr. Fred Mulley, “I hope to make seat belt wearing compulsory as soon as possible. There is a Road Traffic Act before the House at the moment which will enable us to introduce compulsion. In the normal way, this would be enforced before the end of the year.”

Mr. Mulley went on to say that by the introducton of the compulsory wearing of seat belts he hoped that over 1,000 road deaths would be saved each year.

One cannot but admire the humanitarian thought behind Mr. Mulley’s words but, unfortunately, we have all witnessed the results of sweeping legislation of this nature before. I refer of course to the 70 m.p.h. maximum speed limit imposed by Mrs. Barbara Castle in a previous Labour administration. As was said at the time, lives could be saved by a blanket maximum speed limit. In practice, as we have experienced to our cost, this has not been altogether true. Seventy miles per hour on trunk roads and motorways has meant the bunching together of cars, motorcycles and lorries alike, bumper to bumper with the result that horrendous multiple pile-ups occur with greater frequency than years ago.

As with speed limits, seat belts instil a false sense of security in the driver. A bad driver will be as bad and as dangerous at 70 m.p.h. as at 90 m.p.h., whether he wears a seat belt or not. It is the man behind the wheel and not the vehicle he is driving which is the danger. Why in all sense must the competent and careful drivers (which I am certain comprise the majority on our roads) be penalised for the faults of the few?

The questionable value of seat belts themselves has been discussed ad infinitum but certain features such as their discomfort and their uselessness with regard to side impact and also the horror of being trapped by them inside the wreckage of a burning car must not go unmentioned. Many open-top car drivers maintain that they would rather take the chance of being thrown clear in the event of an accident to being tied to a potentially deadly missile.

However, important as these aspects are, the feature of the whole issue that repels me is the fact of compulsion. The law demands that I have seat belts in my car. This should be sufficient. If I choose not to wear them then that is my option. We are said to be living in a democracy, the essence of which is free choice. But free choice, it seems, is eroded by the hour. It is about time somebody took a stand before the word democracy becomes as farcical as the 70 m.p.h. speed limit and, if nothing is done to prevent it, the compulsory wearing of seat belts.

Finally may I add that I consider Motor Sport to be the finest motoring publication available, and about the only one to give voice to matters of public importance such as this current debate.

Hendon — SIMON LERNER

[Yes, I agree fully. Incidentally, or maybe not so incidentally, the cost of publicising seat-belt compulsion to date, vide the DOE, totalled £950,000 in the last financial year — in a period of rising costs and monetary crisis! The newly announced campaign is to cost £850,000. Perhaps we should be flattered that Mr. Mulley prices drivers at £900 each! —ED.]

***

Thruxton Defended

Sir,

I read with interest your European letter in the June edition of Motor Sport written by Denis Jenkinson.

In his second paragraph he commented on his visit to the Easter Monday meeting at Thruxton and the poor quality of the public address system. I think that it is only fair to us to state that the loudspeakers were set as per the planning agreement which we have with the Hampshire County Council. For this reason, whilst appreciating that the system is not as our Sound Engineers would have liked to have it, I am sure that you will agree that it is better than no public address system at all.

Thruxton — RICHARD SPEAKMAN (Track Manager, Thruxton Circuit)

***

Fiat Economy

Sir,

I refer to your article on “Fiat Economy” in the May edition, taken from the RAC Trial No. 888, a copy of which I sent to you in March.

W.B. refers to the average speed as being “distinctly on the modest side”. However, if you would care to look at the report again you will see it shows a “total time stopped other than normal traffic stops” (i.e. lunch break) of 1 hr. 6 min, for the 126L and 1 hr.0 min. for the 127, giving net running times of 4 hrs. 21 min. and 4 hrs. 15 min. and giving net average speeds of 34.25 m.p.h. and 35.76 m.p.h., respectively.

Regarding the three extra miles that the 127 recorded, I would suggest that had the driver not “wrong slotted” in Romsey and had to turn back to the official route, the mileage recorded by the vehicles would have been much closer.

Reading — TERRY BENSON, Jack Hill (Reading) Limited.

[This is excellent and brings the 60/60 m.p.h./m.p.g. ideal very much on target, especially as the winning finalist in the “Beat Hill” London-Brighton Contest achieved 60.85 m.p.g. (eleven 126s averaged 56.8 m.p.g.)—ED.]

***

Ro80 Disillusionment

Sir,

I should have known better, after a series of mechanical failures on an Audi 100 (not to mention premature rust), but being persuaded by a good trade-in, I bought an Ro80.

I started off with failure of the electrics (most odd—the gauges doubled their readings when you switched on the lights), water pump leak, flasher broken and a burst water hose—but this was, after all, covered by the guarantee. The worst so far has been the failure of the heat exchanger (or oil cooler) unit which leaked oil into the water cooling system. The effect was astounding— removing the water heater tank cap the whole car—me too—was covered in a sort of chicken soup mix of hot oil mixed with water and anti-freeze. It took three weeks and £160 to put it right. It was out of guarantee in time but within the 18,000 miles former guarantee, but I met arrogant rejection when asking for consideration of reimbursement.

Surely a car of this price, claiming the advantage of a durable engine with few moving parts and needing to build up its image, should last a bit longer than 16,500 miles without major mechanical failure.

There are also ancillary costs of an Ro80 which potential buyers forget: special antifreeze (twice the price); special plugs (four times the price and less durable); few agents who know much about maintenance, who do not hold many spares; and higher insurance. Claims of 28 m.p.g. are a joke, spares are unbelievably expensive and oiling up in traffic makes one’s ability to accelerate rapidly away unpredictable.

“If you want a better car think about it,” says the advertisement. I have — I might as well put up with the rotten English product —for the German product is just as unreliable, but you pay dearly for the experience. No wonder Audi-NSU have had to increase the warranty to two years and 24,000 miles to sell more more than the 27 cars reported sold in March (The Times, April 29th).

Croydon — J. B. FULLER

***

The Cost of Construction

Sir,

I read in a newspaper report this morning the sickening news that British Leyland car prices are going up by an average of 9 per cent, and that rises in raw material costs are said to be the cause. Sheet steel has risen by 27 per cent; PVC by 29 per cent, and aluminium by 59 per cent. Taking these figures into consideration it is logical that while the soft top Triumph Spitfire has risen by 6 per cent, the Range Rover has gone up by 14 per cent.

Economy of operation has been the keynote of motoring debate for the last nine months. Much as this is desirable, let us not neglect economy of initial cost of the vehicle. The price of a Mini 850 will now be £923, which “on the road” must be around £1,000 of anybody’s money.

The cost of mass-production of glass fibre or plastic body mouldings for car construction is something I am not qualified to comment on, except to say that Reliant products (3 and 4 wheel) do not seem appreciably cheaper than a steel competitor might be. However the escalating costs of the basic car manufacturing materials must now cause a re-think of types and quantities of materials employed, at least in the economy/small car field. I am sure something can be done without revolutionary approaches.

Remember the “upright” Ford Popular? The last of these were made in 1958-’59, I think. Apart from being the cheapest car on the British market at the time, I remember two main things about them: extra thin gauge steel bodywork; and rubberised fabric roof panels, saving even more steel. No chromium on the bumpers either, and the simplest of trim and instrumentation. Powered by engine/transmission which had been in production for twenty odd years. True one laughed then; but now?

May I say in conclusion that it is a sign of the excellent breadth of interest that you cater for, in that one can discuss such a matter in a journal which rejoices in the title of Motor Sport

Fetcham — G. GILBERT

***

2000 TC v. 2200 TC

Sir,

Perhaps I could offer a word of caution to any reader about to do what I did late last year, to exchange a perfectly good Rover 2000 TC for a new Rover 2200 TC.

The car was in the distributor’s showroom in early November last, but their pre-delivery inspection showed up so many parts missing from the car, or broken, that I did not actually get the car until late November when apparently all had been put right.

The real troubles began during the first 1,000 miles running. There was something seriously at fault with the transmission. The gear change was the worst I have experienced in over 30 years’ motoring. First and second gears became impossible to select, without the use of both hands. Those who wonder why the stubby gear-lever of the 2000 has been replaced by a longer lever on this model will soon realise that the purpose is to give the unfortunate owner more leverage to force in the selected gear. Reverse could not be engaged without a grinding and graunching of tortured metal. The clutch was impossibly fierce, also, with a long travel like that of a large commercial vehicle.

There were other troubles; an oil leak, doors not fitting properly, accessories not working, unexplainable tapping noises from the front wheels. There was no handbook and no servicing schedule and, of course, no kind of explanation or apology for their absence.

One wonders how many more times British Leyland are going to put their products on the market without adequate testing and development, leaving this job to be done by the customer (e.g.—Austin Maxi).

To do Rover justice, they did answer my letter of complaint with an assurance that the distributor would put all right. But I was still without a car for several weeks.

May I say how much I have enjoyed reading Motor Sport regularly for more than 20 years?

Dalkeith — WALTER W. NEWEY

***

The Japs move into NZ

Sir,

The March issue has just arrived and I was very interested to read the letter of Mr. R. J. Marshall of Bury St. Edmunds. As the New Zealand Correspondent of Datsun Owners Club of Great Britain I fear this letter is typical of much British woolly thinking so far as New Zealand is concerned currently.

Here are the latest figures from NZ Retail Trade Association which is comparable with SMMT.

With the UK having entered the Common Market the English Preference Tariff in NZ will be phased out and English cars will become progressively more expensive here.

Currently I am running a 1972 Datsun 1200 Automatic saloon. Mileage is now 15,000 and apart from routine servicing all that has been required so far has been the tightening of two rear doors and a small heater adjustment. This is typical of Japanese cars out here and is another reason why they are selling in increasing numbers.

Wellington, NZ — TREVOR COLLINS

***

Racing on public roads

Sir,

In your July issue (page 711), you raised the subject of racing on the public roads, stressing the near impossibility of this, in this modern age.

It does happen, however, once a year, at Wallasey, Cheshire, when the local council closes the public roads, on New Brighton Promenade, to allow pedal cycle racing, motor car sprints, and motorcycle racing, over a 1.1-mile circuit, the motorcycle racing being organised by this club. These activities are all part of the Wallasey Festival of Sport.

A search of local authority records, concerning promenades, public parks, etc., may bring to light the fact that the authority may have the right to close the roads, for events similar to those mentioned above.

Manley — R. MURRAY, Press Officer, Wirral 100 MC

***

A Seat-Belt Speech

Sir,

At last the House of Lords have performed a service to the motorist, namely the rejection of the compulsory wearing of seatbelts.

One disturbing feature was Lord Montagu’s appeal to make seat-belt wearing compulsory, quoting “that it was nonsense to suggest seat-belt wearing was dangerous, and a 20% drop in injuries and deaths in Australia and New Zealand”. I am completely at a loss to see what the latter statement has to do with the UK.

His Lordship, of course, is perfectly entitled to his views, but one would hasten to add, that it is rather a strange view for a person who draws approximately 80% of his income from motorists every year.

Perhaps he wishes to fall into line with the other “ostrich in the sand” outfit, namely the AA.

Except for Motor Sport who else is the “Standard Bearer” for the motorist now?

Garston — R. CARMICHAEL

***

Petrol Economy

Sir,

I have been following with interest the various bits and pieces about the Fiat 126, especially the funny one by yourself in the July issue.

As I have owned one of these cars for 12 months in August perhaps readers would be interested in my experience of economy.

In heavy rush-hour traffic to and from work across Stockport (I won’t use that ghastly word “commuting”) I get 39-42 m.p.g. On my other regular run to the Darley Moor Motor Cycle Road Racing Club circuit, where I am a member, I can easily get 55 m.p.g. by keeping the speed to 50 m.p.h.

This run is over 46 miles of undulating Derbyshire countryside with a few quite steep climbs.

I do not imagine an average driver will better these figures. Incidentally, in 1920 a 21-h.p. Wooler flat-twin motorcycle did 311 m.p.g. I wonder if this is a record?

I am quite happy with this little car generally. It handles very well, although the front end is a bit skittish in the rain, and I can drive it flat out when I feel like it without any danger of frightening myself (I must be getting old).

It keeps up quite well with modern traffic, (except on motorways) which makes me wonder why a lot of people buy such powerful cars, GT this and GX that. Perhaps they like buying petrol too. More likely it is to impress the Joneses. The 126 has been trouble-free apart from a jamming starter. Apparently this is quite common on some early ones like mine, caused by a bad batch of starter rings. My dealers, Messrs. Knibbs, have promised to reclaim from Fiat the cost of fitting a new one, although the car is long off the warranty. Spares are quite cheap anyway, in contrast to some foreign cars. (See readers’ letters, July.) So I’m afraid, Sir, we shall have to wait a while for your 60/60 target to be hit. [But see page 871—ED.]

I don’t think the new little Suzuki cars will do it either. My son’s 500 c.c. Suzuki motorcycle does barely 50 m.p.g.

Best wishes for your next 50 years.

Cheadle Heath — R. SANDBACH