Matters of moment, August 1975

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The Editor looks back

It must be apparent from the contents of this issue that MOTOR SPORT has attained its half-century. This is, we are told, an auspicious occasion, so the present Editor proposes for once to conduct this Editorial in the first person. It has been said that no-one reads an Editorial and, while there is proof to the contrary, this makes the task a trifle less onerous! Other motor journals are older than MOTOR SPORT, and while I am grateful to the late C. G. Grey, unforgettable Editor of the now-defunct but in its day refreshingly effervescent weekly The Aeroplane, for the thought that to be first merely proves antiquity whereas to have become first is an achievement, modesty precludes me from enlarging on the theme. The remarkable fact is that a sporting monthly (which began as The Brookiands Gazette in the summer of 1924) has survived to celebrate its 50th Anniversary. It seems to me no less remarkable, or daunting, that I have been at the helm of MOTOR SPORT for more than half that span.

How this came about I described in the leader to that other Anniversary issue 25 years back so now it is only necessary to reiterate briefly. Unable to get any sense out of cars by attacking them with tools, I was forced into writing about them. In this way, before the war, after serving unknown and indeed unseen masters for a time, until the paper entered another of its spells of bankruptcy, owing me a tidy sum, I came into contact with its present Proprietor, Mr. W. J. Tee. To my surprise he suggested I should take over the Editorship, which was an irresistible carrot to so young and avidly-keen an enthusiast. Since then MOTOR SPORT has been steered, with his energy and support, to what I am sometimes informed is a position of eminence and influence. If this is so, believe me, it stems simply from having had fun with cars and trying to set down honestly and without fear or favour our opinions about them. In this the paper has been helped by people equally as enthusiastic as myself, and by some curious quirks of fate. For instance, if the RAE had not claimed me for more pen-pushing, now flavoured by aeroplanes, during the war, it would not have been possible for MOTOR SPORT to have come out uninterrupted, although edited by remote-control, throughout the period of hostilities. Nor would it have happened at all, had Mr. Tee not been prepared to “have a go”, to take a chance. But it did happen and during those war-years I was aided by enthusiasts who, deprived by Hitler of their motoring, wrote for us from ships at sea, from Army camps and from RAF aerodromes, articles of reminiscence and technical erudity that shaped the pattern of motoring history.

Previous to this MOTOR SPORT had followed a similar path with those historic discourses of E. K. H. Karslake, his “Great Racing Marques”, “Veteran Types” and Baladeur’s “Sideslips”. It was E. K. H. K. who directed attention to the intriguing possibilities of the bigger and more powerful veteran cars, those sleeping giants that were to prove more exciting than the already discovered Brighton-primitives. All this was before the formation of the VSCC. Indeed, I find that I suggested a Club of this sort in the motoring Press about the same time as Karslake, after having been out in Chitty-Bang-Bang II, was launching his crusade, and it had been my intention to run the 1912 Lorraine-Dietrich “Vieux Charles Trois” in the Brighton Speed Trials and to establish a Class-A-Mountain lap-record at Brooklands with it. Alas, someone got there before me with the “fiver” that was being asked for “Old Charles”. But from such interests there emerged that splendid VSCC, which has given so much pleasure to so many people of like enthusiasms.

How this paper began and developed is portrayed so graphically by those former Editors and contributors who have kindly written us the Anniversary messages that are published on page 922, that my purpose here is simply to recall the changing scene from the days of our first issue, onwards. In 1925 the pages of MOTOR SPORT brought alive for me, then but a youthful reader, the almost unbearable fascination of the sport. There was only Brooklands available in this small Island for serious (?) racing. But the spell of that was on me, never to be broken. Down at the Track, in what then seemed remote Surrey, it was apparent that gentlemen raced motor cars at a country estate, where the ribbon of scarred concrete wound, ambitiously banked in places, past rhododendron bushes and tall pine trees. It was the antithesis of the vulgar speed-bowl the uninitiated supposed it to be; many of the cars that raced there were as mellowed by time as their surroundings, and all the more fascinating for that. I can say honestly, and I know it applies to many others, that motoring enjoyment has never been quite the same since racing at Brooklands ceased.

Before that happened Donington opened and another kind of racing could be enjoyed in this country, culminating in the stupendous arrival of the Mercedes-Benz and Auto-Union teams, which opened insular eyes to what real motor-racing was all about. How proud we were of Dick Seaman in this context and how desirable a cycle-path round the circuit would have been, to prevent things like ERAs and Altas getting in the way of the unrelenting onrush of German might!

Looking back half-a-century, to when this paper began, it will hardly be comprehended, by those who took to motoring after the war, what conditions were like in those distant years. The universal 20 m.p.h. speed-limit was eventually rescinded and in the ’30s all one had to look out for were Police cars, usually Fords, enforcing the 30 limit that prevailed in towns. Compulsory third-party insurance was soon to be introduced, it is true, but this served to draw the Cops’ attention from ineffectual brakes, tyres through which the inner tubes were about to burst, and a certain brazenness of exhaust note, as they asked for and inspected the new cover-notes. Certainly it was possible then to motor unmolested and unconvicted in vehicles that even the most optimistic would not today bother to take for a DoE test—in my case ABC, Rhode, Gwynne, Lancia, Alvis, a Jowett costing £3 and a series of sad Austin Sevens—providing you possessed valid insurance cover to wave before the eyes of prowling policemen.

The roads, however, were very different. If surfaces were better, so that punctures were less inevitable than they had been on the tar-and-grit of the early 1920s, widths were mean and bends innumerable. This is reflected by comparing the average of 50.5 m.p.h. which I achieved, driving a 4½-litre Bentley as hard as I could, and mostly by night, from London to John O’Groats in 1938, and the 114 m.p.h. average which a colleague whom I sat beside accomplished in a Jaguar the first time he drove up the full stretch of the then-new M1. It is an outrage that in spite of the enormous improvements which have been made to our roads and the safety of our cars, our purblind rulers now restrict us to miserable 50s and 70s…. Before, and indeed for quite a time after, the war the so-called Great North Road was a nightmare procession behind long lines of trucks and vans and as the typical family car of those days was seldom driven at more than about 40 m.p.h. and a sports car was doing very nicely to attain 80, a long fast journey really was a sporting affair, if by sport you mean lots of gearchanging, accelerating and braking.

It was another quirk of fate that led D.S.J. and me to meet during the war, so enabling me to convince Jenks that he should set down on paper his encyclopaedic knowledge of racing machinery—his protest “That’s your job, I’m concerned with engineering”, I still remember clearly!—with results that are well-known to all of you. His subsequent association with Stirling Moss, when that driver was at the height of his great career and was the idol of us all, I need not emphasise, either, except to say how nice it was that Moss so willingly helped us with the appraisal of racing cars over the years that forms the subject of a special feature in this Anniversary number of MOTOR SPORT. I was not in Italy when the Mercedes-Benz driven by Moss won that 1955 Mille Miglia at record speed, with D.S.J. navigating, an achievement we relived in a special reconstruction in the June issue. But the news came to me over the wireless. Going out for a breather and to digest it, I met a fellow motor-racing participant, to whom I hastened to unburden my pent-up excitement. He looked confused and said he did not think there had been any racing in Italy that day but did I know he had won his race the previous day in his Ford Special at Silverstone? Which brought home to me how diverse and prolific the sport had become, compared to the days when there were so few important races you could without difficulty actually remember who had won the last one, and when the pleasures of Brooklands were gently punctuated by interludes at places like Lewes and Dancer’s End . . . . I have watched the American 500-Mile Race, not at Indianapolis but in a picture house in Croydon to which, on this occasion, it was relayed live via Satellite. I must say the accident which stopped the race before it had properly begun was in the very best cinema tradition! This was matched by the first-lap accident which stopped the British Grand Prix at Silverstone two years ago, but how excellent that British cars and drivers eventually triumphed at Indianapolis as well as dominating the Grand Prix circus for so many years.

Fortunately it had all started up again after the war, although petrol no longer cost 1/6 a gallon and was apt to he denied us due to things like the Suez Crisis, tanker-driver strikes, and more sinister Political implications. MOTOR SPORT took to flying to the earlier post-war races, those in the loM, Jersey, at Le Mans and Barcelona, etc., in charter aeroplanes of the DH Dragon, Avro Anson and Airspeed Oxford persuasion, before it was discovered that D.S.J. would be willing to go to all the foreign Grands Prix, which he did as our exclusive correspondent, at first on a motorcycle, later in aged Fiat 1500 and Lancia Aprilia cars, before insisting, as his inimitable and analytical approach to race reporting became a recognised and appreciated feature of MOTOR SPORT, that he could travel faster and more dependably in Porsche and Jaguar E-types-but don’t ask me how he explained away his transfer of allegiance (from air-cooled rear-engined to water-drenched front-engined cars!-a point I had better not pursue, remembering my one-time fanaticism for the VW Beetle . .

Post-war racing was almost as good to experience as the short period of real GP racing I had seen prior to 1940. I remember Mike Hawthorn’s great exploits with the Cooper-Bristol, the intense battles between the non-supercharged 4½-litre Ferraris and blown 1½-litre Alfa Romeos, in the hey-day of top-ranking drivers such as Ascari, Fangio, Farina, and brute-force Gonzales. I remember Farina winning the European GP at Silverstone watched by King George VI and other members of the Royal Family. I have happy recollections of the growing excitement as Raymond Mays brought his black 2-litre ERA up to the starting-line in sprint contests at Brighton and Shelsley-Walsh. I reported the revived TT at Dundrod when Moss won so ably for Jaguar in torrential rain and I was present at three of his accidents, which he experienced in a Cooper-JAP at Castle Combe, in practice with a Jaguar at Silverstone, and the final one at Goodwood. I recall the fuss at the RAC when the FIA announced the I½-litre GP formula, the tense excitement when a Vanwall led the French GP momentarily at Reims, and of shedding tears of joy when at last this British racing car took the chequered-flag at Monza.

There are too many memories, of course, to set down here-but let us recall the pre-war Pride when Seaman, having sold his ERA after an argument with the factory, won three important voiturette races in a row, in the straight-eight Ramponi-prepared 1½-litre Delage that was ten years older that the opposition. After the war, we lived through the embarrassing debacle of the too-ambitious V16-BRM but loved the noise it made, and I was rendered near to tears when the fat French proprietor of a small estaminet, which was the best MOTOR SPORT could then afford for its reporters, met us with outstretched hand on our return from the Le Mans circuit, because we were Britishers and a Jaguar, he had heard on the wireless, had won the great 24-hour race. Later still, of course, the technical supremacy of MercedesBenz, whose production models I called the best-engineered cars in the World, dominated racing; but I think something was lost to sports-car racing when the competing cars began to depart drastically from catalogue specification. Because Jaguars on the road had the same six-cylinder twin-o.h.-camshaft engines as did the Jaguars that won races, the Coventry company probably derived more benefit from competition successes in this field than Mercedes did later. Which is why the decline of races like Le Mans, the TT and the Targa Florio is so regrettable.

I remember seeing clue-less spectators in horrifically close proximity to racing cars in full cry, at Barcelona and elsewhere, as they used to be during the pre-war Ulster TTs, at Phoenix Park and many other circuits, before safety precautions were sensibly introduced, but eventually over-played. Over all these active and dramatic years MOTOR SPORT tried to report faithfully on what was happening and to direct the Sport along the right lines, if that does not sound too pompous. Nor was the historical aspect neglected, for we developed the line so keenly and accurately started for us before and during the war by writers of the calibre and individuality of Kent Karslake, Cecil Glutton, Anthony Heal, the late Laurence Pomeroy, Bunty Scott-Moncrieff, and others; I apologise for not including all their names. The “Cars I Have Owned” series became another notable feature of the paper, written by outside contributors, to whom I am indebted for some very enthralling reading, and we set a fashion in fearless road-test reporting, even to earning the distinction of having BMC cars banned to us for a time, on this account! Believing that without just criticism the truth becomes meaningless, I hope at least some of the Manufacturers and Concessionaires who have readily lent us cars for test have derived benefit from our reports. There have been episodes, both humorous and inconvenient, during this long and intense road-test activity. But the number of actual breakdowns has been commendably few. I have driven far more cars than I would once have thought possible, by this vocation of being a motoring enthusiast who writes; as distinct, that is, from a journalist who drives! They number over 1,000 different ones, which I suppose those in the Motor Trade and some of my Press colleagues may call a modest total. But this driving makes life very pleasant for one who enjoys motoring for its own sake as well as the motor cars in which one does it. From these experiences I have formed a few conclusions, among them that, having driven behind engines of under 200 c.c. to 24,000 c.c., while it is true that there is no substitute for litres, especially if you are a lazy manipulator, small cars can also be very good fun; it is the cars in between that tend to be dull unless (no names, no pack-drill!) they are of outstanding quality and character. It is also pleasing to remember that even in 1975 it is still possible to buy a car with a V12 engine, another with belt-drive, even one with a two-stroke engine. Stagnancy of design hasn’t set in, although there are now fewer highlights than there used to be when cars of the brilliant complexity of the Citroen DS, Issigonis Mini Minor, Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow and XJ12 Jaguar were released to the World.

In thinking back over all these road-tests I would like to thank warmly all the PROs who have accommodated us in our requests for cars. It seems churlish at this stage not to refer also to our friends in the Trade who have helped MOTOR SPORT on its way. My only reservation is that when doing this one inevitably overlooks someone who should have been included. So perhaps I may be excused for being brief in this respect, just mentioning Joseph Lucas Ltd. who bought our back-cover all through the troubled war years (and unless a paper can sell that space to a reputable advertiser, it isn’t considered much of a paper), Castrol, who have lubricated me by glass and in sump so well on so many occasions, Michelin, Dunlop, Pirelli and the other tyre companies who have helped to keep the wheels turning smoothly, and those other Trade establishments that supported us in the lean years as well as during more prosperous periods. And, of course, nothing would have been accomplished in the way it has been accomplished were it not for an understanding Proprietor, a loyal office staff, printers, who, until soured by their Union Executives, seemed as keen on getting the paper out on time as we are, my fellow writers, and above all the readers, all vital parts of a staunch MOTOR SPORT community.

This would seem to be enough looking back, although in the present climate of a disastrous economy, rising prices, and ever more expensive and restricted motoring, it is perhaps the only worthwhile direction in which to look. I will conclude by remarking that I have had more fun from cars than seemed possible at the time in the late 1930s when I was running a dubious Austin Seven Chummy for an outlay which was equivalent to about 75p a week. No doubt I could have had even more motoring enjoyment had I been born with a less retiring nature or had been more ambitious; but I have had a good time playing it my way and am gratified that we seem to have made so many friends among a not inconsiderable readership, with a circulation that, I am told, has made the Big Battalions of Publishing raise their business eyebrows. I have not made a fortune following this pursuit; but if he writes enough for a sufficiently long time the motoring writer should be just about able to pay his way. To those who have enabled me to follow this way of life I shall, therefore, be forever grateful and I offer them retrospective thanks.

There are times, naturally, when one has to accept that promoting the motor car has been detrimental to the peace of the countryside. However, man has never been permitted to have his cake and eat it! Then some of those who remember the carefree pre-war days will cavil at the changing face of motor racing, with commercialism uppermost and safety-first the unceasing song. Yet Formula One racing remains, as always, the finest sport in the World and the degree of bravery displayed by the drivers who take part in it has not materially diminished behind the Armco and the rescue precautions. Those of us who were privileged to see classic cars such as Mercedes-Benz W125s and Maserati 250Fs in action may sometimes express regret that Fl cars now resemble aeroplanes trying to land with the aid of garden rollers. And if you ever saw Caracciola coping with a wet road in a racing SSK Mercedes-Benz, you are surely entitled to express surprise that today’s racing drivers lose all control of their winged projectiles if the rain comes down after they have started a race on a dry course.

The younger enthusiasts will no doubt have apt replies to such observations, or may not even have noticed the changes that prompt them. But I must say I cannot understand the astronomic values now placed on old cars, such as £2,500 for an ancient Austin Seven, and other examples all about. A bad or mediocre car doesn’t become any nicer to drive the older it gets. Nor does an association with some former owner famed outside the world of cars, or a unique Reg. No., alter this inescapable fact, unless vintage cars are regarded merely as those pieces we are told collectors seek—although for what purpose, apart from speculation, I know not. It seems, however, that you cannot innocently encourage anything, whether by means of the printed word, the goggle-box, or a Club, in this Age of Greed, without transporting the object of one’s enthusiasm beyond the reach of the very persons whom one would like to see enjoying it. Nowhere is this more true than with the older motor vehicles, and consequently I should, I suppose, feel guilty over a situation MOTOR SPORT has unwittingly fostered, through leading off about the fun and satisfaction to be derived from vintage cars, commencing at a time when proper specimens, worth driving as well as prattling about, could be purchased for well under £100. Time, perhaps, to look ahead, rather than into the happy, far-away past!

Let us then, continue to fight for the car-owners’ freedom, while hopefully looking to the new Minister of Transport (who has a MOTOR SPORT 280,000-signature Petition in his archives) to abolish the existing ludicrously pedestrian speed-limits, if only so that he can enjoy his Ford Mustang and Aston Volante. Let us cross our fingers (not while driving, of course) that petrol will not go up to £l-a-gallon, while giving thanks, I don’t know to whom, that all the motor-racing and rallying and car-production and special-building, and the rest of it, as recorded in the pages of MOTOR SPORT in the last fifty years, has been possible at all.—W.B.

Editors’ Comments

When motoring becomes too expensive for all except debutantes and miners and London is choc-a-bloc with Japanese motorbikes, we shall think back to motoring for the masses as a Golden Age, and old copies of MOTOR SPORT (who knows perhaps incorporated with Motorcycle Sport) will sell for £10 a throw—but this will be A.D. 2050, give or take a decade. Until then—here’s to infuriating, prejudiced, opinionated, obstinate, out-of-date, idiosyncratic—not to say—irascible outspoken, Blimpish, honest, incorruptible, cynical, naive, occasionally amusing, and always facinating MOTOR SPORT, or am I talking about the Editor? W.B. has brought home to me the folly of going motoring with a Rolleifiex camera, which fits into so very few dashboard cubby-holes—an Editor who saves a reader £200 for a damned awkward camera deserves eternal loyalty—he has mine.

Editor, Motorcycle Sport.

Countless motoring journals have appeared, and disappeared, during the past fifty years but none has ever approached MOTOR SPORT in lively appeal. The monthly with the green cover is unique in having an Editor and a Continental Correspondent with a combined total of 65 years’ service, yet the contributions of “Bod” and “Jenks” never grow old, never get tired, and remain provocative and reflective.

Twenty years ago a weekly newspaper called Motoring News was launched and within eighteen months it became a stable companion of MOTOR SPORT, tending to specialise in race and rally reporting. Now a fully-fledged publication, Motoring News has a young staff which constantly draws inspiration from the high standards of accuracy and integrity for which MOTOR SPORT is famed.

It gives us great pleasure to congratulate MOTOR SPORT on its Golden Jubilee.

The Editor and staff of Motoring News.

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