Matters of moment, August 1978

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The state of play

The motor car, whether purchased for pleasure, sporting or business employment, is now such a universal possession and topic of conversation that it is inevitable that it must have many fascinating facets and be the subject of divers discussions and endless controversy. This being the case, it seems opportune to look lightly at the state of automobile art and at the automobile firmament as it exists at present, overshadowed by the perhaps political ogre of a World fuel shortage, ever-rising prices, and crippling strikes within the British Motor Industry.

From the avid enthusiasts’ viewpoint there is convincing proof of the importance to the Industry of competition participation, with Renault spending the equivalent of a million pounds or whatever (but all major expenditures these days are in millions, making a mockery of money for wage-earners and salaryslaves) to vanquish Porsche at Le Mans, and be rewarded by a telegram from the President and a parade through Paris of the victorious turbocharged Renault-Alpine. We must hope that this racing rivalry will produce sales benefits Renault have a comprehensive range of good cars, even if some may wish that they had not projected FWD into their bigger models. On the Formula One front Lotus is very much in the ascendant, and one hopes that this, too, will boost sales of Lotus’ road-burning cars. There has been that unfortunate discord in the F1 firmament over the acceptance, and subsequent banning, of the suction-fan on the Brabham Alfa Romeos. Fortunately this has not ruined subsequent races, but the Editor leaves to the experts on F1 racing how a device could be passed in scrutineering that was later found to be outside the prevailing race-regulations, and how Championship points can be thus scored. High-stake sponsorship brings all manner of complications and difficult situations in its train (it applies not only to motor racing – tennis, for instance, encompasses some £700,000 a year for a top-class player and Miss Wade is said to have already earned around a million), so there is some concern about the VSCC thinking along such lines, for its enjoyable and up-to-now amateur race-meetings. Necessary, perhaps, for International rallies, is it needed for race-meetings that attract good “gates” anyway? For too long has the clammy hand of commercialism had a grip on the old-car movement.

On the Industrial front we must again express the fervent hope that the Leyland-of-the-British-Taxpayer will survive not only survive, but flourish. It has good cars to sell, if it can put them together properly and make enough of them. The V12 Jaguar is top value-for-money, the modern Rovers are clever and enjoyable cars and if you cannot or do not wish to afford vee-eight motoring the Rover 2600 is, we have discovered, an excellent substitute. It has an impressive-looking straight-six engine under its bonnet and while the light-alloy Rover 3500 prods its valves with push-rods, it may not be generally realised that the six-cylinder Rover engine utilises the same ingenious overhead-camshaft valve gear as the Triumph Dolomite Sprint, whereby the camshaft is above the inlet valves and rockers are therefore necessary only for the exhaust valves, with a saving in the number of rockers and pivots required, although whereas the Triumph Sprint has four-valves-per-cylinder (like the best racing cars), the Rover has two-per-cylinder. (Spen King, who engineered the Rover SDI, has been awarded the CBE.) Not only that, but Leyland has at last brought out a new overhead-camshaft power unit, to power the new range of Princesses and, later, other Leyland cars, thus making short-lived a contemporary’s snide remarks about Leyland’s push-rod-power and how much better Fiat were doing it! There is no new Mini yet but the improved existing one sells well, and as we have observed before, if you do not happen to care for the cacophonous complexity of FWD, fear the Demon Rust, and require more room for yourselves, luggage and dogs, the second-largest British Motor Company, Reliant of Tamworth, have the alternative, a small car notably economical of fuel and with a lively, light-alloy engine, in the Kitten. There is renewed enthusiasm in this country, in America and in Russia over the Land Speed Record and in Germany diesel engine technology has advanced so rapidly that Mercedes-Benz have been able to capture World Records with a compression ignition engine.

We note that TASS of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers has issued a booklet questioning the wisdom of Michael Edwardes’ policy for Leyland. Far from looking only to advantages for the workers, this pamphlet calls for expansion and more investment for Leyland, instead of contraction (but how?) and it is interesting to see that it backs production of sports cars like the TR7 and upper-class Leyland cars like Rovers and Jaguars. Motor Sport is not a political paper, but we are intrigued by this expression of faith in a multi-make policy for Leyland by the AUEW; their ability to see the sports-car as a worthwhile sales product and export commodity contrasts with those new Government Television advertisements calling on drivers to save fuel by feather-footing with the accelerator. For while there is no reason to suggest that sports cars have to be driven needlessly fast to be enjoyed, customers for them surely come from among those who like a bit of punch and acceleration in their motoring, as well as such delights as good road-clinging, fresh-air about them, etc.? Anyway, with North Sea oil being publicised on the one hand, and an imminent World fuel crisis on the other hand, we incline to the view that, although it would be a crime to needlessly waste fuel reserves (but what a lot goes overboard when tankers collide or a railway wagon overturns!), the present policies stem from political motives. In this we were cheered by finding a World fuelcrisis editorial in The Autocar, published 58 years ago….

Classic and Collectors Car Show

A large and varied display of interesting and thoroughbred machinery is promised at the second Classic and Collectors Car Show, to be held at Alexandra Palace, North London, on September 15th-17th. The largest part of the Show will be devoted to stands run by more than 40 one-make car clubs. Restoration, maintenance and spare parts specialist firms will be evident on the trade stands. The Show will conclude with a concours and visitors to the Show will be able to express their own opinions by voting for their favourite cars. Details of stand facilities can be obtained from Martin Wagner, 30 The Lawns, Hatch End, Middlesex (01-428 4002)

An Aston US convertible

The United States of America will be the recipients of the first 80 Aston Martin V8 convertibles to be produced. However, the first prototype went to an Englishman, Aston Martin managing director Alan Curtis.

Despite the odd public hiccup, like the non-operational Lagonda delivered to those residents of Woburn Abbey and the hoo-ha created over an Aston V8 that did not run at Le Mans this year, Newport Pagnells fortunes seem set fair.

The convertible uses the normal 5.4-litre allalloy engine rather than the Vantage tune and comes with either manual or 5-speed gearbox. The design and engineering work was carried out by Harold Beach (recently retired from AM) while the hood was the work of George Moseley.

The Volante, a name last used by Aston in 1970 when it attracted customers such as Prince Charles, has needed a braced chassis to compensate for the loss of the normal aluminiumover-steel roof.

Even including the power-operated hood, burred walnut facia, air-conditioning and leather upholstery, the anticipated UK price of over £32,500 if you could get one sounds fairly steep compared with £19,999 for the closed automatic model.

Toyota’s latest

Now the third-largest producer of cars in the World, Toyota have just announced a new 1-litre small car. Larger than the average mini car (it measures 12′ 1″ long) the Toyota Starlet has a front engine yielding 47 b.h.p. and coil-spring live rear axle. Capable of over 90 m.p.h. and 35 m.p.g. the Starlet sells in Britain with 3-doors at £2,721 , and 5-doors for £2,808.

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