Letters from Readers, August 1979

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That Spitfire

Sir,

I write to take you to task over your excellent article “A RoIls-Royce Occasion” in the July issue. Purely in the interests of assisting the maintenance of your usual very high standard of correctness and accuracy I must comment on the photograph of the Spitfire and the underlying caption which are not compatible.

The caption correctly states that Spitfires with Merlin engines won the Battle of Britain in 1940. These were of Marks I and II and were fitted with three-blade variable pitch propellors. However your photographs depict a very different machine; a 1944 Mark XIV in fact, fitted with the Griffon engine of some-2,050 h.p. coupled to a five-blade propellor which I believe rotated in the opposite direction to that of the Merlin powered machines. The Griffon variant is easily recognised by the extended nose, some 2′ 9″, the bubble hood, two unsightly bulges over the exhaust stubs on the engine cowling and by the enormous propellor spinner. I personally think that all these modifications to the appearance spoil the lines completely and make it look more like a product from Messrs. Curtis than Supermarine. While on the subject of appearance surely the gloss paint finish and Rolls-Royce in foot high lettering is not very warlike although I notice the example in the Mitchell Museum in Southampton has a similar highly polished look about it. In passing I will say that this museum is a must for all flying bods as the photographic history of the Supermarine is alone with the visit. Usual disclaimers.

Please keep up the splendid work which makes Motor Sport the most absorbing magazine for me.

Dibden Purlieu

P. C. Jackson

————-

Sir,

I have been an interested reader of Motor Sport for quite a number of years and I found the article in the July edition on Rolls-Royce engines very absorbing. However, I find I must have to correct you on a mistake you have made regarding the Spitfire depicted on page 967. You state that this particular aircraft was powered by a Merlin engine and participated in the Battle of Britain In actual fact this aircraft which carries 130 Squadron markings, is a MK XIVE and as such is powered by the more powerful Grfflon engine. The Mk XIV did not enter operational service until January 1941 when 610 (County of Chester) Squadron became the first squadron to be so equipped.

Leeds

G. Purnell

[I should have known better! Thanks to all those aircraft enthusiasts who have put me right. – Ed]

* * *

A Staunch Supporter

Sir,

In the June issue you write of the reluctance with which you have to increase the price of Motor Sport from 40p to 50p. Looking through my back numbers I see that you first had to do this sort of thing in Volume 4 No 1 Oct./Nov. 1928, increasing the price of Motor Sport from 6d to 1/.

Have no fear, we are all with you, despite the wretched inflation! Our, not so small, world of rabid enthusiasts owe your team a debt we can never repay. I feel deeply, having been a regular reader, and very occasionally a contributor, since July 1925, before you changed the name from The Brooklands Gazette.

Your change from 6d to 1/ I was able to accommodate because in 1928 I left school, and was in receipt of the princely salary of 9/6 a week from Bentley Motors Ltd. as an apprentice. Had the increase been made the previous year I would have been very stretched to find such money from my schoolboy’s pocket money, but somehow or other I am sure I would have coped.

Things do not change, they just develop a little. It is still a sport, well most of it is, at least the amateur part of it. That leads me to a new milestone in speed hill climb history, the magnificent new Ladies record at Shelsley Walsh by the diminutive Joy Rainey. Last year the Bugatti Owners Club awarded Joy the prestigious Elizabeth Junek Trophy for her performances in the Prescott hill climbs, now Joy joins the greats. How pleased Elizabeth will be.

Carry on Motor Sport team, “The Bodd”, “Jenks”, and the young “coming men”. I salute you, as one who writes for the complementary (not opposition) motor journals.

Kineton

A. E. Rivers Fletcher

* * *

“E” for Enthusiasm

Sir,

I would like to echo your correspondent D. Howard’s comments about the E-Type by citing my own experience with these exceptional motor cars – or, more precisely, one of the several I have owned and enjoyed.

Last November I took my 1961 E-Type roadster on a 2,000 miles business trip through Holland and Germany: a trip that I had been relishing for some time. The freedom on the autobahn is the natural haunt of the Jaguar, rather than the wide open spaces in this country with their ridiculous speed limits – but that’s another letter!

The anticipation of my trip was somewhat tinged with trepidation. I would be taking a 17-year-old car on a test of prolonged high speed motoring. My memory took me back to previous adventures with a then 27-year-old 4 1/2-litre Bentley which had a somewhat disconcerting habit of stripping her cross shaft gears when hard pushed. At this point I should add that the trip was in the nature of a final bedding-in, after a mechanical rebuild. The car is the 165th built and of course had many of the disadvantages of the very early cars that Mr Howard mentioned. I decided I could live with the flat floor, but not the brakes and so modified these to the Series II type. I was fortunate that the Moss gearbox had been replaced with the later model and decided that Koni shock absorbers were a worthwhile investment because I believe the standard shockers go soft quickly causing the uncertain feel that a second hand E-Type often has. Apart from these modifications, I kept the car completely original, since I wanted to compete in standard production class events.

So after 5,000 miles running in, I set off to give her a good blast. To my mind the trip was of interest for various reasons and was completely uneventful apart from the old girl locking me out late at night when I was giving her liquid refreshment! Why do Jaguar doors intermittently lock themselves? When she was eventually persuaded to let me in she wouldn’t start; nothing serious her starter cable had merely vibrated loose.

How did the outdated motor car perform? I found that cruising at 120 m.p.h. was effortless and safe – thanks to the impeccable road manners of continental drivers, and all of course on dual carriageways! Petrol consumption averaged 19 7 m.p.g. From Hamburg to Dusseldorf I put 97 1/2 miles into the first hour and 170 into the next two; and the average was only set by the traffic conditions not the car. On only one occasion was I passed when a Porsche 928 or “1978 Car of the Year” appeared on my tail and age pulled over for youth. The challenge proved too great and once this modern fraulein was past us, the elderly couple set off in pursuit! At around 140 m.p.h. the Porsche pulled in and let me by. We remained in convoy until the Porsche turned off and always I was able to pull away. At that time I hadn’t read the road test on the Porsche and so was surprised to see that both acceleration and top speed of my 1961 motor car was better. Neither did I know that the Porsche engine was bigger and its petrol consumption worse! I confess that I was thankful that the autobahn was straight, since I fear that a twisty road would have meant a totally different story!

One reviewer has called the Supercar, as it has been dubbed, “dull”. This adjective could never be applied to an E-Type! Seriously, in the early E-Types, Sir William Lyons produced a truly remarkable car that can still, in good condition, hold its own with most modern exotica – nearly two decades later. Unfortunately the later E’s were hampered by orientation to the American market with resultant loss of performance. This I think is what D.S. J. was driving at, combined with the ridiculous price asked for zero or low mileage cars. These presumably only change hands as investment articles and therefore no one gets to drive them.

I have certainly no qualms about using my car regularly on the roads, driving it to race meetings, competing as hard as my nerves will allow and then driving home.

Finally, for the price of one Porsche, I could have three of my E-Types and still have money left over to run them for a year!

Hartley Wintney

Derek Green

* * *

Donald Campbell

Sir,

As author of the books Campbell’s last project and subsequently his biographer, the letter front P S. Knight (July issue) on the subject of “The LSR Debacle” interested me greatly. For any reappraisal, however much belated, of the events leading to the shabby treatment of Campbell’s achievements must be a useful exercise.

Like John Pearson who was with Donald at Lake Eyre I too followed closely the day-to-day activities at Coniston, and it seems to me that with possibly a few exceptions we both reached the same conclusions.

Perhaps I did have one advantage in that not only did I follow with interest Donald’s career on land and water, but I also knew the man under whose ever-present shadow he followed that career. I refer of course to his father, first known to me as Captain Campbell and later as Sir Malcolm. Southport, the town of my youth, was a venue much visited by Malcolm and his rivals Kaye Don and Segrave, and I basked in the reflected glory resulting from my own father’s friendship with these men.

World record breaking, in Campbell senior’s day, brought world-wide acclaim and glittering prizes. It was just bad luck that Donald came on to the stage at a time when the world was occupied with other matters. He also lacked some of his father’s carefully acquired charisma. There were in fact two Donald Campbells; the one who (especially after his savaging by the Australian Press) faced cameras and Press with a certain defensive arrogance, and the other who, with close friends and in congenial atmospheres, was a most delightful fellow.

And it was this touch of arrogance that occasionally triggered off hostile Press reaction and general unpopularity in certain quarters. I remember my publishers asking a certain one-time well-known racing driver to contribute to the Foreword to my first book, and his reply – “No thanks – I couldn’t stand the chap Campbell!”. When he later telephoned saying that he would do it, for £500, we had the pleasure of telling him that the one who knew Donald best of all was writing it – dear old Leo Villa. It seems that personal animosity is easily cast aside if it is made worth while.

The thrust versus drive decision was certainly an odd one, if not a nonsense. It would seem that the FIA was bulldozed by the Americans into making a hash of it. The FIA’s definition of an automobile for the purposes of the LSR was “A land vehicle propelled by its own means, running on at least four wheels not in line with each other, which must always be in contact with the ground; the steering must be assured by at least two of the wheels and the propulsion by at least two of the wheels”. When Breedlove and other American jet-speed contenders (having completely ignored Campbell’s fine 403.10 m.p.h. record at Lake Eyre) came out with such comments as “Who the hell are the FIA – if they don’t like our car they can do the other thing – We got the record”, the FIA seemed to shuffle around and came up with two LSR categories, whereby those cars with driven wheels were to be termed “automobiles” and these with jet-power “Specials”. But how many engines and transmissions will ever be designed and built again in pursuit of a record for the former category?

During the search for the ultimate WSR the transition from prop-driven to jet-propulsion evolved quietly and without such fuss. Jet power was at once accepted as the logical successor, and although the afficionados of prop-drive rightly regard theirs as a distinctly different class, the WSR (if the world has any paraffin left!) must inevitably be held in future by those who can either afford or can find the sponsorship to design and build craft on jet-power – and can successfully pilot the craft.

As one of the few who watched as Bluebird killed her pilot I still do not think that Donald’s early return and consequent meeting with his previous wash was the main cause of the crash. Certainly it would be a contributing factor, but Bluebird the hydro-plane, now ageing and designed for speeds around 250 m.p.h. became in fact an aeroplane, when a speed which I believe must have been in excess of 300 was reached, the 5,000 lb. thrust of the Orpheus combined with the configuration of that beautifully designed hull reached, at that speed, Bluebird’s limits. Her natural element then became the air.

Prior to the disaster the general atmosphere around the makeshift and sagging boathouse was, to say the least, somewhat unenthusiastic. There had been the Heath Robinson-ish tying of sandbags to Bluebird’s hull, the fitting of lead to her hull, and a now lengthy story of mishap and poor weather conditions, all of which made press irritation (in this day and age) result in snide remarks, and the banner erected by a newspaper which afforded modest sponsorship seemed to symbolise the spirit of the project, sagging as it did, well down into the water. Donald’s remark to me, when, on a shopping expedition with him on Christmas Eve 1966, I told him of the book I was writing on the project, also reflected his own mood at that time. “Make it pro-Campbell old boy, and you have my blessing!”. If ever a man needed moral support, it was Donald Campbell at that time.

I only hope that Donald’s would-be successor, the much younger Tony Fahey, will not be tempted into saying too much too soon. Publicity, especially when sponsorships are being sought, is essential, but it should be carefully considered publicity. I have Tony’s letter before me, written some four years ago, in which he quietly and modestly stated that “he had some capital available and would like to have a shot at the WSR”. He sought introductions at that time, which I was able to arrange for him, resulting in his membership of the Windermere Motor Boat Racing Club – under whose auspices he soon proved his skills with prop-drive – and subsequently to his meeting with Leo Villa, who later described him as “Campbell’s natural successor”. I have the feeling that Leo was right. But already the media are preparing to sharpen their pencils and their teeth, one particular section, even before British Pursuit is built or tested, having referred to Fahey’s “Steptoe-ish” background. What the devil does a man’s background matter if he can do the job?

Reverting, before closing this somewhat lengthy missive, to Donald Campbell, perhaps the oddest, but by far the nicest tribute paid to him was that of the current WSR holder, Australian Ken Warby. In May of this year he came to Coniston, rowed quietly across to a spot approximating that at which Campbell died, and without any flurry of publicity, placed flowers on the water. A simple gesture from one sportsman to another and one which, in a sense, cancelled out some of the unpleasantness of the Lake Eyre project.

Ambleside

Arthur Knowles

* * *

North Sea Oil

Sir,

Whilst the opinion expressed in the editorial of the July edition relating to North Sea oil may seem very logical, it is hardly a reflection of reality. The UK has a massive investment in its petrochemical industry which is geared to handle heavy (“black”) crude such as is obtained from the Middle East. This is refined to produce light fractions such as petrol and DERV but is also the source of heavy hydrocarbons which form the basis of our plastics and allied chemical industry.

Thus it is perhaps fortunate that the light high-grade crude emanating from the North Sea is more valuable as an export rather than as a raw material for vehicle fuel. We can still buy “black” crude for less than we sell our home-grown crude and it is this economic factor together with the by-product benefits that dictate the decision to import oil and export our own.

Look at the gas industry after the discovery of gas in the North Sea. Coke used to be a cheap domestic fuel produced as a by-product of coal-gas. Now coke production has dwindled until it barely meets the needs of steelmaking, and we are now highly dependent on supplies of natural gas not being exhausted – the means of producing large quantities of coal gas having long since been dispersed. Already the gas industry is saying it cannot cope with the additional demands imposed on it by the shortfall in oil production. Where does it end?

As far as transportation is concerned, the best long-term solution lies surely in external combustion processes which can utilise a wide variety of low-grade fuels efficiently. Steam can avail one of maximum torque at stall whilst consuming coal – or paraffin – or even peanut butter – now there’s an idea for Jimmy Carter!

Meanwhile I’ve got a few vintage and veteran motorcycles to amuse myself with whilst everybody else argues the toss.

Hamilton

Martin Shelley

* * *

Those GP Sunbeams

Sir,

Appreciation of your piece on the Strasbourg Sunbeam is spiced with dreams of a race in which all three British-based cars appear on the same grid. Cameron Millar is vigorously tackling some problems of logistics in a mechanical rebuild and hopes to put the car to its proper use as soon as he can. It would certainly complete the spectacle to have the Geer car join the battle with those of Lake and Millar and prove which is currently the champion, whether it was originally driven by Segrave or not.

Knebworth

Ian Walker

Sunbeam Talbot Darracq Register

* * *

Stock Car Racing

Sir,

As an avid reader of your incomparable publication for many years, I feel compelled to take you to task for an obvious weakness in your copious knowledge of motoring sport, viz, your mention of Stock Car Racing on page 86 in the June issue.

Stock Car Racing is NOT Hot Rod Racing – the only similarity is that both run on short oval circuits and grade drivers by roof colour! Stock Car Racing in this country is very much alive and well, in fact 1979 is the sport’s Silver Jubilee Year, and is being celebrated by a Grand Prix race series sponsored by the Daily Mirror. So what is Stock Car Racing? In this country the sport is controlled by the British Stock Car Racing Association (BriSCA) promoting national full contact racing on short oval circuits in two classes: Formula One: The senior class, featuring unlimited power purpose-built single-seat specials with bumpers! Most star drivers running race-tuned 454 cu. in. Chevrolet motors. As you imagine with 20+ car grids on 1/4-mile (or less) stadium ovals this class is fast, heavy and spectacular and is the most popular with race fans: Formula Two: 1,300 c.c. power limit, again purpose-built single-seaters with bumpers, resembling 1/2-size versions of the senior cars, mostly powered by full-race Ford pushrod motors (no o.h.c. superchargers or turbochargers allowed). This formula (originally intended as a “cheap” alternative to Formula One) has enjoyed a resurgence of interest over the last two seasons and is now very fast with plenty of use of the bumper.

Drivers in both formulae are graded (by roof colour) according to ability and race points gained during a season, which is divided into monthly grading periods, and on race grids novice drivers start at the front with stars at the back.

The sport has an increasingly large and active following and boasts two publications, Stock Car Supporter run by the Supporters Association, and Stock Car Monthly published by Autographics of Nottingham. I enclose a sample issue of the Supporter and Stock Car Monthly 1978 Annual (please return the latter to me if possible) – these will give you a much better insight into the sport than I can by letter.

In closing may I suggest that you and/or your Motor Sport colleagues pay a visit to Stock Car Racing BriSCA style? I am certain that every stadium promoter and all supporters would give you a warm welcome and am sure you would thoroughly enjoy the experience. Who knows, we might achieve the distinction of meeting reports and car/driver profiles in Motor Sport!! To this end I enclose a copy of the 1979 season fixtures, plus details of all circuits staging BriSCA real Stock Car Racing.

“Jallopy contests in farmer Giles’ fields” – how dare you, Sir!

My own transport consists of Cortina 2000S, Mini 1000, plus my fair weather “toy”, an early, original Vitesse Six convertible.

High Wycombe

Ian G. Birks

BSCRSA, Member 1314

* * *

The Rolls-Royce Presented to King Ibn Saud

Sir,

It was with great interest that I read Mr. A. J. Wood’s letter from Jeddah in the June issue, as I was personally involved with this car in Saudi Arabia, and the memories came flooding back. Churchill presented the car to King Ibn Saud after Yalta, reputedly for services rendered during the war, but somebody did not do their homework properly.

For my sins, I was Chief Engineer of a firm based in Jeddah during the late 1940s and had the responsibility of looking after the Rolls for a period. It was indeed a P3, with a fantastic body carrying a throne centrally in the rear compartment, in place of the normal seats. Very wide running boards enabled bodyguards (complete with ancient rifles, swords, daggers, etc.) to ride alongside and protect His Highness during a journey. It is true, however, that the great King himself could not ride in the front with r.h. drive, as sitting on the left denotes inferiority in those parts, and so the car was handed over to his brother the Emir Abdullah. I had the honour of knowing this gentleman personally, and I was rewarded for my work in due course by the traditional present of a gold watch.

It was a complicated and difficult machine to maintain with limited facilities, and I did all the work on the car with my own hands, since with the native labour available there were risks of a mistake being made with grave consequences – beheadings and lashings were then the norm for serious offences! However, all went fairly well, but I was glad when the time came for me to consign the car to Rolls-Royce in the UK for a complete overhaul – probably around 1950. I remember watching it swaying alarmingly, carried athwartships on the deck of a tiny sambuke (dhow) as it was rowed out to the awaiting cargo vessel lying off Jeddah, and I was very relieved when I saw the ship’s derrick lower it safely on board, instead of dropping it in the drink. I remember then seeking the privacy of my own mess and thankfully downing a stiff straightener – no open distillation and selling of booze in those days! As I returned to Africa soon afterwards, I never saw the car again – I wonder what happened to it?

I have not read David Hawarth’s “The Desert King”, but obviously for me it is a “must”. The British were a very small and select band in Saudi Arabia in those days, and the British Legation tended to be the focal point of our lives – the late Cyril Ouzewan being a most helpful and popular figure. Unfortunately he was afterwards murdered, by a mad pilgrim I believe (not a Saudi). I also remember St. John Philby (father of Kim), his house, Beit Philby, near to Eve’s tomb, the lagoon, and the coral reef with the wreck of the “Asia” permanently stuck on it. Happy days – but this is a motoring magazine.

Colwyn Bay

F. H. Bothamley

* * *

A Couplet

Sir,

Further to the couplet by Dr. M. J. Shackleton Bailey regarding Lancia I feel it might more aptly be put

“What is a modern Lancia?

Tis a Fiat only rustia.”

The facts being that we had a new Spyder in March 1978 delivered rusty. After considerable argument, Lancia had it re-sprayed in October 1978 and now, in June 1979, we are once again driving a rust box.

Ingatestone

P. Hatton

* * *

Putting Things Straight

Sir,

I was most interested in Mr. Allan Grant’s letter in the July issue. Roy Clarkson’s Ford V8 looks rather like a Greyhound tourer – one of a number of special bodies available on the 1932/3 Model 18. J. A. Driskell the BNC exponent used one in trials and rallies. Sydney Allard never had anything to do with these cars and it was FGP 750 the 1939 “Tail-wagger” that he crashed at Prescott. Of the Scottish V8s I remember A. K. B. Clarkson (Roy’s brother) and J. G. R. Watson who had a McCulloch-blown version, amongst many others.

To Mr. Hemming in the same issue I would point out that Nuvolari came to Silverstone to drive in the “Daily Express” Production Sports Car Race – not an all XK 120 race.

I can well imagine your excitement and enthusiasm at seeing all those Bugattis and that it was this that caused these few small errors in your report. I know that you know that Prescott opened in 1938, that Ventoux and Galilier are body styles (by Gangloff) and not coachbuilders, and that Peter Stubberfield may have held his class record for 14 years but never held the course record at Prescott.

Was it John Pircleau who conducted “The Times” road tests?

Stockport

David L. Gandhi

* * *

Economy Motoring

Sir,

I was mortified that you failed to mention the Reliant Kitten in your June Editorial on the subject of economy cars [“The Kitten Kraze” was mentioned in May. – Ed.]. Reliants have been getting some stick recently, so I hope you will be as fair-minded as usual, and print this. This British car has sadly failed to “catch on” with the buying public, probably because it is too expensive. But its all-round performance makes the other models you mention look pretty weary. As a country doctor my cars get a hard life. “Module”, my first Kitten, was purchased in December ’75, and I decided to part with him in February this year after some 60,000 miles and while he was still worth something.

“Module” was fantastic. The exhaust pipe broke just below the manifold a day or two after the guarantee ran out so I made a new one with larger bore pipe and straight-through silencer. He would then make 80 in third, so I fitted a tachometer and found that this represented 6,000 r.p.m. plus a few. In second he would pull 6,500 quite happily = 60 m.p.h. – it came up in 14 seconds. “Module” once put 81 miles into an hour on an autobahn not a million miles from Penrith, but always gave 55 m.p.g. while poodling round the lanes on my rounds. “Module” survived numerous little crunches both a posteriori and otherwise, was severely run over by a bread van, and was only rolled once. Contrary to the dismal tales that fibreglass cars fall apart in accidents, the little chap down the road wot slapped some more of the fibrous substance on the place, stuck it together, rubbed it down a bit, and blew on some of the Volkswagen ? yellow he had left over from a previous job, and “Module” was back in business, briskly. When the wife of our vicar had her baby I was told tha the exhaust note was audible for a full five minutes. Well, that was 6 1/2 miles, as I made the 13 miles to hospital in 10 1/2 minutes – timed by the patient!

“Module” did look a bit like Joseph’s coat of many colours, and to be absolutely honest he was falling apart, so I bought another Kitten. “Tablet” was a bit disappointing at first, although there is no doubt that there are a lot of detail improvements. But when I drove him from Gstaad to Calais, 525 miles, in 8 hours 42 minutes, I was rather more impressed. And then last week-end I made a little tour of the Midlands Yorkshire, and Essex on Vintage motoring errands, and discivered that he was acheiving 57 m.p.g., with which I am well pleased. I included several stretches of Motorway at and around the legal limit.

As petrol prices rise I am delighted I stayed with Reliant. You might cram seven kids into a twin-cylinder Citroen but you certainly could not into a Fiat 126. “Tablet” regularly performs the school run. The Reliant formula is lightness, and simplicity to the point of crudeness. It gives the economy of the continental “cyclecars” and performance superior to the Fester and Polio and others of that ilk, and is cheaper. So perhaps, Sir, you would help me another little shout for Reliant and the Home Team, in your excellent magazine.

Robertsbridge

Dr. R. Eilliot-Pyle

* * *

Part Exchange

Sir,

I feel that the following may be of interest to your readers, in view of the current advertising by Renault of the 30TX.

I own a 1978 Renault 30TS which has done 14,000 miles and is in good condition. The new cost of this car is approximately £7,000 with extras as fitted.

I wanted to part exchange the car for another Renault and so went to Renault’s retail outlet in the Old Kent Road. I was offered the princely sum of £3,500 for the car. On querying this I was told that, “We normally sell this car to companies and high depreciation does not matter.”

So my advice to prospective Renault 30 owners must be, beware unless you want to throw half the purchase price of the car away within one year.

It seems Renault do not value this car as much as they tell us we should, to quote from their advert. – “This is luxury you can AFFORD!”

Rye

N.J. Taylor

* * *

A Poor Attitude

Sir,

On two occasions during the past six weeks I have booked my car into different garages to have a minor malady seen to. On both occasions I have got it there by 9 a.m., as requested, only to ring up at 4 p.m. to be told that it hasn’t even been looked at yet, and can I leave it overnight.

Is this attitude common to most garages these days, or am I just unlucky?

Wimbledon

John Dorman