Matters of Moment, August 1981

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Terrible, Terrible . . .

We live, unfortunately, in terrible times, with thousands-of-millions of pounds deemed necessary for protecting ourselves with nuclear weapons, blood being spilled on the streets of British cities (our sympathy goes out to the policemen who act so bravely during such riots), and unemployment approaching 3,000,000 in what still appears to be a moderately wealthy country. In the world of motoring another very terrible thing is soon to happen – the closure, the abandonment, by British Leyland, of its recently-constructed Solihull factory.

It was only five years ago that we drove, appropriately in our Rover 3500, to see the enormous new Lode Lane factory in Solihull, claimed to be the most modern in all Europe, built after an expenditure of some £31-million to enable BL to get on with the production of Rover, Land Rover, and Range Rover vehicles. It was an impressive visit, in company with other members of the Guild of Motoring Writers, even though there was a strike taking place, so that the long assembly lines were stationary, the great body press-shops silent. But it all looked so promising, this immense Rover plant, sunk into the great bowl that had been excavated in order not to ruin the Solihull skyline. Now, in such a short time, it is to be closed, and a buyer sought (a gift to Nissan-Datsun?).

The Triumph TR7 sportscar now goes the way of the MG, into extinction. The Rover, which after the bugs had been eradicated, became such a very good car, in many ways in a class of its own as a fast luxury hatchback, is to be made from next-year in Cowley. What a terrible fate! Ever since almost the dawn of motoring Rover has been a prominent British car, made first in Coventry, then at Birmingham, later in Solihull close to Birmingham, but always in the great, proud industrial British Midlands. There were weak Rover models, even bad Rovers, the single-cylinder sleeve-valve maybe, but mostly this so-typically British Company produced very sound cars, especially after 1933, when a new range of Rover models began the period in which the Rover personified high quality, dignity, and equipment that might even include a free-wheel. What is more, from our point of view, Rover indulged in periodic bouts of competition participation. There was victory in the 1907 TT, the appearances at Brooklands of Poppe’s odd outer-circuit Rover with even odder valve-gear, Rover gallantly winning the Dewar Trophy, and in later times the banishment of Rover’s “auntie” image with racing and rallying Rover 2000s, leading up to the present appearances of Rover 3500s (usually trailing the 3-litre Ford Capris) in Tricentrol British Sallon-Car Championship races. There were those two brilliant runs by Rover turbine cars at Le Mans, even if history suggests that the Rover people treated Sir Frank Whittle very casually, subsequent gas-turbine progress being all to the credit of Rolls-Royce.

The new breed of post-1932 Rovers, while far-removed from the cheeky and successful little flat-twin, air-cooled Rover Eight of the 1920s and the original “one-lung” Rover 8, were not exactly sporting motor cars. Spencer King’s new Rover 2000s (those “Solihull Sitroens”) changed all that and the present range of models should have been highly successful commercially. The 3 1/2-litre vee-eight 3500 is just what one would have expected America to have made, had she ever gone in for compact cars in the terms of USA dimensioning, but with European advantages. Today that luxury, fast, load-accommodating, executive-Rover’s worst enemy is its heavy petrol thirst. But for those wanting such a car in more economical guise there are the outwardly virtually-identical Rover 2300 and 2600 models, with the ingenious Triumph Dolomite Sprint valve-gear. Count Rovers on the road and it hardly looks like a disaster story.

So why has the long-established Rover Company failed? Why is BL’s top-make, Jaguar, with its irresistible comfort and performance, delivered in such splendid hush, losing BL £2,000,000 or thereabouts a month? There is something radically wrong somewhere. It seems quite terrible that the great Solihull factory is to close next year, with Sir Michael Edwardes now setting his sights for recovery of British Leyland, on which so many jobs and so much of this country’s prosperity (if that word is valid any longer) depend, on middle-class family cars engineered by Japan. With Ford and Lotus forging links with the Japanese we no longer feel constraint about testing and publicising Oriental cars and for the rest of the year hope to give you reports on a long-duration road-test of the Mazda RX-7; what other manufacturer supplies a race-winning rotary-engined sports car, anyway?

The Solihull Rovers have been great cars. Will a Rover-Cowley ever seem quite the same?

Terrible!

We have reported on the inaccuracy of the Canadian-made radar-guns used by Gwent Police for trapping drivers in speed-limit zones, exposed after Mr. Desmond Hughes had appealed successfully against a summons for exceeding 30 m.p.h. in a trap operated near Newport, Gwent, by one of these Muniquips. We understand that fighting the case cost Mr. Hughes a great deal of money but that it resulted in a year-long investigation by Judge Pitchford which caused Gwent Police to withdraw the Muniquip radar-gun immediately after the Judge’s findings were made known, and in speed prosecutions pending against some 50 drivers “timed” with the gun being dropped – perhaps those drivers involved should now “pass the hat round” for Mr. Hughes?

What is terible is that those who have been successfully prosecuted after being charged with speeding offences brought with the use of the Muniquip guns in the same area will get no redress. In the case of prosections that had yet to be heard no action will be taken, whether or not those convicted pleaded “guilty” or “not guilty” (which action accepts the fact that many drivers plead “guilty” in such cases although they consider they were driving within the speed-limit on the assumption that you cannot argue with radar and that to do so would be a waste of time). How can Justice be seen to be done when other drivers, many probably just as innocent as Mr. Hughes (even if they wrote to plead or said they were “guilty”, for the reasons just given), have been fined and endorsed for offences alleged to have been committed under exactly the same dubious circumstances? The only difference being that their summonses arrived earlier than the remainder . . . . Terrible!

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The VSCC in August

August sees the Vintage Sports Car Club competing at two of the country’s most picturesque venues, Prescott and Cadwell Park.

The Prescott meeting takes place on Sunday, August 2nd, with practice the previous day. A full entry of some 140 cars is anticipated and a amajor feature of this long-established annual event is the tremendous display of pre-war cars of all kinds in the parking areas. Spectators are welcome and admission costs £1.50 per head. Children under 14 are free, and no charge is made for parking. Paddock transfer costs £1.50. The hill is on the Gotherington to Winchcombe road, some six miles NE of Cheltenham.

On the Sunday of the late Bank Holiday weekend (August 30th) the Club moves north east into the wilds of Lincolnshire for the Cadwell Park Race Meeting. This circuit, between Horncastle and Louth, is reminiscent of a pre-war circuit with its narrow track and minimal armco and has thus become a favourite with the VSCC. Races include the Nuvolari Cup for two-seater Grand Prix cars, the Spero and Voiturette Trophies Race for the smaller racing and sports cars, an Allcomers’ Race for pre-war racing cars, a special handicap race for chain-drive GN and Frazer Nash cars and a selection of short races, some on handicap, for other VSCC eligible cars. Admission is £2.50 per head, accompanied children under 14 are free. Paddock transfer costs £1 for adults and 50p for children and car parking is free. Dogs, of course, are not admitted to either event.

The fourth round of the Motor Sport Brooklands Memorial Trophy contest takes place at the Cadwell meeting. The position after the first three rounds sees Tim Llewellyn (Bentley) well in the lead with 62 points. Donald Day (ERA) second with 44 and four people. J.C. Bugler (Lagonda), Hamish Moffat (Bugatti), P.C. Hornby (Austin) and David Duffy (Alvis-Riley), equal third with 34. The final round will be at Silverstone on September 19th. – P.H.J.W.

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A new Porsche

The Porsche range will be extended next year when the new 944 goes into production. This new model has an entirely new Porsche-designed and built 2.5-litre engine, and will make its debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show next month. It is scheduled to go into production at the end of the year, with right hand drive versions becoming available in the Spring of 1982.

Based on the 924 concept, the 944 will resemble the limited edition Carrera GT with flared front and rear wheel arches and a deep aerodynamically efficient air dam at the front. Although the appearance will be similar, the construction will not be, for the 924 body will be made entirely of galvanised steel and will carry Porsche’s seven year anti-corrosion warranty. The 944 is aimed at the gap in the Porsche range betwen the 924 and the 911SC, and will be priced slightly below the 924 Turbo.

The engine is the special feature of the car. The design team started with a completely clean sheet and although the result bears some resemblance to the 928 in certain details such as the linerless bores in the alloy block, hydraulic tappet arrangement and single overhead camshaft, it is a completely new unit. It is of four cylinders, in line, and is rated at 163 b.h.p. in normally aspirated form. The capacity is 2,479 c.c. from a bore and stroke of 100mm. x 78.9mm. The characteristics quoted in the Porsche press releases are impressive, to say the least. The torque curve is very flat, between 2,500 and 600 r.p.m., peaking at 151 lb. ft. at 3,000 r.p.m., making the engine particularly suitable for automatic transmission use. Maximum power is produced at 5,800 r.p.m.

The compresion ratio is high, at 10.6:1, making it particularly efficient and it is estimated that the 944 should use little more fuel than the 924. Figures quoted are 40.4 m.p.g. at a steady 56 m.p.h., 32.5 at a steady 75 and 24.8 for the urban cycle. Fuel economy is enhanced by the use of Bosch digital ignition coupled with L-Jetronic fuel injection. The power unit is longer than the 924, but weighs no more than 160 kg., and is smoother as a result of twin counter-rotating balance-shafts mounted low down, driven by toothed belts.

More powerful variants can be expected, if the results at Le Mans are anything to go by, for a much modified 944 finished this gruelling race in seventh position, having had a completely trouble free run. The engine for this particular car was equipped with a four-valve-per-cylinder head (instead of the usual two-per-pot configuration), twin overhead camshafts and was turbocharged to produce 410 b.h.p. While it is unlikely that such a machine will be offered for sale for road use, it is reasonable to expect a turbocharged 944 at some stage in the future.

Transmission and suspension of the new car follow 924 practice, and a top speed of 137 m.p.h. is quoted with a 0-60 m.p.h. time of 8.4 sec. – P.H.J.W.

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Standard Research

John Davy is currently engaged in updating the Standard Register. He is keen to obtain up to date information on the whereabouts of all known examples of the make from the earliest days up to the end of the vintage period. Anyone who owns one of these cars, or who knows of one, is asked to write to Mr. Daly at 51, Marine Drive, Bigbury-on-Sea, Kingsbridge, Devon, TQ7 4AS, enclosing a s.a.e.. if a reply is required.

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Corrections

We apologise to Kent Karslake for changing “Ader” to “Adler” in his review of Pierre Dumont’s book about Peugeot cars (page 965 last month). Also, the reference to a new Hudson motor-cycle on page 914 should have been to a New Hudson, and the VW powered light aircraft is a Turbulent, not Tubulent as on page 920. Tom Delaney points out that although his father had become Managing Director of the British Motor Trading Company by 1922, the Lea-Francis Company was in being long before this, in 1895 in fact, which is not made clear on page 913.

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