Petrol Problems

The rich petroleum industry, automatically associated with tough ‘oil barons’ in the Ewing image, palatial office premises, and understandable jealousy over brand names, has a lucrative customer in the world’s vehicle users. In the main, it can be said that it has served us well. Even before it saw the enormous profits that could be earned it made it possible for autocarists to buy the essential fuel from other than chemists’ shops, by introducing the two gallon can to the new garage trade. Stored in sheds and out-houses, these must have constituted quite a fire hazard — but fortunately arson was not then a popular pastime. . . .

Refuelling a car in those days could be quite a business. Chauffeurs confronted with a long journey had to hump those cans about and one recalls that the Austin Twenty had its tank beneath the front seat, so that it was necessary to ask the passenger to alight so that the cushion could be lifted to expose the filler-cap. Some small cars had gravity feed tanks in the scuttle, with the fillernecks protruding from the dashboards, inviting unwelcome drips onto the passenger’s lap if he or she remained while petrol was being poured in.

With the petrol companies opening more and more filling stations all that changed, with motorists submitting gladly to the self-service provided, although no longer now at about a bob-a-gallon (say 5p), the price charged back in 1928. Supplying the magic fluid had become Big Business. Pipelines were constructed across deserts to facilitate its delivery, the Suez Canal took on a great significance, and more recently the floors of the North Sea and other oceans have been drilled at vast expense to tap more of the valuable oil. May it, and paper which man uses so prolifically, never run out!

Those mythical oil barons rose to the challenges of engine development. Octane ratings increased, enabling high compression ratios to be used without the ‘pinking’ bogey. In the field of competition motoring, the alchemy produced special racing brews, up to the extremes used by Mercedes-Benz before the war, which smelt of boot polish to an eye-watering extent. Tetra-ethyl lead was blended to render practical the power outputs of the Rolls-Royce R-type racing aero-engine which won outright for us the Schneider Trophy and current Air Speed Record and led to the R-R Merlin in the Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires which won the Battle of Britain.

Recently, however, the petroleum giants have treated us rather shabbily. No longer can we have a choice of benzole or alcohol mixtures to let engines keep their cool. Five star for high-performance cars has gone and two-star for the older engines, lawn mowers and small generators is in very isolated supply. Vintage car owners may see costly damage done because they are being forced to use incorrect fuel. The availability of unleaded fuel is commendable but only those with strong environmental beliefs are encouraged to use it when the price saving is a mere 13p or so per gallon at a time when the £2 gallon forever haunts us. Especially if ‘green petrol’ proves less economical and implies a performance drop. The taxman, who has taxed petrol since 1909 and ‘raided the road fund’ since 1925 and now inflicts on us a savage levy on every gallon of petrol we buy, should make lead-free fuel exempt from tax, as the government did with benzole in 1909.

Another petrol problem is the increasing number of car fires reported in the papers. Like the Porsche Carrera RS burnt out in Chelsea and others, some with fatal results. Whether these have resulted from less efficient car maintenance, less sensible handling of petrol or from a change in the content of the inflammable spirit itself, remains a mystery. But it is a factor to be carefully watched WB

Congratulations to Austin Rover on its success with two specially prepared Rover Metros which smashed 21 Land Speed Records at Millbrook at the beginning of July. The records broken in Class F (1100-1500cc) were the 5km, 10km, 5 miles and 10 miles flying starts and the standing starts for 12 distances. The 1 hour, 3 hours, 12 hours and 24 hours were also broken. The cars ran on Gulf Oil’s Super Unleaded and consumed 1800 litres in the course of their run. Maximum speeds of over 130 mph were reached with an average speed of 121 mph over the 24 hours. WPK

Last month we underlined the pre-war records established at Brooklands which the Bentley-Jackson, itself a pre-war car, broke recently at Millbrook banked track. It should be noted, however, the the British Class-B 200-mile record that before the war belonged to Cyril Paul (6-litre Delage) had already been broken by Stanley Mann’s 6 1/2-litre vintage Bentley in 1988. The Bentley-Jackson has now raised this from 103 mph to over 110 1/2 mph. The absolute British 200- mile record, however, still stands to the credit of Kaye Don and the 2-litre Sunbeam, set up at Brooklands in May 1929, at 115.96 mph. WB.

The organisers of the Louis Vuitton Concours d’Elegance being held at Stowe on Saturday, July 28 are in the happy situation of being over-subscribed. Stars of the show will include a 1932 Le Mans Bugatti, the Alfa 8C which came third in the 1936 Mile Miglia, a number of Bentleys, a posse of Silver Ghosts and, inevitably, a plethora of Ferraris plus many others.

£6.00 on the day, tickets can be bought at a reduced price in advance from Louis Vuitton Concours d’Elegance, 37 Chelsea Wharf, Lots Road, London, SW10 OQJ. WPK

September 22 is the date that MOTOR SPORT will again be holding its own concours. The venue is Silverstone and the occasion is the HSCC meeting, so there will be plenty to see. Entry is by invitation only, but if you think you have an unusual or unique car you would like to enter, please write and send photographs to William Kimberley at MOTOR SPORT.

Making its first public appearance for several years at the International Historic Weekend at Silverstone on the weekend on July 28/29 will be the 7-litre 1967 Ford GT Mk IV, belonging to Rod Leach of ‘Nostalgia’. One of only eight made, this car, chassis no J12, was the last one made and is the only one presently not resident in the USA.

The racing itself commences at 1.00pm on Saturday with an Austin Healey Club race followed by part 1 of the Mulberry 100 Mile race and a host of other races including part 1 of the Christie’s Sports Car race. On Sunday the Mulberry race starts proceedings at 12.45 with the last event, the BRDC pre-65 GP car race scheduled to start at 5.40pm. WPK

For all film buffs, Days of Thunder is not to be missed. Starring Tom Cruise and Robert Duvall, it is set in the world of NASCAR racing. Even if the thought of giant American stock cars leaves you cold, the action sequences in the film will soon convert you into one of the ‘Good ol’ Boys’.

Being a Tom Cruise film, there has to be a romantic interest, but it does not get in the way of the racing too much.

Days of Thunder opens in the UK on August 10. WPK

The Autoglass Tour of Britain is scheduled to run from September 23-29. At the time of going to press, the event was in some doubt due to the lack of entries. The decision whether to continue will be made at the end of July. If it does 325 racing miles are planned against 205 miles of rallying and there will be a further quota of rallycross, autotest and slalom competitions. WPK

The writings of Barrie Price, chairman of the Bugatti Trust, are always worth reading, as was his speech before the Duke of Edinburgh at the inaugural luncheon to launch the opening of the Trust’s Archives Building at Prescott.

In the course of his speech, Mr Price had this to say about the comparative outputs of cars by Ettore Bugatti and the manufacturers of other superior quality cars. “During Ettore’s most active period, 1925-1930, output of all types of Bugattis totalled approximately 13 cars per week. To put the matter into perspective, Hispano Suiza was building approximately three cars in Paris and probably five at their Barcelona plant, while Rolls-Royce averaged 20 in the same period. Of course, both of the latter firms were heavily engaged in aero-engine work. The most prolific producer of high quality cars in Britain during this period was Sunbeam, which was capable of knocking out 60 cars in a good week. WB

The captioning of the picture of Barry Clarke’s A7 Ulster last month as a 1937 car was an error, not a suggestion that the worthy Barry had installed later parts in his car for the Ulster Race at Silverstone. In fact, the car was entered as a modified, supercharged 1930 model and the Ulster production run ended in 1932. Only three blown cars ran in the VSCC Ulster event, of which Clarke’s made easily the fastest lap, at 59.06 mph, which compares with the best lap by Spence’s winning modified 1930/31 car with non-blown engine, of 64.13 mph. All the aforesaid blown Ulsters were modified cars, so did not necessarily have the original Cozette compressors. The seven non-boosted A7s that finished this scratch race ahead of Clarke’s blown Ulster lapped quicker, so one wonders how much benefit a supercharger makes on these engines? But all these were either modified, hybrid or special A7s. It is significant that the best lap by Diffey’s standard 1929 Ulster was at 59.32 mph, faster than Barry’s blown car; but Diffey’s lasted for only six of the ten laps. WB

To commemorate the year when Silverstone circuit was granted Grande Epreuve status and the RAC renamed the race the British Grand Prix, Grand Prix Sportique of Tetbury, Glos have launched a Limited Edition print entitled Grande Epreuve. It depicts Baron Emanuel de Graffenried, who has signed each one, winning the 1949 British Grand Prix at Silverstone in his privately entered Maserati 4CLT. WPK

Richard Crump has acquired the Type 122 Miller raced years ago by Count Zborowski. It is being overhauled in the Chris Leydon restoration shops in Lahaska, in America but should return to the UK sometime in 1992. Exciting! Another VSCC member has found what sounds like the Sage-engined Solver-Hawk used for record-breaking at Brooklands in 1920. WB