Letters from readers, December 1944

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Sir,

Thrusting aside a morbid temptation to sub-title this an “Xmas Xtravaganza,” I take up my pen—not because I have any particular pearls of wisdom to impart, but solely through force of habit. At Christmas time I seem always thus to be fired with the urge to write upon motoring matters, possibly because of the depressing lack of turkey and plum pudding, more probably because of the equally depressing lack of motoring. Two years ago, admittedly, the position was not so bad, and I tantalised less fortunate readers of Motor Sport with an account of a somewhat hectic drive along the Ridge Way and the Ox Drove in an Austin “Arrow.” Unrestricted motoring was still a reality then, at least to the extent of a “basic,” but last Christmas, with nothing but brief and infrequent essential journeys to make life endurable, I was compelled to write about a memorable drive in the distant past (1938, to be exact).

In common with most other enthusiasts I was, in short, already slipping into the way of drawing on the memories of past experience as a means of bolstering my war-time ration of motoring to something approaching an adequate diet. And this Christmas ? What would one normally be doing ? As far as I am concerned, Boxing Day would be spent in some capacity or other on the Ford Enthusiasts’ Car Club Trial, either as journalist, observer or passenger (preferably all three). It’s wonderful what one can accomplish when climbing an unclimbable section, observing one’s own ascent and then writing it up in the Press. I have yet to find a better recipe for a successful climb !

A few days later the “Exeter” would be claiming my undivided attention. Best job I ever had on this classic trial was to be put in charge of the refreshment stop at the “Blinking Owl” just short of Shaftesbury—for a cold, wet night there is really nothing to touch it.. Christmas Day itself, of course, would be spent enjoying genuine Christmas fare somewhere down in the heart of the country—in one of those real old traditional villages, Much Sludge in the Sump, Great Grinding in the Cogbox, Conrod under-Crankcase, Little Pressure on the Gauge, or some other equally jolly hamlet where the farmyard breezes are seldom tainted with Castrol-R. Christmas Eve was, maybe, even more fun, and many a haying expedition have I had in the prolific trials area around Peterslield. Ostensibly in search of bigger and better holly berries. I have coaxed the family motor car complete with family, up numerous muddy gradients, and on one occasion the search (unsuccessful) for holly resulted in the finding of a new and remarkably potent trials hill. We tackled it down-hill, came to rest in some eighteen-inch ruts at the bottom, and finally ended up on a chain behind the inevitable tractor (double rates for Christmas Eve !)

But those were days of the past, and the tide of war now seems far enough advanced to permit one reasonably to look forward instead of back. For the present, I am still dicing with the fwd BSA “trike,” now somewhat battered (a burst rear tyre having recently resulted in sudden disaster). But what of the future ? Will the Sport settle straight back into its old form ? Shall we be able to acquire Jeeps by tender–as was possible of all Army vehicles prior to the war ? (I used to make a regular income by buying Army Austins at £3, slipping in a new crown wheel the same morning and selling the car for £10 in the afternoon.) Will the Ford Enthusiasts be churning the Hampshire chalk on Boxing Day, 1944 ? I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.

I am, Yours, etc,

“RGVV”, Farnham.

[Actually, the Ford Enthusiasts’ Car Club was wound-up before war came ; it might, of course, be revived.—Ed]

Sir,

I trust you will excuse me for bursting into print once more. There are two points in your October issue which I would like to bring up.

First, Alec Francis’s “Strength through Joy” motor-racing movement is worthy of comment. I fully agree with the sentiments on which he bases his scheme, but cannot see eye to eye with the methods that he suggests. The vast charm of motor racing has always been its individuality of outlook and performance. Each individual car has echoed the diameter of its owner. I can remember a Riley which was not quite ordinary ; its every line shrieked “Percy Maclure.” and everyone knew it as a personality.

Once one gets down to the Wigan Racing Combine’s 11/2-litre X, driven by P Wortlebury (we hope he’s competent but weve never seen him before), dicing against the Tooting Road Rover’s 11/2-litre Y, driven by SJ Hogsdinner (whose turn, readers may remember, it was to drive on Shrove Tuesday two years ago, when the insertion of alcohol fuel in the radiator, by an over-anxious junior member, caused a slight detonation) on Buttin’s road racecourse at Horrorville-on-Sea, we will have almost reached the American situation, where all cars, drivers and tracks are so nearly identical as makes no odds, and the success or failure of the meeting is gauged solely by the severity of the crashes.

The solution, surely, is not to remove all individuality from racing, by means of combines and one-make classes, but to make a serious attempt to lower the costs of preparation, entry fees, etc. Young driver-tuners should receive every encouragement. One can almost halve the cost of racing if one actually knows how to change a plug and doesn’t have to employ the expensive representative of a noted firm. How interesting it would be if some really able driver, who has tuned his own cars, could produce his costs for comparison with those of an ignorant and incompetent amateur.

Enough of that. The second point of interest is Alan Skerman’s 41/2-litre Bentley. I would very much like to know how it handles. I had considerable experience with Sandy Campbell’s Windrum and Garstin 41/2, which was based on a 3-litre 100-mph, short chassis of 9-ft. wheelbase. It was a tremendous motor car (Robin Jackson had breathed in its intestines), but, on wet roads it “swopped-ends” with astonishing regularity. This was no product of ham cornering. I have experienced its odd manners on the dead-straight New road myself, and have seen it perform two or three times when following it with my own normal-lengthed 41/2. As recently as a month ago I drove Group Captain “Pete” Wykeham-Barnes’s 9-ft wheelbase ex-Marcus Chambers’s car, when I was asked to “see for myself.” While it produced no actual “reversements,” it pitched and snaked most alarmingly. No adjustments of tyre pressures and shock-absorbers will completely cure it. But 8 ft 6 in. . . . Ye gods ! It makes one’s hair stand on end. I wonder whether the twin rear wheels were added, at some time, to counteract this. If so, I should imagine there is a fearful battle between added weight at the back and the adhesion of Mr Dunlop. Perhaps the proud proprietor would enlighten us on the matter.

Lastly, I bow before Mr Newell’s attack. I quite understand the feelings I have injured. I had a pedal car myself once and I was t-h-r-i-l-l-e-d with it.

The best of luck to Motor Sport ; it gets better and better with every issue.

I am, Yours. etc,

Jim Boothy, (S/Ldr). RAF.

Sir,

Seeing your reference to our meetings at the “Ship” at Shepperton in Motor Sport, I thought I might make a small correction. We meet once a month on a Saturday evening at 7 pm. We have no official club status, but decided to meet as 750 Club meetings ceased.

I am, Yours, etc.,

Peter Ward,  Esher.

Sir,

With the war situation now moving rapidly towards a victorious conclusion for our side, there is no doubt that all sporting motorists are wondering what is in store for us after peace is declared, and those of us with competition inclinations do our wondering from two angles. First. what sort of sports cars will be available and, secondly, how and in what events can we use them ?

Taking the latter point first, I feel that first competitions to revive will be rallies and trials. Both are reasonably easy to organise and get going, and neither require the expensive and specialised equipment called for in racing and speed events. I also feel that whereas the path of the rally driver and organiser is easy, that of the “trialist” is beset with difficulties. Apart from an occasional voice crying in the wilderness, there has been very little done to put this popular section of competition motoring in order. I do not propose to embark on that side of the problem here, but in passing I would make the suggestion that any and all who are interested in trials should take an early opportunity to plan for their rebirth in a much better manner than they were conducted in the pre-war period.

If the “much-maligned RAC” could be persuaded to change itself (as far as its “competitions department” trials, etc., is concerned) from a doddering gaggle of lethargic Rip van Winkles into a body that displayed some sign of co-ordinated life, then trials could be established and fostered, rather than being frowned on as the pastime of nitwits. However, enough of that, as my purpose is to comment on the post-war sports car.

There have been letters written and views expressed that in this rosy, peaceful world of plenty to come, the least that can be offered to the sportsman is some form of highly-developed sports car, with independent suspension, supercharged engine, modem streamlined body, multi-gear gearboxes, a cruising speed of 80 mph and a maximum of over 100 mph. This wonder car is supposed to be usable as a racing car one day, a trials and rally car the next, and between times it is to be used for touring, going to work, shopping and heaven knows what else. But the most amazing thing about it is that it is to be produced for something in the region of £350 to £400. I hate to be pessimistic, but with a world that has just about taken the count, a world recovering, or trying to recover, from the greatest disaster of any age, with a political situation bordering on chaos and a labour situation that will try to demand war-time wages with peacetime slackness of effort, I cannot see this dream car rolling off the assembly lines in quite the same way as some others would imagine. One will get very little for £350 after the war, especially of any sort of specialised product. I think that a car that will give reasonable performance at a reasonable price to both buy and maintain, will have to be made up of components of some wellknown and tried make that in its standard form will be in mass production. A car based on the Ford Ten, for example ; made up of new parts slightly modified and re-assembled in a sporting form. A car built on the lines of the Allard V8, but using 10-hp component parts, could be built probably for £300, and could most certainly give quite a reasonable performance, including a 75-80 mph maximum and good acceleration. It would lend itself to mild tuning, including supercharging, and by reason of its automatic light weight, the acceleration could be very good. Spares are cheap and the design is reliable and simple. There are a multitude of standard parts that can be mixed up together to produce features that are more desired than in the standard assembly.

Light weight is the essence of the contract in producing cheap speed. It would be very interesting to hear the views of others on these matters, particularly Mr Allard, to whom we are looking as one of the manufacturers of the competition and sporting car.

Needless to say, these views are purely personal ones, and I have no connection with anyone or anything to do with motors.

I am, Yours, etc.,

K Hutchinson,  London, SW19.

Sir,

Harold Biggs, in his article on my “1,500” Fiat, refers rather mysteriously to my “stable of ‘vermicular’ chassised cars—the Tatra and the Hansa.”

I do not know what dictionary friend Biggs uses, but my Concise Oxford defines “Vermicular ” as “like a worm in form or movements,” which I feel is rather libellous to the rigidity of the backbone chassis construction common to both cars. In fact, I have found this form of chassis, in conjunction with four-wheel independent suspension, extremely satisfactory, and have found no snags connected with the back swinging-half-axles, although I know they are frowned upon by the intelligentsia. Apart from saving weight, this form of chassis seems to give complete freedom from body distortion, which has been amply proved in the case of the Hansa, which has been in use practically daily for nearly seven years. However, this does not seem to apply to the Fiat, which has a backbone chassis but a normal rear axle. The Tatra has a most ingenious rear-axle arrangement that completely dispenses with universal joints.

I am, Yours, etc.,

Geoffrey Battersby,  Enfield, Middlesex.

[Mr. Biggs has assured us that he used the term vermicular in the sense of form only !—E]

Sir,

Under “Club News” in your October issue you mention a 1923 2-litre Mercedes being restored by a Mr JG Peter, of Liverpool. If it is the car once owned by Lord Tollemache, no doubt the following information would be of interest :— It was purchased from Lord Tollemache around 1934-1935 by a Mr Neville Horton, who now resides in Silloth, Cumberland. The body, which was an ugly fabric streamlined coupe, was discarded and the chassis was completely overhauled. I saw the car in chassis form, and it was certainly a very beautiful job. A very pretty close-coupled 2/4seater body was constructed for it by a  professional coachbuilder, and the whole job was painted white, with red leather upholstery. The complete vehicle was very like a scaled-down “38/250” and no expense whatever was spared during the rebuilding. I believe the job motored very well, but around 1937, whilst being “gunned” to the tune of 90 odd, a con-rod came through the sump, doing extensive damage in the process. This so disheartened Horton that he parted with it for a mere song shortly afterwards, since which time I completely lost track of the car. If Peter could contact Horton, no doubt some very valuable information could be gained. Please forgive me if I have covered ground you already know.

I am, Yours, etc..

JP Harvey (Capt), REME.

[This may have been Peter’s car and only have looked like a “38/250” as the car concerned is actually a twin ohc job.-Ed] 

Sir,

I saw in the September issue that a certain F/O Cowell was contemplating blowing an SS “100” and had “picked up” a number of Bugatti blowers in France. I also intend to blow a 21/2-litre SS. “100,” though I haven’t decided how to drive the blower; unless I remove the radiator, either a single chain or Vee belt would have to drive it, and that would be useless.

I seem to remember a blown SS “100” appearing at Donington pre-war at an SS meeting, though I may be wrong.

I would like to say once again that an SS “100” is a damn good car, though very few people ever agree with me.

Incidentally, I once saw in Motor Sport that Hutchinson was going to buy the ex-Crozier twin blower V8 Ford. This rather shook me, as I own it, and I wondered who was going to sell it !

Needless to say, reading Motor Sport is a really good way of forgetting the war. More power to your elbow.

I am, Yours, etc.,

Denis Paterson (Cadet). 148 Pre-Octu.

Sir,

I note you were kind enough to publish my remarks in the October issue of Motor Sport. I also note you were unkind enough to publish some of your own at the end of my letter in connection with which I must join issue with you. No one, probably, is more appreciative and more aware of the efforts made by you to provide what is undoubtedly the best and most unique journal on motor sporting matters in the world, and as for being unappreciative-well, words fail me. It appears from your remarks that not only do you not see the proofs, but you do not see your own paper ! In my last letter I distinctly stated that the error on page 136 of the July issue was in connection with the fuel consumption of the Rolls-Royce R-type engine, which states the fuel consumption was 14 gallons per hour-I say this is a misprint for 140 gallons per hour, and I only say it, not in carping criticism of your efforts, dear Editor, but to provide correct information for your readers in case they may be misled into believing that an aircraft fitted with such an engine would do about 30 miles to the gallon ! As to oil consumption, which you refer to in your editorial note, I did not mention this, and we seem to have been talking at cross purposes, or rather you do, and I trust this clears the matter up, both as regards the error and my own grateful attitude towards your continued efforts to provide us with journalistic matter, which is for many of us to-day undoubtedly the only link between life and death, or sanity and insanity !

I am, Yours, etc.,

FR Monkhouse, Watford.

[We are eating very humble pie indeed, Mr Monkhouse. Ed]