Letters from Readers, December 1945

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I saw my first race as a boy in 1918 here, and I have followed the game to the best of my ability, always on the spectator side of the fence, and have seen it go through the stages of being an experimental “guinea pig” for the industry to “barn storming,” frame-ups, promotional run-outs with the prize purse and back up to the spectacular sport it now is. Such an inexcusable damned shame my country and yours could not have subsidised racing teams as the Axis did right under our eyes. Think of the thousands of mothers’ boys it would have saved! Power is rather blind.

I have seen every race except one at the Indianapolis Speedway since the other war. Goux and R. Thomas were my favourites of the foreigners, and I regretted immensely that I did not go to see the two Vanderbilt races. To have missed Nuvolari, Rosemeyer, Seaman and Caracciola, when so available, was to have missed half a lifetime of racing.

For your editorial information Ed. Rickenbacker was born, raised and began his racing career here in Columbus; Christian Lautenschlager, of pre-war one, of Mercédès, has a brother living here; Frank Lockhart lived here as a boy; and Mauri Rose, last Indianapolis winner, was raised and started his racing career here. Also Jim Davis, one of the best known over a long period in motor-cycle racing, is a native of this city. So Columbus, as poor a patron of the sport of speed as it has been, has produced some native sons that have gone far — and fast.

I am, Yours, etc.
Cha,. M. Sayler
Ohio, U.S.A.

Having read Motor Sport for years, and taken the weekly journals since 1925, I am constrained to write this letter by an article appearing between the March, 1945, covers of Motor Sport by L. T. C. Rolt, entitled “The Ethics of the Quality Car.” Here, at last, is an enthusiast who really knows the true reasons for the continued appeal of the “vintage” car. I can honestly say that the said article is the best on the subject I have ever read anywhere. Mr. Rolt has said everything I have been trying to say for years. So many people, when trying to define this cult, wade in and talk at length on such factors as handling, performance, etc., which, admittedly, are important, but I submit, in support of Mr. Rolt, that the basic — (horrible word!) — appeal lies in quality of materials and construction, and also thoroughbred appearance. How is it that a vast number of vintage advocates are either engineers or in, or connected with, engineering in some form or other, whereas the “modern” supporter, in eight cases out of ten, is unable to describe the difference between a true honeycomb radiator and the various other types or, for instance, describe what is meant by a crankshaft being balanced statically and dynamically? No, Mr. Editor, the true enthusiast glories in the fact that he has a real thoroughbred quality engineering job — what matter if it will only do 80-85 m.p.h. when the “— Special” does “over the hundred, old boy, and when the machinery gets tired, you just fork over a bob or two and have a replacement motor fitted — really as new, you know” —while your engine is taken in part exchange and reconditioned for the next mug. [I quite agree, Sir!—Ed.]

I submit that 80 per. cent. of so-called modern “improvements” which are backed up by reams and reams of reasons why they are better, are really introduced for the one and only reason which is never given, namely, cheapness, either in materials or construction. At least 25 “tin” radiators can be produced for the cost of one genuine honeycomb type with its integral shell — a monobloc crankcase and block is cheaper than separate construction — give me one instance of failure of crankshaft, etc., due to the latter type “not being as stiff and rigid”; coil ignition is cheaper than magneto — taking all factors into consideration, such as the chassis can be cut off short and no axle beam is needed, thus saving a huge amount of steel and forging operations spread over thousands of units, I aver that in most cases it is cheaper to fit i.f.s. than the conventional type. Until I am shown a motor car that handles better than a Bugatti I will not even begin to be convinced otherwise. Cast iron or pressed tin are cheaper than aluminium, a bit of 1-in, round mild steel bent and fitted with a hole and split pin is cheaper than a ball-and-socket joint. Some or all of these, and many other reasons are why I would take a 1932-33 8c Alfa-Romeo in preference to a 2900B — a 3-litre or any o.h.c. Bentley before a 4 1/4-litre – a “Phantom II” Rolls-Royce in preference to a “Phantom III” — any Frazer-Nash before a B.M.W. 328 — a 2 or 3-litre Lagonda before a V12, or an S.S.K. Mercedes in preference to 50 Type 540 K’s, neglecting the relative commercial values of any of the above, of course — we are speaking only of quality. Yes, Mr. Rolt, performance is a secondary consideration, and so long as there are enthusiasts like yourself, so long will they drive motor cars in preference to mechanical monstrosities produced, as you say, by “Saurian machines manned by robots” — and I would add, for puppets! I enclose a photograph which you may care to publish. [Insufficient space. — Ed.] It was taken in 1926 and depicts the Alvis which came to Australia and was driven with much success by the late Phil Garlick. If you publish this it may assist some of your knowledgeable readers to identify whether it really was Major Harvey’s 1923 200-Mile Race car. Although not putting myself forward as an expert, I have studied motor racing for 21 years, and suggest that it is a 200 Miles Race car, either 1923 or 1924, from the following points: the position and type of number disc on the tail — it came out here so fitted; the absence of rear brakes on the wheels; Harvey’s car had exposed shafts, you remember; and the speed (over 100) which the car could attain for a modified 12.50. I await with interest the results of your or your readers’ diagnosis.

Finally, in this rambling letter, let me say, in case it is thought that I am not an admirer of performance, that I consider Mr. Forrest-Lycett’s 8-litre Bentley the best car on the road, but must admit that maybe I am just a little bit glad he has given up serious competitions, as I always had a horror of such a masterpiece being blown up!

I trust you will forgive the rambling nature of this opus, and I congratulate all concerned on keeping Motor Sport in circulation. To me it is better than pre-war, except for size, of course. Also convey to Mr. L. T. C. Rolt my salutations on a classic article.

All the best to all real enthusiasts.

I am, Yours, etc.,
R. G. Shepherd.
Australia. [The Alvis appears to be one of the 1924 200-Mile cars.—Ed.]

I was extremely interested to see a letter from Dr. Gerald Ewen. It appears that Barts., besides teaching us medicine, taught us a great deal in the way of appreciation of the vintage car.

At the same time as Gerald Ewen started on his DeIage I had only arrived at the neo-Austin stage, but in late 1934 I got a decrepit Lancia “Lambda,” Series 5. This vehicle was not a success, it was too far gone for revival, and about that time I bought a Swift coupé. I think this was about the best English-made car I have ever known; how I regret the demise of the Swift! It had a perfect clutch and gearbox, although slightly stiff in suspension. With an addition of about 2 cwt. over the rear axle, it became a very comfortable car — first-class bodywork and few replacements.

At any rate, my cravings had by then passed for the open road, and I then got to know Barker Bennet, who sold me a Series 7 “Lambda.” This car (2.6 litres) was never much appreciated on the English market. The Series 5 and 8 were always given a better write-up, although why I never found out. The Series 5 was unquestionably slightly faster, but the brakes were not in the same street, and I drove my car for over 100,000 miles without any trouble. Its maximum appeared to be about 76 m.p.h. I never had anything to do to it, with the exception of replacing one “pot” as the result of the exhaust valve head coming off, and relining the brakes. Its petrol consumption was consistently 19-20 m.p.g. It cruised day in and day out at 65-66 m.p.h., despite the fact that Lancia’s assured me that it was not intended to do more than 60 m.p.h. There was no question that it had been used carefully by the previous owner, but it began to teach me the first joys of a real motor-car. I can think of no car that could give you all the features of superlative motoring at quite the low cost: suspension, first class brakes, reasonable acceleration and the undefinable power of all Lancias for covering the ground effortlessly; it was possible in this car to arrive at the end of a 400-mile journey fresh. Oddities, of course, there are in all Lancias. Unless the front wheels are carefully balanced there is a tendency for them to flap.

About the same time I started my acquaintanceship with the 1,280-c.c. “Augusta.” This time in coupé form. This car, although not very polished, I drove considerable distances and, despite its lack of performance, I began to appreciate the car. At the same time I became acquainted with the “Astura” Series 2 Lancia standard saloon and a “March Special Augusta.” They all have the same characteristics; they all have the same beat note and, unless the front wheels are kept carefully balanced, develop a wheel flap.

At any rate, to pass on to my own experiences of Lancias, I bought an “Aprilia,” Series 1. This car I drove for about 45,000 miles, when my wife unfortunately wrapped it round a telegraph post and wrote it off completely. Little has been said in Motor Sport about the “Aprilia.” I suppose it has not arrived at the vintage stage, being without question the most modern light car put on the road to date. This car, as you know, is 1,350 c.c. and weighs about 16 3/4 cwt., the torsion bar and rear independent suspension are too well known to require description, but there is one thing on this car which I think ought to be faced. Their safety factor is of such value that it is possible to drive these cars to the absolute limit, and on exceeding that limit they become uncontrollable — to wit, my wife’s accident. They give you no warning whatsoever when they start sliding, and God help you if they do! Their cruising speed is in the region of 65-70 m.p.h., and more if you really push them. If you drive them at a respectable rate the petrol consumption is actually 32 m.p.g. They will hold a couple of children, a bull terrier, my wife, maid and full luggage for a month. No wonder they are fetching fantastic prices!

I was so angry about my wife’s accident that I bought a 1,500-c.c. Fiat. This car had an uneventful career, being reasonably fast. The only fault I could find was they would wear out the rubber bushes on the drag links. When this happened, steering became incredibly woolly. I passed this car on to a friend after 40,000 miles and started to look out again for a Lancia.

I was fortunate in being able to buy a “Berlina, Series 2, Augusta.” My advice to those who buy these cars is buy standard bodies. These cars are pretty well “unwearable out.” The “Augusta,” Series 2, is a delightful car; 1,280-c.c. Lockheed brakes, weight, laden, 16 1/4 cwt. Again the same failings — worn front tyres, unbalanced wheels, and your steering is hell. They have all got these odd peculiarities, but withal a lovely little car!

Shortly afterwards I was fortunate enough to pick up a 2,600-c.c. “Astura” with Farina coupé body. By the way, these are wonderful bodies and appear to wear indefinitely, provided front door pillars are replaced at intervals, these pillars being rather light. This car must have done a considerable mileage before I bought it and I have not really had time to go through her faults. I do not think you can learn motoring under 15,000 miles. The engine has been rebuilt. The car was fitted with Lockheed brakes, bringing her up to Series 4 standard. Again the same odd characteristics — worn front tyres, wheel flap at low speeds — but the “Astura” is a better car in this respect than any of the others. The steering is slightly heavier, but there is still the perfect direction-finding mechanism. I often wonder that these fine cars are not more publicised amongst the vintage specialists, but I would add a word of warning to those people starting Lancia motoring. The “Lambda,” you will probably remember, had wet liners in aluminium blocks. I believe these blocks will by now have deteriorated to such an extent that I doubt whether the waterproof joints can be maintained between head and block. This, of course, is a personal impression and I may be wrong. Repowered by some other motor, I cannot see that the great joys of this car will be the same, except in so much as roadholding and brakes, which would not be affected if a careful eye was kept on the weight of the power unit. The old “Lambda” had an incredibly noisy valve gear, the clatter of which could be heard in a traffic block from one end of Regent Street to another. Replace the phosphor-bronze gears, after 4,000 miles, they still made the same noise, but they never gave any trouble and caused bus conductors much amusement.

I have never had a great deal of time to play with motor-cars. My motoring has had to be much more on the reliable than the fast principle, but I do feel that these Lancias have given me a real taste for the great factors which go to make up the sports car. I advise any youngster starting to drive to get hold of one of them. At any rate, he will be able to learn how to drive. They steer perfectly and their roadholding is first class. You can, incidentally, take an old. lady in them, if needs be, for they are exceedingly comfortable. Even my Series 2 “Astura” only weighs 23 cwt., and I think this must be the real lesson of these motor cars.

As regards being tough, they have no parallel. I drive in a remote country practice, over unmade roads every day of my life, and have never succeeded in breaking anything. I appreciate that this letter does not contain the delightful scientific data which you usually convey to us, for which throughout the war I have been extremely grateful, but I would recommend that you try to attain some of the qualities in motoring which Lancias have given to the world: independent front suspension, unit construction, duralumin brake drums, the extensive use of duralumin in the engine, transmission, etc.; perfect weight distribution and, above all things, 100 per cent. reliability. For those of us who have livings to earn by means of a motorcar they are also comfortable. By the way, one point about the “Berlina” saloon, you can fry eggs on the floor of the passenger seat if you do not lag the exhaust pipe with asbestos.

All best wishes for the future.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Thomas Smallhorn
Ruskinton, Lincs.
[Dr. Smallhorn’s remarks are most interesting. The “Aprilia” is a very fine car; personally, although we have driven them very hard, including up Prescott, we have never experienced the dangerous loss of control mentioned. This model was fully road-tested and described in Motor Sport before the war.—Ed.]

It would appear from Mr. J. V. Bolster’s. letter in your September issue that in his stable the humble D.K.W. would not receive the careful attention lavished upon his Rolls-Royce and more sanguine personal creations. Any uncared-for vehicle will look, sound and behave equally badly. I find the D.K.W. steering and roadholding very similar to that of my Alfa, which is above criticism. (I have not yet owned a modern Bugatti!)

It seems to me to be unfair to compare the mass-produced D.K.W. with anything other than another mass-produced car, and I could name some built in this country where not only does one have to remove a front wheel and rusty screws and a piece of tin, but also work with the aid of a mirror and a dwarf to reset tappets. Anyone interested in the findings of a non-mechanical owner should read the chapter entitled “Little Rocket” in “Disgrace Abounding,” written by Douglas Reed in 1939. The author states that he has no mechanical knowledge, but he seems to have enjoyed the litle second-hand car which in five years Iook him through Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland, Hungary and other countries although it is true that he experienced ignition trouble.

This, however, brings me to the point of this letter. Reed stated that D.K.W. means “Little Rocket,” presumably Das Kleine Wurfgeschosz. It had already been suggested to me that the initials stood for Das Kleine Wunder. Meanwhile, I had been under the impression that these patent leather names were imaginary and that the correct designation was Deutsche Kraft-Wagen. Perhaps someone is able to confirm one of these suggestions.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Graham C. Dix
Birmingham, 14.


Encouraged by your tolerance towards motor-cycles, I am emboldened to ask for your help in furthering one of my post-war aims — that of forming a vintage motor-cycle club on the well-proved lines of the U.S.C.C.

I am satisfied that there are many enthusiasts to whom a vintage Norton, Sunbeam or Scott is as fascinating as an “old school” Bentley, a “30/98” or a “12/50 ” — indeed I suspect finance is the real factor which decides whether the object of their affection has two wheels or four. Because vintage machines are not usually suitable for present-day motor-cycle competitions these enthusiasts are not often found in normal clubs.

So if the vintage owners can be persuaded to come into the open I see no reason why a pretty interesting club should not be formed, and I should be more than grateful if you would mention the idea in your columns.

I may say that, so far, I have received some very enthusiastic letters on the subject, and a former U.S.C.C. member and Bentley owner, Mr. C. S. Burney, of Aston Court, Ross-on-Wye, has come forward with the very sporting offer of acting as temporary hon. secretary if it is possible to launch the club.

Meanwhile, I am compiling a register of interested vintage motor-cycle owners, with a view to holding a rally in the New Year.

Everyone, so far, is agreed that a vintage motor-cycle is defined as one manufactured prior to 1931.

Finally, I wonder if anyone agrees with the following list of car and motor-cycle counterparts, vintage models, of course :
Bentley … Norton.
“30/98” Vauxhall … Sunbeam.
Aston-Martin … Rudge.
Alvis … A.J.S.
Riley … Velocette.
A.C. … Scott.

To conclude, I would like to congratulate you on the continued production under obvious difficulties of a most interesting journal.

I am, Yours, etc.,
C. E. Allen (Cpl.).
[We commend this idea, although there is the counter-argument that whereas car design became retrograde after 1931, the modern motor-cycle is generally a more practical and far faster proposition than a vintage machine. Still, this club should be formed, and we wish it well. In Cpl. Allen’s list we would substitute Bugatti for A.C.—Ed.]


The club has directed me to advise you that, at our annual general meeting, held on September 26th, it was proposed by Mr. E. M. Inman Hunter and seconded by myself (perhaps slightly irregular, but under the circumstances permissible) that, in recognition of his sterling services to the Sport during the war years, consisting in his magnificent effort of keeping Motor Sport going, at times under apparently insuperably difficult conditions, and in gratitude for the unstinting and generous support he has given our club in particular through the paper’s columns, Mr. W. Boddy should be elected an honorary life member of the club, and that the club’s artist, Mr. R G. Shepherd, should be requested to direct his energies towards making some more concrete expression of our appreciation. This proposal was received with the greatest enthusiasm by the 25 members present, and was passed nem. con.

I am given to understand that Mr. Shepherd’s offering will take the form of a water-colour drawing of a Type 55 Bugatti, a car for which Mr. Boddy has always seemed to bear a special regard. It will be brought to England by Mr. Inman Hunter on his return, so as to ensure its safe arrival.

We are looking forward to many more years of Motor Sport under its present guidance, and assure you of our heartiest support.

I am, Yours, etc.,
R. Beal Pritchett,
hon. Secretary, Vintage S.C.C. of Australia.
N.SW., Australia.

I was very much interested in the description of the light 15-h.p. Citroen, which appeared in your October issue. I owned one of these cars for about a year, but drove it only 10,000 miles, so I cannot say anything about tyre wear. I should like very much to know if either of your correspondents had a tyre burst or a slow puncture in a front wheel at speed and what was the result. I found in my car that the clutch was very heavy to use and the change-speed mechanism was apt to bind, but I understand this was cleaned up in later models. The clutch and brake pedals were of the piano-type, reminding me of the car on which I learnt to drive in 1904 and which had this type of pedal. Apart from these shortcomings and a most unpleasant vibration on the over-run at a certain speed, I have nothing but praise for the car. It was quite the safest-feeling car on the road I have ever driven.

I think I saw a mention of a 15-h.p. 4-speed 85-m.p.h. Citroen in a paper lately. If this is so, this seems to be the car a lot of people have been waiting for.

I am, Yours, etc.,
C. Bunbury.