Letters from Readers, December 1954

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64

N.B. — Opinions expressed are those of our correspondents and “Motor Sport” does not necessarily associate itself with them. — Ed.

A Case for the Unconventional
Sir,

In the 1930s when the B.M.W. motor-cycle first made its impact upon this country, our pundits decried its unconventional design (since extensively copied in most countries of the world). They said that the steering could only be horrible as the torque-reaction from the transversely-mounted engine must ruin its handling qualities. This argument could be supported theoretically, but in practice it was, of course, the most arrant nonsense. The B.M.W. was without doubt the most-advanced and best-engineered motorcycle of the ‘thirties. ln 1939 Georg Mier won the Senior T.T., a feat not yet achieved by a poor steering machine! The B.M.W. is no longer labelled “unconventional,” but has itself changed not at all in basic design.

Motorists are wonderfully conservative and cling to the ideas upon which they were nurtured. Original thought is always the subject of much prejudice. The popularity of the VW is becoming such, however, that one can foresee a similar history to that shown above, and it will establish a “conventionality” of its own.

The general noise level inside the car is very low. Certainly it is much less than on “conventional ” cars of similar capacity, at main-road speeds. As the speed rises so the noise decreases, so that fast cruising is done in virtual silence, and with no hint of stress. This is a most unusual and restful characteristic. A whispered conversation is perfectly audible even at low road speeds.

I cannot believe that the driver of a 1952 model VW, although lacking the extra 5 b.h.p. of my car, would find himself stuck behind any truck, as an American correspondent suggested would be the case in your September issue. I think it quite absurd that this should be seriously suggested.

It is difficult to quote a true maximum speed for the VW, as with its ultra high gear it will go on “picking up” almost indefinitely.

It may be a big job to inspect the big-ends, but I doubt if the average owner faces very large bills on this account. The bearings are very, very large, and very lightly stressed.

Most disconcerting is the tale of the VW’s vicious handling qualities. It will, in fact, out-corner almost anything on dry roads. On wet roads oversteer can be more readily induced and some degree of thought is advisable. Under all normal conditions the steering is a delight. The point, surely, to be borne in mind is that the VW has no pretensions to be anything but what its name suggests. That it does, in general, behave like a sports car and is always great fun to drive is therefore all the more to its credit. At the same time it will return some 40 m.p.g. on “cooking petrol.”

One must feel very sorry for those poor Swiss motorists who last year took out 23 per cent. of new registrations in VWs. A vehicle with vicious over-steering tendencies must be somewhat of a deathtrap on the snow and ice-covered mountain passes of that country! Could it possibly be that the Swiss motorist knows what best meets these extreme conditions and is not such an indiscriminating fool as (by implication) Paul J. Flickinger (October issue) would have us believe?

Anyhow, being a poor man, I wouldn’t change my VW for anything.

I am, Yours, etc.,
E. G.
Coulsdon, Surrey.

The Topolino

Sir.
As a very satisfied owner of a 1937 Fiat 500 and a regular reader of Motor Sport, I feel quite incapable of allowing the scathing and absurd attack on a wonderful little car, by your contributor Mr. David R. Kelsey, to pass without some comment.

I have owned my “Topolino” for some twelve months, during which period I have covered 11,000 or so miles with complete reliability and pleasure, and I have nothing but praise for what after all, Mr. Kelsey, is only a baby car.

Although 17 years old it is as advanced in design as the average British car of today. In fact, no British manufacturer has so far produced anything to compete with it in its own class.

The specification, which includes such items us hydraulic brakes, 12-volt lighting, four-speed box, independent front suspension, leaves very little to be desired; the roomy comfort for two people inside and the excellent roadholding qualities of the car are truly remarkable; and to anyone who is capable of appreciating sound and practicable design there is very little to criticise.

Of course, Mr. Kelsey would appear to be a motorist of rather, to say the least of it, unusual habits and requirements.

I feel that something in the nature of a double-decker bus or a steam-roller would be more suitable to him than a precision machine.

He could grind away on his lap-breaking with either of these robust articles, without the disconcerting worry of having wrecked engines, gearboxes and suspension systems trailing in his wake, and whilst perhaps neither the bus nor the steam-roller would come up to what his idea of performance should be, because, like the little Fiat, they were never intended for such a purpose, they nevertheless would not come to pieces in his efficient and ruthless hands, which should be of some benefit to him, and moreover he could always try again without the annoyance and high expense of constantly having to replace mutilated machinery.

I agree with him when he says spares are very expensive for Fiat cars. Of course, import duties do have that effect.

The same naturally applies to several excellent Continental cars on the British market. On level terms these cars might drive some of the imitation American, chromium-plated monstrosities that disfigure our roads off the market, and even might induce some British manufacturer to bring out something as original and advanced in design as the Fiat 500 was in 1937.

I am, Yours, etc.,
E. A. Rastrick,
Sale.

Sir,

I would like to reply to Mr. David R. Kelsey on the “Topolino” topic as I feel he is being rather unfair to a very willing car.

My own 1937 Fiat car leads a dog’s life. Wherever it goes it goes flat out and has now done over 16,500 miles since its last major overhaul. It is run on Mobiloil Arctic all the year round and oil pressure is still 35 lb./sq. in. at 30 in top. The brakes are very good compared with other small cars, to wit, Morris Minor, Standard (new) Eight. In a private braking test in company with a new Humber Hawk from 50 m.p.h. I had yards in hand, which may, or may not, mean anything!

I will agree that the track-rod ends are not up to their job if continual fast driving is indulged in, but my wishbone bushes, etc., are in good condition, no doubt due to plenty of grease!

It is very difficult to get down to brass tacks about roadholding, but I would just like to say this: The car is far better when a reasonable load is being carried and when the right type of tyres at the right pressures are being used. I find I am at the best in roadholding when I am loaded with self, wife, child, child’s bed made up in the rear, small amount of luggage and a nice tool-kit in the tail, and the car is fitted with Pirelli tyres at 20 lb./sq. in. The matter really boils down to some personal likes and dislikes and/or a bit of comparison which is said to be odious.

I believe the Editor wrote a month or so ago, “Any car, even a 2 c.v., can be a sports car if it gives the driver joy in driving it.” So be it. I enjoy driving my “Topolino.” It is my sports car. I trust that I don’t get in the way of larger cars too often on the road; I only know that larger cars get in my way every time the engine is warm. It was especially so on my recent trip to the Motor Show, when the courtesy of the “Heavy” drivers was appreciated and made the 380 miles’ night driving much easier.

I am, Yours, etc.,
“EVK 775.”
Selby.

* * *

Experience with Fords

Sir,

I have just read the letter written by Mr. R. D. English, M.A., in which he refers to his 1954 Consul. This was of considerable interest as I have just finished dictating a long letter to the Ford Motor Company about my 1954 Consul convertible. I agree with everything Mr. English says, and it is incredible to me that a car of this kind is purchased in such numbers. Among the things wrong with the car when I collected it from a Ford dealer was the fact that the exhaust system was not attached in several places to the chassis. The engine would not idle when warm. There were two serious leaks and one of the hinges on the boot hadn’t any nuts holding it in place.

Since then, and the car has now done 5,000 miles, the engine bearers have broken; the windscreen wiper motor has been replaced once and still will not cope with heavy rain at 50 m.p.h. The air filter fell off into the engine owing to the rubber tube splitting. There is considerable brake judder at low speeds. There is considerable transmission judder, and most of the paint has peeled off inside the boot lid.

The people from whom I purchased the car, probably the largest Ford dealers in London, have had the car about five weeks out of 16 weeks’ ownership and the thing is still nothing like right.

The advertisements which the Ford Motor Company put forward boosting their service facilities quite definitely do not apply in this case as I was told I would have to wait three weeks for new engine bearers. I had to wait four weeks for a replacement windscreen wiper, and they dismissed the brake judder by saying a whole batch of them do this. Under the so-called guarantee, apparently, I am supposed to pay for the windscreen wiper motor and take up my claim direct with the Ford Motor Company, despite the fact that it was changed on the advice of the Ford dealers.

It is hard to conceive of a more unsatisfactory start with a car, and I am now selling it and will never buy another Ford. This may not worry the Ford Motor Company unduly, except that as I am an enthusiast I spend a good deal of my leisure time discussing motor cars, and if there are many more people like Mr. English and myself it will not take long before an ever-growing circle of people hear of the tremendous shortcomings of the Ford products.

I am, Yours, etc.,
B. Campbell Kemp,
London, W.1.

Sir,
I feel that I cannot allow the criticism of the Ford Consul by your correspondent R. D. English to go unanswered. I should make it clear that I have no connection with the Ford Motor Company and, unfortunately, own no shares. I am, however, the owner of a 1954 Consul and having covered some 12,000 miles am reasonably satisfied to date. It is quite beyond me how your correspondent manages to consume petrol at the rate of 22 m.p.g. My work involves much town work with short trips to the country. I have kept a careful record of all petrol bought and the overall consumption is 28.8 m.p.g. This improves considerably on a long run. I reckon to drive at 55-60 but seldom exceed 60. I do not like working any engine for long periods within 15 m.p.h. of its maximum speed. As regards the bench-seat, mine manages to cope with three adults and I find that I can still see over the bonnet. Perhaps Mr. English and his companions are over-weight! Gear-change: I consider that as far as steering-column gear-changes go the Ford mechanism is very positive. The gear-change gives me no trouble at all, and as regards the difficulty of gaining bottom gear, possibly your correspondent has overlooked the fact that there is no synchromesh on bottom gear and to secure a silent change one reverts to the good old-fashioned habit of double declutching. Perhaps Mr. English was born after that era, or could it be that the clutch withdrawal link requires adjusting?

I cannot agree that the finish is shoddy. In making an approach to any car it is necessary to remember the initial cost of the car, and no one can expect a superb finish to what is a car in the lower-price range. I agree with your correspondent that the back end of the car is on the light side, but this has not occasioned any difficulties. I find the car goes round corners extremely well with no tendency to over-steer. I cannot see what is gained by carrying two ½-cwt. weights in the boot. By placing the engine and weight well forward the makers have been able to provide a car giving good inside room and a large boot. Even if this makes the back end light it is well worth the sacrifice of some degree of back-wheel adhesion. The lack of back-wheel adhesion only becomes apparent on greasy surfaces when maximum torque is being applied on the drive.

If your correspondent requires an object lesson in the roadholding of Consuls and Zephyrs I suggest he attends some of the club meetings at Silverstone, where he can witness the cars going round the corners extremely well. I saw Mrs. Mitchell motoring to some purpose in the S.U.N.B.A.C. high-speed trial in her Zephyr and the only weight that she appeared to carry in the back of the car was the picnic basket!

Now to the “mushroom growth” to the right of the throttle: I find this extremely useful and restful while driving. It has always annoyed me on other cars to find my right foot resting against the panelling, which soon becomes dirty and torn as a consequence. If Mr. English found that he caught his shoe under the foot-rest I can only conclude that in an effort to make the car go faster he had exceeded the limit of travel of the throttle linkage and was merely bending and stretching the connecting-rods to no purpose.

The only real criticism of any worth from your correspondent concerns the rear axle, and I have experienced the same howl which comes in around 45-50. The makers have replaced the axle without charge twice, and the last unit seems to be settling down although it is not completely inaudible and I shall again be seeing the distributor on the matter in the course of the next few weeks.

Mr. English can keep his VW. He quite happily admits to oversteer on wet roads but hopes to get used to it. I hope I do not meet him on a corner on a wet road while he is getting used to the oversteer. Perhaps he should put the two ½-cwt. weights that he carried in the Consul under the bonnet of the VW. Of course, he could not do this as there is hardly enough room for a pint bottle of milk let alone a ½-cwt. weight.

I would suggest to Mr. English that as an “M.A.” he should have learned to keep his criticism objective and realise that all designers of cars have to be skilled in the art of compromise. In the design of the Consul and Zephyr it seems to me that a car has been produced that is not only acceptable to the family man but also provides lively motoring and good roadholding for the enthusiast. One cannot have the best of both worlds in a cheap mass-produced car, but a very good attempt has been made of combining the two.

I am, Yours, etc.,
R. E. Killpatrick.
Coventry.

* * *

Wanted — Better Batteries

Sir,
I read with interest your unbiased road-test reports of various cars, and your comments on accessories. I have never yet seen a test, comment or even reader’s letter on that vital component; the battery.

On my October, 1951, A90 the battery as fitted was no longer able to self-start the car after 17 months and was replaced by another of the same make, which in turn has given up the ghost after 19 months. I know the four-cylinder, 7.5 to 1 compression ratio, engine is no easy task to turn, but the batteries were serviced correctly, and the car runs on 20 or 30 oil, according to the season. Surely an average life of 18 months is not enough?

Anyway I shall now try a make which sells for less than half the price and is guaranteed for 1 ½-years.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Charles Peter Harrison.
Ingoe.

* * *

“No” to Aintree

Sir,
It is with surprise that I learn of the decision to transfer the British Grand Prix from Silverstone to Aintree, the reason given being that it is an opportunity for Northern enthusiasts to see the event.

I regard this as a very retrograde step, as many who have attended meetings at Aintree will agree.

First, due to the intervening horse track, the road is too far away from the public enclosures to provide a good spectacle and the viewing at the corners is severely restricted. Admitted some racing is visible, through glasses, on the -centre of the course, but even here the corners are obscured by advertising signs.

Secondly the very high prices charged for the facilities that are available suggest a return to the pre-war idea of “The right crowd and no crowding,” which is one reason why we were without a British Grand Prix for nearly twenty years.

In the third place Aintree is situated in what can only be described as industrial surroundings after the pleasant atmosphere of our other circuits. Finally the R.A.C.’s reason for the move does not carry much weight, As the support by the public at Aintree to date cannot possibly justify it. The two meetings held so far have both had good entries, on a par with, say, the Silverstone International Trophy meetings, but the attendances have barely reached those of an average Goodwood meeting, and this in the centre of a densely-populated area.

The Grand Prix races organised at Silverstone have, to date, been very well run and the B.R.D.C. have been donated a considerable sum of money for improvements, and many have been carried out, with a view, no doubt, of making that circuit the centre of British racing.

I suggest that all enthusiasts raise their voices in protest at the proposed move; in an effort to retain Britain’s top-line event at a circuit under the control of an organisation whose sole interest is the furtherance of motor sport, and not see the race transferred, with detrimental effects, to a venue where motor-racing must always take second place to another sport.

I am, Yours, etc.,
G. P.
Shirley. Birmingham.

Sir,
I have been a regular reader of your excellent journal for just over four years and have enjoyed every issue. I don’t always agree with your opinions (how refreshingly frank they are, and the road tests, tart), but then that is only to be expected as I am an O.R.M.A. (late B.B.M.A.) associate member, and a keen cyclist as well!

The matter which has prompted me into writing to you is the rumour in this month’s edition of the transfer if the British Grand Prix from Silverstone to Aintree in 1955, a move which has been confirmed in one, at least, of the motoring weeklies. Judging by recent correspondence on the subject, Aintree leaves quite a lot to be desired in the way of value for the spectator’s money. Probably for this reason, the latter do not appear to be attending the circuit in the numbers one would expect from its proximity to areas of dense population. If there are too few spectators, there will be insufficient starting money for this to be a truly representative Grand Prix, which would be a retrograde step in view of the post-war history of this event. I have attended all the postwar Grands Prix at Silverstone and each one has been better organised than its predecessor. I am sure that there are many hundreds of enthusiasts who would prefer the G.P. to remain at Silverstone, with its near central position in the country, rather than have it transferred to the much less accessible Aintree circuit. I wonder, therefore, if you could bring this to the notice of the R.A.C. in an attempt to return the Grand Prix to Silverstone.

I am, Yours, etc.,
T. A. Wells.
London. N.17.

A Zephyr Enthusiast

Sir,
I have been waiting, in vain, for the appearance in your columns of a champion on behalf of the Ford Zephyr, about which I have read some ignoble and, I think, prejudiced comment contributed by your readers.

May I take up the cudgels on behalf of this excellent vehicle and, in doing so, may I open with the following statement? I believe that there is no other vehicle in a similar price bracket which offers the advantages of the Zephyr, if the prospective owner must transport his wife, modest family and reasonable luggage. But permit me to be factual in a categorical manner.

Engine. — Fully adequate in standard form for everyday use. Standstill to 50 m.p.h. in 16 sec. and, more important. 80-50 in 7.75 sec. No oil at 21,000 miles and reasonably quiet in operation. Petrol consumption is now 22 m.p.g. in town traffic and 26 m.p.g. over a 200-mile journey.

Suspension. — May be described as “restful.” Perhaps not very suitable for Stowe Corner at high speed, but it deals with our cobbles and level crossing, etc., in an admirable manner, and I shall not be invited to drive round Stowe at high speed in my Zephyr mainly because no one, least of all myself, would be interested in this employment of the vehicle.

Brakes. — Which to my knowledge do not fade, and will stop the road-wheels from rotating. Furthermore, in synchronised cessation on wet cobbles. As you press harder so you stop shorter, and there is a definite ratio here, which is very pleasant and reassuring, and unlike most of the mass-produced hydraulic systems which give me the same feeling as that experienced when stepping into a bog.

Gears. — Short lever, short travel. click-click. Try a Vanguard first if you have masochistic tendencies.

Final Drive. — I must avert my honest blue eyes, but the F.M.C. did replace it free of all cost and out of the guarantee period. If you write to them, you discover that they are the nicest people.

Bodywork. — Sound, comfortable and well finished. I like bucket seats, myself, but the bench has its advantages in a family car.

Styling. — Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Now be it known that my Zephyr has covered 21,000 miles in twelve months. It has not indicated any programme of disintegration, nor evinced any sign of slack assembly. The car runs much the same as it did twelve months ago, i.e., to my demand and satisfaction. Lest it be thought that this satisfaction is slaked with vin ordinaire, I would add that I too would like to possess an Ecurie Ecosse castoff, and that I, too, in the manner of Walter Mitty, have a secret life in which is figured the “Thinwall Special.”

But to return to reality, the Zephyr is backed by a magnificent service, which I do not need unless I am grossly unfair to the car. If I so desire, I can have all the bearings renewed for six pounds odd. Cans’t match that, friends? At that figure, I can afford to be an indirect customer of the Vandervell. Can you ?

I drive other marques whenever I am granted the opportunity, and every opportunity serves to harden my choice of the next car that I shall buy. What is that? Surprise! Surprise! Another Zephyr!

Finally, may I remark that if I must go through the hedge, I shall not be forced to view the direction of travel through the rear window. I am led to believe that on wet, poor surfaces, this is a distinct possibility in the life of a Volkswagener. This infant has always believed that inherent stability is a lovesome thing. One pace forward all volunteers who would fly an aircraft which proceeds tail forward should the pilot underestimate a turn! The conditions differ but the underlying principle of inherent stability is common.

Now to raise another subject, entirely detached front the previous. I retire with shouts of “Whoopee !” for the G.P. at Aintree! Come North, you sluggards. We are weary of trailing down to a deserted airfield which has no hotel accommodation of reasonable capacity for miles around

We are roughly half-way between London and Glasgow, and that is a much more convenient state of affairs to most people, so be good democrats and cease bleating.

I am, Yours. etc.,
N. Bradpiece.
Manchester 8.

“A Clean Sheet of Paper “

Sir,
Take a clean sheet of paper indeed! You have publicised at least one long-felt want. The manufacturer who can produce “a saloon able to accelerate nearly as well as a sports car … a 2-litre engine . .. one third the price of the Bristol” will find a ready market for two very good reasons:

First, there is virtually no one in the field.

Every year a proportion of the car-owning public finds itself facing this problem — a proportion large enough to be considered by a courageous manufacturer.

Now just what can these people get today for their £1,000 — or well over for that matter — a second or 22nd-hand car, perhaps worth having, but with spares and servicing a difficult question: or a new box-on-wheels, just another variation on a well-worn postwar theme, of interest only to the assured but over-supplied market whose car is merely motor transport.

In the whole list of standard cars available in this country today there is perhaps one — the Citroën Fifteen; possibly the new Magnette with more steam might do it (if I may heap coals of fire on the ill-advised head of Mr. Bishop). One is under-powered; the other is not English and is really now out of date; neither can be bought as a convertible.

Will no manufacturer “have a go” to produce such a car, as Triumph have so courageously and successfully “had a go” in the sports-car field?

I am, Yours, etc.,
J. R. Scarr.
Guildford.

* * *

Sir,
Your article entitled “Take a Clean Sheet of Paper,” in the October issue of Motor Sport, gives much food for thought, and although viewing the position from 6,000 miles away, I would like to submit the foliowing views.

I am sure that many motorists, not only in Britain but also overseas, will regret the passing of the name of Jowett from the field of car manufacturing. (I understand from Press reports that their factory has been sold, and that the directors have no further plans for continuing car production.) Cars from that comparatively small Bradford factory have not only won a name for themselves as first-class touring vehicles, but the Javelin and Jupiter upheld British prestige in International rallies and sports-car races. As far as the Jowett design of engine is concerned, here is surely an existing and well-tried unit for the product of a car factory such as you visualise — in the 1,500-c.c. Class.

I suggest further that the flat-four Jowett engine would adap very suitably for use in a rear-engined car — the compact unit locate ahead of the rear axle, with cooling catered for by two small radiators mounted in the leading edges of the rear mudguards.

Is not here the nucleus for a British manufacturer to produce a car, of really modern design, which would possibly rival the very successful Volkswagen in the markets of the world?

I am, Yours, etc.,
John Van Heerde.
Cape Town.

* * *

The Rapier

Sir,
It was with considerable interest that I read in November Motor Sport of the existence of a flourishing Register for Lagonda Rapiers, and I am writing in the hope that one of your older and more knowledgeable readers will be able to explain to me the mysterious aversion which most motorists seem to have for this model.

I drove a 1934 fixed-head coupé for the last three years, and I was never able to discover any cause for great alarm. The car was in a somewhat dilapidated condition at first, but once it had been thoroughly overhauled the engine was completely reliable, the gearbox gave no trouble at all, and the brakes were better than those of many modern cars. In view of the weight of the wood-framed body, the performance of the little 1,100-c.c. engine was quite phenomenal; with the aid of the preselective gearbox, modern saloons up to 1 ½ litres could generally be disposed of quite easily, and 55 m.p.h. could be held all day. The steering was the best I have ever tried, requiring only 1 ½ turns from lock to lock (although the lock was admittedly very poor). Cold starting was always instantaneous, if the carburetters were flooded, and 29 m.p.g. could be achieved without trying.

It is true the car had its faults. In the first place the suspension was exceptionally hard, and it was impossible to adjust the friction-type shock-absorbers to a “happy medium,” so that one either bumped violently in speed limits, or had bad roadholding over 55 m.p.h., except on the best roads: This could no doubt be cured by fitting shock-absorbers adjusted from the dashboard, but it was most irritating at times. The narrow-section tyres made roadholding in the wet very poor, and the back end would break away at the slightest provocation. This fault was made much worse by the complete absence of roll, but I have seen some Rapiers fitted with smaller wheels and larger tyres, and this probably makes quite a difference.

Apart from all that, however, a journey of 200-300 miles was not at all tiring, and the engine would run up to very high revs, without suffering. The construction of the chassis and engine was in the best vintage tradition, and for some reason a heater was never found necessary in the winter. Nevertheless, the greatest difficulty was experienced in disposing of the Rapier, and it was eventually sold to a dealer at a very low price. When application was made to the R.A.C. for insurance, the restrictions on the cover-note overflowed out of the space provided! A strong protest was made, and we received a reply to the effect that there was something in what we said, but their brokers refused to alter their terms, so presumably we would wish to continue with our previous insurers! (We did.)

Spare parts can, I believe, be obtained, although they are often expensive and difficult to locate. Here again, one comes up against this mysterious attitude towards this little car; Lagonda Ltd. no longer supply parts, and many Lagonda specialists seem reluctant to acknowledge the existence of the Rapier.

Anyway, may I wish the Rapier Register the best of luck in their endeavour to keep these cars on the road. I think they were the best 10-h.p. cars ever built.

As a final word, I should like to say, in reply to the letter in the same issue from Mrs. Black, that during her search she could not have found a Rapier, as my dimensions are even greater, and I have had had no difficulty.

I am, Yours, etc.,
A. Hill.
Stapleford.

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