Letters from Readers, December 1955

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

Large v. Small Engines

Mr. Tookey’s letter regarding his Bristol 404 is somewhat puzzling and, I think, a little unfair on the manufacturers.

Whilst he pleads reluctance to occupy space in your excellent journal with a detailed list of complaints, surely he can give some reasons for his wholesale condemnation of a car which, after all, does bear an enviable reputation.

My own experience of the 404 is limited to half a day’s driving and I must say every mile was a joy to one who has become somewhat critical after 30 years of sports motoring.

I can write with a little more authority on other Bristol products, however, having owned a 401 for some 45,000 miles. This car gave unfailing reliability and maintenance of tune over two years of fairly hard driving in every-day use, the only replacements in this period being a battery and starter motor. The gearbox also began to sing a little after 30,000 and whilst many an enthusiast might have ignored this, it didn’t please me and I had it changed.

I do not know what. Mr. Tookey’s ideas of fast driving might be, but I have frequently lunched in Esher, Surrey, and dined at Berwickon-Tweed, which is hardly loitering, bearing in mind the appalling traffic conditions pertaining on Britain’s number one highway — the Little North Lane.

This car gave me real driving pleasure and I parted with it on taking over a 403 with feelings akin to losing a good friend.

The few occasions on which I visited the factory always gave the impression that Bristols are interested in every car that has left their hands and certainly spared no pains to satisfy my somewhat fussy requirements. The same remarks apply to Tony Crook (my local agent) and his staff, who really go out of their way to satisfy their clients in a manner which is rare today. No motor car is perfect and a critical and discerning driver can find faults in any machine, but surely Mr. Tookey’s devastating remarks need a little amplification.

I am, Yours, etc.,
P. G. M. Talbot.


I cannot allow this letter from your correspondent Mr. J. Tookey to go by without a reply.

I have had two Bristol 401s and my 405 has now covered about 3,000 miles, and I can therefore claim some experience of these cars over approximately 50,000 miles, although I must admit I have not driven the 404 nor have I entered my cars for racing, for which they were not designed.

My experience does not agree with that of Mr. Tookey. I have, of course, had some troubles but they have been very minor in character and I have found Bristols most helpful. Their work, if not cheap, has been uniformly satisfactory.

The 1950 401 needed a very heavy foot on the brakes to produce an answer but on the second 401, in 1953, I had Type 403 modifications fitted and had no trouble thereafter. The 405 brakes have so far been excellent and my wife can use them over long distances without fatigue. What Mr. Tookey’s numerous complaints are I do not know, but I should be surprised if instruments did not come into the picture. In my opinion they are the weakest part of the car. The clock on 405 could not survive more than 1,000 miles and a replacement is now necessary. The standard petrol gauge shows E, ¼, ½, ¾, F., which is a futile arrangement. I paid 35s. extra on my car to have the gauge calibrated in gallons and litres; 35s., Sir, for six numbers and two words on the dial! On filling the tank gallon by gallon there is only one reading, 13 gallons, which is correct. Surely in this day and age Smith’s ought to be able to do better than that. On my 401, every instrument gave trouble at some time except, curiously enough, the clock. I am expecting more trouble with instruments on 405, but, please, Mr. Tookey, don’t blame Bristols for this. What alternatives have they?

The Bristol 405 is not everybody’s car even amongst those who can afford one. It is still true that one has to “row it along with the gear lever,” but that is a form of exercise which I personally enjoy. For touring, but not for racing, the overdrive and short stubby gear lever together with the beautiful handling of the car have just put the finishing touch to a thoroughbred performance. I covered 2000 miles through France and Switzerland last summer with 401 in the greatest comfort. The route included the Stelvio and 10 other Alpine passes. No water was required from start to finish, a quart tin of oil sufficed to keep the oil level on the top mark, the brakes needed no adjustment, and I did not have to reverse on any hairpin. On French roads an indicated 80 m.p.h. could he maintained quite comfortably without any rise in water or oil temperatures. Even allowing for an unknown speedometer error, Mr. Tookey’s 50 m.p.h. was certainly exceeded for long distances. It remains to be seen what 405 can do under similar conditions, but with 20 more horses and overdrive I have little doubt about the answer.

One small point of interest. I have tried both Standard Michelin and Michelin “X” on 405. The latter, of course, give extreme tenacity while cornering but if a slight lowering of tenacity can be accepted the standard Michelins give much pleasanter steering with a more comfortable suspension over rough roads. Cornering is still “out of this world.”

Much as I appreciate Motor Sport, I should appreciate it even more if we could have your opinion, Sir, of 405, which seems to have hidden its light under a journalistic bushel.

I am, Yours, etc.,
P. G. M. Talbot.


To say I was amazed and indignant when my husband read to me the letter from Mr. J. Tookey in November’s Motor Sport re his Bristol 404, is to express my feelings very mildly. I am the very proud and satisfied owner of a 1955 Bristol 404 and I can state that during my 17 years driving of all classes of vehicles, from three-ton lorries and ambulances during the last war to a 4½ Lagonda, M.G., S.S., Healey Silverstone and Bentley, I have never experienced a car that has given me such a feeling of comfort with security coupled with performance with economy.

I ran the engine in most carefully according to instructions, and have taken her to Anthony Crook in Esher for regular servicing and have just completed my 10,000 miles.

On my last trip to London I passed two Mark VII Jaguars who were travelling at 90 m.p.h. quite easily. One of the gentlemen promptly gave chase, but at 110 m.p.h. (by my speedometer) gave up in despair, and probably returned home to write an indignant letter to his car manufacturer.

She corners with rock-bottom steadiness at 50 m.p.h. and is the perfect car to drive at speed on a slippery road.

I think I am, for a woman, a consistently fast driver — at least, my husband says so, and he is used to large open sports cars — and I usually allow myself two hours from my house near Norwich to Esher which is approximately 115 miles. I can only conclude that Mr. Tookey has been extraordinarily unlucky, and perhaps a little of his bad luck is due to his not having treated his car with the care and respect such a beautiful creature deserves.

I am, Yours. etc.,
(Mrs.) Daphne Ayckbourn.

(We are delighted to print three of the many letters received defending the Bristol against Mr. Tookey’s attack. Our Bristol 403 has given very little trouble over 30,000 gruelling miles. Front-wheel bearings and brake-linings are the only faults we have to complain of, and the Service Department has been understanding and most helpful. We have nothing but praise for the quality of the workmanship, but we are disappointed that the 403 has gone out of production. — Ed.]

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B.M.C.’s 100-M.P.H. Cars

In the weekly motoring journals I see that B.M.C. proudly advertise as being the only manufacturers to offer five 100-m.p.h. cars (Daimler offering six).

According to the road tests it would appear that the Austin-Healey 100M and the Riley 2.4 Pathfinder would be the only two to achieve this figure, the A90 and 6/90 failing by 10 and 5 m.p.h., respectively; the MGA failing as well by the small margin of 2 m.p.h.

Apparently then the last-mentioned three were hotted up considerably, Pomeroy himself saying the MGA would need 70+ b.h.p. to make it exceed 100 m.p.h.

This hotting-up process could be employed equally successfully on Fords, Vauxhalls, Standards, Sunbeams, Rovers, etc., to name but a few, enabling these production vehicles to claim 100 m.p.h. cars in their ranges.

The achievement then is misleading because of its deception, i.e., making would-be owners of Westminsters and the like think their cars capable of over the “ton.”

Bishop has been at it again and I hope the buying public are not as gullible as B.M.C. thinks.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Brian Crookall.

[This is one of many letters on this subject; we deal with this matter editorially. — Ed.]

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Car Clocks

One of the things that struck me in your discussion, “Show Business” in the current Motor Sport, was your lament over car clocks. How right you are.

I used to think that all car clocks were useless and merely put in to balance the arrangement of instruments on the dashboard (or facia), until I acquired a 1928 Austin Heavy Twelve tourer.

During my exploration of the car, I discovered that the clock swung out from the dashboard and that the winder and adjuster protruded from the back. Just for fun I wound it up and set the hands. The next morning I found that the car clock told me the correct time. It continued to tell me the correct time until it ran down about seven days later. I rewound it. How satisfyingly positive was the winding mechanism, and what a firm and definite click it made as it swung back into place. How I dislike those flexible extensions for which one has to grope under the dash. I can never remember whether one has to pull in order to wind and then push to adjust, or vice versa. I generally pull and perform winding motions, to which the hands of the clock protest by oscillating madly over the face.

I drove up to Yorkshire from my home in Gloucestershire to take up a job. I put most of my personal possessions in the car, including two six-gallon barrels of liquid refreshment, the nature of which shall be un-named in this letter. The barrels sat contentedly on the floorboards between the front and rear seats, barely touching either. How I love plenty of leg room in the back. It is one of my pleasures to sit in the rear seat of a vintage touring car even when it is stationary.

I used the Austin for about a year in Yorkshire before I parted with her. Vibration is a monstrous understatement of the treatment given to a car by the roads of the West Riding industrial area. Rough cobbles and tram lines, pot-holes and patchwork all combine to give the car a most terrible hammering. Until the last day of our partnership the clock kept perfect time in every sort of weather. It probably still does, unless it has stopped as a protest, for the last time I saw the Austin she had been besmirched with foul grey paint, and her wings were brilliant scarlet. Funny hats and simian grins were being worn by her occupants. Children were jumping up and down like marionettes on the pavement, shouting “Gen-er-vicve, Gen-er-vieve”

I have never come across so efficient a car clock. I do so wish the average car clocks today were better. In the winter it is most awkward, not to say dangerous, grovelling for a glimpse at one’s wrist-watch whilst motoring.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Julian M. Webb.

[Since penning our criticism of the Moto Meter clock it has behaved much better, but Mr. Webb is dead right, we have a Smith’s clock taken from a 1914 Hispano-Suiza which works well and exhibits the same fine workmanship. ― Ed.]

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Cars in Films

With reference to the recent correspondence concerning motor cars seen in films, I should like to mention the following: —

British Films:
A “beetle-back” Alvis in “Another Shore” (starring Robert Beatty); an A.C. sports tourer in “Laughter in Paradise” (starring Alastair Sim and George Cole); a DB2 Aston Martin in “The Voice of Merrill ” (starring Valerie Hobson and James Robertson Justice); an S.S.100 in “Root of All Evil” (starring Phyllis Calvert and Michael Rennie); a Vauxhall sports, circa 1925/6, in “They Were Sisters” (starring Phyllis Calvert and James Mason); a Rolls-Royce tourer in “To Paris with Love” (starring Alec Guinness); a Bentley sports, circa 1927/9, in “The Final Test” (starring Robert Morley); a Lagonda tourer in “Raising a Riot” (starring Kenneth More); and an Austin-Healey 100 in “To Dorothy a Son” (starring John Gregson and Shelley Winters).

American Films: 
A TD M.G. in “Monkey Business” (starring Cary Grant); a TC M.G. in “The Fat Man” (starring J. Scott Clark); a Lagonda tourer in “Sorry, Wrong Number” (starring Burt Lancaster and Barbara Stanwyck); an XK120 Jaguar in “To Please a Lady” (starring Barbara Stanwyck and Clark Gable); a Fiat 500 in “Roman Holiday” (starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck); a Mark V Jaguar saloon in “Diplomatic Courier” (starring Tyrone Power); a Messerschmitt cabin-scooter and a Mark VII Jaguar in “A Prize of Gold” (starring Richard Widmark); a Daimler saloon in “Shanghai Story” (starring Edmund O’Brien); a Mark VII Jaguar and a Lloyd sports in “Bedevilled” (starring Anne Baxter); a Sunbeam-Talbot tourer in “Rhapsody” (starring Elizabeth Taylor; a Standard Eight tourer in “Elephant Walk” (starring Elizabeth Taylor and Peter Finch); and a camouflaged XK120 Jaguar (suffering the indignity of being called a “something” special) in “Johnny Dark” (starring Tony Curtis).

In conclusion, of course, the often-mentioned John Cobb Railton (of Outer-Circuit fame) which was featured in “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman” (starring Ava Gardner, James Mason and Nigel Patrick).

I am, Yours, etc.,
Harold Hunt, Jnr.

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What Next? — Why, Motoring Gramaphone Records


The car in fiction, poetry and song has been mentioned in the interesting Motor Sport correspondence, but so far no mention has been made of gramophone records. I have two recordings of Harry Tate’s sketches, “Motoring” (Columbia 320) and “Selling a Car” (Columbia 870), probably made about 1913, with some beautifully veteran dialogue. Sample: “Three speeds, Faith, Hope and Charity; tyres, Done-a-lot,” and so on. There is also a lovely bit of “business” about “pi r squared” — “Twenty-two into seven won’t go, and this car won’t go,” which many older readers will remember. If anyone is interested, they might be lent for veteran gatherings, and so on, although I imagine copyright and performing rights would still apply.

I also have a recording of “The V8 Blues,” by the Three Tobacco Tags, on Regal-Zonophone MR 2378, and on some old American lists I have found “Terraplane Blues,” “New Big 80 Blues” (probably referring to the 1935 “80-h.p.” V8). “I’m going to wreck your Vee-Eight.” “Going to your funeral in a Vee-Eight Ford,” and others with a less obvious automotive angle. Are there any other motoring discs?

I am, Yours, etc., 
Angus McDrmid.

[Correspondence on motor cars on anything other than roads and circuits is now closed.

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The Standard VW

I feel rather diffident about joining the VW correspondence but, when comparing this delectable little car with its nearest British rivals, there is surely one point that everyone seems to overlook — namely that there is a “standard” model available which costs not £88 more than Mr. Glenton’s “Super Ten” but some £10 less.

We have one of these “standard” VWs and for the life of me I cannot understand why people flock to buy the de luxe version. The little “crash” gearbox is a delight. It makes you think about your driving, and for sheer fun I give it points over the synchromesh every time. Which being the case, I certainly would not consider paying nearly £100 more for the de luxe car, just to achieve a phoney coat-of-arms and a few chromium-plated strips. The mechanical brakes fitted to the standard model are well up to the performance of the car, too, and they are absolutely trouble and vice-free.

I am, Yours. etc.,
Andrew Lloyd.

[Letters continue to pour in confirming that our opinion of VW superiority is correct and we select just one agitating the case of the standard VW, which, after import duty and purchase tax have been paid, costs £11 5s. less than the Standard Super Ten. — Ed.]