The Austin that marched

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[Continuing from the November issue, the account by Charles Metchim, now resident in Nairobi, of how he competed at Le Mans in 1933 and 1934 with his Austin Seven]

It was extraordinarily difficult with a car so small to find a first class event in which it would stand any chance whatsoever. Long and earnestly were results and speeds scanned. It was noticed that the 1932 Targa Florio had been won at 51.27 mph. But further investigation revealed that this had been achieved by an Alfa-Romeo driven by Tazio Nuvolari. We went right on looking !

Then I recalled that in the 24-Hour Race at Le Mans all classes were catered for. I checked up on the possibilities of a 750 cc car competing there. The findings were electrifying.

In addition to the above, two other MGs of 850 cc had also made the attempt, without success. They covered 28 and 52 laps, respectively.

Samuelson and Kindell had almost done it until, in the closing stages of the race, a piston had gone and they had been unable to keep up the minimum lap speed. And in 1932, Samuelson had again entered the fray, supported by the redoubtable Norman Black, only to be once more defeated. Moreover, it was quite clear that as long as one could keep moving there would be an extremely good chance of finishing high, even of winning the Index of Performance Award. And over and above all this, one might be the first to bring a 750 cc machine through the race. What a moment it was when the ACO wrote saying that my entry for the race had been accepted. What a moment !

Modifications for the race permitted additional carburetters, increases in size of petrol and oil tanks, alterations to gearbox and back-axle ratios, and additional headlamps. On the other hand, increases in compression-ratio, voltage for the lighting, or the number of speeds in the gearbox, were not allowed, nor were alterations to the brake mechanism.

We retained the single big Solex and our equally large petrol tanks but fitted an aluminium sump holding a gallon of oil. With an aluminium cylinder head and a magnificent large-capacity radiator, we were able to view a Centigrade reading of 90 deg with equanimity, knowing that nothing would make it go higher unless trouble set in.

Although it was no longer necessary to carry a mechanic, the terrific weight the car would he carrying—all spares, said the regulations—caused a lot of head-scratching and tests before we settled on a 4.4 to 1 axle-ratio. Preparing the car was bad enough but organising a team made all other difficulties pale ! Including the two drivers, eight people were the minimum number who could effectively see the expedition through. To cut a very long story very short, of the seven others originally chosen, only two made the journey ! Among the “casualties” who fell by the wayside, Hugh Hunter (who was to have been my co-driver) and Ian Macdonald (who was to have been pit-manager) were sorely missed. But John Appleton filled the latter role most ably and was always a tower of strength, as was Ted Lindon who, in the previous years, had been my riding mechanic.

The plan of campaign was exceedingly simple : to finish. Matters were complicated by the appearance of two 750-cc MGs. Both were blown and therefore much faster. If they finished, the 40 per cent, addition on blown cars would, we reckoned, enable us to keep ahead on the Index. We also felt fairly certain that neither would finish. A comedy touch was added when it was found that the supercharged Alfa-Romeos would have to do exactly two laps to our one to equal us on the Index ! The only other point was that we would take the first two laps gently, until all instruments were registering normally. The set speed for 750s in 1933 was trivial-40 mph. But the fact remained, ominous and sobering, that five good cars of three different makes with stout-hearted drivers had all failed. Every one of them !

The Austin, at the start, did not disintegrate. Nor did I wake up and find it was all a dream. On the contrary, the car started and I found I was awake !

Just as I was completing my first lap and able to signal the pit that all instruments were now at normal, a red and cream car raced past—Nuvolari in the Alfa-Romeo. In the lead ! For the next few moments, one was engulfed as the big boys came by en masse. I, also, was now able to work up to the scheduled rpm.

As the second lap was completed I was keeping a sharp look out for “Il Maestro” to come roaring up from astern again. But modest though our schedule was, it was altogether too much, even for him. We were dropping down the hill past the pits into the Esses before the avalanche reappeared. Nuvolari was still ahead but Chiron’s blue Alfa-Rorneo was pressing him hotly.

All cars had to do 24 laps of the 8.37 mile circuit—200 miles— before refuelling was permitted. At 12 laps I came in to give Cecil Masters a chance to drive while the car was still running.

On the 23rd lap he was shown the “Come In” signal and on the next lap he handed over. Masters brought dismaying news. The engine was running perfectly but the clutch was difficult to disengage . . .

Every sort of trouble had been experienced in the past but never from the clutch. And now, after only four hours of easy running, there was this totally unforeseen threat to our chances; in only four hours! While the car was being filled up. Appleton said : “If the car will get away, don’t use the clutch again.” That meant, on the flying lap, twelve changes without the clutch, two of which, at Mulsanne and Arnage, were down into first gear. Masters climbed over the pit counter. I jumped into the car, started the engine and, on a signal from Appleton, took the car away. The clutch had felt very stiff, but it had disengaged, so once away we had nothing to fear except clutchless gear changing, which soon became automatic.

Meanwhile, the battle up in front raged with unabated fury, the Nuvolari-Sommer Alfa-Romeo staving off the sustained challenge of Chiron and Cortese, driving a similar car. And three other Alfas filled third, fourth and fifth positions. The leader was lapping at around 89 mph. But our hopes were rising. We had passed one of the MGs—Parker’s—broken-down near Mulsanne and out of the race. The remaining MG was going great guns, but then so were we, and the car pulled in for its second refuel soon after 10 pm, no less than forty minutes ahead of schedule. Being intent, at that stage of the race, only in finishing, our position on index was not being worked out by the pit. A pity !

Masters now took over again, the engine started and the clutch would not disengage . . . All our forty minutes’ lead slipped away while Ted Linden worked indefatigably in the darkness to make the clutch work. Ten more minutes went by and then Ted said “Have a try.” There was another horrible crunch but the gear went in and the car shot off into the fray once more. A sympathetic crowd gave a roar of encouragement and Masters went away with their cheers in his ears. Shortly afterwards, the front shock-absorber broke away from its central bracket and made the car difficult to hold. Whether it could have been repaired was of no consequence because from now on, whenever the car stopped at the pits, it was by no means certain it would ever be able to leave again. Masters drove on through the night and the agonising moment for his refuelling drew nearer and nearer. Would I be able to get the car away again ? Masters brought the car in, having built up a lead of over 28 minutes. Once more the refuelling and again the clutch would not disengage.

In anticipation of this, Appleton had his emergency measures organised. The rules forbade pushing the car. First gear had proved too high for starting the car in gear on the starter. So the floorboards of the pit were pulled up and oiled. The car was jacked up, the gear engaged and the engine started. Then, with the rear wheels rotating in mid air, the jack was lowered. But, despite the wheelspin engendered by the oil on the boards placed under the rear wheels when they came down, the engine stalled again and again. Abandoning this method, Ted Lindon again got to work on the clutch. While he worked, john Appleton told me that I was to drive for the next seven hours as Ted Lindon reckoned that the clutch could only be released once more after this stop. Then, with Masters driving for the remainder of the race, we should be home … After a stop of only 20 minutes, Ted Lindon, that incomparable mechanic who spent his spare time disguised as a broker at Lloyds, said : “Have a try.” And away I went, with hours and hours of driving ahead.

Despite the lack of a front shock-absorber the car could be got round at a speed that satisfied the pit. On the other hand, giving way to faster cars was difficult owing to the tendency to wander. A “faster” signal from the pit would have been most unpopular !

At 3 am, the night was bitterly cold. Through the Stygian darkness the car pressed on, lurching unpleasantly, the driver’s teeth chattering from the combined effects of fatigue, fright and cold ! But we were still ahead of the Index figure, gaining all the time. Added to this was the encouragement when, on rounding White House, one could see the lights of the pits ahead; better still. our own signal standing out clearly, the light winking in the OK position, a brief glimpse of the signaller waving his hand, and then back into the gloom and drizzle once more. But no matter how well the car was going there remained the torturing thought : when we came in for the refuel, would the car get away again ? Could the clutch be freed for that one vital split second in which to engage the gear ? A smear of light in the murk ahead denoted daybreak, a “breather” for me when the lights could be switched off and. most important of all, a build-up for the battery which might have to be used to start the car in gear, although this had already been proved ineffective.

On and on. Now the headlamps were out and one could see and recognise the other cars. Chiron was still in headlong pursuit of Nuvolari, the blue Alfa-Romeo challenging the cream and red. Behind came the red Alfa of Chinetti and Varent, with Brian Lewis in another Alfa hard on their heels. The surviving MG was still going well, but then so was the Austin: if it did not have to stop. Then, at 7 am it began to rain on the Mulsanne-Arnage section of the circuit. When I was within about half-a-mile of Arnage. I saw the crowd running towards the bend. A marshal leaped out into the road, flourishing a blue flag. Down into second, into first, and round the bend. The crowd were still running on the grass on the inside of the corner. And there, off the road, blazing like a torch, was a scarlet Alfa-Romeo, flames no less scarlet belching forth into sooty smoke. I thought I could see the driver still in the car. Across the road, entirely blocking it, lay a tree. And I could not stop! Once I came to a standstill, I could not get the Austin away single-handed. And the road was blocked. Slowing right down, I drove off the road into the thinner branches of the tree. There was a hideous crash. splinters flew in all directions, the car bumped down again and came back on to the road. We were through ! But, like a camera shutter. the tired mind flicked back to the appalling spectacle of the blazing car and the driver inside. Perhaps not concentrating sufficiently, I took the car too wide at Arnage and scraped the bank; the Austin seemed to be lurching more drunkenly than ever. As I passed the pit, who had been wondering why the car was late, I signalled that an accident had occurred. [This presumably refers to the accident which befell Mme Siko—she was thrown out of the car and not badly hurt.—Ed] Up the hill past the pits and down to the Esses. I must have been more shaken than I knew, because the car scraped the fencing once more. Again there were splinters flying, a glimpse of terrified spectators recoiling. For one frightful moment I thought the car was going through but at last, after an age, it broke clear.

The car was behaving oddly. It. seemed to take an enormous amount of lock to get round the corner leading on to the long straight. But as the speed rose again, she seemed to get steadier except for the usual occasional lurching that had been going on for hours. Mulsanne again. How I prayed that they had been able to get that tree out of the way ! A few more jars like that and the car would start to break up. Round the corner—and the way was clear. Flames were still bursting fitfully from the Alfa but the fire was now under control. Arnage again and once more, although the wheel was hard over, a wing just touched the pallisade. Clearly I was suffering from exhaustion. Doing frenzied mental arithmetic, I tried to calculate whether the car could do the eight hours to the finish without refuelling; I had been driving for 53/4 hours of my seven. Without warning my unhappy pit I pulled in. Luckily, all were on the alert. What a wonderful team they were! I climbed out and apologised to John Appleton. I said I thought I had been so shaken by the crash at Mulsanne that I could not drive any more. The car seemed uncontrollable. Ted Linden, from underneath the Austin, called out : “The drag-link on the near-side has broken !”

The rules state “all spares to be carried on hoard the car.” We did not carry a spare drag-link. Masters tried to pursuade the officials that the car was safe when driven with only one wheel able to steer ! The officials failed to see his point of view. For us, the end. After sixteen hours .

We sat, disconsolate, in the pits, having wheeled the car, not without difficulty, back to the dead-car park, where Ted Lindon fitted a new drag-link in about a quarter of an hour .. . Fatigued and depressed though we were, it gradually began to penetrate through our gloom that we were witnessing a race the like of which has never been seen, either before or since, at Le Mans. Nuvolari had come in at dawn with a front wing loose and a leaking tank. While the car was being worked on at the pit, both the Alfa-Romeos of Chiron and Chinetti passed, so that when Sommer took over from Nuvolari, their Alfa had dropped to third place. But not only was Chinetti closing up on Cortese, now driving Chiron’s car, but Sommer was also closing up on Chinetti ! In due course Cortese brought the car in to refuel but starter trouble delayed them long enough for Chinetti to take the lead. Chiron got away after a very brief delay but with Sommer right on his heels. At the end of his spell Chiron had recaptured the lead from Chinetti who in turn had also been passed by the Sommer-Nuvolari car. Nuvolari, as usual, found being second oppressive; he went after Cortese. Remorselessly the gap narrowed. The crowd, well aware of what was happening, roared encouragement every time the two cars went streaking past the tribunes.

Do what he could, Cortese could not stave off “Il Maestro.” Amid thunderous cheers, the little Italian came flying up the road from White House with Cortese hanging on desperately close behind. Up the hill, the two cars fled and then—oh fatal error !—Cortese tried to hold Nuvolari through the Esses. The pale blue car slid badly, was corrected but then, completely off the line for the corner, slid again and smote the bank, buckling a wheel and bending the front axle beyond repair. He got the car back to the pits at a crawl, but his race was run. The unhappy Cortese sat weeping on the pit counter while Chiron paced backwards and forwards raging. Now Nuvolari was well in the lead, with Chinetti second and Brian Lewis third. The time was midday. Simmer took over, but the leak in the petrol tank had worsened. Twice he came in for brief stops, and it bceame clear that a first-elass crisis was developing for the leader. On Sommer’s second stop, Nuvolari took over again, to drive to the finish. When Nuvolari pulled in for attention to the still leaking tank. The Chinetti-Varent Alfa-Romeo closed up. Having got away in the lead—just—a distracted pit staff, after only two more laps, saw Nuvolari signal that he was coming in again. And while they worked frenziedly to reduce the leak, Chinetti went past to take the lead. Needless to say, this did not suit Nuvolari at all. He settled down to hunt Chinetti and methodically clipped off second after second. The time came when this irresistible wizard brought his car past Chinetti and began to widen the gap. Then, to the despair of his pit, he signalled he was coming in. The leak was again growing worse. The stop was very brief and on getting away, Nuvolari was content to stave off Chinetti. He had to economise on fuel in order to complete the statutory twenty-four laps between refills.

At about 2 o’clock he brought the car in, refuelled, had the leak attended to, and again got away in the lead. Only twenty seconds behind, the doughty and persistent Chinetti urged his car onwards in pursuit. Now Nuvolari’s brakes were failing. It was Chinetti’s turn to cut down his rival’s lead.

At a quarter past three Nuvolari recognised that, if he was going to finish at all, he would have to pull in and have the leaking fuel tank repaired. Into his pit he came and while the mechanics toiled, Chinetti, relentless as Fate, seized the lead once more. Nuvolari realised that he was up against it. His reaction was typical. With virtually no brakes left he flung his car round the circuit. Now Chinetti had to come in to refuel and a heroic decision was taken by his pit manager. Despite the loss of time, it was decided to fit two new rear wheels, hoping that the restored roadholding and braking would give the car the decisive advantage over the cream and red Alfa storming round the circuit behind. Chinetti’s mechanics made a magnificent job of the wheel-change and the car, with Varent at the wheel, was away! But even as they had lowered the car off the jacks. Nuvolari went blasting by to take the lead

The time was then about half past three. Half an hour to go ! Nuvolari, pursued by Varent, about three miles ahead with failing brakes; Varent with new tyres. And there was no doubt about it at all. Varent’s car was catching Nuvolari’s, not slowly either. A distraught crowd, sleepless, voiceless, emotions exhausted, flapped their arms aimlessly. Two laps left to go before 4 o’clock. When the cream and red car appeared round White House, a murmurous sigh came from the packed spectators. Right behind came Varent. The two cars roared by the tribunes on their last lap, with Varent about two lengths behind Nuvolari. In the rush down to the Eases. Varent took the lead. In the long straight past the Hippodrome Cafe, Nuvolari regained it. In the braking down to Mulsanne, Varent took the lead again. For Nuvolari it was now or never. Brakes or no brakes, he had to pass before the Esses at Arnage. The two cars left Mulsanne and accelerated flat out. On the rush down to the Esses Nuvolari edged past into the lead, held it through the Eases, and at Arnage, where Varent made his last desperate attempt, almost lost it again. But once round Arnage, there was no hope for Varent; Nuvolari would hardly touch his brakes before the finish.

And so, with the chequered flag flying for him, Nuvolari came up from White House for the last time Nine seconds afterwards— repeat nine seconds—Varent brought Chinetti’s car over the line into second place. This was the only occasion that Nuvolari drove at Le Mans. He and Sommer won the Grand Prix d’Endurance, at 81.4 mph, the Final of the Rudge Whitworth Cup and the 3-litre class. For good measure, Sommer put the lap-record up to 90.96 mph. The Nuvolari-Sommer combination did not quite sweep the board. First in the Index of Performance was the Newsome-Peacock 1,100-cc Riley, with the supercharged 750-cc KG, driven by Ford and Baumer, second. Third came the Alfa-Romeo. It was unfortunate that in the frenzy of the finish, all other feats were overshadowed, even that of the MG which made the coveted record of being the first car of 750 cc ever to finish at Le Mans and was actually sixth in the Grand Prix d’Endurance

Even we had our recompense. Had we won, we could not have had a more tumultuous reception than when we drove through the Place de la Republique on the way back to our headquarters. And next day, in the Press, Charles Faroux praised our effort as did Sammy Davis who, during the period of preparation, had given us unlimited assistance and the benefit of his immense experience on the Sarthe Circuit. And while the ache of that failure has never quite gone it was considerably eased when, a few months later, I was able to mount on the car that badge which carries a Union Jack above a green racing car.

Back in England, a tremendous fillip was given to road-racing enthusiasts by the opening of Donington Park Circuit. Having always made a point of first visiting the circuit on which I intended to compete, on this one occasion, I rashly omitted to do so. Hearing that the course was hilly with many bends and being advised to fit the lowest ratio available, I went to the second meeting at Donington with a 5.9 to 1 axle ratio. This resulted, in the event, with the engine going extremely fast but not the car. Against a field of 850-cc MGs we could do no better than fourth out of six. Bad “marching” !

But always one’s thoughts were flitting across the Channel to Le Mans. The supreme hope of being the first to bring a 750 cc home had gone for ever. But we still had a very good chance of pulling off the Index even though the set speed for the 750s had gone up by 4 mph.

We set about building the most potent Ulster ever. The ugly orange body was scrapped and replaced by the very pleasant-looking Ulster body. Also fitted was the Ulster front axle, making the car much lower. The auxiliary oil tank was fitted inside the body instead of outside as previously. The 9 gall tank was placed in the tail and the 4-gall scuttle-tank tetained. Oldham, insured us against battery failure by building into a 12-volt casing two 6-volt units, one as a spare. Back went the 4.4 to 1 rear axle-ratio and with it went a higher second speed. In support of all this the engine was once more bolted on to the two enormous Zenith triple diffusers.

It is in the nature of the beast, that with a lot more power, the internal-combustion engine also produces a lot more heat. To contend with this, a new crankcase was obtained giving a fan drive. It did not have, as I would have wished, a magneto drive as well but we were not unduly perturbed, as we intended to fit a Vertex.

Then the first blow fell. “The Vertex,” said the Scintilla people, “is too heavy for the drive on the Ulster engine.” So we had to fit a coil; destestable device.

After the Vertex disaster, the blows fell so thick and fast that even over the gulf of years, it seems incredible that we could have had such a run of bad luck. But did not the Immortal Bard anticipate “Les Vingt Quatre Heures” by saying that “sorrows come not as spies but by battalions” ? People said afterwards that our 1934 effort was much better than the previous year. Little did they know ! The major disaster concerned the team. John Appleton left to drive for Aston Martin ; Leslie Dyball, who had dealt with the timekeeping so conspicuously well, was bereaved as the team was about to leave for France. In the race, the second driver was overcome by the occasion and failed to respond to pit signals. The new clutch proved itself no better than the old one of the previous year. The only thing which did not break that had broken in 1933 was, thank God, the steering. Instead it was—yes, as expected—the coil !

We did, however, have our moments. We made a stupendous start and were fifth—for one-fifth of a second—in the Grand Prix ! Actually, for one-tenth of a second, I thought we might lead under Dunlop Bridge, but four gigantic motor cars leaped out of nowhere and nearly pushed the car through the railings. Then, on the second lap, the handbrake stuck on, so that I went down the long straight at an impressive 35 mph, unable to understand what had happened. What a relief when I found out !

With the dual carburation, the car could and did do 74 mph down the long straight, while with the higher second and first gears, speeds of over 60 and 40 mph, respectively, were possible. Not least, using the same axle-ratio and the same revs as in 1933, the car was 3 mph. faster per lap, such was the improvement to the roadholding (through the underslung front axle), acceleration and braking. Once again the smallest car in the race, we had four larger cars behind us after the first hour, and Sommer’s Alfa-Romeo had retired. When clutch trouble and coil trouble arrived simultaneously and delayed us for nearly an hour and a half, after midnight, we got going again to such good purpose that at 5 am we had climbed twelve more places in the Grand Prix, which was not so dusty ! Then there was one of the incredible pile ups at White House, with cars through the hedge, facing the wrong way, and reversing out of fields. Next, one saw Saunder-Davis’ Alfa-Romeo being pushed to the dead-car park and, later, another Alfa, Lord Howe’s, stationary by the side of the road. This left only one Alfa-Romeo in the running and it was this car, driven by Chinetti and Etancelin, that won the race, quite comfortably, at 74.74 mph, from a 11/2-litre Riley.

As for us, condenser trouble set in (“the one thing that won’t give trouble, old boy”). I managed to get the car in for its scheduled refuelling just before midday. Then the spare condenser did not fit and had to be wired on outside. The second driver took the car away. It appeared to be travelling as well as ever. Then, on its 95th lap, with the other 750s already retired, the condenser fell off. There was no other spare. The car was therefore out of the race. . . 

The progress that has been madle by the 750 cc class since those days is truly astonishing. Their average for the whole race is not far short of Nuvolari’s record lap in 1931 ! Which only goes to show. Driving the Austin home, and while passing through Rouen, I fell asleep at the wheel. A motor-cyclist struck the car amidships. The shock cracked the cylinder block and stove in the side of the car. The motor-cyclist described a parabola over the stricken car and made a perfect three-point landing, completely unhurt, farther on. Despite the damage, the car, “Le petite Austin qui marche ton fours, mon Dieu” was driven first to Calais and then to my home, under its own power. But not by me. I was in hospital, for nearly two months with a broken arm. We were not let off much in that 1931 Le Mans ! And that was the end of the story for the Austin “that marched.” Great days, my masters, great days !

[This account, which I am so glad to have obtained, shows how the “inside story sometimes betters even contemporary accounts. Even in the book on the history of Le Mans by Georges Fraichard, Metchim’s retirement in 1933 is quoted as clutch trouble, whereas we now learn that the real cause was a broken steering drag-link. Incidentally, in the same book there is a photograph which purports to show Metchim’s Austin in the 1933 race; in fact, it depicts one of the “Grasshopper” type Austin Sevens in a later Le Mans race. And the cause of the gallant little car’s retirement in 1934 is now correctly established as failure, of the ignition condenser. Ed]

Stopping the new Morris Minor

A successful racing driver has many subsidiary tasks open to him, and thus Hawthorn tests ordinary cars for the Sunday Express and recently Moss has conducted a series of outspoken road-tests for the Sunday Times. This latter, a series of eight, had the merit that Stirling was permitted to write exactly what he thought of each car, a practice we commend, for Motor Sport has long held the opinion that only if a test includes honest criticism will praise bestowed on a car have any significance.

In his comments on the new Morris Minor 1,000 which appeared on October 28th, Moss refers to the price of this car being unchanged—despite we quote Moss— “the increase in power and larger brakes.” Is Stirling right about those brakes ? At Earls Court people were heard to express the opinion that with its increased speed, which some put at as much as 80 mph, and Moss at “well over 70” the Minor should have been given larger brakes. Yet the SMMT Motor Show catalogue for this year and for 1953 both state that the Morris Minor has “Lockheed 7-in diameter hydraulic brakes, two-leading shoes on front: cable-operated handbrake automatically adjusted by footbrake adjustment,” which surely proves that the brakes of this smallest Morris have remained unchanged for at least three years. Indeed, this BMC economy car shares 7-in brakes with other small economy cars like the Astra, Austin A35, Fairthorpe Atom, Renault 750 and Standard Eight and Ten, in spite of its new 950-cc engine having the very high compression-ratio of 8.3 to 1 (Moss puts it at 8.1 to 1). Its lining area is 110 sq in. 

It is significant that Continental small cars generally have larger brakes, even the tiny Goggomobil having drums of 71/2 in diameter, while the Fiat 600 has a lining area of 109 sq in, the Renault Dauphine 133 sq in, the Volkswagen 136 sq in (9-in drums), the Citroen 2 cv, noted for its sensible braking, 140 sq in, while, in this country, the Ford engineers use 8-in diameter drums on the Anglia and Prefect (126 sq in). and drums of no less than 10-in diameter (157 sq in) on the Popular, which has only 30 bhp to the Minor 1.000’s 37 bhp. Even the little BMW Isetta has a braking area of 132 sq in. So, having given the Minor a larger engine, perhaps BMC will consider providing it with the larger brake with which Stirling Moss’ wishful-thinking endowed it in the pages of the Sunday Times.

The Architect looks at the 1957 cars

Through the thoughtfulness of a reader we have seen the thought provoking Editorial in The Architects’ journal for October 25th entitled “Not Quite Architecture—In Lotus Land.” The author of this delightful discourse, Reyner Bonham, sought to emphasise that motorists do not want old styling in new cars, the demise of the razor-edge Triumphs and TF MG being quoted to prove his point. Yet, considers Mr Bonham, except for the cars from Ford and the Rootes Group, the customers are not getting friskier styling on English cars. He wonders how it is that the “American stylist looks over last year’s model, ties a couple of knots in the chrome-work, and two Continents cheer,” and notes that the “Italian stylist breathes gently on the side panels, and gets a different sculptor to do the door pulls, and all Europe drools,” yet “the only voice that breaks the ensuing embarrassed silence” (after the English stylist has done his all) “is that of Aunty Times chanting ‘Craftmanship . . . continuity . . . traditions of . .’ “

This architectural opinion prefers the Renault to the Rover gas-turbine car, and reckons that the General Motors’ Firebird II licks them both. From this reasoning it takes a shrewd knock at “the type of high-pressure motor-industry  man from that Midland town, or the other one” .who “does a lot to keep alive the Marxist idea of Boss Class and Big Money.” This sort of person, Mr Banham observes, wasn’t to be found on the Lotus stand at the recent Motor Show, where Colin Chapman, “a man most likely to succeed” had on view his new F II single-seater. “There seems,” continued Reyner Benham, “a great and unbridgeable gulf fixed between those inside the SMMT ring and those without,” where. styling is concerned. Views not, perhaps, held by architects alone !

Kerbs

Motor Sport has frequently expressed disgust at the mania for kerbstones in this country, which give a touch of the town to rural areas and are a danger to road vehicles. Mr N Howgrave-Graham, Secretary to Scotland Yard from 1927 to 1946, wrote on this subject to the Sunday Times recently, stating “One cause obvious to all motorists, of the increasing number of fatal road accidents is undoubtedly the widespread habit of inserting vertical kerbs along the margins of our country roads. A car skids or is hit, or has to go on the verge to avoid a dog or an oncoming vehicle. If there is no vertical kerb the occupants have a good chace of survival. But a kerb will almost certainly turn the car over or hold it to he crushed.” How very true: will all our road engineers and local councils please take heed of this, using sloping or flat kerbs where kerbs are deemed necessary. As Mr Howgrave-Graham remarks in concluding his letter : “One questions tu right of road engineers to kill a lot of people in order to secure such dubious advantages” (as vertical kerbs offer).