Letters from readers, December 1964

Customer subsidy


I read with interest, but not with surprise, that orders for the new Austin 1800 are already numerous enough to ensure a long waiting list of would-be owners. Although this car, and indeed the other front-wheel-drive B.M,C. cars, is undoubtedly a brilliant piece of automobile design, I would like to wish the purchasers of early examples the best of luck.

I say this because after three years of Mini ownership I am, not without some misgivings, disposing of it in favour of an admittedly uninspired but, I hope, reliable Ford product, because I have grown tired of unwillingly subsidising B.M.C.’s development programme.

I have assisted B.M.C. in discovering how to keep the engine oil the clutch. In fact, my car has had four clutches in three years and 34,000 miles of motoring, all due entirely to oiling up. This has cost me well over £35 as well as much inconvenience. In each case the work has been undertaken by a main London B.M.C. distributor who cannot, presumably, be accused of incompetence in not curing the fault the first time.

We have developed a gearbox and gear-change that should never have seen the light of day in the first place, until it now approaches the standard which Ford has had since the 105E was first introduced. [But didn’t Ford have a long run of Carburation flat-spots, and ingress of water with the Anglia, and dangerous gearbox seizures with last year’s Cortinas?-ED.] Baulk-ring syncromesh has recently cost me £33 to have fitted. I don’t mind double-declutching in a 1931 Austin Seven but I do object to having to do so in a 1961 Austin Seven when I paid for syncromesh in the first place three years ago.

I finally rebel at the suggestion that all the rattling shock absorbers should be replaced because “the Old type are fitted,” to quote my main London distributor.

On an early model (although July 1961 is hardly an early Mini) I expected “teething” troubles like a soaking distributor when it rains and hand-brake cables seizing up with mud, etc. (petrol pumps on 1100s), but I didn’t expect to suffer because of fundamental engineering faults.

Perhaps B.M.C. would reply that I must have had one of the apparently inevitable “bad ones,” but that is little consolation to one who has had to bear the cost of others’ shortcomings.

All this does not mean that I have been dissatisfied with the car as a whole ; on the contrary, the Mini, my fifth car, has given me more enjoyable motoring than any of the previous four, but, upon analysis, this is because the attractions of the marvellous handling and general appeal of the car outweigh the other failings. If this opinion is commonly held, as I suspect it is, it is not very flattering to B.M.C.

I am all for supporting initiative and automobile design progress, and I believe that the B.M.C. range represents this, but I for one cannot afford to assist personally any more.

Greenford. John Pitchers

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In B.M.C.’s favour


Reading through the November issue of Motor Sport and casting my mind back to the previous issue, I feel I should point out to you that on all later series B.M.C. 1100s, the fuel pump position has been modified so that all the electrical contacts and connections are now reached from within the luggage boot at a point beneath the removable flooring and adjacent to the Spare wheel.

May I now turn to comment on the letter from “Ten Sales Engineers” of Acton, and concur with their view that, in my experience, B.M.C. are by far the most liberal manufacturer in Britain on Warranty interpretation. Among other things, I am responsible for running a small fleet of ears and commercial vehicles, and we have decided to standardise entirely on the Austin 1100for all representatives.

We have found these cars to be remarkably trouble-free, even though, in general, our fleet drivers are heavy-footed and the cars themselves operate on civil engineering sites throughout the country. The major failures, talking in general terms, have been persistent failure of indicator switches, one gearbox failure and two clutch failures. In addition, it would appear that the manufacturers never attempt to adjust the doors before delivery.

On the credit side, it must be said that the tyre wear is excellent, even the heaviest drivers achieving 25,000 miles (15,000 was the general average on conventional cars). Fuel consumption is good and, presumably because of their controllability, the accident record of the Company with the 1100 is much lower than previously.

I believe there were various troubles with the early Morris editions of this car, but since we had none of these, I am unable to pass judgment.

In general, the cars cover 25,000 miles a year as an average, and at no point has the mileage been questioned in any Warranty claim. This is considerably different with our experience with other makes of vehicle.

Another point concerning B.M.C. which may not occur to your readers is that in later years when the cars begin to age„ all mechanical components are available as reconditioned units on an exchange basis; this includes gearboxes and, on conventional cars, final-drive units as well as engines.

To the beat of my knowledge, no such exchange service is available on Fords. If the gearbox on a Ford car fails and a quick replacement is needed, the only way to obtain such a replacement is to buy a new gearbox. The same comment applies to final drives.

I feel quite sincerely that B.M.C. have paid insufficient attention to advertising what, in my experience, is the finest “over the counter” exchange service available from any motor manufacturer in Britain.

In writing these comments, perhaps I should add that I have no connection at all with B.M.C. other than as a generally satisfied customer, but I am also a strong critic.

Wallingford. H. A. Smith.

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The other side of the coin


May I suggest, through your correspondence columns, that the Vehicle and General Group follow up their advertisement with a sequel on these lines?

“There you are, driving carefully along in your sports car which you keep in first-class mechanical condition, you are an I.A.M. member, taking every opportunity to improve your driving by skid-pan practice, attending lectures and film shows— even venturing on to a circuit for practice when possible, when a stream of overladen, dolly-dangling family saloons lurches by at 45-50 m.p.h. in a built-up area. You passed them on the de-restricted road, but they seem to have no regard for speed limits. No wonder there are so many accidents you say to yourself.

“If only, etc., etc…”

Many sports cars nowadays are driven by sober citizens who have realised in their thirties and forties a long-held ambition to own a 2-seater, and, as you say, sports cars properly driven are essentially safer, so why single them out ?

London, S.E.18. Rodney W. Collins

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Who was first with light-alloy pistons?


Can I contribute my piece to the alloy piston story? I remember Major Bentley getting very severely kicked in the teeth for fitting a set of light alloy pistons to an R.F.C. Crossley squadron car. He also fouled the valve timing more than somewhat. The result was bags of speed and noise, but on being switched off the engine ran backwards and broke the camshaft or tappets. This would be 1916 or 1917.

The 1914-19 aero-engines fitted with light alloy pistons were Hispano-Suizas and Curtiss VX for certain, and probably Isotta Franschini. These were lubricated with a mixture of castor and light mineral oils. Most of the others had cast-iron or steel pistons. Rolls I don’t remember. I owned a VX Curtiss 8-cylinder engine of 160 h.p., probably made in 1912; this definitely had light alloy pistons.

So it would seem that W. O. B. was not first, after all.


[Name and address supplied.—ED.]

* * *


I enclose for your interest a cutting taken from the Golden Jubilee booklet of the Birmingham Aluminium Casting (1903) Co. Ltd.

This makes reference to early die-cast aluminium pistons and makes a real contribution, in my opinion, to the discussion now taking place in the correspondence columns of your excellent journal.

For your future information, my father (W. J. Price) is a member of the above Company.

Hoping this is of interest to you.

Birmingham, 17. J. J. Price

The cutting reads as follows:—

“In June 1912, the Managing Director explained the ‘desirability of taking up the “Colinas” method of die casting and proposed that Mr. Cyril Maudslay and Mr. Frank Gower should go over to Paris with the Institute of Automobile Engineers and that they should become members of that Institution.’ This laid the foundation of a most important activity, ‘BIRMAL,’ now being one of the World’s leading die casters in light alloys. What is, perhaps, not so well known is that ‘BIRMAL’ was the pioneer of the die-cast aluminium piston, which made really high-speed petrol engines a practical possibility. It is interesting to note that this improvement went quite unrecognised until it travelled to U.S.A. and back again. In November 1914, Mr. Alleyne, a Vice-President of the Aluminium Company of America, visited the ‘BIRMAL’ works and was Shown the piston by Mr. Owen, who was chiefly responsible for this development. He was so impressed with the possibilities of this new idea that he asked if he might have particulars. Owen provided him with drawings, dies and samples and from this the ‘Lynite’ piston, so widely used in U.S., was developed. Some months later, ‘Jimmy’ Owen was calling on a Managing Director of a leading motor car concern, who, during the interview, produced from the depths of his desk, a casting, .saying : ‘Why can’t British foundries make pistons like these?’ Owen was, normally, a mild and kindly man, but seeing a copy of his piston which had been laughed out of court in this very firm, his language was such as is better omitted from these pages.”

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Not much service


Recently, when changing a front wheel on my Austin Healey Sprite, I discovered that two out of four fixing studs and nuts were stripped. (Both front wheels had recently been removed by a tyre specialist for balancing, but that’s another story.) Upon examination of the damaged studs I decided that, if I could obtain two new wheel nuts and two washers to act as spacers, I would be able to limp to the nearest B.M.C. specialist.

Nearby were three service stations in a row. The first politely informed me that they carried no “spares” of any description. The mechanic at the second produced a selection of nuts and accompanied me to the car. None of the nuts fitted. Whereupon he informed me that the garage could supply and fit at once a new brake drum, explaining that it was not possible to remove the old studs because they were welded in. The cost would be £2 10s., plus labour. I declined his offer and pointed out that the studs were pressed into the hub and that the brake drum fitted over the studs. The third service station obliged me with two replacement nuts and washers and refused any payment. I later obtained four new B.M.C. studs and nuts for a cost of eight shillings. I thought these three examples of the service encountered by the motorist in distress might be of interest to your readers.

May I take this opportunity of congratulating you upon your unique publication for the motoring enthusiast.

Surbiton. G. Stiell.

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No service


When returning from the V.S.C.C. Welsh Rally this month one of our party had the misfortune to break a half-shaft in his vintage car. This occurred right opposite a Regent garage near Chipping Norton on the A 34 just south of the junction with the A 44. Being a busy road, the car was run just into the garage drive-in, taking care not to obstruct the garage entrance. Before a tow rope could be attached, the manageress or a member of the staff, I know not which, came out, shouting in a most rude and offensive manner, ordering us off and claiming we were taking away her business. It took less than five minutes to tow the car away, so it seems that this garage does not like motorists— wonder who they sell their petrol to?

Abbots Langley. S. FLETCHER.

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B.M.C. 1100 petrol pumps


I sympathise with Mr. H. J. Oldroyd over his petrol pump tribulations (only the other day I had occasion to help an 1100 driver with exactly the same trouble), but in my view the positioning of the pump has nothing whatever to do with it—it is merely the inherent temperament of the electric pump itself. I had occasion to fit, if I remember rightly, at least five replacement pumps in 93,000 miles on one car (a Land-Rover) and soon learned the advisability of always carrying a spare pump, even though the pump was mounted on the dash ahead of the driver, so that on failure a hard kick on the bulkhead would sometimes get it “ticking” again.

It seems that once they start playing up there is nothing for it but to fit a replacement, and I am indeed surprised that there haven’t been more complaints about them in your columns in the past.

Letchworth. A. B. Buchanan.

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Police methods


Through the columns of your magazine, may I challenge the driver of police Wolseley number ALM 730 B to explain why it was safer for him to drive at 45 m.p.h. through Horley, along the Brighton Road, than the driver of a white Mini which was following the police car, on October 3rd? I stopped to take the number of the police car, and it appeared that the Mini driver was booked.

I would also appreciate any information about the unreliability of radar traps, when two cars go through the “beam” very close together. Yes, I was a victim to this particular brand of police trickery.

Long Ditton. A. F. D. French.

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D.K.W. topics


You will doubtless have heard of the recent and surprising decision of VW and Daimler-Benz to join forces in supporting Auto Union. I doubt, personally, if Auto Union are in any sort of real trouble, and suspect that this was a graceful introduction to future co-operation. Opel (G.M.) and Ford may have been treading too heavily on everyone else’s tails.

I own a D.K.W./Auto Union FI102, Auto Union’s latest, and I find it excellent. I thought that a few first-hand impressions of it would not come amiss. Mileage to date, or, more accurately, km. to date, some 1,500 (speedo. died at 650 km.!).

General.—A “big” little car. Much influenced by “big brother” in Stuttgart, internally at least. Your friends of “Auto, Motor und Sport ” tested it in their, issue of October 3rd, and closed by saying that “Should the D.K.W. F102 be their last two-stroke, then it is certainly their best.” I cannot improve on this, having recently owned two “Juniors,” each fun.

Shape.—Not bad. Front is a hit ugly, and the waste of space under the bonnet inspires me to suggest that our mutual friends in Ingoldstadt might do worse than buy one of Alec lssigonis’ latest to see how to get “the mostest out of the leastest.”

Driving comfort—Outstanding. I have variously owned the Merc. 220, Renaults, Simcas and the like. Leech-like road-holding. Far more comfortable than the big Merc., with a non-squish rear axle. Strangely, not at all “front-wheel-drivey.” The ride is firm but comfortable.

Body.—The interior is well thought out and well finished. Reclining seats, upholstered in a tough plastic, “Skai.” Cheap carpets, rubber-backed. Opening rear quarter-lights. Fair heater. Two doors. On my “de luxe” model, a small but good sunshine roof, with a neat wind deflector which rises automatically on opening the roof. Much care has been taken with underbonnet sound damping, and undersealing.

Instruments.—Adequate, legible, except the clock, and no “ribbons”! Rheostat dash light.

Performance.—No figures available, but quick off the mark. Fast and untiring to drive. Little torque low down, but this improving. “Clutchless shift,” thanks to the free-wheel, but slow. (You can always revert to the clutch, free-wheel or not!) Speed, not yet fully run-in, well above the maker’s pessimistic figures. Brakes, disc front, drum rear, excellent. Steering, direct kick-back free, but a little too much caster action. It is fun to “wind-up ” the motor with no fear of valve-bounce. Under load it runs like an electric engine, with a similar hum. Idling, it is evidently a two-stroke, but rev too much, and under half-load protests by four-stroking and “clonking.” With the free-wheel, the jerking characteristic of this sort of car is largely eliminated. And with fond memories of Scotts in the past, it is a real toy when pulling, and not in the least temperamental. Starting, hot or cold, works. (You have a half-way position on the choke for a flooded hot-start which scavenges the crankcase.)

U.K. Market.—”De luxe” it costs here some DM 8,000 plus. Relatively expensive. Perhaps the new merger will bring the price down. But it is worth every penny paid for it, It should fill a gap between the “junior” and the Saab.,being much more civilised than both of them, and bigger.

Summary.—A very well-finished, if apparently badly inspected car. ( Failures to date. One Dunlop B7, on delivery. Wall u/s. Speedo, Cable, 650 km. Replaced free. Petrol tank filler pipe had a crack in it. Mended.) As a main car it is roomy, has a vast boot, and is fun to drive. As a second car, rather too good for the job.

Finale.—Rumour has it that “Mercs” have for some time been developing an alternative engine for it. Presumably a “baby” Merc. four-stroke. Much though I respect Merc. engines, this would be a great pity, as A.U. have really screwed performance out of their latest engine, and it has much charm. With it conventional four-stroke it would become yet one more reliable and splendidly finished German car. At the moment it is quite without any rival in any class. May I add that I have no connection with any of the above mentioned companies, other than a happy association with Auto Union when in our Embassy here, when I had a small part in introducing the D.K.W. “Munga,” their “Jeep,” to both the German and other Forces, a decision which I have never regretted.

Ittenbach Major C. H. Valiance.

[In fact. the Press Department of Auto Union GMBH has issued the following statement about the VW participation:—

“In connection with the participation in Auto Union GMBH on the part of the Volkswagenwerk, the opinion that Auto Union GMBH would now depart from the two-Stroke principle has been expressed frequently by various members of the public.

“Similar assumptions were also voiced in the year 1959/60, following the 100% take-over of the Auto Union share capital on the part of Daimler-Benz AG. The technical principle employed by Auto Union GMBH were not changed after this take-over and—in the same way—the transfer of share capital participation to the Volkswagenwerk does not imply any such change. Trusty D.K.W. supporters at home and abroad still want to be supplied with these motor cars. Damiler-Benz, the Volkswagenwerk and Auto Union GMBH have therefore decided to continue with the existing production programme and further developments in the technical sector.”—ED.]

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The Taurus Austin 1100


I must take you to task over M. L. T.’s test of the Taurus Austin 1100. He quotes a petrol consumption of “something like 25 m.p.g. if all the performance is used most of the time, but 28 m.p.g. can be had in exchange for a lighter throttle foot”!

I have a 1964 Austin 1100 modified by Taurus to exactly the same stage as the one tested. This work was carried out in May at 7,000 miles. The car has now done a further motto miles and has given no cause for complaint in any way. The performance obtained is almost exactly identical to that quoted in your test except in respect of petrol consumption. On a long run to the West Country, driven hard the whole way and averaging nearly 62 m.p.h. overall (at night), the worst consumption shown was 31 m.p.g. Driven more gently over the same route and still averaging over 50 m.p.h., I can regularly obtain 35-18 m.p.g. On short local journeys consumption is consistently around 31-34 m.p.g. At no time since the conversion was fitted has the petrol consumption ever been worse than 31 m.p.g. The mixture screw has to be carefully set as too rich a mixture gives uneven running and very lumpy tickover. Too weak a mixture causes very poor pick-up and flat spots. I suspect that your test car suffered from too rich a mixture.

I find the Taurus 1100 a thoroughly first-class car in its class and I can find no fault whatever. The gear-change is excellent, being light and very precise with short movements, which have been further improved by cutting nearly 3 in. off the top of the lever and refitting the original knob. In your test of the Austin 1800 you mention the gear-change on that car as being an improvement over that of the 1100. This I cannot accept, as it is just not possible. I may be lucky in having a particularly good example but others I have met who also own 100s also say that as value-for-money they are excellent.

I have been a regular reader of your journal for nine years and enjoy every issue. It is most refreshing to read an honest opinion in tests and reports.

Esher. J. R. D. Ruston

[Why complain, Mr. Ruston? We wish we could average 62 m.p.h. at 31 m.p.g. in an Austin 1100! In our road-test of the M.G. 1100, at considerably lower average speeds, we could only get 31.36 m.p.g. Tell us the secret of your success.—M. L.T.]

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Sports-car insurance


On page 964 of the November issue of Motor Sport, sportscar owners are invited to “fill in the form, post it today and save pounds.” We are told that we can relax with “NEW! low cost comprehensive cover for sports cars.” May I suggest that readers save their 3d. stamps. I am 25 years old„ with six years’ driving experience, including about 6,000 miles on the Continent, and am entitled to one year’s no claims bonus. I own a pretty innocuous Turner with a small 948,c.c. engine. I am an architect —a fairly steady sort of profession, I would have thought—and a couple of months ago thought I would save these pounds and relax, and duly sent off the form. After filling in more forms and a month or so of waiting I received a short, curt note that. “We regret we cannot quote you.” Thank goodness I can’t afford an E-type. I would have to be content with looking at it.

Cardiff. Roger V. Williams