On The Road
The Renault 16TS • B.R.D.C. Clubmen's Championship • A 700-c.c. Estate Car • Bugatti O.C. Coppa Costantini Meeting
A few years ago someone whose name escapes me thought up a happy comparison between three great motor-car producers, saying that the French Government owned Renault, no one owned Volkswagen and that Fiat owns Italy. Certainly State ownership of the great Renault concern, once a proud privately-owned company, has done nothing but good so far as sales are concerned. For Renault's production of private cars rose from 269,540 in 1954 to 706,622 last year and at a time when France was producing a total of more than two million vehicles a year (1967) Renault-Saviem was responsible for over 40% of them. That year French exports totalled 749,410 vehicles, and 351,742 of these were Renaults, or 386,034 if the Saviem commercials are included.
The Renault group employs 88,750 persons, last year it invested 500-million new francs in the Regie, where 66,000 are employed, and it has a capital of 8,000-million new francs. Besides cars and commercial vehicles it makes agricultural tractors, industrial and marine engines, all types of bearings, and sheet and other metals, etc. No wonder Citroën has had to think in terms of alliance with Fiat, to meet the Renault challenge.
I have an idea that much of this challenge comes from the Renault 16, about which these columns dealt extensively and enthusiastically last month. It is not such a splendid technical exercise as the Citroën DS but it is less complicated, and offers much the same sort of advantages for comfortable motoring over French terrain.
Any criticism that the Renault 16 hasn't sufficient speed and acceleration has been met by the introduction of the TS version—and how nice that Billancourt refrains from using the inappropriate term GT .. . .
The differences between the 16 and 16TS Renault include a 77 x 84 mm. (1,565-c.c.) engine, which, by having hemispherical combustion chambers and more advanced valve timing, gives a horse power increase of 24½ in S.A.E. terms for an increase in r.p.m. of 750 and better torque, albeit at rather higher r.p.m. To cope with the increase in output the cooling system has its capacity increased by 1¾ pints and the cast 5-hearing crankshaft has induction-hardened journals.
The TS is a genuine 100 m.p.h. car with pick-up in keeping and the much improved performance is matched by larger, servo-assisted disc brakes, while there are a tachometer (yellow warning band between 5,600 and 6,000 r.p.m., red from there to 7,000 r.p.m., although the engine peaks at a modest 5,750 r.p.m., when it pokes out 83 D.I.N. h.p.), two-speed wipers, electrically-heated rear window, extra loud horns and a night-vision rear-view mirror.
Incidentally, electrically-operated front doors and a sliding roof are available as extras.
I found this Renault 16TS indistinguishable from a 16 until it was wound up. It scores very high marks for comfort, spaciousness, good ride, good if squeaky brakes and individuality. It rolls and wallows under rapid cornering; only the long in arm will care for the hand brake, oddments well and other inaccessible items. The engine of the test car tended to idle too fast and it wasn't an immediate starter. The change-over on the two-choke Weber could be felt, but the car went easily to 70 m.p.h. in third gear. I got an overall 26.2 m.p.g. of four-star fuel from the TS against 31.0 m.p.g. from the 16. It used less than quarter of a pint of oil in 670 miles. It is an automobile of which I heartily approve. A nice touch, by the way, is indication of correct tyre pressure (23/29) on the footboard.
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Motor Sport has long ago ceased to attempt to report all the little minor races which take place almost all the year round all over this small island. There isn't space and I doubt whether there is all that much interest. So what coverage is deemed desirable is left to a weekly newspaper which likes to call Motor Sport its stablemate, although I could express the matter differently. . . . However, I did go up to Silverstone in the aforesaid comfortable Renault for the B.R.D.C. Clubmen's Championship because I realised that in one go this meeting, over the full circuit, would enable me to see and form an opinion of various facets of the complex art of modern Club motor racing.
The opinions I formed were that 750 and 1200 Formula sports/racers now possess road-holding qualities which were lacking in their earlier year's, that the outstanding thing about the race for sports cars and sports/racing cars was Croot driving his old Jaguar-powered Allard on the limit to finish fifth behind the two dominating Chevron-B.M.W.s, a U2 and a Lotus 23B (the U2 delayed by a spin), that the saloon-car race was as much of a cut-and-thrust as ever, that it was nice to see Croot's Allard finish second to a Jaguar D-type in the Griffiths/Vintage/PVT race, and that Formula Vee is terribly dull to watch, even with Jenny Nadin spinning off at the first corner on her second lap—the minx jumped up the bank like a gazelle from her beetle machine, which seems to tie-in nicely with her new job with Rootes. . .
A Ford GT40 won the GT race after blowing so much oil-mist over the screen of Trevor Taylor's closely pursuing Lotus-Europa that it had to slow, outwardly standard M.G.-Bs dominated the Special Sports Car event, outpacing cars far more formidable on paper, and a 7.2-litre Cooper of Golden Knight Racing (the Chrysler-power ex-Rindt F2 car) was out-distanced when its engine blew up in the Formule Libre Race which concluded a dull, cold day, the victor being Birrell's Crosslé-Ford J2F, at nearly 103 m.p.h. I came away unimpressed but interested to discover that aerofoils have spread to 1½-litre Merlyn and even FV cars, that a Cooper-Mini was only 9.8 sec. slower over ten laps than the 4.7-litre Ford-Shelby Cortina (said to do 105 m.p.h. in first gear) which won the saloon car race, and that reinforced glass-fibre panels didn't help much when Currie had a spectacular crash at the beginning of Copse in his Cooper-Mini, steel scaffolding flying in all directions and the fuel tank spinning away as the car converted Autocar into the name of quite another magazine as an advertising hording was demolished. Currie was very lucky to step out of the wreck unharmed (not that any medical evidence of this was made available to him); I have never scoffed at using safety harness for this kind of motor racing!
The meeting was sponsored by Gold Leaf, so I think every driver should have been smoking Player's in appreciation for this support and the presence on the grid of the Gold Leaf Grid Girls. There were accelerative, ridiculously cut-about Ford Anglias rushing up and down, a big Pontiac which stood up and begged to be put down again whenever its throttle was opened, a flying display by a solitary aeroplane and a full-throttle dragster demonstration by the Tudor Rose hotshot and other B.D.R.H.R.A. projectiles. What an odd thing Club motor-racing has become. . . .
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I find most cars interesting, but there is a special appeal about those at extreme ends of the automobile scale—either very powerful and possessed of high performance or humble but useful and economical. So Motor Sport tests cars of all kinds and I have had my share of the economy vehicles. Yet I find that, in spite of advances in other directions and the enormous improvement in small cars generally, no one seems capable of offering us a combination of 60 m.p.h. and 60 m.p.g. as a regular achievement.
I thought that when Reliant brought out the Rebel this might have been achieved. After making a passable replica of the pre-war Austin 7 engine for their three-wheelers the Tamworth Company introduced a 600 c.c. o.h.v. light-alloy power unit for the same purpose (Motor Sport, June, 1964). This was utilised for their Rebel four-wheeler saloon and I thought that at last my ideal of a 60/60 economy car might have materialised. I was unable to put this to the test because no 600-c.c. Rebel was put at our disposal.
Then, to rid it of pedestrian performance, Reliant increased the engine size of the Rebel to 700 c.c., at the same time improving low-speed torque. It was in this form that I eventually got a Rebel for road-test, and with the estate-car body at that.
This little fibre-glass rust-proof-bodied vehicle can be regarded as today's Austin 7. It is about the lowest form of motoring life in the eyes of the enthusiast. It is fairly noisy. The ride on rough roads is poor. The gearbox is very stiff, first gear being almost impossible to engage on some occasions. The seats are minimal and simple, but surprisingly comfortable nevertheless. Equipment is minimal, but includes anti-dazzle vizors, screen-washers, an excellent heater and very generous interior stowage space on a full-width under-facia shelf and in a deep plastic-lidded cubby hole. The estate-car version provides excellent floor area for such a small car and has a hill-width, side-hinged rear door.
Apart from a speedometer by which small boys may think the Rebel does 100 m.p.h. when in fact it seldom shows a reading above 60, and a matching dial incorporating thermometer and fuel gauge, instrumentation is likewise minimal. A r.h. stalk control covers signalling, horn, and headlamp dipping.
Yet the Reliant Rebel does not feel like a baby car to drive. It has adequate acceleration, an absolute top speed of just over 70 m.p.h., and handles not too badly once the very light, quick steering and the tendency to weave slightly have been mastered. The light alloy engine needs some application of choke for starting and runs into valve crash at about 20, 30 and 50 m.p.h. in the lower gears. The screen pillars are very thick but the very long side windows offer good passenger visibility. But as economical transport the Rebel has a certain charm and it can be bought in saloon form for just over £637 with heater or for just above £673 as tested.
Alas, I could not get 60 m.p.g, or even the 50+ m.p.g. claimed by the makers. The little engine demands four-star fuel and gave an average of 47.3 m.p.g. After 450 miles it required not a drop of engine oil. Goodyear 5.50 x 12 super cushion G8 tyres suffice. I really tried the Rebel in the hope of getting this 60/60 speed/economy balance. When this proved impossible I turned it over to the dogs, who found it suited them very well. . . .
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When I heard that the Bugatti O.C. was to hold a race meeting again after a lapse of many years I felt I should attend it. As this Club now co-exists with the Ferrari O.C. there were obviously going to be exotic motor cars present, so in self-defence I went in the Rebel, feeling that no comparisons would be made!
The meeting took place at Thruxton and was called the Coppa Costantini, after the driver who won the 1925 Targa Florio and the 1926 Targa Florio, Milan and Spanish Grands Prix for Bugatti, amongst other races. I was right about the exotic cars, Margulies produced a Ferrari 4.4-litre P2/3, Neil Corner his Ferrari 275LM, Baring his Ferrari 275GTB and Maurice his Ferrari 275LM, apart from lots of Bugattis, and in the car parks were more Ferraris and the big Hispano-Suiza saloons of Peter Hampton and Colin Crabbe.
Mark you, some of the magic of the B.O.C. has gone with the advance of time. This is inevitable. Before the war all Bugattis represented high performance motor-cars and to go out in a Type 57SC or similar car, as I was privileged to do with Col. Giles, was to experience the peak of motoring enjoyment—fantastic performance, all the right noises, and technical superiority, in one machine, to an extent that nothing else, broadly speaking, was in the same category. Today, Jaguar E-types and other cars go faster, as much performance is available from far more simple and less costly machinery, the entire motoring scene has changed. Indeed, at this very meeting we saw Corner win the sixth race in his Ferrari at 87.26 m.p.h., but pursued the whole way by a Mini Cooper S, after Miles' Jaguar E-type had gone off the course. Yet Corner made fastest lap at just over 89 m.p.h.
For me the most pleasing aspect of the meeting was seeing all four of Anthony Blight's Talbot 105 team cars together again for the first time for some 38 years. He had brought them up from Cornwall for the Coppa Costantini Team Handicap, to be contested by the Talbots against teams of Bugatti, Bentley, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari cars. So there were these four green 1931 Talbot four-seaters, their bonnets neatly covered, standing together in the Paddock wearing consecutive racing numbers—GO 52, GO 53, GO 54 and BGH 23. They were to be driven, respectively, by Stephen Curtis, metaphorically wearing the mantle of the Hon. Brian Lewis, Martin Morris, as it were standing in for the late Rose-Richards, and Tony Blight himself, following the pattern of the late John Cobb, while the ex-Couper 1934 3.3-litre Talbot was a reserve, although Morris drove it in two other races.
The handicapping system for this ingenious Team Race was complicated and it was said that Blight was sent off wrongly, to his detriment, and that his team-mates lost time by waiting for him. Be that as it may, the three Talbots were soon lapping in line-ahead formation, a fine sight. It was not difficult to visualise how the team performances and silent running of these racing Roesch Talbots impressed spectators and sold ordinary Talbots in contemporary times.
Certainly Blight deserves enormous credit for having restored them not only to original form (barring noticeably oversize tyres on GO 52 due to a shortage of covers), but to a state of mechanical efficiency when all can still be raced effectively. For they won this Team Race at Thruxton as they had won other races all those long years ago. Not only that, but earlier in the afternoon Martin Morris had won the Unlimited Handicap Race in BGH 23 from Williamson's Bentley and Pilkington's Alfa Romeo and he concluded the day's racing by doing the same thing in the last race, from Bergel's G.P. Bugatti and Bishop's Aston Martin. As the champagne was poured Blight, now in the role of Arthur Fox, who managed the Fox and Nichol team cars in firm but friendly fashion in the original hey-day of these fine Roesch cars, must have felt that it has all been worthwhile. After which all four Talbots were driven back to Cornwall, while modern sports/racers were being taken away on trailers and in vans. . . .
There were a few small differences from the old days, however. For instance, it was rumoured that BGH 23 was not to be allowed its first victory because Morris had lapped faster in the race than he had in practice. Whether this rule is enforced because it seems to affect safety or to ease the burden on the handicappers it would not have existed before the war. At Brooklands a driver who won a race by a ridiculously large margin would be heavily handicapped thereafter, but not penalised for winning at the time. Fortunately, this rumour was not substantiated. Then Hamish Moffatt, having worked through two nights on his Bugatti, found water getting into a new cylinder block on the drive down, but was not allowed to practice in another car of the same make, which I think the Brooklands Stewards would have permitted. And when the victorious Talbots were lined up for a lap of honour at the end of the meeting, Mrs. Mary Blight took her place beside her husband, quite rightly, as Team Manager, but the girls who had got in to ride with Morris and Curtis were ordered to get out again, and had to watch the champagne ceremony from the pit counter. Which wasn't in the tradition of the gay 'twenties'. . . Oh, and there was another innovation—dogs were permitted at Thruxton, if kept on a lead. Now the Motoring Dog has never been to any race meeting and when I return home from one she always enquires whether any dogs got in, being extremely sulky if the answer is yes. I just dare not tell her that she could have come to the Coppa Costantini with some string through her collar. . . .
However, this is carping. It was a very enjoyable meeting. When Bernard Kain led Crabbe's red 2.9 Maserati in his Type 35B Bugatti it was for all the world as if we were back in the mid-'thirties, especially as Tom Moore, ex-Proprietor/Editor of Motor Sport, was amongst those who were watching. And there was Cecil Glutton, in third place on the road, driving with enormous abandon in the 10½-litre V12 Delage—great stuff! We saw Bond's Brabham BT21B run right away with the fourth race, lapping at 97.49 m.p.h., Mackie win his race in Margulies' Ferrari and Type 57S and 57SC Bugattis in action on the circuit, including an Atalantic coupé and a Vanvooren coupé. And Lockhart driving the Rover single-seater very fast indeed. What more could you ask?