The state of the Art
As another year draws to a close the Editor says he feels it the right time to look at the state of the Art, or Science, or at any rate, the business of motoring, or, if you associate motoring with the open cars of considerable age, goggles, and double-declutching, then of driving and car-ownership. He writes: “Perhaps it was once again going to the London Motor Show, after all these years, in a VW (or rather a super-Audi with VW badges on it) which makes me want to look at where the motor-car stands, at the prevailing state of play. Cars are safe and satisfactory things to contemplate, unlike the human race, which seems to be losing more of its control over itself every year, so that the pleasurable, even the vital, things of this life, like food, houses, petrol and being buried, cost ever more and more, while money buys less and less. Old institutions have lost much of their dignity, with banks advertising their prevailing interest-rates in their windows as a fish-monger prices his cod, Post offices competing with the stamp-dealers instead of concentrating on getting Her Majesty’s Mail away as efficiently as possible, politicians and the grab-grab boys not getting any better, Graham Hill buttering-up the traffic wardens, and war again coming uncomfortably close. But I digress…
“The motor vehicle, fortunately, continues to advance, if too slowly on our over-congested, speed-limit-bound roads. By and large, the 1970’s car is a decently-reliable piece of machinery, complex as it has become. It usually only fails to live up to this reputation because it has been badly put together, improperly maintained, or abused by its inconsiderate or incapable owner. Design-wise, it is a notably effective mechanism. Its engine is a tireless power producer, and will become more efficient as it is made to cause less pollution. Automatic chokes, ignition timing, and fuel filters have eradicated three of the one-time anxieties — difficult starting, pinking and blocked-jets. There is no excuse these days for not having an overhead-camshaft, now that there exist simple, silent cogged-belt drives. And power output is such that even the small family cars will far exceed the legal speed-limit and, which is more important, will pick up speed quickly, stick safely on the road even in the wet, and stop quickly in an emergency. Gear changing has had the skill removed from it and automatic transmissions function reliably and well — but only the belt drive DAF gives a truly progressive variable-ratio drive. With all mod.-cons. the present-day saloon car is a mobile drawing room suitable for most occasions, albeit only the older big cars provide true armchair, legs-out standards of home comfort. In general, however, I maintain that the modern car is a sound proposition, its use marred only by moron drivers, radar-traps, the rising price of petrol, oil and insurance, and its popularity, which later will continue to cause cars to flood the roads until the Government prices a lot of them out of action or my alternate-days licensing system is introduced, whereby you motor on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and I do so on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, with enormous penalties if we are caught with our throttles open after midnight on the wrong day. The Government could charge a very big fee for Sunday driving, or reserve this for its members, or might perhaps exchange this privilege for services rendered by the civilians, such as recruiting more traffic wardens or reporting an impressive number of cars seen exceeding 70 m.p.h. on our fine, new Motorways or something of that kind.
“In this Utopian motoring world, as it is and as it might and may be, there is room for improvement, naturally. As we are being told to conserve fuel, the cost of which encourages this anyway, I think coasting should cease to be illegal, in the case of private cars. Brakes are so universally good these days that this should not be dangerous. Indeed, the free-wheel, a feature of Rover, Studebaker, Volvo, Standard and other cars at one time or another and later used by Saab who inherited it from DKW, might well be revived, as an aid to reducing petrol consumption. Modern back axles are quite capable of standing up to any extra loads incurred, as they have been since the days when the early automatic gearboxes imparted some mighty thuds. Stripped pinions and broken half-shafts, like blown gaskets and decarbonising, are mostly unheard of now, so the free-wheel should present no problems.
“On this topic of economy, I have been sampling the best of the smallest cars, the Fiat 126, which has very good springing, a very nice gearbox, clings to the road like tar, is unexpectedly comfortable, and is really quite acceptable to those who are both patient and deaf. Joking apart, and more to the point, this infant Fiat also gives 46.5 m.p.g., driven harry-flatters and properly warmed up on frosty mornings. This is good, but not as good as I would have thought possible in this fuel-injection, turbocharged, Wankel state of the Art. I want 60 m.p.h. cruising and 60 m.p.g. from a tiny car. I think someone like Daniel Richmond, who has put such excellent all-round performance into Downton Minis and 1100s and the like, might now turn his magic hand to extracting better economy from the Mini Minor, which I feel sure he could do without making it so sluggish that no-one would care about driving it. When petrol costs 50p a gallon and is rationed into the bargain we should all then beat a path through Salisbury to Downton’s door.
“That is one future line worth following, which the soup-up shops could surely turn to? Another is getting down to more mid-engined coupes of a practical kind. The new AC 3000 was a highlight of Earls Court although I do not think any demonstration runs were given. But it shows that a small Company can do what Lord Stokes refused to do, with the best of all the mid-engined cars, the V8 Rover BS coupé of 1968, and that is to get it made and shown, as a production proposition; apart from which, the 3000 is the first chain-driven AC since the Sociable …
“There are other aspects in which even the 1970’s cars too frequently fall down. All too often you cannot see what is in the luggage boot in the dark, because you have naturally switched off the side-lamps before waking round to it. All too frequently you, alone in the car, cannot open or shut any but the driver’s window while on the move because their handles are exasperatingly out of reach — so let’s have more electrically-controlled windows. Fuel gauges are anything but accurate in so many cars, bumpers could protect better, sometimes screen pillars are still too thick, gear levers frequently baulk badly when trying to get into bottom gear and too many bonnets need propping up. A truly foolproof radar detector is now pretty imperative, to give the same ease of mind as does a heated rear-window, but how we are to cope with computer traps, I don’t know. And so on… The state of the Art is satisfactory, if not marred by had assembly, a bad garage, or an inexperienced or ham-handed, lead-booted operator. But that is not to say that there is no room for improvement.”
VSCC Lakeland Trial
One of the most exciting aspects of this year’s Lakeland Trial was the laying out of the course on the Friday, for this was done in Clerk of the Course Dick Smith’s Landrover, which now sports a huge belt-driven Wade supercharger, blowing at about 8 or 9 lb. This innocent looking vehicle has apparently caused many a Range Rover driver to scratch his head, and it was estimated that it could probably lay out the course for a Welsh Trial in addition to the Lakeland in one afternoon if the speed limit was waived for the occasion.
Some sixty cars assembled at the start at Loweswater on a surprisingly mild day to face eight hills with completely dry surfaces. As the cars were being dispatched, a herd of cows appeared and was driven past the cars on to the road. When warning of their arrival was given, an attractive lady competitor who was coming up to the starting line rather wittily announced “This cow is going to stop!”
The entry was divided into long chassis and short chassis classes, and although nobody cleared the first hill, Askill, two short chassis cars, Arnold-Forster’s Frazer Nash and Batho’s Amilcar-Riley got up to the 16 point, and four long chassis cars achieved 15 marks out of 20 (Peacop’s 1930 Morris Minor tourer, the Austin Sevens of Kelley and Lyles and the 1934 Railton tourer of Moore). Wood Farm lulled most people into a false sense of security, the hill being cleared by all the short chassis cars with the exception of Hargreaves’ 1924 Jowett and Garfitt’s 1934 Type 315 Frazer Nash-BMW of unusual aspect, which achieved 16 and 17 points respectively. Lower Whin Fell also did not present a great deal of difficulty, but Upper Whin Fell did considerable sorting out, best short-chassis climb being by Freddie Giles (1928 Frazer Nash) on a surface which seemed to suit the ‘Nash contingent, the best climb in the opposite class being by Ian Grant’s Vernon-Derby.
By the end of the morning, Freddie Giles was in the lead for the trial as a whole by one point from Mark Joseland, both on vintage Frazer Nashes, whilst in the long chassis class R. G. Moore’s PVT Railton led John Rowley’s vintage 30/98 Vauxhall, also by one point.
At lunch time Geoff Winder (1930/2 Ulster Austin) stood despondently in a field at Loweswater gazing at a blown cylinder head gasket, he, for once, having brought no spare with him on this occasion. By the greatest of good fortune an itinerant vendor of vintage Austin Seven head gaskets, Costigan by name, came wandering through the field, and a deal was soon effected with what were to prove remarkable results.
In the afternoon there were three hills at Lanthwaite Green, one a very short and steep affair which was only climbed by the Frazer Nashes of Mitchell, Giles and Stoyel and Clark’s HRG. The best climb on the longest hill was by Box on his 1928 Brooklands type Jowett. The most entertaining hill went through a stream, and here a big bouquet must go to Mrs Jean Kain in her first trial in husband Bernard’s Type 43A Bugatti, who drove in a completely nonchalant manner and hers was the only long-chassis car to make a clean climb. Max Hill (Type 49 Bugatti) holed his fuel tank on a rock whilst trying to reverse out of the stream, and he then cheerfully announced that he had also lost his ignition key in the river. Other cars which managed to hole petrol tanks during the course of the trial were the Frazer Nashes of Stoyel and Blakeney-Edwards, whilst Hamilton-Gould’s Austin Seven had its fan disintegrate.
Thirty-one drivers cleared Drum House this year, the dreaded climb from the slate quarry at the top of Honister, including the imperturbable Mrs. Kain. Most unfortunately Freddie Giles, who was leading the trial at the time, was taken ill just before his climb and this cost him the Trophy. After a visit to hospital he recovered later in the evening from his illness, but not from the disappointment of missing his annual climb up the Drum House.
When the results were worked out, Geoff Winder (1930/2 Ulster Austin) and Tony Mitchell (1930/6 BMW-engined Frazer Nash) were seen to have tied with the best marks, Geoff getting the Trophy on the “furthest, cleanest” principle, whilst F. G. Moore earned many congratulations for his unexpected win in the long chassis class in his Railton.
Kirkstile Trophy: R. G. Winder (1930/2 Austin).
Kirkstile Plate: F. G. Moore (1934 Railton).
R.P. S1 Cup: W. L. T. Winder (1926 Frazer Nash).
1st Class: A. R. Mitchell (1930/6 Frazer Nash), C. P. Marsh (1922 Monis) and J. W. Rowley (1925 Vauxhall).
2nd Class: Chum R. J. Clark (1937 HRG) J. E. Meeks (1921 Austin). Mrs J. Kain (1929 Bugatti) and I. Grant (1929 Vernon Derby).
3rd Class: K. M. Hill (1915 Frazer Nash), M. T. Joseland (1926 Frazer Nash), R. C. Bath (1927/8 RileyArnilcar). H. P. Moffatt (1923 Bugatti). Ft. J. Odell (1913 Riley). A. D. Joney (1923 Vauxhall) and M. R. Connock (1927 Austin).
Team Result: South West 100, North 99, Midlands 91, South 89, Scottish 68.