Letters from Readers, December 1979

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N.B. — Opinions expressed are those of our Correspondents and Motor SportI does not necessarily associate itself with them. – Ed.

Louis Chiron

Sir,

Well, if we can’t trust the Encyclopaedia Britannica any more what can we, poor ignorants, now rely on?

But really, there was never such a thing as a V6 Grand Prix Lancia. In contrast to the sports/racing models preceding it, the D50 Grand Prix car was a V8. And what is more, Louis Chiron’s last Grand Prix, at the wheel of one of those cars, was in Monte Carlo in 1955 — not 1956 when all the Lancia Grand Prix outfit had been taken over by Ferrari. In fact, Chiron was rather unhappy with his car, for after one of the other team cars (driven by Ascari and Castellotti) had lost a gear in practice, for which there was no spare, he found himself sitting in the crippled car on the starting line.

There were two major reasons for him to resume racing after the war, after he had faded from the circuits in the two years preceding the war. One was that racing was his whole life, he just could not do without it and when he finally retired, he founded the International Ex-Grand Prix Drivers Club (CIAPGP) to help himself and others keep in touch and watching Grand Prix racing from the right side of the fence. The other is that during the war he had been the victim of a crook who had offered to put a large part of his hard earned money in safety in Switzerland where it just disappeared. So, going back into a racing car cockpit had become a necessity for him, and he managed to make a decent living out of it until he was condemned to a hospital room for a last, miserable year.

I was in quite close contact with him and his wife during the last five or six years and it had been planned that I should help him write his autobiography, which would have been fascinating, for there was no one better than him at seeing the anecdotic side of things. But after an operation he underwent five or six years ago, he never found the forces again that would have enabled him to tackle the job, or even only collaborate in the writing. It could have been one of the most fascinating motor racing books ever written.

Vence, France

Paul Frere

* * *

Sir,

It is a pity that your obituary of that great stylist Louis Chiron untypically contains a number of inaccuracies.

He could hardly have driven a Maserati on his home circuit in 1951 as in fact no Monaco Grand Prix was held that year. His drive into sixth place with the Lancia was in 1955, not 1956, and these Jano designed cars which subsequently formed the basis of 1956/1957 Lancia Ferraris were of course V8s and not V6s.

As you say Louis Chiron’s final racing appearance was at Monaco in 1956 but in a 250F Maserati, which however did not survive practice and consequently he was a non-starter in the race.

It is perhaps curious that while you single out his 1937 win for Talbot in the French Grand Prix when this event was only for sports cars you do not specifically mention his two post-war French GP victories for this marque in 1947 and 1949, merely saying that he continued to bring many successes to Talbot after the war.

Bangor

T. W. McKeown

[The errors are deeply regretted. They can be attributed to printers’ errors, not entirely ours, but those apparently in an encyclopaedic source of reference used to “refresh the memory” when an obituary to the great French driver was required at “stop-press” speed — which only goes to show! — Ed.]

The MG Affair

Sir,

Now that everybody has read and forgotten the emotional statements and cries from the heart about MG’s, let us now examine the facts with our heads.

It is rather interesting that you will learn from all the media that Triumph and Jaguar had a record year etc. etc., but you are never told of the success of MG. A case in point being recent American market figures for July 1979 published in JRT Specialist Car magazine, with great abandon and self congratulation — I quote “It’s a hit in Coventry and the US. The new TR7 soft top sells 277 and coupe 230”. In the same article MG have one line — “MG sales were up by 47%.” As usual they don’t mention figures — would you believe over 4,000! For convenience this will probably be accounted for by a sales campaign. No mention of the continuous, expensive sales campaign for the TR7. The MG-B. Midget and Spitfire represent nearly 75% of the US dealers sales; without these BL might as well ditch the whole US operation.

You will have read of the £900 loss per MG-B. Let us examine this:

The Dollar has not fallen by all that amount, so the loss shows bad marketing — of which we are only too familiar. Why not sell more on the home market where the cars sell, excluding taxes, for a further £1,000. Or to Europe where customers now take American Left Hand Drive cars and pay up to £800 to convert them back to European Specification. Home market dealers want more MGs, and the Europeans are crying out for them, although official BL policy is not to supply Europe with MGs.

The other comments we get from BL are:

1. “Lack of Rear Axles”

Work has already been successfully completed to use a mid range axle in easy supply.

2. “Engine does not meet 1981 U.S. Specification”

The “O” Series engine has already been Americanised. And here also lies a further fuel to the anti MG BL action — it would be such a flyer that it would outperform other BL US cars! It only awaits a “yes” and the MG-B is viable for a further few years.

3. “All charges (e.g. development etc. against the MG-B have been recovered”

In any well managed company when the development costs of any article are recovered it does not follow that the product should be withdrawn from the market because of the mistaken idea that it is in competition with another article which will never see its development costs back whether there is competition or not.

Are MGs entirely carrying the cost of the palatial office blocks about the country that have been the Hallmark of BL? I remember the days when the senior executives of car manufacturing companies had their offices in the plant.

Abingdon has the highest production figures and best labour relations of the whole BL organisation.

Sir Michael’s statement of “we back winners” would appear to be completely against facts. Look at the winning ways of Abingdon in spite of an anti-MG campaign which started at the very outset of the Leyland merger.

The MG-B was the highest production sports car in the world. It has outsold the total of all other combined BL exports to the US for years and was the life blood of BL. The V8 was not exported to the US as a result of the BL policy. The V8 did meet the Federal requirements at the time of MG’s wish to sell the cars in the States. Its performance would have been embarrassingly good. The GT was withheld from the states by BL (presumably because they were worried about competition from the TR7) so the MG-B alone outsold Triumph and Jaguar combined.

I have close contact with dealers on the home market who have been crying out for more MGs. and have unfulfilled orders for MGs outstanding for years.

BL have a long history of trying to impose upon the customer what they (BL) think that he (the customer) should buy.

I have heard that Sir Michael does not wish to talk to certain people in case it might influence his decision. Does this not appear to be an indication of floundering?

Rushden, Northants.

Chris Dickens

[I understand that the “O”-series-s.o.h.c. engine, as modified for projected MGB application. produces 105 b.h.p. in US emission form (rather more for Europe), 40 b.h.p. more than the strangled emission B-series engine currently sold in the US, and 10-15 b.h.p. more than the emission TR7. And the O-series engined MG-B has already passed, at immense cost, of course, the US Federal Emission tests. The MG-B was all set for a new lease of life, with a new engine, new axle and revised suspension. — C.R.]

* * *

Sir,

Mr. Dear’s open letter to Sir Michael Edwardes in last month’s issue is appropriate and commendable, but I wonder if it goes far enough, especially in the light of this last month’s events?

It might also have said:—

“Your recent decision to close the Abingdon plant is typical of the contradictory management decisions taken by the Leyland Board ever since it realised — but would not admit — it could not manage such a large and complex beast as one unit.

You, Sir, have lost the public respect you gained in your first few days of office, simply because — like your predecessors you have failed to display the management courage so vital to achieving the recovery of your corporation. Instead, you have persistently bleated that you are not selling enough while failing to produce what you could sell. You have constantly shouted the odds about the needs to produce in greater volumes whilst working feverishly to reduce your Corporation to a manageable size. You admit to being unable to manage the Abingdon facility efficiently but refuse to take your courage in both hands and sell it as an entity to someone who could.

You can no longer pursue a policy of tailoring your workforce down to what you can sell. You owe it to the British Taxpayer to tailor your product range to the market needs and sell all you can produce. Leyland opened the door to Japanese imports by killing off half its sales force — the small dealers — and then only producing what the rest could sell (or wanted to sell).

Whilst l am far from being a supporter of trade union views in general, I believe Derek Robinson and his fellow workers are this time absolutely right — if you want to sell more, you must expand your workforce to the capacity of your plants.

Come on Sir Michael, produce the goods — then stick a bomb under your torpid sales force and get them selling all you can make. Then you can compete and push back the Japanese tide !’

At least Motor Sport is still British — thank goodness!

Hounslow

David G. Styles

* * *

Sir,

The closure of the MG works at Abingdon, after 50 years of building great cars and having such a loyal workforce makes me very bitter.

It is ironic that when Sir Michael Edwardes joined BL he wanted to give the separate makes their own identity, which he felt they had lost.

MG was one part to the company where he didn’t need to re-vitalise the name. Yet Leyland choose to dispense with one of their greatest assets and a factory with an excellent tradition.

If BL lose money on all MG cars in the US it must follow that money is lost on TR7 and Jaguar sales too.

I am sure that such a relatively small factory as Abingdon could have new work allocated to it while a new MG model would be designed. Alas it now seems that the handful of workers left at Abingdon when MG production ceases will be consigned to unpacking Japanese parts, something both pitiful and degrading.

Henley-on-Thames

Phillip Taylor

The Other Side of the Coin

Sir,

I heard on the radio this morning that a consortium of businessmen is attempting to save MG following the forthcoming BL axe. Recently, my TV screen was full of enthusiasts parading and protesting in the same vein. Can someone please explain to me what all this kerfuffle is about? BL, in a rare moment of business inspiration, are proposing to eliminate some direct descendants of sedate saloons, ungainly usurpers of a magnificent marque. The present badge-carriers owe nothing to real M.G.s which, some would say, fell ill with the TF and died with the MG-A. Your journal, sir, has commented frequently on the merits or otherwise of badge-engineering and this seems to me to be the arch-example extant. Would true enthusiasts rush to buy a Riley or a Sheffield Simplex if one was now offered bearing a strong resemblance to an Allegro or a Princess? I doubt it, so why all the hysteria over a piece of mechanical euthanasia?

Now it you want a real successor to the spirit of MG, try a Gilbern, or a Dutton, or a GTM, depending on your mood. I am very fortunate. I’ve all three and I know what I think about these apologies from Abingdon masquerading as sports cars.

Southampton

M. E. Horsley

* * *

Sir,

What a load of stupid, short-sighted hypocritical sentimentalists your correspondents are. I am just as patriotic as they profess to be, but if the only way MG can be saved is to build a modern Japanese design then so be it. We have to look at MG’s closure in the eyes of businessmen rather than enthusiasts if we are to get an unbiased view. OK, so MG cars are selling well at the moment, but what happens when the next batch of American safety and/or pollution laws come along? Could the Midget and ‘B’ really be adapted any further, let alone profitably? A more real danger is that one of the Japanese firms on which you pour so much scorn will bring out an excellent MG rival. Why not design an all-new MG you say? If you think this is possible then you are totally out of touch with the economics of modern car production; it would take about three years, would cost around £150 million and with such a relatively small production run (the Abingdon which you love so well would need drastic modernisation to become profitable enough to cover a new car’s development costs) the car would just not be profitable. I agree that the previous management made a mistake in not designing an all-new MG but now the money is needed for more important. and more profitable projects.

I can only add that although it is sad to see MG go, Sir Michael would only get rid of the company if it was absolutely necessary for the survival of the rest of the group; and it is. I support the chairman 100%.

Weymouth.

P. J. W. Henshaw

* * *

Sir,

I write in response to the letter from S. Dear in the October issue.

Whilst acknowledging the fact that MG have a proud history, that is exactly what it is, history, and neither Michael Edwardes nor any other businessman worth his salt would allow sentiment to affect a decision which is made with the future in mind, rather than the past.

I would be the first to agree that in the past the British motor industry has achieved much of which we can be proud, but the thing which amazes me is the continual talk of past achievements rather than the “let’s get on with it” attitude which surely, ought to prevail. To paraphrase this, we are constantly being reminded in the press and on TV that Britain won the war (I won’t say we, because I wasn’t around for another 3 years!). So what? — what happened forty years ago isn’t helping us today. Germany was beaten, and just look at them.

Again, VW were at a point only a relatively short time ago similar to BL’s position now. The question is, can BL maintain (or will the workers allow them to maintain) an aggressive management team, aggressive enough to haul the company back from the brink? If Michael Edwardes is allowed to do what he thinks fit, I believe they can; and being a shareholder in BL, I would rather see BL made profitable by whatever methods are necessary, rather than the continued supply of public money which, to date, has seemingly led to nothing.

I have never been able to see the sense in badge engineering, anyway, and would therefore echo the sentiments of D.F. Fletcher in the same issue.

However, to continue to build out of date cars like the Midget and MG-B which are now attractive to only a (relatively speaking) handful of buyers seems totally wasteful of money and resources, and the operation should be allowed to close. Looking at the prospect from the Union’s side, they had the power to make it work — and abused it.

Finally, if the body of MG enthusiasts feels so strongly about B.L.’s plans, perhaps they should band together, arrange the finance, and make an offer to take over the MG operation from B.L. I am sure that no financier in his right mind would back a lame duck like that!

Usual disclaimers — yours is the voice of Britain’s true enthusiasts.

Selston. Notts.

Graham jeffs

[A lame duck, indeed? We have never had any reason to suspect that Alan Curtis, the businessman leading the attempt to take over M.G., was not in his right mind — Ed.]

Bureaucracy in the Small Event

Sir,

As from the 1st January 1980 all competitors must have a licence to compete, as all closed-to-club competitive events, however small and one-off, must in future only accept entries from RAC licenced competitors and navigators.

On principle many competitors will not wish to pay a fee to do what they have been doing happily and, yes, responsibly, since motoring began, and we may well be seeing the end of the small event.

Newbury. Berks

Rosemary Burke

Jean Hebert

Sir,

Your readers may be interested to know that Jean Hebert, the driver of the Renault ‘Shooting Star’ — see letter from Jim Wright, October issue — was until last year a Director of our Company, and was involved in the development of the Rellumit Self-Seal Refuelling Couplings which are still widely used — especially at Le Mans.

Old Windsor

G. C. Tuvey, Managing Director, Rellumit (UK) Ltd.

>The Boyhood Hero

Sir,

As a long time reader of Motor Sport, and a devotee of motoring and motor racing I feel impelled to share a memorable experience.

Over my 26 years of naval service I have watched and competed in the sport I love. I remember Peter Collins at Silverstone, but my hero was Moss, I saw him at Goodwood and I watched him lap the field in the NZ Grand Prix, on his last appearance in this country.

I was present at Goodwood in 1962 on that fateful day when his career ended. Imagine my feelings today as I stood at the Pukekohe circuit watching my boyhood hero driving in anger once again. Although Moss & Hulme were beaten into second place they went down fighting. It was heartwarming to see that Stirling has lost none of his sheer enthusiasm for our sport or his ability to convey this to his public. After the extraordinary antics of Messrs Hunt and Lauda as they quit the sport that had served them so well, and they it, I must admit, it was intriguing to listen to S. Moss Esq., still one of Britain’s best ambassadors. I would like to thank him through your pages. As I drive to work in my 1937 MG TA pondering the idea of the MG Honda (surely the rumours can’t be true?) it is nice to know that there is still something left in the land of my birth.

Auckland NZ

Capt. Ian Bradley, RNZN

PS. Two punctures, the result of fitting a limited slip differential, were the reason for the Moss/Hulme defeat, not a lack of brio.

Myopic Conflict

It is with a feeling of dismay that one reads the xenophobic if not jingoistic protestations published in your correspondence columns on the topic of Japanese assistance sought by the ailing British motor car industry.

If, like the majority, one believes in the correctness of private enterprise the consequent situation where superior products in terms of quality, reliability and design displace the inferior should come as no surprise and who can legitimately complain when these market forces come into play? The current protest is alas, reminiscent of the myopic religious conflict of previous centuries with passion a plenty and reason as a scarce commodity.

In testing the Mazda Montrose the Editor admits that he is not over-anxious to publicise Japanese cars. Whilst admiring what is seen as his native sentiment he would surely be serving his wide readership less than honestly were he to suppress such a report? Elsewhere there are already unhappy rumours that one of the motoring weeklies has refused advertising material from a foreign marque of which it personally disapproves — what reliance can be placed in such a journal’s overall objectivity?

Thus, although some features in the better motor magazine may cause discomfort one should endeavour to live by one’s ethics, hard though this may be.

Orpington

K.W. Daws

Donald Campbell

Sir,

I am replying to George Archer’s letter about Donald Campbell in your October issue. He has not been forgotten, at least by many of his friends and helpers. In 1957 at Coniston he founded the K7 Club for those who had assisted him with his many World Record attempts. After his death 10 years later some of us kept it going and it now has many younger members. Most of these hold British World Records on water as few attempts are made on land or in the air at present. Principal helpers are also invited to join and the club is therefore a collection of people well experienced in the trials, disappointments and delays associated with record attempts.

We also have the Bluebird Trophy given in Donald’s memory which is awarded for endeavour in the realm of sport and which symbolises the frustrations of any achievement.

It is easy to criticise people like Donald Campbell. Those who have not the courage to defy the unknown or have a go at life without someone holding their hands will always express their fears and inadequacies by attacking those that dare to do so. However, have they any right if they are not prepared to climb into a boat on a cold January morning and try to drive it at 300 m.p.h.?

Coniston, Cumbria

DR. S. B. Darbishire, Secretary, the K7 Club

Nomenclature

Sir,

I refer to the letter from Sir George Burton and published in the November 1979 edition.

I am sure that if I had been involved in the deliberations over the naming of a new “small” Lancia I should have argued most strongly against calling it a “Lancia Alpha”. While it looks perfectly suitable on paper and satisfies the aesthetic leanings of Greek scholars it is only when one hears the name that the possible reason for rejection becomes perhaps somewhat more evident, girt about as it is phonetically with overtones of even greater Italianate consortia.

Southampton

D. E. Bishop

A Tribute to lckx

Sir,

I was sad to read today that Jacky Ickx has, after winning the 1979 Can-Am championship, decided to retire from motor racing (even though at the time of the announcement he was uncertain as to whether he could resist another assault on the Le Mans twenty-four hours). I believe Jacky to be one of the most talented drivers never to win the formula 1 world title. He was without doubt the Gilles Villeneuve of the late 60s and early 70s, an enthusiastic driver with incredible natural ability, and yet it will probably be not for his Grand Prix achievements that Jacky will be most remembered, but his success in sports car racing. He has no less than four Le Mans victories to his credit. I did not enjoy reading the poor reviews Jacky received alter joining the Ligier team this year. Several British writers (whose names I don’t know to mention) appeared rather biased because Ickx had been chosen in favour of Derek Daly and that James Hunt ‘s contractual problems prevented him from joining the team. Considering that Ligier had lost its early season advantage and his lack of experience with ground-effect cars I would propose that Jacky performed more than soundly.

This season Jacky has been overseeing the activities of another Belgian, Thierry Bousen in Formula 3. I only hope that continued work as a Formula entrant may one day lead to an lckx Formula 1 car.

Dallas, Texas.

P. J. Daniels

Beware the Inbred Circus

Sir,

As fossilised fuel becomes more and more scarce and countries providing it realise its strategic value on the International bargaining counter, motor racing will be increasingly attacked by the uninitiated, the ill-informed and the ignorant.

Has the time not come to reassert the dignity and purpose of the sport by the creation, by the Governing body, of a formula for Grand Prix cars which utilise other fuels or, perhaps, diesel engines?

This would have the two-fold purpose of showing the public that the Sport as a whole is deeply concerned and aware of the fuel crisis and the development of the racing car goes hand in hand with the development of ordinary motor transport.

In your August editorial you mentioned the futility of the FOCA circus and the “closed shop” selfish nature of its activities. The protagonists would do well to remember the fate of circuses which become “inbred”.

In your summary of International firms, which have used motor racing to “improve the breed” you forgot, perhaps, the most objective of them all — Mercedes-Benz.

It is a well known fact that they no longer participate because they consider the present ruling conditions in many branches of the sport not worth-while as an engineering exercise.

Given new incentives which are based on sound technological progress, they, along with other well known firms of the past, may be persuaded to participate in the highest form of motor racing; wearing their national colours, fighting it out for the honour and success of the firm, at the same time making a significant contribution to the safety, economy and progress of the automobile.

United Arab Emirates

E. B. Wilson

A 2CV Marathon

Sir,

Following your road test of the Citroen Dyane it may be of interest to mention that last week I used a 2CV to drive from John o’Groats to Land’s End. The journey took just under 17 hr. (including 21 min. of stops) giving an average speed of 52 m.p.h. and m.p.g. of 44, which makes an interesting comparison with 45 m.p.h. and 32 m.p.g. achieved when I did the same trip in (Pre-motorway) 1954 in a Morgan Plus Four. The trip by 2CV was, of course, hardly exciting but having driven 1,980 miles, Sevenoaks — John o’Groats — Land’s End — Sevenoaks, in three days I can honestly say that I was not unduly tired; thus it seems to me that a 2CV is perfectly adequate transport for long journeys contrary to what we often read. Unlike you I find the gearchange quite satisfactory but would certainly not regard a 2CV, anyway, as a quiet car. However if energy shortage or general austerity ever limit motoring to basic cars it is consoling that motoring entertainment and practicality, as well as economy, should still be obtainable.

Sevenoaks

J. B. Banbury

Jaguar Castings

Sir,

Contrary to my usual practice I feel I should comment in reply to the published letter (Motor Sport, June) by N. A. Ford of Copal Foundries Limited, a foundry for whom I have a considerable degree of respect.

The facts, I think, speak for themselves. We have produced the Jaguar V12 castings, to which I believe Mr. Ford refers, in volume for possibly 10 years and we are still producing, although I believe our price is considerably higher than his. I have never known the Motor Industry consistently pay more for its castings unless it knows it is getting very good value for money and that could only be in terms of quality.

I think I should add that I do not even regard the particular casting concerned as complex: it does not present the technical difficulties of for instance the cylinder block and the cylinder heads and many other castings on the V12 engine which are simply routine production in our foundries.

Smethwick

C. Staniforth, Director & General Manager, Light Alloy Products Group, Birmid Qualcast (Foundries) Limited

[Mr. Ford had claimed that the castings I referred to in a Jaguar story, Motor Sport, April, were made by Copal. Now I know that the Birmid — or was it Birmal — markings were not a figment of my imagination! — C.R.]

Cutting-out

Sir,

In the second paragraph you mention the engine cutting-out only to restart immediately on the ignition key.

After 8,000 miles of delighted, totally enjoyable motoring in my silver Gordini, 4,000 miles of which have recently been spent exalting the breed in Spain and France, I too have met, and, unlike your contritbutor, conquered, your Auto-Gremlin.

Although I have fitted a locking cap to protect the liquid gold in the petrol tank, I do not think that this alters the cause or effect. That is a blocked breather hole in the filler cap, which I readily cured by a brief visit to a compressed airline. The symptoms were exactly as you mention in both excessively dusty, hot weather, and torrential rain on both sides of the Channel.

The only fault I can find with the car, if fault it is, as the Gordini is surely above all else a true sports car, is the uncomfortable period of “resonance” around 4,500 r.p.m., 75/85 m.p.h., which has to be driven-through whether accelerating or decelerating. Maybe one of your readers has found a clue for this.

The usual disclaimers, and bouquets to my Monthly-Must-Magazine.

Kingsbridge, Devon

Michael Cory-Brown

[We think our problem was with the ignition system. — Ed.]

Tailpiece

Another BL headache?

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