Where The Menace Lies
“Whom the gods wish to destroy they first call promising.”— Cyril Connolly, Enemies of Promise, Chap, 3.
So-called civilised countries these days fear all manner of menaces. They face industrial unrest, go-slows, strikes, kidnappings and riots, as undeveloped lands suffer from famine and pestilence. To the menace of crime and violence can be added the nightmare of uncontrollable inflation, reduced living standards, and shortages of vital fuels. It is perhaps due to the national temperament and to our system of Government that Britain still remains a good place in which to reside. The change of Government earlier this year seems to be working well, although there are critics who are not prepared to allow the first lady Prime Minister (whose son is a keen amateur racing driver) time in which to show what she can accomplish.
From the viewpoint of the British motor industry the almost unanimous vote by the work-force of British Leyland Cars to go along with Sir Michael Edwardes’ “Survival Plan” is a much-needed breath of fresh air in a very difficult and dangerous situation, stimulating to those who saw disaster round the corner. It also emphasises that shop stewards do not, by a very long chalk, represent the majority view of the work-force. One can only hope that Sir Michael knows what he is doing and that his “Plan” will work . . .
The more than a ha’porth-of-tar that spoils this promising ship, the too-big fly in the Edwardes ointment which we find it hard to overlook, is the reliance which BL finds it necessary to place on Japanese engineering and ideas for the birth and upbringing of important new cars. It seems astonishing that British automative engineers cannot do the job themselves, rather than lean on the orientals, who came into motoring so very late in the day.
We were about to point out that all along the years we insular British have made not only good, but at times great, motor cars when we noticed that Anthony Curtis, Editor of Motor, was saying this very thing, and also regretting the unfair criticism some people make, with no justification, of British cars. However, they say that great minds think alike, so, having started, we will finish, as Magnus Magnusson says when the pips sound during a “Mastermind” TV programme. Mr. Curtis refers to the Issigonis Mini Minor, so widely copied, the still-born “SX” by the same brilliant designer, the E-type Jaguar, safer than the swing-axle Mercedes and Porsche that were contemporary with it and less-costly than a Ferrari, the four-wheel-drive Jensen FF, Spen King’s splendid, go-anywhere-in-comfort Range-Rover, the Jaguar XJ-range and of course, to the Rolls-Royce. He also quotes British components such as Dunlop’s high-hysteresis rubber and the Dunlop Denovo tyre as proof of British engineering and technological integrity during the past 20 years. Going back further, but still in a BL context, we would add things like Riley’s clever push-rod operation of inclined overhead valves, Automotives Products’ automatic transmission for the Mini, Moulton’s inter-connected rubber-and-fluid suspension, Jaguar’s impeccable twin-cam and V12 engines. Triumph’s pioneering of hydraulic brakes, Leyland’s “first” with a production straight-eight car incorporating torsion-bar suspension and vacuum-servo brakes, and many other fine British achievements. To quit after that and call on the Japs for assistance seems, to say the least, defeatist. The incorporation of Japanese parts in British cars may not affect BL’s sales, for all is apparently fair in love and war and when spending hard-earned money on a personal possession. It is just possible that there may be those who were involved in Pearl Harbour or who were interned in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, who are not exactly enthusing over cars from the Orient, but the days when it was thought unpatriotic not to invest in a British car have obviously passed — making the advertisement reproduced in Graham Robson’s recent book about motoring as it was in the 1930s, of a girl-golfer who is saying to her male companion at the golf club “I always feel a bit uneasy here. We seem to be the only people with a foreign car,” now seem merely quaint (unfortunately).
In any case, a motor paper should be immune to politics and nationalistic ideals when recommending cars to its readers. Motor Sport certainly steered clear of this when W.B. was proclaiming the merits of the Volkswagen Beetle in its pages in the 1950s, although this brought accusations down on his head that he was unpleasantly pro-German and long afterwards, when the Beetle had almost expired, replaced in production by the equally-notable, if mechanically less individual, VW Polo and Golf, Cliff Michelmore used this anti-British label as one of his spearheads when interviewing the Editor for the BBC at his Welsh home. If Motor Sport has not seen fit to open wide the British market to Japanese cars, as other magazines have done, this has been because until recently these cars have lagged behind, particularly in respect of ride, handling, braking and styling, those from other countries. However, all this is rapidly changing. C.R. had excellent service, for instance, from the small Mazda hatchback and has highly-praised the Mazda RX-7, both of which he has had on long-range road-test, and more recently W.B. has been very impressed by the Mazda Montrose. In any case, any prejudice that one might have had for the cars from Japan has now been swept away by the great British motor corporation calling for Honda-help . . .
If this leads to the inscrutable orientals getting such a foothold in our Motor Industry that they eventually dominate it, as they have done the entire motorcycle industry, we shall have only ourselves to blame. Perhaps the writing is already on the wall. Colt, Datsun, Daihatsu, Honda, Subaru, Suzuki and Toyota are all now entrenched in the UK, with not far short of 1,500 dealers keen to sell these makes. They cover a wide range of cars, from 797 c.c. to 2,753 c.c., costing from £2,400 to £9,922. They embrace the economical three-cylinder Daihatsu Charade, the notably fuel-thrifty and low-priced Suzuki SC 100GX, those ingenious eight-speed Colts (which the writer has not yet been offered for road-test, in spite of a long-standing request), the impressive Wankel-powered Mazda, the well-established Toyotas, and a number of four-wheel-drive vehicles to challenge the once-universal Land-Rover and Range-Rover, etc. And if the Honda Prelude, which we are currently testing, is a prelude to even better Japanese cars, European manufacturers will definitely have to look to their laurels . . . The Japanese have discovered how to make their engines function smoothly and quietly, on two-star petrol.
Meanwhile, British Leyland is promising great things from next year’s Mini-Metro. Yet it is difficult to see how this can be as technically-innovative as was the present Mini twenty years ago, and it will need to be extremely good, a real breakthrough in small-car appeal, if it is to out-sell cars like the Ford Fiesta or Opel Kadett/Vauxhall Astra.
The RAC Strikes Again
Some time ago Clubs like the MCC were badly hit when the RAC British Motor Sports Council introduced higher Permit-fees for road events, based on route-mileage. Now it is intending, from January 1st next, that all competitors in all forms of competitive motor sport must have a Competition Licence, except when they enter for non-Permit events. It seems that even 12-car rallies that include an imposed average-speed stipulation comes under the new ruling, and that those who organise events in which Competition Licences are insisted upon will have tougher conditions to face. Even non-driving navigators and Clerks of the Course will be compelled to hold such licences.
The RAC has exempted economy runs and some vintage-car road events from this new stipulation but the luckless organisers of these will still have to visit all householders who reside along every “white” or “yellow” road their routes embrace and call on all those who live in any area where there are more than 20 occupied dwellings within a 300-metre radius of the route, to obtain written acceptance of the event.
To comply with these regulations will be costly and difficult for the smaller Clubs and will no doubt cause a fall off in entries, and probably also a reduction in organised events by these smaller Clubs. Anything that restricts motoring sport without good reason is to be deplored and one wonders whether these new measures are not over-drastic, at a time when the Police have removed all the former “black spots” from the MCC Exeter Trial route, which hardly smacks of public dislike and complaint about such events. Incidentally, where the older cars are granted a concession the RAC appears to be confused, as the Competition Licence exemption for road events for such cars is laid down as applying to vehicles made not later than 1929, whereas, ever since its formation, the most influential organisation catering for these cars, the VSCC, has set the vintage date as 1930. Moreover, the VSCC and so many other one-make and other Clubs run events for pre-1940 cars, that these could surely have been safely included, without any danger of disrupting the peace and quiet of the public of this country?
In passing, we would like again to pay a warm tribute to Britain’s oldest motoring body, the Motor Cycling Club, for continuing to hold its classic long-distance trials that cater for so many types of two-, three-, and four-wheeled vehicles. It may by now be too late to enter for the classic “Exeter”. But the “Land’s End” at Easter 1980 should not be forgotten.
Getting It Right
It has been pointed out to me that in describing the types of sparking plug used in Ian Preston’s GP Bugatti (which is a Type 35B, not a 353 as the printers had it ), I mistakenly said that Shelsley Walsh is a longer hill than Prescott, whereas the extension to the latter provides a course of 1,127 yards, compared to Shelsley Walsh’s 1,000 yards. However, vintage cars usually, although not always, use the original Prescott course, of 880 yards, which is what I was thinking of. Anyway, I think it is a question of Shelsley being the faster course, where the Bugatti requires that much “cooler” a plug, than it does for Prescott. Passing over some other misprints, which played havoc in places with meaning and sent me to Cambridge to meet Mr. and Mrs. Bolton, which in fact never happened, I pass on to the BL Heritage’s big Daimler. I think we are about to get confirmation from Peter Mitchell that it may well be a 1904 car. I had intended to put its speculative date at 1905/6 and to say that I thought it has the 35 h.p. engine, not the 45 h.p. engine which came out in mid-1906 and was used to win by Instone the Gottlieb Daimler Memorial Plate at Brooklands in 1907. Incidentally, although this old Daimler carries Reg. No. DU-541 and we know that Instone’s car which set the first course-record at Shelsley Walsh in August 1905 was DU-578, which suggests that both Daimlers were at the latest 1905 cars, I know of a 1900 Daimler which was registered DU-630, so I do not set much store by this; it could be that they were a bit casual at “The Daimler” about these things, after number plates had become compulsory in 1903. — W.B.
A “Babs” Bulletin
We learn from Owen Wyn-Owen, keeper of the famous Parry Thomas LSR car “Babs”, that he is currently working on the clutch, to ensure that this heavily-stressed component will not give trouble in the future, as it would be virtually inaccessible with the car’s body in place. Wyn-Owen is anxious to find a sheet-metal worker who will give him an estimate for making a replica of the body that was on “Babs” when the car crashed at Pendine sands in 1927, killing Thomas. A new dashboard has now been made for the car, with a modern but correct-looking fuel-tank air-pressure gauge, the rest of the instruments being the original ones, ably restored by the Budenberg Gauge Co. of Anglesey. Smaller driving sprockets are being fitted, to make “Babs” easier to drive and to ease the load on the clutch. The original sprockets will be retained; one wonders if Thomas used smaller diameter ones to the LSR sprockets when he took standing-start records at Brooklands with “Babs”? —W.B.
The Things They Say . . .
“My next ambition is to persuade Bill Boddy into the (Ferrari) 512 with me. All journalists ought to try it; it stops them pontificating.” — Willie Green, in an interview in Motor, of October 13th. To which W.B. dispatched a postcard, saying he was willing, providing he wouldn’t have to dress up in harness and helmet. So far, no reply has been received. “Stirling Moss, three times world champion driver, says ‘Like all the best cars, the Accord really comes into its own when you start to drive’ .” — from a Honda advertisement in a Daubi newspaper. Our italics.
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“Austin-Morris is working on a three-cylinder gasolene econobox engine. The goal is 60 m.p.g. at a steady 60 m.p.h.” — from an American motoring journal. It is this economy cruising speed target that Motor Sport has demanded for many years, for the smaller cars. — W.B.
VSCC Eastern Rally Results:—
The Eastern Trophy
R M. Keyworth/T. J. Foster (Austin Nippy)
John Barrett Trophy
G. M. Tomlin (navigator)
First Class Awards
E. J Warburton (Star), R. A. Collings (Bentley), E. J. Benfield (Alvis), K. F Hyland (Alvis)
Second Class Awards
J. A. McEvvan (Riley), C. E. Ayre (Alvis), J. Burnell (Alvis), A. E. Metcalfe (Lagonda), S. Harvey (Riley), Mrs M. North (Lancla), M. Baxter (Riley), L. J. Stretton (Fraser Nash), C M. Thomas (Alvis).
Third Class Awards
P. R. Cattell (Riley), A. D. Jones (Vauxhall), R. J. Odell (Lagonda), M. Hirst (Alvis).
R.R. Ives, I. North, O. B. Roberts
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We wish all our readers a happy Christmas and New Year
January issue will be published on January 4th 1980