Letters, December 1986

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Opinions expressed are those of our correspondents, and are not necessarily those of Motor Sport.

***

Preserving the status quo

Sir,

Jenks outrage at cars which are masquerading as something that they are not is very understandable. What has always been lacking, except in the enlightened circles of the VSCC, is an accommodation for the cars which do not meet the rather extreme standards of continuous history required by the F.I.A in Appendix “K”.  The article by David Styles reproduced within Jenks’ piece in the November issue of Motor Sport  was of considerable interest, but what David does not discuss is any means of formal control over the situation.  At no time does he mention the documentation that now accompanies competition cars, particularly those used in any International theatre of competition or for some club championships.

The F.I.A. Historic Vehicle Identity Form requires a car to have a continuous history, comparatively easy for well known Grand Prix cars, but pity the owner of a less well known marque which raced in a lesser formulae and was probably driven by a totally unknown driver.  It is unlikely that the car featured in any race report or that many people will even remember the car’s existence. Cars of this type were often worth little until a historic category was devised to accommodate them and so it was not unusual or them to be, genuinely, “found in a barn”.  Certainly one Formula Junior car known to the writer was rescued from a rubbish tip. What chance would the owner have of discovering that car’s history? And what if a car of this type were imported? The sum total history of such a car was likely to stop at the date it reached the dockside in the UK.

Thus the Registrar who will be approving the car is likely to be faced with “history” which is more Grimm than Macaulay.

The point of this preamble is that there is a formal control system but it is not working properly. What is needed is a greater use of this control system, an extension of it to acknowledge that there are cars for which there is no known history and cars which have been constructed only recently from some genuine parts to a specification of an earlier period, and an adoption of it by all clubs involved in historic competition.

There are, currently, two categories into which cars must fit for registration onto a F.I.A. Historic Vehicle Form. The first is “original” in which the car must be to its original specification barring wheels and tyres, which may be different, and sparking plugs and light bulbs which even the F.I.A. expects to have been changed.  The second is termed “period improved” in which wider departures from the original specification may be made but any alterations must have been possible at the time and include parts available not more than one year after the close of the historic period for which the car qualifies.

It is sugggested that a further category is introduced, that of Out of Period Construction. This category would be for cars which cannot meet the continuous history requirement and also for those incorporating some original parts and some recently manufactured, all put together for the first time after the period in which it purported to belong, but conforming closely to the specification of the period. In the latter case, the constructor would have the car inspected at regular intervals throughout its construction by someone knowledgable of the marque being reproduced from the club authorising the car before final authentication was given.

Coupled with this it would be necessary to retrospectively re-register all existing cars into the new categories as necessary.  Associated with the new form would be a “chassis plate” which would refer to the document and to the ASN or club which endorsed/authorised it. Any future potential owner would have some point of reference to begin the checking to satisfy himself of the status of the car.

The beauty of such a control system would be that the original cars would be protected and the historic grids would once more see D type Jaguars and 250F Maseratis which, whilst not being genuine, would be documented and their whereabouts charted.  Cars like the beautifully constructed Vanwall put together a couple of years ago would be able to be seen Internationally which the present regulations prohibit.  Future Registrars would be spared hours of research in attempting to authenticate cars for which the same dubious “history” was again re-presented in an attempt to prove the car genuine.

No one would wish to create a ‘Ministry of Historic Motor Sport” but a framework of controls are necessary in order to allow the cars without a history — whether because it is missing or because the car is recently constructed — to compete openly in historic events and for their whereabouts to be known.

Alan Putt,

Dartford. Kent

(Alan Putt is the HSSC Registrar for Pre ’65 and Pre ’71 single seater championships. — Ed)

***

Marendaz in Perspective

Sir,

The continuing correspondence on Marendaz Special cars causes me to comment. The car that Captain Marendaz raced in 1925 appears not to fall easily into the category of Marseal or Marendaz Special. It had a flat-fronted radiator (all Marendaz Specials had the “Bentley” type), it had a four-seat touring body with double doors on the near-side, whilst the Marseals had a single door). I suspect it was an interim design or a prototype, and if Captain Marendaz names it a Marendaz Special, who are we to argue?

The specifications quoted by Captain Marendaz as applying to Marseals and Marendaz Specials are not completely correct.  Autocar  for February 1st 1924, page 201, states that the Marseal had semi-elliptic front springs and dumbirons — I presume this information was correct and supplied by Captain Marendaz, and applied to a later production. Equally, not all Marendaz Specials had hydraulic brakes. The photograph of the record-breaking car clearly shows the screw adjusters of a rod brake system (Autocar, 24 Feb 1928, page 340). It does not seem unreasonable that interim development cars would be produced, blurring otherwise clearcut distinctions.

I am at a loss to identify the three 24hr records held by Marendaz Special cars Class ‘G’ 14/15 February 1928, Class ‘F’ 5/6 November 1928 are certain, of course. Captain Marendaz himself established a third record for Class ‘B’  23/24 December 1929, but this was in a Graham-Paige car, so perhaps his words in V-EV for July 1964 are more correct — ” the only car manufacturer in the world ever to hold three International 24-Hour records”.

Finally one record for the marque that appears to be rarely quoted — I believe that the first woman to win a race at Brooklands when competing on equal terms with men was Miss Dorothy O. Summers using a Marendaz Special in the Second March Short Handicap, 1936. I refer to the late Michael Sedgwick and “Lost Causes of Motoring” for this piece of information. Can anyone tell me if Miss Summers is still alive, and where she might be living, as her racing history from at least 1929 has gone largely unrecorded?

Graham Skillen,

Tonbridge

(No, the first lady to win a mixed BARC race was Mrs. S Tolhurst in a Riley 9, in the 1932 Racing Short Handicap. There were ten more mixed races won by lady drivers at BARC meetings before the Marendaz Special win in 1936. Ladies had their own events at BARC Brooklands meetings, apart from the pioneer ones dating back to 1908, from 1928, the first of these won by Miss M. Maconochie’s Salmson, and their first over the Mountain-circuit was in 1933, won by Miss Rita Don in a Dixon Riley 9 — Ed.)

***

Victory Postponed

As Nigel slid his crippled Williams into the armco my wife burst into tears, the rest of us just sat in stunned silence. We had spent three quarters of the race telling Murray Walker to shut up every time he started to say “Mansell in a comfortable fourth place will be… etc” and with the demise of Rosberg we had just started to stop holding our breath. The past laps had been a torment as Prost had climbed all over Mansell, each person in the room reaching for the boost control in Nigel’s cockpit; go, go, go.  Then so briefly it seemed that the vigil would end in celebration, and then, and then.  We did not need the BBC to repeatedly replay that sickening sight of the Williams shredding tyre, we could all still see it so clearly, still can and still cannot quite believe it.  In a peculiar way it almost seemed to be our fault. For a few seconds thousands of supporters had relaxed their concentration, there was a comfortable cushion to the fourth placed driver, it was in the bag and at that moment Nigel’s luck deserted him. Even more ironic is that Nigel was not allowed the time to have prospered from Rosberg’s misfortune. He is too wily to have come in for new tyres the next time he passed the pits, as his team mate Piquet did. If only.

We have watched every race this season, as we have in previous years; we have seen the hopes of one man dashed by another in the final race before, but as bystanders. On Sunday morning we were there, it mattered and for bringing such drama back into the lives of English enthusiasts we have much to thank Nigel for this season. The champagne remains unopened in the fridge and I cannot pretend that it will be the same bottle there next year but be certain there will be another one.  Thank you Nigel, we will be there next year.  It took Prost three years, we believe you can do it and we know that you do too and that is what matters. On this Sunday morning though there have perhaps never been more sick parrots in England.

Neil Harris, 

Newcastle upon Tyne

***

Tobacco Road

Sir,

I was delighted to read about the enthusiasm with which Motor Sport  greeted the first Birmingham Super Prix.  I think, however, that you could have made reference to one particularly desirable feature of this new event, namely that the organisers refused to accept sponsorship from the tobacco industry.

As a doctor (of nearly 30 years standing) and a motor sport enthusiast (of nearly 40 years standing), I remain distressed by the massive amount of indirect advertising which the tobacco industry enjoys through the television presentation of major motor sport events. Your readers must be aware by now that cigarettes are responsible for some 100,000 premature deaths each year in Britain, that smoking is not declining amongst the young, that vast numbers of young people watch televised motor sport, and that there is evidence that children are influenced by tobacco advertising on television.

Every good wish to the organisers of the Birmingham Super Prix; may the example that they have set spread to other major motor sporting events.

Professor M P Vessey,

Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford

***

Paris-Madrid

Sir,

With reference to the letter from Mr Scheel concerning Smith-Cumming’s exploits in the 1903 Paris-Madrid Race, the story is open to refutation on two counts.  

Firstly, can anyone seriously believe that it would be possible to amputate one’s own foot however good a penknife one possessed? 

Secondly, Smith-Cummming did not drive in the Paris-Madrid race, though there is the hint of a possibility that he may have been a passenger.  That he possessed a 50hp racing Wolseley is true and the car is illustrated and described in the “Car Illustrated” of April 15th and 22nd 1903.  He had intended to use the car in the Eliminating Trials for the Gordon-Bennett Race but following an objection from the Star Company the car did not compete. However it was entered for the Paris-Madrid race of May 24th, but although Smith-Cumming went to Paris with the intention of driving it, it eventually took part driven by Sydney Girling. The “hint of a possibility” exists that the owner may have travelled as passenger mechanic, but l can find no confirmation of this. It was the first British car to leave Paris, in 12th place, but retired along with Austin’s and Foster’s Wolseleys with “hot bearings”. The only other Wolseley in the Race, that of Porter, went out of control at a level crossing when running very late, and crashed and caught fire killing Nixon the mechanic.

Much rubbish of a sensational nature has been written about the Race from that in the Popular Press of the day, onwards.  Although many cars crashed, the fatalities seem to have been only Marcel Renault, the aforementioned Nixon, Lorraine Barrow’s mechanic, Rodez, (although Barrow did eventually succumb to his injuries weeks later), Tourand’s mechanic and two spectators. It is generally felt that it was Tourand’s accident involving spectator fatalities that caused the race to be stopped.  A number of other drivers and mechanics were injured but eventually recovered.

Smith-Cummings reminiscence is just another example of the sensationalism that the Race attracted.  

If proof of his tall story is needed, the “Car Illustrated’ for July 15th 1903, carries a fine picture of Smith-Cumming on his 50hp Wolseley competing against Rolls on his 80hp Mors in the Speed Trials at Cork, a week or so after the Gordon-Bennett Race. The car looks undamaged and Smith-Cummings fully fit!

In spite of all this, I still enjoy reading Minchin’s book, for however inaccurate or improbable parts of it may be it has a wonderful atmosphere and evokes the period most vividly.

Malcolm Jeal,

Devises

(These views of Minchin’s entertaining book are exactly my own. — Ed.)

***

Plugs

Sir,

In your September number WB in his article “I Worked at T and Ts” asks if anyone knows of any sparking plug not mentioned in his list.  Bougie Nerka, made in Marseilles in the late ’20s and early ’30s is my contribution. The make was owned by Freddie Hoffmann, a wealthy and very charming Swiss enthusiast in motor racing who sponsored Chiron in his early days, and whose wife “Bebe” left him later to go and live with Chiron and at a later date with Caracciola.

 In ’27, ’28 and ’29  I raced with Nerka and Chiron on a 1500 cc and a 2 litre supercharged Bugatti and made best time of the day in quite a few hill climbs, as well as participating in a few races.  Circuit de Gattières 1st, Grand Prix de la Garoupe 1st, Circuit d’Estérel Plage, Grand Prix du Comminges, Grand Prix de Guipuscoa (San Sébastien) 5th after a lot of trouble with too fresh Michelin tyres.

I was glad to see that TASO Matheson was to be the Guest of Honour at the VSCC meeting; we correspond once or twice a year and have a mutual friend Bill Craig who, I believe, was one of the first men round Brooklands in a Bugatti, and now lives in Spain.

Edward A Brett

Mougins, France.

(In fact, Lambert raced a Bugatti at Brooklands in 1914, and Craig not until 1929 — Ed.)

***

ABS Drawback

Sir,

Recently, like most of the population who have any interest in cars, I have become aware of the heavy promotion of the new generation ABS braking systems on cars such as the Granada, Rover Sterling and now as a cost option on Escorts. Obviously this is a tremendous advance on ordinary braking but slowly a thought has been growing in my mind.  Is ABS really going to have a significant effect on safety in the short term?  I have come to the conclusion that it will not!

My main reason for this conclusion is that, although the Granada may stop extremely quickly, I am convinced that there will be a lot more cars hitting the rear ends of Granadas as they are unable to stop at the same rate.  I believe that ABS drivers will become accustomed to braking harder and later and that other drivers will not alter their techniques to compensate for an ABS car ahead.

I wonder whether insurance companies have started to notice a greater number of rear end shunts in the Granadas, etc.  I presume that, in the case of an ABS driver braking at maximum, the driver hitting his rear is still automatically at fault.

Should ABS cars not be fitted with warning signs on the rear, similar to the early lorries with air brakes, I presume that these earlier warning signs were to warn following drivers that this type of lorry braked more quickly than the norm.

B J Walsh

Loughborough