Letters From Readers, February 1957



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

Mercedes Inaccuracies


The Editor of Motor Sport, who is a conscientious and tidy-minded historian, refers constantly to small discrepancies in different histories of the racing activities of Mercedes-Benz.

I don’t think that the reason for this is generally known. Mercedes-Benz printed, for private circulation, a small limited number of copies of “Renngeschichter von Mercedes-Benz”; I don’t suppose that there are more than two or three copies in this country. I based “Three-pointed Star” on this, only to find, rather too late in the day, that it is not 100 per cent. accurate, particularly about the first few years of the nineteen twenties. These inaccuracies are by no means wholesale; just an odd one creeps in here and there.

It is therefore by no means safe to assume that “Renngeschichter” is infallible. It is even less safe to rely on what people remember for, as Neubauer said to me on this point, “It all happened so long ago and so much has happened since then that one might remember almost anything.”

Taso Mathieson, who spends a great deal of time abroad, is doing some very valuable research on the subject.

I am, Yours, etc., David Scott-Moncrieff. Leek. 

Opinion From Switzerland


We are two English students studying in Switzerland, and on reading Mr. Peatie’s letter “Opinion from Paris,” we would like to give our opinion from Switzerland.

The small “economy cars” in Switzerland are dominated by Volkswagens, Renaults and Fiats. What is happening to the British cars? One sees a few Austin A30s, Morris Minors and small Fords, but never a Standard. We feel sure it is due to three fundamental points. These are: body design, power-to-weight ratio, and poor braking.

On the Continent body design is of the utmost importance. Our car bodies are out of date, not only in appearance but also in aero-dynamics, which are quite inadequate and so sacrifice speed and fuel consumption, which are two of the essential factors over here. Even though our engines develop as much or more than these European cars, their performance is decreased alarmingly through their poor power-to-weight ratio.

Although the steering and roadholding are up to standard, the brake area should be increased with the rise in engine capacity so as to make driving safer.

We have both had experience in the driving of the Renault Dauphine and Morris Minor. Except for interior comfort, the Dauphine was streets ahead of the Morris in every way.

As a warning to the British “economy car” manufacturers we would like to quote from one of the leading American newspapers. It predicts that some time in 1958 Renault will overtake Britain in the “economy car” class.

We would like to express our gratitude to you for finding Mr. Charles Metchim’s fascinating story, “The Austin that Marched.” This is, in our opinion, one of the finest articles we have read in Motor Sport. Doesn’t it seem a pity that England is throwing away her hard-gained reputation?

We are, Yours, etc., Peter Le Gallais  Hugh Girvan. Lausanne. 

Requirements “Off The Tar”


It is not only the White Man who finds a traditionally early grave on the West Coast of Africa. However quick he may be, it is likely that his car will predecease him by a comfortable margin. As a long-term (nine years) resident in Nigeria and a frequent sufferer from what was described recently, though in a different context, as “mechanical confusion,” I have long felt the urge to contribute to the “Cars I Have Owned ” series and to describe my own experiences and those of some of my fellow sufferers. Unfortunately, the vintage thoroughbreds which feature in those delightful accounts rarely come our way except for a few blissful months of leave. For a variety of reasons (lack of engineering facilities and the need for huge quantities of spare parts) we make do with the products of the modern motor industry, and such is our rapid consumption of them that we speedily acquire a most comprehensive point of view. I began to form mine when the chassis of my five-month-old Austin A40 (1948 version) broke in two places whilst I was “in bush,” and I rode thoughtfully home some few hot hours later in a Mammy Wagon, the ubiquitous lorry-cum-bus of West Africa.

The Nigerian car owner may not take a very prominent part in rallies (though there is now a flourishing band of enthusiasts in Lagos) but he certainly does test his cars. There are now many hundreds of miles of tarmac in Nigeria and great strides forward are being made, but much of the tarred surface is uneven and rugged. Once off the tar one has to contend with laterite (the red dust of Africa), potholed, often heavily corrugated, and all-penetrating. After a few thousand miles of it, one has obtained a knowledge of one’s car and its little foibles which might surprise the manufacturer.

The 1956 Motor Show has come and gone and those of us who live in these far places have now had our Show reports and letters from our friends who went to Earls Court. We have formed our opinions of the new developments that are now offered, and because of our remoteness let nobody think that those opinions are unimportant. Those of us who daily traverse roads of sand, laterite, rock or undulating tar are typical of the inhabitants of a good deal more than half the earth’s surface, and some of those buy cars! We know what we want from the motor industry, British or foreign, and buy from those who cater for us.

Since the last war industry has specialised in first telling the consumer public what it wants and then selling it. No industry has brought this to a finer art than the motor industry, or so it would appear. Consider the steering-column gear-change, for example, or the bench seat in a near-“baby”car (certainly “baby” by American standards for which this device was designed); this year, look at the automatic transmission. Does the British buyer want these things? I don’t know. Presumably he does, or the consumer research chaps are not earning their money. Does the great potential market of Africa, Asia, the shaggier parts of Europe, Australia and everywhere else where roads are bad, want them? If it does, does it want them first or are there other improvements which might be more welcome?

What a relief to know that this year’s model may now be had with semi-automatic transmission or in two colours. Two colours to fade in the sun instead of one! A transmission to take all the labour out of gear-changing. Of course, on these flat deserted roads gear-changing is not a very frequent occurrence, but it is nice to think of what the poor chaps who live in London will be spared. No doubt in a few years the local mechanics will learn how to fix it when it goes wrong, too.

Presumably the pundits of the British motor industry have noticed that Continental manufacturers are forging rapidly ahead in the export race. To us in Nigeria this seems to be due to one shatteringly obvious factor. Apart from minor refinements the Continental seems to be primarily interested in suspensions. The British appear to be satisfied with the agricultural arrangement at the rear end which still characterises over 90 per cent. of British motor cars. And nobody seems to care.

Does nobody in Britain, apart from Mr. Harry Ferguson, think about traction? Have the makers of British mass-produced cars really no interest in suspension systems, or is it merely that they have no interest in the places (Australia or Sweden, for example) where such things matter?

Many of us here are only too anxious to buy British and are deterred only because we cannot afford to. We have to buy the car most suited to our jobs and to the market. More and more of us buy Continental cars. Americans do not offer serious competition because of the dollar situation, though for the money they are, many of them, magnificent vehicles for long-range touring, and this fact has been officially recognised by governments in awarding priorities.

Three features distinguish the majority of cheap Continental cars (and they are cheap where there is no crushing import duty to push them into the luxury price class, where many of them are still able to compete in the U.K.!). These are: good suspension for bad road surfaces, good traction and a high top gear. This last is now being matched by the British manufacturer who offers an overdrive, though at increased cost in most cases. What of the other two?

Fiat, Volkswagen, Renault, Citroen, Borgward and Skoda all feature an enterprising and, by British standards, unorthodox suspension which is independent on all four wheels. Even the more conventional, like the Peugeot with its coil-springs and Panhard rod in rear, seem to obtain excellent traction and roadholding, and certainly enjoy an enviable reputation on bad roads (Australian Ampol Trial, to cite a recent success).

Ever since the last war, members of the buying public have been offering advice to the British motor manufacturer, who has declined to accept such “ill-informed” guidance. And who shall blame him? The risk was his (or anyway, his shareholders), he was the expert, and he had a seller’s market. The last of these is now gone for ever. The amateur critics are supported by the weight of public opinion both inside and outside the industry and by the more outspoken and reputable of the motoring journals such as Motor Sport. The manufacturer’s expertise is in doubt and who shall say whose is the risk when all of us whose homes are in the U.K. must depend for our standard of living on a flourishing export of British cars?

What is the use of increased power, more and more efficient engines, if the wheels that transmit the power cannot grip the road? Of what use are improved brakes locking wheels in the air?

In Nigeria we don’t want vivid acceleration (there usually isn’t anybody to pass), we don’t particularly want gay looks or automatic transmissions which will take the local mechanics years to master. And we are not alone in this!

What we do want is durability (the Volkswagen, for example?), first-class traction (the Volkswagen?), all-round-independent-suspension (Volkswagen?), doors that shut properly and don’t rattle after a few thousand rough miles, all at a reasonable first cost (Volkswagen?). And this makes no mention of servicing and spares organisations in which some makers (Volkswagen?) lead the world. But there is no point in setting up elaborate servicing organisations for cars that are not going to sell!

And can you guess the name of a car here that is selling very well indeed? Yes, I thought you could! Me? I bought a Peugeot 403 last time and I am not biased.

I am, Yours, etc., Donald Leigh. Nigeria. 

Don’t Let It Happen This Time, Mr. Jones!

Opinions are divided about the efficiency with which the present petrol famine is being handled but I can only hope that those whose task it is to hand out coupons do not make such a muddle of the job as I encountered during the last rationing period, at the close of the war.

As a journalist I was entitled to supplementary petrol and at that time, no matter where they resided, journalists and farmers applied for and received their coupons from the London Petroleum Office. This I had duly done, with no grumbles at the generous allowance received.

At the time I was living on the Hampshire/Berkshire border and one evening my landlady informed me that a gentleman had called and would call again the next evening. I waited in for a reasonable time after dinner, but was then forced to go out. On my late return a Morris Eight was parked outside the house. The “gentleman” who had every appearance of being an ex-London policeman, was awaiting me. He informed me that it was known that I used at car when no basic petrol allowance was available and that I should be lucky not to go to prison when he had made his report. I was on the point of explaining to this investigator from the local petroleum office, when he launched into an account of how he had followed a colleague from the factory where I was employed on an occasion when, being notified that his wife had been taken ill, this luckless motorist had ventured to drive a couple of miles home on petrol allocated for a morning and evening, but not mid-afternoon, journey over the same route.

“Got a very stiff fine, he did,” said my visitor, “and if you don’t admit your guilt, it will be worse for you.” I decided to give nothing away, beyond remarking that I had not broken the regulations and that I was in legal possession of petrol coupons.

Muttering to himself, my caller departed, with the threat that he would be back. And the next day he was back, calling this time at my place of employment. After recounting how many people he had been instrumental in sending to prison for petrol offences he again accused me of never having applied for a ration and demanded the number which was stamped on the reply. This I found for him. “But it is prefixed by the letter L,” he stuttered, “you have applied to London.” Naturally,” I retorted, “as it told us to in the National Press. I did tell you I motored as a journalist.”

On this explanation the gentleman in the big boots and drawn-down trilby got into his car and drove off, never to cross my path again. I am sorry to have to add that his parting shot was to the effect that “I will get you yet,” and that he presumably drove at least 90 miles to discover what every regional petroleum officer in the country could have told him.

Petrol rationing is with us again but let us hope that this time it will be inflicted with less wasteful muddle. I said hope . . .!

I am, Yours, etc., “W.O.G.H.” London, S.E. 

Spark Gaps Are Out


I was interested to read the letter of Mr. Ross relating his experience with the High-Frequency Converter, and thought it a pity that this information had not been published before. He, unlike myself, was indeed very fortunate to escape so lightly, both emotionally and economically!

I, too, was hoodwinked by the grandiose ads, and fitted one of these 25s. contraptions to my Healey and was almost driven to distraction as a result. Performance disappeared shortly afterwards and I suspected everything except the gadget “guaranteed for ever”! Carburetters were checked and new needles fitted, tappets adjusted, then contact points and condenser had to be replaced.

Finally, the platinum-pointed plugs gave up the ghost and I came to the conclusion that gremlins were in the works. However, my torture did not last much longer, as I inadvertently fondled the little red monster one day and nearly shot through the garage roof. This was its dying kick, I can assure you, and my Healey has been happy ever since.

An electrician friend informed me that a 1d. metal button from a navvy’s trousers would have served the same purpose as the so-called ignition supercharger. He considers the marketing of this item the greatest swindle foisted on the motoring public since the advent of the internal-combustion engine.

I am, Yours, etc., J. R. Nicholson. Newcastle.


The indignant letter of Mr. Ross and his surgical post-mortem on the highly-publicised “high-frequency ignition convertor” makes most interesting reading. Mr. Ross apparently found inside the plastic body gimmick merely a small air gap between metal faces thus effecting an outside secondary spark gap in the h.t. leads.

From a large tome, “A Text-book of Mechanical Engineering,” by W. J. Linemen, M.I.MechE., M.I.E.E., M.I.C.E., published in 1906, repeat, 1906, page 1002: ” . . but a very interesting discovery has been accidentally made by Panhard’s workmen: that a break in the secondary circuit, outside the engine, of about 1 mm. will cause the spark to act with greater certainty, even jumping across dirty inside terminals.”

At 25s. a millimetre, this works out at £375 a linear foot of good, clean, pure, unadulterated space. Mm.?

I am, Yours, etc., D. Hurst. Bolton. 


I also fitted a so-called ignition-supercharger and, on reading Mr. Ross’ letter, removed it. Misfiring before removal was also experienced. The car (an A40) is its old self again but I have also had to replace the distributor points.

My “supercharger” seems to be an improved version as the entrails had an extra couple of springs and five assorted washers over and above Mr. Ross’ two screws!

I am, Yours, etc., “Similarly Swindled.” Newbury. 

Are Tubeless Tyres Foolproof?


With further reference to tubeless tyres. A year ago we took delivery of a Morris Minor which was fitted with tubeless tyres. At 6,000 miles the front pair were quite without any tread and were changed with the rear pair. At somewhere near 9,000 all tyres were worn out and replaced with four new ones, or retreads. No punctures had been experienced but, and here’s the catch:—

The price of a new tubeless tyre is approximately the same as a tyre and tube, but a tube usually lasts much longer than the life of a tyre. In effect therefore we are paying more over the years to keep the Minor shod.

To mention another tyre, Michelin X. I have recently fitted these tyres to my TR2 and can’t understand why other tyre firms are still in business. I cannot, repeat cannot, make the TR slide on normal road conditions, except on ice.

I am, Yours, etc., H. D. Bos. Gedney.