Letters from Readers
N.B.—Opinions expressed are those of our correspondents and Motor Sport does not necessarily associate itself with them.—Ed.
In March, 1965 you were kind enough to print a letter of mine praising the then new SP41 tyres on Jaguars. I ended by saying that an excursion from Jaguar into "Exotica" would probably be regretted, but had to be tried. Well, here is the story if you are interested.
Fortunately, Harold Wilson and his gang have not yet managed to deny the owner of a business the choice of personal transport, but what to choose? I suppose like most Englishmen the Aston Martin always was the dream and therefore set the standard which discounted the following cars:
Jensen CV8: Ugly and uninspiring and with a chassis which surely could not match the performance of that engine.
Gordon Keeble: I liked it, but the Company was in financial trouble.
Ferrari and Maserati: Import duty, etc., practically doubles their "home" price and I could not see that either was worth £2,000 more than the Aston.
E-Type Jaguar: Like D. S. J. I was disappointed with the early model. The small doors, cramped hot interior and rather "poofy" lines put me off. Resides I was not considering value or money any more! The odd Motor Sport article saying "Yes, but not a GT car" helped to dissuade me.
An Aston Martin it was, then, but I first bought a secondhand 1960 DB4 at £1,750 to see if I liked this kind of motoring before spending £4,500 on a new one. This car gave me trouble-free motoring for three months, my only complaint being the lack of fifth speed or overdrive (fitted to later models). Early-morning motorway trips at 130 m.p.h. brought the oil pressure down from a constant 70 to 50 p.s.i. pointing also to the need for an oil cooler. But the car served its purpose and along with one of the Jaguars was part-exchanged for a new DB5. This was like a boudoir after the DB4—quieter, plushier, electric windows, Selectaride—although you need a more sensitive bottom than mine to take advantage of the four settings.
The first and lasting impression is safety. The roadholding is phenomenal and here I compare it with the fast saloons like the Jaguars and not foreign GT cars like Ferrari of which I have no experience. I got quite used to "bending" Jaguars round corners and suffered many a moment of apprehension, but with the Aston—none. To this day I have no idea whether it over or understeers. The car's ability to get round corners exceeds its driver's and that is what I call a safe car. In the early days of ownership I missed a change from fifth to third whilst approaching a nasty bend all wrongly cambered and went round in neutral at around 100 m.p.h. with slight protest from the tyres. However, there was very activated movement from one of those weird families picnicking in an adjoining lay-by!
It is difficult to put into print the feeling of security that this roadholding, allied to excellent acceleration and braking, gives but I think it is basically the ability to maintain speed on bends and corners on an even keel without having to correct or, even worse, to be prepared to correct for body roll suspension deficiencies.
In my innocence I had imagined that the designers, builders and even service engineers responsible for a £4,500 car would be a race of supermen. They are not. They are ordinary people and drop their clangers like the rest of us, especially the service engineers, but more about them later. I also thought—how naive can you get—that by paying £2,000 more than for a Jaguar the latter's irritating, but albeit small design faults would not be present in the Aston—a question of not having to get down to a price. True enough in certain respects: no faulty gauges or replacement speedo in 60,000 miles, never a leak from the exhaust system, etc. but there is a brief list of faults which have no right to be present in this sort of car:
(1) Petrol leaks from both fillers on cornering if the tank is much more than half full.
(2) Too much heat from engine and gearbox finds its way into the interior and the ventilation system is inadequate in hot weather.
(3) Standard horns just "croak" at speed and the steering-wheel centre boss is not the right place from which to sound them. Finger-tip operation on the end of the direction-indicator stalk is the only place for a fast car.
(4) Choke and heating control knobs felt off every few weeks. Glue on the retaining screw solved this.
(5) Too much instrument reflection in the windscreen.
(6) Driving mirror vibrates at high speed.
(7) Sun visors of transparent plastic obscure the view when in use and are too smoked to see through.
(8) No rubber protection plugs in the four jacking points. Obviously no one at the factory has changed a wheel on anything but a new car using the equipment provided. It is impossible to insert the jack without first cleaning nut the hole with a penknife.
(9) Noisy windscreen wiper motor and mechanism.
(10) Poor lateral support of the front seats.
To the best of my knowledge the DB6 retains all but faults 1 and 2 and incorporates a few more obvious ones of its own. The already heavy steering seems even heavier and the lengthened wheelbase has not improved the roadholding. As for the looks!—a steady decline from the original DB4 is probably the nicest way to express my feelings.
But once you accept that even the most expensive cars are designed by people who just sit on their bottoms designing and not motoring year in and year out, you then accept the faults and appreciate the more obvious virtues. The turbine smooth engine makes the longstroke XK engine seem rough by comparison. That beautifully built aluminium body over an immensely strong steel tube frame offers you every chance of walking away from a bad accident. In fact an associate drove straight through a telephone box one evening and suffered a cut finger. He said he felt a bit of a Charlie telephoning for help from a box with only the back wall standing. I hasten to add that it was his fault.
Over the big question of reliability I have mixed feelings. I suffered five roadside breakdowns. Two of these were fan-belt breakages and not directly attributable to the car. I was let down twice in a week by the Lucas distributor; once when a tungsten tip flew off the contact breaker and closed the gap completely. A new distributor under warranty helped restore my shattered morale. When you have paid this much money for a car there is a great temptation not to be associated with it whilst it remains broken-down by the roadside. The other time the car let me down was at 58,000 miles when the clutch went. This was my own fault as I had ignored the warning signs of wear in an effort to see what mileage I could get out of the original clutch. I was interested to read in your April issue that D.S.J. replaced his presumably similar diaphragm clutch at 40,000 miles in the 'E' type as a precautionary measure. What price on the Aston—£50 for parts and £28 for labour! Incidentally his alternator went at 38,500 and mine at 58,500 miles. The battery is still perfect being located under the rear seat and well away from engine heat.
Apart from the usual bits and pieces like plugs, points and brake pads the only other replacements have been a noisy wiper motor under warranty, both rear shock-absorbers, oil radiator, the inevitable S.U. petrol pumps (at least with twin pumps you can get home) and recently two rear road springs. The car was "bottoming" on rough roads with two people and plenty of luggage making fast trips through France virtually impossible. New springs only partially cured this and I began to think the DB5 was too heavy for its suspension. I can only assume the heavier DB6 will "settle" even sooner.
The warranty is a very worthwhile twelve months and this for me was 27,000 miles. Coincidentally with the purchase of the Aston my annual mileage was cut from 50,000 miles with the employment of an assistant. Pity, really, as I could have made good use of that 50,000 miles warranty! The Manufacturers and their distributors interpret the warranty very generously.
The mention of distributors brings me back to service engineers who are not supermen. Courteous, willing and knowledgeable, but too many times after an expensive service has the car had to be returned for adjustment for something or other. Once, I was sent away with a water leak from a none too tight Jubilee clip (now there's a salesman, that Jubilee rep.; he has got twenty clips on the primary water hose alone!). I don't know how many miles I achieved at a temperature of 100°C. plus; probably not many as I like inspecting all those lovely instruments, but 2,000 miles later the head gasket had to be replaced. Fortunately, I was still in warranty having only done 21,000 miles! Later, and regrettably out of the warranty period, just after an expensive 10,000-mile service a worn fan-belt shredded within a few miles. After recording up to 110°C. in a two-lane traffic jam for a few minutes I feared the worst. 7,000 miles later No. 6 exhaust valve burnt out. I was assured that I had done well to get 39,000 miles in before a top overhaul and perhaps therefore the previous overheating had not contributed over much. However, I sent the offending valve to the factory with a complaint about early deterioration. Needless to say they did not agree with their distributor's flattery at my ability to get so far without a top overhaul. The reply?—
" . . . and must admit that it is one of ours" (cunning chap might be sending us one out of his Jaguar) " . . . this sort of thing does occasionally happen . . . It is not, however, common in our cars if properly used" (so much for my driving ability).
In my own mind there is no doubt that this all aluminium engine is a little delicate around the head gasket and will not suffer overheating. In which case better service would have been welcome.
Maintenance for 60,000 miles cost £800 of which exactly half was labour, and around £100 was tyres. The very excellent Avon GT tyres, pre-70 m.p.h. speed limit, gave around 10,000 miles for the rears and 20,000 miles for the front ones. Of the £300 of "material" that went into the car about £50 must have been oil as the sump holds 21 pints!
The attitude of one's fellow motorists is worth commenting on. Generally I was offered an embarrassing amount of courtesy and the moment this bright red thing appeared in a rear-view mirror I would be waved on by all but the odd representative in a company car who was determined to stay ahead on the grounds, presumably, that only the aged can afford Astons. (However, I am 38.) One citizen in a Cortina showed me the way round a large roundabout near Uxbridge with three lanes on the exit and actually managed to hit, the central reservation.
Once I came up behind an American-registered Mustang. The driver suddenly went berserk on seeing me, crossed double white lines, caused a 'bus to pull over with flashing lights and sundry other nonsenses; before I showed up in case someone accused me of racing on the public highway.
These were, fortunately, rare occasions and I had many months of the safest motoring anyone is likely to experience. Then came the 70 m.p.h. limit and suddenly a lot of bloody-minded drivers are amongst us, and the law is on their side. For me the Aston became an achronism and since I could no longer make use of its virtue of high-speed safe motoring I refused to suffer its faults. So we have parted company and there is now a very lovely Bentley S3 Mulliner Continental in her place. A charming lady this, but then we are still on our honeymoon. Husband No. 1 must have been very kind—between them they only managed 26,000 miles in just over three years; without "issue" I should imagine judging by her condition. 4,000 miles in our first Month have not disturbed her and I think she may well prove the answer to a lot of long-distance motoring in today's traffic.
Many thanks for an excellent magazine but I would welcome more articles on "Exotica." Some years ago Rob Walker delighted me with his "Cars I Have Owned." He must have had many more since.
Beaconsfield. Peter Messenger.
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Your article "Concessionaires to the Rising Sun" was read with interest, and as one of the chief participants in the introduction of Japanese cars into this country we would like to put forward certain points in respect of your article which we consider portrays a slightly wrong impression to our customers buying Toyota cars.
We are sure you will agree that certain nuances in the way places are described can give a wealth of meaning which can either be had or good depending on which way the inflection is made and on this point we feel that the statement "insignificant blue door" is not entirely true and to prove this we have enclosed photographs of the entrance to the showroom. We feel that our door, which is blue for Toyota, is no more insignificant than any other door which is made to allow the human frame to pass through its portals. This is also the case with reference to the back stairs. Back stairs, in some people's minds, give the impression of clandestine or nefarious practices which we assure you is not related to our trade. The stairs extend from the back to the front to meet requirements designated by the structural formation of the building with a showroom underneath.
Again from the point of view of impression, though our depot is an ex-ordnance depot it can bear no relationship to its past image in its present form and was not mentioned as having new specifically designed hangars erected plus many more ancillary equipments related to vehicle servicing and handling. The up-to-date design of the depot we consider is most important, and entirely relevant to efficient predelivery servicing of vehicles.
On a point of accuracy we would like to draw your attention to the fact that the writer is General Manager and not Managing Director which was boldy displayed on the door and was also recorded on the visiting card presented to your interviewer. Also the cars were shipped from Nagoya not Tokyo, a small point but in the interest of accuracy should be recorded.
For interest the figures of the number of cars already sold are around 1,000 in 1966 and 2,000 in 1967. This information was not, to my memory, divulged at the meeting. We do not wish to digress at large and appear over complaining about the article but we feel that the information given and the impressions arrived at by your representative should not, unless factual, slant the picture and image of our most reputable firm and excellent Toyota vehicles, at a derogatory angle.
Trusting you will take note of our continents and possibly at least reward us with a picture of our showroom and blue door, however insignificant it may have appeared to W.B.
F. C. D. Wright,
London, S.W.2. General Manager, Toyota (G.B.) Ltd.
[Premises, like cars, differ a great deal. I have been to many that have been more palatial, had far more impressive staircases and offices, and even more imposing entrances than that of Toyota (G.B.) Ltd. While it is the cars and not the buildings that matter, impressive office blocks and service depots, etc. often, in my experience, indicate a good product. As this matter seems so significant to Mr. Wright, I am happy to oblige by publishing his picture.—Ed.]
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Re correspondence on "Open Motoring." The hood on our 3-litre Vintage Bentley was erected only once in four years' daily running. That occasion being the start of our honeymoon trip to Holland when it rained so hard even the windscreen wipers gave up in despair.
Six years and three children later we also have a 1934 3½-litre Bentley minus roof (due to lack of funds for replacement, not an oversight by the manufacturer!) and the family are all enthusiastic fresh-air fiends content only to travel in a saloon when a trip in the tourer would invite, against us, charges of attempted infanticide.
The weekend of December 30th, 1967, saw my husband and me in the Yorkshire Dales sheltering under the tonneau having given up the unequal struggle against enormous hailstones which made mobility extremely painful! The blizzard which followed made slow progress possible and the trip was a marvellous experience of simple, though some may say maniacal, pleasure.
Give me a tin opener and I'll take the roof off any car we ever own. The day I travel in a heated sardine can with wind-up windows from choice is unforeseeable. One man's meat is another's poison!
Market Drayton. Jennifer Kendrick (Mrs.).
[We are glad to have received so many letters from motorists who are not afraid of fresh air and many of whom probably feel that you cannot genuinely go "motoring" enclosed in a saloon, sedan or coupé. We feel sure they will remain in good health, free from 'flu, as I did when driving a Morgan Plus Four. This correspondence is now closed.—Ed.]
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The New Tyre Regulations
Looking at the tyre laws which come into operation on April 1st a rather interesting thought crossed my mind. The new law states that tyres must be at the pressures given by the manufacturers. Unless I am mistaken tyre pressures tend to increase after a long fast run, which means that anyone who drives for a reasonable distance at a reasonable speed will be liable for prosecution even though the pressures were correct at the start of the journey. The fitting of different tyres (radials) to a car and the consequent juggling of the pressures to find the ones best suited to the car would also be illegal. If I am wrong in my assumptions then I would be glad if someone could put my mind at ease.
RAF Digby. D. Moor.
[Mr. Moor seems to have a good point. The pressures recommended by a car manufacturer may be different from those recommended by a tyre maker, such as Michelin with their low-pressure X radial, and individual drivers have their own ideas as to what pressures are suitable. How will the police decide on correct (legal) pressures, unless they carry car/tyre makers handbooks covering every car on the road? Apart, that is, from cars on tyres not specified in the catalogue and the ideas of high-speed (70 m.p.h.) drivers. A Ministry of Transport Press Officer quoted the regulations, stating that a driver shall not use a tyre which is "not so inflated as to make it fit for the use to which the motor vehicle or trailer is being put." He thought the police would be on the look-out for particularly low pressures and that a lb. or two leeway would be given. We hope so, for do not so many garage pressure pumps differ so greatly?—R.F.]
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Pre-War Trials Sections
Your correspondent C. A. N. May (December, p.1157) asks if "Colly might still interest a modern trials machine." This hill, also known as West Ditch, is now unusable, or was a few years ago. In 1963 I was Steward for a motorcycle trial on Exmoor, and on arriving at Colly we found that all the bushes and trees on the tops of the banks had been cut down to ground level and the resulting brushwood had been dumped in the gully in which the track ran. On that occasion the competitors (who were coming down the hill) were routed along a track improvised with arrows and cards on the top of one of the banks—in places this was difficult enough for some observed sections to be marked out. But I fancy that with the closing of the track in the gully, no trial has been up or down there since.
I have an old 1-in. O.S. map of Exmoor, marked "Roads revised up to 1926," which shows the hill then being over a mile long, reaching a summit of 1,047 ft. on Kennisham Hill (which adjoins Colly Hill on Lype Common, at the top). But a later 1-in. O.S. map, bought in 1946, shows the upper half-mile as single clotted line (footpath) only, which is also the marking for the long exit track across the common.
I went up—and down—Colly several times in post-war trials, on solo motorcycles; it was difficult even when dry and extremely so when wet. One very clear memory is a trial in 1948, when we got to the foot as dusk was coming on—we were very late because bad weather had caused much delay on the route. It was obviously going to be difficult to get up the hill at all, let alone without losing marks. Nonetheless some of us attempted it, forming a mutual-aid society to lift the bicycles over the worst bits—Bob Ray, the Ariel works rider from Barnstaple, was with us and his great strength was much appreciated. The point was that we knew the finish was at the top, that is if you passed through the last section you had in effect finished. Others who apparently didn't know this went looking for a way round, through the lanes, and I heard later that tired riders were touring round the area in the dark for a long time, looking for somewhere to sign off. All good clean fun!
I can also recall being told that Colly was used in car trials, and wondering how the four-wheelers fared—the bottom part in particular was very narrow and difficult, even for solos, because of the steep V-sides of the gully. Perhaps some of your readers who took cars up it can tell us how they got on?
I would like to add a personal view on the disappearance of tracks such as Colly. A layer of tarmac on Widlake is fair enough—a few of us, a minority, lost a trials hill, but the farmer at the top needed access, in all weathers, and at least the line of the road still remains. But in the case of Colly, and many others no doubt as well, it has disappeared—the next revision of the maps may not, I imagine, show even a footpath, and so another small part of this country will have been lost, permanently and completely.
Pinner. E. B. Stott