Matters of moment, February 1976

VASCAR—And the very best of luck!

Ever since the motor car came into being its owners and drivers have been apprehended for allowing it to attain too high a speed in the eyes of those who write our-Laws and profess to know what is good for the community in general. Before that, charges of reckless driving of horses and riding of bicycles were not unheard of and usually it was pace rather than style that brought the so-called offenders into conflict with the Constabulary.

But it was the motor vehicle that brought this war against road users to a head. As the car was clearly intended to go faster than a horse was capable of, it might have been thought that speed as such would not have been made the criteria of danger, that it would have to be allied to other factors before any offence was deemed to have been committed, or at any rate that speed away from towns and villages would not be held to constitute a common danger. Yet the Law in its infinite wisdom has never seen it that way . . . .

Motorists have had to fight hard from the start to drive legally at sensible speeds and now, with the prevailing 30s, 40s, the futile 50s and 60s, and the Motorway-70, we seem to have lost the battle. There was an enlightened period, from 1930 to 1934, when all speed restrictions on the open road were abolished. It had taken 27 years for the 20 m.p.h. overall limit to be withdrawn, although a strong recommendatiorf for this to be done had been established in 1906, on the grounds that such a low pace had become outdated by technical developments. But that sensible era lasted only five years before a 30 m.p,h, limit was imposed, but only in built-up areas. It is absurd that what was permitted on “open” roads over 40 years ago is today an offence and that more-controllable, better-braked and more safely-tyred modern vehicles (to put it mildly) are expected to travel countless thousands of miles on main roads at a pace only 20 m.p.h. greater than was thought safe in built-up areas then less well provided with good lighting, marked crossings and traffic-lights than they arc today in the cause, we are expected to believe, of fuel conservation, when there is a glut of the heavily-taxed stuff, or that we are likely to be apprehended if caught using our fine, safe, million-pounds-a-mile Motorways at a speed 40 m.p.h. greater than was deemed safe in towns and villages in the primitive pre-war era.

In the days of the dismal 20 m.p.h. speed limit there was the absurdity of policemen hiding in ditches to time drivers over a straight furlong. Later came the shadowing of cars by Police Patrol Fords, whose occupants would check speed over brief distances. Whether any lives were actually saved by this crude hampering of the horseless-carriage is debatable. But at least in those times a driver could sometimes fight back, sometimes proving that the cheap Police stopwatches were inaccurate or that the distance over which his vehicle had been timed had been measured inaccurately. There was less chance of proving perjury when trapped by a Patrol Car, but the accuracy of its speedometer and/or the fractional mileage over which it had followed the offender could be queried.

Since then the Radar-trap has made the apprehending of us criminals who exceed by a few m.p.h. these fatuous speed limits (which in built-up areas remain unchanged for over 40 years in spite of the overall improvement in vehicular safety and the awareness of today’s pavement-users of traffic density) all too easy for the Police. Apart from some very technical evidence in certain cases, “radar evidence” is almost impossible for a driver to refute. This apparatus (brought to the notice of Authority, we believe, by a certain Continental Rally driver, St. Christopher reward him) is suspect because the apprehended driver cannot see it operate or even understand how it operates. He or she is obliged to accept a figure which is said to have been indicated momentarily by a needle moving across a dial, actuated by the vehicle passing through its invisible beam. Yet endorsements are issued and people rendered jobless by its daily findings. We are certainly not suggesting that there is deliberate perjury; but humans are not infallible and it would seem less easy to observe a moving needle than to read a stop-watch, which need not be zeroed until its reading has, been inspected by more than one person, especially when the Reg. No. of the vehicle being radar-checked has also to be noted, all in a very brief space of time. It has been disturbing to learn that radar readings have been proved definitely wrong when checked against those sealed speed-recorders fitted to some commercial vehicles.

Nevertheless, the Police are now waging their war against speed-criminals with a new weapon-VASCAR. It sounds most impressive and scientific. It is certainly extremely expensive, and will no doubt produce more evidence to waste the time of Courts and Magistrates, without truly protecting life, or saving motor-fuel. What is disturbing is that VASCAR, whatever its reputation, relies on policemen pressing time and distance buttons as the car to he checked passes some landmark, such as a patch of resurfaced tarmac on the road ahead of their Patrol Car, or some other mark of the policeman’s choosing. We all know how inaccurate such visual time-keeping can be, which is why no motor race organiser would tolerate such a system for serious speed-timing, why motor journals use a fifth-wheel for performance testing, as far more accurate than pressing a watch as the observer passes some fixed point, and why all those years ago record attempts were not ratified unless scientifically-endorsed electrical apparatus, either strip or light-beam, had been used in the timing process.

Apprehending drivers who exceed one of the nice .selection of speed-limits now in force may not call for the Same accuracy as timing motor races or record attempts. But where licence endorsement is involved, reasonable accuracy should be observed and we find it disturbing, to say the least, that Police officers making an error of not more than 2 m.p.h. with the VASCAR are not allowed to operate it against we motoring criminals and that to use VASCAR accurately is deemed to require 60 hours’ training, spread over three weeks. This 2 m.p.h. tolerance is measured when an Officer is trying hard to qualify; can he maintain this degree of so-called accuracy under the stress and strain of pressing his buttons from his moving car, day in, day out? It has been said that Thames Valley police achieved an accuracy of 0.5 m.p.h. and under on all their tests—but remember that these would he when the men were alert and trying very hard and was a figure over or under the 2 m.p.h. tolerance; and many fines and endorsements are inflicted for exceeding a given speed limit by only 2 m.p.h.

The knowledge that this much-publicised VASCAR can be used in divers ways, such as for timing approaching vehicles, being operated from flyovers (rather “thick” objects on which to sight, surely), even timing for speed/distance travelling at right angles to the VASCAR-checker, all results being dependent on the human element, is disturbing, to say the least. A man sighting on stationary objects of various sorts from a moving -car, often from some distance behind the vehicle they intend to stop and “hook”, seems retrograde for accuracy to the old-type radar, which the Police love to hide behind a wall or up a side turning, hut which, even so, seems the better of the two electronic Big Brothers. But VASCAR is in increasing use, so we can only wish you the very best of luck—those of you who drive sanely, and whose only “crime” is to sometimes overlook the various and futile speed restrictions that cannot be taken very seriously, unless used to guard definite danger zones, as they so seldom are.

The oppressive thought is that all this concerns speed, and speed alone. And that if speed in itself were all that lethal there would by now be no racing drivers alive or, in terms of going fast on public roads. there would have been such a big loss of Motor Sport readers that we would no longer be able to point to the impressive circulation figures this magazine enjoys, it is clearly apparent that speed, as such, has neither decimated the ranks of racing drivers to zero, nor wiped out most of those who enjoy motoring for its own sake and who occasionally, shall we say, go a little closer to 32, 44, 55, 66 or 77 m.p.h. than to the 30, 40, 50, 60 and 70 m.p.h. speed limits that the DoE says is the safe (or economical) pace for 1970s vehicles . . .

With the troubles within the Motor Industry, the murders in Ireland, the terrorist attacks on the mainland and all the other political trouble and strife, one would have thought all this time and trouble over speed to be exaggerated, unless it can be proved that it benefits anyone other than the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But VASCAR is here, so unless you divert to bird watching or stamp-collecting, we can only repeat— the best of luck.

* * * *

We regret to record that Gordon Usmar, whom the Editor interviewed last year about his associations with Vinot cars, died in his sleep at the BEN establishment just before last month’s article could be shown to him He was 94.

* * * *

Due to omission of a word from the piece about the Sgoninas last month confusion may have been caused The reason why Charles Sgonina was at first allowed to ride motorcycles as an amateur competitor was because, although they had an engineering works, they were not in the motor trade

* * * *

For some years the combination of Eric Broadley and Lola Cars has been the biggest producer of racing motor cars in the world. Often compared with Colin Chapman, especially since they both put their ideas into practice through racing 1172 cars of their own design and construction, Broadley actually chose a very different path to that of the Lotus boss.

Deliberately staying in the business of making cars for other people to buy involves a great deal of compromise, aiming for the best blend between cost, competitiveness, and ease of maintenance. By concentrating on these problems Broadley was able to succeed where Chapman was forced to withdraw, Lotus Components finally closing in 1971. Broadley comments, “I was very interested in Colin’s design work in his 1172 days, and it was partially the thought of trying to do better that lured me in. I don’t think I’m as bright as Colin, but I knew what I wanted to do. We deliberately kept the business small (last year’s turnover was approximately £750,000) while Chapman thought big, involving himself With road cars as well as Grand Prix design. Long term it’s difficult to know who was right.

His cousin, Graham Broadley, was racing a 750 MC formula car at the time Broadley was involved with building site management. Eric helped Graham out on a couple of occasions, and was rewarded with a drive in the car. Now, with appetite thoroughly whetted, it wasn’t long before Broadley started to make his own car, an 1172 Lola debuting in 1956.

In the next three years Broadley established his reputation as an able designer and constructor, and it was in 1959 that the first Lola Climax sports/racers were made for sale. These cars were made in Bromley, Kent, and it was also from those premises that the Formula Junior car (1960), the Climax-powered GP Lola V8 for Suttees (1962) and the GT40 forerunner, the Lola GT-Ford V8, emerged the following year. (It was not until 1971 that Lola moved to their present premises outside Huntingdon.) Later in 1963 Broadley moved to Slough for a year’s work on the Ford GT40 programme. Free of that contract in 1965 Mr. Broadley confirmed his versatility with a String of designs that included the popular T70 marques (over 100 made in closed and open configuration), Can-Am and GT cars.

In December of 1969 Lola announced another significant string to their present-day American sales strength, for it was then that their T190 F5000 car was introduced. Hailwood drove one of these cats, and Frank Gardner did a lot of development, including a long-wheelbase version, followed by a sensational rethink, which was formed round the idea of taking the Formula Two monocoque and combining it with the 5-litre Chevrolet V8 to produce a far faster 5000 car. When fully developed this concept resulted in the T300 production 5000 which “was one of my favourite designs,” says Broadley. “It proved bloody quick the first time we took it to Silverstone, at the end of 1972, and it’s always nice to have a car that’s fast, straight-away, with very little call for development. The successor to the 300 was the 330 series and the 332 is a car which the bulk of the American competitors prefer.”

Broadley forbore to mention that Brian Redman has taken the American F5000 Championship title for the past two years, despite some titanic struggles with Mario Andretti (who had a pair of Lolas too) and new designs from Shadow and Dan Gurney. It is obvious that 5000 has been very good business for Broadley in America, but also that the substitution of F. Libre singles-eaters for straight F5000 in Britain must hurt Lola’s overall sales this year.

Discussing the American market Broadley said, “we need a lot of business to be profitable, and America pros-ides our biggest single export market. The 5000 cars are the most profitable chunk of that business, but Formula Fords make up the sheer volume . . . we send about 80 cars a year there as opposed to 15, or less, F5000s.

“At the end of 1974 we knew that Eagle and Shadow would be involved in American 5000 racing the following year. I think that got us a bit twitchy, and we felt we had to do something new to meet the challenge. On reflection we needn’t, have bothered, but we were determined not to sit on our backsides. The result was the 400 development of the 332, and the car was a complete bog-up at the start of last year! It seemed good in the development programme, but it backfired on us. Now we have completely reworked the 400 throughout the season, and got it into shape. I personally feel the 400 is the better car now, but the leading 332 owners in the States are very fond of their cars, and we shall be making six or seven more in the same developed state as Brian Redman’s Jim Hall 332 finished the season.”

For many years the Lola name was inexorably linked to sports cars but things are not quite as they have been. Broadley feels, “we didn’t expect to sell any of the T294 developments in 3-litre form, but we have orders for several this year. The trouble with both sports and GT racing is that the regulations get changed so often . . and it’s always for the worse!

“If people would stop making rules, and start making decisions, it would make life so much easier!”

Turning to the specific regulations that cause problems Broadley said, “it’s the old story. The CSI make the regulations instantly, without recourse to anyone who really knows what they are talking about.

“We didn’t get the Group 6 regulations until December 1975. That makes it hard to engineer a competitive car for a season that is usually in full swing at least by March, if not January! Due to a translation cock-up we now find that there is a rear wheel rim width limitation of 16 in. . . . we have got masses of 14 1/2 in. and 17 in. rims. So all the money involved in the manufacture of those wheels is lost to the sport, it is a shameful waste.

Discussing the overall effect of regulations on a designer’s work Broadley was moved to say, “cars are really going a lot quicker today than one expects. For instance I was at Silverstone while we were testing the new Formula Two/Atlantic design, and I was surprised to find that Copse was a fourth gear (out of five forward ratios) twitch today: that means you’re going very quickly.

“For most of the single-seater formula cars I think the regulations are OK. It is necessary to have the more extensive safety precautions ordered, because none of the manufacturers can afford to put in weight when they are racing against close rivals.

“Where I think the regulations went wrong is in sports cars. It has always been a category where a big manufacturer would join in for a couple of years, and then pull out. That’s good, at least they were using it for a purpose. You do not expect Ford, Porsche, Mercedes, and Ferrari to go on winning once they have proved a point.

“I think this sort of racing—pure racing cars with two seats, proper windscreens and a roof—could he seen by the public as connected with a road car manufacturer, An open car is no longer believeable as anything but a racing car. The death of the sports car racing formula is due to the poor economic situation of the big motor manufacturers. and the CST’s senseless and sudden rule changes.

“In the ’60s the rules made sense, though there were always people who would find a hole in the rules, as Porsche did with the 25-off production run for 917s. It would have been best left as a category that manufacturers of road cars could still have an interest in.”

Turning to the creation of national formulae at the possible expense of established progressions; such as Formulae Three and Two, Broadley felt, “there are obviously too many formulae, but it is hard to know where you begin to axe them. We have been involved in Formula Vee since the very beginning, and there’s no doubt in my mind that this is the .best way for a racing car manufacturer to be represented in a formula, for people get to know your products and respect them right from the start.

“We make cars for Super Vee, F. Renault and F. Ford, and I think they all offer the same benefits. There is an inherent stability in such formulae, through the outside interests that get involved. Like all motor racing in France, F. Renault is Government-subsidised and this makes it very stable. Renault and the others bring in money from sources that would not otherwise be brought into the sport.

“We usually adapt a car design for these formulae, it’s simply not worth designing and building a brand new design. That makes things cheaper, and so does the incorporation of as many standard engine parts as possible . . . then, at least there’s no iffing as to which engine will he the best.

“The snags are that it’s difficult to draw the line on which formulae are redundant. Apart front F1 there is never enough finance. and I think this is partially the fault of the race organisers. They tend to be shortsighted, putting on races for the least amount of money. This knocks out some of the potential stars, who simply have not got enough money to carry on, If the people in Formula Three were to hand together, rather as the Fl chaps have, then the organisers Might have to provide more money to ensure their crowds had competitive racing.”

The general point is that those national formulae all seem to have grown out of training formulae, as FF2000 did out of FF1600, all intent on providing that country’s substitute for F3. If F3 is adopted as the national nursery for tomorrow’s F2 and F1 drivers, then Super Renault, Super Vee and FF-2000 could well find themselves redundant. That might be a good thing from our viewpoint, but the competitors would certainly feel the brunt of extra costs, the manufacturers could well be disinclined to fight each other for engine supremacy, and companies such as Lola would lose a valuable source of volume production, and revenue!

An interesting aside was produced front our questions about the present shift in British racing towards granting tyre mono., poly with each formula. Broadley says that experience has given the company an ability to predict suspension behaviour with certain types of rubber installed, and that the saving in cost makes such monopolies worthwhile to the competitors.

Leading on to the general question of cost Broadley added shrewdly, “I think there’s Still room for a cheaper category below FF. I’m still thinking about it, and I haven’t drawn up a car, hut it would definitely be smaller, and less powerful than the present FFs. It doesn’t have to be fast for people to enjoy driving.” Broadley reports, “there’s an enormous interest front people who just want to go racing cheaply. I think this is brought about by the expense of current FF (a recent Motoring News racing car guide has a complete Merlyn FFI600, one of the best in the category, at £2,981—J.W.), and the imposition of all these speed limits.”

Naturally rising costs are part of the racing business, just as they seem to he a facet of every other sector of British life. Broadley has found that, “within the trade things are pretty good, and most of our regular suppliers, and ourselves, have managed to keep increases within 10%. Outside things are grim, so had that I would say raw material price increases have averaged over 80% in the last two years.” Broadley makes the statement with little emotion; thinking his way quietly round what he is to say, rather than bashing in with generalisations. “Particularly sharp increases can he seen in things like castings and forgings that are made on a short-run basis. Before manufacturers tended to lose their costs in the profitable big production runs, Now, with money a hit short all round, these services are costed accurately, so increases in the order of 100% and more have not been unusual in recent years.”

The author asked if there was anything that the Government could do to help Britain’s racing car producers. Overall, Broadley obviously felt that such outfits prefer to he independent, “after all that’s why most of us go out on our own,” but he did continent that Lola were not able to qualify for export guarantees, so the business often had to be cash in advance.

There were some enlightening words on the industry’s future in Britain. “I have a nasty feeling that our business could backslide into the mire. It only needs a temporary setback, like a hiccup in the American market, and we are all in trouble. Look at the British motorcycle industry . . . they couldn’t survive a sudden drop in demand from the States . . . And yet the Japanese can. How do they do it? There are piles of unsold Japanese motorbikes over there, severe inflation on the Japanese home front, and yet Honda don’t go bust. Perhaps Government support is needed, with some specialists keeping an eye on small British business. Not just racing cars, but anything where we have a good record that could be easily finished during a temporary setback.

“Britain has always had the advantage of being a cheap place to produce our sort of cars, but demand could well slope off with such fierce cost increases, At present we have the know-how and supply the majority of modern racing equipment, but I think things could well change in favour of overseas people. I don’t know what the answer is, but I do find it hard that we often have to race against cars that are really Government-sponsored throughout.”

Broadley paid special tribute to the test-driving abilities of Australian Frank Gardner, who worked so closely with Lola. Now that he has retired the company use a variety of drivers who specialise in each field. “Frank was very good at picking out whether a car would be any good. After all this time, yes, I think we are finally to the point where I can stand at a corner and watch the car’s behaviour; then I talk to the driver and we can arrive at a solution. We miss out with Frank’s retirement because such a long relationship must result in people understanding the way you think, so that they can tell you what you are looking for.

“Now we use Ted Wentz for the F2/ Atlantic machine, while in the smaller cars I quite often use Patrick Neve … he’s pretty intelligent. But, if you get a bloke who is quick, you can usually use him for testing. If a driver can judge what is important, this is a tremendous advantage in getting the best out of a car. Fittipaldi has this ability and spends a lot of time making sure he gets the best out of a car. I’m not naming any drivers, but there are a lot of people who have spent years in Formula One and still have no idea how to get the best out of their car!”

In F5000 Broadley discovered that the differing driving styles of Peter Gethin and Teddy Pilette (team-mates for VDS in Lolas this year) could be added up together for an overall lesson… Pitette typifying the “Tiger” approach. Last year it wasn’t possible to do much F5000 testing with Redman, but Jim Hall’s facilities, including his test driver, helped Lola development tremendously.

We asked if there was a favourite Broadley road car? The morose reply was, “I don’t like any of them . . . I had a Granada until yesterday which has survived a lot of hard use . . . but it got smote heavily by a truck, so I am without,” a prospect which seems to positively cheer him!

What about a tempting early retirement? Another introspective grin is accompanied by a short burst of laughter. “I cannot afford it, I still need the money!” Digging further reveals that Lola, a limited company, is 51% owned by Broadley, 25% by his cousin, with a further 24% equity held by partner Rob Rushbrook.—J.W.