Around and About, February 1976

It’s (nearly) all go at Donington

All looks set for the re-opening of Donington Park as one of the best racing circuits in the world. In the recently-published results of last year’s Public Inquiry the DoE Inspector has found that all major objections, from East Midlands Airport, Rolls-Royce (1971) Ltd. and a minority group of local residents, form no obstacle to the redevelopment of the Park’s racing circuit, closed since 1939. But Tom Wheatcroft’s appeal for permission to re-open the circuit has been dismissed on a minor technicality regarding the width of the narrow Wilson Lodge entrance,

Wheatcroft gathers that there are several very simple solutions to the problem including the possibility of driving another entrance through on his own land as an alternative to buying and widening Wilson Lodge, which is owned by the estate’s former owner, J. Gillies Shields. Only local planning permission is required to do this and to clear the Minister’s objection.

Whatever the outcome, no full race meetings are likely to be held this year. Current RAC rulings insist that dates for their “Blue Book” must be submitted by July of the preceding year. A top surface has yet to by laid and the pits buildings constructed. Surface tarmac could be laid on the 2-mile long ()lub circuit in a couple of months, which might enable some “functions” to be organised later in the year. Further plans are to build a further 4-mile loop next year, to bring the circuit up to full Grand Prix standard, complete with a totally new approach to motor racing safety standards. These include run-off areas and vertical concrete walls to protect the spectators and a complete absence of Armco.

And a Speed Show at the Donington Collection

Tom Wheatcroft has snatched at the opportunity presented by the lack of a London Racing Car Show to organise a six-day Donington Speed Show from February 24th-29th. The idea is to introduce both the trade and the public to Donington as a venue for sporting and special events.

Already 40 stands are planned for two halls alongside the Collection buildings, with more to come if the threatened over-subscription materialises. So far there have been approaches fro,n single-seater manufacturers, race and rally engine tuners and builders, accessory manufacturers and dealers and big business such as Castro! and Ford. There will be two days of demonstrations at the Ford Rally School housed in the Donington Park woods.

Admission to the Show is planned at £1, which will include admission to the fascinating 80-car museum too and a special combined catalogue and show guide. A definite must for the diary.

Other functions planned for Donington this year include a Donington Reunion for all those who drove, were mechanics or simply spectators there in pre-war days. Anybody interested should contact the Collection direct at Donington Park, Castle Donington, Derby DE7 SRP, tel. Derby (0332) 810048. A veteran car rally will start and finish at Donington some time in the summer.

The Porsche 924

“We are not bound to any concept, we are just bound to make any concept work better than others.”

That the new Porsche 924 is a Porsche at all is the main surprise in the water-cooled, front-engined, rear-wheel-drive car announced by Stuttgart late last year. It was evolved by Porsche on a consultancy basis for Audi, commissioned by former Audi head Rudolf Leiding. When Leiding was replaced by Toni Schmuecker, the latter got cold feet over the project, thought that Audi should steer clear of the sports car image and gave this 21-2 a karate chop. Porsche decided that their design had far too much potential to be consigned to the dustbin and brought the rights from Audi for a song, with the added bargain of having been paid along the way to develop their car. By all accounts, now the finished product has appeared Audi are kicking themselves.

We gave a brief account of this new baby Porsche in last December’s Motor Sport. Since then we’ve driven the car in the South of France. In brief, before going into details, we can describe the 924 as a splendid Audi, but a disappointing Porsche. It should he assessed in a totally different context to the wonderful, flat-six, air-cooled 911 series. Tenuous connections are retained by the badge and its sale through Porsche dealers, though in some parts of the world—not Britain—Porsche and VW-Audi share dealerships. Production will take place in part of the Audi plant at Neckersulm, strictly under Porsche quality control; as at Porsche, Stuttgart, one in three production workers will be involved in quality control. Certainly the quality and finish on the pre-production test cars was first class.

Like the Porsche 356, which borrowed bits from the Beetle, the 924 relies a great deal upon mass-production saloon parts to lower production costs and ease servicing cost and problems. The water-cooled, 2-litre engine with notched belt drive to the overhead camshaft has been developed from the new 2-litre engine from VW, used in push-rod form in a VW commercial and in turn developed from the Audi 100 1,800-c.c. block. It is fuel-injected by the Bosch K-Jetronic system, has a compression ratio of 9.3 to 1, though complying with German lead-free petrol requirements, and produces 125 b.h.p. net at 5,800 r.p.m. Maximum revs are 6,500 r.p.m. The almost fiat torque graph peaks at 3,500 r.p.m. A conventional clutch is attached to the engine, but behind that Porsche have taken a leaf out of the Alfetta book, transferring weight advantageously to the rear by using a combined gearbox and differential unit. This drives the rear wheels through universally jointed driveshafts. The entire drive-train is stiffened by using a torque tube, through which the driveshaft runs in sealed hearings.

The rear suspension comes mainly from the lowest form of Beetle—trailing arms carried by a separate cross-tube which carries the transverse torsion bars. The front suspension is by means of McPherson struts and wishbone’s. Rack and pinion steering is used along with front disc brakes and rear drums.

The two-door plus lift-up tailgate body is much larger than photographs suggest, at least as roomy for passengers as the 911 series and with the advantage of a rear platform area which can be extended by folding down the well-shaped rear seats together or individually. The result is a thoroughly practical; 2+2 fixed-head coupe. A version with plastic sunroof will be available later.

The roadholding and handling characteristics are almost sensational, the rear-transmission arrangement showing up in exceptional balance. The result is neutral handling of a high order. When the limit is reached the 924 drifts as a whole, a situation instantly retrieved by hacking Off the throttle; there is no risk of sudden understeer and an oversteer situation can be achieved only by deliberate provocation. There is but moderate roll. This behaviour is assisted by steering with quite brilliant standards Of feel and precision combined with lightness and sensible gearing. Braking is of a high order, but by no means so inspiring as that of 911s. The ride is harsh, but improves with speed.

Performance in general is good, the engine smooth, willing and flexible. But even the flat torque characteristics can’t mask the massive gap between second and third gears inherited with the Audi gear clusters. This ruins the charm of the car, which cries out for a five-speed gearbox. It will cruise easily at over 125 m.p.h. with perfect stability. On the other hand there is far too much wind and mechanical noise, accompanied by a great deal of tyre and suspension roar and thump.

The 924 is a most comfortable car, with chassis behaviour which would do credit to Colin Chapman, but the last two features above, along with other niggly details, make us wonder whether that introductory quote from a Porsche director is quite justified yet. The British market will no doubt draw its own conclusions when the 924 becomes available over here in early 1977.

BMW 3.3Li

In December, midst the impending crackle of pound notes for Chrysler UK, BMW asserted their confidence in Britain with a stunning press launch for the £10,999 topping to their GB range. Called the 3.3 Li, this longer-wheelbase version of the 3-litre saloon offers a surprising number of engineering changes over the previous I. models, and a very long list of standard equipment.

It is expected that 120 of these cars will be imported to Britain next year. On the engineering side there is a new shorter stroke (89 mm. by 86 mm.) version of the classic s.o.h.c. straight six motor, bringing total capacity to 3,205 c.c. Bosch K-jetronic fuel injection is linked to the ZF automatic transmission, giving direct warning of the engine’s gear ratio needs under load. The shorter stroke has shifted maximum torque slightly up the r.p.m.-range to 4,250 r.p.m. and 211 lb. ft. maximum power is not far below the original enlarged 3-litre CSI. unit, from whence these limousine motors trace their ancestries, peaking at 200 b.h.p.

ZF also play a major part in the effective limited slip differential and beautifully “weighted” power steering, which gives the driver accurate information, even on snow and ice.

As one would expect on an £11,000 BMW, the standard equipment list is pretty comprehensive. We found the electric sunroof, with built-in deflector, a nice frill. Also electrically operated are the door mirror adjustment, the radio aerial, and the windows; all-round tinted glass is installed.

Interior comfort is assisted via leather upholstery (slippery when new) and air conditioning, plus separate heating and ventilation ducting for the occupants of the individually-contoured rear seats. From the outside the most noticeable items of equipment are the spoked alloy wheels, and the neatly managed wash/wipe system for the halogen headlamps.

Judged against other luxury limousines the BMW appears reasonable value, but it is as well to remember that there is an automatic long-wheelbase 3-litre BMW (3.0 La) at £6,999. Obvious comparisons include the Mercedes 450 SEL (front £10,773) and the incredibly “cheap” Jaguar derivatives like the Daimler Sovereign 4.2 at £6,195 (or with V12 power adding approximately another £1,000). In fact Daimler’s badge is affixed to the full-scale limousine coachwork of Vanden Plas for well under £10,000.

On the road this 3.3 BMW feels much like any other six-cylinder example Of the breed (except the winged CSL’s!) which is to say that the key to its character is smooth responsiveness to the driver’s whims. The extra wheelbase seems to add to the car’s stability when the throttle is pressed hard in midCorner, and the extra legroom is rather more noticeable than it is in the Jaguar derivatives.

On the performance side a top speed of 124 m.p.h. is quoted, along with a 0-60 m.p.h. acceleration figure of 10.4 sec. We found that 95 to 105 m.p.h. was a natural cruising speed and felt that the only improvements that we could think of (for this luxury role) would be a reduction in both engine induction and wind noises.

Holbay-Abarth F2 motor

Holbay Racing Engines at Martlesham Aerodrome, Ipswich, Suffolk, have an interesting new baby. They have acquired the right to develop and make the in-line six-cylinder racing motor formerly engineered by Abarth in Turin. Apparently the Fiat Group’s commitments are such in motor sport that they don’t want to pursue this F2/sports car 2-litre, so John Reid at Holbay stepped swiftly into the vacuum. It is likely that the engine will cost well over £5,000 per copy, but its weight (despite an iron block), a reported 321 b.h.p. at an easily attainable 12,000 r.p.m. could well attract the wealthy F2 contenders, who are not tied to the better established motors.

Dunlop’s new sporting cover

During a press conference to discuss their 1976 car and motorcycle plans, Dunlop unveiled a very worthy high performance tyre intended for high-speed use in a variety of conditions. Known as the Clubman, and available at approximately £15 per tyre, around the beginning of March, the Dunlop is intended to fill the needs of those who simply cannot afford to change tyres for each change in surface.

Introduction of the Clubman has been overshadowed by the phenomenal promise shown by the latest in Dunlop forest rally equipment, nicknamed the A2, which has yet to display a weakness, apart from a dislike of very wet surfaces. The A2 is expected to be produced in three sizes—the Clubman is available only in 185/70SR13—by the spring of this season. However, Dunlop will be expecting premium price for the latest wonder, certainly not less than £40 a cover.

As Competitions Manager Jeremy Ferguson pointed out, “the A2 has the features of a sophisticated F3 cover, allied to the strength of a rally tyre: that sort of technology is never cheap. However, I think that in terms of performance and life, the A2. will be more than competitive with existing tyres. The success of this new cover—which was developed before the RAC Rally, and used for the bulk of the forest mileage on the cars that finished first and second—has already been established. In fact we have already had our first case of somebody losing a certain second position because he chose not to fit A2s while another competitor did.

In touring cars, by which the company are referring to Porsches as well as the BMW versus Ford contingent, Dunlop now offer a tyre of 19-in, diameter with nearly 14-in. tread width and an aspect ratio of under 25%. That is a spectacular tyre, for the 185 radial you find on most high performance saloons these days are usually of 70%. aspect ratio. The expression denotes the height versus the width of a cover: the lower the percentage, the more “squat” the cover appears on the rim.

Dunlop also asked that their £9,000 bonus scheme should be publicised as nearly one third of the fund was unclaimed last year… who says money is short in motor sport today?

Jeffrey retires

Dick Jeffrey, known to many over his 37 years working span with Dunlop, has retired with a good thirty of those years spent in competitions. Jeffrey became manager of the Dunlop motor sport division in 1958 and was thus an inherent part of the Grand Prix and rallying world. Dick will retire to his home in Charlecote, Warwicks, and we wish him a happy spell of sitting back and watching Jeremy Ferguson carry on the good work.

Wrong name

Writing whilst fighting off a debilitating virus attack was not a good idea, C.R. has decided. So apologies to The Chequered Flag Stratos mechanic, Australian Ken Smith, who thus suffered from being called Paul Batten on page 150. Batten was Smith’s Australian predecessor on the Stratos.

The Things They Say . . .

“Driving the pre-war Grand Prix cars, whether Mercedes-Benz or Auto-Union, must have called for men of courage, iron nerve, and a considerable degree of strength.”— Derek Gardner, discussing the design of these cars in Motor.

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“. . . I have always been a keen motorist and the past six months have been a motoring joy as I have sampled all our (Ford) models and many from our competitors, I have to confess that of them all it is the Jaguar XJ-S that gives me the greatest pleasure—and I take every opportunity I can to slip behind the wheel.”—Stuart Turner, looking back on 1975 for Autocar. Does this portend a Super-Grenada?

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“The last argument I had about our national flag was in Brasilia . . . it’s upside down here as well.”—Eoin Young reporting Lord Hesketh’s comment when he encountered the Union Flag being flown incorrectly at the BRDC’s Dorchester function last year.