Letters from readers, February 1982

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Le Mans 1982

Sir,

Le Mans next June will be the fiftieth 24 Hour Race to be organised by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest who are planning special celebrations and presentations during the year in London. Paris and at the Circuit.

Through their newly constituted Club des Pilotes des 24h du Mans, the ACO have asked me to obtain details of all British competitors who have driven in the race.

In the first instance, I would ask all drivers who qualify, to send me their names, addresses, cars and years of participation.

Guildford, Eric Thompson

[Letters will be forwarded — Ed.]

Lancia Montecarlo — a delight

Sir,

It is partly due to Motor Sport’s (sometimes outrageously) opinionated style that I have been an avid regular reader for over a quarter of a century. D.S. J.’s views on a well-known Scottish ex-World Champion, your own on safety belt wearing, are but two examples that help make your magazine so compelling, whether or not one agrees with the opinions expressed.

However, when it comes to road-testing current models, there is perhaps an argument for a little restraint because of the possible commercial implications of what is written. A case in point is, I believe, the December report on the Lancia Montecarlo. My prime objection here is the headline. “Lancia Montecarlo — a disappointment”, because, reading on into the report itself, P.H.J.W. goes on to write that with “another 50 b.h.p this brief assessment would be a rave review.” I just hope that potential Montecarlo purchasers were not no put off by the headline as to miss reading the reason for the disappointment!

Having acquired a new Montecarlo myself in November, I am finding it delightful. The country-lane handling is better than my driving ability, and I would find it jolly hard to exploit that extra 50 b.h.p. without being a menace to other road users. So far as the tither two main criticisms levelled at the car are concerned, namely noise level and lack of internal space, the former I find notably less than in my Cortina Estate with roofrack fitted and therefore hardly unreasonable for a sports car with engine mounted only inches from the car-drums. The latter might be a problem for those wanting an essentially practical car, but surely this Lancia would never be on the short-list Of those for whom practicality was paramount — and, anyway as Your report states, the boot is “capacious for such a small car”. I will, however, concede that the driving position might be tricky for a tall driver, but I find I can accommodate my 5 10″ very nicely (though why the clutch-foot rest is not several inches farther forward, as it seems it could be without major structural difficulty, remains a mystery).

So my advice is that anyone wanting a thoroughly modern spent car for less than five figures should at least try a Montecarlo for size! If they need the extra b.h.p. that P.H.J.W. misses, then sadly they will have to spend the substantially greater sums asked for the likes of 924 Turbo, 911, Esprit, Ferrari 308, etc. I trust that you won’t object to this mild “ticking-off”, as I am confident that you wouldn’t wish your report to put at risk the continued British availability of a car that, in your main editorial in the same issue, you named among a total of only twelve models as a retainer of individuality for the enthusiast motorist.

Brighton, R. A. Oliver

“Tin-Boxes”

Sir,

As a reader for nearly 20 years I am incensed into writing to you for the first time, about your comments in “Matters of Moment” (December issue).

I refer to your advice to buy and maintain a good Vintage Sports car, and not to waste our money on mass produced awful “tin-boxes” of the 1930’s. We are not all wealthy landowners or industrialists (or Magazine Editors) able to buy and run Bentleys, Lagondas and the like. The majority of old car enthusiasts in this country are modestly paid, with a mortgage and family to support, and run 1930s to 50s tin-boxes. We choose to waste our money buying and restoring “tin-boxes” because they are cheap to run and maintain and we find them enjoyable to drive. Without us there would be no examples of an important part of the motoring heritage of this country on the road today.

I have owned a number of 1930s “tin-boxes” and have used themes daily transport over nearly 20 years. They have proved to be sturdy, reliable forms of travel, which is what they were designed for over 40 years ago. We do not all have £10,000+ to waste on vintage sports cars to cavort around the lanes in, with our tweed jackets and caps, showing off to the county-set at the local.

I thought Motor Sport was a non-biased magazine which supported all aspects of the preservation of our motoring history. I am beginning to wonder!

I shall continue to drive and enjoy my 1935 Austin Ruby every day, and may even continue to buy Motor Sport.

Maidenhead, Berks, M. I. Collins

[Mr. Collins has failed to understand the implication behind my reference to uninteresting “tin-boxes” and genuine vintage sports cars in “Matters of Moment” in the December 1981 Motor Sport. Comparisons may be odious, but they govern no many things in life. I am certainly not against post-vintage “tin-boxes”. If I were I would not give support to Clubs like the Austin Ten DC, 750 MC, Ford SV Club and so on, nor would I have enjoyed driving Austin 7 and Austin 10/4 “tin-boxes” of my own.

The point I was trying to make, remembering that most things are comparative, is that IF one has the wherewithal to purchase a vintage car, whether to “cavort around the lanes in tweed jackets and caps” or enjoy the sounder foundation of VSCC participation, it would be stupid to buy a lesser car for which almost equally inflated prices are asked by some motor-copers. By all means use the 1930s mass-produced machine, as every-day transport — it certainly gives me much pleasure to see such cars on the road — but pay realistic prices for such vehicles, as quoted in many of the magazines of the one-make clubs that encourage ownership of them, not the excessive-values some traders place on inferior (comparative, remember!) makes and models. As for magazine editors being able to buy and run “Bentleys, Lagondas and the like”, maybe. But not this one, who admits only to a couple of insignificant vintage light cars, one of which cost £35, the other being a free gift. — W.B.]

Dim Bulbs

Sir,

Your reference to “morons who use such rear illumination (rear fog lights) when there is no fog about” (Colt Lancer road impressions. January 1982) is a good illustration of the inability of many drivers to match lighting requirements to prevailing conditions. Other examples are driving with front fog lights on when they are not needed (Rover, Granada and Audi owners please note, and, of course, driving with no lights in conditions of poor visibility. On this latter point, I believe those who switch on only their parking lights are worse offenders as they have acknowledged that they need lights but seem incapable of choosing the right ones. I think the Police should be taking stronger action to ensure people do use headlights when it is necessary (I have, occasionally, seen Police cars with only parking lights on). I realise it can often be a matter of opinion as to what is poor visibility but if four out of five drivers have their headlights on then somebody ought to have a word with driver number five.

I have also noticed a growing tendency to misuse the hazard warning lights. Simply being parked at the side of the road does not require hazard lights and can be very confusing if another vehicle pulls up behind; only the offside flasher can then be seen by an approaching driver. Also, it appears that many believe that if they use their hazard lights they can park on yellow lines. Please let us keep the use of these lights for when there is a true hazard.

Maidstone, Kent, Andrew Davies

Service

Sir,

I was 18 years ago when I became disillusioned with “garages”, having to fork out £65 for a new steering box on my, by then, old TR2. It was my first car and having no mechanical knowledge then, took the vehicle to the main dealer for rectification of a steering vibration at 90 m.p.h. The new steering box made no difference whatever, and I was told “not to go no fast, due to the age of the car”!

The problem was cured for the sum of two shillings and sixpence, when a friend told me to have the wheels balanced.

Since then I’ve owned 14 TRs. five E-type Jaguars, etc., doing all my own mechanical work and am at present restoring a 1970 10-type FHC. which is 80% completed. To finance the final stages of the rebuild on the E-type, I sold my XJC 4.2 Coupe, and purchased a friend’s 1974 BMW 2500 to keep mobile.

The car surprised me, it was reasonably quick, quiet, and comfortable, but rather down on power, so I decided to have the engine tuned. I telephoned Williams Motor Company of Manchester who informed me that they would tune the engine in one hour, and labour, costing £12 per hour would be a simple and relatively inexpensive exercise. The only other cost would be for parts — plugs, I was informed, were very important to this type of engine and should be of the correct type.

So with some doubt in mind I took the car in for its first tune-up. On the way to the garage, the heater blower and screen washers ceased to function, suspecting a blown fuse I asked them to investigate this electrical problem.

Later in the day I collected the car and a bill for over £60, they had replaced the washer motor, £19, five plug caps (why not six?) and tuned the engine, but informed that they were out of stock in the heater motor department, and therefore could not replace it. At over £70 each I was thankful.

Travelling home the car was much better and performance was definitely up. To my surprise, next morning the car was difficult to start, but did, and off I went to my office in Oxford 153 miles from Manchester. Half may down the M6, the car began misfiring. I reached the office in fits and starts and telephoned Williams Motors, who asked me to return the vehicle to them. This was impossible due to pressure of work in Oxford. The local BMW agent was fully booked, so it was a do-it-yourself job after work.

The weather at this time was atrocious. I replaced the coil, rotor arm, points but still the problem persisted. Eventually I removed the plugs, and found a set of “Fomoco” plugs: at finding these, I was disgusted, and fitted a new set of Bosch plugs, and the misfire completely disappeared. Two days later she screen washers ceased to function. At home the following weekend I decided to investigate the electrical problems myself. The screenwasher had failed due to badly burnt wiring which is close to the exhaust manifold, this being easily visible when the new motor was fitted, but ignored, this could have resulted in a fire, but I was lucky. The heater motor malfunction I traced to a broken brush spring, and the spring from a cheap biro has solved that problem, and saved me over £70.

Are there any mechanics left, or are they all replacement clones who are programmed to make as much money as possible, by replacement, rather than repair? Time surely cannot be a factor in this case as I repaired both the heater and washers in under half an hour.

Sale, Cheshire, Peter Fenlon

BL in the USA

Sir,

A recent experience of mine points at yet another reason why BL’s marketing efforts In the US have failed. About a year ago the overdrive in my Scimitar coupe failed. It appeared that the problem was the solenoid, which is the one used in 1968, and later. MGBs. There am no Scimitar dealers here, so lurked the local MG dealer to sell me the part. He had no old solenoids in stock, but could get me one for $80.00 and a four-week wait. I eventually got the part from Queensbury Road Garage, a Scimitar dealer, for a total cost, including transatlantic phone call and air mail postage, of about $40.00. It arrived ten days after I placed the order. BL must think that the dollar is still worth only 5s — so, 25p.

Cherry Hill, N.J., Daniel W. Fromm

Philippe Etancelin

Sir,

Philippe Etancelin was never a “wool merchant”, but a master “middle-man” in feathers — specifically, such feathers as used to end their days in pillows, mattresses and duvets. He managed at an early age to corner the entire French market, working furiously — with not one assistant — through the winter months to organise the collection of these feathers and pass them on to the bedding manufacturers. He made enough money in the process to enable him to close his business down for the whole of every summer, and to go motor racing instead.

This splendid system never failed him, and was the root of his fierce independence which switched him from Bugatti to Alfa Romeo when Jean Bugatti refused to allow him the discount on racing spares promised to him by Ettore after the 1930 French Grand Prix victory, and then to Maserati after Ferrari had offered him a place in his monoposto Alfa team — but only on the unacceptable condition that he would never be allowed to finish in front of his Italian team-mates, even if he was driving faster.

I lost my heart to “Phi-phi” as a schoolboy spectator at the 1938 Donington Tr. Who can ever forget those hunched shoulders, the bared teeth, whirling elbows and cap back to front! None of this was a pose. He told me that he always wore a cap when driving, and found in his very first race that it blew off unless he reversed it. Nor was his ferocious style — or perhaps lack of it, some might say — simply a matter of histrionics, but was very effective indeed. On my last visit to him and his charming, elegant wife, he pressed into my hand a photograph of himself taken at the 1934 Montreux Grand Prison which the great Charles Faroux had written: “The man who is currently the fastest in Europe”. And on his hall table I found a note left by Peter Ustinov, who had been there a few days earlier. It read: “To Philippe Etancelin, whose courageous and determined driving was the passion and inspiration of my youth”.

Those few words perfectly express the feelings of my generation.

Callington, Cornwall, Anthony Blight

Split Rear Seats

Sir,

In “Perfecting the Passat” (Motor Sport, December ’81) the editor muses as to whether BL or VW came up first with the divided, folding rear seat-squab arrangement.

Certainly my 1969 Skoda Octavia Combi exhibits such a feature and I would not be surprised to learn that the concept antedates even this.

Orpington, Kent, K. W. Dawes

The Alta NPA 5

Sir,

The article on NPA 5 has prompted me to write with regard to my own experiences with this historic little car, especially as l am the mysterious “someone in Birmingham” referred to in the article.

I actually acquired the car in 1959 from Bruce Spollon (current owner-driver of ERA R8B/C) at which time it was in the most incredibly original condition, apart from colour — which was red. There were straight-cut gears, screaming axle, exciting engine noises, blaring exhaust, skimpy wings, one aeroscreen, no flooring (apart from a driver’s footwell), and I expected to do my courting in such a vehicle. It was utterly unsuitable!!

I drove the car on the roads as daily transport for a short while, and even ventured to Prescott for a BOC Practice Day. However, the Wells rings between block and head were a very weak point; water would fountain out of the plug holes at very bad times.

Of course, she had to go to make way for other exotica. I sold her for about £325, the same sort of sum that I’d paid in the first place, to another man in Solihull, who I believe never used the car.

On another HW-Alta point, I feel I can lay claim to being the only other person to own both HW-Altas, apart from “the works” themselves. The other car being the earlier streamliner, MPS 77, which I owned in 1976. I shall be sorry inset the passing of your “Reggie No.” article as I feel there are still many, many more worthy recipients of an article in this sportscar series. Perhaps you will come back to it again some day.

Solihull, West Midlands, Jeremy Broad

Quiet Connaught

Sir,

In his article “Did You See It?” in Motor Sport January 1982, Mr. Jenkinson mentions the occasion when Johnny Claes’ mechanic (Bianchi) drove Claes’ A-series Connaught on the road. The occasion was not quite as he describes it.

At that time (1953 I think, but without much searching, cannot confirm) I was living in the flat over my drawing office at Connaught Engineering, and remember the occurrence clearly. It was a Saturday afternoon. Rodney Clarke and Mike Oliver were in Ireland, at Dundrod where Stirling Moss was driving a 2-Iitre Connaught — probably A8 since this was the fastest. I was trying to pick up a very faint broadcast on the radio which kept mentioning the race, when a car started and was running fairly fast below; I looked down to sec the Claes car, rear end up on a jack and wheels turning, obviously checking the gearbox, which had received attention. I returned to the radio, but heard the car move, and the engine note change. Looking out of the window facing the A3, I saw the Connaught trundle down to the road, and when it was clear set off sedately down towards Ripley, to return about five to ten minutes later just as sedately. One of the reasons why I remember the event so clearly is that I was disappointed because the car was (very properly) driven so gently; I wanted to see it fly past, over the Burnt Common crossroads (before the roundabout was built) and on the way to Guildford.

The reason for this short road trip was that Bianchi wanted to check the gear change with the car actually rolling.

I do not think there was any other occasion when this car was driven out of Connaught Enginering and down the A3. If one of the Connaught mechanics who was there should read this perhaps he could confirm

Woking, Surrey, C.E. Johnson

Roadgoing BRM

Sir,

I was very interested in rho article by D.S.J. about racing cars on the road.

I well remember attending the 1953 British Grand Prix at Silverstone (travelling the sixty odd miles there on a BSA Bantam). One of the supporting races was a Formula Libre event in which Farina driving the Thinwall Ferrari set the first ever 100 m.p.h. lap. He was hounded home by the two BRMs of Fangio and Ken Wharton. The BRMs of course bring V16s. It was not until years later that I read Raymond Mays and Peter Roberts book “BRM”. In this I learnt that Mays had in fact driven Fangio’s car to Silverstone. I can do no better than quote from the book. Mays said: “We finished only a little while before the race was due to begin and the only hope of getting to the circuit in time was to drive the BRM from Brackley in racing trim. I did my best to keep the noise down but it was still quite fiendish. It was an eight or ten mile journey to the circuit, and there were policemen everywhere to control the race-going traffic, but not one stopped me though I must have been breaking enough laws to have filled several pages of an official notebook. Fangio was pacing the starting-grid when I swept into the paddock. We changed wheels and sparking plugs and the car went straight on to the line.”

What a glorious sight and more what a glorious, glorious sound! Perhaps Tom Wheatcroft will again permit us the privilege of hearing that exciting exhaust note!

Shepshed, Leics, Michael Wantley

Formula One

Sir,

I was interested to road Karl Ludvigsen’s letter concerning Formula One.

Like you, I too deplore control of technical development in F1, as epitomised by the Lotus 88 debacle. No one has given more to the technical development of the racing car than Colin Chapman, and it is indeed a sad day when his genius is undermined by the modern commercial circus.

F1 must always represent the ultimate in Grand Prix racing — if all you want is close racing, stick to Formula Ford. That being so, controls must be limited to safety, and must not be used to tamper with performance per se. The function of the definition of the formula itself, is to put competitors on the same footing, conventionally by limiting engine size. It goes without saying, of course, that to manipulate the formulae and “controls” to achieve standardised levels of performance in completely unacceptable. Nobody suggested that the rules of the Derby should be altered just because Shergar walked away from the rest.

One is bound to note that the lobby supporting the fuel-flow concept has arisen at a time when the fabulously successful Cosworth V8 is nearing the end of its useful F1 life. We heard nothing from Cosworth or Ford about fuel-flow when the DFV was carrying all before it. Can it be coincidence that the turbos are threatening to dominate F1 in the eighties?

Let those who want to compete in fuel efficiency contests go off and compete in the Mobil Economy Run, or whatever they call it nowadays. Fuel efficiency is not the stuff of which F1 is made, and I pray it never will be. The only way ahead for F1, unless it is to become a marketing tool for commercial interests, is to let design have its head, and to encourage the genius of Chapman and his ilk, not to stultify it.

Writtle, Essex, David Rocker

With Frozen Fingers…

Sir,

On Sunday, December 13th, I was making my way eastwards along the M4 in the blizzard, and I considered I’d been doing pretty well to get up from Plymouth that morning, to around Bath, without mishap.

It was here about early afternoon that my effort was totally eclipsed by two figures cruising steadily past in a crab-track, pre-war, black Alvis(?), with the hood down.

Where this apparition had come front or whence they were going I shall never know, but the sight of the spectacle was as incredible as it was heart-warming. A far cry indeed from popping around a grassy field on a summer’s day with a ticket on your headlamp.

I would like to wish them a happy new year, — particularly the intrepid “mechanic”.

Woking, Surrey, John Butler

[The “crab track” suggests a Frazer Nash, rather than an Alvis. — Ed.]

Turbo-charging Background

Sir,

Just a few points in the letter from Mr. Clifford England, published in your December 1981 issue: I personally ordered the Napier “Nomad” because, at the time, 1945, we didn’t know if the gas turbine, in propeller form, would be able to show the operating economy needed for aprojected maritime reconnaissance aircraft. Tin “Nomad” was designed for an s.f.c. of 0.32 lb./h.p./hr. Napier estimated that they could complete the development of the engine in 4/5 years. I disagreed and said it would take 7/8 years on a ci. (compression ignition) cycle which was then very experimental. Nevertheless, the project went ahead and I left in 1946 to return to my peacetime job.

I was, however, called back by Air Marshal Boothman, to re-organise my old “Engine R D” department, in 1952; and found (in its 7th year) that the “Nomad” had been modified and the mechanically driven, centrifugal, blower removed. This was reasonable, since the axial, exhaust driven, compressor was quite efficient and the engine was correspondingly lightened. But the engine had not shown its capacity to achieve an sfc. of 0.32, and it looked as if the power (3,000 b.h.p.) was also going to be insufficient for the maritime project. I then gave Napier about 6 months to prove its brochure power & sfc. It failed to do this and I had to reccomend cancellation.

Major Halford had already left Napier in 1943 or ’44, and was head of the de Havilland Engine CO. and not with Rolls-Royce. We now have the very successful “Nimrod” with jet engines, albeit some 30 years after the “Nomad”.

Mr. Finch’s letter in your current (January) issue is hardly correct in any respect. The Hawk engine (mainly used in heavy petrol airships in World War I) was a Rolls design but the cylinders derived from the steel jacketed ones copied from those of the winning French Grand Prix Mercedes cars of 1914, one of which found its way to Henry Royce’s design office in St. Margaret’s Bay (nr. Dover). The V12 Falcon and Eagle engines were designed for aircraft and did not displace the Hawk as such. All had the sheet steel water jackets of the Mercedes. Setright was also completely wrong in his book (“The Power to Fly”) on how the Hawk came into being.

You, Mr. Editor, were right in your footnote.

London SW7 Air Com. F. R. Banks

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