Letters, February 1986
Opinions expressed are those of our correspondents, and are not necessarily those of MOTOR SPORT.
It is generally known that the RAC MSA is seriously looking into the possibility of making it mandatory for Historic Single Seater Racing Cars to be fitted with a Roll Bar or Cage and or Seat Belts.
Whilst I am fully aware that Motoring Sport in this country needs to keep a clean image with regard to safety. I find the prospect of trying to equip any pre-war race car with a roll cage to be totally impractical and unnecessary for the following reasons:
1) Historically, there is not a bad safety problem in this form of racing, for I cannot recollect a driver being killed in a pre-war car at any meeting in the last 20 years — the last fatal accident I can remember being to a young and wild chap driving a Salmson at Silverstone in about 1962. If one looks at ERAs in particular (without which, it is doubtful historic racing would have reached the heights it has), in over 50 years of these cars being raced, all seventeen of them almost solidly, only one driver has ever been killed and that was pre-war and he was wearing a cloth crash hat! That is not to say there have not been narrow squeaks, but these are bound to happen on the odd occasion for all sorts of reasons.
2) To try and fit a roll cage to such cars as ERAs, Maseratis, AlfaRomeos and the like, to protect a strapped in driver upside down at say, over 100 mph is a horrible prospect, a) because the driver sits high up. b) most of the cars weigh more than 14 cwt. The cage would have to be very substantially built and fixed very firmly to the channel chassis with supports running both forward and aft the cockpit area. The cars would resemble something from the American dirt speedways.
3) Having assembled such a structure to these cars, further problems then arise. The strength of the structure would have to be such that it would affect the flexing of the chassis which is generally known to exist and assist the suspension of the cars where firm leaf springs are used (as on most pre-war racing cars). Also. the C of G would be raised a small amount
In my view both these would have a detrimental effect to the general safety of the cars.
4) Most people who race Pre-war cars are, I suggest, a good deal more careful of their cars and in the driving of them. than competitors who race up-to-date cars, a) because they are never going to become the Prosts and Piquets of this world, b) their investment has usually been quite enormous both in man hours and monetary outlay, and c) the cars are an investment, both to themselves and the Motor Sporting history of this country — mine is my Pension Fund.
Finally, I find it quite absurd that the RAC MSA should be contemplating such a move when they have not even taken the most important step of ensuring that competitors wear appropriate safety clothing such as fire-proof overalls and ensuring that all skin is covered with at least some form of protection.
These comments, I stress, are made with reference to race cars with channel chassis or similar. I do not think the same arguments apply to race cars with tubular frames or chassis where coil springs are fitted.
I would ask anyone who has the interests of pre-war racing and racing cars at heart to write to the RAC MSA pointing out the absurdity and over-reactionary nature of their discussions. Do it now — it might be too late by the start of the 1986 season.
Leafield, Oxon W. R. G. MORRIS
I was pleased to see your adicle on Elvas, and for your background, as one who knew Frank Nichols well during the mid-50s, thought you might welcome a little extra detail.
Frank told me he had some “sponsorship” from Esso for the 1955 Tourist Trophy but was short of £50 for the transportation! I gave him a cheque and had free engine mountings on my 1955
Series II chassis!
POR 621 had the first fibre glass body off the aluminium “former” which, originally, I was to have, just like your picture of Scott-Brown on page 25.
The “B works” car really went, provided the flywheel didn’t come adrift, as at Brands, in practice for a test run at Goodwood, after which I gave him his first order.
Here the four Amals went over centre when relinquishing the lead after the first lap past the pits, so I had to spin it at the next corner, and oiled a plug. The engine frorn that car went into an Anglia for the six hour relay at Silverstone.
I was to drive it, with Cuff-Miller in a similar Anglia and A. N. Other.
Unfortunately Frank let someone try it on the circuit, before I arrived, and he must have over-revved because after coming round leading the MG Magnette team on the final lap, a valve chipped and all steam went!!
When Frank was doing well in America, I suggested that he ought to insure through the ECGD, but he had great faith in his importer, so went bust again.
Incidentally, my IOE head was porou,. very confusing in a new car running on special carbs with slide throttles. It was treated with special resin and gave no further trouble. The low speed torque of those 100Es was great fun at, say, the Brighton Speed Trials when paired with an expensive Climax device.
Mine had a beautiful hydraulically controlled clutch. coupled to a J2 box and was super for hill-climbs.
Arundel, Sussex H. M GADSBY
Buckler F3 Car
I was very pleased to read in Readers’ Letters that the ex-Ken Smith FIll 500 is still being used. I owned and raced this car in the middle 1950s, and it gave me much pleasure, except on the occasion it shed a rear wheel rounding Druids and somersaulted end over end, finishing at the bottom of the hill. Fortunately the action look place on the grass at the side of the track, and apart from having both ears nearly shaved off by my crash helmet, and concussion, I was unhurt.
Ken sold the car about 1954 as he was buying a new Lotus Climax. He was running the “Jolly Farmer” pub near Enfield, Middlesex at the time. The “Smith Special” as it was known was fitted with a double knocker Norton engine and Ken admitted to me that it did not handle all that well on a twisty circuit. I entered the car for a Brands Hatch meeting and found this to be an understatement. After a few races I decided that the engine was too fast for the chassis, and I fitted a JAP engine. This was one of the engines developed for car use with dry sump lubrication, hairpin valve springs, etc, and proved to be very reliable. Although not as fast as the Norton I was able to put up better lap times with the JAP as I was able to use plenty of throttle and drive round the corners. This steadied the car quite appreciably. l won about six races in the following three years, and plenty of hard luck stories. About 1957-58 I could see that Fill was coming loan end and sold the car to a martin West London, who intended to use it for hill climbing.
As to Ken Smith’s present whereabouts, who knows? Sadly he died about 1961 of kidney trouble, I was told. He was a likeable character and a great car enthusiast.
Eastbourne E V. KORING
Your profile of Peter Ashdown and the recent death of Masten Gregory brought back memories for me.
As a Formula 1 addict since 1951, mere poverty as a National Serviceman was not going to keep me from the 1959 GP at Aintree, so I hitch-hiked up there overnight from Dorset in time for the race.
Masten Gregory was in the works F1 Cooper and Peter Ashdown in Alan Brown’s F2 Cooper, the two formulae combined in one race. After the race I scrounged a lift back to Essex with Peter Ashdown and on the journey I recall him saying that at one point in the race he was braking hard for Mulling Crossing (in his F2 call when Gregory came by him with both hands behind his head adjusting his goggles strap!
They don’t make them like they used to!
Southrninster,Essex M A WHEELER