Letters, February 2014

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Memories of Henry Taylor

It’s sad that Henry Taylor has died, but I have a good memory of him. In 1968, when the London-Sydney Marathon rally was announced, I was part of the Supersport rally team in Acton. We had an excellent relationship with the Ford Competition Department in Boreham, so I phoned Henry, then Ford’s competition manager, and said “Any chance of a car?” Henry said, “If you get a good journalist as co-driver, we can let you have a Lotus Cortina.”

I phoned Gerry Phillips of Motoring News and without hesitation he agreed. Three days later he called back. “Bad news: Wesley J Tee (owner of both Motoring News and Motor Sport at the time) says there is no place for sponsorship in motor sport and, as the London-Sydney is sponsored by the Daily Express and the Sydney Telegraph, if I go with you I’m out of a job.”

I’d lost my works car, but hadn’t been too happy about the Lotus Cortina idea anyway. The new Ford Escort seemed a much better bet, so I called again. “Henry, any chance of help if I take an Escort and my own co-driver?”

An hour later he called back “You can have a ‘pilot-build’ 1100cc Escort for nothing, and any bits you want. Just make a contribution to the fund for retired workers.” Done!

We collected the Escort, sold the parts we didn’t want, fitted a 1600 Capri engine and gearbox, put on various Ford Competition bits and finished the London-Sydney with co-drivers John Maclay and Martin Maudling (it was less expensive to share the bills between three rather than two).

By the time we reached Bombay our front struts were shot. Henry had uprated ones flown to await us in Perth, at no cost to us. It was this, more than anything else, that got us to the finish.

He might not have been well known to the world at large, but I for one will always remember Henry with enormous affection and gratitude.

Jim Gavin, Wisborough Green, West Sussex

Bitter-sweet symphony

So the Wales Rally GB returns to North Wales. This is a good thing, as confirmed by the huge spectator numbers and general good feeling among, well, just about everybody.

For the first time in 15 years I was tempted back to my homeland to camp out in a forest, wear a woolly hat and do what I used to do every November: watch Britain’s greatest motor sport event.

And what a fantastic spectacle it was. The cars might all look a bit samey, the sounds are nothing like as exciting as Group B cars on full beans and the entrance fee was extortionate for the privilege of a two-mile walk to the stage, but all that was forgotten as Gartheiniog gave the crowds something to smile about.

One thing, though: can the Forestry Commission (or other landowners, come to that) be expected to allow this great event to continue given the amount of litter, beer cans and furniture – yes, furniture – left behind by the spectators? My pick? The discarded gazebo abandoned in the woods by irresponsible louts who just might ruin the event for us all, as well as harming the environment.

Owain Linford, Milton Keynes

Wing tips

I was a bit baffled by the whole blown diffuser idea, but a recent trip to the RAF Cosford museum explained all to me – albeit to generate lift rather than downforce.

The Hunting 126 was first flown in 1963 and used jet exhaust to generate lift at low speed. To quote the official description: “More than half of the exhaust from the jet engine was directed through a slot along the trailing edge of the wing and blown over the flaps and control surfaces to generate lift. Another 10 per cent of the exhaust gas was directed to small jets in the wing tips and tail to provide control at speeds as low as 32mph.”

And here’s me thinking that modern-day F1 designers invented the whole concept.

Ken Pugh, Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan

Bubble and speak

You are to be hugely congratulated for having the cojones for saying in print what so many of us think – that Bernie Ecclestone should go. I have long grown tired of the fawning copy most of the press devotes to Ecclestone.

I watched my first Grand Prix in 1971 and mourn the sport I loved, which has become a TV soap opera played out on joke circuits in joke countries in front of live audiences you can count on your hands. No Imola, no Zandvoort, no Anderstorp, no Clermont-Ferrand or Dijon, an emasculated Hockenheim and just about everywhere else apart from Monaco. An almost exclusively European fanbase is condemned to watch races from Korea, Malaysia and Bahrain.

Worse still, nearly all the cash in motor sport has moved to F1, leaving F3 and the like pathetic shadows of what they once were. And all this because some ex-barrister sold his mate a sport that some of us didn’t realise was even saleable…

Many people in the F1 bubble speak in awed terms of Ecclestone’s phenomenal intelligence, but I wonder about that. Sure, he can clinch a deal but I have never heard him say anything that wasn’t almost embarrassingly gauche.

Well done for being brave enough to stick your head above the parapet. And the magazine is great – as good as it ever was, if not better.

John Aston, Thirsk, Yorks

Star trek

With regard to Private View in the January issue, I also made my way by coach to Oulton Park, for the 1968 Gold Cup. I was 17 years old and living in Carlisle. I had been reading Motor Sport since 1966 and was desperate to see an F1 race. From Carlisle it was quite a trek: 2am coach, change at Liverpool for Tarporley then hitch-hike to the circuit. Some kindly enthusiasts took pity on me and gave me a lift.

My camera was a borrowed Instamatic, absolutely no telephoto lens. Undaunted, I took action shots from Lodge Corner as well as in the paddock. I still have the slides – remember those? The journey was something of an endurance test and I was exhausted but exhilarated. Sadly, I left my programme behind on one of the coaches having fallen asleep.

It was worth all the effort, though.

Don Craig, Abbeydale, Gloucester

Ticket to ride

What a joy to read Nigel Roebuck once again reflecting on his hero Jean Behra and the thrill he got seeing the Frenchman winning a non-championship BARC 200 aboard that glorious Ferrari Dino at Aintree in 1959. It happens that, like Nigel, I got my Dad to take me to the same race, although my hero was Masten Gregory.

As I recall, Masten led convincingly until something broke in his works Cooper-Climax, whereupon Stirling Moss took over for a while in Rob Walker’s booming BRM-engined Cooper. That, in turn, failed when its Colotti gearbox wilted (and the car/engine pairing never raced again). Nigel, commendably starry-eyed, may need to be reminded that Behra and his team-mate Tony Brooks had been trailing somewhat until being gifted their 1-2 win. I suspect that Enzo Ferrari then finally realised that the game was up for front-engined cars, because in the summer the Scuderia failed to show at Aintree for the British GP, blaming a metal-workers’ strike.

Many years later, while chatting in the Adelaide paddock with a racing chum called George Harrison (guitar player with a popular musical combo), I learned that he, too, had been at Aintree that day. “My dad drove me there in his new Hillman Minx,” I told him, proudly.

“I got there for free,” responded George. “My dad was collecting the fares and I was on the top deck.”

Mike Doodson, Forest Row, Sussex

The sands of time

Andrew Frankel’s foray with the slightly terrifying Blitzen Benz (December) was fascinating, but the Mason eyebrows shot up at the words: “There (at Brooklands) Victor Hémery claimed the only Land Speed Record ever to be set on English soil”.

That did not sound right. Surely he meant to add the words ‘up to that time’, or something similar. I was not thinking of the query about Charles Rolls, raised by Dale Wilkinson (Letters, January), but what about Hornsted, Guinness and Segrave? Recourse to Posthumus and Tremayne, in Land Speed Record, confirmed that my memory was on the money.

First, in 1914, L?G?‘Cupid’ Hornsted set the first ‘official’ two-way record at Brooklands, in the mighty Benz, at 124.10mph. That was slower than Hémery’s speed, and the slightly suspect efforts of Barney Oldfield and Bob Burman at Daytona, so could be dismissed as just a historical footnote, but it was certainly an official LSR.

Then in May 1922, Kenelm Lee Guinness achieved a pretty brave 133.75mph LSR within the tight confines of Brooklands, with the 350hp Sunbeam.

However, the last LSR to be achieved by a conventional racing car, capable of even road racing, was at 152.33mph, set by Henry Segrave on Southport sands on March 16, 1926, with the relatively modest but effective 4-litre Sunbeam ‘Tiger’. English sand rather than English soil, if you want to be really picky, but it was certainly an official LSR, even if it stood only for a month or so.

I’m sure that Andrew Frankel knows all this and it was a slip of the keyboard, but younger readers might not be aware of these landmark speeds that were achieved in England.

Chris Mason, Riccall, York

Generation game

I’d like to see some semi-radical changes to F1, to reintroduce the primacy of the driver, which tends to be the main demand that us Generation-X folk demand. To me, there has been an over-intellectualisation of the changes needed. Sure, increasing the ratio of mechanical to aerodynamic grip is crucial, but more is needed.

Firstly, expunge automatic gearboxes and bring back the ‘six on the floor’ fully manual gearbox to increase the chance of driver error, and talent revealing itself (vide Senna stuck in gear or James Garner at Monaco with Scott Stoddard chasing).

Second, bring the tyres back to ensure a two- to three-stop race, rather than six stops and 75 per cent pace.

Ditch the DRS and KERS gimmicks – it’s not PlayStation – and, lastly, allow complete tyre and fuel choices over the weekend to defeat the painful conservatism that puts us in the Antipodes to sleep at a late hour on Saturday and Sunday nights.

Keep up the thoughtful analysis and useful dissent against the commercial interests that seemingly have little respect for the sport’s proud traditions.

Jonathan Gouy, Canberra, Australia

Scot of the harsh antics

Doug Paterson’s recent letter reminded me of another name missed off the list of Ecurie Ecosse drivers – Bill Stein, who had a bad crash at Brands Hatch in a Tojeiro-Buick. He seriously damaged his legs and these injuries obliged him not to race again.

I am honoured to know Bill, who is still alive and well (thanks to a medicinal wee dram every day) and living in Spain.

His views on various motor sport personalities have given me many a good laugh.

Chris Farr, Duquesa, Spain

Three 12s equals ’76

Your January Parting Shot from 1976, showing the fab Ligier-Matra driven by Jacques Laffite, brought back so many memories for me. I saved for two years to attend my first Grand Prix – Monaco 1976. I was in the big grandstand after the chicane, where Ronnie Peterson crashed out.

In those days the cars really looked different, with six-wheelers and totally different-sounding engines – the Matra V12 was brilliant, the Ferrari flat-12 sublime, the Alfa flat-12 brutal. I was there and will never ever forget that experience – especially as my all-time hero Niki Lauda took a splendid victory for Ferrari.

I loved that Ligier-Matra because it was different. If you stripped the paint off the 2013 cars and lined them up randomly, only the designers would be able to tell the makes apart.

John Mackay, Currie, Midlothian