Letters from Readers, January 1959

N.B.  —  Opinions expressed are those of our Correspondents and “Motor Sport” does not necessarily associate itself with them. — Ed.


“Imitation is…”


I am not sure what you prove with your paragraph on page 835 (web version page 29) of the December issue, except that the Facel Vega does not appear to stop very satisfactorily despite remarkable performance from its large-capacity engine. I should be interested to know whether this 30 seconds plus was one run or the mean of six runs in 6-1/2  minutes, as was the case with the DB4 tests.

However, to revert to the heading of this letter, who first thought out this convincing demonstration I know not, but over four years ago the idea of 0-100 and back again in a given time was the headline of an article by Mr. David Brown in the Press.  Whether or not this was the first occasion does not really seem to matter very much, the proof of the pudding surely is in the eating, and although even our times may be beaten they are quite remarkable by any present-day standards.

I am, Yours, etc.

Alan Dakers, Public Relations,  The David Brown Companies

London W.1.

(We stated that the particular Facel Vega tested suffered from severe brake fade. Consequently we could hardly have been expected to be so cruel as to have twelve stabs at a test which is interesting but rather hard on the car. We are delighted to know that Mr. David Brown was not copying us when he had the convincing tests made with an Aston Martin but that he thought of the 0-100-0-m.p.h. idea prior to 1954.  —  Ed.)


Brake failure


Travelling on the Continent recently with my family in my 1952 3-litre Alvis drophead coupé (mileage 60,000) and driving at about 60 m.p.h. on a wet, straight, but by no means empty road near the Simplon, I put my foot on the brake pedal and found that the brakes had failed completely and without a hint of warning.

A kindly providence and some hasty gear-changing saved us from the mortuary, and we limped to the nearest village, where we were lucky enough to find an excellent garage whose proprietor—an ex-racing driver called Bonven—was able to put right the fault by eleven o’clock next morning. The rubber washers on the master cylinder had perished and had allowed the brake fluid to escape. On being asked the reason, M. Bonven shrugged his shoulders and said, no reason except ordinary wear and tear; and this seems to be generally accepted as the truth.

In my innocence, and having been a driver for only about 25 years, I had not realised that a failure such as this could occur so completely and without a trace of preliminary warning, but in talking with other drivers I find I am by no means the only one to have suffered in this way.

One of two improvements I would suggest. Mr. Lockheed might be persuaded to put a mileage life or a time life on the perishable parts of his mechanism. After all, it is not a confession of failure to admit that things wear out. Sparking plugs are generally given a life of 10,000 miles, and brakes can hardly be said to be less important. Otherwise the advertisement “Lockheed Brakes, the Safest in the World” becomes a ludicrous lie.

The alternative improvement would be an Act of Parliament to prohibit the use of hydraulic brakes on all vehicles which do not have an independent and efficient hand-brake. The Alvis, like so many modern cars, has a mechanically-operated hand-brake of rather less than two cat-power.

I am, Yours, etc.,

Winston Graham



The performance of the Berkeley


I find it hard to see why, in the last issue of your excellent magazine, you refer to the Berkeley as a “toy.”

Tested by a contemporary, it displayed slightly higher maximum speed than the Austin-Healey Sprite, acceleration slightly inferior in the lower ranges, but faster 0-70 m.p.h. (perhaps because 70 m.p.h. is possible in third gear) and similar braking power to that of the Sprite.

In addition, alone among our cheaper sports cars, it avoids the water-cooling, prop.-shaft and rigid rear axle, about the wide use of which you have so often complained (indeed, I find these complaints in this same issue).

Of course, the Berkeley has its faults (the only serious ones seem to me intractability at low revs., and the occasionally-felt lack of constant-velocity universal joints), but it is very far from a toy, and I do feel that an original and advanced specification, and performance not only remarkable from a 500-c.c. two-seater but equivalent to that of anything in its price class, deserve some recognition.

I should add that I have no connection whatever with Berkeley Cars, but have acquired a considerable respect for their products during the past year.

I am,  Yours, etc.,

G.R.P. Gush 

Tunbridge Wells


Modern vintage


Two years ago I wanted a modern looking car with vintage characteristics, which meant that I sought something which had not been too heavily work studied by production engineers. I felt that the cheapening of processes to produce only the bare essential requirement was, taken collectively, resulting in a slightly shoddy product. The question “Will it do the job? ” asked by the production engineer concerning each part never seemed to be comprehensive enough. I disliked the practice of inadequately painting parts which were hidden—inside doors and wheels—of substituting paper fasteners for screws, of using erratic cable controls to avoid proper linkage, of specifying bent rod and split-pin controls instead of ball joints, of accepting drumming panels which needed “Underseal” to quieten them, of excessive use of rubber to take care of poor working geometry, of eliminating essential instruments which would normally indicate mechanical condition, and of disregarding subsequent maintenance accessibility. Above all I disliked the practice of discarding equipment and advertising the economy as an improvement, and then selling it as an expensive optional extra about a year or two later. So that buying a new car was, to a cynical person like myself, a matter for an analytical approach. I wanted to avoid, as far as possible, a product which incorporated the improvements I have mentioned, and also from long experience I wanted to avoid other accepted practices.

My No. 1 bête noire in this respect is push-rods.  I have never stopped being astonished whenever this Heath Robinson makeshift conversion from s.v. to o.h.v. is reproduced in a new o.h.v. design. Here is where work study could operate, because the large number of moving, wearable, noisy parts involved in a push-rod valve train must be more expensive to produce than any sort of single o.h.c. train. Every push-rod engine I have ever owned has been noisy to some unpleasant degree for most of its life, and I have spent hours trying to eliminate threshing or individual tappet clicks which periodically came and went until they were finally accepted as inevitable. I cannot accept that maintenance is more complicated  —   in fact it is easier to assemble this whole head on a bench and then connect up a normally simple timing arrangement, than to fiddle about with rocker shafts and push-rods in situ. It is ridiculous that the tightening of the head should alter valve clearances. I remember when I asked the Service Manager of a famous factory why they had reduced the “ferocity” of their camshaft on their 1954 push-rod model after years of the old design, he said “The new shaft is kinder to tappet feet.” and they gave up about four b.h.p., which was reclaimed by stepping up the compression ratio quite a bit.

My No. 2 objection is the rigid rear axle. Now surely it is logical that the rear end has as much right to be rid of unsprung weight as the front.  I suspect that this is tied up with the continued use of semi-elliptic leaf springs which obligingly locate as well as flex and save the cost of other locating devices necessary with other forms of spring. But it is monstrous that the distortions at the shackles and the misalignment of the axle under torque are still accepted, and equally monstrous that totally different characteristics of wet as opposed to dry leaf springs are considered both good enough on the same car. I prefer torsion bars, whether in coil form or otherwise.

All the above translated into a requirement, narrowed down my choice. When this limited choice was correlated to my bank balance it dropped still further, and  —  being in Germany at this time  —  I settled for a 190 Mercedes which had most of my basic requirements built in, but not all.

I listed my advantages as:

o.h.c; ind.suspension; excellent finish (even inside the doors!); all controls with proper bearings  —  even a decent ballrace in the steering head and not a piece of felt; no drumming  —  though the body is “built up” as the chassis; all instruments except an ammeter; first-class self-adjusting brakes; properly built-in, almost silent heaters.

But I still had to suffer:

No starting handle; cloth upholstery which had to be covered at once: steering-column gear change—but this has proper bearings and doesn’t rattle; 35 grease nipples!—but in fact they don’t take any longer to do than my wife’s English 8-h.p, with about 12); and no ammeter.

The car has been satisfactory and after 20,000 miles I think I can honestly say I would still choose the same make and model again if I had to change. Without any ” ifs or buts”  the car does exactly what its makers claim, detail by detail, neither more nor less. My only extra expense has been £2 to replace a shock-absorber which had become noisy. Of interest to all engineers is the detailed attention paid to finish of working surfaces. For example, valve stems and the internal bores of valve guides are accurately finished and after 15,000 miles had no extra measurable wear above their original tolerance, which is certainly unique after my experience of “broached” or drilled guides for years. Likewise the maximum variation all round the back of the cams, measured by dial at rocker end. is .0005 in., which is also unique. Neither has adjustment of clutch pedal, steering box, hubs, or gear linkage been necessary. There are no noticeable oil leaks anywhere, and no adjustments around the car, e.g. door catches, have been made or are necessary, for no rattles of any sort have developed. Also worthy of mention is the tyre wear, which at 20,000 is about 50 per cent. of the tread but there are no signs of unevenness on any tyre. Each wheel had done 15,000 and the present spare 20,000 as a result of being changed around at the recommended schedule. This means that the front geometry must be right and that the rear swing-axles do not scrub tyres as much at their riding appearance would suggest. The axle is pivoted at a single point so that the arc described by each rear wheel has a rather greater radius than that of the normal arrangement.

Regarding maintenance, I have mentioned 35 nipples but they are so arranged that on jacking either side one is presented with groups all pointing in the same direction. The result is that I can cover all points in approximately 20 minutes without undue haste. I think one refinement worth noting is the provision of a grease nipple for each door hinge. “Cord” upholstery, though well finished and most presentable is, like push-rods,  beyond my comprehension. It gets quite dirty very quickly and is very difficult to clean, gets damp when left out overnight, and is pulled out of shape much more easily than leather or vyanide equivalent. Backing up my objection is the fact that, although practically all German cars have cord as standard, over 90 per cent. are immediately and permanently fitted with plastic or other seat covers. So that seems to be something dictated by custom and practice but which will not bear practical analysis. Much has already been written about starting handles. The reasons usually given for abandoning it are not good enough for me and I wish I had one. As an apprentice at Swifts  —  where they made cars years ago—I was taught to test compressions on the handle before starting any engine fault diagnosis. Now I’m sunk. One more grumble. I always feel happier about filling gearboxes and axles when there is a proper filler cap facing upwards. This is apparently now too much to expect and all one gets is a tapped hole in the side of the casing, through which oil must somehow be squirted until it is obviously too full and runs out again. I hope the production engineer concerned sometimes has to top up his own axle or gearbox without a service station handy!

I would like to pay tribute to Mercedes for producing a “tin” body with doors which close properly without slamming and have no suggestion of tinniness when you do, and for being honest by giving every bit of their panelling (whether covered or not) the full painting process.

Finally, about the brakes. I had viewed self-adjusting shoes with suspicion. But this has proved a worthwhile feature, and resulted in a consistent braking performance with all brakes remaining properly adjusted and balanced the whole time. Memories of first class brakes diminishing over the miles until “pumping” became imminent, and then the shock of the first absentminded jab at the pedal after adjustment, are now well in the past. Yet this device is so simple that it must cost no more to produce than the usual snail cams and their adjustment arrangements.

In conclusion I am glad to say that I have found a modern vintage car.  No doubt there are others, British and just as good, but I didn’t find one, and now I’m pleased with my choice, and therefore biased and blind to all their other virtues.

I am, Yours, etc.,

D.C. Gershon

B.F.P.O. 20. 


A Siddeley Special in captivity


In view of your current series of articles on the Armstrong Siddeley, I feel that the enclosed photograph of what must be one of the finest extant specimens of the, unfortunately, now very rare Siddeley Special, may prove to be of interest and of use to you.

This car, which has but recently come into my possession, has all-aluminium coupe de ville coachwork by Vanden Plas, and, as can be seen, combines an elegance all of its own with the advantages of both closed and open types of coachwork.

I wonder if, through the medium of your journal, I may correct a former lapse on my part?  This concerns my failure, when selling an R-type 20/60 Vauxhall some years ago, to pass on the original registration book. If the present owner of TM 4312 would care to get in touch, then I would be glad to forward it.

I am, Yours, etc.,

Charles Poole

Welwyn Garden City


Discovery of a 1914 T.T. Humber

In “Veteran Types No. XXXIX” last month when recounting the discovery of the Züst you say “… during the last war by way of Motor Sport’s  ‘bush telegraph’ I heard that a racing Humber and a Züst lay disused in a shed in Cardiff.  Having made public this exciting piece of news, Kenneth Neve went along to see what it was all about and as is now well known took possession of the Humber but left the Züst….”

Now I quote from “Veteran Types No. XXIV” which Cecil Clutton and I wrote and which you published in January, 1942.  Describing the finding of the Humber I said  “In 1935 while working in South Wales I met a man named  —  amazingly enough  —  Jones.”  Jones told me about an old racing car, and the story went on “… it was a few days before Mr. Sgonina unlocked the door of his garage and let me in. I saw first a little Fiat, circa 1922, then a 1913 Züst  —  an interesting enough discovery at any time but quite eclipsed by the very stark Humber.  “At that time Mr. Sgonina would not sell, but, to quote again from the article  “… in 1937 I left Cardiff only after arranging for Mr. Jones to keep an eye on the Humber … and early in 1941 he phoned ‘Sgonina weakening’ and, six months later  ‘Humber yours’.”

The story which you printed in 1942 is the true one. The existence of the Humber was signalled by no war-time bush telegraph: its renascence we owe to my friend Jones, a pub in Aberthaw and five pints of Rhymney ale, way back in 1935.

I am, Yours, etc.

Kenneth Neve,


(Our “bush telegraph” told us about the Züst in the early years of the war but we are glad to correct the impression that this was how Mr. Neve discovered the T.T. Humber. The pleasing aspect is that both Humber and Züst have been so ably restored. — Ed.)


Munchausen Idiom


I was particularly interested to read the letter from Harry Rose, headed ” Munchausen Idiom,” in the November issue of Motor Sport, as I was also driving in the same class, for 1,500-c.c. sports cars, in the Brighton Speed Trials. In my self-tuned Riley One-Point-Five saloon, I managed to better Robin Russell’s time over the kilometre by 0.88 sec. to finish sixth in the class, and I know I was doing nowhere near 105 m.p.h. over the finishing line I

To be fair to Mr. Russell, I met him at a later competition and he told me, to the best of my memory, that the advertisement in question was published entirely without his permission or prior knowledge and that he also felt it was quite ludicrous. I seriously contemplated writing to you when the advertisement first appeared but I am glad to see that Mr: Rose “picked it up” first.

I am, Yours, etc.,

R.C.C. Palmer


(Readers will be interested to know that soon after the publication of Mr. Harry Rose’s letter he and Motor Sport  challenged Noel Roscoe Ltd., of West Byfleet, to substantiate their claim, made in their advertisement in our issue of October 1958, that at the last Brighton Speed Trials Robin Russell’s scientifically-tuned Austin Metropolitan crossed the finishing line at over 105 m.p.h…. “winning its heat.”  Motor Sport has agreed to meet the expense of again timing this remarkable Austin Metropolitan over the same distance from a standing start, with the car in the same trim as at Brighton, and of recording its maximum speed at the end of one kilometre. Mr. Rose points out that Noel Roscoe Ltd. claim to have a car which can accelerate faster than gravity (i.e. 32 feet per second per second), this, he says, being the first time in history that such a claim has been made in respect of a land vehicle, so naturally both he and Motor Sport await keenly the opportunity of obtaining confirmation of this remarkable performance. To date, Messrs. Noel Roscoe’s solicitors, Turner, Garrett & Codbrook, have failed to notify us of the date on which we are to see this claim confirmed. — Ed.)


The new Citroëns — where they fail


Eighteen Months ago I bought the second of the few D.S.19s in this country, which, 800 miles long by 200 wide, has only 200 miles of tar, the rest languidly maintained muck and rubble.

I have read your admirable articles, on the D.S. and I.D., much more forthright than the condescending faint praise bestowed by some of your contemporaries, for whom the acme of road-holding would appear to be something like the Humber Super Snipe. I would hardly contest a single point of your findings—on tar. 

It is a paradox that this car, with perhaps the finest suspension in the world, is outstanding on good roads where it matters least but, much though I regret having to say so, is a menace in the rough, not to its occupants but to itself. Most dirt roads have a central raised ridge between your wheels because the wheel-tracks get pressed down, leaving the middle elevated. This reduced clearance is further lessened by stones which get thrown on to it by the wheels. Surfaces are often rocky, very uneven and potholed. Even worse are the many very sharp dips and bumps, e.g., where the road passes over old ant-hills. Single bumps and holes are wonderfully ironed out, but the Citroën’s enormous up-and-down-once movement is easily brought on by a sharp rise or fall. It doesn’t matter how high you run it  —  I normally use the highest level next to jacking height  —  you clout the smallest projections with monotonous regularity. The broad track and great 123-in, wheelbase, so valuable for stability, make the car even easier to ground.

Worse  —  what are the structures which suffer?  Of all things the discs of the inboard front brakes, virtually unprotected and projecting dangerously far downward, which transmit every blow straight into the heart of most expensive machinery. The exhaust pipe, low and central, takes a belting along most of its length and breaks easily.

This is one of its two great faults. The other is dust. These same unprintable roads powder when dry into fine abrasive dust, for which the inside of the Citroën acts as a vacuum-cleaner second to none. The frameless windows, the detachable wings, the absent door-sill of the previous model, the poor rubber sealing only adequate for rain, combine to form literally hundreds of places through which the dust just pours.

These two faults are fundamental. Until they are corrected this car will never sell in any numbers in the tropics. Lesser faults are :

Another paradox  —  the magnificent visibility creates a magnificent glare which even exterior visor and rear-window blind do not overcome.

Unless the loose-fitting windows are fully up or fully down, dust in the rubber strips at the top of the doors marks them in horizontal lines as effectively as any sand-blaster.

Standard of agents and servicing. Most agents here are idle, keen to sell you a car and dead keen to avoid looking after it. Blame Citroën or blame the garages, but no briefing preceded this complex car. The firm learns as you pay.

Having got all this off my chest let me say what I have been aching to say since starting to tell you what is wrong with it  —  on good roads this car is a world-beater. Its suspension, cornering, visibility, comfort, boot capacity, functional appearance and many, many minor points, like ventilation, safety door handles and steering wheel, put it in a class of its own (and for the benefit of the Editor I might add that I judge by high standards because my other car is that ageless little vehicle, not only without a useless transmission line but also without water, a car of which my criticisms are nil and which, in its class and unlike the Citroën, is a world-beater here as well as at home).

I am, Yours, etc.,

J.R. Scarr





 With reference to the letter published in December’s issue of Motor Sport headed “Yimken”, I am of the opinion that the writer must be misinformed about the meaning of ” Yimken”;  although my Arabic was not fluent it did at least suffice my needs. If I should require any repairs carrying out, an establishment with ” Yimken ” emblazed across its portals would be the last place to have my patronage.  “Yimkin”  —  the phonetic spelling of the Arabic word implying “soon” but rather “sometime”  or to the Eastern mind “this week, next week, sometime …”

I am, Yours faithfully,