Letters from Readers, January 1960

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

The Personal Element in Motor Racing

I have read and enjoyed your publication for many years, but I feel increasingly that you are following a trend which will result either in the disappearance of motor racing as a sport or, far worse, in its perversion. In the beginning, as you well know, people went to automobile races to celebrate the deeds of men. The cars were thought of as mounts. They served to supply the great champions with the means of demonstrating feats of courage and skill. A race was won by Lautenschlager, driving a Mercedes; not by a Mercedes, with Lautensehlager at the wheel. Motor racing was exciting because it allowed certain men to conquer natural obstacles through the use of man’s servant, the machine. At all times it was a game for humans, between humans, by humans.

In those days, following through to Nuvolari and Fangio, who used machines respectfully but also with a certain contempt, racing drivers were heroes, unashamedly; later-day charioteers, knights errant, soldiers of fortune. They sought an ancient glory, in contemporary terms. We sang of their accomplishments, wept at their failures, mourned their deaths.

Now this seems to be changing. Gradually, the machine is overwhelming the man; and, in consequence, the sport is losing its point. It is becoming, not a sport, but a testing ground for mechanical objects. In your pages—and in the pages, I must admit, of all other motoring journals—man’s servant has taken precedence. We read of this car or that car, we see cutaway drawings, photographs, articles, stories—of and about cars. We read of a man only after he has died, in service to industry.

This is wrong. It is dangerous. When the drivers become simply necessary extensions of the machines—odd, unaerodynamic parts, all looking alike, as the cars do, helmeted and goggled, poking up from the cockpits, nameless, faceless, without identification—then, for me, and for others, the Sport is dead. The machine has won. The contest is no more. Who but a soulless engineer could be interested in a group of four-wheeled gadgets speeding noisily around a track? (I do not suggest that all engineers are soulless; but many, I’ve found, are, or seem to be.) Let me change that. Not “interested”—I suppose I could be interested—but moved. Without men, where is the drama? The glory? The tragedy? Can there be art without a human artist?

Let us keep the machines in their place. Let’s read about them and discuss them, but let us also read about and discuss the men. Let us see a cover, just once in a while, which doesn’t have a machine anywhere in sight, but has a man.

Let us have long profiles of drivers and mechanics and constructors. You mention casually that a twenty-one-year-old boy named Chris Bristow came within a second or so of Stirling Moss in a particular race. Tell us about this amazing feat. Throw out one of your tedious, dull descriptions of the latest B.R.M. modifications and give us a photograph of Bristow and a story of his life. Whether or not a lap record has been lowered is of little importance in the scheme of things. Of great importance is the bravery and skill of a human being. You say that Bruce McLaren is driving nearly as fast as the great veterans. Who is Bruce McLaren? Having read all the British magazines thoroughly, I know that he is (a) young and (b) Australian. I want to know more. Knowing more, I can care when McLaren’s car does well or poorly. Now I don’t care. It’s just a car, operated by a name. Let us hear of Mike McKee and see what he looks like. Let its learn the dreams and hobbies and ambitions of Bruce Milford, Paul Emeryson, Sir Gawaine Baillie, and all the other fighters. Their names appear in issue after issue. But they’re always names, nothing more. Give us a picture and a story of Toto Roche, who has enraged everyone so (we readers will never know why, unless we’re told). Tell us about Colotti, for a change, and not his designs.

In short, please restore the humanity of motor racing. Despite Denis Jenkinson’s increasingly bloodthirsty, heartless reports, from which we must conclude that he would be happy to sacrifice any number of drivers for the sake of lowering a lap record one-tenth of a second, despite the heavy concentration on mechanical things in your pages, despite the apparent willingness on your part to eliminate men altogether from the Sport, I cannot believe that you are consciously content to allow the tail to wage the dog forever. Give us the cars. But give us the people too. They’re more important.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Hollywood. Charkes Beaumont.

[As a purely personal opinion I am not altogether in agreement. Although the personal element is fascinating and of greater moment than ever now that G.P. racing has become a “circus” performing for bags of lucre, and although I was brought up as a schoolboy on S. C. H. Davis, who told me the men were far more interesting (and as unreliable?) as the machines, this does not accord with the original alms of motor racing.

The earliest events were contested mainly by France in her great heroic town-to-town races. When Paris-Madrid ended all that in 1903, the Gordon Bennett contests finally emerged and these were nation against nation. Then came the classic series of French Grand Prix races, which were contests between rival commercial firms with teams of cars. They became so intense, just before and immediately after the First World War that Peugeot set up a separate racing department and Louis Coatalen used the best designers from rival companies to ensure that Sunbeam showed up well.

Because it was the car that mattered drivers could be swopped from one to another under team tactics to ensure success.

Today the World Drivers’ Championship puts G.P. racing in a false light, with the leading drivers divided between serving the manufacturer for whom they drive and trying to score Championship points for themselves.

Racing drivers have the finest implements found in any sport and motor racing should surely emphasise the cars, first and foremost. You find drivers in stock-cars and go-karts but Ferraris and Vanwalls only in first-calibre G.P. racing.

We have had a very poor biography of Nuvolari and plenty of other books to put Mr. Beaumont in the picture as far as the personalities of motor racing are concerned, and Motor Sport told him that Bruce McLaren is a New Zealander not an Australian!

Whether we would be advised to publicise the dreams and hobbies of racing drivers is a moot point! We get into enough trouble as it is, trying to he honest about machines.

But, Mr. Beaumont raises an interesting subject. What are your views ?—Ed.]
* * *

Praise for the Prinz

On re-reading your road-test of the N.S.U. Prinz against “Some Further Comments on the Morris Mini-Minor” I note that: “While the N.S.U. suffers from the common failing of not being economical enough” at 45—51.3 m.p.g. the Mini-Minor “gave the excellent petrol consumption of 44.4 m.p.g.; although good quality fuel was used and it must be remembered that road performance is superior to that obtainable from other economy vehicles.”

I personally cannot agree with this statement.

The Prinz II with the sports engine which I have, will “make rings” round a Mini-Minor and I record the same petrol consumption as you did, having now covered 2,160 miles on a checked 45 gallons (by using the reserve tap to obtain a zero to zero check). It is interesting that the tuned engine with normal driving does not increase the fuel consumption and I found this before the war driving cars with alternative engines.

The other interesting thing is that I find it extremely difficult to improve on the 38-40 m.p.h. door-to-door average speeds which I used to obtain with the Heinkel 200.

My work for the past three years has involved the same set of different journeys in and through the three western counties and as I am obliged to record times of departure and arrival between office, home and the various sub-contractors whom I visit, I have an accurate log of time, distance and fuel consumption; and although it is fun watching the Vdo speedometer needle climb steadily off the 80 m.p.h. map, the time taken from door to door does not seem to vary by more than five minutes. Incidentally, I understand that so many owners put the clock off the map that the newer models are being fitted with a 100-m.p.h. speedometer.

In conclusion, I think the Bertone coupé body is disappointingly cramped and impractical and expensive, and in any case why worry when the standard saloon with the same engine gives the same performance for about £400 less?

I am, Yours, etc.,
Chittlehampton. J. Mellos.
* * *

How High?

I have lived in Canada for the last eight years, and one of my greatest pleasures is reading your excellent magazine; which I have sent over every month.

In your October issue you have a small insert headed “How high can you go?” which prompts me to bring to your notice a similar case over here.

I was glancing through the “For Sale” columns of an American magazine; this was the current issue, and some ambitious type in England is offering a 1937 Railton Fairmile, special motor, immaculate, etc. etc., for just 2,900 dollars, which is slightly over £1,000.

As you say, sir: How high can you go?

I am, Yours, etc.,
Ontario. Edward M. Seymore.
* * *

What of Formula 2?

In view of the fact that the future F.1 cars of 1961 are going to have a maximum cylinder capacity of 1,500 c.c. unsupercharged and a minimum weight of 500 kg. (1,102 lb. or 9.83 cwt.), including lubricant and coolant but, not fuel, the F.2 cars will be faster than the F.1 cars (the F.2 cars having no weight restrictions). As this is an absurd thing to happen, here, are a few alternatives to alter this.

(1) No Formula 2. This would rob many circuits, such as Brands Hatch, Siracusa, Pau, Auvergne and Rouen, of their main races of the year. Pau, Siracusa and Rouen already have had their Formula 1 races taken away from them.

(2) The second alternative is perhaps to have a F.2 car of 1,100 c.c. unsupercharged developed from the 1,100-c.c. sports cars without any extras and exposed wheels, with no restriction on weight, making it on almost equal terms at Monaco with F.1 machines, where excellent acceleration is much more important than a high top speed. It will be about 5 cwt. lighter than the F.1 cars, thus cancelling out the extra power supplied by the F.1 contraptions.

(3) The only other alternative is to let Formula Junior machines take over Formula 2 racing, which would not be much faster than the F.3 cars, though at Monaco a F.J. car lapped the circuit in 1 min. 54 sec., which equals 61.45 m.p.h., against 1 min. 43.8 sec. by a F.2 car in practice and 1 min. 39.6 sec. in practice by a current F.1 machine.

So which is it going to be? No Formula 2 at all? Disastrous! A 1,100-c.c. F.2 car with no weight restriction? Possible! A F.J. car taking over F.2 ? Rather slow! Or will they make the current F.2 cars F.1 and the 1961 F.1 cars F.2? What is going to happen to Formula 2 racing in 1961?

I am, Yours, etc.,
Bath. C. T. Cook.
* * *

Points of View

I have long been an ardent reader of your excellent journal, whose opinions I agree are often fearlessly expressed. However, of late, I find myself wondering whether your journal is as unbiased as heretofore. May I list a few points of interest?

(1) Your unswerving allegiance to Volkswagen.

(2) The unreal price comparison between Mini-Minor and small Continental cars. Incidentally, when quoting top speeds, the continental babies can in most cases be driven flat-out for mile after mile. I wonder how the Mini-Minor will stand up to this?

I am very disappointed with the crude finish and equipment of the new babies, which cost only £93 less than the Minor 1000.

(3) You say that “former allegiance to makes other than Jaguar . . .  is the sole reason for sales.” Surely value for money is not only related to cost/performance, but also to longevity and resale value. The resale value of Jaguars is alarming, to my mind, and when an American friend was recently considering the purchase of a European car he chose the Mercedes 220 against the Jaguar, solely because his American dealer (who is agent for both cars!) pointed out that the Mercedes would have a much better resale value even in the U.S.A. I am a Mercedes fan and may thus be biased, but I firmly believe that, driven hard in both cases, over the rough roads of the world—not Britain’s comparatively fine road surfaces—the Mercedes would long outlast the Jaguar all round.

(4) Finally, how do you justify placing the Mercedes 220S/SE models in the “large family car class,” when it can obviously, as one recent road-test shows, out-perform, out-accelerate and out-cruise at least four of the cars you put into the high-performance closed-car class?

I am, Yours, etc.,
“Motor Sports Fan.”
London, E.9. (Name and address supplied.)

[In reply: (1) Some three million people apparently agree with us. (2) We will from time to time publish unbiased reports on a Morris Mini-Minor we are now road-testing over a considerable period, when our correspondent’s viewpoint may or may not be vindicated. Import duty raises the price of foreign mini-cars above that of the lusty new B.M.C. twins. (3) Perhaps keen and experienced Jaguar owners would like to come to the Editor’s aid in answering this accusation! (4) The colleague who attempted to classify the Motor Show cars attempted the impossible, as I told him! But the division between large family and high-performance cars is a narrow one.—Ed.]
* * *

Help Wanted for a Good Cause

I am making a series of half-hour films on The History of Motor Racing, and I would be very grateful for assistance in tracing old films.

In spite of excellent co-operation from newsreel companies and film archives, both in this country and abroad, there are serious gaps. The sad fact is that many early newsreels were never preserved, while others have been lost or irreparably damaged by time and by the ravages of two world wars. I am, however, convinced that there are still copies of many early newsreel items and forgotten films tucked away in works and private homes.

The old nitrate film base has a limited life and I not only appeal for help but I would also like to point out that if these films are not copied on to modern film stock they will soon be lost forever.

If anyone owns or knows the whereabouts of such films would he please get in touch with me.

I am, Yours, etc.,
London, W. 1. Bill Mason.

[Letters will be forwarded to Mr. Mason. We recall some J.C.C. films of the 200-Mile Race, the B.D.C. has some Brooklands’ “shots” of the ‘thirties, and the 100-in-the-hour Talbot film of 1913 might even come to light.—Ed.]
* * *

The FIAT 600

I note with interest your articles on the B.M.C. ADO15 design in recent issues of the magazine. That the new models will sweep the small car market I can well imagine. My experiences with a Fiat 600 will explain my reasons for thinking so.

In the first place I chose the Fiat 600 as it was, to my mind, the most advanced design on the economy car on the market and I still think it was when I bought the car eleven months ago. However, in the period that I have owned the car the following faults have occurred. In the first thousand miles the inside plastic door handle fell off the driver’s door. This was replaced by the Fiat agency, as was the other door handle by a beautifully engineered stainless steel knob. The next thing to go was the speedometer, which was replaced twice before a satisfactory one was found, at no expense to myself other than a few nasty scratches on the facia of the car. The spring from inside the brake handle flew out with such force that it would assuredly have broken the windscreen had it not been deflected. The indicator light controls refused to cancel. These faults were of course put right by the agents at no cost to myself. More serious is that the rain runs into the car with the windows shut and during the wet season here it is impossible to keep the inside of the car from literally filling up with water. It is also impossible to keep anything in the map pocket of the doors without it becoming soggy. The paintwork inside the doors was so soft even when the car was brand new that my two small children had to be restrained from scraping it off with their fingernails. The car is like most modern small cars, very lightly built. A collision with a large dog was sufficient to set the front of the car back three inches and necessitate the fitting of a new bumper. The dog got up and walked away. Your petrol consumption figure of 44.7 m.p.g. I would say was a little optimistic. In town and outstation driving I would take 42 m.p.g. to be a fair average. A test revealed that the car will do 50 m.p.g. if driven at a constant 35 m.p.h. without changing gear. Two gear changes in a four-mile run brought that down to 46 m.p.g. Cruising at 45/50 m.p.h. on a long ran gave 41.3 m.p.g.

It soon became evident that to change the tyres round was not to be recommended as the offside front wheel was wearing out tyres at an alarming rate, (two tyres in 12,000 miles). After much head shaking, the wheels were aligned and balanced (at my own suggestion), but the fault remained. I have since had the wheels aligned by an outside agency, when the errant wheel was found to be one inch out of true. Since then I have been able to take corners at 25 m.p.h. without tyre squeal where previously a speed of 15 m.p.h. would have produced loud protest front the tyres. At 7,000 miles the radiator ran dry the day after the car came back from servicing. This was caused, I am told, by a faulty relief valve on the radiator cap, which stuck open and caused the water to syphon out of the radiator. The radiator valve was replaced at my expense. The radiator, however, was split as a result of this treatment and when it was taken out it proved to be such a decrepit looking object that the agency manager had no hesitation in rejecting it and installing a new unit at no extra cost.

I have finally been forced to withdraw my custom from the agency garage as I was informed that I was being both unreasonable and impatient. That I have become impatient after eleven months I must admit, but have I been unreasonable? For all the faults that I have listed and a few other complaints, the only excuse that I have been given by the agency is that with mass-produced cars an occasional bad one is brought out and I seem to have got it.

In mitigation I would say that the car performs very well, using no oil in doing so, has a very pleasing appearance and has lots of room for a small family, but it will be to my eternal sorrow that the B.M.C. did not “extract it” sooner. After all, even if their cars have the same faults, at least I could have acquired them at a considerably lower price!

I am, Yours, etc.,
Penang. J. W. Cook.
* * *

Austin A40 Comments

I have always felt that if you ignore the comparisons, almost obsessionally introduced by Mr. Boddy, between the model under review and a certain small German car, you get a very fair assessment of a new car in the Motor Sport Road-Test Report.

However, my faith in you was rather shaken when I read an article in the November issue, on the Alexander Conversion of the Austin Farina A40. I could hardly believe that the car described was the same as that previously road-tested in February, 1959. After all, in February this car had “the good road-holding of the A35 . . . enhanced by a longer wheelbase and wider track . . . and the car was a delight round fast corners.” In November the car had “poor road-holding (made possible only by reason of an Alexander anti-roll bar).” In February “the cam-and-peg steering is excellent . . . light and smooth”; in November there was “stiff steering with much free play.” In February, it was possible to beat the synchromesh because of “the rapid changes possible with this gearbox,” and the speedometer needle was “commendably steady”; by November there was simply a “stiff gear change” and a “swinging speedometer needle.”

Now if the remarks in February and those in November are both fair comment, there seems very little point or interest in road-tests, as totally misleading conclusions, based on one car only, may be reached. Judged on the early test, the A40 is a very much better car than appears from the later test. Possibly the quality of the tester’s breakfast reflects on the standards he applies. . . .

In the late summer I was looking round for a new small car to replace my 1958 Minor 1000. Considering, amongst others, the A40, I checked back to your road-test, and decided that since this car very nearly met your apparently very high standards, it would probably meet mine. A short road-test confirmed this, and I bought one.

I had ignored the rather petty minor criticisms in your report as they seemed largely irrelevant, applying only to the test car, being matters of adjustment, or checking, not design. [Not entirely; what of non-self-cancelling wipers and flashers and that crude interior lamp?—Ed.] Things being what they are today, I expected my car would have its full quota of miner faults, even if they were different from the car you tested. It did, and they were. I had a list of over twenty points needing attention after the first week. To be fair, my garage and the local Austin distributors soon put right most of these faults, though others are now developing.

What was not stressed in your report is the discomfort, after a few miles, of the driving position, due to having nowhere to rest the left foot when off the clutch pedal, except on the floor in a most unnatural position. So unnatural, in fact, that after 19 miles it is uncomfortable, in 20 miles painful and after 50 miles almost unbearable. Other points not stressed were the very large—for a car only 12 feet long—turning circle of 36 feet, and the poor quality of the ride—very bouncy, except on the smoothest roads. Performance is almost non-existent, but since I am only getting about 32 m.p.g., this is probably due to some wrong adjustment, although no combination of ignition and carburetter setting that I can discover does any good.

You may say that I should have noticed all these things for myself before I bought the car, and so I should, but there must be many people, like myself, whose critical faculties seem to evaporate under the eagle eye and high-pressure talk of the salesman. We do, in fact, place considerable reliance on road-test reports in the motoring journals, particularly those of high reputation like Motor Sport. Could I, then, make a plea for your road-test reports to pay more attention to accuracy and design criticisms, and not lose these under a welter of minor criticisms of adjustment and checking faults.

I know that personal opinions enter into it, but allowance can be made for these, as I said in my opening paragraph.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Whimple. C. B. Sneesby.

[The fact is that the Alexander A40 had probably had a hard life and the aspects criticised were probably due to wear and tear not present in Austin’s Press car. Also, of course, cars are improving all the time and our standards have to be revised considerably even in the span of a twelvemonth.—Ed.]
* * *

In Very Poor Taste

I should like to draw attention to the photograph of Mike Hawthorn’s wrecked Jaguar which was printed in the Scottish Daily Mail, under the caption, “If you get caught in a skid would it end like THIS . . .”

I consider this to be in very bad taste and feel that it could offend his many friends.

Many thanks for such an excellent magazine—we also own one of those excellent little rear-engined cars.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Kinross. “Annoyed.”
* * *

Police v. Motorist

I have just been convicted for “driving without care and attention,” fined £25 and license endorsed. All this for having a burst tyre and colliding with a coach.

The conviction was based upon the evidence of a driver “witness” whom l had passed on the road earlier and who gave an exaggerated estimate of my speed. He did not see the collision, on his own admission. The driver of the coach who was involved in the collision substantiated my evidence and was “with me,” so to speak. There were no other witnesses.

However, in spite of the evidence which appeared in my favour, the court chose to prefer the evidence of a person who did not see the accident.

To crown this sad episode I was obliged to bear with a defence counsel appointed by my insurance company who was from the outset so demoralised by his previous experience of police court motoring proceedings that the case was as good as lost before started.

The members of the bench, although no doubt highly respected persons, were nevertheless completely out of touch with the simplest of present-day motoring facts and were confused when oversteer and understeer were mentioned, and did not know the effects of a burst tyre on steering; they thought an “X” tyre to be tubeless.

This miserable story has brought home to me the realisation of the pitiful disadvantages of being a motorist when such misfortunes happen. It is high time that the whole structure of police motoring proceedings were reviewed and dealt with by persons trained and competent in such matters. To allow the police to “get away” with their beloved convictions every time just because it’s the easy way out for magistrates (and for that matter, demoralised defence counsels) is eventually going to produce an intolerable situation.

I am, Yours, etc.,
“Commercial Traveller.”
Sussex. (Name and address supplied.)

[This letter bears on a matter so vital to all motorists that we have devoted this month’s “Matters of Moment” to it.—Ed.]