Matters of moment, January 1967

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An Open Letter to The Minister Of Transport

Dear Mrs. Castle,

At the commencement of the New Year, which does not look like being a very bright one for Britain, we direct this letter to you, concerning motoring and the Motor Industry. The British Aircraft Industry has been cut back to strangulation point by politicians. Do you, Mrs. Castle, want the British Motor Industry, which employs so many people and is our greatest export factor, to die in like manner? If your aim is to get rid of private cars and force all travellers onto public service transport and British Rail, shouldn’t you be honest and say so?

You say you are striving for safer roads. Entirely laudable, although so many simple improvements that wouldn’t cost much money are overlooked that we wonder if you are serious. But heavily taxed and harrased motorists shouldn’t be the subject of dubious experiments which you are unable to prove to have any bearing on accidents. Like the 70 m.p,h. speed limit on our fine and costly motorways. On them, 70 in the majority of cars seems as snail-like as 30 in many town thoroughfares. Do you want to throttle a vital Industry for the sake of Party esteem? Why, Mrs. Castle, have you taken on the mantle of a clairvoyant? For that is what you have done by excusing your queer new law, which makes it an offence to drive with a blood-alcohol level above 80 milligrams per 100 of blood with the explanation that this will definitely save 18,000 – 32,000 casualties a year. If you swallow that, you will believe any statistics that anyone likes to give you regarding speed limits, and will probably order traffic wardens to get cracking and arrest as many car owners as they can when there are no meters to watch.

Unless you are completely indifferent to motorists and the motor industry will you tell us, please, when you are going to lift a finger to get justice in the Courts, where horse-bound magistrates and juvenile J.P.s are fining drivers out of all proportion to technical offences committed? — latest, a driver was relieved of £62 and his licence endorsed for passing on the nearside a car on the Darlington Motorway which had held him up in the overtaking lane for two miles in spite of lamp flashing and horn blowing, on the evidence of the other driver, who had taken his number.

The time you took to introduce the give way on the right rule, Mrs. Castle, shows your indifference to accident problems, or else very slow thinking. Are you sure it is working out for the best; have you made genuine attempts to inform drivers of the situation? And why, Mrs. M.o.T., is it that obvious danger spots, known to Local Councils, are never improved until an impressive number of casualties has occurred—if then? (If you would like just one example to start with, we can supply it.)

The new American safety requirements will probably kill off the smaller British car makers and your growing restrictions on speed and freedom will complete the job and rob manufacturers of British high-performance cars of essential export sales.

Another thing, Mrs. Castle. Why are pedestrians exempt from your drink laws? And when did you introduce legislation allowing cyclists to ride after dark without lights? You didn’t! Well, do please look out from the back seat of your chauffeur-driven office transport and tell us if you think car drivers have a fair deal in that department, these wet winter nights. And as you insist on mechanical testing of so many private cars, why not for commercials, which can cause such serious crashes? A car that spat grit and water at a following vehicle presumably wouldn’t get far, so why are lorries allowed to obscure and break our windscreens in this manner? Why, why, why, Mrs. C.?

Do you honestly think all these ugly expensive new road signs help, or are they just a cover-up for grossly inadequate roads? Would you, with your mathematical perception, think that, If 100 drivers are convicted in a 30 area of speeds between 36 and 40 m.p.h. this is a strong case for altering the limit to 40 m.p.h.? Or not, B. C.?

Another thing, Mrs. C. You have raised the age for taking out a motorcycle driving licence from 16 to 17. This could well finish off the crippled British Motorcycle Industry. Can you convince us that young riders cause, as distinct from being involved in, most of the two-wheeler accidents, and does one year really make a difference? This shows a remarkable concern for teenage motorcyclists when car drivers cannot take their Test in fog or snow but, if they pass, can immediately change their Daf for a GT40 and drive in the worst weather. Doesn’t it., Minister? Why not let the police, who are pretty hot at checking dangerous and drunk drivers, do sensible patrolling instead of working dubious radar meters, which, Mrs. C., you might well abandon along with those breathalisers? They can then get their truncheons (or guns) into our rising crime wave instead of harrying the average motorist, who gets on pretty well, all things considered, and isn’t even a minor criminal. Or wouldn’t you know, Mrs. C ? It could be that you are misjudging the cure for road ills with the same facility that George Brown misfigured the National Plan and Mr. Wilson mistook the tenacity of Ian Smith. But here are a few points to start with. We will welcome comments from you, or any Labour M.P.

Yours sincerely, The Editor and staff of Motor Sport

***

Corrections. Amongst errors that unfortunately crept into the last issue were those which gave the first low-chassis Daimler Double-Six twin rear wheels when twin spare wheels were intended, and the fuel capacity of the Ford GT40 as 20 gallons, whereas the correct figure is 30.

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Routine Rotation. Mr. Clarke, whose letter appears on page 42, raises the mathematical problem of the most effective method of rotating the wheels to obtain maximum tyre life. Michelin and Pirelli advocate different methods for one car, as these diagrams show. How do you do it ?

***

Consortium. Britain still has her Big Five in the car manufacturing field, though now influenced mainly by American money, and the power these giants wield is getting greater all the time as the smaller and traditional companies become absorbed by this dreadful disease of the mid-20th century, rationalization.

Within two days just before Christmas, details of the most recent mergers reached us, one accomplished and one hatching at this time. Over the past three years Coventry-Climax, Daimler and Guy came under the control of Sir William Lyons, and hardly had Jaguar absorbed this hefty banquet than B.M.C. came along and gorged the lot. The result is the formation of a new company called British Motor Holdings Ltd., under which come B.M.C. and Jaguar as separate entities.

Meanwhile Rover, who absorbed Alvis recently, are being wooed by Sir Donald Stokes of the Leyland Group, which in turn took control of Standard-Triumph and A.E.C. a few years back. If the bid is acceptable, and the board of the Rover Company are recommending shareholders to accept, then there will be an interchange of top management at board level, but the two companies will retain their separate identities, manufacturing and distribution arrangements. Although the separate identities of the Rover and Triumph 2000 models are assured, one cannot help wondering if one of them may be “standardized” to meet a new challenge from another British manufacturer within the next few days.

Also at this time, Chryslers are awaiting Government sanction to take complete control of Rootes, so putting three of our five main companies under American influence so far as Britain is concerned. Manufacturers retaining some degree of independence can be counted on the fingers of one hand: Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd (part of the David Brown Group), Bristol Cars Ltd., Lotus, Jensen, Rolls-Royce, and possibly Bond, Morgan, Reliant and A.C., since they all have manufacturing premises. Who’s next ? — MLC

***

Lotus Europa. A new mid-engined 1-1/2-litre GT coupé has been announced in two forms, though with nearly identical 2-seater glass-fibre bodywork. The P5 Europa road-going car, powered by an 82 b.h.p. Renault 16 engine and driving through a Renault gearbox, is built with left-hand-drive and reserved for the French market for at least a year. The Lotus 47 G.T. competition car, due to make its debut at Brands Hatch on Boxing Day, is powered by a 160 b.h.p. fuel-injected Lotus-Ford engine with dry sump, and drives through the Hewland 5-speed FT200 gearbox.

With a purchase price of £2,600 in kit form (complete with engine) the Lotus 47 is an expensive successor to the Seven as a clubman’s competition machine, though it cannot be used on the road — you would have to buy a Europa as well to have the same versatility! Like the Elan, both versions of the new model have a one-piece unstressed bodywork dropped onto a steel backbone chassis. The seats are fixed as all the controls are adjustable for distance, and due to the side curvature the side windows cannot be lowered — ventilation is by means of fascia inlets, an outlet being located above the four-inch deep rear window. Whereas the Europa has long fabricated radius arms locating the rear suspension, the 47 GT has fully adjustable layout similar to the 41 Formula 3 car with short radius arms and top links attached to the backbone; fixed-length driveshafts with two universal joints are common to both cars. The competition car has similar styling but the body is abouit 50 lb. lighter (all-up weight is approximately 11 cwt. at the kerb), partly due to colour impregnation saving the weight of paint.

Seven-gallon fuel tanks are placed on the bulkheads on either side of the engine, though the gallonage can be increased for long-distance Group 4 races for which the car will be eligible by mid-summer; an initial production of 50 is scheduled by Spring. Both cars are mounted on 13-in. wheels, those on the 47 being mag-alloy with 7-in. section at the front, 10-in. section at the rear. Powering the 47 is the Mark 13C Cosworth steel-crank engine with fuel-injection, developing 160 b.h.p. with standard valve-gear. The engine has an immediate potential of 180-185 b.h.p.

Unusual in appearance, with rear side panels mounted as fins, the Lotus 47 will encounter stiff opposition from marques Chevron and Ginetta on the club scene, from Porsche and Alfa Romeo in Group 4 internationals. We were not able to drive the prototype Europa when we visited the spacious new Lotus factory in Norfolk as teething troubles were being attended to, but at a price of NF 19,000 in France (about £1,300) it will be challenging the Matra road cars. — MLC

***

Cibie Lights. Cibie have developed the first dipping quartz-iodine headlights, and are to market them in Britain from the end of January, priced at £17 17s. 6d. a pair. Competition drivers and others who have experience of this form of lighting need no convincing that the French company has achieved a remarkable break-through after years of research, for up to the present time such equipment has been available only as spotlights or as part of a four-headlight system. The Cibie D.I.7. (Dipping Iodine 7-inch) will suit most dual-headlight cars currently available.

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