The astonishing claims of Mr. Dodd
Last year, egged on by astonished readers, we referred to the astonishing claims that Mr. Dodd’s Rolls-Royce SC1 maintains a speed of 129 m.p.h., his SC2 holds 135 m.p.h., and an SC3 a sustained 138 m.p.h., all mentioned in a Sunday Times advertisement. We further remarked on a statement in the same advertisement that the well-used SC3 had averaged 102 m.p.h. between England and Monaco, inclusive of crossing the Channel by ferry. Our credulity was strained, to say the least, and we expressed surprise that the Sunday Times should publish such claims.
This brought us a letter signed “Linda F. Martin”, who claimed to have been a passenger in the Rolls-Royce, in which she said the time between Epsom and Monaco was in fact 14 hours and that the SC3 held “a steady 125 m.p.h. for 1 1/2 hours” on one of the French Autoroutes, until she asked the driver, Mr. J. P. Dodd, to slow down to enable the baby’s nappy to be changed. We decided that these claims were impossible to substantiate, and, having no desire to be driven to changing our own nappies on a demonstration run, ignored this lady’s letter, which went into the wastepaper bin.
What did Mr. Dodd do then? Determined to propagate his claims he took advertising space in the Sunday Times of November 8th, 1970, which included the letter from Linda, which we had declined to publish, headed: “This brought the following letter into the offices of Motor Sport”, followed by our full address.
This had the desired effect, because readers, particularly owners of Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, began to telephone us, expressing pained surprise that we should believe that a Rolls-Royce SC3 could be made to cruise at a sustained 125 m.p.h., maintain 138 m.p.h., or average 102 m.p.h. from Epsom to Monaco, which, incidentally, Mr. Dodd claims to be a World record.
It seemed to us unethical of the Sunday Times to publish correspondence addressed to another paper, which that paper had declined to give space to. So we took the matter up with the Sunday Times. Their Legal Department stated that the newspaper was under no obligation for statements expressed in advertisements appearing therein, which were the responsibility of the person placing the advertisement. This seems a very liberal interpretation of the Trade Descriptions Act, to say the least. Pressed further, the Legal Adviser to the Sunday Times expressed the view that it would have been normal for us to have granted a right of reply (even though we still doubted the claims made) and that as we declined to publish the reply we should hardly be surprised that Mr. Dodd sought other means of having it publicised —which overlooked the fact that the reply did not come from Mr. Dodd anyway, that it merely repeated the, to us, fatuous claims—although reducing the previously claimed speed by 13 m.p.h. and the England-Monaco average by some 45 m.p.h. (!)—and that we have no room to publish more than a very small proportion of the reader’s’ letters we receive. Times Newspapers Ltd. having had the audacity to try to tell us how to run Motor Sport, their Mr. James Evans then made the following statement: “Acceptance of the advertisement by the Sunday Times does not, of course, imply that the Sunday Times backs one side or the other in the dispute about the journey to Monaco, although I understand that our expert advice is that Mr. Dodd’s claims are not incredible, as Motor Sport obviously thinks them”.
We do not know from whom Mr. Evans obtained this expert advice but we can assure him that we do not regard an average speed of 102 m.p.h. from Epsom to Monaco by an SC3 or a sustained top speed by this car of 138 m.p.h. incredible—we think it downright impossible. However, as the Sunday Times‘ legal luminaries think that we were unfair not to give space to Linda Martin’s letter, and as this correspondent, whose letter the Sunday Times has published, asks to be allowed “the privilege of giving test drives in order that apparent doubts may be dispelled and our accuracy asserted” we now await the opportunity of going with Mr. Dodd and the Sunday Times from Epsom to Monaco at 102 m.p.h. and of timing this astonishing SC3 at a sustained 138 m.p.h., perhaps round the MIRA proving-ground. [Our 1965 SC3 road-test gave the top speed as 114 m.p.h.—ED.]
The publicity given to Mrs. Martin’s letter endorses the opinion of the Sunday Times that Motor Sport does not know what it is talking about (“people should make sure of their facts before bursting into print”, the lady says), so, naturally we expect the Sunday Times to prove this to us. A jaunt with Mr. Dodd and Mrs. Martin, with the Editor of Motor Sport and the Motoring Correspondent of the Sunday Times (surely the most suitable witness?) working the watches, is awaited with interest, if apprehension for our personal safety. A much nicer way to settle this astonishing affair, we think, than involving the Press Council or our legal advisers.—W.B.