Rumblings, January 1972

The Doune Collection.—Motoring north of Stirling when we had the Jaguar V12 E-type on test we came to the village of Doune and decided that we could not pass through it without paying a visit to the Doune Motor Museum, which is mainly a collection of some of the personal cars carefully chosen by The Lord Doune tor his own use.

Although we had not made an appointment we were fortunate to be shown the collection by Lord Doune himself, a knowledgeable and enthusiastic informant. The cars are housed in what was once a stone cattle-shed on the estate, which with the passage of time became too small for the extensive farming scheme carried on there. The place has been tastefully converted, with wooden ceiling at the level of the old beams, new doors to receive the cars, an office, and so on. A large car park adjacent obviates congestion of the road which passes the museum and which becomes tourist-packed in the summer and improvements are being made in the facilities for serving refreshments. A shop with a bias towards motoring souvenirs, operated by a separate concern, is housed in the Museum entrance hall.

The predominant impression conveyed by this Motor Museum—so called, incidentally, because “car collection” resulted in motor traders mistaking the premises for a new-car-collection centre!—is that it might be a gentleman’s garage full of his accumulating cars, to which the public never has access, which is really what it is, except that Lord Donne allows one to look at his motor cars for a modest fee! He has indeed owned many of the cars on show and keeps several of them licenced and in regular use. The cars are displayed with hardly any elaboration in the form of background posters, photographs and similar paraphernalia. They are in exceptionally good, spotless condition and the building in which they are assembled likewise, clean and polished, and uncongested. Normally about 25 to 30 cars are on view, a greater number tending to induce “museum fatigue”, in Lord Doune’s opinion. As the 8p brochure emphasises, the Doune collection is in no way intended to represent any particular motoring theme or to illustrate the evolution of the motor vehicle. It is simply an assembly of nice cars, ranging from 1923 to 1961, of which Lord Doune had a large hand in the collecting.

Apart from several Aston Martins, a Speed Six Bentley, Singer-engined HRG, a number of later Bentleys from 1934 to a 1955 S1 Continental, His Lordship’s well-known 1933 low-chassis 4 1/2-litre Invicta, an XK120 Jaguar, a J2 MG, V12 Lagonda and Talbot 105 Airline saloon, there are some more-exotic exhibits.

For instance, the Alta-engined Cooper Special built for Stirling Moss by John Autocar Cooper and Ray Martin has found a home here and has been repainted in the correct insipid green. Peter Whitehead’s F2 Alta, the remarkable 2.9 Alfa Romeo Superleggera Touring coupé which Biondetti and Sommer drove in the 1938 Le Mans race, and the ex-Lord Ridley 8C 2900B Alfa Romeo Spyder form enthralling exhibits. Then there is the very attractive 3 1/2-litre Bentley with Abbott 2/4-seater open coachwork, formerly used for competition motoring by the late Lord Ebury, which Lord Doune still enjoys driving on the road and in sprint events. A distinct contrast is the Type 57C Bugatti with Cotal gearbox and Aravis closed body, which was delivered to the Canadian millionaire, Sir Duncan Orr-Lewis, at Bugatti’s showrooms in Nice in 1938. It has splendidly-styled lines, even to the bumpers, and is said to do 105 m.p.h. The 328 BMW is represented by a rare, black 1938 model which is possibly a pure BMW in spite of its Frazer Nash-BMW badge. Pure vintage is a 1923 5cv Citroën.

Hispano-Suiza is represented by a 4 1/2-litre Ballot-Hispano Lancefield d.h. coupé and that great 37.2-h.p. model of 1924 with Bligh-Bros. touring body, ordered for Countess Zborowski in 1924. The decked-in rear compartment has duplicated instruments, including an altimeter, cigar drawers, etc., and the whole car, including the flying stork mascot, is pure Michael Arlen.

Lord Doune’s SS100 two-seater displays the now-coveted lines of these pre-war sports cars, although there is an XK140 engine under the bonnet, installed with speed trials in mind—but to be replaced by a 2 1/2-litre push-rod power unit.

Very handsome in a sober sort of way is a 1930 18/80 MG two-seater, a rarity is a 1947 Nardi Danese racer, and as no motor museum is complete without Rolls-Royces, this one has a 1933 20/25 Park Ward Sports saloon of very appealing appearance, a 1930 20/25 Park Ward saloon and a 1935 40/50 P II Continental coupé de ville.

Racing cars in use in VSCC and other meetings include the 1929 2 1/2-litre Maserati driven by Peterkin and the 1934 8CM Maserati single-seater, ex-Whitney Straight and Prince Chula, the latter somewhat modified in external details when raced by Tony Gaze.

As has been said, the collection is modestly but most effectively displayed, movable wall-lights picking out the cars’ high spots, and it is well worth a visit if you are motoring in Scotland. Ray Fielding administers to the cars, when not racing his own 6C Maserati, which was on display when we were there. Mr. J. Asher is the Resident Manager.

Having seen the Museum, we were driven up the hill-climb course in Lord Doune’s Singer estate car. This is a very exciting course, starting by the Museum yard and climbing for nearly a mile, the tarmac road narrow where it runs beside a fence guarding a drop on the left, spectators, who can also view the gardens of the Manor House, in less exciting moments, looking down on it from the bank on the right. The road then climbs a brief section of 1-in-4 gradient, takes a difficult right-hand corner, and winds to the left past the commentary box to the finishing straight. After completing their runs competitors foregather in a cinder yard behind the trees on the left. This long course is almost in the Continental tradition, and we have promised ourselves a return visit, perhaps when vintage cars are running there next September. Four meetings a year are held at Doune hill, one of them counting towards the RAC Hill-Climb Championship, this course being a substitute for the now-defunct Bo’ness hill-climb.

NUB 120.—While visiting the Jaguar factory in Coventry in connection with the new V12 E-type, we were discussing Jaguars in competition and D-types and the stillborn mid-engined V12 Le Mans coupé in particular, when Jaguar’s efficient PR man Andrew Whyte suggested we might like to try an early Jaguar competition car. This was the white XK120 that Ian Appleyard used in rallies throughout Europe in the early fifties, gaining an Alpine Gold Cup among many other awards. This famous XK120, one of 200 all-aluminium-bodied cars built, was always known by its registration number NUB 120, and it was in the exact condition as when it finished its third successive Alpine Rally and gained the first-ever Gold Cup for three Alpine Cups in a row, this being 1952, and it was still wearing its Alpine Rally plates. Since it was retired from competition in 1953 it has been displayed in various museums and showrooms and recently was retrieved from the Beaulieu Museum and made to work again, passing its MoT test with ease. The years of inactivity had let the moths get at the hood so the Jaguar coachwork department ran up a new one, but apart from that it was just as Appleyard drove it back from Marseille, the interior having a friendly “used” appearance, all the rally extras such as clocks, k.p.h. speedometer, etc., still being in place.

Remarkable was the smoothness of the 3.4-litre six-cylinder engine and also the mechanical silence, though the exhaust note was decidedly “sporting”. After an E-type open 2-seater the driving position of the old XK120 was cramped and the seating position high, but visibility was superb, the thin frame of the windscreen being almost unnoticeable compared with the modern Jaguar screen. As NUB 120 had done more than 100,000 miles of rallying we treated it with the respect it deserved, but even so the engine was only too ready to accelerate the car over 80 m.p.h. without even thinking about instruments. Although Jaguar history does not go back very far, the XK120 model is surely a land-mark in sports-car motoring and takes its place in the history of the production sports car, and NUB 120 did much in its day to add to the Le Mans victories of the C-type and D-type to make the name of Jaguar and the XK engine famous throughout the world. The new V12 Jaguar engine has all the characteristics of the fabulous XK unit, and must surely carry on where the six-cylinder is leaving off. It would be nice to think of an F-type V12 carrying on the racing and rally traditions of the Coventry firm, but that must remain an (exhaust) pipe-dream.

Donington Park.—When the RAC Rally held a “special stage” in Donington Park in November last year it was an historic occasion for it was the first time that competition cars had been unleashed officially on the pre-war Midlands road-racing circuit since 1939. When the war put a stop to racing on the Donington Park circuit the ground was commandeered and used as a military vehicle depot. After the war the Army were very long-winded in returning the circuit to its rightful owner so that it was never reinstated as a racing circuit and as motor racing could not wait indefinitely for a military decision other venues were found and Donington Park was left to decay and become overgrown. Last year Mr. Bernard Wheatcroft bought the circuit and adjacent ground from the Shields estate, principally with a view to using the ground to build his racing-car museum on. Approached by the RAC with a view to holding a rally stage on the famous old circuit Wheatcroft was only too pleased to agree and prior to the rally a lot of tree clearing and tidying-up took place and the rally competitors were able to use most of the circuit and some of the surrounding woodland for a “special stage” lasting some three minutes at full chat.

A very large crowd of spectators attended this historic occasion, many of them not being born when racing cars last circulated this Midlands circuit, while others recalled the racing in 1939 as if it was only yesterday. Although the road surface is broken up and covered in mud the foundation of the circuit is still sound and intact and it was impressive to see the rally cars appear out of Holly Wood and come down the winding hill to “Hairpin”, climb sharp right and disappear through the historic stone bridge and up the hill to McLeans Corner. Just near the entrance at Coppice Farm the steel skeleton of the Wheatcroft Museum could be seen alongside the beginning of Starkey Straight, the building proceeding apace.

The MG-B.—We found ourselves driving once again in the good old “vintage” MG-B last month, albeit the 1972 version with minor improvements like a facia face-lift, revision of details and a safety gambit in the form of docking the hub nuts of its centre-lock wire wheels of their “ears”.

Otherwise it is the same excellent, uncomplicated sports car that has been with us for nearly ten years, hard-sprung, rather noisy, delightfully responsive with absolutely taut, quick steering and possessing adequate rather than scintillating performance, and good enough, but not remarkable, road-clinging. Also excellent brakes. Top speed exceeds 100 m.p.h.

The gear-lever, high-set unless you sit at arms-stretch, functions smoothly, but must be slipped firmly into top gear against light spring loading. The clutch is light and positive. The hood catches call for firm handling, otherwise this is an excellent, quickly-operable two-seater. Visibility is good, with the hood up, except for too-thick screen-pillars-cum-1/4-light-frames.

The rotary beater controls are the devil to operate in the dark, the screen washers went on the blink on a most inopportune muddy day, and the headlamps, not bad when dipped, are not good enough on full beam. The cubby-hole lid needs a key to open or close it, the heater keeps one snug when the car is open and the glass side windows are up, but the fan, which helps achieve this, is irritatingly noisy at low speeds, and the hood, unless fully folded down, which is a complicated operation, can be all too easily torn unless treated with great care. Otherwise no more complaints. The “B” is fun, and with the aid of a well-placed overdrive switch (o/d operates in 3rd and top) the antiquated push-rod engine can be made to give 27 m.p.g., or better, and can be revved to 6,000 r.p.m. Overall consumption was 26.4 m.p.g. and although the oil dip-stick read alarmingly low after 1,000 miles, a pint would have sufficed instead of the quart of Castrol we put in.

The boot houses a laid-flat spare wheel but has enough luggage space for a sports two-seater, coupled with the hood-well behind the leather-upholstered bucket seats and the doors have the neat internal handles-cum-locks now common on many BL cars. The test car had those real wire wheels, now so rare, shod with Pirelli Cinturatos. The aging MG-B remains all that a not-too-costly small sports car should be. Long may it flourish! The price, with pt. but without trimmings, is now £1,271.

Exhaust problems.—The recent trip to the Jaguar factory brought home the changing times in which we live. A works tour of the impressive Allesley works would, ten years ago, have been climaxed in a visit to the hallowed competitions department. How sad that now the highlight of the works tour is to see the smoke emission control laboratories. But one must not bury one’s head in the sand and say that pollution of the atmosphere is not a problem.

The laboratory in itself is certainly interesting but not exciting the way the old comps department would have been. One is amazed that the various authorities over the civilised world can not get together and actually agree on the way exhaust emission can be measured. At Jaguar, and no doubt elsewhere, they have two totally different rigs, one to measure the gases to comply with forthcoming American regulations and another for a proposed European specification which includes collecting the gases in huge bags!

Despite the various problems evolved, Jaguar seem to be making good progress on reducing the amount of toxic gases being produced by their engine. They are investigating various different methods of doing this but one likely way seems to be to fit an extra expansion box in the exhaust system which contains a catalyst.