Letters from Readers, January 1979

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

The World Championship Points System


Your page of “Winners” in your December issue raises again the annual discussion as to whether the present World Championship points system really does produce a worthy Champion or whether it is rather a reward for hard work and persistence. Fortunately 1978 has been one of the satisfactory years in which one man has dearly overshadowed all others and would have won under any points system, except perhaps what we might call the “Niki Lauda” systems under which nine points are awarded for 2nd place and only one point for first. I note with interest that it is proposed that a “new” system should be introduced for 1979 in which only a driver’s best eight results out of 16, the best four in each half of the season, will count towards his final total. This, we are told, is to put more emphasis on winning and because the present system does not keep the result of the Championship undecided until the end of the season. It is ironic that the points system used from 1950 until 1966, in which slightly more than half the races were counted and which bears a remarkable resemblance to the “new” system, was largely dropped for the same reason, that it produced a Champion too early in the year. This was particularly exaggerated in 1965 when Jim Clark won six of the first seven Grands Prix, he missed Monaco to win Indianapolis, and had settled the title by the first week in August. The problem with any attempt to prolong the excitement of the Championship is that, in a season where one car/driver combination is obviously superior to the rest, only the most artificial system can achieve this aim. There was once even a suggestion of double points for the last round as in Club Championships.

Like yourselves, however, I have always felt that the best way of selecting a World Champion is to have no points at all, but to award the title to the driver who wins most races, lower places being used as a tie-breaker. It is interesting to look back over the years in which the Championship has been contested and check the actual differences the “Winners” system would have made to the destiny of the title. By my calculations, there are four years in which a different Champion would have been crowned: 1958 (Moss instead of Hawthorn), 1964 (Clark instead of Surtees), 1967 (Clark again, instead of Hulme) and 1977 (Andretti instead of Lauda). The effect of these changes is that the late Jim Clark would have won four Championships instead of two, surely a more genuine indication of his standing as a driver, and poor Stirling Moss would have won at least one instead of his totally unrepresentative none (although I was a great supporter of the “Farnham Flyer” the accolade of being the first British World Champion should, in all justice, have been bestowed upon Moss). Fangio would still have won five titles and Jackie Stewart his three.

Put simply, the “Winners” system tends to favour those drivers (Fangio, Moss, Clark, Stewart) whom most people would regard as the best of their respective eras, a strong argument, surely, for its adoption. I will refrain from commenting on the Andretti/Lauda issue until history has had more time to put it into perspective, except to point out, in defence of the Austrian, that when he first appeared in Formula One he tried to win every race, until his crafty mind worked out how best to beat the system.

Surprisingly, the use of the “Winners” system in the Constructors’ Championship would have made less difference in the past, there being only one year in which it would have altered the outcome, 1977, when the title would have gone to Lotus-Cosworth rather than Ferrari.

Reading. A. S. Mapstone

Lancia Gamma Coupe – Seat Belts


In last month’s issue of Motor Sport you published a road test of a Lancia Gamma Coupe in which you voiced criticism of the Klippan seat belts. Since the time that you drove the test car during the summer, we have stopped using Klippan belts for this model and are now fitting Britax inertia reel seat belts as standard equipment.

The Britax belts completely eliminate the shortcomings you experienced and Lancia dealers are authorised to replace the original belts with Britax ones if owners are finding the Klippan ones difficult to operate.

Alperton, Middx. Andrew Anderz

Press Officer,

Lancia (England) Ltd.

Exciting RAC Rally


The exciting atmosphere of fast racing machines screaming through a cold forest, on a dark wintry night. Noise, steam, glaring lights and flying gravel. All this was part and parcel of the 1978 Lombard RAC Rally, or at least my impression of it at Special Stage 29 in Hamsterley Forest (MR 92/091305). The first car was due to arrive at 23.20 on Monday night but actually passed through some time after midnight. The driving here was fast and competitive right through the field. Amidst all the powers of organisation and outside pressures, I feel that the motoring enthusiast should be thankful that such a spectacular event as this is still run at all.

I arrived at the stage in good time, about two hours before the first car was due. The organisation with respect to car parking was excellent, keeping order in a potentially chaotic situation. Officials directed cars into readily accessible ranks. Nevertheless, it proved wise to arrive early for a number of reasons. Firstly, only a short time after arrival, the sole feeder road to the spectator car-parking areas I could see in the distance to be a long and winding chain of queueing motorists. The second most important reason for arriving early was that officials in the car-parking areas seemed to be in some doubt as to where the special stage actually was. I suggest that this was through no fault of their own, and I certainly did not envy them their tiring and thankless task. However, I do think that through some level of communication the officials ought really to have been told exactly where the stage ran so that they could impart this information to spectators, who all paid £1 to enter the forest on that night. Quite rightly, the money raised from this all went to charity.

Fortunately, after walking some distance in several directions I did come across the stage, quite by accident. Having allowed myself plenty of time, and with reference to a map, I was able to find an excellent viewpoint near a ford. This allowed such close and safe spectating that I frequently got wet as the quicker cars went through. Moving on later to the flying-finish of the stage permitted an insight into the timing techniques and administration involved at a time-control in International Rallying, and again the effort and spirit here of the local Durham Auto Club were nothing but the best.

On my way out of the forest I came across several people who had not been so lucky as myself and, being unsure of the stage location, had missed many of the early cars despite arriving with time in hand. In order to avoid queues and even to find the stage at all, to any one going to spectate at a special stage at midnight next year, my advice is – “get there early it pays!”

Durham. Robin Gates

(Perhaps access footpaths from the car parks to the stage route should have been signposted, as they were in other forests, but we are glad this omission didn’t mar Mr. Gates’ enjoyment of this great motor sporting event, nor that of millions like him. – G. P.)

A Case for Convertibles


In the last few years convertible four-seaters have all but vanished from the production lines and now sports cars are following the trend with the TR7 and XJ-S. To my mind a closed sports car misses out on one of the pleasures of driving – being in the fresh air on a warm sunny day or even a cold dull day. We spend enough of our time cooped up inside at work and at home and often yearn to be outside for recreation.

The Triumph Stag concept is ideal and yet even that has stopped production. Certainly the engine is suspect (mine is in pieces at the moment) but the Rover V8 would sort that out. The Stag has four seats, reasonable performance and economy and is a real pleasure to drive especially roof down. There is a hard-top for the winter and the hood lifts in seconds over a rollover bar to keep the American safety inspectors happy. If British Leyland found it too expensive why not build a cheaper less sophisticated model.

In pre-war days a large percentage of cars produced were convertible so what has changed? The weather is still the same. Perhaps the motoring public have become softer I don’t think so, judging by the increase in outdoor leisure activities. Or is it that the manufacturers have decided that the public do not want open cars, in the same way that brewers decided beer drinkers did not want real ale. Look how that has come back!

Beckenham. Maurice R. Clarke

Specials where are they now?


Whatever happened to the truly versatile “sports” car? All the development going into cars that can be used competitively seems concentrated on making them more specialist to one branch of the sport. We have seen saloon cars trailered to club driving test meetings. Soon we shall have treasure hunts delayed as competitors stop to change tyres for a different rubber mix, because it looks like rain! When we were all poorer – in the ’40s and ’50s – the clubman wanted his personal transport to be usable for everything from rallying or racing to mud trials. Vehicles he could buy reflected this – HRG, Allard, Turner and Fairthorpe to mention only a few. More interestingly, people devised their own versatile, sporting machinery. Some examples that come to mind are Ashley Cleave’s Morris-based special (surely one of the most successful specials of all time), Arthur Mallock’s Ford 10-engined Austin 7 (forerunner of U2), and Jack French’s Austin 7 “Simplicity”. Many of the V8 trials specials did well in speed events, especially on the rougher West Country hills, like Trengwainton in its early days.

Which brings me to my second question whatever happened to the hairy, old V8 trials specials of the early post-war period – such cars as the Hutchinson Special? I would like to rebuild one for road use and to do the MCC classic trials, but all enquiries and advertising have produced no leads (except for the exorbitantly-priced prototype Allard). Any car from this era built for road/trial/speed use would do they were all large-engined or “blown” even if not of V8 origin. I just hope one is discovered before bureaucracy manages to stop the classic trials!

Finally, please could we have more articles on the interesting “specials” of the past. For those who tend to look down on the special-builder I suggest studying the specification of the pre-war Anderson with flat-12 engine, four-wheel drive and pneumatic suspension well worth writing a book on, let alone an article!

Leighton Buzzard. John R. D. Heseltine

Perrett v. McComb


If Mr. Wilson McComb is such a stickler for accuracy, how come that he cannot even quote me correctly. I wrote “It was only in 1936 that the Queen Mary went into service“. A very different thing to the launching; two years different in fact. As to the rest of his tirade I refer him to the words a Sam Clutton quoted by David Thirlby in the last lines of his letter in the same issue of Motor Sport.

Gorran Haven. John B. Perrett

Racing Cars on the Road


I’m not sure exactly what point Barrie Crowe was trying to make in his letter that was published in Motor Sport (December 1978) but I got the impression that he wasn’t too favourably impressed with the preamble in one of my recent ads, concerning an outing that was made recently in one of my own cars.

This rather disappointed me, for I am a champion of the belief that “historic” or “classic” cars should be used and seen out and about, and the more esoteric the vehicle, the more many people seem to like it. The point about the Lola T160 that Mr. Crowe referred to (which incidentally is totally original save certain engine components, detuned for the sake of tractability) is that it is a 1968 Can-Am car – an out-and-out 220 m.p.h. racing machine, on which I have spent many hours and pounds converting for road use, without spoiling its racing potential. Why have I done this? Well for Fun, for what motoring should be about at least in part and helping to keep alive the great tradition of using racing cars on the road, for the enjoyment of oneself and other enthusiasts.

I am enclosing some photos of the Lola so that Mr. Crowe may get some idea of why I believe that the 50-mile maiden voyage undertaken without mishap in such a monstrous machine was an achievement I felt was worthy of a mention in my ad. Perhaps Mr. Crowe, or even C. R. who seems to be a great exponent of similar eccentricities as driving Lister-Jaguars etc. on the road, would care to sample the Lola’s delights …? (Yes please, but not in the rain! C. R.) Over the past few years I have undertaken such expeditions as driving a Jaguar XKSS to Dublin and back for the Phoenix Park Historic Races, a full-race HWM-Jaguar “D” type to Oulton Park, which was raced and driven home again, an ex-works Porsche 911 S/R across London at peak-hour to Brands Hatch raced and returned home, regular journeys to Silverstone for the weekend in a rain-sodden “C” type Jaguar, DB3S Aston Martin etc. For 1979, I should love to drive something similar to Le Mans, Nurburgring etc., Pour encourager les autres! And hopefully the Lola may appear at various events, too, further afield than 25 miles from home!

Long may Mr. Crowe’s Lancia ferry him across European highways, in the name of Cheap Motoring Sport and Pleasure whilst I and many others attempt to do likewise, until legislation finally drives us into our respective garages for the last blip of the throttle and burble of exhaust. May that day never come in my lifetime!

Hertford Heath. Rodney Leach

Jaguar XJ-S Experience – Buy British?


In 1969 I bought my first brand new Jaguar XJ6. It was in the garage more time than on the road – having been towed away five times for the following reasons. Hole in piston – distributor shaft sheared – oil pipe broke in sump – fan came off – steering pump seized. I complained unsuccessfully to Jaguars who hoped I would return to using their products in the future. However, I have had BMW cars, progressing through their range, for the past eight years. This June I decided I would buy an XJ-S because it appeared to offer value for money. I set out below a brief resume showing how wrong I was.

I purchased the car including two years Salescover for £14,700 on June 11th of this year. Paintwork was poor with spray on chrome trim (was told Jaguars spray final coat after final assembly!). Battery cover did not fit and carpet underlay was distorted. Second day air conditioning stopped. During first week new steering rack fitted, car boiled up, new temperature sensor fitted, dents in bonnet due to hose clips being incorrectly fitted. During July engine misfired, vibration throughout whole car, driver’s door misaligned, air dam came off as bolt holes did not line up, air conditioning faulty again.

August. Clouds of smoke came out of rear of car at speed. Rubber came off passenger door, still vibrating, horn not working. Assumed car was OK to take on the Continent. After first hour in France smoke poured out the back at speed. I had to cruise all the way to South of France with cars of one-third capacity overtaking us. Knocking started underneath, and car was very unstable. Averaged 9 m.p.g.

Returned to England. Windscreen leaked, clock stopped, shock-absorbers replaced, oil underneath car. Electric window stuck. Split pipe found in auto-transmission, fault in reversing light. Asked Dutton-Forshaw (Medway) Ltd. to sell car – no response. Complained via Jaguar Drivers Club. September 22nd: letter from A. Whyte Production Manager saying that a service executive would expedite a solution. J. P. Soden, Senior Executive, rang to say they were sending a service engineer on September 28th. Waited in all day – no service engineer appeared. October 17th: Mr. J. Soden the Senior Executive wrote to say now that his engineer (the one who didn’t arrive) had been, the garage had completed all the adjustments he recommended (without seeing the car!).

Car boiled up again, another sensor fitted, smoke from rear. New cassette player fitted and new clock. Asked garage to sell car again, still no response. Driver’s window stuck again, car still vibrating.

Enough was enough, October 20th car traded for a Porsche. After losing £2,200 wrote to Jaguars on October 23rd asking for some compensation, asking for a reply by return. November 7th still no reply. Sent another letter requesting reply within seven days. November 15th received reply saying “sorry to learn of difficulties experienced with this car … unable to compensate me”.

I have learnt my lesson the hard way – if British Leyland produce cars with this low level of quality and reliability, I give little hope for the British Car Industry.

Tunstall, Kent. R. F. Aanderson

(A bad and hopefully isolated experience with a model which C. R. found both magnificent and reliable in a 2,435 mile high-speed dash round Europe in 1976. Do any X J-S owning readers have happier tales to tell? – Ed.)

Beetle Mania


With reference to the October 1978 issue and the report of the Rallye International des Voitures Anciennes, was the car in the background of the lower right picture included in the event or a class and were any results gained by it? If so it could confirm my belief that the car was a Volkswagen convertible or Karmann Cabriolet of pre-1952 (no quarter-lights in front doors).

The interest in older VWs is becoming more widespread, yet in a recent radio interview, the Editor of a notable specialist magazine stated that there are too many of the older cars to warrant any attention from the readers of the said magazine. How many is too many? Below is a record of cars known to me through various clubs and magazines; these are cars in Britain, though only 100 or so pre-1953 cars attended a Fuldatal for the and International meeting, of these only 19 were convertibles.

Number of cars before Aug. 5th 1955 chassis no. 1-1000000 (6 convertibles):-

1946 2 1951 7

1947 5 1952 14

1948 – 1953 21

1949 3 1954 35

1950 6 1955 34

Whilst not putting the “Beetle” in the Rolls-Royce class, there weren’t any in the “For Sale” area in the October Motor Sport, so if the other ¾-million would like to join either the Split Window Section or the main club, the Secretary of The Volkswagen Owners’ Club of Great Britain, Mr. G. Geldbert, 68, Benson Close, Luton, Beds., will welcome you to their club.

Newport, IOW. David N. Boon

(The car in question was a 1938 Audi 920 Cabriolet. – C. R.)

Re-registering of Old Cars


I have read Dr. Shapland’s letter on the re-registering of old cars a subject on which I have corresponded with him earlier in the year.

As Clubs supporting the Historic Vehicle Clubs Joint Committee have already been advised, if an owner of a vehicle not previously registered in this country applies for registration, a mark will be allocated at the discretion of the DVLC. This has always been the position. With regard to Veteran and Vintage vehicles, the Department has in the past considered sympathetically requests for marks contemporaneous with the age of the vehicle.

Since I was last in touch with Dr. Shapland I have also had it confirmed to me that provided a vehicle has been fully restored and is in fact entitled to a “suitable” registration mark, then it will be registered under that mark without having to be licensed.

I would add that our Committee has been successful in assisting a number of people in obtaining suitable marks including a 1914 Triumph motorcycle and a vintage Bull-nosed Morris. In the latter case the Department went to some considerable lengths to find an appropriate number, there not being one available in the owner’s taxation district.

Dr. Shapland refers quite correctly to the amateur status of our Committee, i.e. that we pursue our ends part time and not professionally. However I would like to add that the Committee is largely drawn from members of the professional and business community who spend not only much of their leisure time but also a great deal of their office time in endeavouring to help owners of historic vehicles, and will continue to do so as far as they can.

London, EC4. James W. F. Crocker,

Chairman, Historic Vehicle Clubs Joint Committee

Wasted Champers


I remember back in the mid-60s Graham Hill actually drinking the contents of a bottle of champagne he had just won in a Gold Cup. He then autographed the bottle and threw it to the crowd.

These days winners always seem to delight in spraying the spectators with the expensive liquid. It may not seem a waste to them, after all they have just won a handsome cash prize as well. Wouldn’t it be so touch better for them to autograph the label and auction the unopened bottle to the highest bidder, with the money going to a charity such as the Gunnar Nilsson Cancer Treatment Campaign?

I feel sure that once one driver was seen to do this he would start a new and inure beneficial trend.

Liverpool. Robert C. Payne

More About Auntie Rovers


Over the past decade I have enjoyed over 100,000 miles of motoring in a dozen or so P4 Rovers and I would like to add some comments on these cars to those in December’s Motor Sport.

I first bought an “Auntie” Rover as a two-month stop-gap; having been misled by the model’s image of middle-aged sluggishness I thought that would be as long as I could put up with it. I kept that car for two years and despite interludes since then with other cars I have always come back to the combination of durability, reliability, character and refinement I found in that first £25 Rover 90.

I have never paid a great deal for a P4 – never more than £250 though never less than £2.50 – and anyone prepared to do some work on the car can still easily find one in this price-bracket. Immaculate P4s are inevitably getting scarcer and one would be lucky to buy such a car today for the £400 mentioned by Mr. McLellan. However, in my experience P4s which have been driven at high speeds over high mileages may, however tatty their bodywork, still provide satisfying reliable and fast transport.

As with any car of this age the odd freak failure does happen but I would dispute Mr. McLellan’s statement that it is “anyone’s guess” when a major failure may occur. I would also have thought that a £50 repair bill for such a failure could have been borne cheerfully in an age when this amount is frequently charged for a 6,000-mile service. My own P4s have never required any replacements of engine, gearbox or axle, and neither has any of them ever failed to complete a journey under its own power. In general the need to overhaul the engine (usually top end only) or gearbox (most frequently front layshaft bearing) is clear well in advance. These two jobs are likely to be required at 60-100,000 miles. It is important to keep exhaust valve clearances adequate for high-speed motoring as these valves will otherwise overheat and burn out: at about £8 each they are expensive but only short-lived by comparison with the engine itself, which in 7-bearing form seems good for 200,000 miles. Fuel consumption for most models is 18-24 m.p.g. in my experience, dependent on usage an engine in perfect condition driven carefully can of course achieve more. I have always believed that the high oil consumption (250 m.p.p. is normal) is closely connected with the longevity of the engine.

The P4 is not, of course, perfect. The acceleration is not quick. There is considerable roll on corners and careful setting-up is required to overcome the initial understeer. The steering can be heavy for parking, while the smooth high-speed cruising is accompanied by wind roar over 60 m.p.h. Against this I think the record of my own 1960 Rover 100 demonstrates the car’s virtues. At over 120,000 miles it still averages 20 m.p.g. and will put 70 comfortable miles into the hour for hours on end. The engine, valves excepted, is all original, as are the body panels. Apart from a clutch, 1st gear, a king-pin and suspension rubbers only routine replacements have been made. Overall running costs over 4½ years and 58,000 miles of my ownership but at present fuel/oil/tax costs work out at under 6p per mile, built up as follows:

Petrol 4.0p

Road tax/insurance 0.7p

Tyres 0.5p

Repairs/servicing 0.4p

Total 5.6p

This does not include any garage labour as I service and repair the car myself. Most parts are as readily obtainable as those for any modern car provided one does not think only of one’s local Leyland garage. Specialist factors and breakers’ yards are invaluable. Owners joining one or other of the Rover clubs will find contacts who are able to help out in most cases of difficulty.

In this connection I should mention that I am Registrar for P4 and later models for the Rover Sports Register and will be glad to send details of the club to any enthusiast for these cars.

Ilford. Adrian J. Mitchell

(Letters will be forwarded. – Ed.)

Buick Affairs


As I have spent 50 years in the General Motors dealer organisation, the last 10 with Buick, I was very interested in “A Buick Conundrum” in the September issue.

I agree with you that the engine did originate in the UK, and I doubt if many people in the US ever heard of it. The one person who might know of it is Mr. Charles Chayne, former Chief Engineer for Buick, and later Vice President of GM in charge of engineering, and I have written to him asking if he did know of it. Mr. Chayne was in charge of the aluminium V8, which is now Rover’s, and is quite an automobile enthusiast. He has owned a Buick Bug (an early race car), a 30/98 Vauxhall, and a Bugatti Royale, and assisted Briggs Cunningham in building Bu-Merc (Buick engine, Mercedes chassis), an early sports car winner before and right after WW II.

I do disagree with you about Buick at Indianapolis. A Buick won the first race at this track, a 100-mile event in 1909, and several Buick specials, both 6-and 8-cylinder, did run in the early ’30s when many stock block engine cars were used in these depression years. Two that I remember were entered by the Butcher Bros. and Red Shafer. Other stock blocks that ran were Model A Duesenberg, Studebaker, Hudson, and Reo.

Perhaps the most unusual stock block was entered in the early 1950s, but failed to qualify. This was a GMC 270 cu. in. truck block of the type used in 6 x 6 army trucks during WW II. The heavy truck 4-ring pistons were replaced with lightweight 3-ring pistons, and a 12 port Wayne head (six intake ports on one side and six exhaust on the other) with three sidedraught carburetters. A race car, with a similar engine, won the last race in the old Cowll speedway (a ½-mile dirt) in Gardena, Calif. This track is now under the harbour freeway.

These GMC engines were installed in many Chevrolet passenger cars in the early ’50s. Although the engine was 2″ longer, the flywheel housing of the Chev was the same as GMC, and the radiator core, which was mounted behind the support, could be mounted ahead of it by cutting the lower baffle. As the rear motor mountings bolted to the flywheel housing, only a special plate for the front mounting was necessary. For best results, the rear axle ratio had to be changed from the 4.11 standard, to the 3.55 used with Powerglide automatic. This combination would easily outrun the very hot Olds 88 of the era. I know – I owned three 88s.

Thanks for an excellent publication.

Van Nuys, California. Doug Bell