The discussion continues
Holland Birkett, Captain of the 750 Club, outlines his own views, in reply to the critics. His authority makes this contribution especially interesting, although we do not necessarily endorse his opinions.—Ed.
I would like to reply to the various opinions and criticisms put forward as a result of my suggestion published in June 1943, in connection with 750-cc racing. I should first, perhaps, explain that any scheme proposed by me is not at the moment with official club backing, but more or less amounts to a gratuitous recommendation to some future competitions committee.
I should also explain that the 750 Club is, or was, in fact an Austin Seven enthusiasts’ club, and some such title would possibly have been more appropriate and less misleading. [But it would be a pity to change its name. The Austin Seven is the only large-production 750-cc car, anyway—Ed]. It is these, the Austin cultists, whom I wish primarily to benefit, rather than the almost all-embracing category of “impecunious” enthusiasts. I have no ambition to launch a nationwide scheme, but merely to co-ordinate an existing demand.
Replying to criticisms : Neve deplores the lack of spectacle inherent in the racing of slow and similar cars, and cites the Fiat “500” race at Brooklands. I say that the essence of good racing is scratch racing of cars with comparable performances: I cannot see that maximum speed is relevant. I agree that slow cars should not race before lay spectators immediately after a fast race on the same circuit, and that the course must be a suitably tortuous one. The Fiat race was boring, but it was between identically mass-produced cars, and was too short for the placings to change and the real race-interest to develop. To watch “Specials,” designed, prepared and driven by amateurs (known personally to one another and to most of the spectators), with all their variations of tune, braking, roadholding, driving skill and reliability, would be a vastly different matter, particularly if the programme included the cars’ specifications and results of previous events in the class.
Neve goes on to quote Harry Bowler, competitions secretary of the VSCC, who says that 750-cc cars cost a lot to tune, so that the hard-ups should play with 11/2 or more litres. Whilst this contains a germ of truth, it does not apply to the unblown Austin Seven, whose fundamental design places a fairly definite low limit on both compression ratio and volumetric efficiency. This, in turn, means that the common-or-garden 11/16–in crank and rods are perfectly adequate for the work contemplated. Thus a premium will be placed on “chassis tuning” and driving skill rather than on available bags of gold, and a tendency to concentrate on bhp to the detriment of public safety will be checked. And racing as a whole would benefit by the increased opportunity for the discovery of new drivers. It is to be hoped that some full-length races could be staged later on, to develop mechanical and physical stamina, pit work, team tactics and the other fascinating aspects of long-distance events.
Wharton, representing the MMEC, proposes a 750-cc unblown racing class, and this is a very excellent suggestion. It is in no way relevant to my problem, however, which is to give the Austinists a dice without their being outclassed, as pre-war, by high-efficiency ohv opposition. I do not think there is anything to recommend the unblown Austin as a purely racing car for the reasons already given. People who can afford to race in the Whartonian manner, with a separate towing car and so on, would be unlikely to waste time over such an unsuitable unit. Therefore I have no quarrel with Wharton, only I guess, that my plan, for a given small outlay, would provide more consistent satisfaction and keener competition in greater safety, than his, and still make available a car, or spare car, for road use. But if there is a demand for both, let us have both.
Boddy has hinted that the venue will be a major difficulty, because race organisers will be suspicious, like Neve, of slow motors. Perhaps the answer to this would be to lure the organiser into one of the club Member’s cars, and take him for a ride ! I am sure that most people have no idea of the extent to which road-racing technique can be applied to the driving of a sound Austin “Special.” I have been able to dispel this particular form of ignorance myself on occasion ; ask the Editor ! [True, but the spectator is the person whom the organiser has in mind, not the driver or unfortunate passenger.—Ed] Seriously, the probability is that if entries are forthcoming soon enough after the war, race promoters will be glad of the support, and a precedent could be established. Then, in conjunction with some intelligent publicity, the thing might well become a permanency. Of existing circuits, by far the most suitable is the Crystal Palace ; Donington and Brooklands being too fast, and therefore dull, for slow cars. The idea of a special club circuit is very attractive, but seems to call for large-scale philanthropy by someone.
Other critics have asked for higher capacity limits to suit their particular cars, but I can only refer them to the VSCC.
Since my original letter there has been much verbal, as well as printed, discussion, and the master plan can now be given a rather more definite shape. It is that the 750 Club should hold meetings to include a higher proportion of unhandicapped events of a road-racing character, for cars limited by the following formula :
“To be equipped with wings extending at least down to hub level, number plates, silencer : tail, side and two headlamps and electric starter, all working : the car to be taxed and driven to the course, then to be raced without alteration except that the main windscreen, hood, tools and spare wheel, if any, can be removed. The car must be capable of seating two adults, at least. The power unit to be an unsupercharged side-valve Austin Seven engine, 4-cylinder, 50 x 70 mm bore and stroke, .050-in allowance for rebores. Brakes, steering, wing stays, etc, to pass the scrutineer. For road-racing events, a ballast weight weighing (say) 30.0 lb minus the weight of the driver, to be securely attached on the passenger side of the car.” The object of this ballast, though it would still further reduce performance, is to eliminate the advantage otherwise possessed by light-weight drivers, to reduce the tendency to overturn on left-hand bends (this is a considerable item in very light 2-seater cars), to facilitate experiments in weight distribution, and to improve the inherently bad unsprung weight-ratio, and therefore the roadholding and braking.
The massed start danger should be mitigated, as at Le Mans and elsewhere, by having the drivers lined up opposite their cars (perhaps in inverted order of practice times), and making them sprint across to start on the starter. This would also encourage easy entry into the cockpit, and easy starting.
As a further precaution against the wealthy pot-hunter, as well as known dangerous drivers, the committee should reserve the right to refuse entries, but limitation to invitation is an um lesirable extreme. If there were still consistent winners, they could hardly refuse, if asked nicely, to take their turn as time keepers, flag marshals, and so on. In the absence of large money prizes, the personal touch would be effective in smoothing over many such difficulties.