Letters from Readers, July 1956

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

The Steering-Column Gear-Lever

Sir,

I feel that Mr. Side is a little unfair on the novice who refuses to double-declutch his Vauxhall into first gear. Extensive acquaintances with the Wyvern has convinced me that his manoeuvre can only be carried out with fantastic revs. and a wrist movement reminiscent of a circus contortionist. The fact that the gear-lever recently snapped off at its roots has not increased my love for the arrangement. Incidentally, my private transport has a crash-box with the lever growing out of the floor, and I intend to keep it that way.

I am, Yours, etc.,

A. Skinner

Cambridge.

*   *   *

A Doctor’s Views On Motor-Racing Accidents

Sir,

As a keen follower of motor racing I am fully aware that it is a dangerous sport, and that the risks are known to, and accepted by, the drivers; but as a medical man I am appalled by the present high incidence of fatalities. Speeds get higher and higher every year, and racing cars become lighter and flimsier in construction, and it would seem that we can expect an increasing number of fatal accidents.

The great majority of deaths are due to fracture of the base of the skull, with or without other injuries which, by themselves, might well not be fatal, and it seems to me, therefore, that the compulsory fitting of adequately strong roll bars to all racing and open sports cars would greatly help to diminish the death rate from skull injuries. That the roll bar can be most effective has been amply borne out in the 500-c.c. racing-car class; and there must be a number of drivers who owe their lives to this simple and inexpensive fitting. The provision, too, of safety belts is a matter which might well be the subject of further inquiry and research. There must be a mass of information relating to the efficacy of safety belts in aircraft accidents, and much of this knowledge is applicable to a racing car when it crashes.

Since last year’s tragedy at Le Mans, circuits all over the world are being altered to provide greater spectator safety, but surely there is just as much moral justification to provide every possible safety for the drivers. I feel very strongly indeed that immediate steps should be taken by the R.A.C. to make it compulsory for clubs to remove obvious hazards to life at known danger spots. In the Press there was a description of a fatal accident at Oulton Park, when a car ran off the road at Druid’s Corner and struck a tree. Surely it is near-criminal folly to allow trees to remain at this rather notorious corner, and there must be very many similar hazards on tracks all over the country.

I also feel that in many instances the medical and first-aid arrangements leave a lot to be desired, and all too frequently there is a considerable delay before a doctor or ambulance can reach the scene of an accident. This delay can be due, in some cases, to lack of doctors and first-aid personnel, or – as at Goodwood – to the ambulance or doctor’s car having to travel round the racing track itself. The provision of an inside perimeter path, with a central ambulance park park with radial paths running out to the perimeter, would allow cars and ambulances to travel in any direction without going on to the track, and would cut down delay and make for much quicker attention to an injured driver.

Finally, I wish it could be impressed upon racing drivers as a body that, should they be thrown out of their car and are not in danger of being run over by other cars in the race, they ought to lie still until they have been examined by a doctor – not merely by a first-aid man – and pronounced fit to move around. It seems to be common practice for drivers under these circumstances to get up and jump around to show that they are alive, which no doubt is good for the morale of the spectators; but within recent years there has been at least one driver to my knowledge who did just this, and died a few minutes later in the ambulance from a fractured rib piercing his lung – an entirely unnecessary and avoidable fatality.

I am, Yours, etc.,

A. Logan Taylor, F.R.C.S.Ed.

Woodmancote

*   *   *

British Cars In Uganda, And In Boston, Mass.

Sir,

Might I add one further blast to the hot air already expended on the British cars versus Continental controversy. Having experienced conditions both at home and in this country, which must be fairly typical of our export markets, I feel more qualified than most readers to state my opinion.

British cars, for use in Britain, and possibly the odd few thousand miles on the Continent, are perfectly adequate for their job. Given smooth roads and a garage round every corner they last for years. All well and good – for people whose motoring is like that. In fact, I am not surprised that so many people think that it is not worth paying the relatively high price which importation puts on Continental cars, virtues such as independent suspension all round being – dare I say it – wasted on British roads.

But for the considerably harder conditions found in most of the world’s export markets, our cars are nothing like as effective as most Continentals. Rugged durability is probably the first essential, followed by low running costs, with which it is allied; a smooth ride is desirable, though it will be sacrificed to a certain extent, as in the case of the Peugeot 203, for a very economical, strong and roomy vehicle. (The van and station-wagon are more common than the saloon.) After that comes an ability to cruise far and fast, steer accurately, and in some places, stop.

Out here, most British cars are owned by town dwellers and such fortunates as can confine their motoring to the few tarmac roads. Other people rarely buy British more than once. Those who can afford it go American, cars that may absorb petrol, but at the same time do a first-class job of absorbing passengers, luggage, bumps, and distances. The remainder concentrate on the ubiquitous VW and the Peugeot 203, which two models must outnumber all the others put together. Such ” wonder” cars (Robert Glenton?) as the Standard Eight are as common up-country as dogs at a motor race.

For the record, my peesent, and last British, car is a Phase II Vanguard, which does better than many home-produced models out here. It has the reputation of being more solid than most, but suffers from a bad back-seat ride, a lucky-dip gear-lever, and a hearty appetite for front suspensions. Incidentally, I was amused by the report on the designing of the new Vanguard. The Standard Motor Company is going to put off more buyers than it attracts by stating complacently that the vehicle will survive one thousand miles on pave-type roads “Without any major breakage occurring.” Many cars in this country are expected to last a lifetime on such surfaces.

Yours till Moss beats Fangio.

I am, Yours, etc.,

P. W. Taylor

Jinja, Uganda.

———————

Sir,

Don’t sell the British Motor Industry short. Their products are very good. I believe their trouble is somewhat due to lack of good export management. Why by does the importer have to wait so long for his cars? Why was it we didn’t see any new A50s for almost a year after they were publicly announed? Whya aren’t there any new M.G.A.s here yet? What’s holding up the Jaguar “2.4”? Why no Sunbeam Rapiers yet? I could go on. Maybe they haven’t got swing rear axles, but they do make a good car for a very reasonable price. What can compare with the new M.G. in its price range? Our dealers could sell thousands of them this spring, if they had them to sell. Our local dealers get au A50, for example, and it sells right away. Then they have to wait a month or more to get another. That’s not good business in my opinion.

Well you have one letter now from someone who likes British cars. Maybe the grass is greener on the other side of the fence to you, but don’t overlook your own. Your policy of trying to bring the better points of Continental cars to the attention of the British Industry is all right, but please give credit where it is due, and your own products deserve much. Again I say, the trouble (as it looks from here) is not so much with the product as with the export management. Let’s get those cars over here so our dealers can sell them. That’s all that’s required.

I am, Yours, etc.,

Randolph G. Wilson

Boston, Mass.

*   *   *

Compulsary Vehicle Tests

Sir,

After a generation or more of shameful neglect, our present Government introduced their future programme of road building and improvement with a flourish. It did not go far towards giving us a road system worthy of the country, but at least it was a beginning. Unfortunately it was decided that through sheer lack of funds even this programme had to be pruned severely, but having committed themselves to positive action to reduce the present appalling death toll on the roads, to save their reputation something had to be done.

Faced with a steadily growing number of vehicles on our roads and no prospect of being able to afford to make the road systems adequate to accommodate them, it hardly required a brilliant brain to produce the thought that the next best thing would be to reduce, or at least halt the present increase, in the number of vehicles in use. Looking around for victims least likely to produce any spirited opposition, and also calculated to be readily turned into the subject of uneducated public prejudice, the responsible Minister, no doubt under considerable pressure to find an adequate number of scapegoats, appears to have turned his eye on the users of vehicles over ten years of age, and in my view unless concerted action is taken now by the owners of these vehicles, they may very well find themselves the victims of a deliberate Governmental attempt to drive many thousands of well-kept vehicles off the roads for good, just as a matter of political expediency.

An experimental testing station has been established which (to quote my daily newspaper) has found that 97 per cent. of all vehicles over ten years of age possessed serious faults. By what standards these cars were judged remains discreetly undivulged, but it is not hard to see that if it is desired to prove that any type of vehicle is sub-standard, the establishment of suitable tests calculated to produce this result is but a matter of contrivance. If, for example, the braking systems of pre-1946 cars are expected to reach the same standards as those fitted today to cars of much higher general performance, it is the simplest thing on earth to prove that all the older vehicles are “unroadworthy”!

But considering that these older vehicles are, as a class, driven in the manner for which they were intended, and at speeds befitting their steering, suspension and brakes, wherein do they constitute the general menace which the Minister is now carefully trying to suggest?

Let us now turn to the recent change of attitude displayed by the often-maligned insurance companies. Since the last war it has been common practice to call for higher premiums on cars of pre-war manufacture because, it was said, their outdated brakes and other features of design rendered them more liable to be involved in road accidents than more modern vehicles. But within the last six months, what a volte-face there has been! Now, the majority of insurers are prepared to give at least third party cover on cars up to twenty years of age (let alone ten), engineers’ certificates of roadworthiness have largely been dispensed with, and, what is more, higher premiums are now charged for comprehensive cover on cars under ten years of age. Granted that the last-mentioned is largely due to the dire effects of even a slight side-impact on modern slab-sided bodywork and chassisless construction, the fact remains that motor underwriters, who have access to nation-wide accident statistics and are unlikely to take chances on reducing premiums unless they consider it abundantly justified, have declared by their ceasing to “load” the premiums on older cars, that these vehicles are in no way inferior to newer ones as regards being involved in accidents for which they or their drivers are responsible. It does not take much of a brain to realise that, if these older vehicles were in the state of mechanical decrepitude which the Minister alleges and which his “experts” affect to have proved, they would constantly be getting involved in serious mishaps producing heavy third party claims. That they do not do so is clearly proved by the motor underwriters’ action in actually reducing premiums for these vehicles. If it can therefore be regarded as established beyond reasonable doubt that the position alleged to have been discovered by one testing station serving a limited area, is not applicable to the country as a whole, then the projected limitation of testing to vehicles over ten years old is exposed for the political manoeuvre it undoubtedly is.

Though it has been said that very careful thought will be given to the subject before such testing is put into general operation, and organisation will take at least a year to complete, this is at best disarming and may very well be deliberately misleading – it would not be the first time that our politicians had lulled us into a state of false security and we had wakened one morning to find that an unpleasant prospect had been turned overnight into an even more unpleasant fact.

Consequently, it seems to me that no time should be lost in ventilating our grievance; if needs be by notifying our present rulers that if such a possibility becomes a fact, those of us who helped to put them in office will withdraw all future support.

I am, Yours, etc.,

N.H. Fowler

Lincoln

*   *   *

De-Bunking Dr. Llewellyn Smith

Sir,

I would like to make two comments on Dr. Llewellyn Smith’s article. The first is that good traction is very necessary in a car here as only a few trunk roads outside the large cities are sealed. The country roads are loose gravel or just dirt tracks. My second comment is that no one in Melbourne who watched the last series of motor races, held in a park in the city, will be put off by the “oversteer” characteristics of rear-engined cars. A Porsche Spyder was most impressive in these, finishing fourth in one race and third in another, beating several XK 120s and 140s and a host of Austin Healey 100s and M.G.s.

Incidentally, the Volkswagen is the only car here which has a waiting list. I would say that it is second in popularity only to the Australian-built G.M. Holden, and only because of the Holden’s large size. The 750-c.c. Renault is also very popular. In a journey through the rich farming area of South East Victoria I was amazed at the number of Peugeots on the road. They appear to be a very popular car among farmers.

In concluding may I say how much I appreciate your magazine each month. It brings back many happy memories of Silverstone and Goodwood to an exiled enthusiast.

I am, Yours, etc.,

M. Kirton

Melbourne.

———————

Sir,

Although this is only my second year as a subscriber to your excellent monthly I find myself so consistently in agreement with your outspoken views that I do not hesitate to write to you for information when the need arises. This feeling of fellowship between reader and Editor must be your greatest asset, springing as it does from a common desire to foster progressive functional design.

I should like to make one point about Dr. Llewellyn Smith’s remarks regarding the handling of rear-engined cars on icy roads. For two years I ran a small fleet of cars in North-West Germany. These cars consisted of six Volkswagens and three Opel Kapitans. The roads on which this fleet operated were covered in black ice for three months of each year. In one winter alone, we “wrote off” three Opels after smashes caused by the car going completely out of control on bends with an adverse camber and a covering of black ice. Volkswagens used over the same roads remained completely under the driver’s control. This should not be read as a criticism of the Opel, which with its typically G.M.C. design, was always a comfortable, smooth car under normal conditions, nor do I attempt to say that the Volks will not skid on ice, for I have personally on one occasion done a “Spinning Top” act that left me giddy, but the fault was mine and not the car’s. One must surely drive a Volkswagen as a Volkswagen, this comes naturally as the mileage mounts up and after a few weeks the keen driver will find his Volks staying completely under his control in conditions that send the designs advocated by Dr. Smith careering uncontrollably into the ditch. One cannot confute the excellence of the theory that all other things being equal then the rear-engined car with its inbuilt oversteer will not handle as well as the design having a better weight distribution. But when you compare the precise steering, brakes and excellent gearbox of the Volkswagen with the current productions of the British motor industry, then one soon discovers that things are far from being equal.

I am, Yours, etc.,

V.T. Peglar

B.F.P.O.

*   *   *

Poor Service In Toronto

Sir,

I feel constrained to write to you, though I have only during this year become a reader of your excellent magazine. I am not given to superlatives in this field, being a journalist myself, but both my Editor and I feel we have at last found a motoring magazine with both knowledge and integrity.

As an Englishman living in Canada it presents its problems, but it does help to give one an unbiased view on the relative values of English and American cars. In view of some the the arguments which have appeared in your columns, may I add these words.

So far as I can see, the value of an English car for the sort of conditions under which the average North American drives is very limited. It is light on petrol, but petrol is cheap, it is not noticeably cheaper to buy, unless one buys the baby models, and service is very bad indeed. Let me give an example. I drive a fairly recently acquired M.G.”Y” model. Recently, as a result of driving at 65-70 over not-very-well-surfaced roads, the exhaust pipe cracked and finally broke in two. No such pipe was available at the huge B.M.C. depot in Toronto, and it has taken nearly a month for one to be brought in from Hamilton, about 35 miles away. In the meantime, my exhaust pipe had been welded together by a German, and had broken again. When the new pipe was fitted it was found to be misaligned, so that it protruded from the right hand side of the car, under the door. It was heated and straightened again. Less than one hour after driving away, the pipe, the new one mark you, had fallen away from the flange. My service man repaired it free, at his own cost, since apparently Morris Motors take the old R.A.F. attitude to matters of this sort so far as guarantees are concerned.

Further, owing to the incredible design of the rear wings with built-in lamps, and much the same applies to Jaguar side lamps for that matter, the salt on the roads here has eaten away the entire lamp structure in the six years of the car’s life. Needing a new wing therefore, I applied for it. Non-existent, of course, even in Hamilton, and one is being flown over for me from England, doubtless at incredible cost, either to me or the M.G. Car Co. Meanwhile, the inevitable German firm has a vast spare parts and repair depot worth $1,000,000 in Toronto itself. And now we read of the invasion of D.K.W. as well, to bring Teutonic zeal to a peak.

Now with the American cars, which no driver would willingly like to own in Britain, the”tight little isle,” good service is provided, as well as a car which runs for thousands of miles with very little trouble. Lighters, hefty seats and transmissions, amazingly quiet five-litre engines, efficient heaters and brakes are all part and parcel of these giant family cars which really carry a family, and soften out the bumps on Canada’s terrible side roads.

I drive an M.G. for the sporting side of things, if anyone wants to know.

For some weeks I have been burning to write this letter, since the DB3S v. American cars argument is driving me silly. It boils down to this; if you must compare British cars with American stay in your price brackets. The only valid comparison with a Chev Six is a Ford Popular, because they are both the cheapest cars made in their respective countries. And the Chev, compared with an average wage of $60 a week is a lot cheaper than the Popular at an average wage of £10. (The Chev costs $2,000 or thereabouts.)

If you want to provide cheap transport for millions of people, the only way to do it is to sell millions of cars, or make one model like Volkswagen or Citroen (2 cv. of course) which is really simple and cheap.

Motor Sport appears to be the only magazine which is prepared to see the British motor industry in its proper perspective, as one Industry competing with the world, which cannot rest on the laurels gained by two or three companies. Until it can produce vehicles which are as cheap, relatively speaking, as the American or Continental (without that crippling import duty to handicap them) countries, the less it says about fine British workmanship the better.

My next car, by the way, if anyone wants to know, will be a Triumph TR3, a car which has really gained respect here for the soundness of its engine. In the words of a friend. “You can’t cruise an M.G. at 80-90 m.p.h. for long, or most other British cars at the price, but you can a TR.”

Just keep printing the truth, that’s all.

I am, Yours, etc.,

Alan H. Gayfer

Toronto.

*   *   *

M.P.G.

Sir,

Reacting of your 1,158 miles with a Ford Squire with an average m.p.g. figure of 32.7, I thought you may be interested to know that on a recent holiday in N. Wales and including a fast journey to and from Bettws-y-Coed in my 1936 Morris 12, I averaged over 38.5 m.p.g. for 1,171 miles of mixed motoring with plenty of gear work in the mountains and no coasting or other freak driving.

One common factor was the fuel used, other fuels have not given figures better than 33 m.p.g. before.

The fact which puzzles me is why an old vehicle of 1,500 c.c. (approx.) should considerably better another 20 years younger, only some 1,172 c.c., and considerably lighter also.

I have informed the National Benzole Co., Ltd., of this achievement as I feel it is definitely something to sing about.

I am, Yours, etc.,

L.L. Gatcum

London, E.4.

*   *   *

Acceleration – Aircraft versus Car

Sir,

Last month I had occasion to fly home to Belfast from London and during “take off” noticed that the acceleration seemed very fast. In a moment of idle curiosity I asked the captain of the aircraft if he could give me any approximate figures. He obligingly did so and they were:

Standing start to being airborne, half a mile; speed at take-off just before being airborne, 125 m.p.h., jumping to 165 as soon as aircraft is airborne; time, 20 sec. So that gives a standing half mile for an Elizabethan aircraft in 20 sec.

It would perhaps be of interest if any of your readers could enlarge on this subject, and give figures for other types of aircraft and how they compare with a Grand Prix car.

What prompted this letter was the mention and photograph of’ a propeller-driven car in the December Motor Sport coupled with this demonstration of airscrew-driven acceleration.

This could open up possibilities for “special” builders to explore this avenue, with the Brighton Speed Trials in mind, or wouldn’t they be eligible?

I am, Yours, etc.,

G.B. Carver

Melbourne.

*   *   *

The Road Over Cross Fell

Sir,

Just for the fun of it I would like to take up – in part – Donald S. Rayner’s challenge in his letter “Possibilities in Lakeland” regarding the road(?) over Cross Fell.

In 1940 I was running a 1934, very secondhand, Austin Ten two-seater and was also involved in work at the Silverband Mine, which was being worked then for the “Barytes” rather than for the lead.

All equipment at that time for the mine was taken up by the track, to which Mr. Rayner referred, by means of the inevitable Fordson tractor and trailer, and on one occasion I decided to drive up to the mine.

The road was merely a boulder-strewn track patched in places with loose shale and we – one of my staff and I – set off to do the climb in the Austin. We had to use bottom gear most of the way due to the appalling surface, but she never faltered, climbing some of the bigger boulders cylinder by cylinder, eventually reaching the mine one hour later and none the worse.

The Pass over the Fells is about a quarter of a mile to the east of the mine at a hairpin turn and rises about another fifty feet, and whilst up there I went up to the top of the Pass but did not go over, returning the way I came up.

I do not recommend anyone to try the climb with a modern car as they are far too low-slung for the boulders.

Incidentally, the Austin had a flat-out speed of 45 m.p.h. and the clutch would slip in top and third if driving flat out for more than ten minutes, but in bottom gear it never slipped even after a 20-mile run with the clutch slipping continuously.

I am, Yours, etc.,

J. Saner

Radlett.

*   *   *

1920 Velocettes

Sir

In the interests of accuracy we point out that the 1920 two-stroke Velocette engines and machines ridden by O’Donovan were designed by the late Mr. P. J. Goodman – the father of Mr. B.J. (Bertie) Goodman, who is our present Sales Director. The engines were built here and nearly all of the work was carried out by Mr. P. J. Goodman’s brother, Mr. E.F. Goodman, our present managing director.

In order to keep these engines cool, Mr. O’Donovan arranged a water drip onto the top of the iron cylinder head, and we believe that the “blow up” that you refer to was caused by Mr. O’Donovan forgetting to turn up the oil pump adjustment to maximum after starting. The adjuster on the pump was later interconnected with the throttle to avoid the consequences of a rider forgetting it, and our production two-stroke models from 1932 which were developed from the earlier types included a throttle-controlled oil pump.

I am, Yours. etc.,

R.W. Burgess

pp. Veloce Ltd.

Birmingham, 28.