Letters From Readers, July 1959

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N.B. — Opinions Expressed are those of our Correspondents and Motor Sport does not neccessarily associate itself with them. — Ed.

The New Citroens – Where They Fail

Sir,

You published a letter from me under this title in January and four letters in subsequent issues, two of which attack what I said, under the title “Where They Succeed.” Please allow me to reply.

Firstly, most of what these letters say has already been said — in the various road-tests and other reports and in no way do I disagree — on tar.

Secondly, it is quite obvious that none of these gentlemen, even the self-styled “born conductor and gear-changer,” have handled the DS19 for any length of time on roads that are really bad. I have had the car for two years, covering up to 1,000 miles a month in it, all on such roads. In other words telling me how good the car is in Europe, which I know, does not alter the fact that in some important aspects it is bad in the tropics. It does not mend a fault in Africa to say that it does not exist in Europe.

The DS19 has earned and received great praise, surely all the more reason why one should draw attention to its faults in the hope that they may be corrected. I wrote my original letter to point out the major failings which must be corrected, and pointed out that the car is not selling in the tropics because of them.

“W.A.R.” of Saxmundham says “Why pick on the otherwise excellent DS19?” Just because it is otherwise excellent, I had sufficient faith in the car to buy one out here and still like it so much that I am not going to part with it. I do, however, want these failings corrected so that when I do sell the car it is in part-exchange for another DS without them. Hence my letter — based on detailed experience of a type different from that of your four correspondents and involving looking after the car almost entirely alone under arduous conditions, with the garage not just around the corner but 300 miles away.

My letter was not written just as criticism but as a genuine attempt to get the car improved for use in tropical conditions. I submitted a copy of it to Citroen, who replied that they were aware of these faults; that they could not be corrected quickly but that progress was being made.

“W.A.R.” also asks “Do not all cars scrape on the hardcore spine common to all Nyasaland roads?” Not so frequently, nor with such severe consequences to the car, except in dreadful designs such as the sump position of the now-defunct Morris Isis.

Mr. Jorrand makes inaccurate statements on the suspension, and basking in the comfort of good roads and a good car, says that I should have neither — that on these roads I should use a Land Rover. Why? My VW does all right. So do other cars, notably Mercedes and Peugeot.

I said that I have no criticisms of the VW in which I do much of my mileage and that other cars also do well here. Why not Citroen?

With brilliant engineers, a car designed twenty years after the Volkswagen and in many ways ten years ahead of its time, why should Citroen not be asked to correct the faults inevitable in any new car, however good, which in this case happen to show up particularly in the tropics? If they do. I shall be delighted to put my name down for another when the time comes. If they don’t — I shall buy a Borgward, Peugeot or Mercedes-Benz.

I am, Yours, etc., J. R. Scarr. Nyasaland.

[Although this correspondence was closed last month in so far as it discussed where the Citroen DS19 succeeds, we feel it only fair to publish this final letter on the subject from he who originated the discussion. But no more after this . . .! — Ed.]

*

Comment on Valve Gear

Sir,

Referring to Mr. H. K. Burnett’s letter published in your interesting May issue, I would like to mention that Mr. Heynes’ assumptions made in his Jaguar engine paper April 14th, 1953, were commented upon when I opened the discussion at the time. The discussion and Mr. Haynes’ reply are recorded in the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Automobile Division Proceedings 1952-53 Part III.

It will be found that on my standard 105 Talbot of 1931 the push-rod valve gear inertia was perhaps lower than that of the Jaguar twin overhead camshaft power unit.

I am, Yours, etc., Georges Roesch. London N.W.11.

*

The Greatest — Nuvolari or Ascari?

Sir,

In the book review column of the April edition of Motor Sport, the statement was made that Tazio Nuvolari was the greatest driver of all time. Whilst in no way wishing to belittle or doubt his great driving skill I hesitate to say that he was a better driver than the late Alberto Ascari. My reasons are varied and I will try to prove a statement which, I suspect, is not as widely subscribed to as the Editorial view.

My first witness is no less a person than Fangio, who having actually raced against both drivers and therefore has had better opportunities than most people of judging their relative merits, has declared more than once that Ascari was the greatest driver, not only of the pair but also the greatest who has ever lived.

One of Ascari’s best testimonials was his meteoric rise to fame. In 1947 he was, apart from one or two pre-war races, a complete novice. By 1948 he had not only graduated to Grands Prix but at his first Silverstone appearance, without having practised to boot, he finished second in the British Grand Prix. Three short years from his first appearance he won the German Grand Prix, a feat he was to repeat for the next two years.

However, when Nuvolari won his greatest race (1935 German Grand Prix) he had the following things in his favour.

(a) The wet conditions severely handicapped the Mercedes and Auto Union teams.

(6) The ‘Ring is a notorious “car-equaliser.”

(c) Manfred Von Brauchitsch burst a tyre on the last lap when he had a 35-sec. lead.

Still on the Nurburgring, let us remember Ascari’s famous “wheel incident” in the 1953 race (he had amassed a lead of 36 sec. when it happened on the fourth lap!). This story, too well known to merit description here, shows beyond all doubt Ascari’s coolness, the mark of the master. Another distinguishing mark of a maestro, unspectacular driving, was an attribute of Ascari but not of Nuvolari, who it will be remembered, could never handle an Auto Union nearly so well as young Bernd. Rosemeyer.

Alas! Ascari was taken from us before, I believe, he reached his ultimate form.

Finally, may I take this opportunity of thanking you for an excellent magazine which gives me a great deal of pleasure every month.

I am, Yours, etc., Michael J. Lawrence. Acomb.

*

The 4½-Litre Lagonda — Mr. Michael Replies to Critics  

Sir,

Since you published my article on the 4½-litre Lagonda I have had a great deal of correspondence not only from partisans of rival makes, but also from Lagonda owners who thought the road tests I chose gave a poor impression of its true capabilities. I would like to make it clear that my views on “performance” were based on considerable personal experience of all the vehicles mentioned, and were not acquired merely by a search of the files to find the fastest road tests published. Furthermore, none of the cars I owned or drove would achieve their road-test figures against a corrected speedometer and stop watch. All my Lagondas would do so after modification, as no doubt would the others if they had been modified too!

With cars having very similar performance figures it is usually possible to find a test from one of the numerous journals publishing them to “prove” what one wants to “prove.” I deliberately chose the less flattering figures published by the journal that habitually published the least flattering results. It is therefore only fair to say that on February 28th, 1936, nearly two years after the introduction of the M45, in The Autocar, the Alvis 3½-litre saloon (Speed 25) achieved the following

0-50: 14.2 sec.; 0-60: 20.8 sec.; 0-70: 28.2 sec.; mean max. 88.24 m.p.h., best 90.91 m.p.h.

For the same journal, on April 23rd, 1937, the 4.3-litre Alvis saloon did:

0-50: 10.9 sec.; 0-60: 15.3 sec.; 0-70: 22.0 sec. Mean max. 90.06 m.p.h., best 91.84 m.p.h.

These figures are almost identical with the 1934 Lagonda saloon when tested by the same journal, and are inferior to those chosen by Mr. Pollard, though I am of the opinion that all these sets of performance figures, and incidentally the Bentley ones, are sufficiently close to show that as far as mere stop-watch records are concerned these three makes were more or less equal firsts among British-built saloons.

I have the greatest respect for the Alvis. I shared the ownership of a Silver Eagle; I owned two Speed 20s — one 1933 drophead and one late 1935 saloon — and a Speed 25 Charlesworth saloon; I also spent a long time searching for a 4.3 saloon to replace the Speed 25, during which time I drove many 4.3s, some of which were for sale, and some whose private owners let me drive so that I could compare them with those on offer. I think it only fair to quote from a previous article of mine (not published by this august journal) in which I say the following about the Speed 25: “Its road holding and handling were superior to the Lagondas mainly because it was slightly shorter and of much lower build”; and about the 1938 4.3-litre: “The road holding of the 4.3-litre was superb, every bit as good as the Speed 25. Cornering was a delight, the car remaining under perfect control of steering wheel and throttle even in a deliberately provoked slide. However the ride was hard and the flexing of the chassis could be noticed in spite of the frame’s massive dimensions, not that the road holding was in the slightest affected by it. For comfort it could not be compared to the L.G.6 of the same year . . .”

I fully endorse Mr. Pollard’s praise of the Alvis Service Department, which was always helpful, not unreasonably expensive and, perhaps most important of all, pleased to see one, none of which I can say about Lagondas in respect of their pre-war models, even when they did attend to them. I am sure that the Alvis cars I owned were good examples of their type; however, after buying one 4½-litre Lagonda I have never gone back to the Alvis, because in my experience it is just not such a nice car. I have never really been able to understand why this is so. Theoretically it should be better! The engine is a much more modern design, with greater piston area, a superior bore/stroke ratio and a-seven-bearing crankshaft. It seems that the cylinder head design has failed to exploit fully the potentialities of the rest of the unit. The low-slung chassis, too, looks very good, but I have never driven an i.f.s. car which gave less impression of independently sprung front wheels, and it certainly wears out the driver and the coachwork much more quickly than even the non-independent Lags.

There must be a mysterious “something” about Lagondas, because even the “100 m.p.h.” Invictas using roughly the same engine and being lighter, lower, with a smaller frontal area, shorter wheelbase, and equally massive brakes, not only failed to finish in the 1934 T.T. but lapped considerably slower all the time they were running. I believe that few unbiased people would change a good 4½-litre Lagonda for even a very good 4.3 after a long drive in both, and I completely disagree with Mr. Pollard on the subject of driving position. One sits much lower in the Alvis and gets no feeling of roll on corners, but I do not find that this is more comfortable nor gives any better control than the higher seating position in the Lagondas. When it comes to the open models I make no specific claims. Nevertheless, in The Motor road test of November 10th, 1936, the best max. speed of the Rapide is given as 108 m.p.h., while in 1937 Alan Hess achieved 104.4 m.p.h. in a standing start hour at Brooklands carrying a passenger. As far as racing is concerned the big Alvises have no record to compare with 1934 T.T., 1935 T.T., 1935 Le Mans, 1936 French G.P., 1936 24-hr. race at Spa, 1936 T.T., 1936 500-mile race, 1937 T.T., 1937 Le Mans, et., in all of which 4½-litre Lagonda cars took part.

When one comes to the 4½-litre Bentley I have somewhat less personal experience because the only Derby product I have owned was a 1938 30-h.p. Rolls with a Concours-winning saloon body, but, of course, not, sports-car performance. I have driven a great many 3½- and 4¼-litre Bentleys and greatly admire them. The figures quoted by Mr. Green for the 1934 4¼ are, inasmuch as they are the original figures for the 4¼ and come from the same journal, perfectly fair. They show that the 1936 4¼ was equally as quick off the mark as the 4½s. but it is true to say that none of the previous or subsequent Autocar road tests of the Rolls-Royce-built Bentleys could approach these acceleration figures; for example, the 1937 4¼- Bentley when road tested by The Autocar on November 12th, 1937, gave 0-50: 12.7 sec.; 0-60: 17.1 sec.; 0-70: 24.2 sec., with a mean max. top speed of 88.02 m.p.h.; even on April 27th. 1939, the 4¼  then tested improved on this by only one second in acceleration and achieved a mean max. of 90.68 m.p.h., well down on the 1936 figures, and incidentally on most of the Lagonda ones. I must say that I do prefer the 4¼ Bentley to all the Lagonda six-cylinder cars except the L.G. 6. It is very difficult to say just why; they certainly are not faster nor even more durable, the famous brakes are no better than the Lagonda brakes, but they are on the whole more silent, the controls slightly smoother, and the cars more “responsive.” Of course they were, and remain, between one-third and one-half as much higher in price; such a differential is not even remotely reflected in the performance or road manners of the respective makes, but I suppose that, as in most things, you tend to get what you pay for, and it becomes very costly to improve on something which is already very good indeed.

I am, Yours, etc., J. S. Michael. London, W.1.

*

Rolls-Royce Mythology

Sir,

I read with amusement the letter on Rolls-Royce myths by Mr. P. Salter, and of course we know them all by heart, but I hasten to relate an actual experience of my own some years ago.

I acquired a 1926 Rolls with 1938 Replica body on, and took it to Hythe Road for advice and tune. They welcomed us, immediately sent a man out to test, and three or four mechanics spent about 1½ hours working on the car.

I asked for the account; what was the chassis number they asked? Alas, the new body covered the plate and I had not got the log book with me. A works conference took place and eventually I was politely asked to leave by the “in” gate as no work is ever done and charged for without the chassis number being supplied. The car could therefore not be passed out in the normal way.

All were very charming; in fact, wonderful service! Thank you Rolls-Royce.

I am, Yours, etc., John L. Walker, (Late owner of YP 1735). Henley-on-Thames.

*

Good Service

Recently I was driving to Cornwall in my 3-litre Bentley and a magneto packed up. Mr. Anning, of the Honiton Clyst Garage, soon diagnosed the trouble as a stripped phosphor bronze gear. He ‘phoned the Exeter Ignition Company, of Summerland Street, Exeter, who found a used but good gear wheel. When I arrived there a most obliging and efficient mechanic removed the magneto, stripped, reassembled and fitted it, and I was on my way in a few hours.

While at the Exeter Ignition Company I was able to observe how well all their coil winding and overhauling was being done, and I feel that other vintage owners may like to know of this. Also Mr. Anning’s help must not be forgotten; many garages know nothing about vintage engines.

I am, Yours, etc., E. A. W. Morris. Nailsworth.

_

Sir,

On Friday, May 7th, my wife and I were motoring down to Eastbourne in the 1902 De Dion Bouton which I had entered for the Spring Rally to be held there the following day, when at 6.30 p.m. we sheared the clutch withdrawal mechanism. When this happened, things looked black indeed. A passing motorist volunteered to call help from the first available garage, and within a matter of minutes the proprietor of the Wych Cross Service Station arrived with a tow car to pull us in. Although all his staff had gone home he offered us the free use of his premises and the equipment available, and by 12.30 that night the repair had been effected, using the plant available at the garage plus a 1½-in, length of water pipe.

Not only did the proprietor and his family give us coffee, cigarettes and encouragement during the time we spent with them, but he also refused to accept any payment for the facilities offered. Today, such service is so rare that we felt we must give due recognition for such wonderful service.

I am, Yours, etc., C. W. Ward, (Director Park Ward & Co. Ltd.). London, N.W.10.

_

Sir,

I recently had the misfortune to have my Simca bumped whilst parked and unattended, and this resulted in torn beading at the offside rear. In the knowledge that bodywork trimmings are usually a delaying factor in the process of repairs (certainly that is my experience with British cars) I ‘phoned my Simca dealer, Messrs. Platts of Longton, to place an order for new beading and fasteners. The phone call was made at 4 p.m., May 11th, and the beading arrived first post the next day, excellently packed against stout board to prevent kinking. It is now in position on the vehicle. The time involved, from placing the order to completion of the job, was under 20 hours.

Now that, Sir, is what I call Service with a capital “S,” and it demonstrates that some dealers are actually stockists, and really do mean “Spares and Service” in the literal sense. Needless to say, I have no connection with the helpful and friendly concern of Messrs. Platts of Longton, other than that of a satisfied customer.

I am, Yours, etc., N. Bradpiece. Manchester, 8.

*

In Defence of the Dauphine

Sir,

About a year ago you published a letter from me when I was resident in San Francisco, re the excellent service I had received from a succession of Renaults. The discussion between yourself and Mr. R. J. W. May has prompted use to enter the lists for a second time.

I feel that the greatest danger one can encounter on forming an affection for a particular car is that it is fatally easy to develop a blind spot that obscures all reason. While I am probably deluding myself like the rest I feel that the ownership of a rapid succession of cars, ranging from a Chevrolet to a Panhard, has saved me from that fate, which cannot be said of you. Since your acquisition of a VW you have steadily turned an excellent publication into a fan sheet. My liking for the “Beetle” (as they call it in the States) is based on (a) great reliability and (b) fine service, but in your answers to Mr. May’s excellent letter you completely wreck the validity of your claims by only granting him one point, and that very, very grudgingly. Your other replies are often grossly unfair — to take them in order:

(b) I have owned three- and four-speed cars simultaneously and I have never mistaken reverse for first gear, and it seems an admission of bad driving to state otherwise.

(c) Apart from the front seats, the Dauphine is much more spacious than the VW — by that I mean that if you judge the German car from behind the wheel it will seem wonderfully spacious, but the rear passengers are in purgatory. The Renault is much more proportionate and the measurements prove it, not the opposite.

(d) Lighter or not, the VW brakes are very inferior to the French car’s and you really should concede the point more gracefully.

(e) You must have a most unusual VW if your example is more stable in a cross-wind than a Dauphine, of all cars. I have never driven a modern light car that is more stable (and I’ve driven them all, except the Saab) — and every road test I read in the U.S. made that very point. I have driven the Judson-blown VW and the Okrasa-converted job, as well as a standard, and I agree with Mr. May’s comments on the inherent dangers of the VW wholeheartedly. And it is nearly as noisy as the 750 Renault, that’s saying something!

(g) This is the lowest ebb of your remarks: Mr. May has stated that HE got 29.6 and 42.6 m.p.g., respectively, out of the two cars, with his particular driving techniques — you just cannot, in conscience, turn round and tell him he should not flog the VW in such a manner, when he is making the point that he prefers the Dauphine because it gives 42.6 m.p.g. in those very conditions! From my own experience his figures for both cars are quite reasonable and the VWs I have used were in splendid tune.

Lastly, can you honestly state that you prefer the looks of a wart-hog over a deer, and how on earth do you rate “individuality” in a wild animal? From more learned friends I hear that the “individuality” of a wart-hog is a very sorry thing indeed, and not too nice either. To any unbiased, reasonable eye you cannot even make a case for preferring the appearance of a VW to a Dauphine, on any aesthetic grounds.

Finally, may I say that I still read your magazine and that I vastly, oh immeasurably, prefer the Dyna Panhard to either car — when you hot them up, lower the suspension, supercharge them, do what you will, you still have a four-seater car with an inferior performance to the six-seater Dyna.

So you see — I was deluding myself — I’m just as biased as you or Mr. May!

I am, Yours, etc., Aubrey C. Rolfe. Solihull.

[We publish this letter to show that we are not so unfair as Mr. Rolfe considers we are, but “in defence of the Editor” W.B. replies as follows:

(b) Surely it is not bad driving to occasionally feel the gear lever of a three-speed box into reverse after being accustomed to four speeds, providing the driver does not let in the clutch and ram the car behind; and I have never done that! This would be a minor point anyway if three widely-spaced ratios were adequate for a small-engined car, which they most certainly are not. Economy of production is the fundamental excuse behind three-speed gearboxes and in this desire to economise Renault associate themselves with American-thinking firms like Ford and Vauxhall — and Vauxhall at least have the decency to make bottom gear more usable by providing it with synchromesh. Renault line up with the majority of small cars by using a four-speed box on the Gordini-Dauphine.

(c) Study of the respective dimensions shows that there is not much to choose between the two cars, but the VW gains half an inch here, an inch there, and although it is of pleasing streamline form, whereas the Renault Dauphine has a square outline, it is 4 in. wider across the back seat. Incidently, American buyers who now enthuse over small cars, but are used to plenty of interior space, seem to appreciate these subtle differences, for during the last two years they bought 156,562 VWs and 118,306 Renaults.

(d) I agree there is more to braking than short stopping distance, although that surely should top the list? I thought I had conceded the point that, lightness apart, the French car has better brakes than the German car. I repeat this for Mr. Rolfe’s full satisfaction. And I would remind him that in the April road-test I did not refer to lack of retardation on the Dauphine.

(e) The VW needs attention to the steering in a cross-wind and I found much the same tendency in the road-test Dauphine, which wasn’t helped by low geared, rather “dead” steering. I have never implied, as Mr. Rolfe does, that a VW is dangerous under such conditions — if he finds it so isn’t this as close to bad driving as my occasional lapse into reverse position on these horrible three-speed gearboxes? I had forgotten how noisy a Renault 750 is and thank Mr. Rolfe for reminding me. Again, in my original report I did not compare the Dauphine with a VW or any other car in respect of noise.

(g) As to the argument over petrol consumption, I checked my VW on a long fast run against a headwind recently, the previous m.p.g. figures being based on overall running. The result was 44 m.p.g. of Esso Mixture. Driving a Renault Dauphine in a similar manner I got — 44 m.p.g., no difference, except that the VW is larger by 347 c.c. and is coming up to 71,000 miles, whereas the Renault was virtually new.

As to the wart-hogs versus deer, I thought we were discussing appearances, not the sex-life of the respective animals. And if we can discern “individuality” in cars, why not in wild animals?

As Mr. Rolfe remarks, it is easy to delude yourself over cars — I, too, thought a Dyna-Panhard might replace my VW, until the Continental Correspondent drew our attention to its poor roadholding — and so far Citroen cars have been unable to place a Dyna at our disposal for test in this country. These notes are set down to attempt to return the controversy to the realm of facts, not fantasy, and this correspondence must now close. But Renault enthusiasts will be pleased to know that Motor Sport intend to publish a road test report on the new Renault Gordini Dauphine in the August issue.]