Rumblings, July 1970

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Living with the Lotus 7

In May, to attract people to Wymondham to see the Group Lotus Car Companies’ factories and to raise funds for the Norwich Lads’ Club, Graham Hill opened the Lotus Open Weekend of 1970, at which a display of historic Lotus cars, modern Lotus cars, a fairground, midget car racing, a flying display which included a visit by a Hurricane, a dance, and other jollies were laid on. Having been flown up on the Sunday in a Piper Twin Commanche, appropriately one wearing a competition number, a legacy from the London-Sydney race, we thought it only decent to depart in a Lotus. Which we did, in a Series 4 Seven, scorning to erect the hood, so that the journey to Wales tied in with what we wrote last month about sports cars and the joys of open-air motoring . . .

It was our intention to write about what it is like to live with a Lotus 7 but there wasn’t one to spare, the car we borrowed being the personal property of Mike Warner, Managing Director of Lotus Components Ltd., which had to be returned within the week. However, it is possible from this necessarily brief encounter to convey something of what this cheeky little modern sports car is like.

We realised almost as soon as the security police had permitted us to get out on to the road that the Lotus 7 puts the fun back into motoring in no uncertain manner. But the smooth, quiet running of the car and its civilised suspension came as a surprise. The accelerator is in close proximity to the foot-brake and maybe because Warner’s car was very new (it showed only 527 miles on its odometer) the gear-change was extraordinarily stiff, third impossibly baulky, and the clutch very “sudden”. That apart, the Lotus 7 is simplicity to drive, the short central gear lever well placed, the steering very light and responsive to scarcely more than wrist movements, 2 5/8 turns of the little leather-rimmed wheel taking it from one full lock to the other. This example had the Cortina GT engine, which ran quietly, with a subdued exhaust note, yet when the throttle was opened things happened – fast, the little red two-seater accelerating to the eager note of efficient machinery. The car’s light weight (10 cwt. 3 qr. empty, but with about four gallons of fuel) is reflected in the ready response to the accelerator even in top gear. At 70 m.p.h. the tachometer reads just below 4,000 r.p.m. and an indicated 100 m.p.h. comes up quite quickly.

There is nothing dramatic about driving this Seven, apart from steering shake as the wheel plays through one’s fingers and some frenzy from the bonnet and the “power-bulge” in front of the driver, which can reflect the sun into one’s eyes. It is not to be compared to vintage motoring and, indeed, offers fewer amenities. It is, however, enormous fun, and light though it is to handle, it provides plenty of exercise, because, being doorless, getting in and out becomes a bit athletic – and may well have been planned with mini-skirts in mind! The detachable sidescreens serve as doors but to release them an awkwardly-placed single external turn-stud has to be manipulated through the sliding window and there is nothing to hold up the “door” as you climb out. Getting out when the hood is up must be almost impossible, and quite claustrophobic . . .

The seats, like those on early Morgan Plus Fours, are fixed (but the pedals can be adjusted). On the Lotus they are a snug but not very comfortable fit, because you lie rather than sit in them, but not to the extent that a racing driver lies in a GP car, so driving the Seven can put a bit of a strain on the lumbar muscles. But snug fit they are, to the extent of leaving the seat harness to be sat on unless it is worn (the Lotus belts were easy to use, says W.B.’s wife) and with the side pieces up there is not much elbow room. Provision for a tonneau cover would have been appreciated.

Otherwise, this Seven is very civilised. Hood and sidescreens stow in the boot, which has a cover easy to fit thanks to Tenax fasteners, which are an improvement of “lift-the-dots” as well as being neater, although one pulled out of the fabric. There is full, easy to read, Smith’s instrumentation (heat 70 to 80°C.), a Smith’s Series 3 heater, and winkers with side repeaters on the front mudguards – and they are real mudguards. Four press-buttons on the centre panel work lights, heater-fan, wipers and washers. The bonnet releases absurdly easily to hinge forward and reveal most of the mechanism, including the Weber carburetter topped by a Nordic air-cleaner. The finish of the fibreglass body is excellent and the frog’s-eyes Lucas headlamps, black on this car in contrast to the red paintwork, give an effective beam. The spare wheel lives on the tail (Dunlop SP Sport radials were fitted), there is a quick-action fuel filler in the broad n/s rear wing, and the Lotus 7 comes with roll-over bar, ready to race.

Leaving Norfolk on our solo drive to Wales we were soon making good progress along the A11, picking off the dodderers with impressive bursts of effortless acceleration. It was very much open-air motoring, however, in the bitter gale that was sweeping off Thetford heath and Newmarket plain and in the Snetterton area (where a race meeting was presumably in progress for a Chain-Gang Frazer Nash was seen abandoned on the adjacent straight). We endured the buffeting from the wind until St. Neots, before pausing to erect the side bits, which plug in easily and make open-car motoring much less tough. (Sports cars of the 1920s didn’t habitually go at the pace we were extracting from the Lotus and their aero screens probably created less backdraught than the Lotus’ upright one.) In the softer country beyond Bedford the run became extremely pleasant, for there is nothing quite like this Seven, which rattles and shakes a bit but clings to the road like a limpet and steers with the accuracy of a micrometer. The 258-mile journey was accomplished well within the six-hour target in spite of several more pauses, to map-read and refuel, and much crawling Sunday traffic with which to contend. The fuel gauge went to zero just before Tewkesbury, suggesting a usable range of some 200 miles, at very roughly 30 m.p.g. The gear-change got progressively more horrid, however, until it was almost impossible to shift, due to clutch drag, which adjusting the pedal wouldn’t cure (to do which a country garage charged at the rate of 45s. an hour!), but the adequate ground clearance up the rough house-drive that marked journey’s end was another pleasant surprise, although eventually the exhaust bracket fractured.

This short acquaintance with Mr. Chapman’s boy’s-racer confirmed what enormous fun the latest Seven is (until the transmission went solid) and now we want to try the hotter twin-cam version.

Thumbs go out of style

It is now 13 years since the results of the Portuguese Grand Prix, timed by electronic beam, were distributed complete with individual fastest lap times for every driver in the race. In the meantime, British race organisers have continued to produce results by the less rapid hand-timing method, a highly specialised art which requires trained operators with a steady thumb and the ability to concentrate.

The RAC recently took delivery of a set of “electronic eye” timing equipment, donated by courtesy of Shell’s Retail Division. The equipment consists of Omega light sensors, which are placed on each side of the track (hopefully in a place where no-one will walk through the beam), plus a couple of consoles carrying buttons. Pressing a button activates the recording equipment, which is actually triggered by the passage of the car through the beam.

Operating in conjunction with the equipment is a Muldivo miniature computer (transported in half a dozen suitcases) which enables a variety of information to be “printed out” for Press and other use.

‘The entire set-up was first used to record data for the International Trophy race at Silverstone in March and is indeed welcome, especially if it means at long last that individual fastest lap times will be available for the next BOAC 1,000 kms sports-car race.

Tricycles

When Ray Wiggin, Managing Director of Reliant, announced that his group, which had recently absorbed Bond, planned to launch a series of new three-wheelers in the early 1970s, it set us thinking of the long history of the tricycle. Starting with the Morgan in 1909, without recourse to our reference library we recalled other three-wheelers with two wheels at the front and a single driving wheel, such as the Royal Ruby, LSD, Coventry Victor, Castle Three, Omega, Merrell-Brown, Sandford, Darmont, D’Yrsan, BSA, New Hudson, AC Sociable, Warwick parcels’ van, Coventry-Premier, HP, JMB, Isetta, Berkeley, Xtra, Wooler, etc. Then there were those with a single front wheel, like the Bond, Harper Runabout, Raleigh, Reliant, Stanhope, Seal, Scott Sociable, Phanomobil, and others of both configurations, and a spate of “funnies” after the war, such as the Messerschmitt, Allard, Heinkel, Trojan 200, belt-drive AC Petite, the upstanding Scootacar, Frisky Prince, Powerdrive, etc., not forgetting the Hillman Imp-powered Bond.

There have been three-wheelers with water-cooled four-cylinder engines, others with simple single-cylinder power units, there have been four-strokes and two-strokes, chain-drive, belt-drive and shaft-drive three-wheelers, sports models and strictly utility outfits and those with two tracks only. There have even been tricycles with front-wheeldrive, to a single front wheel in the case of the Stanhope and Bramham, while the Merrell-Brown boasted two back wheels, set close together, like those of the early BMW Isetta.

In recent times, since the demise of the Morgan, the only three-wheelers which made any impression were the ultra-simple Bond and the stodgy but practical Reliant Regal. It seemed that tricycles have had their time. Mr. Wiggin does not agree. In his speech at Woburn Abbey announcing the new Bond Bug he reminded us that the annual growth-rate of three-wheeler sales during the ’60s was almost three times as great as that of four-wheelers, confining figures to British-built makes, and that last year the number of home-produced three-wheelers registered was 62.4% greater than in 1960, compared to an 18.3% increase in four-wheeler registrations. And, emphasised Mr. Wiggin, the tricycle has it over the motorcycle, scooter and moped, which dropped by 67% in 1969 against the 1960 figure, two-wheelers in use in Britain declining in numbers by roughly 37% over the last decade. Mr. Wiggin made the point that the 57,000 three-wheelers on our roads in 1960 included a very large proportion of imported “bubble cars” but that imports then ended and after 1964 British tricycles were competing with cars, in the proportion, by the end of last year, of 100,000 to just over four million. Nevertheless, he sees a great future for the three-wheeler, reminding his audience that it is poised to make its next big stride forward on the 200th anniversary of Nicholas Cugnot’s steam-driven three-wheeler which ran in Paris in 1770 – but Mr. Wiggin refrained from saying that this single-front-wheel vehicle went out of control and demolished a wall . . .

We had become enthusiastic about a tricycle revival, thinking that perhaps a sporting resurrection of the Morgan was about to occur. But when we enquired, while the Bug was still on the secret list, whether it had two front wheels and were told “No”, we began to lose interest, for we consider that for a fast tricycle the Morgan arrangement is the correct one. And when the Bond Bug was announced, as a trend-setting funabout, in bright tangerine orange, with “the guts unashamedly exposed”, we felt it was not for us. The Bug was, in fact, designed exclusively for the 17-to-25 age group, Reliant hoping that it will become as big a trend-setter as the Mini.

The Bug has grown up, since it was planned by Toni Karen of Ogle in 1950, from a side-by-side seater of 175 c.c. to a quick wedge-shaped glassfibre two-seater with canopy top propelled by Reliant’s well established 700 c.c. water-cooled four-cylinder die-cast light-alloy engine. Whether young people will regard the Bug as the in-thing in motoring remains to be seen. As someone pointed out, so often, when something is specifically aimed at them, they turn their backs, preferring others not intended originally for teenagers. Look, for instance, at the Mini-Moke, Jeep and Citron 2CV . . . There is also a danger, it seems to us, that if young people are put into gimmicky vehicles they may show-off, become distracted and therefore drive dangerously, whereas in more serious vehicles they take their driving seriously.

However, we note that one monthly was so keen that it published driving impressions of the Bond Bug some days prior to the release date. The thing seemed rather expensive to us at £548 in its simplest form (the “hot” version costs £629). But as it is aimed at young people, when it came along for test we let a girl of nearly 21, who has had ample experience driving fast and slow cars and who uses an ancient VW Beetle as everyday transport, try the Bug. She reports:

“The Bug is noisy, as the engine is inside with you, the bonnet rattles and the stiff suspension gives a very bad ride. Your feet get hot from the proximity of the engine, but draughts come in round the sidescreens, so you are hot below, cold above. With the sidescreens off – they just fit into the boot – the headrest flaps about. There is a rear shelf, but big objects carried thereon obstruct the view and when taking things off the shelf it is all too easy to knock off the cover of the interior lamp. The sidescreens, however, are easy to remove.

“Getting in and out of the Bug would be easier if the canopy handle was better positioned – you have to lean forward to lower the top – and the canopy isn’t properly spring-loaded, which makes climbing out difficult. But I found the seat comfortable and all the controls, apart from the horn-push on the dash, just right for me. A really tall person would hit their knees on the steering-wheel support bar and find the gear-lever too far back, and the pedals too close together.

“But this Bug goes very well, I saw a speedometer 80 m.p.h. on a Motorway, it steers well, with a nice little wheel, and is splendidly narrow, compact and has a small turning-circle for parking. This is fine for shopping! But it feels a little unsafe when cornered fast. [We hear this is worse in the wet – not good in a vehicle intended for young drivers. – Ed.] The lower gears grated and if one’s hand slipped from the gear lever when making a notchy change it could be cut on the elongated flashers’ control. Fuel consumption was 53 m.p.g.

“I would call the Bond Bug a fun car and I quite liked it, but as long-distance transport it is – there’s only one word for it – crude.” – P.B.B.

So much for the Bond Bug. However, there may well be a tricycle renaissance; Mr. Wiggin is optimistic, stating that, although at present levels the three-wheeler population will not exceed that of cars until we reach the frightening total annual sale of 22 million vehicles a year in Britain, which is 127 years away on 1969 figures, Reliant are determined to bring it about very much sooner! They are relying on the £10 tax (against £25), cheap insurance (the Bug is rated Group 1) and low running costs and compact parking of the three- versus the four-wheeler.

We haven’t the foggiest idea what future Reliant and Bond tricycles will be like, but we do feel that there might be a market for a sports three-wheeler with two wheels in front and one behind and that if we were making one we would investigate the possibility of using DAF or BMW components for it. There would presumably be plenty of their well-proved air-cooled flat-twin engines available, in 746 c.c. or 844 c.c. form, and one-half of their effective, precision-made Variomatic belt-drive transmission would seem to be just the job for driving the back wheel, to make a tricycle serving both a ladies’ shopping-mount and a 70 m.p.h. sports three-wheeler for avid ex-Morgan enthusiasts, or perhaps a flat-twin BMW engine with the traditional shaft-drive?

Precision Engineering

Driving through Newtown, in Montgomeryshire, which flourished with the handloom flannel weaving industry of 1831 but introduced steam-weaving too late (the Cambrian Mills were destroyed by fire in 1912), we called at the premises of Price & Orphin Ltd., where Bill Blyth, Ken Wharton’s one-time racing mechanic, is Works Manager. Expecting to find a small two-man business looking for orders, we had an appreciable surprise, because in this small Welsh town with a population of 5,500, which is divided by the River Severn, crossed at one point by a concrete bridge which replaces a wooden bridge washed away as recently as 1929, this firm of precision engineers occupies one of the best-equipped machine-tool factories we have seen, outside the Motor Industry itself. It originates from the partnership of two brothers in the Midlands, who made parts for the Aircraft Industry until they were bombed out. They then moved to Newtown, occupying a 200-year-old woollen mill which had served during the war as a Ministry of Supply food depot. Here they developed one of the best laid-out, most spacious engineering shops it has been our good fortune to look over. The original shops are now the stores, the grinding shop was added about eight years ago, the office block in the last two years. Here a staff of 110 make all manner of parts, from washers and suchlike to aero engines. The majority of the output consists of aircraft and aero-engine components, for Concorde, BAC III, VC 10, Spey Phantom and the like, together with hovercraft parts, components for jet-engine fuel systems, industrial hydraulic pumps and hypersonic wind-tunnel equipment, etc.

But, perhaps because of the presence of Mr. Blyth and Mr. E. H. Davies, Works Director, this ultra-modern 20,000 sq. ft. factory also makes racing-car components. After Weslake pulled out they made blocks and rods, etc., for the Eagle V12 and were working on a three-valve Eagle head when the project folded so far as Britain was concerned. Currently they are making BRM parts, for the V12 and V8 engines, some BRM chassis parts, and are machining the cylinder heads of a new engine for a big organisation which, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, flatters Keith Duckworth because it has four valves per cylinder. Con.-rods for the Vauxhall-based Lotus four-valve engines was another undertaking. The tools for this work make an imposing array, in this well-lit and efficiently-planned factory in the shadow of the Welsh hills. Price & Orphin have two of the latest Japanese centre lathes, eight Swiss jig borers, a tape-controlled Vero 1000 machine, Selson and Ikegai lathes, Gallicop copying lathes, etc. Every part they make is inspected, in the MOA-staffed Inspection Department. They make their own tools, have their own heat-treatment shop, even run an Apprentices’ Training School. This computerised, comprehensively equipped precision engineering works is not exactly the sort of factory you expect to find in a remote Welsh town!

Ferrari Owners’ Club

On the Saturday afternoon of the Spring Holiday weekend Ferraris gathered from all parts of the country at the Bramley home of David Griffiths-Hughes, himself a GTB owner. This was the first social, as distinct from sporting, gathering of the Ferrari Owners’ Club and the owner of Scotsland Farm very sportingly opened the magnificent gardens to the Ferraris, pride of place on the lawns being taken by David Clarke’s ex-works Ferrari P4, thought to be the actual car that Vaccarella crashed so spectacularly in Collesano on the first lap of the 1967 Targa Florio. With the P4 as a centre-piece roadgoing Ferraris came from all directions and were parked in a circle around the edge of the lawns, there being 23 in all, ranging from Peter Hampton’s glorious Mille Miglia coupe to three brand-new Daytona coupes, the latest 4.4-litre four-camshaft V12s from Maranello. Looking a little self-conscious among all the V12-engined cars was Maurice Baring’s immaculate little Dino 246GT, with transverse rear-mounted V6 engine, and wearing a small Ferrari badge under the nose cowling to show its ancestry.

The delightfully informal garden-party atmosphere of this gathering with exotic cars and enthusiastic owners was very reminiscent of the Bugatti Owners’ Club gatherings in the heyday of the manufactore of the French cars, such as the early Prescott meeting when the works 4.7-litre single-seater was driven by Jean-Pierre Wimille and new 57SC models were in vogue. It was interesting that among the assembled company were numerous Bugatti owners who are also Ferrari owners and vice-versa.