Letters from Readers, June 1969

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

How Long Do Lotus Elans Last?

Sir,

With reference to the letter questioning the longevity of the Lotus Elan, Mr. Holmes’ salesman is off his “rocker” when he states that the Lotus twin-cam unit “just will not do 40,000 miles without a rebuild”.

After three years and 40,000 exhilarating miles I have just parted with my Elan, the engine of which was still in prime condition, and I feel sure it would have done double this mileage before requiring serious attention. My “rebuild” consisted only of new plugs and points every 10,000 miles and occasional adjusting of the carburetters and timing chain. As for the remainder of the car, major replacements have been: two front dampers, two rear wheel bearings, one rubber doughnut, new flywheel ring-sear and a new rack and pinion, all but the last item seem to be recognised Elan failings. Brake pad wear is fairly high, averaging about 12,000 miles per complete set. My second set of tyres (Pirelli Cinturatos) lasted 26,000 miles, the car always returned a fuel consumption of between 27/30 m.p.g.

My conclusion, not a bad score, for three years of really enjoyable driving in what I still consider the best-medium-capacity sports car available. My replacement would certainly have been an Elan +2 if my imminent space-demanding acquisition had not also dictated a diminishing income.

I wonder what Mr. Holmes’ salesman was trying to sell him?

Hyde. Peter O’Brien.

———

Sir,

My 1963 Elan has done 58,000 miles; 40;000 of these in my possession, so perhaps my experiences, albeit perhaps not typical, can put Mr. Holmes’ mind at rest or otherwise.

Knowing the history of the car, I acquired it with 18,000 miles on the clock. After 14,000 miles the drive was changed to I.h.d. and I brought it to Belgium, having up to that time experienced nothing untoward.

At 22,300 miles it blew up. A con.-rod broke at only 4,500 r.p.m., wrecking the bottom half of the engine. The agents informed me that this was a design fault in all the early 1,558 c.c. twin-cam engines, but that this had been completely cured in later Elans by the introduction of bigger con.-rods with larger big-end bolts called C-Type rods. I inherited the car with an apparently incurable flat spot over 4,000 r.p.m., getting worse with an increase in r.p.m., yet completely absent below 4,000 r.p.m. On rebuilding the engine this disappeared. Since then the engine has given no trouble at all and has required less attention than an equivalent push-rod engine and still sounds as quiet as the day it was rebuilt. I must add, however, that I never cruise over 5,000 r.p.m. and never has the engine gone “into the red”. It still gives 800 m.p.p. of Castrol GTX, but on hot days there is just a hint that the flat spot is returning.

I do not think that Mr. Holmes need have the slightest worry over the engine even after 50,000 miles, provided, of course; that it has C-Type rods. The front suspension, rear wheel bearings, doughnuts, etc., raise serious doubt as to the car’s viability for constant use on French and Belgian roads, however.

Paris. C. Fuchter.

———

Sir,

Judging from my own experience, Mr. Holmes, whose letter was published in the April issue, is lucky to have found an Elan which has survived 30,000 miles. Despite continued pressure by my solicitor, my new Elan +2 was not delivered until February, 1969, four months after the promise of a new one to replace one with 68 faults experienced. Just prior to delivery of the new car I negotiated the sale of it, so to my relief I have now entirely severed my connections with this make of car. Whilst I have never doubted the design concept, I am appalled at the execution and at the after-sales attention which I have experienced.

The car was purchased from the Gold Seal Car Co., Ltd., New Cross, London, in January, 1968. Its sad history in my hands was: as follows:—
5.1.68.—Within the first 160 miles the speedo. drive had broken and the fuel and temperature gauge went haywire.
22.3.68.—Car returned to Lotus for attention to a list of 33 faults, including low oil pressure, high oil consumption, clutch judder and sundry electrical and other faults. Lotus kept the car for four weeks to attend to these. New engine requested but not supplied.
6.5.68.—Car taken to a Lotus Agent for attention to burnt exhaust valves. The fault was diagnosed as due to incorrect initial fitting. Pre the second time a replacement engine was requested, but refused.
8.6.68.—Differential and chassis part company.
10.6.68.—Managing Director was telexed and asked to arrange removal and replacement of car. Car collected 19th.
18.6.68.—Prior to collection the wheelbase was found to be 11/16 in. short one side and 5/16 in. short the other. Rear wheel toe-in was 3/8 in.—twice the maximum permitted tolerance.
28.6.68.—After three requests for information a list of 13 faults was received from Lotus. The-owner’s list contained 23 items that time.
5.7.68.—Promise received from the Service Manager to put the request for a new car before the Managing Director for early attention. Nothing happened.
12.8.68.—Solicitors instructed to obtain replacement vehicle or claim damages.
30.8.68.—Without prior warning or arrangement an attempt was made to re-deliver the old car. Delivery refused pending reply to solicitor’s letter.
9.9.68.—Reply sent by Managing Director of Lotus to owner’s solicitor maintaining that the car was now up to their standard of quality. (This alter the third major repairs in six months)
8.10.68.—After pressure by solicitor, offer received from Lotus of replacement car in component form in ex-gratia exchange.
9.10.68.—Offer accepted with a request for a contribution towards hire costs amounting then to £131. Lotus refuse to contribute.
10.10.68.—Offer accepted. Delivery date requested. NO reply.
16.10.68.—Reminder to Lotus requesting reply.
24.10.68.—Lotus refuse to allow telephone conversation with Mr. Colin Chapman. Owner writes to Mr. Chapman.
28.10.68.—Reply to above sent by Mr. Chapman’s secretary promising to try to expedite delivery.
6.11.68.—Lotus reply to further reminder that the matter is being given top priority.
1.1.69.—Lotus notify a car is ready for collection.
Out of 52 weeks the Lotus was on the road for 16 weeks only.

Licence cost .. £17 10s. 0d.
Insurance .. £29 14s. 6d.
Sundry repairs.-etc. .. £19 0s. 6d.
Hire of alternative transport .. £376 3s. 6d.
Total .. £442 8s. 6d.

This has been offered to me as Lotus Quality and Reliability Service so widely advertised.

Mirfield. David N. France.

[This correspondence is now closed.—Ed.]

* * *

Petrol Prices

Sir,

The day following the Budget announcement that an additional 2d. tax would be payable on each gallon of petrol, I purchased four gallons from my local garage. A swift calculation showed that I was being asked to pay an additional 10d., i.e., 2½d. per gallon extra.

I tackled the proprietor about this and I quote: “Following last night’s Budget announcement, I received a telephone call from the petrol company informing me that as the half-penny would soon be withdrawn from circulation, all petrol prices containing ½d. in them were to be rounded off to the nearest penny, i.e., increased by 2½d.”

It would appear that the petrol companies have once again climbed on the band wagon through the back door, as I have seen no national announcement to this effect.

The company concerned is National Benzoic and I would like to know if all companies have adopted this practice and if it is a national occurrence. If not, I can soon find another local garage!

Telford. R. M. Smith.

* * *

The Triumph 2.5PI Road Test

Sir,

While I appreciate the “other man’s” opinion, I could not let that on the Triumph 2.5PI go without comment.

Your views on the PI (as on the 2000) are, as you say, personal. However, the sales figures you state at the beginning of the article would suggest that a great many people do not follow the same opinion.

“The luckless driver of a Triumph is dazzled indeed.” I have driven a Triumph 2000 for many miles and have not had this experience from the cluster of indicator lamps you refer to. The main-beam warning light is a very subdued blue and just sufficient warning that the headlights are full on. The choke Warning light is bright, I admit, and a good job it is, too. At least one does not drive on the choke for miles. Finally on this point I think it is a good idea to be warned of any ailments by lights as this way they are soon noticed. To have them all in one place is both neat and practical.

I do not find the interior either “fussy” or “cheap”. I find it neat and well designed with all the instruments and switches where they should be—in front of the driver. The highly-polished veneered wood blends well into the contours of the remainder of the dashboard and creates an interesting shape.

I find the gear-change positive, direct and extremely well positioned. The brakes certainly match the performance of the car, being both sensitive and efficient.

These, of course, are “my personal impressions”, but I have not yet met an unsatisfied Triumph owner or one complaining of the “dead feel of ride and steering”. Finally, in case there are any suggestions that I should try a comparison with a Rover, I have and I find the TC impressive.

Newton Abbot. J. A. Corah.

* * *

Spa—For and Against D.S.J.

Sir,

Thank heavens for Denis Jenkinson, who brings a note of sanity to the “safety Grand Prix controversy”.

If the circus stars think that their circuits are too dangerous may I suggest that they take up cycle-racing, professionally, of course, and ride the Tours of France or Italy. Then, coming down a wet mountain-side (the Stelvio can be very nasty in the spring thaw) with tyres only 1 in. wide, perhaps a quarter of that width on the road, and with exposed cable brakes gripping wet rims, they would really find out what danger is about. In the dry it is bad enough, riders have been timed at over 100 k.p.h. In the wet the organisers merely ensure that all non-essential traffic—like following journalists’ cars—are not allowed near the road when the riders are descending, so that the latter have an opportunity not to be blocked by slow drivers.

Of course the reason they do this is simple. If they are not prepared to go fast down the maintain they lose the race, or someone else will take their jealously-guarded place in the team—in other words, competition.

Would that motor race organisers would take Jenk’s advice and use those drivers who are prepared to race on Spa, and show up those who think that motor-racing is only going fast, and not going fast in frightful conditions. Life is had enough with “recommended speed limits” for prams in this country, without chicken-hearted Grand Prix drivers, too.

Alan Gayfer, Editor of Cycling.

———

Sir,

Hoo-bloody-ray! At last somebody has seen the light! Thank you for writing your courageous and naturally outspoken article in last month’s Motor Sport about the current situation in G.P. racing. To see the TRUTH as I see it in print is worth a year’s subscription for the one issue alone.

From reading many articles in a variety of magazines (for I read anything to do with motoring), I had come to the same conclusion as you now have; that is, that the current aces are so overpaid that any obstacle placed in the path of future earning power has got to be removed—as you say, they will disappear up their own exhaust pipes ultimately. Somewhat sadly, I had reached this conclusion about ten months ago shortly after the Jarama “cock-up” of last year, and I even wrote to the Editor of your weekly Motoring News and put the current situation to him as I saw it.

Amongst the various points I made, I said that it was obvious to me that at non-championship F.1 races, at least, the drivers just were not trying to race; that is, we could see a ten-lap “burn-up”, and then having sorted each other out, the next 40 laps would pass without any place changing of significance. As you say, G.P. racing is sick. The result is, of course, that I have not attended an F.1 meeting since the Oulton Park Gold Cup in September, 1967—and at the present rate I am still not thinking of going. I can remember when the prospect of seeing Moss really racing against the clock (and himself) would force me to go, just in case I could witness one of those fantastic performances that happen when a man tries to beat his own target—fat chance of that happening now when the target is to finish and collect the cash. Of course, the tragic historical point is that the successor to Fangio/Moss/Clark is (by their standards) nowhere in sight, for if safety-conscious Stewart is reckoned to be the best, what is the standard of the rest like? ‘Tis a pity I can only watch,

Kidlington, Oxford. L. S. Coleman.

———

Sir,

I feel I must write to express my astonishment and disgust at the views expressed by D.S.J. in his “Continental Notes” concerning the boycott of the Belgian Grand Prix by the G.P.D.A.

Surely the removal of a tree from the outside of a corner does not make a circuit any less challenging or difficult, likewise the erection of safety barriers at strategic points? D.S.J. should be reminded that had safety requirements similar to those demanded at Spa by the G.P.D.A. been met at Hockenheim the irreplaceable Jim Clark would not have died in that needlessly terrible accident.

I hardly think the current crop of “world champions and their cohorts” can be accused of not having “guts” after the performances of Stewart, Hill and the others at the Nurburgring in the rain and fog last year.

Incidentally, it would be interesting to ask Tony Books and Stirling Moss, shown in the picture on the opposite page in 280 b.h.p. Vanwalls, how they would feel about driving today’s 420 b.h.p. Formula One cars at Spa as it is at the moment, especially in wet conditions!

I am sure today’s Grand Prix drivers would feel quite happy to drive the 1958 2½-litre cars shown in that picture in a Belgian Grand Prix at Spa.

Dartford. Brian Belsem.

———

Sir,

I have decided to write this letter because I feel very much aggravated by the opinions expressed in “Continental Notes” last month.

I, and I believe many others, watch motor racing to see plain skill, not blind courage; the word courage is synonymous with stupidity. May I point out to the Continental Correspondent that it is not his job to tell people what to do with their 20- or 30-thousand pound Grand Prix cars, and I would have thought that the extent to which a driver guards his own life is purely a matter for that driver; to try (however unsuccessfully) to talk another into risking his life more than he wishes for one’s own private enjoyment is morally wrong. Obviously ill-founded is the suggestion that entrants and drivers who decide that they do not want to race at Spa in the Belgian Grand Prix should individually refrain from entering; clearly, if one team enters then everybody has to do so with all those valuable points at stake.

I think that, by now, we all know your odd views, D.S.J., so why don’t you just keep to giving us those excellent race reports, provided, that is, you don’t die from injuries received from your special “courage” knives and forks, sharpened at both ends, or your special “courage” all-metal light switches.

Sidcup. R. N. Tooze.

———

Sir,

What a truly magnificent article about the cancellation of the Belgian Grand Prix. I was beginning to think that I was all alone in feeling a deep disgust about this affair, but I see I am not. You have mirrored my thoughts so exactly, so brilliantly, that anything else said would be entirely superfluous.

Motor racing does stink, all down its various levels. Gone are the splendid days of Moss, Hawthorn, Collins, Ascari, Lewis-Evans, Gonzalez, Villoresi, etc. Now we seem to have a soft lot of Union men interested purely in money. The poetry, adventure and sheer Joi de Vivre of motoring seems to have disappeared and we are left with sourness and strife.

Even at the very lowest level in racing, in which I participate—namely, racing old M.G.s—there is a slight “pong” pervading the atmosphere which wasn’t there two years ago. Fortunately, we will never be “big business” so it will never get worse. It is still exciting, and challenging, to drive a supercharged M.G. TC at 100 m.p.h. round Castle Combe or Oulton Park. To the uninitiated it looks ridiculously slow, but some of these cars produce 100 b.h.p. against a standard 55, and can be quite twitchy with their primitive suspension, and mine certainly provides all the challenges I could cope with!

Surely it is not beyond the wits of the car constructors and tyre companies to produce a narrow rain tyre for wet conditions, and still allow high speeds to be reached. Fat tyres and aerofoils have finally killed all my interest in F.1 racing. Give me a vintage or P.V.T. race any time, but not being able to afford a vintage racer, my M.G. TC is an admirable substitute!

Dry Drayton. A. P. Willmer.

———

Sir,

I feel I must take issue with you over your article on the cancelled Belgian Grand Prix (“Continental Notes”—May).

Your statement that the best of our Grand Prix drivers would do better to take up knitting if they have insufficient “guts” to take part in the race at Spa smack of the irresponsible, to say the very least. Perhaps you have already forgotten what happened to the finest driver these islands have ever produced when spun off an unguarded track at Hockenheim. Frankenheimer may have done some good by showing the public what it takes for a driver to have driven through the cloud-burst at Spa in 1966. Not many would have dared!

Surely these men have the right to be reasonably protected in the event of an untimely accident. “Accepting a challenge” is one thing, but what happens when an aerofoil or “wing” breaks off when approaching a particularly dangerous corner? You must not forget that people’s lives are at stake and I for one should not like to determine whether the cost of any safety measures considered necessary by the drivers concerned outweighs the value of their lives. Incidentally, the difference between dying in a crash at 100 m.p.h. and 180 m.p.h. is that at 100 m.p.h. a highly skilled driver is more likely to be able to correct any mistake he may have made, and, as result, live to race again.

For some time now, and I assure you some considerable time to come, I shall enjoy Motor Sport as a “grown-up” sporting monthly, so please get to know the difference between “guts” and over-confidence.

Thank you for such an otherwise excellent magazine.

Tadworth. Alan C. Turner.

[While publishing opposing views on this important subject, W.B. sides with D.S.J. There is a difference between being foolhardy and taking precautions, which is why present-day G.P. drivers dress up in fireproof panties, crash-hats, face masks, and so on, whereas their counterparts, in days when proportion. drversally as many or more front-line drivers died in accidents when they do today, raced in open-neck shirts and linen helmets. But when it comes to not driving as all, which is D.S.J.’s allegation against G.P.D.A. drivers, the thing amounts to lack of “guts”, a quality still possessed, thank St. Christopher, by pilots like Sheila Scott in her single-engined aeroplane, etc., in last month’s Daily Mail Trans-Atlantic Air Race.—Ed.]

* * *

Detrimental to B.M.C.

Sir,

I have just read a report printed in The Times of April 19th in which B.M.C. are being forced to reveal complaints of, to quote, “Sudden uncontrollability of steering for unknown causes”, found in 1,100 c.c. models.

Having enjoyed Motor Sport for many years now, and having taken you at your word on a number of road-tests, I now wonder if you can throw any light on this matter. Although you are not in the “trade” per se, you do find out features which would otherwise be held back from the public.

Some time back I worked for Mercedes-Benz (Great Britain) Ltd. and can swear that when a friend’s new, 8,000 miles, 300 SEH saloon developed chronic troubles many jig-jog course were adopted to keep the truth from the owner.

The reason for writing this letter is that my mother has just bought a new Austin 1100, and, of course, is worried by the enclosed article. To be fair, not too worries as her first 1100 was delivered in August, 1963, and sold in January, 1969, at 52,000 miles and proved very cheap to run, with no failures apart from a generator and clutch bearing.

How pleasant to find in 1969 that the 1100 has synchromesh on all four gears without even being told, and new calliper disc breaks which feel far more powerful and progressive.

I myself am not too worried, having read your article “Traction Avant” some time ago, but when a suspicion is allowed to ripen, mind takes over from matter.

As you will see in the article, the driver seems to state that a wheel collapsed. I can accept that as one of those things, like hitting a kerb. What would worry me is the steering rack breaking up or drive shafts breaking, and/or seizing-up in the c.v. joints.

We shall drive the 1100 as always with a weather-eye open for police and a sympathetic ear for machinery.

Before I close, however, I did read last week in a local paper of an 1100 which turned end over end three times on a straight, clear road, and no other cars were involved. The photograph of the car really gave food for thought

Just to prove that Motor Sport does “work” my late father and I have followed you very closely and not been disappointed. As a result of road-tests we have bought four Jaguars, a Morris 1000, a very smooth Armstrong-Siddeley Sapphire, an Austin and Morris 1100, a Mercedes-Benz 220SE6 and 300SL coupé.

All the cars gave or are still giving very good service. The only real breakage was from an early Jaguar, which broke a gearbox lay-shaft in Scotland.

Your road-test in the Jenson was most interesting, but even with this three-ring circus of a Government, don’t you think it is wildly overpriced?

Hemel Hempstead. M. G. C. Potter.

[This matter so seriously affects the reputation of B.M.C.’s products, especially on the eve of the introduction of the f.w.d. Austin Maxi, that we have asked Lord Stokes to comment.—Ed.]

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