Matters of Moment, June 1972

• Group 1 racing makes the grade

At the beginning of the year there was optimistic speculation about the forthcoming season of Group 1 saloon-car racing. The optimism seems to have been well-founded, because some exciting and, equally as important, instructive races of this kind have now been held. Spectators like to see cars not too dissimilar in close racing between cars not too dissimilar in appearance and specification from those they can buy and have perhaps driven to the circuit. These are, admittedly, very brief and purely local races, but their division into purchase-price classes and the near-standard nature of the competing cars (apart from their tyres) has focused attention on the, for the overall benefit of BMW 2002 Tii saloons (illustrated here, these cars in close company) having completely dominated these Group 1 races so far— writing after eight such races have been contested. This domination by BMW is significant, nor will it be overlooked that the other victorious makes have been Hillman Avenger in the £801-£1,100 category, Ford Escort Sport in the £601-£800 class, and Moskvich 412 in the up-to-£600 section. This is excellent publicity for the cars concerned but longer races would be even more instructive, especially with tyre changes on the standard tool-kit jacks and wheel braces, and refuelling through standard-dimension filler-caps and piping.

Who will be the first organiser of a long-distance or duration, say a one-hour, Group 1 saloon-car race, perhaps as a finale to the 1972 season of these welcome events ?

• Tweaking the Lion’s tail

British cars and the British Motor Industry may not have been exactly on top of the World in recent times and the sales of imported cars have caused as much despondency here as in America. But does this justify the savage attack on us by four journalists, which the New York publication Automobile Quarterly saw fit to mount in its first 1972 issue ? Entitled “What’s the Matter With England ?”, this bitter piece, a discussion between Hogg, Norbye, Fendell and Vorderman, two of whom claim experience of the British Motor Industry and one of whom is English born, decided that we have fine engineers (thanks, Vorderman!) “muzzled by incompetent executives and a dismal labour force among some other things”. Following a lurid illustrated description of a non-existent fictional car, the “Hirondel” (Motor Sport dealt with cars-in-fiction years ago, Incidentally), this anti-British discussion was illustrated with pictures hearing captions such as “MG-C GT: They’ll try to forget it if you will”, “Austin America: Who Needs It ?”, “Austin 1300 GT: Overdesigned, far too complicated”, “Hillman Imp: A monumental fiasco”, “Triumph Spitfire: Should it be spittoon ?”, “Jaguar XJ6: A superb automobile, but where are they ?”, “Lord Stokes: Why is he smiling ?”, “Rover 2000TG: With luck they might sell 1,000 in the US this year”, “Jaguar V12 E-type: Finally it got built”, “Triumph Stag: Nice in its way, but what is it ?”, “The Australian Austin: 2000 times better ?” and “Vauxhall: Even mighty GM makes mistakes”.

The Ford Capri is called “a mite overstyled maybe” (by Americans!) but is admitted to be “terrific value for money”. (Thanks once more, Vorderman.) The Peugeot 504, Datsun 240Z, Toyota Corolla, Volvo 145, Fiat 124 Sport and BMW 2800CS are held up as examples of what “Britain could probably build very well, if only someone over there would start making the right decisions”. What this really boils down to is an attack on Lord Stokes, whom Automobile Quarterly chooses to refer to (Tony Hogg’s words) as “that blow hard—platitudes—a lot of monkey-motion and platitudes”. We do not have space to go through the 14 pages of this loaded anti-British spiel, which, for cheek, far surpasses one of our own motoring journals which last year took to redesigning current British cars regardless of the production and other practical problems their manufacture might involve—how the Industry’s engineers must laugh, when journalists decide to do their jobs for them. . . .!

To Don Vorderman, who engineered this nasty American look at England so soon after sneers from that country at W. O. Bentley, we will just issue a word of warning—the British Lion is used to having its tail tweaked, but be careful not to cause it to show its teeth. No doubt our readers can think of many weaknesses in American cars and the way the automobile industry is conducted in Detroit, but they could scarcely express them as rudely or as cruelly as Vorderman’s team has, in its savage slashing at England (of Sir William Lyons: “I mean, he was bright as hell, but what is he, about 70 now ?”), an overall attack on the lot of us, from Smiths instruments to Stokes. No mention, though, of Dunlop’s recent great tyre breakthrough, which could banish the space-occuping spare wheel, our supremacy in F1 racing, or the exclusiveness of the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, etc.

Don’t let this needle you too much, though. This exposé of us (“An English and an American shoe salesman were travelling in the Congo. The Englishman sent back a telegram: ‘Forget the Congo market. Nobody wears them here.’ The American telegram read: ‘Tremendous market! Nobody’s got them yet!’ “) is sandwiched between five lurid two-page drawings of’ “Horondels” and some diagrams of an equally ficticious soap engine driven by bursting bubbles. This doesn’t smack of very serious automotive thinking. So maybe the thing is intended as a joke. We certainly mustn’t lose our British sense of humour !

• Britain’s best-selling car

Throughout last year British Leyland’s 1100-1300 range sold better than any other cars in Britain. Towards the end of 1971, as Ford of Britain recovered from disastrous strikes and technical setbacks, its Cortina Mk. 3 rose to the top of the sales charts and so far this year it is Britain’s best-selling car. In order to get to know this much-coveted car the Editor has been driving an o.h.c. 1600 GT version and his account of enjoyable and trouble-free motoring in this £1,140.71 model will appear in due course.