Around and about, June 1976

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Living in a Grandstand

There’s something rather special about taking afternoon tea in the comfort and shelter of your own home as a posse of Formula One cars blares past just yards from your window. Revelling in the warmth of gas central heating as other fans shiver in the biting wind blowing across the wastes of the old Silverstone airfield. Then, as the wind drops and the sun peers shyly through the clouds, climbing a built-in ladder to the roof of your home for a grandstand view of the excitement, or, in the case of the Silverstone International Trophy Race, lack of excitement.

Thanks to Alan Foster, the former Dick Jacobs MG driver and now amiable boss of the London Sports Car Centre at Edgware, we had exactly those facilities for that Silverstone meeting. Apart from selling a wide range of sports cars, Foster has a sideline in importing super luxury mobile borne from the US. Most of them are second-hand Winnebagos, though recently he has become an agent for brand-new and more compact Titans, and it was one of thee Winnebagos, a 1972, 20 ft. long Winnebago Brave, that he loaned us for that Northamptonshire weekend.

The specification of this 30,000-mile-old semi-mammoth was quite breathtaking: gas central heating; full air-conditioning; fridge with freezer compartment; hot and cold running water, shower and flush toilet worked by pressurising the main water tank; an auxiliary petrol-driven generator; electric lighting; plus 5/6 beds and loads of cupboard and seating space. Unfortunately, in view of the tedious International Trophy, the television had been removed, though its wind-up roof aerial remained in place.

This pantechnicon-sized vehicle was propelled by a 6.3-litre, Chrysler V8 petrol engine, had automatic transmission, excellent power brakes and power assistance for the steering wheel in front of the left-hand seat. Top speed, slowed by emission equipment, proved to be about 65 m.p.h., the steering was vague, yet we had great fun exploiting what proved to be surprisingly reasonable (comparatively speaking) handling. Its drawback was a thirst of something like eight miles per two-star gallon, including occasional use of the generator, but this was nothing to the joy of waking up to bacon and eggs in the middle of Silverstone on the Sunday morning, having not had to bother about driving home after the previous day’s practice nor had to frustrate ourselves in the race day traffic queue. We could have made such luxury permanent by forking out £5,695 (perhaps less with haggling) to Alan Foster, who tells us that a new Winnebago Brave would cost about £14„000.

There’s No Business Like Grand Prix Showbusiness

As if to confirm that the name of the Formula One game has become “Showbiz”, not motor racing for motor racing’s sake, John Webb and co. have organised an all-singing, all-dancing, all-glittering Grand Prix Night of the Stars at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday, July 13th. Their idea is to focus nationwide attention on the British Grand Prix to be held at Brands Hatch 5 days later; more money in the MCD coffers and more traffic jams on the way there, in other words. “For the first time”, we’re told, “the public at large will have the opportunity to see the familiar heroes of the Grand Prix World taking their place beside internationally famous artists from the world of television and the theatre in an evening designed to put the glamour back into Grand Prix racing”.

So far as this writer is concerned there’s only One place the glamour can be put back into Grand Prix racing and that’s on the racing circuit in racing cars, running competitive races instead of processions, showing more concern for the needs of the motor racing public instead of internal politics and high finance. Super, Shirley Bassey will be on stage at the Albert Hall, which is where she belongs, but the drivers belong on the circuit, not on the stage, where it’s intended they’ll be on this occasion, much to their embarrassment, no doubt.

One good thing: half the profits will go to the Graham Hill Appeal Fund, to help the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital. The rest will be donated to the Lord’s Taverners.

Advance bookings for this extravaganza can be made via Brands Hatch Circuit. Seat prices range from £6.50 in the stalls to k, 1 on the Balcony; boxes are available with private, licensed catering from £30 for a box for four to £500 for a-Grand Tier box.

Don Safety Award

The Don Safety Award for 1975 has gone to Volvo for the Volvo 244 saloon, in recognition of Volvo’s “philosophy of safety which goes beyond the mere acceptance of minimum Standards laid down by international legislation by seeking constantly to improve and innovate in the field of safety, engineering”. The Trophy was presented to Mr. Robert Dethorey, Senior Vice-President of A.B. Volvo, by Princess Margaretha of Sweden at a lunch in London.

Interestingly, we learn that we in Britain have rather more than a small hand in Volvo’s winning of the Award. Some 225 British suppliers help feed the Volvo factory in Gothenberg to the tune of £60 million annually. Among these British contributions are brake pads, brakes, transmission shafts, universal joints, wheels, tyres, window mechanisms, safety glass, heated rear screens, webbing, carburetters, seals, pistons, clutch plates, automatic gearboxes, shock-absorbers, coil springs, camshafts, sheet steel plus many forgings and pressings. We British make great Swedish cars!

Rubery Owen’s “Rosafe” road wheel received a special commendation from the Award Adjudicating Panel. Last year the Don Safety Trophy went to the Lotus Elite.

Lyons Award

Aspiring young motoring journalists might like to further their ambitions by entering for the Guild of Motoring Writers’ 1976 Sir William Lyons Award. The competition is open to persons under the age of 22 on August 31st, the final date for entries. It involves two written exercises, one a news story to be written in the style of a wellknown motoring feature, the other an interview with a motor dealer or police traffic officer relating to car warranties and local traffic problems. Tempting awards to make the effort worthwhile include £250 cash, part of which must be put towards furthering the winner’s career in motoring journalism, a trophy, the opportunity to spend a week working with the editorial department of a magazine or newspaper of his choice and a two-year probationary membership of the Guild.

Regulations can be obtained from Mrs. Jenny Brittan, General Secretary, The Guild of Motoring Writers, Talbot House, Broadlands Road, London N6 4AN.

Regie Renault’s revisions

Some important changes have been made to Renault’s UK offerings in the coupe and cinq ranges. From now on the coupes will be marketed in 15GTL and 17TS guise only (the fuel injected Gordini is discontinued along with the cheapest 15TL model) and a new 5GTL augments the 5TL/5TS small cars, offering genuine economy under hard driving through a cleverly developed version of the 1289 c.c. (R12) motor.

We drove all three cars for about 100 British miles apiece and came away most impressed with the engineering of the latest 5. The Regie’s development of the tough, five-bearing crankshaft engine has yielded 44 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m. from this slightly long stroke (73 by 77 mm.) four cylinder. This is a deliberate case of throttling the engine which gives 65 b.h.p. in 5TS sporting guise via a stop on the puny Solex 32 SE1 carburetter, and breathing modifications that are claimed to provide maximum torque at 2,000 r.p.m. (from 1.3 litres!) and 62.2 lb. ft.

Taking advantage of this torque curve is a 3.1:1 final drive, the four-speed gearbox operated by the same standard floor-mounted gearchange that was introduced on the 5TS. The immediate saving in fuel and, probably even more significant to high mileage motorists, wear and tear can be judged from the fact that the economy ‘conscious 5GTL is revving at only 3,720 r.p.m. to cover 75 m.p.h., while the same speed is equivalent to 5,040 r.p.m. in the 956 c.c. 5TL, and 4,400 r.p.m. in the 1289 c.c. 5TS. To emphasise the genuine fuel economy possible with the 5GTL, Renault GB cunningly set journalists a double-edged challenge. One could either drive as fast as possible, as far as possible, striving for the worst possible m.p.g., or potter gently in the hope of achieving a worthwhile figure. After four days of testing, the results showed that the car our man had shared with a keen rally navigator from What Car? had covered rather more miles than anybody else, but had by no means the worst m.p.g. figure. Over 155 miles of varied going (including a friend’s private estate, officer) the little Renault spent as much time as possible near its 84 m.p.h. maximum, or recording speeds of 30, 55 and 75 m.p.h. in the gears, and the result was 40.8 m.p.g. Average m.p.g. for the first day was 45.4 m.p.g., but average for other days of journalistic testing were all in the 53 m.p.g. area, so this £1,849.77 GTL (“ours” had a £23.87 cloth seat covering and £14.74 metallic paintwork option) should do nothing but enhance Renault’s recent reputation for sensibly engineered economy.

There are those of us who find economy boring and saloon cars of the Renault ilk even more so, and Regie has thought of them too. In France (and it is only for sale there in the foreseeable future) they now have the 1397 c.c. Renault 5 Alpine A5 with 93 b.h.p., five-speed gearbox and a reputed to 5 m.p.h. plus capability!

Also on the menu were the revised coupe’s, which have a new dashpanel and instrumentation similar to the 30TS V6 models, new front and back styling and, in the case of the 17TS, some fabulous seats that fit the body contours, via sprung pads, to allow a really tailored perch for most shapes and sizes.

The 1289 c.c. 5GTL version has 60 b.h.p. and little appeal that I could detect at £2,428.92 for enthusiast use when you compare it against competition like the Opel Manta, Mazda coups and the Ford Capri 2s. All of which have more performance and, in the case of the Opel and the Ford, quite sporting handling.

The 17TS has the same rather dead handling and heavily front wheel drive characteristics as the 15, evident in the tug of the steering wheel. However, it does have a rather nice five-speed gearbox (though there were complaints on this score), an adequate 98 b.h.p. from the ex-R16 aluminium 1647 c.c., and those excellent seats for a total of £2,976.48. As luck would have it, J.W. had been driving a rather badly prepared VW Scirocco 1600 the week of the Renault launch, but despite that VW’s stalling and banging, he would rather have that £2,915 three-door VW coupe, or perhaps the £2,677 Capri 3000S, than this rather stolid Gaul. The 17TS is a competent car with a good ride and efficient brakes, but the handling has too much roll and too little steering feel for one to want to own it as a sporting machine.

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