Letters from Readers, June 1981

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

Stratos v M1


The Lancia Stratos is indisputably a “homologation special”, but to imply that it is not “a practical, everyday machine”, in J.W.’s road test of the BMW M1 (April 1981) does not in my personal experience do the car justice.

The quality of the interior trim and some aspects of the external finish might cause distress to devotees of certain German cars, but it is in most cases no worse, and in some much better, than the majority of exotic Italian cars of the 1970s. The Stratos, though, stands head and shoulders above most really fast two-seaters when aspects such as accessibility for servicing and luggage space, two of the most important requirements for a so-called practical car, are concerned. A direct comparison of the former with the 246 Ferrari Dino, which uses the same engine, proves the Stratos to be immeasurably easier to work on. One photograph in your road test shows that access to the M1’s engine is a joke, while space for luggage is referred to as being minimal. That in the Stratos is certainly adequate for a week’s luggage for two, providing thermos flasks are substituted for picnic hampers. I also note in passing that the M1 and the vast majority of latter day “supercars” have room only for “space saver” spare tyres. The Stratos appears to be old fashioned in this respect.

The biggest obvious difference in approach between German and Italian car makers is in matters of “style”. The Stratos shape is one of the most outrageous ever, either loved or loathed, being more accurately described as “space age” in most people’s minds than any other car. It’s practical too. The attractive frontal aspect apart, and notwithstanding the connection with Lamborghini at one time, the M1 looks bricklike in comparison.

It is sad that the production Stratos seems to have been hastily built in some respects, giving many motoring journalists in the past a misleading impression of the car’s road behaviour, as one of the most unpredictable mid-engined cars. The suspension on my car has recently been adjusted to the correct settings for the first time, and I would rate the handling of the car very highly, even in extremes. The way the car can be balanced on throttle is most exhilarating, perhaps in a way that drivers of “D” type Jaguars, amongst few other cars, will have experienced.

Olney, Bucks

Alex Moore

Peugeot Problems


Having obtained a fairly favourable opinion of Peugeots through various reports and bearing in mind the company’s reputation for solid engineering I purchased a 1977 ZS Coupe and thoroughly enjoyed the first 30,000 trouble-free miles.

However at this mileage water consumption started and the vehicle was checked at various times for suspected external leaks.

At 40,000 miles water consumption had increased to 100 miles per pint and my local supplier took the car in and removed the cylinder head. Three hundred and fifty pounds later my car was returned and I received assurance that the modified gasket and head stud set fitted would cure the problem.

At 40,000 miles the car was back with my agent, water consumption again being 100 miles to the pint or should I say 280 kilometres to the litre.

One hundred and eighty-seven pounds later Peugeot motoring was restored to almost immediate subsidy from the Water Authority, accordingly payment to the agents was withheld.

My car now rests with the concessionaire: upon payment of not more than six hundred pounds, I may once again be in a position to enjoy Peugeot’s “Economy” motoring.

Yate, Bristol

C.K. Luton

Bond Formula Junior


Seeing Mr. Pearson’s letter in the March copy of Motor Sport reminded me of an aluminium and fibreglass Formula Junior car constructed in 1961/62 by Laurie Bond. I presume that Mr. Bond drew heavily on his Berkeley car designs when he drew up the specification for his Junior, for not only did he employ lightweight construction but also front wheel drive. This, of course, was a very unusual feature on Juniors of that era. It seems that only four cars were constructed, one of which was raced by the ex-Berkeley works driver John Goddard-Watts. It would appear that the cars were not successful and little has been heard of them since. Should any Motor Sport readers have any further knowledge of the cars, or their present whereabouts, perhaps they would like to contact me.

Gerrards Cross, Bucks

N.J. Halliday

[Letters can be forwarded]

Caveat Emptor


I have read with interest the articles by Dennis Jenkinson on the proliferation of reproduction cars which may or may not be passed off as original by unscrupulous individuals.

Another issue which goes hand in hand with this practice is the creation of a history for an original car which makes it more saleable. I was surprised to see advertised in your May 1981 issue, by a dealer incidentally, the Riley 9 which finished 5th at Le Mans in 1934. The reason why I am surprised is quite simple, the car which finished 5th at Le Mans that year resides in my garage, specifically VC8304, winner of the 1932 TT driven by Whitecroft. VC8304 finished 4th in the 1933 Le Mans race as well as 5th the following year, driven by Von Der Becke and Peacock in both races.

The car advertised in your magazine is, I believe, the factory car entered in the 1933 Le Mans race and driven by De La Roche and Sibilleau which retired. This car was not entered in the 1934 race, VC8304 being the only Brooklands entered that year.

I am sure the dealer in question did not knowingly make a false claim in this case, however, by not verifying historical claims before they are advertised, the credibility of creative histories is reinforced.

California, USA

Rodney Smith

Mercedes W125 Power


Two of the accepted truths about the 1937 W125 cars among motor racing historians are (1) that it revived the use of the De Dion axle and (2) that its power rating was as high as 646 horsepower. I see that both of these views are put forward on page 621 of your May, 1981 issue. As I discovered while working on my book, and as I reported therein, neither is correct. Your readers may be interested in what I found.

The De Dion axle, according to the principles described in your article, was introduced and used in the 1935 Grand Prix Mercedes-Benz. The description of it in my book was based on a sketch made for me some years earlier by lng. Josef Muller; no photo of the axle existed, to my knowledge. Four years later I saw the 1936 chassis, I believe unique, now owned by Count Donhoff, and saw, to my pleasure, that it conformed to my description!

The engine of the 1937 Grand Prix Mercedes-Benz was the 5,660 c.c. eight-cylinder W125, used only that one season in Grand Prix racing. I had access to all the test data for the engines used during the season, and based on this I wrote, “On the normal [racing] blend the W125 engines that were leaving the two Scheerer test benches were producing between 550 and 575 b.h.p. toward the end of 1937. On WW fuel [used only in testing, as its consumption rate was too high for racing] the range was between 580 and 610 b.h.p.”

Where, you may well ask, did the 646 b.h.p. figure come from? I found that there vvas a factual basis for it. At the end of 1937 W125 engine number 9 was fitted with a supplementary boost-controlled carburetter and tested with WW fuel, neither having been used in Grand Prix racing. The engine was built to be available as a standby unit for the October Record Week. On October 19, seventeen days after its Grand Prix career had ended, it produced 646 b.h.p. at 5,800 r.p.m. In fact its gross power output was 788 b.h.p., for 142 horsepower were required to drive the Roots supercharger. The engine was unsuccessful in its record-breaking role. A similar unit was used in training for hilIclimbing in 1938, but was not raced as its throttle response was considered too “problematic”.

London NW1

Karl E. Ludvigsen

Alta Recollections


D.S.J.’s interesting article on Alta history has motivated me to assemble a few memories of a 2-litre blown sports Alta owned by me for just over a year during 1961 and 1962. My Alta was ex John Heath and a truly impressive sports car by any standards. The exhaust system had the lot! An enormous bunch of bananas, Brooklands silencer beneath the driver’s right elbow and a fishtail for good measure. There was a huge Roots supercharger sucking through a 2″ SU, I remember 8-10 p.s.i. as being the normal reading on the boost gauge; a highly sophisticated light alloy, twin cam engine of 1,990 c.c. with wet liners, ENV110 preselector gearbox, 16″ brake drums, no doors, flared wings, rounded tail and aeroscreens completed the ensemble. I now know that only seven sports Altas with 1 1/2 or 2-litre engines were ever made. Although I didn’t appreciate the fact at the time, this was a pure-bred racing car with an extra seat and a few less pounds boost: a sort of road-going ERA.

I bought her from John Grice at the VSCC Prescott meeting in 1961 for £375. The delicious whiff of Castrol R which seemed to permeate every inch of the car was certainly a deciding factor in the purchase. I towed her home behind my 1927 2-litre Lagonda.

The Alta, for all its complexity and state of tune, turned out to be entirely usable and reliable. The only trouble I experienced was with the ENV gearbox. In theory, the friction bands in these gearboxes are self-adjusting as long as the gear-change pedal is pushed to its limit each time before being released. Competitive acceleration through the gears in a potent car usually means rather hurried pedal work and consequently the linings slipped, became hot and bothered and wore out quickly. The mechanics at a local corporation bus depot proved exceedingly helpful and knowledgeable about the repair of pre-selector boxes.

The excellent braking, direct steering, stiff suspension and predictable handling allied to shattering acceleration up to an easy 100 m.p.h. meant that twisty roads became twistier and the long straight bits shorter and narrower, which makes for a far more interesting and exciting journey and is what sports car motoring is all about.

I became an avid Alta fan and began to read up and research all the literature I could unearth on the marque. I found many references to what must have been my car when compaigned by John Heath in the years immediately prior to and after the war. Birmingham’s Central Reference Library was particularly helpful. But, the more I read, the more I began to discover that the highly developed blown engine that I had been using for trips to the pub, shopping and general daily use, much as one might use a TR2, had a long and, to me, disturbing history of unreliability and fragility. The gas-filled rings separating coolant from combustion chamber, previously the objects of purely academic interest, now became the cause of increasing awe and considerable respect. Temporarily putting pessimistic thoughts to the back on my mind I continued to treat the Alta as if I expected it to be utterly dependable and, luckily, so it was.

I entered the occasional sprint and continued to enjoy the car, but my growing knowledge of Alta matters brought on an increasing awareness that I was driving an exclusive, and rather precious motor car. And, more to the point, any serious mechanical failure could entail financial disaster, thus I reluctantly decided to sell her. One of my advertisements in Motor Sport eventually produced a buyer, at £400. It was with mixed feelings that I watched her being driven away to Weston-super-Mare, I think it was, before going to America.

GPL3 came back to England in 1978, thanks to Dan Margulies, and I think he still has the car. Apparently several undignified modifications were carried out in the States and she can never properly be called “original” again.

How things have changed in 20 years with the exception, in the nicest possible way, of Motor Sport.

Stoulton, Worcs 

P. Bevis