Readers' Letters, June 1984, June 1984

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Final Fling?

Sir,

In my middle seventies, buying perhaps the last car of all, my sympathies are all with Doctor Faustus who traded in his soul to regain his youth. For that’s what I want in my final fling: the fun, the panache, of motoring as opposed to the hassle of getting from home to work on a set of wheels.

Catch 22 is my limited budget to acquire a car that fits the bill. I can scrape together £3,000 at most, plus whatever I can get for an HPE 2000, the last in a long love affair with Lancias.

All suggestions are welcome, but it must be something with real style, a modern car that stands a chance of recognition as a classic in the years ahead.

The trouble is that I get misty-eyed about the elegance of cars I owned in the long ago. A blown two-litre Lagonda tourer with cycle wings. An Auburn roadster with huge chromed outside ports. Early 401 and 403 Bristols. And, perhaps most of all, one of the last Paris-Nice Hotchkiss saloons to come off the line. Style? Those cars had it from tip to tail. They were individual, distinctive. Today you can hardly tell one marque from another in the half-light. Where styling thrives today is in the design of some of the new alloy wheels: and that’s an exciting trend, as important to a car as a jaunty hat to a pretty woman.

Do I hear readers urging me to go the whole hog and restore an old classic? Too expensive unless you can do it yourself, and I haven’t the facilities. So what else? I covet a Morgan or a Porsche but even the older ones are well above my budget. I look at ageing Daimlers, Jaguars and Scimitars. Stylish and comfortable, yes. But I intend to limit myself to an engine of 1,500 cc in the pious hope that I can find something with vivacity that doesn’t clobber me with Group 6 insurance.

Again and again I find myself rejecting nice cars because, to my old eyes, they haven’t got The Look that proclaims a classic. Or because everyone has got one. Or because they are solid and chunky and designed to hold families of four or five, not a stupid old codger in search of his youth again. Go on, say it. Old men haven’t the reactions to drive a fast car. I don’t want to be first away at the lights. I just want the feel of driving a thoroughbred that can gallop on the safe stretches. Two weeks have gone by since I started this letter and events have overtaken me. The Lancia HPE 2000 has been traded in and I have embarked on my final fling (if that is what it proves to be) in an Alfa Romeo Sprint Veloce from Polaris, the Hindhead dealers.

Its condition is excellent. Its mileage for a 1982 model is under average. And it pleases me every time! look at it. Insurance? Group 5 thanks to the 50+ Plan operated by Sun Alliance. Only one thing needed to be done, in my opinion, to make it perfect. I swapped the multi-spoke type wheels for a set of very smart Speedline alloys with Michelin tubeless TRX radials.

Despite a common rumour in the trade that Italian cars are designed for gorillas with short legs and long arms, the Alfa allows my six-foot frame plenty of leg-stretch. Yes, I love it. But I still wonder at times: did I overlook something in my search? Obviously readers will tell me!

Lower Froyle Paul Boyle

Twin-cam Elites

Sir,

Your correspondent N. H. Lancaster may be interested to know that the twin cam Elite — MPW 804E built by David Lazenby for his own use — was purchased by me several years ago and in a very poor state. This car was rebuilt in our workshops and put back on 15 in 48 spoke wires (from 13 in Minilites) mainly to restore the balance and delicacy of the design, but almost certainly to the slight detriment of the ultimate roadholding. We also took the opportunity of fitting the highest possible diff (3.7) which gives a reasonably relaxed 19 mph per 1,000 rpm cruising in top gear.

The Twin Cam engine sits very well back in the engine bay and in my opinion the car exhibits none of the nose-heaviness and terminal understeer with which it has been tagged. However, it is true to say that to enter a corner too fast on a trailing throttle invites a few uncomfortable surprises and that “slow in, fast out” is both tidier and far more satisfying.

In fact, on reflection, this is one Lotus that has provided pleasurable, reliable and temperament free motoring throughout my ownership and I am sure not too many Lotus owners can say that!

Faversham Peter Rix

BL Bouncing Back?

Sir,

M.L.C. must have been somewhat tongue-in-cheek when listing in the April editorial the range of cars now being produced by British Leyland that are “much in demand”. Cars such as Morris and Triumph may be much in demand, but as you have previously observed, any demand for Morris will, in future, only be met by vans! An aggressive marketing man somewhere in BL has decided that cars can no longer be sold under a name which conveys to the public traditional values of reliable and inexpensive motoring. Bouncing back BL may seem to be, but how much more successful they could be if they would learn from their mistakes and really give the British public the range of choice they demand and observe. W.B. quoted Sir Michael Edwardes as saying “You mess around with the famous marque names that are loved and cherished by motor enthusiasts at your peril!”. Millions of Britons will echo that sentiment and, hopefully, the BL marketing men will regain their senses before the chance for real success finally slips through their grasp.

Cardiff Tom Bourne,

Public Relations Officer,

Morris Register.

On a Shoestring

Sir,

After having read your superb publication since about 1947, I feel I owe a contribution. My connection with true motorsport is somewhat nebulous, like attending the odd meeting at Oulton Park and helping the late Harry Killick of Bowdon push his 1½-litre Aston Martin out of the garage, back in the distant days of 1952. This was, of course, long past Killick’s motorcycle racing and Flying-Flea days. I have wondered what happened to this boat-tailed Aston with its aero-screens and cowled radiator in the manner of the LSR Sunbeam. I believe it would be about 1929 or 1930. He once told meet cost him £100 second-hand, before the War.

At that time I had a very moth-eaten Austin 10 Lichfield, which never let me down in spite of its sad condition. In the manner of these cars it stopped with difficulty, even after fitting new brake cables. In the course of a week or two these stretched to some tune and the slack had to be taken up with adjusters which clamped on the cables, their numbers increasing rapidly until a peep under the car revealed a sight like a steel washing line replete with pegs every few inches. This Austin possessed very little compression when I bought it (in part exchange for an old Norton 16H motorcycle) and this did not improve during my three years’ ownership. In 1951 it took myself and parents on tour of the South of England from Cheshire, calling at the Festival of Britain etc. I recall that I was idiotic enough to ascend Symonds Yat, or the road to the café up on top, in the Wye Valley during this trip and would have been in serious trouble either going up or coming down had recourse to the brakes been necessary.

The chap who purchased this gallant wreck from me decided to embark on a decoke. This was apparently a revelation, no two valves being alike. The engine was about as original as Queen Anne’s axe. Nevertheless, looking back that old Austin never suffered a mechanical failure during my ownership and that included engine, gearbox and rear axle. It was repeatedly thrashed for periods at 55 mph. A Jowett van which followed was equally unburstable but the same cannot be said of a much nicer looking 1935 Morris 12-4, whose big ends would not last five minutes over 40 mph but that is another story.

Heatley K. Roe

Fiat Sports

Sir,

Mention of a Fiat sports model in 12/15 hp or Tipo 501 guise in the January issue prompted me to send you this photograph of a charming little Fiat apparently taken in Geneva.

There appears to be a coachbuilder’s badge on the valance above the running board but this is unrecognisable to me. The body bristles with interesting features such as the single dickey seat with plated stirrup to assist in access, flush-fitting hood bows, bracing wires to the front mudguards, and no fewer than three lockers in the tail. It shows Italian styling on the lines of certain bodies fitted to the 22/90 Alfa-Romeo by, I think, Castagna, and is a high-class sporting runabout in miniature.

Johannesburg Robert H. Johnston