Letters, June 1988

British is Best

The start of the new season of Grand Prix racing prompts me to recount my experiences as a paying customer at the Spanish and Portuguese GP’s last year.

Basic entrance price for Estoril was about £17, which with only one supporting race (Renault Challenge) was not exactly good value. The circuit was much smaller than I imagined from television images, but set in a natural amphitheatre – virtually the whole of the circuit was visible fro selected points. Another plus point was an excellent English-language commentator.

During the race I was ensconced amongst the Ferrari version of the “kop” at Liverpool football ground, the temperature rising as Prost closed in on Berger. When Berger spun in front of us I roared Prost through before realising I was the only one cheering!

After the race, three or four teenagers attempted to invade the track and were promptly repulse by the strong police presence, one of he lads receiving several severe blows from a riot stick for his tardy withdrawal.

Entrance price at Jerez was approximately £25 for a basic ticket; this was valid for practice and race days and if you only wanted a ticket for race day it was Hobsons choice. As at Estoril there were plenty of grandstand seats available (at a price) and the programme was free – at both circuits the tickets were printed on better quality paper than the programmes.

Again, a twisty track surrounded by hills meant excellent vantage points and virtually the whole of the circuit being visible. Unfortunately there was no English commentator or race-position indicator. No-one attempted to invade the track after the race, there again being a very substantial police force firmly in control.

One other major difference was the car park. Any race meeting in the UK attracts a good variety of interesting machinery, with the GP attracting a better display than the Racing Car Show. But apart from a few interesting motorcycles, the car parks of the Spanish and Portuguese events can only be described as bland!

Having visited these two venues, I have reappraised my views of the British Grand Prix, and I realise by comparison what a good deal we get here.

Tilehurst, Berkshire


Road-Rail Links


I was glad to see your excellent leading article on speed limits (MOTOR SPORT, April 1988). It would surely be much more sensible to abolish fixed limits and have advisory speed limits such as the 81 mph recommended on West German motorways.

We need to spend far more of the taxes imposed on road users on building new motorways and improving our very inadequate road system.

At Blackpool the old railway track has been converted into the central link-road which enables traffic from the M55 motorway to travel directly to the town centre, where a car park for 6000 vehicles has been provided on the old railway sidings.

We could be solving transport problems all over the country by converting railways into roads, since most of the railway network is little-used or derelict while our antiquated road system tries to cope with 90% of the country’s traffic.

Harrogate, North Yorkshire


Who was First?


MOTOR SPORT has a reputation as an historically accurate journal, so I cannot let the statement by Mr Blight (MOTOR SPORT, May 1988) pass by without comment. His letter says that the entry of an Austin Seven in the 1931 Mille Miglia was made by Austin’s Italian distributor, which implies that it was not the first British entry in the race.

From my notes, taken from an interview with Charles Goodacre who drove and prepared the car, the Italian end of the entry was handled by Mr Nicholls, who was the distributor for Rolls-Royce cars in Milan. At least, Mr Nicholls made a very nice living selling six chassis a year. He therefore acted for the Austin Motor Co in much the same way as Count Lurani did for Arthur Fox.

The car was built in the racing shop on the old flying field beside the Longbridge factory. Good acre and Appleby started building it immediately after the 1930 TT, and the car was completed in January of 1931. It was taken to France by Goodacre and was met by two Italian mechanics (Pino and Arno Gandolfi) from Mr Nicholls’ firm who had driven up in a standard Ulster. The two brothers then drove the car out to Milan.

Goodacre was sent out two weeks before the race, and shared the driving with Francisco Trevisan, a racing motorcyclist in his first car race. They finished second in class and beat all the small Fiats, which was the object of the exercise.

Another claimant to being the first British entry would be Lord de Clifford. He decided to enter in the summer of 1931 and went to the TT to see which car looked the best bet. He decided the MG would be a good idea and bought Norman Black’s winning car which was prepared by the works.

Last-minute preparation of his car (limited to making up a quickly-disposable silencer for scrutineering) was carried out at the Alfa Romeo works at Portello, and Lord de Clifford made use of Alfa’s pit organisation around the course to ensure supplies, a facility used by many competitors and an idea Arthur Fox would have been wise to adopt.

Perhaps Mr Bligth needs to find a 1980s Count Lurani.

Lingfield, Surrey


Lunatic Fringe


Judging from reports of last year’s Mille Miglia Retrospective, Anthony Blight (Letters, MOTOR SPORT, May 1988) might be well advised to enter Dad’s TDMG, not only to secure an entry but to ensure the continued existence of his genuine Talbot 105!

Most of us like a “tear up” on the open road, but if half the reports were accurate it seems only a mater of time before a repetition of events which closed the real thing year ago.

This might well be caused by the lunatic fringe minority, possible with a British passport and a costly fake Italian sports-racer. If damage or injury is confined to the culprit that is one thing, but if spectators of other nationalities are involved that would be a very different matter.

A famous Italian drier was asked why he did not take part in the Mille Miglia. With a wry smile he replied “I drove in the real ones.”

Hampsthwaite, Yorkshire


Ypres Memorial


In The Roads of the 1920s (MOTOR SPORT, March 1988) reference is made to a visit to Ashby-de-la-Zouche, where OJ paused and showed his wife the war memorial, with the inscription “220 miles to Ypres.” You ask, is it still there?

I am pleased to say that the answer is “yes.” I would have been very concerned if not, as war memorials are sacrosanct, and this is a reference to the action at Frezenberg, near Ypres on May 13, 1915 when the Leicestershire Yeomanry was decimated; however, it fought with great valour and a battle-honour was added to its colours.

Incidentally, the town’s name is often anglicised to “Ashby Dellers” (spelt thus) and, although one feels further from northern France than the suggested distance, this is in fact correct “as the crow flies.”

I hope these observations will add to the interest of the OJ diaries. The original entries would have been made only 10-12 years after the event.

Market Harborough, Leics


Invicta Tails


I was very interested to read the article about Dr Robson’s Invicta (MOTOR SPORT, May 1988) because I knew all the racing Invictas and their personnel at that time. I also drove my Invicta at Brooklands, although I was never in a position to race it.

I believe WB’s surmise that Dr Robson’s car was connected with the car Sammy Davis crashed is correct. I photographed that car after the accident and saw it a few days later at the Invicta works. It was being completely dismantled because the whole of the frame was bent, and I think the chassis was scrapped. Another 4½, which I understood was for Dudley Froy, was being assembled; I believe both were “works cars” and the one for Froy was built up from parts of both vehicles.

Raymond Mays had just acquired his first Invicta fro the India Tyre Company, and another was on the way; I designed a racing body for them, with the fuel-tank comprising most of the pointed tail. My body was not built onto the 4½ because we had a project for a supercharged 5-litre version. When the project fell through, many of the drawings and the partly-made body were in the hands of Mr Crump, the engine designer of Meadows at Wolverhampton.

I remember Peter Berthon, Mr Crump and I met Mr Lace, who I think was the sales manager of Invictas at Chobham. It had been suggested that my body design would be use on the Froy car, but a new tail was already under construction, using the original slab-tank. So Mr Lace decided to use the design for his own silver coloured 4½.

Then Humphrey Cook (who had bought Raymond May’s Invicta) said he wanted the new racing body, so Mr Lace used the existing body on his car but added a short tail, using the original fuel-tank inside. Completing the tale of tails, Cook smashed the car up on his first run, and the new body and tail were never completed.

However, I am absolutely certain that the car Tommy Wisdom raced in the TT was that Dudley Froy machine, and that Dr Robson is now the owner of that Tourist Trophy model.

Kineton, Warwickshire


Not the Same


I am sorry to disappoint Dudley Gershon (genesis of the J4 MG, MOTOR SPORT, March 1988) and also Colvin Gunn, (Letters, April 1988), but the car Mr Gershon had the pleasure of driving in Germany recently is certainly not the same car that he owned in the 1930s.

This statement may well upset many MG zealots but I feel that it is not time that the record was set straight as far as the J4s are concerned. We must very carefully discriminate between the nine cars manufactured and sold in 1933 by the MG Car Co and those which Geoff Coles had in later years. In this respect I am able to concur with Colvin Gunn’s second and third comments, i.e. that nine cars only were made, and that Geoff Coles (ably assisted by others) did all the work on the MG featured in the March article.

Of the nine cars made, two had been overseas since new, and I have registration marks and dates for the other seven, one of which is in single-seater guise.

A far as the Gershon car is concerned, J4004 (OJ 9483) lost its original J4 blown engine whilst in the hands of G T Baynham in 1938, this being replaced by a tuned-up twin carb P-type unit. It was then overturned during a race in 1952, losing its traditional MG-style two-seater body – this being replaced with an alloy streamlined outfit for racing in the 1953 season. It proved not quick enough for its owner and unsaleable, and was dismantled and sold piecemeal, the log-book (OJ 9483) being surrendered to Somerset Country council thereby voiding the number.

None of these features were evident in the car which Geoff Coles acquired in 1962, which later became the car which Dudley Gerson drove recently. This started life as a standard J2 (with doors, etc) and had been fitted with a Ford ten engine. The J4 blown engine fitted to it in 1963 came out of Coles’ well-known 1955 J4 Special MBK 999. This engine was reputed to contain the crank and rods from J4007 (the single-seater which had been fitted with an “R” type engine). Coles then acquired the void mark OJ 9483 from the original issuing authority, Birmingham City Council, which was quite easy to do in those days as a void number could be re-issued on request. As you can see, this car cannot be connected with the MG J4004 dismantled in Somerset ten years earlier.

It still appears that some people are trying to make out that certain cars are more than they really are. However, not all is gloom and despondency. AT least with the knowledge of the foregoing, MG zealots are able to start looking for the genuine chassis from at least three and possibly four J4s! And I wish them all luck. Also I do not wish to denigrate the excellent work done by Coles and his assistants in the 1960s.

Goudhurst, Kent


Red Arrows?


Regarding 1988 Formula One Entries (MOTOR SPORT, May 1988, page 416), will you tell Signor Ferrari his team is using Arrows chassis this season, or shall I?

Did you obtain this table from Murray Walker by any chance? Just in case it was a deliberate-mistake competition, I claim my two free tickets for the British Grand Prix in advance.

Tenterden, Kent

Our apologies for the improbable combinations; our layout artist is now suing his optician.