Matters of Moment, March 1969

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Spectators and Racing

Spectators are now an essential part of motor racing. There was a time when they were just an unwanted nuisance, as in the Paris-Madrid of 1903, when their curiosity caused the end of town-to-town contests. But because manufacturers and their Trade organisations ceased to build or sponsor cars for research and publicity purposes the science passed to smaller firms, who had to have financial support, which meant increasing starting-money, which commercially-wealthy companies had already demanded when they realised that the appearance of their cars enabled race promoters to make a profit from paying spectators who wanted to see such cars in action.

Motor-race promotion is now a profitable business, judging from the latest Grovewood balance sheet, which shows a turnover on last year’s racing of £917,226, an increase of £68,368 over 1967, and their intention of “extending promotion-overseas”. But it is to be hoped that science in racing car construction will always take precedence over spectacle. Racing is in a very interesting stage, with the merits and demerits of aerofoils and four-wheel-drive being debated and with gas-turbine and even steam racing cars under development. These are worthwhile scientific lines of pursuit but they must be looked at from the viewpoint of what is best for the racing car, not how they will contribute to spectator thrills. We hear that aerofoils can materially increase cornering speed but render cars especially dangerous if they go out of control, because of the sudden loss of adhesion, that four-wheel-drive could be safer but that slip angles in corners might look tame to the spectators. The new 5,000-c.c. Formula is hailed in some quarters as likely to be spectacular, because it promotes hairy open-wheel monsters; but will it rival F.1 if such cars cost as much to construct for equivalent or lesser performance?

It is time we faced the fact, apart from design being deliberately restricted, there is no means of returning to the spectacle that racing provided in the pre-war Auto-Union/Mercedes-Benz days, when suspension and weight distribution and tyre technique were not properly understood. (Even judicious watering or lubricating of the corners won’t do it, for any sort of racing car is pretty pathetic on a slippery road!) Circuits with “interesting” corners, presenting a challenge to really skilful high-speed driving, and/or longer races necessitating pit-stops might go some of the way. But in the main racing in its leading forms, thank goodness, continues to be a scientific undertaking and the more the art and science of high-speed motoring are mastered, the less of a spectacle uninformed onlookers must expect.

British Racing Motors

The anticipated storm never happened! B.R.M. is not withdrawing from racing. Owen, like Ferrari, threatens to withdraw but comes back for more! This is good news, because the more teams competing the more healthy is the state of the sport (or science). The original B.R.M. was a magnificent concept but its complex highly-supercharged V16 engine overwhelmed those who weaned it. Sir Alfred Owen took over and made B.R.M. a race-winning proposition. In recent times the team has been far less successful. Now some more reorganising, or streamlining as it is now termed, has been undertaken, in the hope of putting B.R.M. back in the forefront of Grand Prix racing. The H16 engine has been shelved for the less complex V12 and in this and other ways, let us hope that history will be repeated.

John Surtees, if he was correctly reported, has said that only a small dedicated racing department can achieve success, which is rather ripe, after his associations with the mighty Honda empire. Time will tell; but meanwhile our best wishes are with British Racing Motors.

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Clocks in Rovers

In the December issue we published a piece about Kienzle car clocks. Arising out of this we have been asked to say that these excellent clocks are handled here by Time Instrument Manufacturers Ltd., 928, High Street, Finchley, London, N.12, and that the 60-mm. clock is no longer supplied as optional equipment.

TIM have also taken us to task for saying that Rover used to fit a separate battery on their 3-litre models for energising the clock. This, they say, would not be necessary with a Kienzle clock, as it is self-starting, although it might have been necessary if an inferior make were used. We do not altogether agree, because, apart from some clocks not restarting after being denied their current, the use of a separate battery would ensure that correct time was maintained even when the car’s main battery had to be removed for servicing or replacement. However, TIM tell us that the Managing Director of Rover, “who is evidently an avid reader of your magazine”, has pointed out that “at no time whatsoever have the Rover Motor Company fitted a clock with its own self-contained battery. They have always adopted the policy that a car clock fitted to their vehicles, whether it be completely electric or electrically rewound, should operate from the car battery.”

So we stand corrected, but also puzzled. Because in our road-test report on a 3-litre Rover in 1966 appear the words : “. . . an electric clock . . . running off its own battery, charged from the main battery.” And when Autocar reported on the Mk. III Rover 3-litre coupé they referred to “… the clock itself has its own tiny battery, charged from the car battery.” There is seldom smoke without a fire, so can someone tell us how two independent road-testers apparently invented this ingenious refinement?

Meanwhile, we are glad to put right these points about Kienzle car clocks, which were first adopted on British cars by Rover but which we now encounter more and more frequently, the last car road-tested, the Ford Capri 1600 GT, having one.—W. B.

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