A review of some of the more interesting variety which spiced the Assistant Editor’s life in 1977
Nineteen-seventy-six had been such an exciting and dramatic year for me on the circuit and on forest tracks that in the article of this title in Motor Sport last March I was able to ignore the more mundane aspects of a motoring journalist’s life—like driving exotic cats and travelling the world! (so they tell me)—in favour of a personal competition commentary. My nineteen-seventy-seven Mercedes diary (1978 is my year for Rolls-Royce), whilst not devoid of references to racing, rallying and associated metal-bending, is rather more concerned with interesting road-test cars, overseas trips (a total of 41 days out of the country) and an ever-increasing office work load. Most of the cars, from sublime to exotic, were described in Motor Sport road-test articles, some escaped because of pressure of space or other reasons. Almost 100 cars passed through my hands—some briefly—in a total, at a rough estimate, of 40,000 miles. In this year’s “looking back” article I propose to review some of the more interesting cars and incidents of my motoring year, much in the style of W.B’s annual “MY Year’s Motoring”.
To boast of a year without brushes with the Law, as W.B. did last month, would perhaps be to tempt fate. But to put into perspective the perilous thread by which a motoring journalist covering a high mileage hangs on to his licence, and to make a mockery of the 70-m.p.h. limit, I think it interesting to note that of the road cars I drove one was capable of over 180 m.p.h. (the Lamborghini Countach), nine would exceed 140 m.p.h. at least 25 were capable of 120 m.p.h. or more and only a dozen or so had maximum speeds below 100 m.p.h. Once again in 1977, I was thankful for the freedom of the German autobahns, which enabled me legally and safely to try some of the very high speed cars at the pace for which they were designed.
My year began—and ended—in the salubrious surroundings of a Mercedes-Benz 280E Automatic, I don’t propose to go into much detail about this beautifully-engineered German luxury car as road tests of a manual version, with modified suspension, and a 280CE coupe are in hand. Suffice to say that I am greatly enamoured of this top of the W123 range, with its smooth and willing, 185 b.h.p., twin-overhead camshaft, in-line six-cylinder engine, four-speed automatic gearbox, excellent handling, power steering and brakes, conservative yet imposing lines and, with its functional squareness, a compactness of capacious bodywork which gives surprising agility to this luxury car. Later in the year, on the occasion of a Mercedes-organised preview of the new Donington Park circuit, Erik Johnson, Mercedes’ PR Manager, loaned me his personal 280E for a few laps of this fascinating track, the only occasion I have had to drive on it. Memories of Dottington’s pre-war greatness’ were brought back on that May day by the sight of that great German ace Hermann Lang once more behind the wheel of a Grand Prix Mercedes, albeit a post-War W196.
The month of January was disrupted by Ford’s launch of the Fiesta in the mild climate of Monte-Carlo and a very educational visit to Japan and the works of Toyo Kogyo, who were unveiling their little Mazda 323 Hatchback, I was more impressed with the Fiesta at its introduction than I have been since, the roads of France perhaps being more agreeable to its choppy ride than those of Britain. W.B. has had more experience of the Fiesta than I, and has commented accordingly. I find the Mazda Hatchback more agreeable generally, if not in steering and handling specifically, than the Fiesta and I speak from experience of a 1,300-c.c., two-door, long-term test car which reached us in mid-year. this well-appointed, comfortable Japanese Euro-Car is portlier than the Fiesta and not completely without drawbacks, but I must not undermine a separate story on this competitively priced small car.
I had not been over-impressed by 2000 and 2200 manual-gearbox versions of Citroen’s advanced (in some ways) CX series. Their luxurious ride and comfort could not make amends for a lack of steam and an abominable gear-change. It was with some curiosity therefore that I approached a Citroen CX2400 Pallas C-matie. Would the extra power and torque and avoidance of the difficult, fourspeed gearbox be the answer? In part, yes. The semi-automatic, three-speed, torque-converter transmission can be left to its own devices (it will start, slowly, from rest in top if necessary) or the central lever can be flicked around with a fingertip to produce reasonably inspiring performance. What the engine lacks in sheer punch is made up for at the top end of the performance range by the marvellous aerodynamics. I adore the lines, the finish and the appointments of these sleek French flagships, yet can never really come to terms with the choice of a big, old-fashioned, fout-pot engine for this futuristic concept, nor with the self-centring power steering, the over-sensitive power brakes or the way the Hydropneumatic suspension is caught out by hump-backs and switch-hacks, CX owners will tell me that I haven’t covered sufficient miles in the model to come to terms with it. I agree: this is a car that has to be lived with for some time before appreciation strikes. I look forward to trying the fuel-iniected, five-speed CXi which I’m assured is a big improvement.
I retain a particularly vivid memory of that CX test. A mile or so ahead of the long Citroen nose—I shall not say where—rumbled what appeared to be a vintage car, unrecognisable at that distance. The Citroen was well into its stride, the aerodynamics coping well, and I thought no more about the “antique” ahead until a few minutes later came the realisation that I wasn’t really gaining on it. It took several miles of pursuit before the Mr. Toad-like form of Douglas Fitzpatrick on his huge 1907, 21-litre Maybach-Metallurgique took recognisable shape. Seventy years younger or not, the Citroen had not the energy to pass this flying monster, once an attacker of records, nor did I want to, for the masterly way in which Fitzpatrick controlled this two-wheel-braked leviathan was a sight to be savoured. A multi-carriageway road and the Citroen’s maximum speed finally carried me past, but Fitzpatrick, eyes gleaming, hung on behind, giving nought away, until respect for that ancient engine made him back off: it had, after all. been doing 110 m.p.h. according to the Citroen’s illuminated barrel speedometer!
Talking of fast monsters, I never cease to be amazed at the agility of those stately limousines from Crewe. “Ear-‘oling” of Rolls-Royces is not normally the done thing, but an opportunity to do so on foreign territory with the full encouragement of the amiable David Plastow and his Rolls-Royce management is an experience not to be missed. The 1977 opportunity came with the introduction of the Rolls-Royce Shadow II near Torremolinos (in the off-season for fish and chips, fortunately). W.B. has road-tested a Shadow II subsequently and I described the modifications to this top people’s car in last April’s issue. The new rack and pinion steering and suspension, modified to reduce roll, make this Rolls-Royce much more pleasurable to the owner-driver and these big cars proved astonishingly sporting, yet smooth and unruffled in the Spanish hills.
From the gargantuan Rolls I stepped down to a midget, or what the Midget ought to be. The tiny, mid-engined Fiat X1/9 sports car was one of the highlights of my testing year, in spite of modest performance from its 1,290-c.c. engine. Part of a Fiat mid-engined sports car line-up which includes the Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer, the Ferrari 308GTB and 308GTB. and the Lancia Beta Monte-Carlo, the X1/9 is a masterpiece of design, particularly in terms of practicality. A front boot which holds 10 cu. ft. is complimented by another boot in the tail. complete with fitted-cases, a removable draught-free Targa-top is standard and the comfort for beings of average height is outstanding. More to the sporting point, the brakes, handling, roadholding and steering are delightful and what this gorgeous, little beauty lacks in straight-line performance. can be more than made up for in the twisty bits. The test X1/9 took some of the worst punishment I meted out to a car all year, covering 1,600 tough miles in a week, inclusive of following the Mintex International Rally through Yorkshire and snowy Co. Durham with two people and luggage and two sessions on test tracks. Yet this 106-m.p.h. car was extraordinarily frugal on petrol, a best of 35 m.p.g. falling to a worst of 31 m.p.g. But the rear dampers were tired-out by the end of the test.
If the X1/9 delighted, the Porsche 924 disappointed. I wanted to like it. because the Porsche name is magic to me, but this froht engined, rear-wheel-drive, sports coupe with an Audi-based. 2-litre, four-cylinder in line, single-overhead camshaft, fuel-injected engine left me as cold as its water cooling. The original road-test car handled beautifully, but had terrible standards of noise, vibration and harshness. According to some people, I didn’t know what I was talking about when I wrote the original road test, but Porsche obviously agreed with me., for they were quick to rush many modifications into production, especially in respect of rear suspension bushes and Mountings. At the end of the year, Porsche loaned me a 1978 model 924 incorporating all the chassis modifications and they really have made improvements to NVH. Apart from a reduction in chassis and road generated noises, this late model test car was more subdued in its engine note, was bereft of body creakings and felt much tauter generally. It took me comfortably and swiftly up to the Clocaenog Welsh special stages of the RAC Rally (like W.B. I too became lost on that badly-signposted roundabout before the M54) and averaged 28 m.p.g. But this four-speed model remained overgeared, so that its performance lacked the sparkle one would expect from the concept; perhaps because of this the 924 again failed to, generate any real enthusiasm in me. I almost liked it, but not quite. The five-speed gearbox version, which has a lower final drive and is now available in Britain, might well remove this shade of grey. I look forward to trying one and to watching the 924 Racing Championship, detailed in last month’s issue. Porsche have even threatened to let me loose in one round in a further effort to enthuse me about the 924!
No less a disappointment was the midengined Lancia Beta Monte-Carlo, a big brother to the X1/9. but proportionately worse instead of better. I loved its wedgeshaped styling, but found the space utilisation inferior to that of the X1/9: it has no rear boot and the front boot holds a modest 7 cu. ft., though there is a small amount of space behind the seats. The spider version’s roll-back roof section is clever, but on the test car created far too much buffeting when open. Excellent roadholding and handling again, but with a dangerous Achilles heel: the front brakes are prone to violent locking in wet conditions. As I said at the time, they are potentially lethal. So far as I know—according to a Lancia dealer anyhow—Lancia have not had the sense to modify them, in spite or screams of complaint from all over the world. A 120 b.h.p., 2-litre version of the Lancia twin-cam, four-cylinder engine, mounted transversely amidships, endows the Monte-Carlo with excellent performance through a five-speed gearbox, though at the expense of much buzziness.
To give the more interesting British cars a fair crack of the whip I must abandon chronological order now, especially as I have just spotted the Lotus Eclat Sprint on my list. Without a doubt this was the easiest and most enjoyable car to drive very, very fast out of the whole year’s collection. To quote my road test: “There are very few cars available which are fun to drive all the time. The Lotus Eclat Sprint is one of those cars.”
The Eclat loses some rear-seat headroom and purity of line compared to the Mechanically-identical Elite, but gains a more practical, conventional boot. It is lighter than the Elite also, of benefit to both handling and performance, at the expense of a choppier ride front the same suspension settings. The Sprint Version is an option pack available upon the normal Eclat, the constituents of the pack dependent upon which specification of Eclat is chosen. A “boy-racerish” black and white colour scheme is an unfortunate part of the deal. The test car had a five-speed gearbox with a low final drive, Unassisted steering and narrow alloy wheels. Its 160-b.h,p., twin-cam, straight-four Lotus engine was delightfully crisp and free-revving, with an almost uncanny smoothness or power delivery. Allied to an exquisite gearbox. with perfect ratios and a narrow-gated gearchange which could be flicked around with the finger tips, this latest E-cam engine produced exhilarating performance. As if that wasn’t enough, the handling characteristics made me ecstatic: road cars with such response. predictability and an almost human joie de vivre are rare beasts. The Eclat Sprint combined some of the best handling, perllarmance and braking characteristics of circuit cars with the comfort and refinement of a very sophisticated road car, a fabulous tribute to Chapman philosophy.
From the foregoing, you will see that I have nothing against British car, indeed I am an ardent fan of many, admittedly mostly expensive, British products. I say that to cover myself against any criticism that my test list is weighted towards foreign models: it is, but this is simply a reflection of the lack of variety and dearth of new models offered by British manufacturers. compared to the volume of new, often exciting machinery emanating from the rest of the world. Readers occasionally criticise us for neglecting British cars; a survey of Motor Sport road tests and impressions over the last few years will show that few, if any, model ranges have been omitted, within reason. I say “within reason” because we are not in the business of comparing Escort Popular with Escort L. fir example. One or two glaring omissions can be laid directly at the manufacturers doors: we have not yet tested a no (when a generous dealer offered his demonstration car. Leyland advised us to wait for their own test car, as further modifications were anticipated—we have yet to see it As no TR7s have been produced since last August, because of the Speke factory dispute. presumably Leyland are disinterested in promoting the model) every other journal under the sun except Motor Sport appears to have tried the Aston Martin Vantage, in spite of promises, although this is now in hand; and although we drove the Lotus Esprit briefly on the Hethel test track, we have not tried one on the road.
Readers might have noticed in the past that I am something of a Jaguar fan. But no rose-tinted favouritism is involved when I say that the Jaguar XJ4.2C and Xj5.3C I tested during the year are superior to most of the luxury cars that the rest of the world has to offer. I think Motocar went so far as to describe the magnificent XJ5.3C as the Best Car in the World. In respect of its almost silent, silken, so effortlessly powerful, 5,343-c.c.. V12; single-overhead-camshaft per bank, Lucas/ Bosch fuel-injected, 285-b.h.p. engine, its smoothness of ride, its insulation of road suspension and wind noise, its roadholding, this Browns Lane product is undoubtedly a motoring magic carpet. Others, notably Mercedes have superior brakes and steering while Jaguar paintwork continues to leave something to be desired, at least in comparison with German competitors.
We had a road test of the two, two-door Jaguars scheduled into an issue late last year. When an authoritative, apparently official story appeared stating that production of the coupe models had ceased we regretfully refrained from publication. Regrettably, the story had been premature: the last production coupes are on the Browns Lane lines as I write this in the second week of February. The neat, uncluttered, short-wheelbase car has been sacrificed to make way for extra saloon production capacity.
In appearance and appointments the 4.2 straight-six and 5.3 V12 versions are identical, apart from discreet badging and fracticinally larger exhaust tail pipes on the V12. That traditional walnut air of opulence is preserved. accompanied in the test cars by leather in the 4.2 and the optional brushed nylon in the 5.3. The electrically-operated side windows in this pillarless saloon wind down fully, the rear ones performing fascinating pirouettes as they disappear from view. When the heavy, long doors are slammed they reveal something to be desired in the stiffness of the side body sections. Considering the problems Jaguar faced in overcoming wind noise around the front side windows (a partial cause of the two-year delay in the model’s introduction, wind noise suppression is astonishingly good. Unlike most other luxury coupes derived from saloons, this Jaguar has sacrificed little in the way of spaciousness; its accommodation is identical to that of the early short-wheelbase saloon. That means there is not an excess of rear seat leg room. The comparatively narrow cockpit width and wide transmission tunnel restrict front seat room too, but this I like— a sort of all-enveloping comfort.
I tested the 4.2C in Britain and let the 5.3C loose on a glorious run to the Nurburgring to watch the ill-fated Jaguar racing coupes score their best placing of all, a second place on the most demanding circuit they competed on. The 4.2C has put on considerable weight and lost some power in the interest of emissions (now quoted as 180 b.h.p. DIN) compared to earlier XJs, so its performance is adequate rather than exceptional. It can still be coaxed up to 120 m.p.h. or so, even in automatic farm, though. More impressive is the continuing smoothness and willingness of the old straight-six, the sheer comfort Of ride and the overall serenity of progress, perhaps by current standards something of an old man’s car, more of an “Auntie” than is the more sporting Rover 3500. Middle-aged spread and pollution considerations have made a dypsomaniac out of this latest 4.2: consumption at worst was just over 14 m.p.g. and at best 17.5 m.p.g. At its worst the 4.2C was thirstier than the 5.3C at its best. In fact the 5.3’s consumption varied little however hard or gently it was driven: a gentle potter down to Dover gave 14.44 m.p.g.; the first 271 miles on the other side of the Channel, covered at an average speed of exactly 90 m.p.h., showed 13.58 m.p.g. and an even faster return journey, cruising three-up at 120-130 m.p.h. (and including an astonishing 148 m.p.h. maximum) gave 13.88 m.p.g. These are remarkable consumption figures for a heavy car of such power and performance and illustrate the excellent improvement the adoption of fuel-injection has made to the previously embarrassingly thirsty V12.
There is insufficient space here to do full justice to the incomparable XJ5.3C, surely the ultimate in velvet-clad iron lists, the differently packaged XJ-S excepted. Here is a British saloon capable of close on 150 M.p.h., of accelerating from 0-60 in just over 7,! sec. or 100 m.p.h. in a little over 18 sec., which will cruise with uncanny quietness and stability at 130 to 140 m.p.h., yet as a town limousine proffers unmatchable docility, silence and comfort. Its supple suspension Silently disguises the worst of the roadmaker’s art (a 60-k.p.h. advisory limit on a section of rough road through a Belgian forest was obviously meant for lesser cars than this Big Cat, which kept its occupants undisturbed at 130 m.p.h.), yet provides astonishing cornering power on its steel-braced Dunlop SP Sport 205/70 VR 15 tyres. Wet weather grip is superb. Slightly higher gearing of the Adwest power-assisted rack and pinion makes the Xj5.3C’s steering markedly better than that of the 4.2C, but it is still too light. The brakes are good, though heavy use can give rise to some roughness. The test car had the GM400 Hydraulic 3-speed automatic gearbox which has replaced the Borg-Warner Model 12 unit in all V12 models, This is an excellent gearbox, but it is a shame that Jaguar have chosen to have it set so that L cannot be engaged on kickdown or with the lever at low speeds.
Like everything else that is British these days, Jaguars attract their share of knockers on the subject of reliability. In some 1,500 miles, mostly at very high speed, this Jaguar emitted not a murmur of dissent, save for a moody petrol gauge.
At least the faulty petrol gauge did not maroon me in the Jaguar on an autobahn as did a defunct fuel warning light in that top German car, the Mercedes-Benz 6.9 450SEL. I have no intention of condemning this Grosser Mercedes for the sake of a defunct electrical connection, but at least it gives me an opportunity to make the point that even the Germans at their best are not infallible! The dearth of petrol, which that little red light failed to prophesy, came at the end of a fast run to Stuttgart with Erik Johnson, the Mercedes PR Manager, Peter Wymark, our man from The Times, and Autocar’s Midland’s man, Edward Eves. As luck would have it, the slip road to Stuttgart Airport was handy, I managed to coast the 6.9 into it and we continued ignominiously to the hotel, where the launch of the W123C was based, in a Mercedes diesel taxi.
Magnificent though the 6.9 is, it did not impress me quite so much as the XJ5.3C at half its price. The sybarite will note that its hydropneumatic suspension is harsher, particularly for rear-seat passengers, than the more conventional Jaguar independent system and that road, engine and wind noise are more intrusive, though naturally the scale is modest. Nor is its 6,834-c.c., dry-sumped V8 (rated at 1 b.h.p. more than the Jaguar’s V12) quite so velvet-like in the application of its effortless power. The seats are hard, typically Mercedes, a matter of taste, but very comfortable on a long journey and the standard of appointment generally is little different to that of the lesser, standard 450SEL. This incredibly fast, bulky beast has astonishingly good handling and I would say the best power steering and brakes of any luxury saloon in the world. We were able to cruise in comfort at 120-130 m.p.h., and occasionally a little bit more, on the autobahn, but neither it nor I felt quite so relaxed whilst doing so as I did on the same roads in the Jaguar. At these high speeds a disturbing corkscrewing effect took hold as the air-suspension went out of phase on long, left-hand bends. Right-hand bends did not provoke the problem. Mercedes in Stuttgart admitted to being not unaware of this phenomenon and I should imagine that it has been eradicated on current production 6.9s. Nevertheless, what a motor car!
That particular trip to Stuttgart was one of my most enjoyable of the year. After the “flight” down by 6.9 I spent a day having fun with the new range of Mercedes W 123Cs, the compact four-and six-cylinder coupes, then, joy of joys and thanks to friendly co-operation between two top-line Stuttgart car manufacturers, a Porsche 928 was pressed into my eager hands for a day. I had missed the 928 Press introduction in the South of France because it clashed with the World Championship of Makes 6-Hour Race at Silverstone. What a deserving “Car of the Year” this is, a masterpiece of design and engineering from the masters of that business. It sets new standards of road car chassis behaviour on its Pirelli P7 tyres, wishbone front suspension and the so-called Weissach axle at the rear, which defeats a wheel’s natural reaction to toe-out and cause rear-end steering, particularly under deceleration in mid-corner. The power steering is stupendous, superior even to that of Mercedes. Effortless performance comes from an all-aluminium, 4 1/2-litre, water-cooled V8 engine of 260 b.h.p.; it may not pack the punch of the Turbo, but few can complain about acceleration of 0-100 m.p.h. in 13.5 sec., although I was surprised to find a Mercedes 450SL almost holding it on top speed in an autobahn dice. The first right-hand-drive cars should arrive in Britain this month. At about £18,700 I feel the 928 represents a bargain in supercar terms.
Another memorable Porsche experience came out of that visit. A ticket mix-up meant that I could not fly out of Stuttgart on the flight I was supposed to that Friday night and every ‘plane and train out of Stuttgart on that German holiday weekend was fully-booked. I seemed to be well and truly stuck, until Porsche Press Officer Gunther Hornig came up with an agreeable solution. They could book me on a flight from Frankfurt and would lend me a 2.7 911 Targa to get there, which I could then leave for collection in the car park. One small catch: I had less than 1 1/2 hours before take-off time and the autobahn out of Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen was thick with holiday traffic and roadworks. I turned on to maximum concentration, employed that 911 to the ultimate of Porsche potential and averaged over 100 m.p.h. from Porsche door to the complex Frankfurt underground car park. It was a fantastic, sometimes hair-raising journey through the traffic, but I caught the aircraft!
Further additions to my exotic car experiences during 1977 were the Lamborghini Countach, an incredibly striking if impractical design with perhaps the ultimate in road car maximum speed, although its acceleration was not as aggressive as I expected and its roadholding was rather limited by its Michelin tyres (later examples have modified suspension and Pirelli P7 tyres), and Vic Norman’s immaculate Ferrari 250GT SWB lightweight Berlinetta, with its beautifullymannered V12 engine and chassis. Other less exotic cars worthy of note were the VW Scirocco GLi, a delightful and rapid coupe with a terrific little fuel-injected engine, a brief introduction to the VW Derby from the same stable, this saloon version of the hatchback Polo being particularly pleasant and refined, the TVR Taimar 3-litre, quick, stylish and corrosion-free sports car motoring, the attractive Alfasud Sprint, and the fast, modestly priced, fun-handling Ford Capri 3-litre S. The last should have been the subject of a proper road test, but we withdrew it for reasons which will be apparent in the next couple of weeks.
On the full-open car front, I had fun with the classically styled Panther Lima, an eyecatcher which attempts to catch the Morgan tradition, and disappointment with the MG-B, which Leyland have contrived to ruin. This Abingdon soft-top in 1977 was slower than ever, handled appallingly (it contrived to squeal its correctly-pressured tyres in normal manoeuvres at 20 m.p.h.) and in everything except interior appointments felt much inferior to earlier examples. If Leyland cannot do better than that with the concept, the MG-B really does deserve to die. I was thankful to return to my Alfa Romeo 2000 Spider Veloce, a fast, properly engineered, it flimsily-bodied, sports car of great character, which I would hate to be parted from. In deference to its dislike of salt and water, I have kept it off the road during the winter and look forward to re-acquaintance in the spring. On another personal transport note, at last I have a mobile Jaguar, a standard-engined 3.8 Mk. 2 which I exchanged for my immobile E-type engined 3.8 in the autumn. How revealing it is to return to this ultimate sports saloon of the ’60s, which will still show a clean pair of heels to most modern luxury saloons. I love the model and its beautiful lines.
On the competition side, 1977 produced few, but mixed activities. It started well with a First Class Award on the Exeter Trial with Josh Sadler’s Autofarm Porsche 911T, continued badly with a “shunt” at Copse Corner in practice for the first round of the Tricentrol British Saloon Car Championship in Nigel Rosser’s Alfasud (a puncture may have been the cause) and perked up again when J.W. and I managed to finish the 6-hour Silverstone World Championship of Makes event with the Samuri Conversions Datsun 240Z. That was in spite of opposition from the full complement of Fred Kano’s army! Graig Hinton loaned me his Jaguar 2.4 for a round of the Classic Saloon Car Championship at Mallory Park, though I wasn’t able to repeat last year’s glory of an outright win. The smart 2.4 wasn’t handling too well, its engine was down on power and I “collected” another 2.4 at Gerard’s in practice when the latter’s engine seized. The thump on the nearside front corner burst the auxiliary radiator under the wing and I had to race on the standard radiator solely, so that the needle of the temperature gauge swung round into the oil pressure gauge of the composite instrument. However, by lightening the throttle load I was able to finish, in fourth place.
I thoroughly enjoyed my first serious attempt at hill-climbing, at BOC Prescott, in the same Autofarm trials Porsche, converted to Carrera specification for the hills. With this wild, road-going device I was just forced into third in class by a Cobra, while Russ Ward took the class and the record with the same Carrera. Less skill was required to propel a Triumph Dolomite Sprint along the Madeira Drive in the Brighton Speed Trials, though this too was another enjoyable exercise against the clock.
I returned to the Samuri Datsun 240Z for the World Championship of Makes 6-hour event at Brands Hatch, this time co-driven by the highly competent and amiable Win Percy.
This time the Datsun was lighter, more powerful and quite minor suspension revisions had made it handle a treat. Both Win and I had treated the venture with cynicism, but after two days of practice we were highly pleased with this scruffy car. It may not have been in the same league as the factory Porsche 935 Turbos, but astonishingly we could enter corners more quickly and leave our braking later (when the brakes worked). We couldn’t leave the corners so quickly though! Readers will probably know that the race was hit disastrously by heavy rain and stopped after about an hour. That hour saw what most people regarded as the drive of the day from Win Percy, who took the aged Datsun up to seventh overall against the cream of European Group Five cars and drivers. We were grieved that this magnificent effort was all for nought, for the restart was based on original grid positions and in the drier conditions we could not hope to emulate Win’s earlier showing. All was wasted anyway when I crashed heavily at Clearways after the BMW ahead of me had shed most of its oil in the middle of this fast corner.
Adventurous “rides” as distinct from “drives” during the year included some exciting laps of Brands with Jacky Ickx in the Martini-Porsche 935 prior to the Brands 6-hour race. I did only one rally, navigating for Tony Fowkes in the Johnson’s Wax Mercedes-Benz 450SLC automatic (I like to travel in comfort), an apparently totally unsuitable machine for forest stages which in fact performs fantastically well. We finished down the field only because we had a couple of “offs” when the non-standard rear brake pipes sheared. Later in the year Fowkes took a splendid second overall for Mercedes in the London-Sydney Rally and will drive a similar 280E on the Safari Rally.
Inevitably, because MotorSport has only a small staff around which to spread the load, the foregoing is only a slice of my last year’s action. Nevertheless, if I continue much longer with this account I shall have little time for 1978 activities, and who knows what lies ahead in 1978 ?—C.R.