Matters of Moment, March 1979

• The pride of France

It is too early to say whether the Ligier JS11s that have won convincingly the first two 1979 Grands Prix, with a runaway 1-2 victory in Brazil, will dominate Formula One this year. But following Renault’s Le Mans success last year, these results certainly emphasise the enthusiasm France is now showing for top-level motor racing.

The triumphant appearance of a Le Mans Renault-Alpine A442 in the streets of Paris last summer and the fact that after the recent Brazilian GP Laffite and Depailler were flown back to France in a Concorde for an official reception indicates the importance France places on doing well in International motor racing. (We have yet to see the Minister appointed by the Labour Government to further British sport congratulating our motor-racing personalities after similar successes. Indeed, when the Editor of Motor Sport sought to obtain an interview with the Minister about this matter, it never took place. No doubt kick-ball, with its million-pound player transfer and trouble on the terraces, is more in the Minister’s mind … Sad, too, that Britain now has only two Graded drivers in F1, James Hunt and John Watson … )

The perhaps unexpected upsurge of the Ligiers has given fresh impetus and interest to F1 racing. Their superiority is based on the fact that for three years they had the advantage of the vast technical resources of the Matra Aerospace Organisation behind them, with its effective wind-tunnel facilities, that they are now using the proven Ford-Cosworth engine, and that their drivers are not only skilled but are amicable and work well together. So far the results have been excellent and one wonders if Renault would do better to repaint their turbo-charged cars blue! But the Ligiers have yet to race against the Lotus 80s and the Ferrari T4s, which is why all eyes will be on Kyalami on March 3rd. Motor Sport‘s Continental Correspondent will report on what happens in South Africa in our April issue.

Meanwhile, France is entitled to come again into the forefront of motor racing, which after all started in that country 84 years ago. In those pioneer days, first Panhard-Levassor, building cars up to the incredible 70 h.p. (a company absorbed by Citroen in 1966), was predominant, followed by Mors and Richard-Brasier. Then Renault, a make which had done so well in voiturette racing, in which Marcel Renault lost his life, won the 1906 French GP. If the Italian Fiats and the German Mercedes then took over, Peugeot were very much on top by 1912 and 1913, and France had a renaissance after WW1, when Bugatti won hundreds of races (has Lotus or another make since caught up?) and the Talbot-Darracqs were invincible in the 1½-litre class (see page 313), with Delage dominating the GP field in 1927 with those complex 1½-litre cars, before Italy with Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Ferrari, and Germany with Mercedes-Benz and Auto-Union, again got into their stride and took to winning between the wars. So the present enthusiasm in France has strong historical precedents.

This must surely have a beneficial effect on the French Motor Industry in general and on Renault in particular. It is a pity, however, that one can no longer buy a new Matra mid-engined M530 sports-coupe from the company at Seine-et-Oise which was behind the conquering Ligiers in their formative years, and which enabled Jackie Stewart to take the 1969 World Championship with its Cosworth-Ford-powered F1 car and Henri Pescarolo and Graham Hill to win Le Mans in 1972 with a V12 Matra-Simca MS670. Whereas those who wish to associate themselves personally with Lotus can, if they are wealthy, purchase road-going models from Hethel – see the colour-section of this issue.

• Leyland cars

Our comment last month that demands for excessive pay-increases, if met, will merely increase inflation and thus reduce the purchasing power of the extra pay in an ever more vicious circle, has been heeded by some 66,000 workers in the Leyland Cars’ factories, Longbridge excepted. They have rejected the call to strike-action and have settled for a productivity deal. Such sound common sense and backing for Britain surely deserves recognition? It would be nice to think that BL will now be helped to sell the products by fleet-users buying more Marinas and Allegros and Princesses and enthusiasts going for Leyland models, from the admittedly out-dated but handy and handleable Mini to the undeniably excellent Triumph, Rover and Jaguar cars. When these are properly put together they have much to commend them, nor should it be forgotten that Leyland is among the very few builders of genuine sports cars left in the World Under prevailing circumstances, it would seem sensible to buy British …

• Record categories – An explanation

In last month’s piece about how a Morgan 3-wheeler beat an MG car for the honour of being the first vehicle to exceed 100 m.p.h. in the 750 c.c. class, it was recalled that MG did manage to reach this target before Austin in the car world, when Eyston did 103.13 m.p.h. at Montlhery in 1931. I remarked that what Eyston then officially held was the International Class-H record for the distance (5 kilos) but that today this would be termed a World Class record; in 1931 the World (mile) record was Campbell’s, with the Napier-Campbell “Bluebird”, at 246.09 m.p.h. This merits qualification. In the first place, there is no longer a Class-H. The 1979 FIA Year Book (which only a lawyer could fully understand) is blank on the matter of record-breaking. But it appears that if a 750 c.c. car broke records today, they would be in World Class-4, which caters for cars of 700 to 850 c.c.

That apart, Dr. Joe Bayley, the authority on Brooklands (BMCRC) motorcycle racing, has written to me enlarging on the historical aspect of this complicated subject. It seems that in the motorcycle and 3-wheeler world, governed by the FICM, all records were referred to as World’s records, from the 1920s onwards, although later the BMCRC appears to have preferred the term “World’s Class” records for other than the fastest speeds. Moreover, whereas in the car world records, apart from the absolute or World’s figures, were not recognised outside the appropriate capacity class, i.e., even if a 1½-litre car had done a mile at 200 m.p.h. and a 3-litre car the mile at 100 m.p.h., the smaller car could not claim the 3-litre class record, Dr. Bayley points out that this was not so in the case of motorcycle records, where a 350 c.c. machine, for instance, if it exceeded a speed done by, say, a 500 c.c. machine, would be given the record in both classes, or in all classes if this was the outright fastest speed. – W. B.

The Things They Say. . . .“… the rear window washer but not the wiper has failed literally as I write, …” John Miles writing in Autocar of the good service he has had from a Ford Granada Estate 2.3L, and showing great dedication to his profession by writing literally from the driving seat! – W. B.

BARC’s new man

At one stage in the winter it looked as though all the sporting clubs were looking for new men/competition persons, but now some of the gaps have been filled. A familiar face stepped into the vacancy created at the BARC Thruxton when John Wickham left to join March, that face belonging to Denis Southwood. Denis was with the BRSCC as general manager for twelve years (1960-72).

By coincidence the man Southwood worked for, Nick Syrett, is now at Brands Hatch handling press relations while his old opposite number at the BARC, Graham White, is now with the BRDC and also covering press relations.

The more things change etc. … !


M. O. (Bill) Meredith-Owens the founder and proprietor of the Stratford Motor Museum died suddenly just after Christmas. He suffered stroke at the end of the summer and seemed to be making a good recovery. Bill was only 59 years old, was a fighter pilot during the war and competed in several Monte Carlo and Tulip Rallies in the early 1950’s and also competed in the Mille Miglia in a Sunbeam-Talbot saloon.

Four years ago he started the Stratford Motor Museum with A. F. Rivers Fletcher. Exotic Rolls-Royce, Mercedes and Hispanos from India plus some of the finest sports and racing cars of the early 1930s formed the nucleus of a small but very interesting display. Bill’s son, William Meredith-Owens, takes over the management of the Museum.