Around and About, March 1979

Drophead XJ 2-door produced

Lynx Motor Co. of Station Road, Northiam, near Rye, in Sussex are offering to convert the increasingly sought-after XJ6 Jaguar coupe model into a convertible.

At present they do not envisage doing the same for four-door XJs (which are in wider circulation, older and usually cheaper) but there may well be a convertible XJ-S from Lynx “in the not too distant future”. What a shame Jaguar cannot afford to do the same!

The Lynx XJ convertible has a fully lined hood, which is power-operated via electric motors attached to the hood frame. Lynx say that their testing found the car to be completely free of wind noise and “totally weathertight”.

The conversion price is £4,972 + VAT.

Northampton recognise Cosworth record

It is pleasing to record that Northampton Borough Council bought Keith Duckworth and other senior members of the Cosworth concern lunch the other day. During a civic luncheon the mayor, Councillor David Walmsley, presented Duckworth with a commemorative plaque to mark the first anniversary of the RAC Diamond Jubilee Trophy, presented to Cosworth last year.

The mayor said that the GP motor racing scene would not be the same without Cosworth (it would be rather quieter, one imagines, with three marques sharing the grid!) while Mr. Duckworth felt that Cosworth should have sought a little more publicity in retrospect. “Not only for Cosworth and Northampton, but for the country as a whole,” in Keith Duckworth’s words.

1979 BL sports planning

BL Motorsport, the state-owned car company’s rewly renamed competitions department, presented few surprises when they announced their 1979 plans about a month into the New Year. It was gratifying to see that 27-year-old Briton Graham Elsmore has his first full-blooded factory contract. Sharing with Stuart Harrold, his regular partner from his Ford Escort days, he will contest all the rounds of the home international championship, culminating in November’s RAC Rally. In all cases the 3½-litre Triumph TR7 V8 will be entered, and there will be two such factory cars.

Otherwise there are few changes. The factory-backed Broadspeed Dolomite Sprints are no more, Ralph Broad retreating to the security of background engineering and development work after a good 20 years either racing or preparing saloon cars in the public eye. The British saloon car series will have a pair of Triumph Dolomite Sprints, but these will be the responsibility of, and partly driven by, Gerry Marshall with Triplex sponsorship.

Once again the Austin Morris Mini Challenge for 850s, 1000s and 1275 GTs will take place. This is the one-make series for good racing, reasonable competitor costs, and spectator spectacle.

Other rallying plans seemed a little indefinite as at February, but John Davenport has recruited Jean-Luc Therier and Simo Lampinen to drive Triumphs on “selected European rallies,” so the further development of what many regard as rallying’s fastest tarmac car will continue this season. What a shame Leyland and British Airways were not able to indulge in a full scale “fly the flag” operation within the European Championship – though with an anticipated six or seven Triumph 3½-litres at Abingdon, and the announcement of the Chequered Flag Triumph(s), it may be that an assault of sorts will develop during the season.

BL Motorsport will also continue to run their useful bonus scheme for competitors in 1979. Full details from Ron Elkins at Abingdon.

Rally tales

Rallying announcements have dominated the winter months and there seems no easing even now that the season is under way. Of course most concern cars painted in different sponsors colours but there are some snippets that may interest you.

First Dealer Team Vauxhall are promoting a £10,000 Chevette Cup, a bonus scheme for Vauxhall users and RAC competition licence holders, which is worth further enquiry if you are intending to compete with the Luton marque this year: it does not say if VSCC events are eligible, but you don’t have to run a Chevette to qualify for awards. Paul Davies at DTV, Station Works, Shepreth, Nr. Royston, Hens is the man to contact.

Chrysler have now officially announced the competition programme we previewed recently in our article upon the 2.2-litre Lotus-Sunbeam competition car. The ten events they will tackle are as expected, but the Frenchman we referred to, but were not permitted to name, is Jean-Pierre Nicolas. It is that 1978 winner of the Monte-Carlo Rally and the Safari who will tackle Chrysler’s European programme alongside Pond, the Frenchman’s Sunbeams serviced from Boulogne-Billancourt.

Meanwhile the road versions of the Sunbeam appear to be coming along nicely. Rumours at press time said that the Sunbeam will now carry increased Lotus identification and badging than originally planned, so the liaison has presumably got off to a fine start.

Of the new colour schemes appearing late in the winter the best kept secret was undoubtedly that of Chequered Flag at Chiswick. The enterprising Graham Warner stepped in to help BL Motorsport complete their target of contesting all the rounds of the Irish Tarmac Championship (a series which includes three European championship events in six rounds!) with Derek Boyd as the driver.

“The Flag” launched the TR with typical vigour, posing it alongside their Lancia Stratos (which will still appear occasionally) and confirming that they were glad there was now a British sports car they could support in rallying. They started the year with the ex-RAC TR7 VS of John Haugland (SJW 533S) and expected to build their own new car to complement it, but unfortunately Boyd totally demolished the old car on the Galway Rally, injuring himself and co-driver Fred Gallagher.

Following their encouraging run on the Monte in the brand new Ford Fiesta, Ari Vatanen/David Richards appeared back in London with a Rothmans sponsorship deal for their Escort RS 1800 to appear in seven World Championship rounds alongside the existing two factory Escorts of Hannu Mikkola and Bjorn Waldegard.

Vatanen is a possible candidate for some more Fiesta drives on World Championship events on which the Escort team is not presently expected.

Rotary racer return

America has seen a three-car team of Mazda RX7 rotary-engine sports cars attacking both the Daytona 24 hours and land speed records. In Britain we have Mr. Tom Walkinshaw, minus BMW jacket, on hand for the launch of the Pentax-sponsored RX7 racer that will apparently contest the Tricentrol British Saloon Car Championship this season.

That means the rotary sports car will be appearing on grids full of Capris, Dolomites (the main class rival) and other sporting saloons. Quite how this state of affairs has come about is a question worth asking the FIA in Paris who have homologated the machine into this grouping. Following the same logic Porsches, four-seater Lotii and the like should be allowed in to give the saloon cars a hiding too?

Racing services in Twickenham will race-tune the 2.3-litre twin rotor engines, a wise choice since they have 99% of all known experience in the UK with these engines in the higher states of tune. Something like 180 b.h.p. should be realised and, in the lowline Mazda, this could provide speeds of over 140 m.p.h. The car will be driven initially by Tom Walkinshaw, who will also be forming a separate company to deal with his Mazda business whilst carrying on his Alpina, BMW and other businesses at Kidlington in Oxfordshire.

Race of Champions and International Trophy

Two major meetings in March start the new British motor racing season in earnest.

The Formula One Constructors Association is fielding a strong entry for the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch on March 18th from which the for once charitable organisation and Brands Hatch have guaranteed £100,000 towards the Gunnar Nilsson Fund. The only British Formula One race in which the Grand Prix stars will appear this year includes entries for Reutemann, Lauda, Watson, Stuck, Villeneuve, Ongais, Hunt, Daly, Merzario, Depailler, Regazzoni, Mass and Keegan, while non-FOCA entries at the time we went to Press included Desiré Wilson, in the Monaco GP-winning Tyrrell 008, and Emilio Villota. The race will cover 40 laps (105 miles) of the Grand Prix circuit.

The BRSCC are making a full weekend out of the meeting, with practice days on Friday and Saturday, March 17th/18th. Formula One timed practice will start at 2pm on Friday. Saturday will also see a round of the Townsend-Thoresen Formula Ford 1600 Championship. A strong line-up of supporting races on Sunday starts at 12.40 with the first appearance of the new ShelISPORT Sunbeam 1.6Ti celebrity cars, driven by a mixed bag of sports personalities. The afternoon also sees the opening rounds of the Tricentrol British Saloon Car Championship and the BMW County Championship and rounds of the ShelISPORT Martini Super Ford and Chequered Flag Sports 2000 Championships.

With Brands Hatch hosting this year’s single non-Championship Formula One Race for World Championship contestants, Silverstone’s 31st BRDC International Trophy Race adopts Formula Two status on Sunday, March 25th. Practice day on the Saturday includes an Esso Formula Ford qualifying race at 6pm. Racing on the Sunday kicks off with the 20-lap Vandervell Formula 3 race at 12.30. Other supporting races include rounds of the Chequered Flag Sports 2000, Tricentrol British Saloon and Esso Formula Ford Championships. The 47-lap International Trophy Race begins at 2.45pm. All the events will be run on the Grand Prix circuit.

The Gunnar Nilsson Cancer Treatment Campaign

Our sincere thanks to all those readers who have donated so generously through Motor Sport to the Gunnar Nilsson Cancer Treatment Campaign. Donations are continuing to come in and the amount so far received is £3,800. It is our intention to acknowledge all those contributors in a future issue. We intend to close the Motor Sport collection for the Campaign in about a month and in the meantime any further contributions will be gratefully accepted at this office.

The Campaign Co-ordinator, Ian Phillips, informs us that a total of £210,000 has so far been raised towards the purchase of new cancer treatment facilities for the Charing Cross Hospital, and this before the contribution from the Race of Champions mentioned above. Encouraged by this overwhelming response, the Campaign target has been raised to £500,000.

Wrong caption

Only by the skin of our teeth were we able to get our staffmen and their reports and photographs back from the Argentine GP in time to meet the deadline for the February issue. Which is by way of excuse for the caption “cock-up” in the colour centre spread, which had the very sideways Shadow of de Angelis captioned as the very sideways Shadow of Lammers!

The Renault 18

The new Renault 18 should be starting to appear on British roads this month and recently we drove a couple of right-hand-drive versions in the South of France. The 18 range comes with two engine options, both in-line “fours”, one of 1,397 c.c. and 64 b.h.p. (an enlarged Renault 12 engine) and the other Renault’s familiar 1,647 c.c., 79 b.h.p. aluminium unit, used in the 16, 17 and 20TL. There are four equipment specifications: TL, GTL, TS and GTS. The smaller-engined cars have four-speed manual gearboxes, the larger engines a choice of automatic or manual, the latter in five-speed form for the top of the range GTS version. The front-wheel-drive engines are mounted longitudinally, ahead of the front wheels.

This neat looking 18 is a conventional “three box”, four door, five-seater saloon, with large separate boot. It is aimed at competitors like the Cortina and Cavalier and offers very well-equipped specifications at prices from £3,313 to £4,503, the latter being the GTS automatic which we drove in France. Details like electric windows are included in this comfortable version, but the example tested was not very pleasant in its handling and dead steering, although it rode well and rolled less than earlier Renaults on its double wishbone front suspension and rigid, coil sprung rear axle. Its performance was no more than reasonable for a 1650 automatic and this example had several faults which included an out of line gear position indicator and a faulty inhibitor switch which allowed the engine to be started with reverse engaged.

This was obviously a bad example, for the 1600 TS manual which followed had much more sparkle, its engine commendably torquey, tackling most of the hilly terrain in third gear where most competitors would have needed second. Both its handling and steering were good without undue understeer and with excellent grip in the dry conditions. Noise level was nicely subdued, though we found that the driver’s door window bowed out and was impossible to shut at speed.

The Land’s End Trial

Potential competitors in the MCC’s Land’s End Trial, April 13th-14th, should note that entries close on March 5th. Regulations and entry forms are available from the MCC General Secretary, V. Lovett, Cherry Trees, Dodds lane, Chalfont St. Giles, Bucks. (02 407 2779). The second of the three qualifying events for the 1979 Triple Awards and Individual and Team Championships, the Land’s End has starting points at Bristol, Fleet, Lewdown and Oxford and finishes at Newquay, Cornwall.