Letters from readers, March 1980

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Historic Grand Prix Cars 

Sir,

While concocting a letter in answer to the feature on Historic Racing in the December issue of Motor Sport, further articles, letters, telephone calls and “buttonholings” at social events have occurred so this has become perforce a much more generalised statement of our aims.

“Historic G.P. Cars — an Association for Owners and Drivers” has been formed in response to two basic problems confronting us; how to prevent a depreciation of our branch of the Sport through over-exposure, and how to afford the ever increasing cost of running the cars properly. The thorny question of authenticity being an added headache. 

Anyone who uses his year-planner will see what a wide choice of races there is and if 1980 is like 1979 few will have adequate grids and of those only one or two will be for single-seaters alone. We must control the number of races to protect the “spectacle”. 

The acceptance rate of our invitation to join has been overwhelming and we now have authority to act for and programme the running of the large majority of single-seater owners; 60 members with 90 cars. We shall canvass them to decide which events to support and act accordingly, offering organisers a guaranteed grid with all arrangements made. 

We realise it will be impossible to please all (so we shall not try). What we seek is a fair return to our members for the effort put in. We are, after all, entertainment for a paying public. The Red Arrows and the Motorcycle Stunt-Man are properly paid to entertain, why not the well presented and appropriate Historic Race? The question of authenticity is a matter upon which we are developing definite views. Initial ideas involve stopping the rot by classifying all cars with the “provenance” crucial, since more and more events are stipulating originality as a criterion.  

Once we have classified all our cars there should be no more argument since we will only present a grid containing cars we know a track organiser or promoter will readily accept. 

W. H. Summers
Chairman HGPC Association
Bridgnorth, Salop.

* * * 

HSCC “housekeeping” 

Sir,

Barry Simpson’s letter which included the suggestion that the HSCC put its “house in order” requires answering. As one of the HSCC “Housekeepers” I am aware of some registration problems, largely those of applicants’ integrity/knowledge and the practical impossibility of physically inspecting every applicant’s car. For the latter purpose we do not have full-time staff nor a permanent headquarters. All our registrars are active racers whose paddock and much of their spare time is spent fettling their own cars in addition to registration matters. That being said the exciting Lloyds & Scottish series, from whose periphery patently much of the current sniping emanates, is not run by the HSCC, nor is it directly or exclusively to HSCC regulations, it is its own self-run championship acccessible by invitation, and although cars require FIA documentation for the series, this can be obtained trom the HSCC, the VSCC or the AMOC and then the RAC. Either blame all these Clubs or none! 

As for the HSCC, their policy has always been one that rejected replicas and those disclosed as such have all been turned down. But our registration of course is not just basic acceptability. It concerns itself with detail as well, for example Barry Simpson declared the vented discs on his Lister and was asked to replace with the original solid type, which he has done. 

One major point concerning HSCC activities generally is that the club is just as concerned with road sports cars and sports racers, indeed the majority of members own cars such as AC Aces, Frazer Nashes, Porsche 356s, MG-As, Ginettas, Healey Silverstones etc, and we have been racing many such cars since 1966. 

To close, if there are any of your readers out there with an abiding interest/knowledge of the cars of the post-war period who would like a direct involvement, our registrars would welcome informed help. Access to, or ownership of, books, programmes and magazines of the period would be a useful qualification, in addition to the time for paddock beavering. Please, though, no motoring politicians; there are already plenty of organisations seemingly devoted exclusively to their activities, as witness the uninformed criticisms of historic racing.

P. H. Dixon
Chief Registrar, The HSCC
Twickenham

* * * 

In defence of plastics 

Sir,

I feel the statement made by your correspondent Christopher Hone that “. . . the greatest saving in oil would come from, firstly, a cutback in the many totally unnecessary plastic goods we now use,” cannot go unchallenged.

As there are an many different types of plastics. each with their own specialist application, the generalisation ignores the advantages which the correct use of plastics has brought to everyone.

Looking at the energy needed to produce a given quantity of steel against that needed to produce most thermoplastics, it is evident that more energy is needed to produce the former. Further, steel is subject to a rapid corrosion rate (witness, the mobile rot-boxes cluttering the roads today), whereas plastics can withstand salted roads to a greater extent. 

Plastics are lighter than steel when viewed from the volume standpoint. Which means their application in all forms of road transport can improve fuel consumption with the overall reducuon in vehicle weight. Add to this the way in which plastics can take on gracious curves at a relatively low tooling cost, and it becomes apparent why their use in all types of road transport increases yearly. Not only do vehicles using plastics have less weight, to carry around, they also slip more easily through the barrage of air which opposes any vehicle at high speed.

Various types of foam plastic are used as effective low-cost insulators for home, office and factory; thus making their contribution to energy saving here. Even that extra pullover worn to save fuel expenditure may be a synthetic fibre produced from a plastics raw material.

D. A. Girdler,
BA, CertEd, TechEng (CEI) AIIM
Director, ESPRI 
Loughborough

* * * 

The BBC’s Grand Prix coverage 

Sir,

Much as I appreciate the recognition given to Grand Prix racing by the BBC’s “Grand Prix” series I would like to express my agreement with the letter from Miss Claire Harrison in January’s issue. From his commentaries one gains the impression that Murray Walker is an occasional reader of Motor, is unaware of Motor Sport or Autosport and certainly not a professional sports commentator. His commentary seems to be largely based on the hand-out given to the Press before each race which contains basic driver profiles and ages etc. and not from the information which a person in the privileged position of a BBC commentator could be expected to gather. 

The “edited highlights” nature of the programme inevitably makes the progress of the race seem a little disjointed at times, with apparent sudden changes in position but there is surely no need to give a comment, which consists almost excusively of the reeling off of the names of the drivers as they pass. Attempts to show some insight into what is happening out on the track tend to result in unfortunate circumlocutions such as “The battle is well and truly on if it wasn’t on before, and it certainly was” (from Private Eye, August 31st, 1979). 

The feverish, staccato tone of voice used for the commentary is obtrusive and irritating; perhaps it would be better if the calmer approach of the Wimbledon commentators was adopted. 

A cause of my complaints might be the great difficulty of giving information about cars and drivers at the same time as commenting on the progress of the race. For the most insignificant and brief horse races one is subjected to a lengthy monologue of each runner’s form. With “Grand Prix” one is fortunate to hear practice details of the first five cars before cutting to the start of the race. An additional 10 minutes on the length of the broadcast would allow Murray Walker to dispense with the background information before the start of the race. This would satisfy the demands of the cognoscenti for a more detailed approach to technical matters and leave the race free for a decent commentary, uninterrupted by sudden blitzes of “. . . as I was saying to Mario Andretti before the start of this race . . .”

This idea would depend on the BBC’s willingness to allow the extra time, but with the State owned Leyland firm involved in two Grand Prix teams it would require no altruism on the part of the BBC to justify this. 

Nicholas Khan 
Bromley 

* * * 

Sir, 

First may I say that I really enjoyed watching the Argentinian Grand Prix on television. They say cars don’t change places! It was one of the most exciting races I have seen, comparable to the French Grand Prix last year, although undoubtedly most of the excitement was due to the track surface. 

I would like to make a point about the improvement in the standard of the BBC Grand Prix commentaries this year. It is quite a relief from the babblings of “Uncle Murray” to have some sensible comments from Jarnes Hunt, for a change. James, keep it up and don’t lapse into the realms of the “super-slag” as per last season. Oh, and James, no “jokes” at the end please.

Roger Fairclough 
Guildford 

* * * 

Sir,

May I say how much I enjoyed reading Claire Harrison’s letter on the above subject in the current number of Motor Sport. For several years I have intended writing to you in similar vein after listening to Murray Walker’s commentaries on motoring events. I have taken a very active interest in all form of motoring and motorcycling activities for more than 60 years and feel that I can understand what is happening and how the different competitors are faring but not when Mr. Walker is attempting to tell us what is happening. 

It has always been considered the hallmark of a bad film when the sound track tells us what we can see for ourselves. Sound should add to what vision provides not duplicate it and surely the same applies to TV commentary. In these days when so many viewers watch events in colour there is no excuse for the amount of false information we receive in Mr. Walker’s commentaries. There have been times when I have wondered whether he was indeed present at the track or, like me perhaps, watching from his armchair. Perhaps the thing that annoys me most when watching a Grand Prix is the detail he constantly repeats in which we learn the car’s speed, engine revs. and the gear the driver is using. Surely this is pure guesswork, wonderful deduction, or a “hot line” to each driver. Come off it Mr. Walker, let us have information about the cars, the drivers and the tactics being adopted. The only times we learn these things are when we have commentaries from Jackie Stewart. Stirling Moss, James Hunt or Raymond Baxter, so please BBC let us have more informed and informing commentators as seems to be possible for most other sports. 

B. E. Gillett 
Minehead

[These are just some of the many letters received on this subject. We do know that Murray Walker often has to commentate under extreme difficulties. On occasions the BBC do not send him to the circuit at all and the commentary is added in the London studio. At other times he has to leave after practice, the commentary again being added in the studio. Live commentaries are rare. But perhaps the BBC will allow Murray to write the background story for Motor Sport readers? In our opinion the Walker/Hunt team is now doing a good job under difficult circumstances. — C.R.] 

* * * 

Roller skates 

Sir,

I am much alarmed to learn that D. F. Fletcher has gone to some considerable expense to attend the Silverstone Historic Car Race, and has had to suffer the unnecessary inconvenience of a “roller skate procession” (Motor Sport — February). 

Aged though I may be, I have yet to see any youth, however enterprising, pulling a twitchy 2.5g through a 160 m.p.h. corner at 10,000 lunatic car-splitting revolutions per minute on anything remotely approaching a roller skate!

May I respectfully commend Mr. Fletcher to his gentle parades of ferrous oxide, and suggest that he leaves the roller skating to those with a stouter heart and a quicker eye.

R. J. Miller 
Blackheath 

* * * 

Sports car racing 

Sir, 

Yet again “Spons Car Racing” is in a poor state because the vehicles competing bear little relationship to the road vehicles owned by the general public. We are in the grip of a fuel crisis which I expect will eventually progress to a point where the largest engines used by manufacturers in road vehicles will be a 3-litre six-cylinder. The general public will want performance but also improved fuel consumption.

The present Gp.5 turbos I feel do not endear themselves to the public with their immense tyres and high fuel consumption. Therefore, I would recommend a change in the FlA Gps.1-6 regs. which would allow manufacturers to develop vehicles and use them for marketing purposes. Instead of six groups I would suggest just three as follows:—

a) Production Saloon cars — Amalgamate the present Groups 1 and 2; use the present Gp.2 homologation requirements but permit modifications aspen the present Gp.1. 

b) Production Sports Cars — amalgamate the present Groups 3 and 4; use the present Gp.4 homologation requirements but permit modifications as per the present Gp.3. 

c) Prototype Sports Cars — these vehicles could be defined as performance 2-seater coupés which must include all normal road-going equipment. The maximum engine size to be a 3-litre, 6-cylinder or a 2-litre, 4-cylinder turbo (though only one turbocharger per engine to be permitted). The minimum weight of the whole vehicle to be as per the current Gp.6 — as are the safety regs.; maximum fuel to be carried 20 gallons; the maximum wheel-tyre width to be 10″.

By limiting the fuel load and the engine size I would hope to improve fuel consumption over the present 935 Porsche’s and by limiting the tyre size, get some resemblance to normal road tyres.

I feel that manufacturers would be interested in a class of racing along these lines as many of them have vehicles currently in production which could be successfully used. 

Ford could develop a vehicle around the 3-litre Capri; BMW could use the MI coupe with 3-litre rather than 3.5-litre 6-cylinder engine; Porsche have the Carrera RSR 3-litre or 924 Turbo etc.

I appreciate that the present Gp.5 was intended to be used by the manufacturers but the regs. allowed so many modifications to be made to production cars that only Porsche benefited. Comments on this subject would be appreciated.

K. R. Stubbs 
London E5 

* * * 

The decline of Australian motor racing 

Sir,

I would like to begin by saying how much I enjoy and appreciate your magazine each month.

It was, therefore, quite distressing to see so much space devoted to the “Hardie Ferodo” race in your December issue. Understandably, J.W. was not in a position to gain a long term appraisal of the history of this event or of its evolution to Australia’s premier motor race. He did in fact unknowingly touch on the issue when he described saloon car racing as “king pin” in this country. 

Unfortunately the manufacturers in Australia “discovered” motor racing in the late ’60s and since that time the status of saloon car racing has risen dramatically and the status of open wheel racing has fallen by a similar amount. Indeed we have almost reached the stage of “saloon car only” meetings (i.e. no events for open wheelers or sports cars) where the “enthusiast” can delight in an entire programme of glorified stock car racing. The local manufacturers (who are, of course, local subsidiaries of giant American and Japanese multinationals and whose survival is ensured only by massive tariff barriers) have blatantly used and manipulated motor sport to suit their own narrow ends. Racing has degenerated into nothing more than a mobile advertising campaign for the local product. What other country has a touring car race as its premier event? Even the Americans — the high priests of commercialism — have Indianapolis!

In a country where the term “media monopoly” has been refined to unbelievable heights and where large fortunes have been spent by General Motors and others, it is hardly surprising that this “taxi-cab” race (to borrow Jim Hall’s expression) is common chatter in the supermarkets. The general public have been taken for a ride by manufacturers who race cars that have absolutely no connection to the vehicles offered on the showroom floor and which are dangerously copied by young (and not so young) boy racers. 

J.W. mentioned Johnnie Harvey as being a top driver for the Holden team. It should be pointed out that in 1967 Harvey was driving a 2.5-litre Repco Brabham against Brabham, Hill, Clark and co. in Tasman races; in 1979 he is driving a 5-litre “hot rod” in saloon car racing! If that is not a classic example of reverse progress then I don’t know what is. In fact Harvey’s backyard slide is symbolic of the tragic decline of Australian motor racing. 

The days when local drivers could race competitively against the world’s top F1 drivers are long gone. Who amongst the beer swilling “enthusiasts” at Bathurst can remember the excitement generated when Frank Matich took pole position from Clark at Lakeside in 1967. Who can remember Gurney and Hill in works BRM’s driving on the limit in their attempts to catch Stan Jones’ runaway Cooper at Ballaamat in 1961? It would stagger me if any of these “motor racing experts” at the Hardie Ferodo had even heard of Jim Clark let alone a Cooper Climax. If any of these spectators were sober enough after lunch their time would probably be spent either cheering their Holden on or starting fights with Ford fans. 

It must be remembered that Alan Jones received no help from Australian sources — officials, promoters, press, etc. — but it is now these very people who loudly proclaim him as an Australian driver. Alan Jones is one of the world’s top drivers in spite of Australian motor racing not because of it. Had he stayed here he would probably have followed the way of Johnnie Harvey and others. Indeed if he returns to Australia he can look forward to driving a Mazda (or the like) around Bathurst for 5 hours in the country’s premier road race! What a joke! 

It saddens me to think that the great motor racing legacy given to this country by drivers like Whiteford, Davison, Jones, Stillwell, Patterson, etc., has been cast aside by the greedy. whose only interest in the sport is what they can get out of it.

G. L. Tutt 
Nunawading, Australia 

* * * 

Off-road vehicles 

Sir, 

I found J.W.’s experiences in Australia interesting reading, in particular his references to off-road vehicles. 

Whilst working in Iran in 1978, our company owned or rented both Range Rovers and Chevrolet Blazers. Though most of our work involved travel on the main Tehran-Ahwaz highway, we frequently had to go “into the bush”, so to speak. The attributes of the Range Rover were significant; extremely comfortable, bad-road ride nothing short of excellent, fuel consumption better than the Blazer, and seemingly less power loss on altitude climbs. By comparison, the Blazer was a brute; the steering was feather light, manual models needed real muscle to change gear, and the handling (even on massive Goodyear “Trail Blazers”) was, to my mind, dangerous. However, where the Chevrolet won hands down was on reliability. It appeared that nothing could break them — not even the “jubes” (wide, deep drainage channels) in Tehran when one accidentally cut a corner too fine.

Punctures excluded, I do not recall an occasion when a Blazer broke down on the road. On the other hand, there were two occasions when the transfer gearbox on the Range Rover broke up, and the vehicle had to be towed back to Tehran. I think the main trouble lay in the amount of maintenance that the Range Rover requires, and to some degree its sophistication (the differential lock should be scrapped — anyone who runs out of traction to that degree most be up to his eyeballs in mud). These experiences did not prevent me purchasing one on my return to the UK (and very pleased with it I was), but I cannot help but be a little sad that such a superior vehicle could not have been developed a bit more to take account of the generally pathetic standards of vehicle servicing in the Middle East (why no automatic gearbox for instance?).

Even the vehicle which I have always regarded as the epitome of a workhorse vehicle, the Land Rover, appeared, in Libya, to be being eclipsed by the Toyota Land Cruiser (much as J.W. says about Australia). I did not get an opportunity to drive the Land Cruiser, but all the Land Rovers I drove seemed definitely under the weather, one with as little as 7,000 miles on the clock. 

I hope we are not witnessing a slow strangulation of yet another piece of British expertise — no motor car firm can rest on its laurels these days.

J. Pullon 
Solihull 

* * * 

Leyland in Formula One 

Sir, 

So Leyland have finally managed to back a winner — Saudia Williams. A bit ironic though, don’t you think, that it should be Ford powered, despite the Cosworth association. Another outstanding example of good old Leyland’s management ineptitude!

Firstly, it seems, you have to kill off two of the finest racing names in motoring history — MG, whose TT victories and record-breaking successes are still legendary, and Riley, whose engines powered the all-conquering ERAs and whose cars made many racing drivers household names. Then you have to back a car with a competitive power unit because it’s better than anything you have. 

Leyland must have swallowed a great deal of pride to do that! Pity Sir Michael didn’t have the guts to weld his workforce together by producing a car under the banner of one of his own companies. What better than an MG, Riley or even Jaguar? I know — under Leyland’s organisation it probably wouldn’t win!

D. G. Styles 
Hounslow 

* * * 

Cast iron brake discs 

Sir, 

In the November issue Mr. Gadsby raised the question of the use of cast iron for brake discs. Perhaps, as a metallurgist, I may defend the use of this apparently unsophisticated material for this onerous duty. There are four very good reasons why cast iron is used:— 

(i) The graphite in the iron is smeared over the surface of the disc giving a degree of solid lubrication which paradoxically helps to give smooth and consistent braking performance. 

(ii) Cast iron is a good vibration damper and doesn’t “ring” like steel. This property helps to cut down the noise generated by the discs and to reduce kick-back through the brake pedal.

(iii) The weight and poor thermal conductivity of cast iron combine to keep the disc at its working temperature longer than would be the ease if a lighter metal with good conductivity were used. Again good braking is obtained if the disc is kept at a uniform temperature, very rapid heating and cooling would cause problems with the frictional properties of the pads. 

(iv) Finally it is cheap and easy to produce, easy to cast and easy to machine.

What more could you want of a material?

Slough 
D. J. Dee, C.Eng., MIM

* * * 

Specials 

Sir, 

Where have all the specials gone? Are they really half-forgotten like the words of the song?

Time was when the poor but enthusiastic — and there are still some survivors of the cult — would devise their own form of sporting transport and redesign and modify them as ingenuity and finance permitted. Today it seems that people seize upon very old specials — especially those of pre-war vintage — with cries of joy and refurbish them and no doubt obtain more than a little excitement driving them. 

But where I ask are the modern counterparts — your journal only refers to the professional efforts — either replicas or such vehicles as Pumas. Surely the art is not lost — surely there are still those who regard it as double enjoyment to drive in an open air sporting vehicle of their own devising. There is real reward to see the fruits of many hours of labour and thought finally at work, accepting of course that there will be periods of deep depression with brief intervals of great elation. It is not easy as a friend of mine said of his “two skin grafts and three blood transfusions later the thing finally ran”. 

My own simple special started as a Standard Flying Nine chassis with Ford Ten power. Now a modified Cortina provides the power — a different back end to cope — power hydraulic brakes to hold the lot in check and rack and pinion steering to help point the way etc., etc. Needless to say the scope for modification is endless but it is a special motoring treat in my retirement that very few modern vehicles can provide. 

I think I accept all forms of motoring enthusiasm. I salute the man who falls upon a 1929 Grotty Six and lavishes upon it money and loving care in equal parts. I am, however, apprehensive at the apparent demise of the home grown special which I have always regarded as the very central core and driving force of the sport.

Tell me that all is not lost and that somewhere the impecunious and the ingenious are still at work and enjoying that very unique form of motoring that only specials can provide.

E. C. Sharrock 
Wellington, NZ 

* * * 

A Tambay fan 

Sir,

Through your columns I would like to express my respect for three fine racing drivers, namely Patrick Tambay, Emerson Fittipaldi and Alan Jones.

It is beyond my comprehension how the Frenchman is now without a Formula One seat. True enough, his 1979 season was uninspiring to say the least, but with an outclassed machine one tends to lose the urge, just as Niki Lauda did with the Brabham (unreliable as opposed to “outclassed” in this case.)

1978 showed the undoubted speed of Tambay. In fact it was the legendary Clay Regazzoni who played second fiddle in the Ensign team for the latter part of that season. Not putting down David Kennedy, Stephan Johansson, Ricardo Zunino, Marc Surer, Jan Lammers or Eddie Cheever, who are obviously capable drivers or else they wouldn’t be in a high grade of motor racing, but wouldn’t a new team have given Patrick Tambay a new lease of life and further success? I am convinced this would be the case and he deserves all the glory he would get. I am prepared to bet Don Nichols, or anyone else at Shadow Racing, that neither Kennedy nor Johansson will get a single championship point in the Shadow DN11. Phone 01-602 6039 if you have belief in your team . . . 

Emerson Fittipaldi will have been in 132 Grands Prix at the time of publishing, more than any other driver, and the same status goes for his 14 wins and 13 second places (the latter equalled only by “Regga”).

He has been through good times and bad, great drives and shrewd ones, and apart from anything his hard graft and loyalty to the Fittipaldi team should, through justice, lead him to his 15th Grand Prix victory. 

Finally Alan Jones, the man of the moment. He has won five races out of the last seven (this letter being written before the Brazilian GP) thereby beating approximately 25 opponents in 13 other teams. 

Therefore he has beaten 65 teams in his last seven appearances — so much for the “invincible Liverpool” beating 18 in their last 20 games!! 

Finally a word of thanks to the “Beeb” for their Grand Prix coverage, let’s all hope for a classic and memorable 1980 Grand Prix year, the ingredients are certainly there.

John Lazarus 
London W14 

* * * 

Elan history 

Sir, 

Club Lotus members are currently writing a definitive history of the Lotus Elan. I am working on a section devoted to the one-offs and urgently wish to borrow photographs of the following if any of your readers can help:—

The Frua Special Bodied Coupe (1965)
Shapecraft Body (Surbiton Motors) (1963/4)
Ian Walker Racing Bodies (1963/4) 
Stirling Moss racing Elan modified from a road car (1962/3) 

All photographs will of course be acknowledged and returned within 72 hours after professional copies have been made.

Graham J. Arnold 
Watton, Norfolk 

[Letters will be forwarded — Ed.] 

* * * 

An early Arctic Rally 

Sir, 

In June of 1935 a group of motoring enthusiasts, who, of the opinion that the Monte Carlo Rally was after all said and done a little on the tame side, put forward proposals for an Arctic Rally, the objective of which was the Arctic Ocean on the Russo-Siberian frontier, a distance of 3,200 miles. I wonder if perhaps some of your more long-term readers can confirm if this rally ever took place.

R. A. R. Peters 
Rochester 

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