Matters of moment, March 1985

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RACMSA on the wrong track

Just when the organisers of the splendid Birmingham “on the streets” parades seem close to realising their ambition of having a proper motor race meeting in that city, so the RACMSA has said that it will not sanction street racing in Britain.

The argument put forward by the RACMSA is that the permanent circuits, which provide facilities for testing, racing schools, functions and race meetings throughout the year, should be protected and that revenue from racing should return to racing via the circuits. In this column in November we put forward the same argument as the reason why talk of a Grand Prix in Birmingham was misguided while, at the same time, hoping that the city would be able to stage a race meeting.

The question is would a race meeting in Birmingham harm the permanent circuits? We think not. Most enthusiasts attend races at a geographically convenient circuit with special meetings, the Grand Prix, VSCC meetings, F2 or F3000, and so on as additions to their staple diet. A Birmingham meeting would be such an addition, it will not prevent or deter the Brands Hatch regular from going to Brands Hatch, nor the Donington regular from going to Donington. The staple circuits would not be affected by an additional attraction and, make no mistake about it, the chance loser road racing in Britain at long last would be a more powerful attraction.

The novelty of road racing would bring a great deal of news media coverage and also attract thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of new spectators who have never before witnessed racing. Mere parades of cars around Birmingham have attracted bigger crowds than the British Grand Prix. If the meeting was a good one then it would surely attract new spectators to regular motor racing.

A Birmingham street meeting would be good for the sport.

The arguments for a street race meeting are simple and can be answered in personal terms. Would you stop going to your regular circuit because of a street race in Birmingham? Of course not. Would you like to see road racing in Britain? Of course you would. Would you welcome newcomers to the sport? Of course you would, for we would all benefit by increased interest in motor racing, even if that only means a few more column inches in the daily papers to offset their manic obsession with soccer, snooker, etc.

The case for a single annual street race in Birmingham is self-evident and over-whelming. We shake our heads in disbelief at the level of thinking employed by the RACMSA and those circuit owners who support its stance, that they cannot see the benefits to the sport which such a meeting would generate.

The Birmingham race must go ahead. The arguments against it are utter tosh.

Road safety

Safety has been uppermost in the minds of successive Governments ever since the motor car became an available private-transport commodity some 100 years ago. Many of the rules applying toil have been acceptable, and safety is certainly to be considered, for 99% of drivers are anxious to do no harm to human or animal. What has been a matter for continual controversy along the years is whether or not speed comes into the safety complex, at all events on roads away from congested areas. From four, then 12 mph, the speed-limit was raised eventually to 20 mph, and abolished altogether before the war, except for a 30 mph restriction in built-up areas. When our first Motorway, the M1, was opened, there was complete speed freedom thereon.

Since the war, all this has changed. There is a multiplicity of speed-limits in operation and our excellent Motorways are restricted to 70 mph. (Had it not been for the powerful lobby from readers of Motor Sport who signed our Motorway speed-limit abolition petition some years ago, we might have had a 60 mph limit on such roads.) Consequently, it is good news that, in pressing for new road-safety regulations, many MPs seek an 80 mph Motorway limit, and are backed by the Association of Chief Police Officers. This is a cautious step in the right direction, but it should be remembered that in prosperous Germany there is no speed-limit on Motorways. As for the rest of the safety suggestions, most of them scarcely apply to experienced drivers and the harping on rear seat-belts seems droll when mums are permitted to cycle about with infants perched high up behind them, constituting, surely the greatest road-risk of all?

Clearly, although accidents have diminished since 1975, any sensible thing that will reduce the death-rate from 5,000 a year and serious injuries from 75,000, is commendable. A sense of proportion is very important in this respect, however, and it does seem that the vehicle-driver is all too often made the scapegoat, when cyclists (those mums?), careless pedestrians (especially drink ‘walk ones) and, according to a colleague, even Sinclair C5 electrics, can contribute their quota…

A technical full circle

When reviewing its 1984 road test accomplishments Autocar wrote rather controversially of the Saab 900 Turbo 16, saying that it left them “still wondering if 16-valve complication is worthwhile when you are jamming the mixture in with any sort of pump”. In defence of this well-engineered, individualistic Saab, which we report on elsewhere in this issue, if much gas is to be forced into the combustion chambers it is expedient to get it out again after it has been fired, and to expedite this in a modern high-speed engine two comparatively small valves are better than one large exhaust valve, which is how Ettore Bugatti used to do it.

It is a very interesting trend of design that more and more designers are turning to the multiple-valve engine, whether turbo charged or not, which Ernest Henry drew to well all those years ago that it enabled Peugeot to dominate the major races of 1912 and 1913. As for using this valve arrangement with forced induction, it was employed on cars ranging from the pre-war Grand Prix Mercedes-Benz to the blower-4½ Bentleys, and anyway, the Saab engineers couple with it an ingenious knock-sensor which renders different quality petrol acceptable, perhaps with the lower-ratings which will arise if and when lead is removed from commercially available fuel in mind, and they are now developing a highly ingenious new ignition system. Which suggests that they know what they are doing…