Letters from readers, March 1985

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From Count Lurani

Bugattis in the Mille Miglia

Sir,

After four weeks spent in lovely Barbados, I came home and only now I have read with great interest your article on the Bugatti Type 43 that was published in Motor Sport of November 1984.

May I add a few remarks? In my opinion the greatest race in which Bugatti Type 43 took part was the second Mille Miglia race in Italy that took place on March 31st and April 1st, 1928. In fact Ettore Bugatti was visited in Molsheim in October 1927 by Count Ajmo Maggi, not only one of the promoters of the Mille Miglia, but also the Bugatti agent for Italy. Count Maggi had also very brilliantly driven Bugatti 35 in various races even winning the Rome GP with one. He persuaded Ettore Bugatti to enter a full team in the 1928 Mille Miglia race.

The cars were Type 43 and I believe that the team of drivers was the strongest one that any first class factory could enter in a race in those years. In fact the three cars were driven by Pietro Bordino, the famous ex-Fiat ace, by Count Brilli Pen, the great amateur driver who had won for Alfa Romeo the World Championship (Grand Prix of Italy) in 1925 at Monza, and by no less than Train Nuvolari. Brilli Peri had also led the first Mille Miglia for many hundred miles, and Nuvolari had also finished the same event. Thus these drivers had obviously good experience of this race. The cars were surely the fastest of the lot but not very well suited to the roads which in those years were still in poor conditions. But Bugattis nevertheless had won on the gruelling Targa Florio circuit and thus the 43s were expected to put up a great show. At the beginning they did. In fact at the Bologna control, the three Bugattis were in the lead with Nuvolari (124 km / hr average) Brilli Peni and Bordino.

Brilli Pen i went into the lead at Florence having outdriven everyone on his home roads, but in Rome Campari, in the 1,750 cc six-cylinder supercharged Alfa Romeo, was already in the lead with Nuvolari (Bugatti) second at five minutes and Brilli Peni (Bugatti) fourth. Campari / Ramponi won the race. The cars had trouble with oiled plugs and brake shoes that had to be changed. Also heating problems and other small teething troubles slowed the lovely cars. The determination and stamina of the drivers brought all three Bugatti cars at the finish of the race and Brilli Pen i finished sixth in the general classement and second in the 3,000 cc class. The Mille Miglia was a most gruelling event and it was great that the “43” all finished. In my book, the “History of the Mille Miglia”, there is a good photo of Nuvolari driving the “43″ in the 1928 Mille Miglia.

I have also a personal souvenir of the Type 43. In the 1930 .Double 12 Hour” race at Brooklands, where I successfully drove a 1,500 cc Alfa Romeo for F. Stiles’ official team, I remember that Lord Howe and Malcolm Campbell drove a “43” and Lord Howe had rear axle trouble on the Railway Straight. He walked to the pit and collected a huge jack for lifting the whole rear end of his car and walked back again and completed repairs. I remember that every lap I found him walking and pushing his jack along the track and every lap we exchanged hearty signs of mutual encouragement. After the race we all met for drinks at Thomson and Taylor’s and I (as class winner) was elected Honorary Member of the BRDC on the spot) At 24 I was then one of the youngest members, I believe. Now, at almost 80, I am surely among the oldest!

Count Castelbarco also owned a “43” that in Italy was called “Cannone” (the Cannon). On this car he and me managed to insert two girls and in 1929 we drove from Milan tpo Bologna and back to see the Mille Miglia passing in that town!… But this is another story!… Apart from the contents of Motor Sport that are incomparable with those of any other similar magazine, I appreciate the way in which the magazine is put together. Modern publishers have adopted new standards also to impress the readers that often have little time to spare and run through the pages in a hurry. Perhaps, being old fashioned, I prefer the Motor Sport traditional layout and its classic printing.

Thanks also for keeping the old flag flying and thanks for giving me a monthly pleasure.

Milan, Johnny Lurani

Cooper Correction

Sir,

May I, through your columns, take the opportunity of correcting one background story in my book “Cooper Cars”. On page 104 1 describe how John Riseley-Prichard’s beautiful little Disco Volante-styled Cooper-Connaught sports car was written-off by a mechanic on the Dorking, Leatherhead Bypass. I then add that an unfortunate PS to this incident was the fate of the mechanic who subsequently committed suicide (as I had been told on good authority) by intentionally crashing another customer’s Aston Martin DB3S during the Gosport Speed Trials. The owner of the Gosport DB3S has subsequently been in touch with me. My information was wrong (a) because the unfortunate Gosport victim was not the same man who had destroyed the Cooper-Connaught, and (b) because the subsequent inquest into his death returned an “accidental” verdict — despite gossip of suicide at the time. I did not quote names in the book, nor will I here, but I felt I should set the record straight.

Farnham, Doug Nye

Alexis Formula Junior

Sir,

M.L.’s “Formula Junior” article (Motor Sport, January 1985) brought back many memories, but it was not only Merlyn who were spawned by FJ and went on to build a number of cars for a long period thereafter — Alexis did too.

The first FJ. HF 101 made a fleeting appearance in late 1959 but the purchase tax inspector was not far behind, and it had to be hastily exported to America. HF 201 was a vastly superior car — one of the most attractive cars of 1960 — and put in some brave appearances in the hands of Gerry Ashmore, Arthur Mallock and Jack Pitcher, before being acquired by Terry Ogilvie-Hardy, who added a “Ferrari” nose, renamed it Project X, and it became the 1963 Monoposto Formula Champion.

The later, rear engined cars were real challengers to the Lotus domination, and Peter Proctor. particularly, with a first place at Aintree and three second places at Snetterton, the Oulton Park Gold Cup meeting and at Brands Hatch. showed the way. John Amps, Jacques Maglia, and David Prophet also performed with some success, but the highlight came in 1965 when Paul Hawkins defeated the works Lotus team in the Eifelrennen F2 race. Other F2 and F3 and trials cars followed with David Hobbs (F2), Dick Barker (F3) and Desmond Titterington (HFIII) among the drivers.

The scale of production increased with the mark 14 Russell-Alexis FF; with one of these James Hunt started his career. Other FF, F3, and two F100 sports cars were built over the years, the company, although still in existence, eventually becoming dormant in the late ’70s, with perhaps 250 cars having been built by then.

Sadly HF 801, the Eifelrennen car, has disappeared. Denis Kingham raced it in Irish Formula 1600 races in the late ’60s and it eventually found its was back to England. into body, as an FF driven by Keith Fletcher in1972. Who was brand what has happened to the car?

Your reference to Geoff Gartside — who also built four Garford sports and trials cars in 1956,7 — also reminds me that only a year or two ago, I visited his workshops near Knaresborough, .d the front half of the Cooper “500” Mark 8 frame that had not been used for the Garford FJ was still carefully presetwed with all suspension and running gear, with a view to eventual restoration.

And what did happen to the first British FJ, the Halson — in 1965 it was advertised by “broke owner” M. J. Done at Salfords Garage, Surrey for £250, but what then?

Wimbledon, Duncan C.P. Rabagliati

BL Defended

Sir,

Reference “Readers Letters” (February 1985) surely Mr S. J. Sheppard should have checked the facts before making statements so damaging to the British Motor Industry. He asks “Why had we, the poor taxpayers, been forced to pay countless millions to keep British Leyland afloat?”

1) Does he not know that British Leyland ceased to exist following a shareholders’ meeting on June 13th, 1978 which I attended.

2) Certainly this firm, a normal public company, with shares quoted on the stock exchange, received large government loans to re-equip its factories but Mr Sheppard is obviously not aware that a very high interest rate was paid for these, in fact the taxpayer had a very good return. It is the loyal shareholder who should receive sympathy.

3) His comments do not help to sell the fine range of cars now being produced by Austin-Rover Group Ltd. Did he know that it has been normal practice for motor manufacturers worldwide, including Rolls-Royce, to share or buy out major components, that BMW and Nissan built Austin cars under licence, that Volvo P1800 cars were built in Wolverhampton with bodies from Cowley and that this firm shares engines with Peugeot and Renault? Perhaps, when he sees the Rover 216 with its Austin designed and built engine he will change his mind.

West Lavington F. T. Henry

Stuart Lewis-Evans

Sir,

I refer to your most interesting article on Stuart Lewis-Evans and would like to comment as follows:

Between 1951 and 1958 (when I left for USA) I acted as a senior paddock marshal for the BRSCC both at Brands Hatch and Crystal Palace. I was an assistant to that greatly respected and probably the most disciplined motor race official of that decade namely Mr Bert Lamkin.

M.L.’s article refers to Stuart’s light physique and his determination to offset the same. I can provide proof positive in the following examples.

Firstly on the initial opportunity to drive a F1 car (the Connaught) the cars and drivers were assembling in the paddock prior to the descent into the tunnel. I was marshalling Stuart and he mentioned that he wished that he was seated a little higher and more comfortably.

Parked at the corner of the paddock was my AC Buckland which had detachable seat squabs. I ran over and removed a cushion and Stuart was delighted at the change and felt it contributed to his excellent drive where he overcame all the field except Archie Scott-Brown.

However after the race I immediately walked over to Stuart and found that he was so over-strained that he gladly accepted assistance to get out of the car and leaning over to remove the loose seat was an absolute effort for him. I remember two other occasions immediately following races when even to hold a brief conversation was an absolute effort to him.

Physiologically I know that Stuart received tremendous encouragement from all members of his family. During races I sometimes had the opportunity to watch a few laps from the old Paddock competitors stand alongside Mrs Lewis-Evans and members of her family. Their enthusiasm had to be experienced to thoroughly understand.

Before concluding may I refer to Archie Scott-Brown with whom I sometimes had a mid-day sandwich in the old BRSCC hut. Knowing the extent of Archie’s disability I often wonder, had his arm and hand been normal, as to whether he would not have been one of the all time greats.

Finally, are there still members of the original BRSCC Brigade who can recall the last minute (30 seconds) panics when trying to get those four motorcycle type Amal carburetters synchronised on the Butterworth? Thank you also for that most recent interesting article.

Sunningdale, David W. Griffiths

Right Attitude

Sir,

I muss congratulate you on a very interesting article by M.L. on the demise of the French exotica and the Talbot Lago-America in particular.

M.L. raised the matter of the continental rhd habit. This was a source of wonder to me for years. I assumed that as the vast majority of people are right-handed the gear lever was placed on that side of the car for ergonomic reasons, the centre change being absent from early design thinking. This, however, is not the case with the Lancia Lambda. This car, one of which I owned for 15 years, had centre change from its inception in 1919 but retained rhd. The mystery lived on with me until the summer of last year.

It was nearly midnight and I was standing on the shore of Lake Como. I had come out to check that my 3-litre Bentley was safe for the night to discover a man examining is with obvious interest. We fell into conversation and he proved to be a charming gentleman from Venice with a love of fine cars. As we talked I raised the rbd question. Strange to tell the reason for the phenomenon lay in the industrial heartland of Britain long before the motor car was invented.

He explained that in the 19th century tramways of English manufacture were installed in Turin and Milan and I believe other Italian cities (except Venice). ‘This gave rise to a rule of the road that required one to drive on the LEFT in towns and cities and on the RIGHT in the country. I can only imagine that we did not think it worthwhile altering the direction of the points as it probably did not occur to export divisions of the tramway manufacturers that this was necessary. Anyway rhd was considered essential if the driver was to avoid the rails with his narrow section BE covers or impact with trams or alighting passengers.

There was a further reason and that was mentioned in M.L.’s article. Apparently it was of advantage to drivers in Alpine regions lobe placed on the right-hand side. Having driven my 3-litre over many Alpine passes I can vouch for that. Especially in fog or rain. On the one hand you avoid a plunge into the abyss and on the other the rock face.

My friend of the night explained that the convention was paramount in Italy until the late 1950s and was only stamped out by overt government measures which severely taxed aid cars. He mentioned that up until that time the wealth of the nation was largely in the north so that is where the cars were sold. It obviously followed that being in the north they had to experience Alpine conditions hence the insistence on rhd.

I realise that this explanation only relates to conditions in Italy, but as all major European car manufacturer nations had Alpine conditions they must have recognised that wealthy customers would wish to drive over the odd pass from time to time and would benefit from rhd.

Perhaps our present day British manufacturers of exotica should exploit this safe advantage instead of bending the knee to the lhd lobby. Our victorious tramway salesman obviously did not lack confidence or conviction that his way was RIGHT.

Thank you for Motor Sport, what would we do without it?

Biddenden, Kent, Barry R. Bowyer

Kit Cars – Another Point of View

Sir,

l am both a keen associate member of the VSCC and the owner of a kit car. The reason for this apparent conflict of interests is quite Simply a matter of cost. I am old enough to have driven a number of interesting sporting cars in the 1930s, and would love to own a Well preserved Alvis, Lagonda, Riley, and in Particular an AV 105 Talbot, but the capital cost of such cars is now prohibitive to all but a select few, and if you do happen to own one and are unlucky to break something, the cost of spares will be very high. So, what to do if you want to enjoy your motoring in the vintage style and remain solvent?

The answer is to get hold of a well engineered kit car. After a lot of study I chose the TD model made by NG Cars Ltd and I have been extremely pleased with it. It uses standard MOB mechanicals, fitted to a strong boxed section cruciform chassis, to which is bolted a very good looking GRP 1930s style tourer body, extremely well finished and fitted out.

I have, therefore, got myself a good usable sports car at something like a quarter of the cost of a good authentic vintage model. It is easy to keep in good running order, spares are cheap and in plentiful supply, and above all I can now enjoy my motoring in vintage style without having to worry too much about the cost.

The term kit car is unfortunately regarded by many as something put together from sundry bits and pieces with a large plastic content, as indeed some are, but a select few are very fine cars, and I regard mine as an MG sports special. I have no connection with NG Cars Ltd, I chose their product because it appeared to be superior to others available.

Church Stretton, Salop, A.P. Forster

BMW 328 in “The Pom”

Sir,

I have long had a considerable affection for the Pom suit was inevitable that I would enjoy your excellent summary in the December issue. However, in reaching your conclusions as to the most successful contenders over the years I believe you have overlooked one very significant point. Until 1979 the cars were divided between standard and modified and only competitors in the former category were eligible to win the Pom. I don’t have to tell you that some members own up to modifications more readily than others!

Thus 1979 was the first year that my 328 qualified for the main trophy and it was therefore with particular pleasure that I won it. However in winning the modified class in both 1974 and 1977 I actually scored more points than the winner of the Pom and if I had been able to continue my research back to 1952 no doubt many similar cases would emerge. This is not to detract from the suitability of Type 43 Bugattis and Talbots but I think the gap between them and the 328 would be narrowed considerably if the post-1978 rules had applied throughout.

Swallowfield, Simon Phillips

Rover View

Sir,

I note the recent controversy over whether the new Rover 213 should or should not be called a Rover. To be frank I find the argument purely academic and 10 years too late to boot.

Where the marque is no longer an independent company one will always have arguments as to when the last true model was made. Take Riley for instance — some say only those made by the Riley brothers, some include the KM series, some the Pathfinder and 2.6, some the 1.5 or even the last 4/72, Elf or Kestrel.

With Rovers the last car designed by Rovers as an independent company was the 2000/2200/3500 range. The last vehicle designed by Rovers when part of BL was the Range Rover. The SDI Rover has nothing in common with earlier models other than the engine (which is offered alongside two Triumph engines, one Austin engine and one Italian engine) and the fact that it is badged a Rover is merely the result of a policy decision — it could just as easily have been badged a Triumph.

It has been apparent for years now that BL will stick the badge of any of the marques it owns on any car in order to sell it. Nuffield probably started it and BMC continued it through the 1950s and 1960s. Triumph and MG have been more recent examples and it’s now Rover’s turn. They have every legal right to do so but to discuss the moral issue it’s far, far too late. Look at the bright side — the way BL’s market share is dwindling we shall before long perhaps see the Rover name back on the front of pedal cycles!

Taunton, R.M. Stenning

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