Letters, March 2017

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Hot and bothered

The Ford GT40 in February’s Dream Garage must have been somewhat civilised during its rebuild. We drove a Mk1 road car to the 50th anniversary edition of Le Mans in 1973 for the parade, together with an XK120 Jaguar for the historic race. Admittedly the weather was pretty warm, but we had to change drivers in the Ford about every hour so they could cool off in the Jaguar. The driver overheated long before the engine.

Ours had the luggage boxes, and we ill-advisedly used them for that trip to Le Mans. On opening the boxes we found most of the clothing blackened and scorched, the toothpaste tube had exploded and the toothbrush melted.
We found out they were only for homologation, not use, and were lucky not have set fire to the thing. It was used on the road quite often after that – uncomfortably. The car has since been uprated to race spec and has competed over several years but remains road legal. We still have all the road car equipment including luggage boxes. It has returned to Le Mans several times – on a trailer. On one occasion we asked for volunteers to drive it back, in the rain, because we needed the trailer for another car. No takers. It’s now in the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu.

Yes, it’s a magic piece of kit on the track, but as a road car it has always been rather user-unfriendly. After having one for a few days (ours, I believe), the great Jenks reckoned it was the worst-finished and most uncomfortable car he had ever driven. But as another journalist wrote at the time, future collectors will consider Henry Ford a charitable sportsman when they jostle each other with open chequebooks for
a vintage GT40.

Both were right!

Mark Finburgh, Edgware, Middlesex

Jim Clark’s ‘hat’ trick

Doug Nye’s reminiscences of the 1967 Tasman races brought back plenty of memories. I was a younger lad at the time, cutting my teeth as a ‘gopher’ with a sports car team, and was able to photograph Jackie Stewart receiving some coaching from Tim Parnell,
Jackie leading Jim Clark and Richard Attwood and Jim sans nose on the Lotus as he crested the hill onto the pit straight at Pukekohe.

On one lap Jim got closer to Jackie and was forced to drive one-handed with the other hand pushing down on the top of his helmet – the turbulence from Jackie’s car was getting under Jim’s peak and lifting his helmet up.

While 50 years have passed since those events, it remains very fresh in my mind and one of my life’s many highlights. The Grand Prix drivers’ annual pilgrimage inspired many young New Zealanders to follow in their footsteps. I followed the series every year from race to race and, apart from watching the likes of the aforementioned chaps and all the other champions who visited, I got to talk to them. Many are now sadly gone, but I cherish those times with great fondness. 

I have also read Motor Sport magazine for almost all of that period. I will miss Nigel Roebuck’s erudite commentary but look forward to watching the magazine evolve without him. 

Eric Morgan, Albany, Auckland, New Zealand

Smoke on the water

Your January edition had a timely 

piece on the upcoming 50th anniversary
of Donald Campbell’s death at Lake Coniston. 

As a huge fan of the Campbells and their British Bulldog approach to record chasing, I nearly fainted with excitement when I came across this 1960 set (above) at the Rétromobile sale in Belgium last November. It is powered by a ‘Jetex’ propellant system, which was sold to children in a bygone age. It has a fuse sticking out of the back; strike a match and you’re on your way. The jet motor could be fitted into either the car or boat and away they went. So far I have been too scared to try it!

Maybe on the anniversary of Donald’s death I should have taken the boat to a local lake and sent her off in tribute.

Neil Leigh, Spa, Belgium

News from the Mews

I was delighted to read Gordon Cruickshank’s piece about Queensgate Place Mews, which I knew well in the early 1950s. Coys Garage was a small site selling petrol from antique pumps, with adjoining lock-ups being used for rudimentary servicing. My little red J2 MG used to visit them all through 1951. Later the mews also housed a branch of Jack Bond’s Vintage Autos, where one could occasionally see something exotic like a Mercedes 540K cabriolet, a Fiat Balilla Sport, several distinctive early Bentleys or a tiny Mercedes chassis with a centrifugal supercharger.

After a year with the MG, I swapped it for the Challenor Barson special. I should have been suspicious when offered my money back in part-exchange by Mr Goldsmith at Performance Cars on the Western Avenue.  It was great fun but hugely expensive to run with its straight-eight Alvis engine. For the huge Barson I rented a lock-up near Coys, but got into trouble from the occupant of the flat above for excessive swearing while trying to deal with the enormous and rather inaccessible starter motor.

During 1952 I became mechanic for The Universal Motor Racing Club, a struggling early ‘pay for play’ outfit that took three very old Cooper-JAP 500cc cars to Brands Hatch twice a week for the punters to circulate at 10 shillings a lap! We occupied a couple of lock-ups in the mews. The cars all suffered from the almost inevitable over-revving by inexperienced punters. It was a rare day when we didn’t get at least one piston damaged by valve bounce.

In 1953 I joined Daimler in Coventry, but by March 1957 I was back in London. The mews was still largely scruffy at that time, but things were starting to move, as a unit near us was sold for a huge price to someone who turned it into a des-res. 

Vince Freedman, Chichester, West Sussex 

Devil’s advocate

The FIA is stating that all F1 racetracks must be upgraded to accommodate the new, faster cars of 2017. How will this affect the Monaco race?

My solution is to take this stupid ‘follow the leader’ event off the calendar.

What do other readers think?

Jock Hiddleston, Drayton Oxfordshire

Making fans for Nigel

May I say a heartfelt thank you to Nigel Roebuck for never failing to deliver an outstanding shot of pleasurable prose during the last nine years of Reflections. I’ve been an avid reader of his essays since the 1980s, and his musings have always been the eagerly awaited first port of call whenever the latest edition of Motor Sport drops onto the doormat.

The very fact I haven’t watched an F1 race in years speaks volumes for the author’s ability. His priceless anecdotes from the past and passionate opinions about the future were far more entertaining for me than the actual business of following the subject. 

Oliver Braithwaite, Siddington, Cheshire

Hughes-tinted spectacles

While I’ll miss Nigel Roebuck, I am reassured in my enthusiasm for the magazine by the presence of Mark Hughes. He is the author of one of my favourite books – Formula 1 Retro: 1970 – a key season for me, so full of promise with the advent of March, the likely increased competitiveness of Ferrari and BRM, a new Matra 12-cylinder, the disruptive competitiveness of ‘old’ Jack and his rather conventional-looking car during the year and the eventual fulfilment of the promise shown by Jochen Rindt and the Lotus 72.

How different the drivers were in 1970. Someone with the character traits of Lewis Hamilton wouldn’t have got very far! Team orders were respected and even someone like JYS – with a well-developed ego – was clearly deferential to his boss, Ken Tyrrell.

In the February issue of Motor Sport it’s informative to see in the photograph of the FIA 2016 prizegiving that Hamilton is just about the only attendee who has decided he doesn’t need to wear a tie. It’s always seemed to me that Lewis led a cosseted existence with McLaren and this might explain his attitude. I believe that many a good cadet/junior karter could have developed into a GP winner in such a dream situation.

Mark’s Straight Talk piece in the February issue brilliantly analysed the question of the driver’s role and standing in the team. But he also showed his understanding of Formula 1 by ending on the issue of technology. Much as driver behaviour was an irritating aspect of the 2016 season, the remoteness of the array of technologies now plumbed into a Formula 1 car was also the source of much dissatisfaction. Mark’s observation is succinct and completely apposite: it’s time for F1 to get much more choosy about which technology is useful and which is damaging…

That’s another thing that was so different in 1970 – the technology was simply what was required to enable drivers to race one another: they made a very good job of it and didn’t embarrass themselves in any post-race interviews.David Buckden, Walmer, Kent

Getting it Wright

The photograph and caption attached to Mat Oxley’s stimulating article ‘Motorcycling’s need for Speed’ runs the risk of perpetuating a myth about the OEC-JAP.

Joe Wright took two machines to the Carrigrohan road near Cork in November 1930, the OEC (shown in the photograph) and his Zenith, both with supercharged JAP engines. The OEC was first choice, but refused to run properly, and it was the Zenith that achieved the world record-breaking two-way average speed of 150.7mph over the kilometre course. The OEC had regained the record at 137.3mph earlier in the year.

From 1930, Wright’s Zenith was known, on occasion at Brooklands, as the OEC-Temple-JAP after the liquidation of the Zenith company. No wonder historians have been confused!

While Brough is regarded as the archetypal Brooklands’ motorcycle in which to install Prestwich’s magnificent engines, it was the Zenith machines of Wright and Baldwin that held the outright motorcycle lap record there between 1925 and 1935.

Anthony Bayley, South Harting, West Sussex

Forest of Ardennes

Once again we have the threat of Silverstone not holding the British GP, but why do people still go there? It’s the worst GP circuit in the world, so why not go just down the road to Spa?

In addition, the beer is better in Belgium and so is the food.

The Silverstone management needs to have a good look at itself before going cap in hand to the government.

Peter Stiff, Fairburn, North Yorkshire. 

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