Letters From Readers, May 1954

“Valed” Words

Your contributor “A.B.C.” in his article “Historical Notes: 1930 and Afterwards” is a bit up and coming in his views, isn’t he? I appreciate that he represents only one man’s opinion, but even in an outspoken journal such as yours I think he is a little out of line over the Vale Special. In awarding the prizewinner in his horror stakes, ” A.B.C.” certainly drifts from his technical approach and becomes so involved in personal opinions and prejudices that it is difficult for the layman to quite sort, out what he sets out to prove in his contribution to history.

The Vale Special was originally built to sell at £225, a modest price for a hand-built car at any period of time, especially as the purchaser’s own measurements were incorporated to ensure complete comfort and ease of control. It was never intended as a fast car although Ian Connell’s blown “1,500,” which only had a first cost of £675, exceeded 130 m.p.h. and could get away from the first E.R.A.s on acceleration through the gears.

In 1932/3, whatever “A.B.C.” may think, the Vale looked more like a motor car than most of its contemporaries, and, anyway, what’s wrong with looking fast and having all the paraphernalia of cowls, stoneguards, quick-lift filler caps. etc.? All these things had their value, you know, and collectively I don’t suppose they took more than 5 m.p.h. off the maximum speed or one less mile to the gallon.

As I write, I have on my desk a clock which represents a “gold ” in the M.C.C. One-Hour Blind of 1933. The plaque reads: “OneHour High-Speed Trial, Brooklands, 1933. R. A. Gaspar. Car: Vale Special. Speed: 65.26 m.p.h.” Not bad with two up (21 stone), screen, wings and all the “pseudo-racing paraphernalia,” for a s.v. 850-c.c. as standard as any Vale ever was. Anyway, in that trial it was not only the best of the 850s, including the vintage Ulster Austins of that year, but it beat at that speed all the 1,100s as well, including the famous red, white and blue Singers of Baker, Barnes and Langley! Just as Miss Russell has talent as well as looks, so the Vale bristled with technical features under its accepted good appearance.

I quote Gregor Grant in “British Sports Cars”: “The chassis was unusual in that it was underslung both front and rear, the semi-elliptic springs being anchored only at one end and free to slide under stress. A feature which has since become almost everyday practice was that steering box and track-rod were placed forward of the front axle. It was noted for the excellence of its brakes (26 ft. from 30 m.p.h. Equipment was comprehensive and included every item necessary to the sporting motorist . . . They were first-rate high-speed touring cars. The Vale was a praiseworthy attempt to produce a sports car at a low price and with none of the drawbacks of the specialist-bodied versions of popular chassis.”

In addition to the above the Vale pioneered several other features, such as a unique method of mounting shock-absorbers, a spare-wheel mounting, cast aluminium safety bulkhead, complete accessibility from scuttle to radiator under the bonnet and so on, which have been successfully copied to advantage by manufacturers with highly qualified designers.

There were only 103 Vales made in 3 1/2 years and many are still running happily today 20 years later, two of them to my knowledge in Australia. What has all this to do with me and why do I take umbrage at “A.B.C.’s ” view that the Vale was the prizewinner among ghastly things that happened in the decadent period? I just happen to be a co-designer and producer of the little car and as entitled to publish my opinion as “A.B.C.” Who the hell is he anyway to hide behind initials and what are his qualifications that he sets himself up as an arbiter of fashion, technical history, and smug castigator of other people’s efforts?

I am. Yours, etc.,
Allan Gaspar.
West Bridgford.

Your correspondent A.B.C.,” in his Historical Notes in the April issue, takes a somewhat unfair crack at the Vale Special, and I can only assume that he never saw or rode in the original one.

Later cars fitted with the Triumph engine were possibly not so bright, but the makers of the original engine (now part of B.M.C.) refused to supply engines for these cars.

I don’t suppose the designer really cares what is written now of his brain-child of the ‘thirties, but I think a little light on the reason for the somewhat mediocre performance of the later cars of this marque is only reasonable.

To change the subject, I wonder how many members of the J.R.D.C. still have an interest in motor sport?

I am, Yours, etc.,
A. S. Gordon.

Hornet’s Nest
With reference to “Historical Notes: 1930 and Afterwards” in the April Motor Sport, it is to be regretted that “A.B.C.” allowed his spleen against “so-called” “sports” cars of the period in question to lead him into making an unwarranted attack upon Wolseley Hornets. When “A.B.C.” couples Wolseley Hornets with sports cars I assume he is referring to the Hornet Special, which was a very different proposition from the standard Hornet. The Wolseley Co. made the Hornet Special engines and chassis but the bodies were the work of proprietary coachbuilders. A “phoney” sports car would not have interested McEvoy as a job for racing at Brooklands, nor would a “Daytona” model have been capable of winning its class at Donington.

I doubt if “A.B.C.” has had personal experience of Hornet Specials, or given one close examination. I have yet to see one with a speedometer reading up to 120 m.p.h.

My 1934 “EW” Special has not had any extensive reconditioning. It is usually driven fairly hard and for all its 20 years the only post-war major mechanical replacement has been new clutch plates and thrust bearing. It is still a good roadholder and most saloons cannot corner as fast or as steadily, even when, as often happens, they use most of the road in an effort to keep up. There are now quite a few post-war saloons of comparable power that can beat my “special” on maximum speed, but I have found that on most journeys, cruising at a steady 50-55 m.p.h., very few cars pass by.

The overhead camshaft engine is capable of special tuning and there are members of the Wolseley Hornet Special Club whose elderly cars can reach 85 m.p.h. and more.

Bonnet straps were necessary to conform to Brooklands regulations. I don’t suppose all this will really interest you but I must defend a quite good little sports car against unjust criticism.

I am, Yours, etc.,
W. J. Roberts.

Bright Shines The Ruby

As a very satisfied owner of a 1937 Austin Ruby saloon, I should like to take this opportunity of commenting on an article written in the April issue of your excellent journal, entitled “Historical Notes: 1930 and Afterwards.” In it, “A.B.C.” mentions that the Austin Seven reached its peak in 1933, and thereafter only became heavier and more hideous. Also the Ruby, which went out of production in 1937, offered no advantage over the 1933 model except an enclosed spare wheel, and a mass of unreliable electrical equipment (hardly an advantage) uncalled for on a purely utility vehicle.

First I should like to point out that the Ruby went out of production in 1938 and not 1937. As for it looking hideous after 1933, this, I think, is quite absurd. The restyled body of 1935 and after was very neat and practical, and offered much over the flimsy and box-on-wheels appearance of the 1933 model.

The weight of the 1937 model was still only 9 cwt., an increase of 2 1/2 cwt, on the earliest fabric tourer, which still ensures it being in the truly lightweight class, yet having a good solid feel, as well as a much smoother and a three-bearing crankshaft engine, compared with two bearings on the 1933 model.

I really cannot understand where the mass of unreliable electrical equipment is to be found. It has trafficators, a speedometer, ammeter, petrol and oil pressure gauges, a panel light and an ignition warning light, all very essential — a mass?

No, sir, the Ruby is a neat, thoroughly reliable and great-hearted little car, with no superfluous frills, but all the essentials.

I am, Yours, etc.,
R. J. Wooder.
London, S.E.10.

Motor Taxation
The car owner, sporting or otherwise, and the commercial vehicle owner, from the 1,000-c.c. man to the fleet owner of 10-ton lorries, are loudly complaining of excessive and savage class-distinction taxation, but as motor owners are but one in ten of the electorate their votes have no influence on the political parties, so this will go on.

That, however, does not prevent them from inquiring as to what the fuel tax, which is Excise, and the vehicle tax, which is also Excise (the Road Fund having ceased to exist nearly thirty years ago), is really for.

No Member of Parliament appears to be able to say what motor taxation is really in aid of; unless it is to relieve taxation on beer, tobacco, etc., which would have to be much greater if motor owners did not pay £500 million a year taxation, the few relieving the taxes of the many.

What we do know about it, those of us who are in touch with the Parliamentary and Legal Council of the Motor Institute, is that according to the 1953/54 Budget, less than a fifteenth of motor taxation is allocated for the upkeep, etc., of the Ministry of Transport Roads. All other roads and streets, whether City Road, E.C.1, or the road through the back-of-beyond village, are paid for to the last farthing by the local ratepayers.

Perhaps that may not be realised by the teeming millions of London and the densely populated towns paying two or three shillings in the £, and in many cases brought down to this amount by the charity of the meter owners’ parking fees. In fact some towns rake in enough shekels by parking fees to cover the whole cost of the upkeep of their roads and streets.

It is realised by the comparatively sparse population of the countryside, on which roads the sporty boys (and jolly good luck to them) and the jaded town-dwellers in search of peace and quiet take their pleasure (and welcome they are), that they are paying at least three times as much in the £ road rates as London or big-town dwellers.

There may be envy among these low-paid agricultural workers that their income does not allow them to pay £1 a week tax to run a small car, but there is no malice or uncharitableness among them because others more fortunately placed do run a car. The average agricultural worker is a sport and now farming is so highly mechanised motor competition enters into it, in the ability to drive a tractor 600 yards or more, pulling a plough, without deviating more than a few inches from the straight, though if some expert car drivers tried they might produce a “dog’s hind leg.” However, we know that whether we motor owners live in London, Birmingham, or in the countryside, or whether we drive the latest sports car or the baker’s van, the consumption of 300 gallons of petrol and the vehicle Excise costs us, in taxation only, £50 a year.

Thus there are few who get off with paying a penny a mile petrol tax, which is paid by the 30-to-the-gallon car or van.

In any case the motor owners, and the commercial people must not he forgotten, pay £500 million taxation, and theirs is at least three times the amount of the expenditure on the roads by the Government and the Local Road Authorities combined.

In spite of this the road rate is camouflaged and hidden up in the general rate which every owner or occupier pays on premises, both business and dwelling-house.

Whether we like it or not the council house exists and the rates on them are a standard by which others can be judged. Councils of the countryside are having no party political jiggery pokery about it, and if one wants to live in a council house one has to pay a rent economic to the cost of building and maintenance.

Under the new Inland Revenue scheme all property will pay as rates a third of its rentable value, whether it is council or privately owned.

A case in point is in a small place of 2,000 inhabitants where council houses are let at 30s. per week and have a built-in garage. The motor owner who lives in one pays his £50 motor taxes, his share of the £500 million which is enough to pay for the roads three times-over, but there is a 10s. a week, or £26 a year, general rate to pay.

When he goes into ways and means of this £26 a year, he finds that highways and bridges account for more than a third, so he is paying £10 a year road rates.

Is not this grossly unjust on the motor owner? But is it not equally unjust on the man next door who has not got a car? Those not in the position to pay 30s. per week rent perhaps pay 20s. and, if so, then their road rate is between £6-£7 a year and this applies all over rural Britain.

Even if we can do nothing about our own taxation, which does nothing to alleviate the paying of road rates by ourselves, surely we ought to think of others less fortunately placed than ourselves, for he who is placed on the lowest spoke of Fortune’s Wheel is equally entitled to our regard.

It may be no hardship to us who can afford to run a car, or whose business requires the use of a van, to pay £10 a year road rates, but it is a hardship to pay road rates to those who have no more income than is provided by State Pensions, for no matter how humble their dwelling there is a road rate to pay on it.

As readers know through the Press, there is a campaign for road improvement and increased expenditure, engineered by all sorts of irresponsible people whose motor taxes do not pay for the roads and whose road rates only pay fur the roads under their Local Road Authority.

In the County of Norfolk, schemes costing over a million pounds were suggested but 90 per cent, of the county councillors turned them down in the interests of the ratepayers.

Over thirty years ago when the Road Fund was being considered in Parliament, a rural M.P., who bitterly opposed it, said he had always held the view that the roads should be a national charge and not one on the local ratepayer.

Today, we learn from an American motor journal that the expenditure on British roads is £3 per annum, per head of population, but the lowest taxed motor owner is paying £50, while his road rates may be £10.

We have national payment roads, the Ministry of Transport ones, and they cost 12s. per head per annum of the taxation of 50 million, people, so what?

I am. Yours, etc.,
L. A. Postle,

Gran Turismo

I am only a schoolboy and by no means an expert on such subjects as Gran Turismo, but I have been following your series of very interesting comments on this class of car. Surely there are two classes of sports saloon? These can be defined as (a) fast touring saloons and (b) saloons built on a chassis designed specifically for racing purposes. Mr. Benenson refers to the Cunningham saloon as a Gran Turismo; this, I think, is utterly wrong. I can no sooner see one of these rather bulky cars shooting round Europe than elephants flying. Gran Turismo cars should be saloons built for the Continental businessman in which to whip round Europe rather more quickly than normal. In other words, a car in which to travel from A to B in comfort and at a high speed. The “Businessman’s Express,” the name given to the Bristol 404, amply sums up Gran Turismo. You could not call the Mercédès-Benz 300SL a Gran Turismo; this was built as a racing/sports car.

The best exponent of Gran Turismo in this country is undoubtedly the Jensen 541. It has all the necessary fundamentals for this class, and it is cheap. The best example of this type of car is the Lancia Aurelia B20, although one cannot really say which is the best and which is the worst.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Richard B. Ide,
[A schoolboy with the right ideas! — Ed]

Fast Tourers

You recently published an article on “Gran Turismo.” Quite rightly, the cars discussed under this title were selected for their outstanding performance and were, in the main, really two-seaters, although more passengers might be carried in some cases.

I feel that it would be interesting to get views on which cars earn their salt as rapid tourers, on a lower plane than Gran Turisma as regards ultimate performance, but with a larger capacity for passengers and luggage. I would lay down the requirements as being: —
(a) Capable of transporting comfortably for 600 miles a day four large adults and a reasonable amount of luggage to last these four adult’s a fortnight (with roof rack if necessary).
(b) Capable of cruising indefinitely and without detriment to the machinery at 80 m.p.h.
(c) Roadholding, suspension, steering, brakes and lights to be of the necessary high standard.
(d) The car to be thoroughly reliable and require no “specialist ” tuning or maintenance.
(e)Petrol consumption to be not less than 15 m.p.g. overall. This is quite a formidable list but I think there is a real requirement for this type of car in Continental touring. Moreover, there are on the market quite a large number of cars which fill the bill, some of them being not unduly expensive. For example, the Mercédès 300 and 220, the normal and Continental Bentleys, 1 1/2-litre Lago Talbot, Delahaye, Bristol 403, Armstrong-Siddeley Sapphire, Alvis, Jensen Interceptor, Lagonda Fiat 1900, Lancia Aurelia 2-litre and Alfa-Romeo 1900.

This list is not exhaustive and it may be considered that some cars should not be on it. If the 2,500 ft./min, piston speed be regarded as an essential criterion, some need to be struck off. This factor has precluded the inclusion of the Jaguar Mk. VII and the Riley Pathfinder. Conversely, I would like to have included the six-cylinder Citroën on account of its excellent handling qualities, but as its maximum speed is only just over 80 m.p.h. and theoretical reliable cruising speed 76, it cannot qualify. Although safe high-speed cruisers, possibly the Italian contingent are on the small side as regards overall dimensions and comfort. Again, many Americans qualify with respect to comfort and cruising speed, but have been omitted on account of road-holding and steering characteristics.

Perhaps some of your readers may care to comment on this letter.
I am, Yours, etc.,
B.A.P.O. 21.

In Defence Of The Hornet

Ithink the author of “1930 and Afterwards” was rather harsh in his criticisms of the Wolseley Hornet. For a modest sum the Daytona model could be tuned to give vivid acceleration and a maximum of 90 plus. although the suspension and braking was not all that could be desired. I believe it was the light Car Club’s Relay Race at Brooklands which provided the Hornet team with a resounding victory. I owned the “Silver Streak,” one of the team, for a short time and I understood that it had neared the 100 on the track, which wasn’t bad in those days. I thought the Hornet a good buy for the money, but before I could afford a new one they became obsolescent.
I am, Yours, etc.,
Cyril Mann,
London, N.4

That Stutz Mascot

I invariably look forward with pleasurable anticipation to my issues of Motor Sport. Perhaps I may be excused for one picayune comment on the article which appears on page 137 of your issue for March, 1954. The author mentions “Stutz’s Red Indian’s Head.” If my memory serves me right, this was actually some American sculptor’s idea of an Egyptian sphinx, although just what significance this may have had I am sure I have no idea.

I am, Yours, etc.,
David L. Cliff (Major),
Technical Information Section,
Chrysler Corporation Engineering Division.

Hair-Splitting Exposed

I have been reading your book for quite a number of years and have always paid particular interest to your “Letters from Readers.” As a Volkswagen enthusiast I have followed with great pleasure all the “pro and anti” opinions and discovered to my delight a far greater number of “pro’s” — as I have driven the VW for many miles and enjoyed every one of them. The following I cut out of an article about the VW works in Wolfsburg and it made me laugh

“By British standards the car may seem austere to the point of crudity. It reacts sharply to every bump in the road, there is little room for rear passengers and even less for luggage.” I don’t think I need to make any comment, but I wonder if the author of this article would have time to go down St. James’s Street to the VW showrooms and carefully inspect the “austerity and crudity ” of the 1954 VW de luxe!

I am, Yours, etc.,
W. P. Mathieu (Dr.), L.D.S., R.C.S.

The Austin-Healey 100

I was very interested in the comments of Mr. C. B. Carter on the Austin-Healey 100 in your April issue. As a very satisfied owner of some seven months’ standing I must say that I have not yet been able to persuade my particular oar to reach 111 m.p.h. The best I have managed is 4,300 r.p.m. on overdrive, which works out, I think, at 102.31 m.p.h., though on this occasion the circumstances were not unduly favourable. An indicated 100 m.p.h. On the rather wavering speedometer can, however, be quickly and easily attained.

With regard to the use of overdrive second, though I am not qualified to give an opinion on the use of gears when lapping a racing circuit, I agree with Mr. Carter that normal top gives higher speeds with a negligible sacrifice in acceleration.

In case it may be of interest to those of your readers who are considering the purchase of one of these cars, I would add that, as well as the obvious advantages of magnificent roadholding, acceleration, and an easy cruising speed of 80 m.p.h. when circumstances permit (they practically never do!), the car is perfectly tractable in towns and can be run at 13 m.p.h. in direct top without trouble of any sort, and will, in fact, accelerate from this speed perfectly smoothly if required. Could this be because of a rather “vintage” stroke of 111 mm.?

My only complaints are: (1) Imperfect weather protection. (2) Large cooling holes in the front brake drums which allow water to get into them in wet weather (since effectively if expensively cured by the fitting of Alfin drums all round). (3) Lighting which was totally inadequate for the performance of the car. This has now been successfully modified with the help of the local Lucas agents. (4) Minute ground clearance (certainly not 7 in. as stated in the handbook) and a reverse gear of 20:1. These last are the points of view of an inexpert, occasional, rally competitor.

May I conclude by expressing the hope that you soon get an Austin-Healey to test, as I look forward to reading your report on it.

I am, Yours., etc.,
T. A. G. Wright,


I read with great interest the letter from M. K. Benenson, of New York, and would like to make some small comments on the figures he quotes. First, I feel that all Englishmen will agree with him that the Cunningham certainly deserves to be put amongst your cars of the Gran Turismo class, and I feel that we all agree that the originator, Briggs Cunningham, is in the class as one of the finest motor-racing sportsmen in the world.

As regards the figures quoted on the acceleration of the Cunningham, these must obviously be at fault because it is stated that the car accelerated from 0-60 in 6.85 seconds and from 0-100 in 11.01 seconds, but that it does the standing quarter-mile in 17.55 seconds. It must be obvious that in a standing quarter-mile of 17.55 seconds the car will not reach 100 m.p.h., and therefore how can these figures be higher than the 0-100 time of 11.01 seconds. I was very interested in such exceptional figures, and as Briggs Cunningham was kind enough to give me a lift with his team from Palm Beach to Sebring. I confronted him with these figures and asked him what the answer was. He said that the 0-100 in 11.01 seconds was certainly correct for the racing car; in fact, as far as he could remember, it was something in the region of 0-110 in 10 seconds. But he thought the reason for the discrepancy in the figures was that the Vignale coupé body had been mixed up with those of the racing C4R or C5R; so no doubt this is the answer. But I must say the acceleration figures are certainly something, and he told use that they had come about when he set out to beat the record of the D-type E.R.A. from 0-100, which, I believe, he succeeded in doing.

As regards Mr. Benenson’s remarks about the DB2 having a 3-litre engine in it instead of the 2.6, I must heartily agree with him as I have just fitted one of the racing 2.9 engines into my old DB2 team car, VME 65, and the result is certainly desirable. But I think that the reason that Aston Martins are not doing this generally, as yet, is probably one of restricted production of this engine, and I feel sure that as soon as they have sufficient of them for everybody they will fit them in the DB2-4.
I am, Yours, etc.,
R. R. C. Walker,