Matters of moment, May 1955

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78

The Sports-Car Situation

A remarkable aspect of 1955 motor racing is the multiplication of sports cars in British club races, the majority of them emanating from small, even amateur, constructors. The list embraces Lister-Bristol, Lotus, Connaught, H.W.M., Kieft, Cooper, Leonard, Killeen, Revis, Beart-Rodgers, Buckler, Tojeiro, Halseylec, Arnott, R.W.G., Elva, Emperor, R.G.S.-Atalanta, Berkshire, Turner, Lester, etc.

This is a healthy sign of the Sport’s virility, even if the outlook for racegoers and reporters becomes a complex one ! It is to the credit of the designers and makers of these virtually “built-to-order,” if not “one-off,” cars that they have mastered in the past few years the problems of welded-up “ladder” and “space” tubular frames, all-independent suspension, de Dion axles, correct weight distribution after weight reduction, aerodynamics, etc., almost more effectively than the Industry has with its great length of experience.

The Lister-Bristol, in particular, has commenced 1955 really well, aided by the virtuosity of Scott-Brown as a driver (which virtuosity makes the decision of the 1954 B.R.D.C. Stewards. which banned him as incapable through disablement, look decidedly droll I). In winning the British Empire Trophy Race last month the Lister-Bristol endorses its victory in the 2-litre class of last year’s Silverstone Sports-Car Race.

In the 1 1/2-litre class the Connaught has got off to a similar “mercurial” start and these specialised sports cars look like making matters uncomfortably hot for manufacturers’ entries, such as Aston Martin and Jaguar.

In some quarters it is argued that these new sports cars from the small factories are nothing but thinly-disguised racing cars. This complaint has been in circulation ever since sports-car racing commenced. At Goodwood after the Lister-Bristol had beaten the Frazer-Nash, H.J. Aldington was heard to remark that his cars have to have normal doors and are driven to and from the circuits. The metal passenger-seat of the Beart-Rodgers, on which a toy bulb-horn and a licence-bolder were secured by means of bungee-rubber cord, probably drove “H.J.” near to hysterics !

Yet what is to be done ?

Racing is dependent on spectators and spectators demand spectacle, which is provided by these excitingly-fast sports cars. If racing is confined to Production Sports Cars the task of the scrutineer is complicated, the field reduced, and the racing probably becomes slower, if not downright boring; although by all means let us have a number of such races, for the “catalogue” sports car, at some of our meetings.

Before the war valiant attempts were made to ensure that sports cars raced on pump fuel (by taking samples) and some insistence was made that they carried a dynamo (likely, therefore, to be jury-rigged) lamps (thus encouraging the use of fog-lamps as headlamps !), passenger’s seat (for a dwarf ?), a hood (invariably smaller than the girl-friend’s umbrella, not nearly so useful when erected, and impossible to keep erected), silencers and spare wheels (which, together with mudguards and full windscreens, are dangerous to race with). But ingenious folk who considered that motor racing meant speed managed to by-pass these regulations. Of the present breed of specialised sports cars it can at least be said that in most instances amateur constructors can purchase the same effective chassis-frames and that these form the basis of practical cars for road use in the hands of enthusiasts—by which we mean ourselves, don’t we ?

If the manufacturers fear competition from the “back-yard” cars, let them remember that constructors of the latter are hampered by lack of suitable engines, whereas Aston Martin and Jaguar, for example, possess excellent twin-o.h.c. power units.

The Coventry-Climax engine looks useful, but has been developed from a marine unit and is not yet generally available, especially in 1 1/2-litre form. The Turner engine needs development, Lotus and Connaught have had to do much research work on Ford and M.G. engines, and on Lea-Francis engines, respectively, to get what they require, and in the 2-litre class “back-yard” builders are dependent on the Bristol push-rod, inclined-valve engine developed from the pre-war German 328 B.M.W. design and about at its limit when asked to poke-out 140/150 b.h.p.

Competence in chassis and body design can mask power limitations, as Lister-Bristol, R.G.S.-Atalanta, Connaught and Lotus, etc., have shown, but encouragement would be given to the boom in sports-car racing if a provident British engine-manufacturer would get out a new design of sports/racing engine, with which our smaller manufacturers could combat the sports V8 B.M.W. and four-cam Porsche engines which Germany can command and the hot-stuff racing-style power units which are synonymous with Maserati, Ferrari and other Italian makes.