Letters From Readers, May 1957



N.B. — Opinions expressed are those of our Correspondents, and Motor Sport does not necessarily associate itself with them. — Ed.

Fiat 600 Tyre Wear


Your footnote to Peter Stapleton’s letter in the excellent March number of Motor Sport would seem to imply that the Fiat 600 suffers from rapid wear of the rear tyres. That this is not so I can testify from my own personal experience. Our “600,” licensed in July 1955, has now done 19,700 miles and the rear tyres are still only about half worn down. The treads are clear cut, still about 3/16 in. deep, and show no sign of scuffing.

You asked about a year ago for readers’ experiences of failures with modern small cars, and you may be interested to know that our experience with the Fiat has been as follows:

At 9,000 miles: One back wheel taper roller bearing replaced due to a faulty roller.

At 12,000 miles: New distributor cap due to electrical leakage.

At 18,000 miles: Repairs to dynamo due to electrical failure.

At 19,000 miles: Direction indicator switch broke and was replaced.

Apart from these minor ailments the car has run perfectly and is a real joy to drive.

I am, Yours, etc., Ronald V. Unwin, A.M.I.Mech.E. St. Helens.



It is always a great pleasure and a real value to me to read your able and candid reports on the cars which you have tested. May I therefore comment on your appended note to Mr. Peter Stapleton’s letter which suggested that the Fiat 600 wears its rear tyres quickly and is thereby giving a bad name to rear independent suspension.

Having used this fine economical car here and on the Continent for two years, may I assure you that tyre wear, whether at the front or at the rear, seems to me very small, and compares favourably with my previous experience of small vehicles.

This quiet and smooth liquid-cooled-engine car is also a joy to handle whether fully loaded or not, for it never feels tail-heavy. This quality is in part due to the rear-wheel suspension linkage which gives to the vehicle its impeccable directional stability.

For this and many other reasons the Fiat 600 is also being manufactured by the famous German firm of N.S.U.

I am, Yours, etc., Georges Roesch. London, N.W.11.


Honest Opinion


I have been a shade unpopular for many years because of an alleged bias in favour of foreign cars. This dates from the time when British manufacturers seemed to think that if they provided a car which would climb Reigate Hill without boiling and had a good enough lock to enable it to get round Trafalgar Square without reversing, they had done all that could be reasonably expected. Since then I have owned (amongst others) five Lancias and would still own one if they didn’t cost so much! But I have always been more than ready to praise a good British car, and I know you have too.

Every good wish to you. The honest opinion is getting a bit rare these days and we could do with a lot more!

I am, Yours, etc., T. S. Hankey. Kings Somborne.


The Truth About The J.R.D.C.



I have not had much to do with Motor Sport in many years, but sometimes I do read a copy of Motor Sport to see what is going on nowadays, and I was surprised to read your account of the Junior Racing Drivers’ Club (March issue).

I am sorry to say you have got your facts all wrong. The very seed of the idea of the J.R.D.C. came from George Field, with whom I associated. But it took £20,000 to make it go and flourish, and a silly circular to bury it.

I had many meetings with “Professor” Sammy Davis and the first success was in no small way due to his enthusiasm and help —  both active and literally. The idea was to make it pay by undertaking tuning and general repair work, service at the race meeting for a fee, and so on, and in fact it did pay for quite a while.

When revenue began to fall off one or two members, feeling sorry for me, sent out a circular asking for work. As the Advisory Racing Committee were directly or indirectly connected with the trade, you can guess what the result was. They resigned en bloc and we got some rather nasty publicity.

However, “Sammy” came to the rescue a second time and attended a meeting I had called to re-organise, but it was too late. There was no money in the till to do up the racing cars (30/98 Vauxhall, Graham Page, Marendaz-Special, Bugatti and the 100-m.p.h. Austin). They were all getting in a bad way, as was also my own Invicta which I had used for the club.

Klemantaski was one of the first members of the J.R.D.C. and later became Club Secretary after his very serious leg injury at Brooklands. Later on he asked if I would mind if he tried to carry on the J.R.D.C. I had no objection, of course, but I advised him against it.

Klern. thought that the Delage would bring members and renewed enthusiasm, but all he did was to waste a further £1,000.

The late Sir Henry Birkin was “standing by” to be an honorary instructor, but alas, he died. There were other well-known names associated with the J.R.D.C. It was a pity they let a fine idea go because of a small indiscretion.

I am, Yours, etc., R. Morgan. Surrey.


Invitation To A Party


As you are probably aware, Lord Brabazon of Tara has kindly consented to unveil a memorial to Brooklands at Weybridge on July 6th — the 50th anniversary of the first race ever held on the Track.

I would be pleased to have the names and addresses of any motor-car or motor-cycle drivers who regularly raced at Brooklands in events organised by the B.A.R.C. or the B.M.C.R.C., or who regularly took part in long-distance races of similar calibre.

I already have lists of such drivers who are currently members of the B.A.R.C., the B.M.C.R.C., the B.R.D.C. and the British Racing Mechanics’ Club, but there are probably many others whose present addresses are not on the records of these clubs.

May I request the hospitality of your columns to ask such drivers and riders if they could kindly drop me a post-card giving their names and addresses and the events in which they competed? I am trying to compile this list as the “raw material ” of a guest list for the ceremony itself, and naturally wish to invite as many of the regular Brooklands competitors as is practicable. It may, of course, prove to be impossible to invite them all (a draw from a hat may have to be resorted to) but at least I would like to know that the fullest possible number of names went into the hat in the first place.

I am, Yours, etc., Charles Gardner, p.p. Vickers-Armstrongs (Aircraft) Ltd. Webridge, Surrey.


Are Tubeless Tyres Foolproof?


I have been interested in the recent correspondence regarding tubeless tyres and feel perhaps your original inquirer may be pleased to hear the experience my firm has had at one of its branches.

We have three private cars and three light vans fitted with tubeless tyres as original equipment (one car being driven by the writer). This latter car and one other are 1956 Ford Consul Mark 1s, and on these the average tyre life with Goodyear, Firestone. India, Pirelli and Dunlop tubeless tyres has been 5,000 miles per tyre. On my own car, in 15,000 miles and three sets of tyres, I experienced four punctures. One colleague, in up to 20,000 miles and four sets of tyres, experienced three punctures and one blow-out; another colleague with a Morris Isis has experienced several punctures.

From this it seems there is no particular advantage with tubeless tyres over ordinary tyres, apart from the fact that a puncture in a tubeless tyre is much more easily mended.

My car tyres have now been changed to Michelin “X,” which are not actually made in Consul size so Zephyr-size tyres have been fitted. The mileage to date on these tyres is 8,000 and they are as yet only half-worn, whilst the improvement in cornering and handling powers is enormous.

My opinion is that so far as car tyres are concerned there is no equal to this latter variety.

I am, Yours, etc., H. A. Smith. Ipswich.


Sort Of Special . . .


As the owner of the Diatto shown in Motor Sport I can shed a little more light on the subject than Mr. Hooley’s attempt. The following is a list of its known ancestors.

Radiator block: Two Chevrolet blocks soldered together

Stoneguard: Chopped from an A.E.C. ‘bus.

Stoneguard motif: Toasting-fork handle.

Headlamps: Delage.

Spotlamp: Rolls.

Starting handle: Old wheel brace.

Mudguards: Lorry.

Engine bearers: Steel fire escape.

Seats: British Salmson.

Clock: Adlex.

Running-boards: Drawing-office bench top.

Windscreen: Much modified and from a scrap yard.

Dickey seats: Vintage Sunbeam limousine.

Brake linings and petrol gauge: Sherman tank.

Tonneau: Austin Seven.

Fire extinguisher: Wolseley Nine.

Exhaust: Local plumber.

Engine : Wolseley Twenty-one. not 25-h.p.

Chassis, body, axles, gearbox and clutch are Diatto.

The whole contraption gives an average fuel consumption of 25/26 m.p.g. and a maximum speed around 90 m.p.h., and thrives on tinware three times a day. However, if someone has a spare Maserati engine to give away I feel sure I could incorporate it somewhere.

I am, Yours, etc., Keith Watlon. Nottingham. 


Spares For The Riley


I have read with great interest the articles and letters appearing in your columns, regarding the British Motor Corporation’s “head-in-the-sand attitude,” and I think that my own experiences may be of interest.

Since returning from Rhodesia in 1949 I have been a vintage, and p.v.t. Riley enthusiast, and have owned most of the pre-war models, currently being in possession of a Big Four Kestrel. I have looked back over my expenditure on these cars and find that I have spent £150-£200 per year on them, mostly in works spares. Now, when I lived around the London and Marlow area I could usually get what I wanted either from the London agents or from Rileys direct. As a matter of fact, I had so many bits from them that they opened an account for me, without my asking. This was an ideal arrangement, as if I wanted anything I had only to ring Abingdon and the articles would be in the post the same day. Just after I moved down here though, I had a letter from the B.M.C., after giving them an order, to say that they could no longer run these small accounts, and that anything I ordered in future would have to be through their main agents. I wrote back and pointed out that the main agents were 35 miles from here, but to no avail.

When I want anything now, I have to ‘phone or see my local agents (because the main agents will not deal direct with me unless I give them £10 or so of mine to keep as surety, which I’m dashed if I will), who ring the main agents, who order on Riley’s. The supply of the spares works the same way in reverse. The situation has now been brought to a head by my wanting a gearbox constant-drive shaft oil seal, costing a few shillings. I wanted this urgently, so I ‘phone my local agents (cost 4d.), who ‘phone the main agents (cost 1s. 7d.), who ‘phone Rileys (cost anything from 4s. to 9s. depending upon the availability of the spares department). Total cost of telephone calls 5s. 11d. to 10s. 11d. — for an oil seal costing 5s. Well, you want it urgently, so you must pay for it — fair enough. But, the oil seal was ‘phoned for over eight days ago and I still haven’t got it.

This is not the only instance, but it is the worst. My £150 might not be much to B.M.C., but if this is their attitude to home customers, I shudder to think what overseas owners of B.M.C. products must suffer.

I feel that it is only right to say that if I write to the technical side of the factory, or to the Riley Club officials, I get nothing but the best of attention. It is a great pity that the sales side of the organisation isn’t up to the same standard. My next car could very well be a “VolksRenFiat”!

I am, Yours, etc., Tony Everett. Cardigan.


The 20/90 British-Salmson Six


I was interested reading J. C. Morland’s comment on our well-known blue British-Salmson, which he acquired in 1936. His complaint that the chassis of this model was not strong enough is certainly difficult to understand. In fact, the chassis was built like a battleship and the whole car could have been safely lightened by several cwt., thus increasing a useful performance. The Salmson was hand made and was unique in carrying a two years’ guarantee.

Finally, the fact that this car survived 10 years’ colonial motoring, after having gone through two years’ strenuous competition work, which ranged from trials to Continental hill-climbs and road races, and serving as an everyday hack, surely is a tribute to a car that was years ahead of its contemporaries, Alas, these are only memories now.

I am, Yours, etc., Rainer Dorndorf. Tinahely.


The Identity Of A Veteran


I have read with much interest the article by W. Bancroft called “Cars I Have Owned” starting on page 118 of your March issue.

With reference to the car which the author describes as a Benz, having tube ignition which had to be started with a blow-lamp, may I respectfully point out that Carl Benz was a pioneer of electric ignition, even his first three-wheeler of 1885 being so equipped? No subsequent Benz car was ever fitted as standard with tube ignition.

It was also news that the Benz carburetter contained wicks. Even that great pioneer motorist and engineer, the late W. Worby Beaumont, says nothing of this in his well-known work, but refers to the device is a surface carburetter.

Equally dubious, I am afraid, is Mr. Bancroft’s “screw control to tighten the belts,” and when I read that the car was fitted with a centrally-pivoted steering system my suspicion that it was not a Benz at all became a certainty. What it really was is debatable, but I suggest that the Clement-Panhard voiturette of 1898-1902, sold in Great Britain as a “Stirling,” seems to fill the bill as far as the steering and ignition systems are concerned, although this had a gear and chain drive and no belts whatever.

A de Dion engine, the tube ignition of which had been replaced by a coil and plug, was also new to me. Like Benz, Messrs. de Dion Bouton were strong advocates of electric ignition from the first and never employed anything else.

I am, Yours’ etc., Dennis Field. Swindon.


Alvis Engine Life


As a reader of your journal I shall be interested to hear what experience other readers may have had as to the life of the post-war 3-litre Alvis engine, before a major overhaul is required. What prompts me to make this inquiry is that a friend, who has a 1952 Alvis, which he bought in 1955, has had to have a reconditioned engine fitted after a total life of 52,000 miles. I have been thinking of buying a 3-litre Alvis a year or two old, in view of the very satisfactory experience I have had with my pre-war Alvis, but the thought of an engine change at 50,000 miles has rather shaken me.

My own Alvis is a 20-h.p. Crested Eagle of 1936, and is still going well.  I had it rebored and an engine overhaul at 75,000 miles and, at its present mileage of 127,000, the compression is still good and it uses no oil.

I am, Yours, etc., W. S. Douglas. Putney, S.W.15.


British And American


Your recent correspondent who disparaged the cornering abilities of American mastodons cannot be a very close student of the films. That astounding suspense epic “Julie,” for instance, opens with Doris Day hurling a Cadillac round hairpins at around 70 m.p.h. (the steering wheel spinning round like a roulette board, as it always does in the hands of your elegant screen heroine), despite the fact that her accelerating foot is pinned to the floor by that of the jealousy-crazed Louis Jourdan!

One does wish, however, that if British manufacturers must ape trans-Atlantic fashions they should really go in for integral styling, and drop the postage-stamp radiators (e.g., of M.G.s) and vestigial arrow motifs (e.g., Austin A55), which, in combination with triple-coloured Neapolitan-icelike side panels, look anything but chic. All the more praise therefore to Vauxhall designers for renouncing patchwork entirely in the Victor, which is a really good bit of contemporary designing even if the windscreen at 90 deg. is dictated by inexorable utility reasons.

Lastly, is it not rather curious that while no one pretends that British boxing, British tennis (lawn or table), British Railways, British food, British films (despite “Man in the Sky”), are supreme world-beaters every time you open a newspaper, you find some naive sycophant and hireling calling himself a motoring correspondent proclaiming against the manifest evidence of facts that the average British car is a triumph both of art and engineering?

I am, Yours, etc., G. Richards. Poole.


Reliability Proven


In a letter to you last July I mentioned the fact that I was unimpressed by the “hoo-hah” emanating from the Standard Motor Company because the Phase III had survived one thousand miles of the roughest that Lindley could provide, and was therefore good for the toughest of world conditions.

It now appears that my pessimism has been shared by owners of these super vehicles, for early in their East African history stronger shock-absorbers were fitted. Now I understand even heavier-duty shock-absorbers have been adopted for the front suspension, together with stronger rear springs. At the same time the dust-proofing has been improved.

Without wishing to say “I told you so” (too loudly), it does seem a bit thick that bold souls who purchase early examples of a new model should he used as guinea-pigs. It would have paid the makers to have spent another six months on the car before its release, rather than risk losing a disproportionate number of real and potential customers for what could be quite a good car.

It does appear that the British manufacturer in general treats this subject of vehicle testing extremely lightheartedly. A jolly little outing on the autobahn for three small B.M.C. cars and, “hey presto,” they are proven. And lately another Austin doing a rapid 3,500 miles around part of Australia, under the worst of outback conditions with no breakages. “Wonderful,” they say. But is it ?

What relationship is there between the cost of maintaining a car for four thousand miles, and for forty thousand miles? The buyer is surely only interested in the latter, as these days there should be no car manufactured in the world which cannot cope with the former.

Even in the very tough rallies such as the Monte Carlo and Alpine, so widely used in car advertising, there must always be a large element of luck and driver-skill affecting results.

What I would like to see is a few cars of each manufacturer’s range taken out to roads such as exist in most of Australia and Africa, and run to destruction. Then a fair report given of each failure, when it occurred, and the cost of repair or replacement. In this way a purchaser could get a rough idea of the economical life of the vehicle into which he is about to invest what is for most of us a sizeable chunk of capital, relating it, of course, to his own requirements.

Such tests would do much good for Britain’s export trade. Favourable results would sell cars, and unfavourable ones show manufacturers where to concentrate. At present shock-absorption is the Achilles Heel of most home-built cars. Joy rides round Lindley may serve as useful pointers in early development, but to expect them to be the complete answer to all overseas problems is asking for trouble.

Vicious circle! Have you noticed how successive governments make the cost of motoring so high that there is always a preponderence of non-motorists to support their proposals for making that cost even higher?

I am, Yours, etc., P. W. Taylor. Uganda.