No substitute for torque
I note in your March issue that our vociferous Mr. Ken Purdy has again seen fit to add his comments to the pages of another fine publication. Apparently he believes that Britons will accept his words as the "gospel according to Americans" in matters of motoring. I beg to disagree, and firmly believe that the following statements are more widely accepted among U.S. enthusiasts than his are, or ever shall be.
I would first comment that I have had my foot on over 350 horsepower (in one of our floating living-rooms) and was extremely happy to step down to 100 and now 85 (in my Triumph TR3 and Sunbeam Alpine). I beg to inform Mr. Purdy, who passes in America for an "expert," that titanic horsepower and 190 m,p.h. quarter-miles are NOT the only factors in sporting motoring.
True, such performance would be relished all by itself among most teen-aged boys, but it alone is hardly the whole concept of grand touring, as it is known by ADULTS. I have found, in my uninitiated way, that 100 horsepower in a car such as the TR3 is infinitely more enjoyable and safe than the 350-plus that I had in my previous American monstrosity, which is one of those that presently masquerade as Gran Turismo automobiles. The Triumph, Alpine, and most other G.T. and sports machines are capable of adding to their horsepower spectacular performance in ALL areas; positive steering, fade-resistant braking, superb suspension, and four-speed transmissions.
In reference to the last mentioned, which Mr. Purdy now seems to dislike, let me quote his own words, written about the Porsche in Playboy magazine: "a thinking man's automobile. It makes no decisions for you, but it accepts YOUR decisions and translates them into action with blistering speed. No automatic transmission is sofast as the butter-smooth Porsche transmission—so FAST, and so rugged."
The above places some doubt as to the consistency of Mr. Purdy. But should he reply that they refer only to the Porsche gearbox, let me add the following facts.
Granted, the Porsche unit is exceptionally smooth and fast. But, just as automatic transmissions have improved recently, engineers have set out to improve the manual gearbox, with equally spectacular results. The Borg-Warner unit found in many sports cars is such an example. I can also point to the units in my Triumph and Sunbeam. While not up to this standard (and also not as costly), both offer very fast "translation" of one's own decisions, and do so with a synchromesh extremely hard to beat. The Triumph unit has seen further improvement in the new TR4, with the fitting of synchromesh in first gear.
Mr. Purdy conveniently neglects to mention the thrill of driving with such a gearbox. It allows the driver to do what he will; to pick a line through a turn based on a gear which he chooses himself. The automatic, in contrast, may shift up or down by itself after one has picked a line, a questionable advantage. Of course, one may alter this possibility by selecting a different automatic position on his selector, but I should think that real driving requires a bit more than punching the right button.
While conceding the labour-saving aspects of the automatic, and acknowledging its value in city driving or convenience to the female pseudo-driver, I submit that there will always be a small minority who prefer the manual. This percentage will always be at least as large as the number of sports and G.T. cars on the roads, and whether or not the manual gearbox vanishes from the tracks is entirely irrelevant. We find in our stick-shifts (again in Mr. Purdy's own words), that "driving can be fun again." We find in all sports cars, as he did in the Porsche, that "you can, with small effort, believe that the seat of your pants is a part of the automobile." Should Mr. Purdy protest that only Porsche fits this description, he is not half the authority he so frequently claims to be.
In closing, I should express my hope that a future issue of Motor Sport shall contain this letter. I think it is high time someone expressed disagreement to the ramblings of Mr. Purdy. His comments have probably helped spread the false rumour that all American drivers are a boorish lot. Alas, I too am young; perhaps Mr. Purdy will also discount the value of what I say. Yet I can't help thinking that I have a truer concept of sporting motorists than he, for all his years, can ever hope to have.
Richard M. Langworth.