Letter from Europe

[By means of which the Continental Correspondent, while he is motoring abroad, keeps in touch with the Editor.]

Dear W. B.,

It was good to get back to France, where officialdom seems to understand about motoring, and where I could settle down to some 100 m.p.h. cruising in the Jaguar E-type without the fear of everyone I passed, stopping and reporting me to the police. The way things are going in England these days we soon will not be able to trust each other. The French tried overall speed limits ages ago and gave up the unequal struggle and now they seem to be losing interest in double white lines (actually yellow over here), only repainting them in the more obvious places that need them and not haphazardly, regardless of local conditions. Something that always impresses me about motoring in France is that you get the feeling that road markings, road signs and such like have been planned by someone intelligent driving about the place pretty rapidly in a DS21. In England you get the feeling that such things are done in an office from a large-scale map, so that in consequence there is little or no allowance for local conditions. The classic example is where the word HALT painted on the road has been overpainted with the word STOP; when Autocar had a photograph of the resulting mess, that looked like a Russian word, I thought it was funny, a rare mistake in some far-off remote part of the country, but then I found one not far from home, on the way to Basingstoke! And while on the subject of our sign-infested country, how about these gloriously absurd “recommended speeds for corners” signs in Worcestershire. In the E-type I can just scratch round at twice the recommended speed, but in our 1930 16.9-h.p. Sunbeam I find that the recommended speed is not really desirable; about eight-tenths of the figure is quite adequate. I wonder what “standard” the M.o.T. official used for deciding on 25 m.p.h. or 30 m.p.h. for the various corners? Imagine a heavily laden A.E.C. articulated truck trying to keep to the “recommended speed”….

However, I digress from Europe. You know how we both have a very healthy respect for Peugeot cars, well the other day I followed a 404 for some way at a steady 75 m.p.h. That in itself was not remarkable, but it was towing a large trailer which contained a cow and the poor old thing was tottering about trying to stay on its feet as the 404 driver pressed on. I had just passed through a village in which a market was being held so presumably the farmer had just bought the cow and was motoring home – at a steady 75 m.p.h., with the cow padded with old sacks to stop it damaging itself on the sides of the trailer. The French people seem to understand about motoring and they are well conscious of the distances that have to be covered in France.

Before leaving I fitted those yellow plastic headlamp covers that “Uncle Joe” Lucas sent us for test and I must say they are very effective. The elastic clips just hook onto the headlamp rim and as the whole thing is sealed off from the weather, under the E-type covers, they should last for ever. Apart from being a simple way of converting your white lights to French regulation yellow they are formed as lenses which turn the dipped beam to the right, instead of the left. They cut down the light quite a bit, but with the Jaguar 75-watt main headlamp beams there is still plenty left to allow 90-95 m.p.h. cruising at night. A lot of people going to France do not bother about having white headlamps, but I think it is only common decency to comply with their yellow headlight laws. Apart from that I learnt the hard way many years ago when I was pushed onto the grass by oncoming lorries who objected to my white lights. Motoring fast in daylight I also find that if you flash yellow lights when coming up behind a big lorry, and some of them are big, they move over, but if you flash white lights you can find your own way past.

My first trip across the Channel this year was a bit early and British United were still running a skeleton Air Ferry service from So’ton to Cherbourg, and were full up so I took the Thoresen Ferry Boat which was very restful, even if it did take a long time. It is a very simple drive-on at the back and drive-off at the front ship and the amenities are very civilised while there is very little fuss. The loudspeaker system on the dockside at Southampton, which keeps you in touch with what is happening while you line up to drive on is of a remarkable quality and it would be a good idea if some of our racing track public address systems enquired into this quality equipment; or is it the sea-air that gives it clarity. I don’t know much about the Thoresen firm, but it appears to be a Danish concern which seems a very odd business to me. I can understand a Danish boat doing a car ferry service between Denmark and England, but a Danish boat taking English people from England to France suggests that our boat people are not very enterprising, apart that is, from Townsend Ferries who do jolly friendly service from Dover to France.

I was able to pass some of the time on board talking to the two New Zealand lads who look after the Roy Winkelmann Team Brabham Formula 2 cars, for they were using the Ferry to take their transporter across the Channel. I am sure that one of the reasons for the success of the Winkelmann Team is its simplicity, for apart from these two fellows there are just the drivers, Jochen Rindt and Alan Rees, the latter doing all the paperwork organising and the team-manager’s job as regards entries, booking, etc. While the “team-manager” is out on the track racing everything in the pits is peaceful and the two mechanics have a very happy time, just as they do while preparing the cars for a race. Contented mechanics must mean contented machinery and that must lead to contented drivers. This tight-knit little group don’t try to do too much, concentrating only on Formula 2 racing, and at the moment it’s certainly paying off. Roy Winkelmann himself spends most of his time in America, presumably making money to finance this well-organised little team and he must have really enjoyed his Easter.

While the motoring public of France are pretty clued up, the country suffers like England from “weekend drivers” and just as in England, they tend to bump into each other, not terribly seriously, but on one Sunday I saw three “chingles” within about 20 miles. I suppose if you only drive a car on Sunday you are liable to get your feet crossed and press the wrong pedal. We are very fortunate in being able to motor all day and every day, so that pedals and steering wheel are controlled by reflex actions rather than conscious thought, unless one is “having a bit of a go” and then you tend to concentrate your thoughts directly on your actions. Do you remember, when I arrived at your place in Wales for Christmas, having driven our vintage Sunbeam some 160 miles, I said I had had a marvellous motoring trip, and you said “I bet you didn’t have to use your judgment or reflexes once on the whole trip?” You were absolutely right, for being conditioned to 100-m.p.h. motoring, bowling along at 35 m.p.h. in the Sunbeam is very relaxing and split-second decisions and reactions are non-existent. Someone who does all his driving at 35 m.p.h. must have to use his judgment and reflex system at that speed as I do at 100 m.p.h. It is like driving in fog; if you are used to 80 m.p.h. cruising, then your reflex system can cope with a reduction of 75% which is 20 m.p.h. A habitual 40 m.p.h. driver must be forced down to 10 m.p.h. for the same safety factor.

I read in Vintage and Veteran Magazine last month that someone was enquiring about the fate of all the P.V.T. Hotchkiss saloons, of 1935-39. I enclose a picture of one in France, where they are used as breakdown wagons. This one had the main girder of the crane running through the back and down between the front seats and anchored to a cross-member. They are quite a common sight in France and there is a really nice one in Le Mans that might even be a Paris-Nice Hotchkiss.

I must stop now or there will not be space or time for race reports, and I think there are going to be some very worthwhile races this season. – Yours, D. S. J.