American Comment

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Since I have just completed my first visit to Britain in 10 years, the Editor suggested that readers may be interested in some of my impressions of British motoring in general and British racing in particular. Within half an hour of my arrival on the Thursday before Easter I had picked up a Cortina Lotus (Courtesy of Harry Calton, Ford’s chief press officer) and plunged into the traffic on the “wrong” side of the road. This proved less traumatic than I had expected, but what I did not expect was the astonishing increase in the amount of traffic since I lived in England between 1946 and 1957. Almost everywhere I went during my three-week visit the roads seemed to be dogged and I don’t entirely understand why the country hasn’t strangled itself on the traffic. The situation must be particularly acute for the road haulage industry, with the slow point-to-point speeds and endless delays inevitably adding to the general cost of living.

The motorways provide some relief but, of course, there aren’t enough of them and compared with North American freeways the standard of driving was generally low. This might have been understandable when the motorways opened more than five years ago, but in a nation of such keen motorists it is not understandable now. There are far too many drivers plodding along well below the speed limit and an even greater number paying no attention to the general traffic conditions around them. How these motorists would fare on the Los Angeles freeways, where five lanes of traffic travel almost bumper to bumper at 75 m.p.h., is a thought best not contemplated. The greatest need on the motorways is for a strictly-enforced minimum speed limit. Such minimums are now almost universal on North American freeways and are generally set at about 50 m.p.h. on roads with a maximum of 70 mph.—although I recently travelled a freeway in Georgia where the minimum speed in the outside lane was 55 m.p.h.

I was also surprised that a nation which is noted abroad for being phlegmatic and generally law-abiding, shows such disrespect for the laws of motoring. Speed limits in built-up areas seem to be totally ignored and it is a brave pedestrian indeed who tries to exercise his rights at a Zebra crossing. When it comes to passing, I noted that dotted white lines appear to be totally ignored, the single solid white lines partially ignored, and only the solid double white lines treated with any degree of respect. Having said all that I would be the first to admit that if all motorists observed all the laws scrupulously, traffic probably would come to a standstill. I soon learned that the only way to get anywhere quickly was to use a judicious combination of aggressiveness and bravery. This was particularly true when passing in the middle, or “suicide”, lane of three-lane roads, or when trying to get anywhere quickly in London. Indeed, it was the appalling traffic in London and other cities which led me to the conclusion that the reason the British are so keen on motor sport is that their competitive instincts are honed to a fine edge in every morning and evening rush hour!

If these remarks have been somewhat critical, I have almost universally favourable impressions of the British race meetings that I attended. These included the first two Formula 5000 races at Oulton Park and Brands Hatch, practice for the Formula Two meeting at Thruxton and three days at Brands Hatch for the B.O.A.C. 500. Among the things that impressed me at all four meetings were the smooth organisation, with a minimum of flap, shouting and strident orders being given over the P.A.; the way the marshals credited the Press with a certain amount of sense and allowed photographers to get much closer to the track than North American marshals would allow; the efficient press service (full results of the B.O.A.C. 500 were posted in the press room at Brands within 15 minutes of the end of the race, a feat never achieved in North America); far more pleasant and extensive eating and drinking facilities than are generally available at North American circuits; and, finally, the very stiff competition in the club event. I am told that the Saloon, Formula Ford and Production Sports races that I saw didn’t have all the best drivers (they were scattered over so many meetings at Easter), but these events were still more closely contested, with battles going on all through the field, than the average club events in Canada. and the United States.

The one suggestion I would make is that the marshals wear more distinctive clothing so that they can be more easily spotted by the drivers both when they are flagging and when they are on the track moving damaged or stalled cars. The bright green waistcoats worn by the B.R.S.C.C. marshals at Brands were an improvement over the sports coats and rally jackets worn by the Oulton marshals, but the all-white overalls used by Canadian and American marshals are both more easily seen and more practical. I should add that the standard of marshalling that I observed at all three circuits was very good.

* * *

The Maverick, Ford of America’s answer to the imported car boom, went on sale two weeks ago. Like the Capri, the Maverick bears a close family resemblance to the Mustang and with an overall length of 14 ft. 9 in. it is 9 in. longer than the Capri and 10 in. shorter than the Mustang. The basic engine for the Maverick is the 2.8-litre inline six as used in Ford’s cheapest Falcon compacts. The other three U.S. car manufacturers also have sub-compacts on the way and they, as well as, Ford, will be watching anxiously to see just what type of customer will buy the Maverick. The idea, of course, is that it will draw buyers away from the imports (which sold 1,000,000 cars last year, or 10 per cent of the U.S. market), but it is quite possible, indeed likely, that it will also attract buyers away from Ford’s own Falcon. If the majority of buyers do come from among imported car customers Ford of England will suffer because the Cortina was the best-selling English car in the American market last year.

* * *

Ford has dropped its plans to produce an 8-litre all-aluminium engine to oppose Chevrolet in this year’s Can-Am series because it can’t be made competitive in time. The decision is also believed to reflect the philosophy of Bunkie Knudsen, who moved from Chevrolet to become President of Ford last year, that a company should only race equipment that it sells to the public. (At Chevrolet, for example, a 7-litre all-aluminium engine similar to that used by the McLaren and Penske Can-Am teams last year is now available as an expensive option to Corvette customers.) Ford’s decision not to make the 8-litre engine available this year is a major blow to Gurney, Shelby and Hollman and Moody, all of whom had planned to install them in McLaren M12s. (McLarens and Trojan Ltd. weren’t exactly happy either, since the news came just as the F.I.A. refused to homologate the McLaren M6GT.) Gurney will probably continue with one of the smaller Ford engines fitted with his own cylinder heads and other modifications, but Shelby (for whom Revson was to drive) and Hollman and Moody (for whom Andretti was to drive) have been left somewhat high and dry. Ford is also reliably reported to be dropping further development of their Indianapolis engines—4.2-litres unsupercharged and 2.65-litres turbocharged—after this year’s 500-mile race. They will then concentrate their efforts in drag racing and stock car racing, for which their new 7-litre engine has now been ruled eligible. On the brighter side, Ford have been doing a lot of work on their 5-litre stock-block engines since the Mustangs were beaten by the Camaros in last year’s Trans-Am saloon championship, and once this engine is properly developed it will no doubt be bought by several drivers for use in their Formula A (Formula 5000) cars.

* * *

Andy Granatelli, still determined to win the Indianapolis 500 after 23 years of trying, has assembled one of the strongest teams ever to appear in that annual classic. In addition to buying four Lotus 64s from Chapman and all of Andretti’s racing equipment, he will have two STP-Super Wedges powered by 5.25-litre Plymouth stock-block engines and a turbo-Offenhauser-powered car built by Gerhardt. Hill, Rindt and Andretti will drive Lotuses (which will be powered by turbocharged Fords) and Pollard will drive one of the STP-Super Wedges, leaving one Lotus, one Super Wedge, the Gerhardt and Andretti’s 1968 Hawk in reserve.—D. G.

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