LETTER FROM EUROPE

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

Dear W.B.,
The British accessory manufacturers managed to avoid any more strikes and kept Jaguar Cars supplied with vital bits and pieces for the E-type production line, so the new car duly arrived for me on the day prescribed. I collected it from Coventry, after a 100 m.p.h, train ride up from London, and returned through snow, fog, rain and darkness which took the glamour of newness off the car very quickly, pausing at Robert Betteridge’s place in London, SW7 (Advert!) to have a tonneau cover made while I waited. I was then off to Le Mans for the practice weekend and my running-in trip. There have been quite a few raised eyebrows over the fact that I have replaced my faithful 1965 Jaguar F.-type coupe with a 1970 Jaguar E-type, and even more over the fact that the new one is an open two-seater roadster. After 120,000 miles of E-type motoring all over Europe some people thought I would have had enough, but it is not so. I did draw up a list of possible replacements and whittled it down to three in the end, these being a Lotus Europa, because I admire Lotus and Colin Chapman, and feel they are progressive thinkers and the Europa is the right conception of car, an NSU R080, because it is such an advanced car mechanically, and the recent confirmation of their faith in the Wankel engine by the announcement that oil changes are now a thing of the past, and a Porsche 914/6, because if you appreciate motoring you must appreciate Porsche and the new mid-engined six-cylinder must be right. After all that I settled for another E-type 4.2-litre Jaguar, the decision having a very mixed reception all round. I went off the Europa mainly because it lacks top-end performance, but also because it is a bit small and light: and I could not see myself motoring about Europe from April until October without using it up. The R080 was technically appealing and I like the look of it as a family four-seater, but I don’t want a family four-seater, also it lacks serious performance over 100 m.p.h. The Porsche 914/6 really had me worried for a time, for it obviously has adequate performance, its road-ability must be terrific and it was born of European motoring. When I finally got around to looking at one closely and sitting in it I just could not bring myself to accept its looks and character, for you must remember that I have got to live with my car and not just use it for fun. After trying a 911S I got back into the old Jaguar and realised that I enjoy a big, lazy, flexible engine. Once you have become accustomed to torque and capacity you are spoilt for anything else. As you know, recently I have been trying numerous high-powered motorcycles and the other day I had a short blast on a 1,000-c.c. Egli-Vincent vee-twin and it made all the 750-c.c. bikes seem like fussy toys. Running-in the new E-type at 2,500-3,000 r.p.m. is no strain and it just lollops along on its seven-league boots. I decided on an open two-seater, as I wanted some sort of change to my motoring, and I got it, for after the first day in France the rain started coming down, and three days later it is still coming down, but I am getting used to the drips of water and am getting very skilful with a sponge. A strange thing about the open E-type is that Jaguar do not supply a tonneau cover, as they are not prepared to turn out a car whose finish is spoilt by “Lift the Dot” fasteners and press-studs. If and when the sun appears, especially in Spain or Sicily, my Betteridge tonneau is going to make it possible to get back in the car after it has been parked in the paddock, without all the drama and finger pains of erecting the hood to keep the sun off the interior.

Needless to say, when heading towards Le Mans, I made a detour to Cleres to the Pichon family’s Hotel du Cheval Noir and their motor Museum. Unlike some Museums, which gather dust, the Cleres museum seems to have an ever-changing scene and there is now a French high-wing monoplane hovering over the cars in the main building. On the terrace outside the front door of the Hotel is a supercharged 1,100 c.c. Amilcar Single-seater, and along the corridor upstairs are photos of the Mathis team in the 1907 Kaiserpreis race, the Talbot-Darracq 200-mile race team at Brooklands, Chiron with a Le Mans 2.3-litre 8C Alfa Romeo, and many more. It is no wonder we all like stopping off at Cleres as soon as we reach French soil, especially as it is very close to Dieppe. Arriving at Le Mans I was horrified to see that the main square had disappeared completely behind enormous wooden fences covered in advertising. The whole thing has been dug up, the monuments and flower beds have gone, and a super underground car park for 800 vehicles is being constructed. When it is all finished I feel the new face will be a bit efficient and hygienic, not at all in character with the surroundings and cannot see the Saturday morning being the same. It looks as though the “Grand Prix” round the square on Friday night before the 24-hour race is finished, as well as the amusement of seeing someone’s car being surrounded by poles and Canvas as the traders erect the market on Saturday morning, oblivious of any cars that had been left in the square overnight. I suppose progress must come, even to Le Mans, and really we are to blame, for it is our enthusiasm for the motor car that has caused parking and congestion problems. If there were not so many of us enjoying the motor car as part of our life there would be a lot fewer civil problems to solve, although I suppose we would be interested in something else which could bring worse problems.

The French Autoroutes are spreading steadily and following a very Italian pattern, which is good, especially for the day when you can drive from Paris to Palermo on Autoroute and Autostrada. Whereas the Italians use a man to collect the fee for using the motorways, in France they have automatic machines with a large plastic bucket stuck out of the side. You hurl two one-franc pieces, or whatever is required, into this bucket from the window of your car and they rattle down the sides of the bucket into the mechanism and a green light gives you the O.K. to pass through the barrier and on to the motorway. Habitual Autoroute users keep a pocketful of coins, for it is useless offering the machine a 10 franc banknote. Another interesting motoring sidelight I noticed the other day. which I must have seen before but do not recall, was a “saw-tooth” parking arrangement in the centre strip of a dual carriageway in a town, with the cars parked obliquely at 45 degrees to the traffic flow. Instead of the saw-tooth angle being in the direction of the traffic flow it was in opposition, so that you were forced to reverse into the slots, but it meant that you were then pointing the right way to rejoin the traffic stream. This seemed to make sense to me, for if you park in the daylight and leave in the dark it must be easier and safer to drive forwards into the traffic while becoming accustomed to the changed conditions and equal’s it must be better when it is raining. This ties in with a phobia I have for parking in hotel and restaurant car parks so that the car is ready to leave. It may take a little longer to shuffle about, turn round, or reverse, but it pays off when you are ready to leave, especially if conditions have changed. To me this seems like motoring logic, yet you can see people trying to reverse out of parking places when they cannot see properly and the engine is cold.

[Interesting, this, because I was once refused overnight accommodation in an English hotel because I insisted an parking a Frazer Nash nose outwards—the Manager leapt up and down, saying only nose-in was allowed !—E.D.]

Some while ago I suggested that racing cars were not developing character when they were known as chassis number 0017/4/MC2, and it might be more fun to give them individual names such as “Wee Haggis”. The Alfa Romeo team have come to the same conclusion and at the Le Mans test weekend the Tipo 33-3 had the name ALDEBARAN on the side, Italian for a certain star. They have got tired of trying to remember that this car is 33/3-0014/2 or that one 33/30001/7, so all the works cars have been christened with individual names. In Autocar their columnist “The Scribe” was recently on a similar idea, taking the system from horse-racing, where the parentage is incorporated, and I thought his best suggestion was the Grand Prix car called “Gone Public” by Norfolk Turkey out of Chunky Marmalade, while “Taken for Granted” by Brer Fox out of Irish horse Tauranackery wasn’t bad.

Am now heading off into the rain once more, sponge at the ready. Yours. D. S. J.