RUMBLINGS, May 1970

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EASTER 1970.—Last year we had quite a lot of motoring to do over Easter, in the comfort and security of a Rover V8. This year the Editorial Easter egg, as recounted elsewhere, was a Vauxhall Ventora II, but in England one does not venture out on the overcrowded roads unless one has to. So the Editor contented himself with checking up on some vintage cars on Good Friday, returning hastily from Surrey to Hampshire when it became evident that the week-end commuting wheeled-sitting-rooms were at large and travelling at their customary 40 m.p.h. or less. The Saturday was occupied with a family wedding and watching Cambridge beat Oxford in the Boat Race. It seemed prudent to do only local driving on Easter Sunday but on the Bank Holiday we went to Thruxton to, see some motor racing.

Some of MOTOR SPORT’s staff departed by flying machine and there were other winged machines in the Paddock, running on garden rollers, perhaps with the idea of grass-clipping round the Thruxton lawn. The meeting was slickly run, as it should have been with upwards of 200 officials to help it along, and the doggies must have enjoyed it; they are allowed in on leads but there was one labrador loose and collarless in the Paddock, apparently. The BARC also issued a very complete news service at this W.D. & H.O. Wills Trophy International Meeting—a sort of done-for-you-in-advance Press reporter’s kit, from which we were amused to note that among the reasons for cars non-starting in the Sports-Car race were that one hadn’t any bag tanks, another lacked that rather necessary item, an engine, and one hadn’t been completed by race day . . . In the absence of incidents, the unavoidably dull but scientific cornering, and very little close racing this event seemed rather too long. Its outstanding feature was the splendid drive by Redman in the little Chevron B16 FVC—to finish 4.2 sec. behind Siffert in a 4 1/2-litre Porsche 917 after 25 dry laps amply emphasises this driver’s prowess and must have done the makers of these nicely-proportioned cars a power of good. Incidentally, there were 15 Chevrons entered; almost mass-production!

The F2 Final was a satisfactory bit of motor racing, the battle for third place so close most of the time that it held one’s interest after it had become evident that Stewart wouldn’t catch the flying Rindt. But if there had been a Concours d’Elegance as well as a race between them—as there was at Brooklands 36 Easters ago, won by John Cobb’s Napier-Railton—John Coombs’ blue and white Brabham BT30/2 would surely have won the prize ? It was too much to expect that in the Saloon-Car Race anything could stay with Gardner’s Boss Mustang, but it was good to see some General Motors opposition for the Ford, although the Chevrolet Camaros of Pierpoint and Muir are about a year in arrears in respect of stiction, if larger in engine capacity by one c.c.

What of Thruxton as a venue ? Well, those loo lorries are no substitute for proper lavatories and the absence of a tunnel made itself felt in getting traffic away from the inside car parks after the racing. It took an hour before we got out, but thereafter the Andover by-pass was a great help in keeping the traffic flowing. When it bogged up again beyond the junction of the Andover and Winchester roads those in the know, bound for London, merely turned left and drove through some very nice country along deserted roads, to resume the A30 the other side of Basingstoke. The congestion wasn’t bad enough to discourage keen racegoers, who will doubtless be at Thruxton again on May 3rd for the 100 km. Osram Trophy Meeting. Easter, of course, with the exception of Piper’s big Porsche, was a “Powered-by-Ford” benefit, with Cosworth FVAs serving Rindt and Stewart, Redman using a 1.8-litre version of the F2 Cosworth engine in the Chevron, and Gardner having nearly 5-litres of Ford Mustang power with which to win the saloon-car event.

ARFONS IN ENGLAND.—Over the years we have seen some brave men and some impressive sights, but recently Firestone took us on a trip to Hum Airport near Bournemouth to see the best yet. The American World Record ex-holder and contender, Drag racer and Hot Rod enthusiast Art Arfons was running his latest Jet-driven car for purposes of some film-making. It all happened in a bit of a rush; for the “Green Monster”, as the car is called, was more or less on its way back to America after a series of appearances in European Racing Car shows by courtesy of the Firestone Tyre and Rubber Co. Ltd., who back Arfons in his record attempts and provide him with special wheels and tyres for his 600 m.p.h. runs. The first Arfons “Green Monster” we recall was a rear-engined drag-racing machine powered by a V-12 Liberty aeroplane engine, and then later he gave drag-racing exhibitions with a jet-engined propelled car called “Cyclops”, that he ran in the dark with a large headlamp on the front. From this drag-racing and hot-rod activity Arfons progressed to serious attempts on the World Land Speed Record, and along with Craig Breedlove took the mickey out of the FIA rules so badly that the old gentlemen in Paris had to re-write the regulations. While trying to get the record back from Breedlove, and travelling at well over 610 m.p.h. on Bonneville Salt Flats Arfons had a lurid accident when a front stub axle broke. Although he was unhurt, the “Green Monster” was a wreck, so a new one has been built and plans are set to make another attempt on the record this Autumn.

The car consists of a J-79 jet engine, as used in the American Starfighter, and this is mounted in a simple space frame with a rigid front axle suspended on air struts, and an independent rear end of Grand Prix-type layout, except that there are no drive-shafts as the car relies on the thrust from the jet engine for its propulsion. The J-79 develops 17,500 lb. thrust and is normally used in an aircraft weighing about 35 tons; the car weighs a mere three tons, so the performance can be imagined. Arfons sits in a tiny cockpit on the left of the jet engine, his vision to the right side being nil, while that to the left is open space, only a thin layer of aluminium keeping him in the cockpit. Well forward and sunk into the side of the “fuselage” is a speedometer, driven from a rear wheel, and it reads up to 750 m.p.h. The vehicle is steered by the front wheels, controlled by an aircraft-type two-handed column, on each side of which is an electric firing button to release the two main braking parachutes. A lever on the floor operates a third parachute for emergencies, this being by a simple wire control. To bring the car completely to rest there are hydraulically-operated Airheart disc brakes, and these are used very extensively when starting off on a run. The turbine is started by a portable starter coupled to a shaft sticking out of the nose of the car, and while the engine is run up to get the temperatures up to full working limits, the brakes are kept hard on. To see the whole three-ton vehicle give a great rotational twitch as Arfons “blips” the turbine, all the while keeping his eye on the all-important temperature gauge in the middle of the instrument panel, is to see something out of this world. With the turbine up at its peak, with scorching heat coming out of the great orifice in the tail, a long plume of white smoke pours out the back as the after-burner is set in motion, and when all is set Arfons fires off the after-burner, flames yards long pour out of the back, the whole vehicle begins to slide forward with locked wheels, and then he lets it all go. The noise, smoke, acceleration, and general confusion create more impression than a whole season of Grand Prix starts put together. It was memorable. This projectile ran for about a quarter of a mile and then Arfons switched it all off and put out the parachutes to bring it all to rest before the end of the short runway. He estimated that his speedometer was reading about 275 m.p.h. in the space of just over six seconds, and who are we to argue ?

Having seen American Dragsters cover the quarter-mile in just over eight seconds, with timed terminal speeds of 200 m.p.h., we have a sense of proportion, and the “Green Monster” was accelerating and travelling faster than anything ever seen before, on land as far as Great Britain is concerned. Arfons is aiming to reach the speed of sound with this latest vehicle, some 720 m.p.h., but the most significant thing is that on its first run through the sound barrier it will run empty, guided by radio and with preset controls. This is just in case any strange reactions to shock waves come from being on the ground. If all is well Arfons will then drive the car himself on an official Land Speed Record Attempt, the existing record standing to Breedlove at 606 m.p.h. It is interesting that when Donald Campbell crashed his Proteus turbine-powered Bluebird at Bonneville many people considered it was a “Cockpit error”, and Lucas engineers were particularly upset as they had wired and programmed the car to be run by remote control. The day of the racing driver would surely be doomed if the boffins were given a free hand.

AN HISTORIC MG. —Just before Brooklands finally closed in 1939 two young amateurs began sharing the running of a single-seater MG Magnette, taking turns at racing it on the artificial road-circuits within the precincts of the banked track. They were Mike Edmondson and Tony Hurst, and when Brooklands-type racing did not resume after the war they did not renew their partnership. Hurst emigrated to Australia and Edmondson became involved with the organisation of the BARC. When Hurst returned from “down under” he got in touch with his old friend and they decided to relive their youth once more in the harmless and uninhibited fun that VSCC racing provides. They enquired around for their old MG Magnette only to find that it had been butchered almost beyond redemption, so they looked elsewhere feeling that they ought to acquire a racing MG of some parentage. They were very lucky in finding a rather special MG Midget that had once been in the famous Bellevue Garage racing team of the Evans family. This was a special sprint car that Dennis Evans and his wife used to race, particularly in speed-trials and hill-climbs, and was well remembered for its short, stumpy tail, narrow nose cowling, large Zoller supercharger and highly-tuned engine which came from an R-type MG, although basically the car had started life as a C-type or Montlhéry Midget. Over the years the original bodywork was destroyed, but a replica has been built, and it may reappear in the Bellevue colours of blue with a yellow line along the side and yellow Wheels. Anyone who has 1938/39 Brooklands programmes will see entries of J. M. A. Edmondson and A. B. Hurst (MG Magnette) and soon we shall see in VSCC programmes the same names once more with an MG.

IN A HILL-CLIMB McLAREN.—British hill-climb activities take place all over the country, from Wiscombe Park in Devon to Doune in Stirlingshire, but the last place you would expect to find a hillclimb car is in Piccadilly, in the centre of London. The occasion was a small gathering at the Criterion Restaurant when Bruce McLaren officially handed over a brand-new McLaren M 10 B to David Good, ready for this season’s hill-climbing and in particular the Shell-RAC Hill-climb Championship. Good has been hill-climbing for many years, coming to the fore in the days of the 1,100-cc. Cooper-JAP, hut last year he more or less retired from competition for top honours, and merely enjoyed himself with a Chevron-BMW in the sports class. However, the urge to win was too much and this year he is in with the best of them to try and win the championship.

As hill-climb enthusiasts well know, Good has a deformed right arm so that all his driving is done with his left arm, the right stump being used merely to steady the steering Wheel while he changes gear. This necessitates a special cockpit layout, and the M 10 B McLaren has been built to his particular requirements by McLaren-Trojan Ltd. The lying-down driving position has been brought much more upright, the windscreen has been reduced to the minimum to give more elbow room, the steering column has been lengthened and the gear-change has been moved over to the left side of the cockpit. A 5 1/2-litre Chevrolet engine powers the car, and this will be the third big McLaren to be seen in hill-climbing this year, the others being driven by Sir Nicholas Williamson and Miss Patsy Burt, so the expression “thunder in the hills” will be very apt. In line with Grand Prix-type outside sponsorship the Good car will be carrying advertising for Ski-Yogourt, a product of Eden Vale Ltd., of which Good is a director.

ANOTHER McLAREN.—While at practice for the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch a crowd was seen in the paddock, and in its centre was a low red mid-engined coupé, with the name McLaren on the front. This naturally called for more investigation, especially as it had registration plates on it and was taxed. Bruce McLaren had arrived in it from his factory at Colnbrook, and was going back to his home in Weybridge in it. There was no one in the passenger seat so we took the opportunity to accompany him, even though it was Friday evening and rush-hour time. The McLaren-Trojan business tie-up that manufacture the production racing McLaren cats were going to produce a Group 6 coupé version of the Can-Am McLaren a short while ago, but changes in FIA regulations caused the project to be still-born, though one car was delivered to Tony Dean, who later converted it to an open Group 6 car to the new regulations. Although McLaren racing activities would appear to be only for the purpose of making money, McLaren himself thinks that ultimately there should be an end-product to all the activity at Colnbrook, and visualises a specialist GT car as the outcome, perhaps taking over where the GT40 Ford left off. The one-off coupé that we rode in is the first probe into the idea, one of the unfinished M6GT cars being finished off, trimmed and prepared for road use, even to the extent of fitting a radio. The engine is basically a. standard Chevrolet Camaro, of 5.9-litres, coupled to a five-speed ZE gearbox, and McLaren is using the car on the road for evaluation purposes, it being registered OBH 500 H.

Born of Can-Am parentage the cockpit is very cramped in width, though it is all right for length, the reclining position being very exaggerated, but with the sharply falling nose forward visibility is very good. Rearwards it is negligible. Such roadgoing details as luggage room, cockpit cooling, spare wheel space and cockpit space have not yet been tackled, the reason for the car at present being to find out about the mid-engined racing layout for roadgoing purposes. Like all race-bred mid-engined cars the ride and road-holding make everything else seem obsolete, and while it was not possible to go much over 100 m.p.h. McLaren reports that it is a very refined comfortable car cruising at 120 m.p.h. With its good traction and low weight the acceleration is terrific, but naturally with such a racing look about it the reaction of the other people on the road is mixed, from joy to incredulity, while some people appear to not believe what they are seeing and hope it will go away. With a quiet engine and exhaust note the noises that become obtrusive compared with a racing car are interesting. The noise of the air passing through the radiator, the mechanical sound of rose-joints on the suspension working, the rumble from a semi-solid engine mounting at tick-over are all problems that will have to be solved.

The car should have been used as a course-car for the Race of Champions, but a Customs and Excise legality prevented this. A manufacturer is permitted to register and tax an experimental car without paying purchase tax providing it is not displayed publicly or used for advertising. To drive the car round a circuit in front of the paying public would have made McLaren liable for purchase tax, and as that could amount to some thousands of pounds for this one-off car the BRSCC had to find an alternative course-car. Loopholes in the law were sought, but none could be found, unfortunately for the enthusiast spectators, but no doubt more will be heard of the McLaren road-car in time to come.

FOUR-ROTOR C 111.—When Daimler-Benz let us See the new experimental Wankel-engined C 111 Mercedes-Benz mid-engined coupe last summer we could not help noticing that there was a large space between the front of the three-rotor Wankel engine and the bulkhead of the cockpit. When asked about this we were politely asked to admire the special steering wheel and instrument layout, and it was explained that the gull-wing doors were like the on the old 300 SL. During another visit, while having an unofficial look round the Wankel engine experimental department with Rudolf Uhlenhaut we were discussing the simplicity of the crankshaft of a multi-rotor Wankel engine, likening it to a very large camshaft, saying it looked like a gigantic one for a racing engine with rather strange shaped cams. We then realised that the “gigantic camshaft” we were looking at had four lobes on it instead of three. “We didn’t see that, did we ?” we said, and Uhlenhaut grinned and replied: “No, you didn’t.”

At the recent Geneva Motor Show Daimler-Benz displayed the latest version of the C 111, with four-rotor Wankel engine, thus increasing the engine volume by 33% and the power proportionally. As with the three-rotor Wankel engine, the unit still runs to 7,000 r.p.m. and the estimated speed has been upped from 165 m.p.h. to 188 m.p.h. The body shape has been improved from the aerodynamic point of view and so has rearward visibility, while luggage space details are under continual revision, as are suspension details. Although the Daimler-Benz Research and Development department are having a lot of fun with the various Wankel-engined cars they are building, we can rest assured that they are not doing it for fun. Engineers like those in Stuttgart are working with a very definite end in view, and among them would appear to be the ultimate death of the reciprocating-piston engine, while the production of a super sports car in the 300 SL class is high on the list of priorities.