Matters of moment, May 1973

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Warming up

Our survey of readers’ opinions on Formula One racing showed that, contrary to what the pessimists would have us believe, there is still a very healthy spectator interest in top-class motor racing. The attendance at Brands Hatch for the Race of Champions Meeting endorsed this, although on that occasion the Race of Celebrities may have drawn the crowd. it also earned the RAC a slap from the Sunday Express for not allowing legless Douglas Bader to compete in this battle of the Consuls, although the Air Ministry permitted him to fly fighter aircraft. At one time the RAC shut its eyes to one-eyed racing drivers and those with limb deficiencies but one can see that had Bader taken part in this fun-race there might be repercussions later, in full-scale racing.

The foregoing is a reminder of the splendid diversity of present-day motor racing, even if the multiplicity of formulae can be darned confusing for those on the outer fringes of the game—why, they even race caravans seriously round the circuits, these days! There is also the very stimulating saloon and sport-car racing for those who find that they are less attracted to Grand Prix racing since it has become more a matter of sponsor against sponsor than make competing against make. In the international context we have a make-against-make entry for the Manufacturers Sports Car Championship, with Porsche beating Ferrari in the Le Mans Four-Hour warming-up race, to whet the appetite for the 1,000 km. race at Spa on May 6th and the inimitable Targa Florio on May 13th, followed by the punishing Nurburgring long-distance race. And Le Mans, on June 9/10th, with cars doing 200 m.p.h. down the straight, should be worth seeing. At Vallelunga Matra-Simca put it across Ferrari, with Porsche, Lola, Alfa Romeo, Gulf-Mirage and Chevron in the field (report in this issue). At home there is the BMW/Ford bid for Group 1 saloon-car honours, with plenty of inter-make racing in the other classes. Much the same is happening in the European Touring Car Championship races, with BMW Alpina fighting hard to stay ahead of the 3-litre Ford Capri RS and an Alfa Romeo taking the 2-litre category from Ford Escort, at Monza. These races have pit-stops and the old marque loyalties, so if anyone is tiring of F1, they should seriously consider watching some of these long-distance saloon and sports-car/GT races.

Certainly Group 1 saloon-car racing offers a load of excitement, and interest in how these virtually standard cars perform. Those who have cried out for production-car racing now have it on their doorsteps, the cars even racing on road tyres this year, which has so far not caused any apparent difficulty. They still use racing-style exhausts, which is a pity, because racing improves the breed and exhaust systems give much trouble on production cars. However, this is no doubt a sensible safety measure, applied for the same reason that mudguards were banned on TT cars before the war, on the grounds that the fewer things there are to come adrift, the safer for all concerned. We still think longer Group 1 races would be instructive and when you remember that, pre-war, we had six, twelve and even 24-hour races, for sports-cars which were far less exciting in action than today’s quick saloons, we cannot see any objection. Perhaps there will be a grand 1973 long-distance finale, to really resolve BMW/Ford supremacy and the rest of the inter-make challenges in the other classes.

Rolls-Royce in a rut

When the unhappy news was received that Rolls-Royce were in financial difficulties we published a patriotic editorial pleading for their survival. Then the car division was reprieved and announced flourishing sales. Now Rolls-Royce are again in trouble. We do not profess to understand the financial/legal implications which at one moment suggest that the most famous of British companies may be sold, perhaps to Japan, and at another that the High Courts are seeking a remedy. We only hope a solution can be found, because Rolls-Royce and British prestige are synonymous. There was a time when those who felt that a Rolls-Royce was too obvious (or expensive) for them and a Jaguar not quite their sort of car, could turn to a Daimler for their actual and imagined motoring comforts. Now that a Daimler is a Jaguar they have no such solution and may seek solace in a top-model Mercedes-Benz or BMW, if a Royce is denied them, or turn to Italy for a Fiat 130, or go trans-Atlantic with a Lincoln or Cadillac. They may even be lost to such markets for ever, should they decide to temper patriotism with frugality and opt for an Anglo/Germanic Ford Consul or Granada.

For this reason alone, Britain must hope to retain Rolls-Royce. The Silver Shadow at £10,550 may seem expensive compared to the Daimler Double-Six Vanden Plas at £5,362. However, one computer-type report gives the ordinary Daimler Double-Six full marks only under the headings of performance, ride comfort and hush (our own report next month, we hope). R-R owners do not necessarily want a top speed of 140 m.p.h. and the Silver Shadow is maybe quieter than the Daimler and its sophisticated self-levelling suspension probably gives an even better ride. That the stylists forced the Spirit of Ecstasy to her knees is one thing; for Oriental speculators to rape her would be quite another matter …

Comment on an editorial

A spokesman at No. 10 Downing Street replied very expeditiously on behalf of the Prime Minister to the Motor Sport editorial “Stop Clobbering Us”, which we had forwarded to the Rt. Hon. Edward Heath, as we promised you we would do, last month. No comments were offered to what were described as our “forceful” views. The editorial was also sent to the Department of the Environment, which replied as follows:—

“The Minister for Transport Industries has asked me to reply to your letter of March 12th.

“You will not expect me to comment on the points you make about enforcement of the law, as this is a matter for the Home Office. I merely make the point that endorsement of licences applies to a limited number of offences, all related to road safety.

“There is strong evidence that speed limits have a big effect in reducing the severity of accidents. The Department’s policy is that speed limits should be realistic and that local authorities should keep them under continuous review to meet changing circumstances. For roads in towns, the basic limit stays at 30 m.p.h., but there is a recommendation that 40 m.p.h. and 50 m.p.h. limits should be more widely applied.

“In the case of the Oxford Ring Road—which you referred to specifically in your editorial—you may like to know that action was already in hand to remove the 50 m.p.h. restriction before your issue of Motor Sport was published”.

Although the usual passing of the buck is evident, you will see that all is not lost in respect of less stringent speed-limits. So frequent letters to your MP, the Minister for Transport Industries, etc., could well be stepped up, until fair play prevails.

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