Letter to the editor

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[BY Means Of which our roving European reporter can keep in touch with the Editor even when he is not roving.]

Dear W.B.,

With activity on the European mainland starting a bit late this year I thought you might like to hear about some of my activities during the winter recess. It seems that if a letter from me does not appear regularly many of our more stalwart readers think that either you or I have died; knowing how long we’ve been associated with Motor Sport. As we both know, nothing is further from the truth and we are both as immersed in some facet of the motor car and motoring, as ever we were, even if the details and direction have changed. We have never shown any desire to get involved deeply with boats or aeroplanes, and at this stage are unlikely to. It always amazes me when I meet people who used to he as involved in the motor car as we are, and they say they have given it all up and are involved in sailing. I just can’t imagine how they can do it, and think that they were never really 100% involved with the motor car and its myriad facets. People I do understand are those who leave one motoring activity in order to give all their time and attention to .another motoring activity. As we know only too well the expanse of things affected by the motorcar (or motorcycle) is vast and it is impossible for anyone to cover it all. As most or us tend to specialise on one aspect it means that if you get saturated with that particular aspect, there are many more to turn to.

Only recently I met a chap who has been fully involved with the motorcycle world for longer than I have, and I have known his name for 25 years or more and have followed his motorcycling career during that time through his writing, yet until last Month I had never met him. It turned out that he had known me for the same length of time and followed my career by my writings in the same way. For 25 years we have been revolving around the mechanised world and our paths did not cross until 1976! It seems almost impossible, but nevertheless it’s true. Another man I met recently is what I can only describe as an impulsive special-builder, who is fully involved with his own special, with engines and motoring, yet his knowledge of the sporting world seemed very limited. There are others who have an encyclopaedic knowledge of Grand Prix racing right back to the beginning, yet know nothing about vintage motoring, for example; and, of course, there are plenty of people who know all about vintage cars, or a particular make of car, and have no knowledge at all of the six-wheeled Tyrrell or the de Dion Ferrari. All these people are enthusiasts of the best sort and I cannot imagine them forsaking the internal combustion engine and the wheel, and turning to boats or gliders or golf. All of which is really to say that even though I no longer set off for the mainland of Europe on March 9th, as I used to do, it now being nearly May before I set foot in France, it is Simply that my sights have progressed to other things, than merely motoring about Europe.

Driving the Lamborghini Urraco was a breath of fresh air as the winter months ended, though it is sad to recall those happy days of no speed limits, when you could spend all your time concentrating on the road ahead and indulge in sonic pretty spectacular average speeds with peace of mind. Nowadays you have to spend more time looking at the sides of the road, on the tops of bridges, up slip roads, and in the mirror, for the “boys in blue” in their “Jam-Butty” cars. It’s a wonder we don’t bump into things when driving fast, but I suppose years of conditioned reflexes look after that. At least we haven’t got to the distressing state of Germany and America, where you have to keep an eye up above as well, for lurking radar-equipped helicopters, but I suppose they will come eventually as we slavishly follow other countries, especially America. At times I show signs of despair when I see Volvos with navigation lights permanently on when the ignition is switched on, and cars with an illuminated sign telling me to fasten my seat-belt, or worse still a motorcycle with a loud “bleep, bleep, bleep”, to tell me my winker is winking, even though there is a flashing light on the instruments and I can actually see the winker itself from where I sit. Taking the philosophical view I look upon all these things as a nineteen-seventies ingenuity game, presenting me with a mechanical or electrical challenge to eliminate these irritations. Cars and motorcycles are so reliable now that there is no challenge in keeping them going. A bald-headed friend of mine who objected to wearing a crash-helmet on his. 49 c.c. Moped, was threatening to paint his head with a dayglow stripe to look like a Griffin helmet, but I thought that was taking the game too far.

One thing about the world of vintage motoring or motorcycling is that it gets you away from the “do gooders” and the saviours of our lives and destinies. It used to he the Salvation Army in my youth, now it seems to be faceless civil Servants and “specialists”. A weekend on the VSCC Wessex Trial in the back of a 30/98 Vauxhall was an immense satisfaction. Sitting in what you used to describe as “the stern sheets”, thundering across Salisbury Plain at 75 m.p.h. with the rev-counter hovering around the 2,500 mark was really enjoyable and was vintage motoring at its best. This basically 1923 four-seater tourer gave the impression that it would go on for ever like that, there was so little strain and the throttle was barely open so that the noise level was a whisper from the engine and a subdued burble from the exhaust. It is not difficult to see why the Vintage Sports Car Club was formed in 1934 with cars like the 30/98 Vauxhall being available for a few pounds, while hundreds of pounds only bought you a rather heavy, overbodied, undergeared car, unless you could afford the expensive exotica of the day. Today, if you can afford a Berlinetta Boxer Ferrari or a Maserati Khamsin, you are not too worried about the dullness and sameness of the £2/3000 Eurobox, however efficient it might be.

At the other end of the “old vehicle movement” I went on the Pioneer Run for pre-1915 motorcycles, from Epsom to Brighton, acting as service and support motorcycle on my Honda 4-cylinder 500 c.c., for a friend on a 1914 belt-driven Triumph. All I had to do was to follow hint happily along in the Spring Sunshine at 35 in.p,h. and produce some hot eoffix from my pannier bog when we stopped about half-way along the route. It was a very enjoyable “club run” and the complete opposite to the RAC Brighton Run for Veteran Cars, which, as you know only too well, has become a star-studded, ballyhoo bun-light. The nicest touch on “our” run was up one hill when speed had dropped to about 10-15 m.p.h., when a lady came out of her front drive as my friend chuffed gently by and her instant reaction was to smile and say “Good morning”. Such was the .gentleness of our mode of passing that we were able to respond with “Good morning madam” and a polite nod of the head. The gentle chuff from the 1914 Triumph and the sewing machine hum of the modern Honda 4-cylinder barely disturbed the peace of the countryside, and It was indeed a very good morning. It was all so nice and personal, unlike the Veteran Car run where it seems you have to share every moment with the rest of the world.

In closing I must say how much I enjoyed your article last month on the Sunbeam “Silver Bullet”. I wonder if people today keep such detailed notes on similar activities, or do they merely build a jet-powered Car and squirt it off across the Bonneville Salt fiats? Thinking about Louis Coatalen I could not help feeling that in the period following, Peter Berthon was a similar designer and engineer, as far as his personal character was concerned. and today that perhaps Robin Herd is the modern counterpart of Coatalen, because people do not change and a particular characteristic or strain can be seen over the years. Drivers too, from Felice Nazzaro to Jim Clark, or Lancia to Brambilla, they all follow a pattern.

Yours. D.S.J.

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