Around and about

New home for the VCC

The Veteran Car Club has moved into splendid, period headquarters in Ashwell, Hertfordshire. Jessamine House, 15 High Street, Ashwell (Ashwell 2818), is an imposing red-brick house, parts of which date from the 17th century, a traditional setting for the vehicle owned by the members of this prestigious club.

These much improved Club facilities were acquired at a cost of £24,000, plus £10,000 for renovation. Behind the house is a huge barn, a protected building somewhat in a state of dilapidation, which the club hopes to restore if permission can be found from the authorities. Alongside is a large car parking area.

This new HQ houses the Club's impressive collection of 3,000 motoring books, said to be one of the best collections in the world. The Club has a remarkable collection of handbooks for vintage and veteran machines and members can use a photo-copying machine to take advantage of this facility. Housed there too is the VCC's quite wonderful file of individual veteran car histories, part of the Club's dating and authentication service. Surely there can be few remaining veteran cars in the non-Communist world which are not included in these historic files.

Currently the Club has 1,200 members of which 450 full members own about 1,600 Veteran and Edwardian cars between them. These include nearly 600 veterans, of which the Club owns I loaned out to members at a rent of about £125 a year.

The Club's Secretary, Mrs Joan Innes-Ker, lives on the new premises, so facilitating members' use of the library.

Historic moment or publicity ploy?

One of our staff recently attended a fine day out at Donington, now the proud site of Britain's "newest" old track, if you follow our drift. Upon the gleaming black fresh tarmacadam that finishes the 1.9573-mile shorter track (the full 3 miler, including the Melbourne Loop is not complete) sat one of British Leyland's new Jaguar XJ5.3C racing saloons.

Beside the car were all the impedimenta of this large team. They were about to set off upon a six-week European sojourn that will cover two races in Italy and one in both Austria and Czechoslovakia. Also present were three of the four regular drivers.

Yes, we were told, Messrs. D. Bell, J. Fitzpatrick and T. Schenken would run the Jaguar, actually the car that led at the team's European Monza debut, in earnest. A lot of film crew and TV people were standing about ready for the action to begin.

What action? Well Jaguar would be going out to beat the old pre-war lap record dating from the 1937 Donington GP. Quite how Jaguar's agency could use the results of the day was difficult to foresee, especially as there was the awkward fact that the old record was set on the previous 3 mile 220 yard track, not the latest sub-2-miler

Whatever the object was and presumably it was plain old-fashioned good publicity for a company, that really does need the good news stories today - the result was an entertaining trip.

First there was the circuit to examine. From the spectator side the viewing promises to be more spectacular than many British circuits, especially the downhill sections that comprise the Craner Curves, where the drivers boosts number of very tricky problems to navigate. In two spots, exiting the fast and final Craner corner to head into Old Hairpin, and subsequently attempting to turn right after two quick lefts for the approach into McLean's, the drivers will have to compromise that cornering line to put together a flowing lap. This is because the car is naturally heading for the opposite side of the track to that needed for a fast approach.

The official opening was still weeks away when the Jaguar christened the fresh tarmac in anger, but even so one could see what an attractive circuit it will be. There is no Armco barrier at all, 2 1/2-ton concrete blocks and deep sand runoff areas acting as the final intervention for runaway cars. Another interesting feature is that the kerbs are all of the vibrating type, and very low. There seemed a distinct preference, even amongst the international drivers present, to use much more than just the track when cornering over such obstructions. So there could well floss initial problem in disciplining club competitors from kerb-hopping and leaving stones and earth all over the track.

A ride around in Derek Bell's roadgoing XJS showed what a smooth surface had been applied (it is reputedly very good at reducing spray in the wet), and that the corners look as though they will provide some of the rare (in Britain) top gear motoring that really does tend to sort competitors skill/bravery ratio out!

Doubtless we will be able to comment more fully in a future issue, after the official opening. Meantime it looks as though Tom Wheatcroft's expenditure of a reputed £1.8-million has been thoroughly worthwhile. Like the museum the track has character and good, unpretentious design, that springs from a simple enthusiasm for high performance motoring and machinery.

Incidentally, Chief BRDC Timekeeper Roy Oates pronounced at the end of the Jaguar's many laps that Tim Schenken had been the fastest. The Australian managed 1m 17.9s (90.45 m.p.h.). This compares with Raymond Mays (ERA, 74.31 m.p.h. best lap speed on the old short circuit. However a comparison used on the day was the 2m 11.4s lap (85.62 M.p.h.) recorded by Bernd Rosemeyer (Auto Union) and Von Brauchitsch during 1937's Donington GP. Incidentally, Mays also set his record 40 years ago, but in a 200-mile sports car event. Motor Sport's reporter (Brian Twist) commented that the GP records were "Likely to stand for a very long while".

Meanwhile it is worth noting that the first meeting at Donington is for motorcycles on May 15th and for cars on May 28th. The latter race meeting, organised by the Nottingham Sports Co, Club, shows a large Lotus involvement. A press release on behalf of that event's sponsors (J. & A. Else, Derby) says that there is a good chance of Gunnar Nilsson appearing in the GP Lotus 77 and also of seeing Stirling Moss in a Lotus 18, continuing to list a full selection of club races on the same day.

Something different

Those with a taste for something different in motor sports might care to try viewing the All Wheel Drive Club's Hillrally on May 7th and 8th. The event will centre on the Rushmoor Arena, near Aldershot and includes seven stages within 20 rniles of that town.

You can expect to see all kinds of rough terrain vehicles competing from VW-based specials to Haflingers, Range Rovers, Jeeps and Champs. More information from Nigel Ashcroft on Bristol 426385 (home).

Jaguar facts

Our American contemporaries at Road & Track have put the Group 44 racing Jaguar XJ-S through one of their heavily factual testing sessions, and the results make fascinating reading, especially when some of the statements made recently about the Jaguar's wet sump/possible dry sump lubrication are remembered.

Brian Fuerstenau, the gentleman responsible for the American team's engine development says that their dry sump V12s costs £5,813 apiece, only £1,744 of it required for new high-performance parts. Power is quoted as 475 b.h.p. at 7,600 r.p.m. with maximum torque of 360 lb. ft. at 5,500 r.p.m.: no figures have ever been given for the Broadspeed Leyland Coupe, which currently has wet sump lubrication, but is expected to gain another 30 h.h.p. when the CSI allow dry sump lubrication. The American V12 runs on six Weber carburetters and an 11 1/2 to 1 c.r., whereas the British-based Coupe has Lucas fuel-injection. It does seem possible that Ralph Broad might benefit by talking to the Americans about their dry sump system, while the Group 44 people might just be able to squeeze the Broadspeed-Lucas injection system beneath the bonnet.

Cost of the complete XJ-S in racing trim is quoted as £26,162, and the Group 4 car is very, very much simpler than the complex XJ5.3C used in ETC rounds. For example the braking system on the American car does not employ the water injection cooling favoured by Broad, making use of E-type 11.2 in. vented discs at the rear and 8-piston caliper actuation for the 12 in. dia. front ventilated units. Surprisingly, there is not that much difference in the intended purposes of the cars this season. Last year Group 44 ran in a couple of SCCA nationals with encouraging success; this year they plan to run Trans-Am events which last several hours - the Leyland XJ5.3C will mainly be covering four hours at. a stretch this year.

Electronically recorded performance figures for the Group 44 XJ-S show 0-60 m.p.h. in 5 sec. flat, 0-120 m.p.h. in 15.2 sec. and to reported 180 m.p.h. at 8,200 r.p.m. Driver Bob Tullius reports the standard Jaguar aerodynamics are excellent at this speed!

Rallying Tonys in the news

Tony Fall and Tony Brunskill have both achieved something worth passing on this month. Fall, the former rally driver from Yorkshire has been made the Manager Sports Relations, Adam Opel AG, and is now at Russelsheim in West Germany. Brunskill has managed to extend his gift for introducing young children to the arts of high speed car control with a rallying bias, for he managed to arrange that some of his youngsters appeared on a special Midland TV show.

Fall is to continue managing Dealer Opel Team in Britain, until a new manager is found for the UK, but his new job will be a very important one. At present the factory Kadetts are sulking in the development department having displayed such chronic unreliability that they have not been able to contest the internationals they had intended. However the British end of the operation has shown reliability with the same cars but not the same 16-valve engines so Fall starts his new task with a moral advantage.

Meanwhile Brunskill has spent years in backing his belief that embryo rally stars should start learning to drive quickly on the loose at an early age. Before the BBC Pebble Mill At One cameras he put Graham Sharp (9), Karen Nellis (14) and Duncan Pittaway (14). They drove a pair of works Avengers loaned by Des O'Dell, having learned on Brunskill's own Avenger.

As an English Master at Rossall School, Fleetwood, Brunskill has an obvious interest in the young. Now he plans a national TV competition, and to run both training and talent spotting sessions all over the country.

Porsche's place

Dr Ferdinand (Ferry) Porsche opened Porsche Cars Great Britain Ltd's new headquarters in Reading recently. Based at Richfield Avenue in the Berkshire town, the Porsche plot occupies 3 1/2 acres. A space which is needed to accommodate the kind of expansion Porsche are expecting with the addition of the Porsche 924 to the British range.

The company secured the site in the Caversham district last June. Planning permission was granted very quickly and work started last August. The finished buildings comprise a massive 44,000 feet split simply into Sales and After-Sales Departments. The ground floor is divided into four main hangar-like areas that hold: new car preparation, body and mechanical repairs, and a £300,000 computer-controlled stock of spare parts. Actually £300,000 does not sound very much in Porsche parts stock, especially when you look at items like the Turbo Carrera's P7 tyres at a cool £150 or so, each!

Classified comedian

We make no comment about the following item, save to add that the Huddersfield Motor Club is where C.R.'s original loyalties lie. The following classic for sale advertisement appeared in a recent HMC bulletin:

"Mini 1000 1971. This car has had one careful lady owner, who is kind to animals and helps old people across the road, but it has occasionally been driven by her husband, who is none of these things, and brays hell out of cars too. It has never been raced or rallied and has never exceeded 50m.p.h. (in reverse). Privately maintained by a bloke with a big hammer and a crowbar, the car is a good example of how steel rusts when the paint drops off. A new Gold Seal engine was fitted a while ago, so the bearings should be good for another month or two. The car is modified: the nearside is shorter than the offside, following a coming together with a wall at Magdale Vinery. £450 ono. Contact Chris or Frances Shaw at the Woodman, or ring Holmfirth 2983."

It appeared a long time ago, so don't pursue this pearl of automative salesmanship, will you?

Tunnel trap

A friend in the high performance car business had to really nasty shock recently: he was stopped for exceeding the speed limit inside the Hyde Park Underpass.

As in most of London the limit at this point is a widely ignored 30 m.p.h., but the surprise was that it was a radar unit within the underpass that caught him, the police waiting at the exit to pull in offenders. As our man said, "this is obviously a money making exercise, for the average speed in the tunnel is well above 30 m.p.h. and so a lot of people can, and were, being stopped. In fact it hurt to see no less than six policemen working full time interviewing the offenders with 'customers' joining in all the time." You have been warned.

Made in Japan dept.

Since our man reported extensively on the new Mazda Hatchback design several months ago, we did not feel the need to go on the Irish launch for the UK models. Prices have now been announced for the 1.0 and 1.3-litre front engine-rear drive machines, all of which have laminated windscreens and inertia reel seat belts. The range will begin at £2,033 and culminate in a five-door (as opposed to three doors at the bottom of the range) automatic at £2,593.

In Britain Cirencester acts as the base for the Colt Car Co. offspring of the giant (Japan's biggest corporation, accounting for 10% of their GNP we were informed) Mitsubishi Corporation. Elsewhere in the World Chrysler are heavily involved in Colt marketing, reflecting their substantial stake in the company. Here former BMW men have solidly established the brand in Britain, selling under 7,000 cars in 1976, but expecting to add trucks and more cars to that figure this year.

Michael Orr is the young and often controversial head of Colt in Britain. There is also a charming Japanese gentleman on hand in Britain to watch over the company's progress as well. We met Orr again on the occasion of a slightly revised Lancer model range announcement.

Mr Orr likes a good pugnacious argument about pretty well any subject within the scope of the British car industry, demonstrating his own independence by flamboyantly running a Mercedes 450 saloon! There can be no arguing with the fact that his 60 employees are onto a good thing.

The Colt range doesn't precipitate any rush for the driver's seat at this magazine, but many private owners are obviously delighted by the range's reliability, though perhaps not by the insurance rates. According to the Spring issue of Milestones, the Colt Lancer 1200 falls within group 5, and that's expensive for a small family saloon, even if it claimed to have a 92-m.p.h. top speed.

The latest Lancers do have revised front and back styling, but I doubt whether many will notice that. However, there is a genuine improvement in acceleration and the 1600 Sport, with an enormous mound of standard equipment at an inclusive price of £2,750, must make even Ford little nervous when trying to sell off Escort Specs in the same town. Despite the narrow 4J wheels the 82-b.h.p. Sport GSR handles very respectably, only the recirculating ball steering really giving the European opposition something to the complacent about. Top speed is reckoned to be 102 1/2m.p.h. and you need a pilot's licence to operate within the neatly laid out interior. The Colt range now starts at £2,099 for a 2– door 1200.

New Mercedes Coupes

Mercedes-Benz have extended their new W123 saloon range with the addition of a rang,e of three two-door coupe equivalents of the 230, 280 and 280E models. In Britain only two versions will be available, from Autumn this year the 230C, with 109 b.h.p. DIN, 2,307 c.c., four-cylinder engine; and the 280CE, a 177 b.h.p. DIN, 2,746 c.c., twin-overhead camshaft, straight-six-cylinder engine fitted with Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection.

We extolled the virtues of the 280E saloon in our road test in the March issue. In all respects other than the body style from the screen pillars rearwards, the coupe is identical. That is to say it has double wishbone front suspension with anti-dive geometry and zero-offset steering and diagonal swing-axle rear suspension with brake torque compensation. The boot and 80-litre fuel tank are the same and the clear and functional dashboard differs only in its more extensive use of Walnut veneer. The 230C uses the same rectangular halogen wide-band headlamps as the 280E and CE rather than the cheaper saloons' round ones.

These coupes are 4 cm. lower and 8.5 cm. shorter than the saloons, and even better aesthetically than the compact, well balanced saloons. A sleek outline comes from the use of more steeply sloping front and rear windows and fully retractable side windows without dividing pillars. Interior details include front seats adjustable for height, vacuum locking of the folding front seat backrests, a cushion which fits between the split rear seats for an occasional third passenger.

We tried the new coupes in 230C and 280CE automatic forms on an interesting country and autobahn route near Stuttgart recently and reiterate what we felt about the 280E saloon: that this W123 series (C123 for the coupe) is the epitome of refined, rugged, stylish and elegant motoring. Like the saloon the coupe handles magnificently—a shade better, in fact, for its 85 mm. shorter wheelbase and lower weight (230C: 27 cwt.; 280CE: 28.5 cwt.) have allowed some revision to spring and damper rates. The standard M-B power steering displays its accepted high standards of feel, precision and freedom from deflection. This solid and taut feeling car rolls but modestly, has excellent roadholding and balanced handling and scoffs at autobahn cross-winds. Both 4- and 6-cylinder cars feel much alike in these respects.

The 230C feels sluggish, naturally, but still proves willing to cruise at dose to its 103 m.p.h. maximum. It hides its four-cylinder configuration smoothly and should be a good economy compromise for the driver who isn't interested in performance. The 280CE feels far from a sluggard, faster than our road-test saloon in acceleration and top speed, being good for about 123 m.p.h. The four-speed Mercedes automatic gearbox is its usual smooth self in both cars; this item is likely to be standard on British coupes, but, as in the case of the saloon, it will presumably be possible to import a manual car to special order Is hefty deposit must be placed at the time of the order).

Access to the back seats is reasonably easy and the car is splendidly comfortable in spite of stiff seating. But headroom is limited, front and rear, even with the front seats lowered.

Prices should range between £8,000 and £10,000 when the coupe reaches the British market. A lovely car to own.

Fiat offer

Aside from trying to beat off the now rather embarrassing queue for the bargain basement (comparative term!) X1-9, Fiat are trying to move a few more of the disappointing 132 saloons with a £150 free accessory offer. This is supplied with any 1600 GLS or 1800 ES purchased before August 31st.

The offer emphasises a number of accessories now being offered for the Fiats for the first time in Britain, including alloy GKN wheels, two types of sunroof from Weathershield, and a Motorola radio/cassette player.

BRDC Dinner

We had some confused information when writing about the British Racing Drivers' Club Golden Jubilee in last month's issue. The BRDC's annual dinner will not be at the Dorchester and may not be £20 per head as stated. In fact it will be at the Hilton on December 2nd, at a price which has yet be fixed.

Ulster TT Golden Jubilee

The 70th anniversary of the first TT race in Ulster is to be commemorated next year on August 19th. As a first step the Ulster Vintage Car Club would like to hear from owners of genuine Ulster TT cars who.would be prepared to demonstrate them around the famous 13.6-mile course. Further details will follow.