Letters from readers, May 1979
N.B. – Opinions expressed are those of our Correspondents and Motor Sport does not necessarily associate itself with them. -ED.
Aston Martin DB3S/8
The Christmas Holidays over, I have had time to re-read the November issue of Motor Sport which contained “An Afternoon With An Aston Martin DB3S.” From the article there appears to be some gaps in this car’s history subsequent to the conclusion of the 1956 European racing season.
There really never was a consortium between Mr. Joe Lubin and Carroll Shelby, other than the fact they knew each other, any more than the existence of a semi-works team in the West consisting of another DB3S and two 4.2-litre DBR2s.
When I emigrated to Southern California in early 1956, Carroll was committed, more or less, to drive the Ferraris and Maserati cars owned by my employer, Tony Parravano, also later for John Edgar; in fact Carroll never did drive DB3S/8 in West Coast events.
Joe Lubin’s connection with Aston Martin came through the David Brown Tractor organisation, of which he was a Distributor. Oddly enough my first introduction to Joe came through Carroll, for I had observed him commuting from his Beverly Hills home to his business in East Los Angeles daily in DB3S/118. Obviously this situation did not last too long: DB3S/118, finding Los Angeles traffic conditions not being to its liking, had bearing problems. After I had rebuilt the engine, Joe decided the car should be used for the purpose for which it was intended, the first event being an SCCA meeting in San Diego, the driver Bruce Kessler, although Bob Drake actually took over on race day. DB3S/118 was used throughout the 1956 season, at Santa Barbara, Pomona, Bakersfield, Willow Springs, but did not achieve any overall success in these SCCA sponsored events.
Early in 1957 Joe Lubin purchased three other cars, a Francis Heart prepared 500 c.c. Cooper Norton, 1,500 c.c. Cooper Coventry Climax, the first rear engine Cooper on the West Coast, and DB3S/8. Obviously this car was a substantial improvement over the production DB3S/118 with the increase in horsepower and improved brakes. The first event was Pomona, California where after a minor “shunt”, Bob Drake won the “D” Production Class and the Main Event. At a later meeting in ’57, Ritchie Ginther drove both at Santa Barbara and Pomona. In the latter event it rained and had I given him more dramatic pit signals earlier, he could have caught Eric Hauser driving “Ole Yeller”; just missed him at the post, but such is motor racing!
Possibly DB3S/8’s finest achievement in the USA was the 6-Hour Race at Cotati in September 1957. Joe entered both cars, DB3S/8 being driven by Bob Drake and Bob Oker, DB3S/118 by George Dillaway and Pierce Woods. The other entry was that of Rod Carveth’s DB3S/104, which unfortunately seized its differential on the opening lap. Apart front a few laps at the half-way point, DB3S/8 led from start to finish, followed by DB3S/118 in third place, the Astons being separated by a Porsche Carrera driven by the late Sam Weiss. Joe Lubin subsequently disposed of DB3S/8 early in 1958, for arrangements had now been finalised through Feltham to campaign two DBR2s in the USA, the East Coast car being consigned to Elisha Walker and the West Coast to Joe Lubin, but that’s another story.
For a number of years DB3S/8 was lost to all. However, some years ago I received a phone call from a bank in Hawthorne (Southern California) who requested I make an inspection of an Aston Martin DB3S with a view to establishing its current market value. Imagine my surprise upon arriving at the bank to find DB3S/8 on display in the foyer! From a cosmetic standpoint the condition was very good, the body, although not original, still retained the head rest which I had installed. Alas the original engine had received some non-standard modifications, including the removal of the original Weber carburettors. A young bank executive went to great lengths to explain there were only three of these cars ever built, but was unable to explain how if there were only three, did this example become number eight? Subsequently Joe re-acquired this car from the bank and re-sold it to Roger Hart. The remainder of the history you know. I thought you might be interested in the enclosed lap charts from the Six-Hour Race.
I saw DB3S/8 again in 1977 whilst visiting Eric Birk’s establishment in Thame. At that time it was completely dismantled and I hope to see it again this year while on a visit home, for we intend to visit the Midland Motor Museum.
My colleagues, George Newell and Len Auerbach, have already restored two DB3Ss, Len’s car being the Cotati entrant DB3S/104. We have one more to restore, DB3S/11, which currently is without a body. However our prime concern is a replacement fuel tank. Any assistance in acquiring this component would be appreciated.
Dublin, California RICHARD F. GREEN Chairman, USA Section West, AMOC
Where Are They Now?
You asked the same question after the USAC races last year, but this time you said something which tells me you really don’t know.
The so called spectators that stay sway from the F2 (and other races) are the same ones that stay away from F1 also, but are not dying, more like being killed off by the organisers.
I am a spectator of 20 years standing. I went to my last two Grands Prix in 1975 at Silverstone and 1976 at Brands Hatch. The reasons why I and, I suspect, quite a lot of others stay away are the same for most Internationals. It’s not the increase in admission charges but the decline in value for money, less races and shorter races (we have old programmes to prove it).
The admission to all practice and paddocks on practice days (F1 and F2 races) is far too high. After all, practice is staged for the drivers, not for us. The pit walkabout is a joke and trying to get near a car or a driver is like trying to find a virgin in a Turkish brothel. The first day of practice for the USAC race at Silverstone was really great, just how it used to be; the drivers, mechanics, entrants and USAC officials were really very friendly and chatty.
As for the F2 race last week, I don’t feel inclined to stand around in the cold at this time of year at £4.50 admission, and if I want to keep dry pay another £4.00 for a Grandstand seat. Now that is much too costly. Charges should vary with the time of year. The admission cost of £3.00 to go into the paddock is far too high, to see what? The reasons for high charges at a GP meeting surely don’t apply to smaller meetings. If the accountants run things then the circuits should stick to F1 and once a year spectators.
But things will have to change before I go again.
Peterborough M. A. BURDESS
The International Trophy
As one of those who did not go to Silverstone last Sunday, I would have thought that the reasons were only too obvious.
Saturday was a fine but cold day and had Sunday been the same I would have been at Silverstone.
Sunday’s Meteorological Office report for the relevant areas was dismal. The older one gets the less one is inclined to pay out something in the region of £9.00 and £10.00, to be cold and wet watching motor racing. I, like many others, learned the lesson from last year’s March International Trophy.
The public cannot be expected to pay to endure hardship and organisers of meetings expecting a paying gate ought to pay due regard to the season.
Coventry J. VENN
The Jaguar That Should Have Been
A very interesting and enthusiastic report on the Series III XJ.
After 11 years of production Jaguar have now made this range the car it always should have been (and saying this in the face of the high demand for the various models) with improved rear seat headroom, wider front seats with increased lateral support and self-parking wipers at long last stopping at the correct side for a right hand drive car. I have always been more comfortable in a 420 Jaguar and comparing the sporting characteristics of the 420 and XJ manuals there is no doubt that, in less salubrious surroundings, the older car was given much more to using the gears quickly than the XJ.
I am also pleased to see the interior finish more refined the XJs have varied between poor veneer on the Series I and poorer leather on the II with carpets that very much resemble my wife’s Austin 1300! It, too, has the “glued on” pile coming off.
It is also a delight to note that body panels are now to be wax coated I have just had two front wings replaced after having had them “fibreglassed” six months ago on a 1976 (March) Daimler Sovereign of under 40,000 miles frightening on a £12,000 motor car.
Two more points when do we get a neat air dam and external door locks integrated with the door handles, using one key for ignition, doors and boot with the central locking effective from the driver’s door lock, as fitted to the new Granada range.
All the best, Jaguar, with this much improved car and your traditional service back up at Browns Lane.
Edinburgh ROBERT B. HARRISON
The Joys of the Winding Road
How nice to see somebody (especially somebody like W.B.!) sharing in some of my motoring views. On reaching page 168 of the February issue, I was very pleased to read W.B.’s attitudes to the widening and straightening of many roads (at ratepayers’ expense it seems).
To me there is no enjoyment in driving along a straight tarmac ribbon; give me a road that twists and turns. I say cars were made for going round bends, that is why the front wheels steer them. Straight ribbons of tarmac are for aeroplanes to take off and land on! I say keep our bends; some of us still like driving, and I say this as a driver of some reputation, being a member of the IAM.
Clapham, Beds. J. W. HARRISON
It is your privilege to pull us up on grammatical mistakes (Motor Sport March) but in the particular case of John Miles’ Granada rear window wiper falling off “literally as I write”, I think that you should be aware of the pressures of weekly publishing or at least the inadequacies of weekly magazine offices….
Only this morning, when we enquired where one of our technical writers might be found, the answer came back that he was in the car park typing a story in the Granada….
London SE1 RAY HUITON Editor, Autocar
The Future of Abingdon
If Mr. Rainey (whose letter you published on p. 514 in the April issue) would like to come down to earth for a moment, he could be reminded that the “hallowed soil of Abingdon” has also seen the production of the Riley RM-types and the Pathfinder, most of the Austin-Healeys including the Sprite, and untold numbers of Morris Minor Travellers and vans. Whereas thankfully, MG 1100, 1300, Magnette Mark III and Mark IV were produced elsewhere. It is a long-standing policy going back even to pre-BMC days, to transfer production of other vehicles to the MG factory whenever there is space and manpower to spare.
Far more interesting however is the discrepancy in production figures. As a most generous estimate, I should say that Allegro Vanden Plas production is no more than 5% of MG Midget production. And furthermore the Allegros arrive from Longbridge as more or less complete running cars, only to be fitted with seats, trim etc., so their “production” involves far less work car for car than the Midget production. What else is Leyland going to do with the MG plant, which incidentally has one of the best industrial relations records within BL Cars, and is possibly the biggest industrial undertaking in this small Oxfordshire town?
The Allegro Vanden Plas production is transferred to Abingdon because BL is closing the Vanden Plas factory in North London (one of few remaining links with the Bentley era, as the editor knows). But one wonders if this is merely a prelude to a partial closing of the MG factory, which would be far more disastrous, in a historical as well as social sense. I write this on the day after the tragic and brutal murder of Mr. Airey Neave, MP for Abingdon, and presumably we shall have to wait until after the general election before the real interests of the Abingdon community and the MG factory will again be represented in the corridors of power. Remember that Parliament these days is governing BL as well as the country. Finally, though I would describe myself as an MG enthusiast, I cannot really mourn the passing of the Midget, which these days must rank as a marginally worse car than the Spitfire. But what I do regret is the fact that BL has not seen fit to introduce a modern small sports car, which could have given a useful boost to the Abingdon factory, to the MG marque and to BL sales abroad, particularly in the States. Instead they are losing this market to Fiat, and even to the Japanese. However, Mr. Rainey may take heart from the fact that the MG-B is still outselling the Triumph TR7 in America though admittedly this is bound to change when the soft-top and V8 versions of the TR7 make their belated entry in the American marketplace.
Birmingham ANDERS DITLEV CLAUSAGER
PSF Swindon’s contribution
I would like to refer to Mr. I. P. Rainey’s letter in the April issue, where he spoke of “the hallowed soil of Abingdon”.
While wishing in no way to denigrate the part played by Abingdon in the assembly of the MG Midget, I would like to see the other Leyland plants who share in the making, also share the credits.
In the Swindon factory of Pressed Steel Fisher we have produced the bodies for every MG Midget (and Austin Healey Sprite) and would enjoy some recognition in the pages of Motor Sport.
Some men on the line have in fact worked on the car from the very beginning and while we will be sorry to see the end of the Midget nobody can say it hasn’t had a good long life, in excess of 20 years.
We also make the bodies for the MG-B and MG-B GT here, and now the TR7 and assemblies for the SD1 Rover. After the demise of the Midget the workforce will be transferred to boost the production on these other great Leyland cars.
Swindon D. E. GARRATT
A £7,000 Wet Dream …
Having been an open-sports car enthusiast since I began driving and having progressed from a TR4A to an MG-B and on to two Jensen-Healeys, I was naturally thrilled when TVR announced their new 3000S convertible last year and promptly ordered one from The Chequered Flag to replace my weary J-H5.
Like all new cars, it had its initial teething-troubles but its power and acceleration far outweighed these well almost. The problem is when it rains, for unfortunately because of basic design faults the car leaks like a proverbial sieve. The first time I “noticed” it was about a month after delivery when after a heavy-ish downpour I braked sharply and a veritable wall of water appeared from the well (sic) under my seat literally enveloping my ankles and trouser-cuffs and certainly dousing my spirits.
I will not bore either you or your readers with the gory details, but initial complaints to the ‘Flag met with comments like, “all convertibles leak,” and “you should not drive it in wet weather”. I by-passed them and persuaded TVR to take the car back for modifications including a new hood, a variety of strategically placed rubber strips and of course new carpets … it did not work!
Just before Christmas, TVR took the car back again (for a month) when they replaced the hood, added some more rubber bits and of course changed the carpets so that by the end of my first four months of ownership they had had the car back at the factory for almost two of them! … It still did not work.
I arranged an inspection by the RAC in the presence of TVR’s Service Manager resulting in a day’s work on the car at the ‘Flag by a specially despatched TVR engineer.
Recent flooding throughout the South East also occurred inside my TVR (about an inch deep) and even as I write this letter I sit with a damp seat and soggy socks, through no fault of my own.
The saddest part of the whole thing is that apart from her incontinence, I love the car dearly; she has some very nice sides to her character although like all of us has a few things that could do with improvement. TVR say that there is nothing more they can do and, quite honestly, I am reluctant to part with the car yet again so they can prove it.
Please come back Jensen-Healey, all is forgiven… .
Esher QUENTIN D. BLACKE
In Defence of the Bentley 4-litre
Your comments on the book by Donald Bestow about W. O. Bentley prompt me to write to defend the 4-litre model. Admittedly your remarks are fairly neutral, but so many writers about Bentleys seem not to relate “horses for courses”.
The 3- and 4½-litre Bentleys were meant to be sports cars, in which field, if price was no object, they were without peer during the period they were produced except for a very few limited production competitors.
The 4- and 8-litre cars, however, surely were aimed at a very different market. The 8-litre directly at the R-R Phantom II, to provide luxurious, silent, closed body transportation the equal of the Rolls but with a vastly superior performance.
On the other hand the 4-litre was aimed to compete directly with the 20/25 R-R, and presumably because W.O. felt unable to depart from his OHC tradition, an outside designer of no mean repute, Sir Harry Ricardo, was called in to design the top end of the engine. This incidentally was the current design when R. Royce purchased the firm and it is interesting that the post-war Mk. VI Bentley had an almost identical engine turned through 180°.
I wonder if W.O. ever did despise the Ricardo design; personally I rather doubt it. The b.h.p. was higher than the 4½-litre in standard form. In operation it fulfils its purpose admirably, having the smoothness and silence of the small Rolls, with a rather better performance we have both cars so can directly compare.
Very few of either 4- or 8-litre cars were fitted with tourer bodywork; they were not meant for this market.
Whilst writing to you, it might be of interest to your readers to know that the Ghost you mentioned as having been seen in the recent TV series, Thomas and Sara, is our towing and general run-about car. Odd though it may sound it is the smallest car we have licensed for road use. When not in use it is on show in the Museum.
Crosby, IOM RICHARD EVANS, Manx Motor Museum
To tell you the truth concerning sports I am a little bit nationalistic. So, after having read several times during the past 10 or 15 years about “the masterly drive by Stirling Moss at the Aintree British Grand Prix in 1961” (Motor Sport No.4, April 1979, P.443), I can’t help reminding you of the fact that the late Wolfgang von Trips’ drive in the wet conditions of the same race was as least as masterly, and Moss spun, von Trips didn’t he won.
Borkum, W. Germany HENNING HOBEIN
In this age of the complainer, I should just like to strike a rather different note and record a remarkable and happy achievement for a very British little car.
I bought a Mini-Cooper in 1968 with 2,000 miles on the clock. I have now passed the 126,000 miles mark, still with the untouched original engine, gearbox and clutch, which I am told would be a creditable landmark for a heavy truck, yet alone for a tuned Mini. She still has plenty of go, although I obviously don’t thrash her quite as hard as I used to. She is like so many Minis, a member of a family rather than a mere motor car, and we try not to think of the inevitable time which must come when she must retire.
Selsey MOLLY GIMBLETT (Mrs.)
With the amount of legislation affecting the motorist which comes from Westminster and now Brussels, it seems to me vital that the existence of the Historic Vehicles Clubs Joint Committee should be supported and guaranteed. Its work over the years is reflected in the special conditions and exemptions of older vehicles from many of the laws passed since its formation; the list of benefits we enjoy must indeed be quite long. The committee consists of very experienced and capable people in various fields allied to legal and parliamentary activities who themselves own historic vehicles and voluntarily give their services, and to have won recognition in the right circles so effectively implies a great deal of time spent. One could not wish to have a better watchdog to safeguard the whole of the vintage movement’s interests.
It was with the greatest feeling of dismay then, that I read the Chairman’s letter regretting that this year’s conference has had to be cancelled due to lack of support. It seems that only 16 clubs responded to the 70 or more notices sent out: what can the other 54 be thinking about? Does not legislation and restriction in almost every other aspect of modern life make them the least apprehensive about future proposals which will affect them? Unless someone points out unfortunate effects upon a minority the vintage motorist will be engulfed in inappropriate regulations.
I have never cared for the term “enthusiast” in regard to running an old vehicle, but for pity’s sake, we must have some enthusiasm for the Historic Vehicle Clubs Joint Committee.
Worcester Park K. FIDGEN
(I agree most heartily. Ed.)
Two Bites of My Cherry
Recently I was in the enviable position of being able to afford a new motor, and applied around for models, details and prices.
I appreciated that there was a (mysteriously called) special car tax on top of the basic price of what I was going to buy, and VAT on top of that. What I did not appreciate, and still do not, is that the VAT is NOT based on the basic value as in other consumer products but on the sum of basic and special car tax amounts.
As Value Added Tax can only logically be levied on the basic value of goods, what of the bit on the special car tax, which is an intangible? So here is a tax based on something that we don’t get and for which we didn’t ask!
I raised the matter with the Consumer Council who pleaded ignorance of the subject, but contacted the local VAT Officer. Yes, was the answer. Quite legal. No sorry, we don’t know why: we think it just happened. We’ve never had anyone query it before. After all, it’s quite a small amount isn’t it?
No, it is not! The difference between what we now pay and what it should be if taxed correctly on the basic only, amounts to over £26 on a modestly priced 2-litre family car. Can someone clarify or justify this shady practice please?
Northwood P. M. BRISLEY
Spare a Thought for Motorcyclists
Having been a reader of your magazine for some time, I get the impression from the readers’ letters that your magazine is read by intelligent, enthusiastic and knowledgeable drivers. I wonder, however, whether your readers think about the difficulties which motorcyclists face from a certain number of thoughtless motor car drivers. I drive a Renault 5TL and a 1,000 c.c. Kawasaki motorcycle and can see the problems that both sets of drivers have to contend with.
I am aware that there are a number of motorcyclists who, by their irresponsible riding technique, get themselves in some very awkward situations on the road – for example attempting to squeeze through gaps in traffic and finding themselves trapped in vulnerable conditions, often at the mercy of other road users. This indeed, is not to be encouraged. However we are often put in precarious positions by thoughtless car drivers. An example of this would be the driver who overtakes a motorcyclist leaving the chap (or girl) on the bike with very little room; an error of judgement, a gust of sidewind, a pothole and the “biker” can well end up hitting the car. I’m sure with a little more thought from both sides a number of dangerous situations can be avoided. When there is an accident between a car and a motorcycle it is the rider who comes off worst, and it is our vulnerability that probably makes us more vociferous about driving bad manners.
So let’s have a little more thought for the guy on the bike and save ourselves from at least a little of the aggravation that venturing onto the roads creates.
Leeds P/O JEREMY SMYTH, RAF
After reading C,R.’s March issue article “All in a Year’s Motoring”, I feel entitled to give you some comments on the situation he depicted about “a new breed of hog, the overtake on the inside variety”.
You are fortunate in experiencing this sour state of things only now. With the general advent of highways and speed limits, we have known this in France for over 15 years now, As C.R. rightly points out the offence is not with the overtaking hog but, if you believe me and common sense, with the sleeping one in the wrong lane.
In France the first left lane hogs drove Citroen DS: were not they the kings of the road? Now they drive mostly Citroen CX, fast Peugeots, and Volvos. When the highway is crowded, one lane would be enough for them as they stubbornly stick to their personal ribbon, on which they sleep often at low speed.
Mind you, the empty lane now, the only one on which overtaking can be done in absolute security, is the one for trucks and slow cars! As there are no radar traps on the climbs, it is there where I let the two double-carburetters of my R12 Gordini breeze freely at an over-limit 100 m.p.h…. I am really an overtaking hog, you see. If nothing shakes the deep sleep of your new kind of slow hogs in the fast lane, I will not have to wait for long to wave you “welcome” in my right-wrong lone lane.
Paris DANIEL NOTTET
In 13 years of membership of the AA I find that my subscription, which was originally £2.10 per annum, has risen to £12.50. The original subscription also covered my wife and my son. Today, to obtain the same services (although many of the attractions offered free at the time of recruitment have now disappeared, or are subject to additional charges) I find that the cost would be £12.50 each for my son and myself, plus £2.75 in respect of my wife, making a total of £27.75. This represents an increase of 1,221% over 13 years almost 100% per annum for a service which is inferior to that offered in 1966.
The only improvement that has been introduced is the Relay service. In 1974 this cost an additional £2.20 but, in five years, this has risen to £9.00, an increase of 309% almost 62% per annum and these rates compare unfavourably with competitors such as the National Breakdown Recovery Club who even offer cover for recovery after accidents, a service apparently beyond the capabilities of the AA in spite of their inflated budgetry.
Since no one’s income increases regularly by 100% per annum – or even 62% per annum – the AA are getting out of touch with reality. Perhaps they are concentrating too much attention on the sale of watches, tape cassettes etc., and have forgotten the original purpose for which they were formed.
The following data may interest your readers:
Since the Director of Regional Operations at AA Headquarters thinks that a man, wife and son all driving the family car is “what might reasonably be called an extreme case” (although I disagree) I think it is clearly apparent from these figures that the basic subscription for ONE single member has increased by 459% over the 13 years and the Relay charge has increased by 309% since 1974, neither of which can be considered reasonable or fair when compared with the RP Indices which we are all led (or misled) to believe is a fair guide to rising costs. Mass resignations would obviously be the answer to this “ostrich” attitude, but as AA members have not got a militant union to act for them, they must think and act for themselves. I hope my figures may be a source of enlightenment to them.
West Monkseaton G. E. PORRETT