Around and About, May 1981
A Wealth of Experience
One of the many pleasant things about visiting California for the Grand Prix at Long Beach is the opportunity to meet once again Phil Hill and Dan Gurney. Friends for longer than either of them care to remember they are both still totally involved in the automobile and all its facets. Phil Hill runs a very well-established restoration business in Santa Monica, overhauling and restoring anything from MGs to Mercedes-Benz or Fords to Packhards. Dan Gurney is still running his All American Racers business, building cars for Indianapolis and USAC/CART racing. While Hill is reclaiming the past and bringing it up to today, Gurney is deeply into today and tomorrow, developing the latest in single-seater racing-car aerodynamics and all-aluminium “stock-block” racing engines.
Come Grand Prix time at Long Beach both men are totally involved with the organisation and while Gurney travels about the infield on a motorcycle overseeing various aspects of the organisation, Hill drives the Toyota Hatchback course car, complete with flashing lights and “whooping” siren. Before one practice session he let us travel round with him and Dr. Watkins, the Formula One medic, lying in the back of the Toyota as he officially closed the circuit. As we went round the corners squealing the tyres the ever-young Phil Hill operated the siren going “whoop, whoop, whoop” laughing and saying “isn’t that the greatest?”.
One evening before race-day we were eating in the Cafeteria on the Queen Mary, which is anchored in Long Beach Harbour and used as a Hotel, when across the room we saw two neatly dressed gentlemen seated at a table with their wives, enjoying a communal meal. As we looked at Phil Hill and Dan Gurney we could not help appreciating what a fantastic wealth of motor racing experience they held between them. A World Champion, both Le Mans winners, Grand Prix wins, sports car victories, saloon car races, NASCAR racing, Indianapolis racing, Bonneville records, street racing, autodrome racing, circuit racing, drag racing, airfield racing, the Targa Florio, Nurburgring, Monaco, Reims, Sweden, Holland, Belgium, France, Italy, Great Britain and so the thoughts went on. These two Americans had done just about everything there was to do on the International racing scene and here they were in 1981 helping to put on the United States (West) Grand Prix not for the glory or kudos, not for the publicity, and certainly not for financial gain. Just simply because they still love the motor racing game, iust the same way as they did when they first started, Phil Hill with European-type “sporty cars” in SCCA club racing and Dan Gurney in the hot rod scene on the dry lakes.
Some drivers make their mark in International racing and then disappear taking all they can with them, so if they re-appear on the scene eyebrows are raised and the question “What has he come back for?” is posed. Two figures who are always welcome back into the sport, anywhere in the world, are Phil Hill and Dan Gurney as inseparable now as they were 20 years ago, both still full of boyish enthusiasm for racing cars and motor racing as they were when they first appeared in Europe from across the oceanic join in “our” motor racing and play the game to our rules and traditions. They make some of the “Pop Stars” of Formula One today, who win a race or two and consider themselves beyond reproach, look a bit shallow.
Just in case you have forgotten (or did not know) recall Phil Hill in the works Ferrari team with the last of the front-engined Dino cars and the shark-nose rear-engined cars, in the V12 Testa Rossa sports cars at Le Mans with Olivier Gendebien, in the Chaparral with the movable aerofoil winning the Six Hours at Brands Hatch, in the record-breaking MG Ex-181 at Bonneville when he “stood in” for Stirling Moss and actually went faster, in Shelby-Cobras, in the Targa Florio in works Ferraris, winning the 10 Hours of Messina for Ferrari. Forget if you will the abortive time with ATS and the disastrous time in the works Cooper team. Recall Dan Gurney in works Ferraris, both Grand Prix and sports cars, in the works Porsche team in Formula One and Formula Two, in Ford GT40s, in works Brabhams, in his own Weslake-powered Eagle Formula One cars, in his own Eagle Indianapolis cars, in American stock-cars; or the time when he brought a Fordd Galaxie to Silverstone and played havoc with the all-conquering Mk. 2 Jaguar saloons. Yes, indeed, there is a wealth of experience between these two Americans.
There is only one man who has been World Champion on two wheels and on four wheels and that is John Surtees. He won numerous World Championships on MV Agusta motorcycles and in 1964 he was Formula One World Champion driver for Ferrari. Surtees was a complete motorcycle racer, just as much at home scratching round Brands Hatch or Mallory Park as he was on the 37 1/4-mile Mountain circuit in the Isle of Man, or at Nurburgring or Spa-Francorchamps. He was an equally complete racing driver, winning in Formula One Grand Prix cars, in long-distance endurance races with sports cars or in Chevrolet-powered Can-Am behemoths.
Over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend Motor Circuit Developments are providing the opportunity for a unique double-feature to pay tribute to John Surtees at Brands Hatch. Combined with a motorcycle race meeting on Sunday May 24th Surtees is inviting all his old mates from the motorcycle world to join a two-wheeled “parade” featuring bikes that he personally raced and many of those against which he raced. Among the personalities will be those who were his team-mates and those who were his rivals, and it looks like being a good motorcycle party. To end the activities on this day Surtees will demonstrate the last of the 3-litre V12 Honda Formula One cars which he raced in 1968.
On Monday at the car-race meeting he is inviting all his old motor racing friends and rivals, with a “parade” of Grand Prix cars and sports cars that he raced between the years 1960 and 1972. In addition some of his closer motorcycle chums will also be there on Monday and with Surtees, all on period racing motorcycles, they will give the car spectators a demonstration race.
Anyone who has followed the career of John Surtees, from the time he rode as sidecar passenger to his father Jack, to the time he retired and ran his own Formula One team, will no doubt want to be present on both days. So if you are a John Surtees fan (and the Italians did not dub him “II Grande John” for nothing), you will want to make a date to be at Brands Hatch on May 24th and May 25th. Any profits from the two meetings are being donated to charities associated with the disabled.
A lot of people are quick to criticise the Formula One scene because it took so long to finalise the 1981 calendar, but we have just received a revised calendar for the Canadian-American (Can-Am) Challenge series of events that bears little resemblance to the one we were given for our fist of events published in the January Motor Sport.
The series now starts on June 14th instead of June 7th, at Mosport (Can), then goes to Ohio (Am) on June 28th instead of June 21st. Watkins Glen (Am) has been added, for July 11th, and Road America at Elkhart Lake (Am) remains on July 26th. On September 6th another new event is added, this one at Trois-Rivieres at Quebec (Can) and on September 13th is the second Mosport race (Can) which was originally listed as August 16th. Riverside (Am) is changed from October 25th to October 4th. Brainerd on August 9th has gone, as has Road Atlanta on September 20th. So the revised Can-Am calendar now reads as follows, superseding that given on page 31 in Motor Sport January 1981.
June 14th: Mosport Park, Ontario, Canada
June 28th: Mid-Ohio, Lexington, America
July 11th: Watkins Glen, New York, America
July 26th: Road America, Winsconsin, America
Sept 6th: Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, Canada
Sept 13th: Mosport Park, Ontario, Canada
Oct 4th: Riverside, California, America
Oct 11th: Laguna Seca, California, America.
Canada 3 — America 5 — Can-Am 8.
According to an article in the Chartered Surveyor by Richard Taylor, BSc, FRICS, a partner in the Fuller Peiser Development Company, the Industrial Park inside the one-time Brooklands Motor Course has been highly satisfactory. The total site apparently comprises an area of 270 acres and, if we read Mr. Taylor correctly, it seems that the 180 acres of the runway and an additional 90 acres are included, although initial concentration has been on 90 acres of this. What is interesting from our point of view is that Mr. Taylor says that in developing this land “The historic connections of Brooklands had to be seriously considered”, although, he continues, “Regrettably the last war effectively eliminated any chance of reopening the famous racing circuit due to the expansion of its other connection, that of aircraft construction”.
He points out that some sections of the circuit remain in existence and he says that “We considered all assistance should be offered to those who wished to preserve whatever was possible and our clients (Oyster Lane Properties and British Aero space) supported this view.” This rather conflicts with the overnight destruction of the entire Flying Village, dating back to about 1909, and the whole line of buildings on the Byfleet side, from W.B. Scott’s old shed to “The Hermitage”, one time home J.G. Parry Thomas, not to mention the historic Martinsyde/Andre hangars. Presumably the operative clause in Mr. Taylor’s sentiments is “where possible”, and thus history and nostalgia were sacrificed to the needs of Bass Charrington and Cadbury Schweppes, with a subsidiary of Inveresk now in a 64,000 ft. warehouse.
Some of the older buildings were let in deliberately short leases, in order that the northern sector development would not be interfered with. It is announced that the northern sector is expected to provide nearly a million square-feet of new buildings, after which the southern sector will be redeveloped. The “park concept” at Brooklands is seen as “an estate like the Woodside Industrial Estate at Dunstable”. “We feel”, says Mr. Taylor “that the development of an Industrial Park can live quite harmoniously, in this case, with the preservation of the past”! — our exclamation mark.
Although Mr. Taylor makes the point that “No development has taken place on the Track and our clients have offered to provide a building and part of the site for a museum dedicated to aviation”, this cannot be much consolation on the car-side of the affair. Admittedly, Bass-Charrington Ltd., have allowed the Brooklands Society to use their new building for film-shows, but we believe the aforementioned Aviation Museum to be an arrangement made with Weybridge Museum and Library, and other bodies, to keep records in the old Aero Clubhouse, and that it has no connection with the Brooklands Society.
Meanwhile, the Brooklands Society, in the current issue of its excellent Brooklands Society Gazette, announces that its Associate Company, Brooklands Track Limited, has new plans for the “40-acre” site enclosed by the Members banking and the old Finishing straight, but that the former Museum scheme has been abandoned, following consultation with Dame Margaret Weston, who is a Director of The Science Museum. It also announces another change, the BTL Directorship now comprising Peter Roddis as Chairman, Kenneth Day, President of the Alvis O.C., and Andrew Child who resigned the Secretaryship of the Brooklands Society last year. The Fund opened to try to save Brooklands, with a target of at least £20,000, had reached £770 by last January. — W.B.
Even Better Rovers
It is widely accepted that the present Rover cars represent a range of first-class high-speed hatchbacks, whether in the two six-cylinder (2300 or 2600) or V8 (3500) versions. We were very interested to drive the top model of the 1981 Rover line-up, the 3500 Vanden Plas. It was used for nearly 1,000 miles of varied driving in a week, and was deemed a very fine car by all who rode in it.
All the amenities are there in the Vanden Plas, such as refrigerated air-conditioning, cruise control, an electric sliding roof, electric window opening and closing, internally-adjustable, heated exterior mirrors, alloy road-wheels, improved trim and a choice of brush-velvet cloth or real Connolly leather upholstery. The Rover seats are comfortable and the shag-pile carpeting adds to the luxury. In addition, there are headlamp wash-wipe, halogen headlamps, radio/stereo, metallic finish, and the former items of equipment like the much-appreciated central-locking for the five doors, adjustable steering-rake, self-levelling suspension (of an improved type), fog-lamps, mud-flaps, etc., are continued.
Here, then, is a well-equipped 125 m.p.h. load-carrier of handsomely-aerodynamic styling, turned, in Vanden Plas guise, into a top luxury car, its very considerable performance delivered smoothly and very quietly by the low-stress 3 1/2-litre light-alloy engine of vee-eight configuration (which we are sure Rolls-Royce will agree is the best one). The Rover is geared in this form to cruise lazily at 2,500 at 70 m.p.h. (Older Automatic 3500s do 3,000 r.p.m. at this speed.) Having become so accustomed to driving an older 3500, it was interesting to see the differences immediately noticeable between it and the latest Vanden Plas model. There is now a much more man-sized gear-selector lever, in which a press-down button guards against inadvertent engagement of reverse or neutral. As the gear-lever knob on the old car has become self-detachable, this should have been welcomed; but maybe the first idea was better, because it is possible to move the new lever, with its knob thoughtlessly depressed, into the wrong slots, whereas the insignificant earlier lever was gated effectively to avoid this.
The rather haphazard fascia of the Rover is almost unchanged, except for the additional switch-gear for the electric mirrors, but the trip reading of the speedometer is not only masked by the needle when the car is stationary but the digits are now less easy to read. Knobs in place of levers adjust the front-seat squabs and two keys suffice, the third key for the fuel filler flap having been deleted. The fuel gauge reads steadily, thus obviating a most irritating shortcoming, and the dipped headlamps have acquired effective beams. The air-conditioner involves a third control-lever and some involved lettering and there are the additional switches on the centre console for the sunroof and electric-window lifts. The circular vents, where the side window-demisting hoses engage with the doors are now neater but rather uncomfortable head-restraints are fitted all round; those on the back seats getting in the way if these are lowered to make full use of the very generous luggage space then available. There is now a radio-speaker balance control, and the gear selector locations are marked at night by two rows of bright lights, the number of the gear engaged becoming even brighter than the others; but what terrible reflections in the side windows this can causel
The test car was on Uniroyal Rallye 195-240/70 HR14 tubeless radial tyres and in the wet the Michelins to which we are accustomed seemed marginally superior. Although the Rover’s fuel gauge no longer fluctuates meaninglessly, it does go down pretty quickly. In fact, the Vanden Plas returned an overall 19.1 m.p.g., with a best of 19.9 m.p.g., although this did involve some fast Motorway cruising. The ride and other aspects have been improved in subtle fashion, so that the 3500 remains definitely one of Britain’s fine cars. Wind-noise no longer intrudes, the finish is much better, and although the suspension is somewhat harsh and very tall people may complain a little of cramped quarters, few other cars have quite the same estate car/high speed versatility as this Rover. Its fuel tank holds 14 1/2 gallons, so that if you have the patience to brim it, the range can be around 250 miles. The fuel consumption is heavy, and Howe has certainly done his best to rub this in, although Executive and Business users may not be so concerned as, for instance, Metro customers; possibly the Chancellor had this in mind but, if so, it is an odd way of encouraging the thrifty. Those useful lockable knee level stowage bins, and the map light before the front seat passenger are retained, convenient features of these SDI Rovers, overlooked in other, recent road test assessments.
The price of the Vanden Plas 3500 is £12,475, which puts this BL car in a sensible relationship with Jaguar, the XJ4.2 costing £3,804 more, so that a clash is avoided. And if the Rover 3500 is too expensive, but seems irresistible, the 2600S is a good alternative, at £8,710, with the excellent, manual five-speed gearbox.
An Oriental Trio
However strong your bias against Japanese cars may be, there can be no question that many of them represent fine value for money. We have had the opportunity to try three such cars recently and find that the specifications rival the best European cars in their ranges and yet the list prices are rather lower than their competitors. The three cars in question were the Tokyo built Honda Quintet and Mazda’s saloon version of the 323 and their revised Montrose, now to be known as the 626, these two being constructed at Hiroshima.
The Honda Quintet, a five-door, 1,600 c.c. front wheel drive car with plenty of room for four adults, was driven cross-country from North Somerset to Oxford and thence to London, the journey showing very clearly just how fast the Japanese are catching up with European manufacturers in the two areas where the Eastern cars have been most noticeably lacking – steering and performance. Costing £10 below the magic £5,000 mark in five-speed gearbox form, the Quintet is equipped with the same engine and basic floor pan as the Accord and the Prelude, but comes between these other two Honda cars in size. The steering is a marked improvement on other Japanese saloons we have driven, being more precise yet lighter in operation with 3.3 turns from lock to lock. It does however lack the feel which one expects from the better medium sized cars. Performance was impressive, with 60 m.p.h. coming up in under 12 sec. and a top speed somewhere very close to 100 m.p.h. The engine proved to be remarkably flexible, pulling well at 30 m.p.h. in fourth and noise levels are low.
The ride provided by the MacPherson strut fully independent suspension is comfortable, although inclined to pitch a little on rough or undulating country roads. There is little roll and the brakes inspire confidence. The specification includes such items as an electrically operated sunroof, side protection mouldings, mud flaps, internally adjustable mirrors, hydraulic headlamp levelling, rear window wash/wipe and radio. A three-speed Hondamatic transmission version is offered at an extra £295.
Mazda’s 323 saloon is a booted version of the widely acclaimed hatchback, the 1500 GT version of which was described in the March issue. The 1.3-litre front wheel drive unit propels the four-door saloon very acceptably, cruising at 10 m.p.h. above the UK legal limit being perfectly comfortable. The four-speed gearbox is, perhaps somewhat gappy and the clutch on the cars driven on a recent trip to Belgium had unduly long travel before drive was engaged. The interior appointments are very pleasing, instrumentation clear and the seats comfortable. Ride, steering and braking are all that could be desired from such a car and the price is just under £3,900, which makes it very competitive. On a larger scale, competing with the Cortina size car, is the 626. This has been on our roads for some time as the Montrose, but has now been revised, making it much more attractive to European eyes, and renamed the 626. It comes in five versions, a basic, 1,600 c.c. four-door saloon, and 2-litre five-speed manual or automatic transmission saloon or coupe cars. We found the 626 Coupe with five-speed manual box, costing £5,500, the most comfortable and pleasant to drive, being very fully equipped, quiet, endowed with useful performance, having steering, braking and suspension to match and being particularly attractive to the eye. The automatic version seemed to suffer from lighter and rather imprecise steering compared to the other cars, but was an impressive performer, nonetheless — the difference between the manual and the automatic versions being considerably less marked than one might expect. Once again, the cars have many items fitted as standard equipment which are usually optional extras on cars costing more in the first place. How do they do it?