Letter to readers, May 1991

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Letters

Dear Reader

By and large our Postal Service gives me enormous pleasure, though there are times when it can be tiresome and frustrating; but at other times it is wonderful, such as when it delivers a letter with a hand-written name and address that I cannot decipher, even though I know it is for me. I keep a file in my office entitled “Our Postal Service is wonderful” in which there are some gems, like the envelope addressed to “The man who lives in a cottage on Rye Common”, and others where my village name of Crondall has been spelt Crundley, Croudall, Condall, Crandale and Cronehale, but all arrived safely even from far away places like South Africa and Australia.

While I find the envelopes interesting, especially some of the PR world’s attempts at entering my name and address on their computer systems, and the way so many PR communications systems send me identical information in two envelopes with two different attempts at my correct address, it is the contents that provide the pleasure, especially letters from readers. When, recently I mentioned how long I had been preaching the Gospel of motor racing enthusiasm in the pages of Motor Sport, as a disciple of WB and others like Grande Vitesse in The Motor and enthusiasts like Gordon Wilkins and John Dugdale, all of whom influenced me in my formative years, I received letters and postcards from an incredible cross-section of readers from all over the world, most of whom started by saying “You won’t know me from Adam, but thanks etc etc” and most of them had a story to tell of how they caught the motor racing bug at an early age and still have it. Some are barely out of their teens and are up to their eyes in the sport already, and while they may envy those of us that have years of pleasurable experience behind us, we can envy them the years that lie ahead, because motorsport is a wonderful way of life and is worldwide. No matter what happens in the future nothing is ever going to stop it.

Change it certainly will, for it has always undergone change, and it is a natural law of life that without change stagnation sets in and fossilisation surely follows stagnation. While there is some target or record to aim at stagnation can never set in, which is why competitive motoring has always fascinated me. I have a very good friend who is as besotted by competition motoring and motor racing as I am, and if I say to him that I met a man with a Rolls-Royce that had once belonged to the King of X, he says “Oh, really!” and if I add that the man showed me a photograph of the car and you could still see the Royal monogram on the door, my friend says “How nice!”

However, if I say that an Italian friend has sent me photos of a 2-litre Fiat-Abarth he has found in Sicily, still with its Targa Florio racing number on it, he quickly says “I’ll be over in five minutes” and we will then spend hours researching notebooks, race reports, photographs and programmes until we have found out all we can about the car, its owner, its racing history and so on, even if it only raced once in the Targa Florio and finished last. To us it is a car that lived and added its share to the wonderful history of motor racing.

Now and then I try very hard to keep away from the subject of fakes and phoneys, wheeler-dealers, collectors and Auction-sale hype, but invariably as soon as I make a conscious effort a letter arrives from a reader drawing my attention back onto the straight-and-narrow; or to be more precise, the bent-and-wide.

A recent newspaper cutting arrived showing a photo of something that appeared to be a Ferrari sports/racing car, about to be sold at a London auction. The car was described as a 1977 Ferrari P4 Replica “One of several historic cars being auctioned.”

The reader who sent the cutting asks quite simply “How can a 1977 Replica be ‘historic’ or for that matter, a Ferrari?” At another Auction sale a large collection of racing motorcycles were being offered and Lot 43 was described as a Seeley Weslake 750 of 1975 and being “new.” Now anyone in the motor cycle racing game knows about Colin Seeley and his “specials” that virtually became production racing machines when the British motor cycle industry died, and before the Japanese took over there were a number of highly skilled racing motor cyclists who built their own bikes and fitted a proprietary engine and gearbox. Colin Seeley was one of the more successful and actually got into production with racing and road going “specials”, each one built more or less to the customer’s individual requirements; thus we had Seeley-Triumph, Seeley-Matchless, Seeley-AJS and so on. Not far away Harry Weslake’s firm developed the Triumph engine until it was all-Weslake and then went on to make Weslake twin-cylinder engines. The joint venture that produced the Seeley-Weslake was a first class example of what British craftsmen could achieve and more financial support from British Industry might have saved part of the British motorcycle industry from the Japanese onslaught.

I was not at the motorcycle auction sale in London, so I will quote from someone who was and reported the fact in our sister journal Motorcycle Sport. “When he (the auctioneer) mentioned Lot 43, listed as a Seeley Weslake 750, there was a sudden commotion as a stocky middle-aged man leapt to his feet to interrupt. ‘That bike’s not a Seeley at all, it’s a load of rubbish with no Seeley bits on it — and if you want to know, my name’s Colin Seeley,’ shouted the former Grand Prix racer and frame-builder, sitting down to a ripple of applause.”

Oh my, oh my, how I wish I had been there!

What a pity that Ettore Bugatti could not have been at the Auction the first time a fake Type 51 or Type 35 was sold to an unsuspecting “punter”. Imagine the scene with the “as new” Grand Prix Bugatti under the spotlight and a large gentleman in the audience standing up, removing his bowler hat and saying, “That is not a Bugatti and none of the bits on the car ever came out of my factory. For your information my name is Ettore Bugatti.”

In later years we should have had Cameron Miller standing up when one of his CM cars was being auctioned and saying, “My name is Cameron Miller, that is not a 250F Maserati, I made it myself and you will see my chassis number stamped on it, it is CM5.” This could start an interesting trend of wide-open honesty in the dealer/collector/auction world.

A reader from Bristol writes an interesting letter with regard to the “touchiness” of some people to the word “fake” preferring less sinister words like “copy” or “replica”. He quotes an interesting story about a National Trust house that has in the drawing room a very fine painting by Murillo and on the opposite side of the room a superb copy of the Murillo done by Gainsborough. The story is that the owner of the house, long ago, wanted the Murillo, then owned by his uncle, so much that he had Gainsborough paint a copy of it. Years later on his uncle’s death, he inherited the original. Now on the face of it this situation is simple enough, the copy painted by Gainsborough is a genuine Gainsborough, but it can never be considered to be a genuine Murillo. If the copy was ever passed off as a being the original Murillo that would be totally dishonest — in fact, a genuine fraud and one calling for action.

In our world of fakes, copies, replicas or what you will, there are a lot of similar instances some of which sail very close to the wind. The professionals involved use the Latin phrase Caveat Emptor which they translate as “Buyer Beware”. I would prefer to translate it into “Don’t Buy” then life would be a lot simpler. If people were not so greedy there would be far fewer problems and we could get on with “just messing about with old cars, worth no more than their scrap metal price” as we used to do until “Collecting” became fashionable. — DSJ