Hard Punching From Peru
I have been an enthusiast since a child, when my father was in the automotive industry, connected with the board track at Laurel, Md. (considered the toughest track in the U.S. at the time), and later on the contest board of the A.A.A.
I grew up among race-car drivers and have enjoyed many a fast practice lap in the old two-seaters, beginning somewhere around the age of eight. My sister married a Hollander and they returned to the States to live, with a beautiful 1926 Hispano-Suiza complete with a superbly trained Scotch chauffeur, who was also a very well trained mechanic. I soon learned to appreciate the difference between the best English and Continental cars and the stuff we were building in the States, barring the Duesenberg and perhaps some models of the Stutz.
Over the years I have since owned two Hispanos, two Bugattis, one Isotta, one Bentley, one Amilcar, one Minerva, one M.G., an assortment of Stutz and pieces of others, as well as various vintage (?) Cadillacs and Packards, a Kissel, a Templar, etc. Before the vintage car fad became popular in the States it was possible to indulge to my heart’s content for very modest investments. I am currently the proud owner of a very lovely Model SS 1931 (?) Mercedes-Benz, which you call the 38/250. I also own a 1951 Riley drophead for the family car as I will not allow my wife to even try to drive the Mercedes and will hardly let her ride in it.
I mention all this so that you won’t think that I have the typical U.S. mentality when it comes to cars. I will run down the suspension, steering, trashy chromium and lines of American cars quite as fast as any other subscriber to your magazine.
However, I notice a very unfortunate tendency among your readers to disparage our so-called “hot rod” movement in the States. Even teen-age kids in the States are really turning out some very fine motors and these cars are capable of some very high speeds. Our traps are just as carefully laid-out as any in the world, and our training devices are quite adequate. Granted, these cars usually have miserable steering and suspension as compared with the better-class sports cars, but it must be realised that they are not designed for that purpose.
Policemen, the public, etc., being what they are in the States, it is very difficult to be able to utilize the grand roadholding and cornering ability of the sports cars except in a few isolated races. One detected of four-wheel drift at high speed around a curve in the States is good for a very nasty fine, and perhaps a suspension ticket. A bit of acceleration from a light is the most we can get away with, along with high cruising speeds on our better roads in some of our liberal States.
I have seen no technical description of Mercury and Ford Allards as used in England, and I realise that you don’t have access to the speed parts of “finned aluminium” as we do in the States, but your Allards, as delivered to the States with English Ford and Mercury conversions, haven’t a prayer in our sport races in the States nor here, for that matter, when raced against Allards with our own conversions, or for that matter any of our better “hot rods.” Granted, the much finer handling characteristics of your cars, the superior acceleration out of the curves, often more than makes up the difference. It is significant to note that there is an enormous chasm between the average sports-car clubs in the States and the various “hot-rod” clubs. It is very difficult to entice any sports-car owner into a drag or a race with the better “hot rods.” Rules are often carefully drawn up just to avoid the entry of the “hot rod,” and it is my experience that as far as car tuners and mechanics go, your average “hot-rod ” man is head and shoulders above your U.S. sports-car owner.
Naturally, I am speaking of generalities. There are some fine and serious sports-car owners. However, the vast majority of these laddies in Jaguars, M.G.s etc., are only people who happen to have the price of such a car, usually pronounced Anglophiles to the extent of a clipped British accent, phoney school tie, jolly but carefully imitated British mannerisms, and a mouth full of drivel about dwell angles, cam over-laps, compression ratios, etc. They often can barely change a plug without stripping the threads, and their careful imitation of any and everything British is enough to make a shark sick to his stomach. Not because there is anything wrong with British mannerisms. I served with many of their fighter pilots during the war, and have the greatest respect for them individually and collectively, and who in the entire world hasn’t, but I loathe the phoney American who would give his left arm to he taken for British once in his life.
Due to the dollar shortage here in Peru, car importations were barred for several years and finally opened up to products from “soft currency” areas, and in most cases British cars. Although my business is being an airline pilot, my car hobbies got me into owning a part interest in a garage. I welcomed the English cars, secured all of the data possible concerning them, and soon found myself knee deep in assorted British models. Shortly afterwards, the market was also opened to American cars. Now a Riley 2½-litre sells for about the same price as a de luxe model Chevrolet or Ford, and they can hardly give them away. The Jaguars go about the same as the better grade Pontiacs. I was amazed at first, but gradually found out. I bought my Riley secondhand, with less than 5,000 km., for exactly one half the new price, in perfect condition barring two poorly made S.U. carburetters and a Lucas distributor with over 7 degrees dwell angle variation.
I originally excused the continual bothersome problems of most of the English cars on the grounds that they were the various economy models, or were poorly maintained, etc. I thought the better marques would be free from these items of poor construction, parts that should have been rejected, etc. However. it wasn’t true. Granted, I have had no experience with the really fine cars such as Rolls, Lagondas, Aston-Martins, Frazer-Nashes, Bristol, etc., but I have only too much experience with the Jaguars Mark V and VII and the XK120. It is still a wonderful car for its money, in my opinion, but with the miserable lack of parts, and the impossible delay in securing parts from England, the non-existent service, etc., they, like the Riley and the whole bunch of English cars, can hardly be sold at all, and have almost no resale value, and the only satisfied owners are those like myself who actually enjoy tinkering with their cars. Unfortunately from the export standpoint, at least, there aren’t enough of those addicts.
The standard “beefs” are worthless shock-absorbers, and I mean worthless for even good roads, let alone some of our bad ones. Lucas distributors with shafts loose in the bushings, and inaccurately cut cams. S.U. carburetters with improperly fitted pistons that must be carefully reworked to secure decent action, plus no spare needles, jets, or washers in the country. Plugs that are brand new out of the box won’t test out at 80 lb. of air, and any old Champion will do at 100. Ridiculous throttle linkages, hopeless Bowden cable controls. Carbon instead of decent bearings on clutches, antiquated braking systems, etc., etc. There isn’t a single British car here that has a factory-trained shop man. I understand that Nuffield is sending one. There are very few spares for any of the cars but, here again, Nuffield products are best in this respect. No Lucas or S.U. parts, almost nothing in the Girling line. Almost all of the cars arrive with nuts and bolts not even hand tight, and are sold without a thorough check, and parts start flying. I could go on like this all night, but I hope I have made my point. I am certain that these cars couldn’t be sold like this in England, but why try to sell them anywhere with parts that should have been rejected. Even the large British community here are getting disgusted in most cases and going back to American cars. The rest of the people, by and large, will have nothing to do with English cars.
There doesn’t seem to be a single Riley 2½ that can stand a trip in downtown traffic without boiling over unless the thermostat is removed, and then it takes 20 minutes to get the car even warm in anything but heavy traffic, so the dealer elected to ease off on the fan belt as a makeshift. Truth, so help me God. I had a Mark V Jaguar that had been all over town and couldn’t be made to run smoothly at low speeds. I promised the owner I would get it right. I had one of our men give it a checkover and a tune up that usually takes care of most cars, including matching carburetter piston action, and rebushing the Lucas distributor, but still a poor idle. I went to work on this car and ran every known test, called in several other men around town who I consider tops in tune-up, and finally pulled the motor apart and stuck the cam on a lathe with a degree plate and a thousandths dial indicator and found out why. The cam action was hopelessly erratic, and no cam grinder in Peru, no spare cams, and Lord only knows the delay in getting one from England. By carefully varying the clearance on the valves I got it good enough to get by and advised the owner, in fact showed him on the lathe, and he peddled it, but fast. How can something like that get out?
Stop kidding yourself that England makes an economy car for export. They don’t. Maybe some of them are cheap on gas, but price the spares, if any, the constant need for attention, if it can be found, the short ring life of so many of them, shoddy workmanship in out of the way places, suspensions, shocks, and wooden bodywork that is useless for anything but good roads, plus almost no resale value, and there it is.
Comparison with, say, Volkswagen is interesting. No English cars have any service or parts outside of the principal city, Lima, and little there. Volkswagen has more complete spares than even Fords. Anything you need and about a dozen spare engines. They have an excellent factory-trained engineer that literally knows every nut and bolt in the little car. Complete factory tools, handbooks, etc., plus a factory that is quick to profit on the original mistakes and now provide adaptations for the bad roads and local conditions in general. They have already set up branches and service with parts in the principal towns, and the car bids fair to ultimately enjoy the position of the model-T and A Ford here. I have driven one of them, all over the country and deliberately abused the car on bad roads and in mountains, and am satisfied that equipped with a Roots blower for our high mountain passes and plateau country, it is my choice of the cars for back-country going, and I am not excluding current model American cars.
I hope this tirade will be taken in the spirit offered. I love the suspension of the better English cars on good roads; I am wild about tinkering with my Riley, and a good thing I am; I can stand the squeaks on the woodwork; if I can ever find a new thermostat for my Riley I will try to run down the heating problem; I would love to see other people enjoy the nice coachwork, paint and leather of the good British cars. I want to see them sold and am one of their best promoters here in Peru, but you just aren’t doing right by the consumer here, and being an airline pilot and flying and talking with dealers and garages all over South America, you aren’t doing right by any of them. Maybe the Latin market isn’t important, although I think it is, but it has darned near been lost right now.
I personally want to see and will buy an M.G. that weighs well under 2.000 lb. with a 2-litre Riley engine. Let’s have the Jaguar XK120 with 4.5 litres. Get rid of this half hydraulic and half mechanical brake rigs on cars of the calibre of Riley. Get the structural woodwork out of the bodies. Better inspection and discard on Lucas distributors, and, oh yes, voltage regulators and control boxes; matched S.U.s and better inspection and discard; and if you are going to copy U.S. designs, which I abhor, at least learn how to make a half-way decent column shift on the gearbox, and don’t ever copy our mis-use of chromium and jelly-bowl suspension. Americans buy British cars because they are and look different. You can’t beat Detroit at turning out its type of product, so don’t try; stick to the fine stuff that you do make so well, or rather, used to make well. Get some decent service with parts and trained foremen, and try to change the miserable opinion that all of Latin-America has regarding British cars.
I don’t really suppose that it would be politic for you to publish this letter as it is rather condemning, but true, and I realise it has become over long. I wrote in a similar vein to the Motor and they barely managed to acknowledge it. I wish you would put a few more inches into your motors, as $300.00 to $500.00 spent on a Ford, Chevrolet, De Soto, Nash Ambassador, Chrysler, Cadillac, Oldsmobile 88 and Hudson Hornet will give you a car that will go in gear with your stock XK120 and equal it in top speed, such as I have seen here or in the States on the electrical timers. I don’t mean the 132 m.p.h., etc., they did in Belgium. I have never seen that duplicated yet. If you doubt that, I will arrange to send you catalogues with prices of high-compression heads from 8 to 10 to 1. Cams with any overlap you might desire, oversize valves, heavy springs, prices for porting and relieving balancing, and stroking and de-stroking, multiple manifolds, converted gearboxes, differentials, 12-port heads for Chevrolet, mechanical tappets to replace hydraulic, roller tappet camshafts, twin coils and condenser and twin-point distributors, and some timed records, both from here and the States, certified by their various governing bodies.
I sent Ronald Johnson a photograph of the converted Nash Ambassador that I race occasionally here in our long distance road races, and is also raced by another driver, and mentioned that it would do 110 m.p.h. all day, and he seriously doubted me, I am sure, from his query in the return letter. Actually the car has done 118 m.p.h. average both ways on the traps, burning alcohol, and nitro-methene. We are currently building a new job, using the 1947 short-chassis De Soto with the 1952 hemispheric head, 276 cu. in. overhead valve engine, which we are quite confident of getting up to around 250 h.p. at about 5,200 revs. As our roads are bad and dangerous, the local formula in S.A. requires a car that came from the factory with hard top, that is a coupe, and I am very anxiously awaiting time that they can get around to shipping the new coupe model XK120, which I will use only on the good roads, the De Soto carrying the banner for the back-country races. These are really gruelling races and the cars are very curiously modified, but here they don’t hesitate to race from Buenos Aires to Caracas and our short circuits are 200 miles or more, and 1,500 miles from one town to another in several laps are the most common. More or less like the Mexican road race only almost everything is allowed except blower and the roads run from fair to almost impossible.
We also have some closed circuits about the city for formula cars, and the formula is changed from race to race to provide some competition and to allow as many cars as possible to run. It is broken down to two other classes, namely sport and non-sport, and we even see that slob of a Mayflower cluttering up the course here. These races are really a riot in many ways, and it would panic you to see them, but they are fun and some good drivers evolve from this foolishness. I am doing my best to spark something like the 500-c.c. trend in Europe, and hope to get it going as soon as I can get some answers from my original letter to you.
Once again I want you to understand my motives behind this tirade. I know what I am talking about, and anyone in our business here can and will confirm it. This irresponsible attitude is costing you dearly and I hate to see it happen.
I am, Yours, etc., George H. Poske. Lima, Peru.
[And to think we won at Le Mans last year and were victorious in this year’s Monte Carlo Rally!—Ed.]