Matters of Moment, November 1972

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• Showtime soliloquy

Another Earls Court Show is over and it is time to take stock of the motoring outlook. Although it gets ever more expensive, in respect of the price of cars, the cost of servicing, repairs, petrol, insurance, spares, fines and almost everything connected with it, motoring thrives, in spite of those who regard the private car with doom in their eyes and a wish to control expensively its speed, pollution, crushability and its very convenience. They are perhaps a trifle late, with the population explosion balanced against ever more destructive atomic and chemical weapons . . .

Tradition still governs motoring evolution, with engines at the front of many cars, driving the back wheels, and pistons and poppets remaining universal. But this year Earls Court departed from tradition by opening on the Sunday, presumably to boost attendance, the decline in which had given rise to the suggestion of a bi-annual Exhibition.

This was the last London Motor Show before we become part of the European Common Market, so it is now less a case of fearing competition from the better French, Italian and German cars, more a matter of whether Europe can compete against the Motor Industries of America, Japan and other continents. America’s automobiles are improving, but her latest compact cars are still strangers here and her bigger models more suited to US vastnesses than to our lane-like highways and by-ways. Japanese threats are more troublesome; for instance, the Datsun 160B we drove on the eve of Earls Court turned out to have an alloy-head o.h.c. engine and trailing-arm and to be a well-contrived and finished, if rubbery, family saloon, priced at £1,154.31. Germany is, however, in a very strong position, with the wide range of so-excellent BMW cars, including the latest 520, and the new twin-cam Mercedes-Benz, the latter engines retaining tappet-fingers between cams and valves like all the pre-war M-B racing engines after the Hispano-Suiza direct method of attack, used for the 1922 and 1924 Targa Florio Mercedes, had been abandoned by Dr. Porsche. As for France, she has the Citröen S.M, about which, as a sort of pre-Christimas, treat. D. S. J. will write next month; he has been driving one in this country and says it is as good as a Dino Ferrari. Looking back on the year of which Earls Court marks the end, it has been one in which Fittipaldi proved so convincingly that he was the top racing driver that there is no need to count up World Championship points, in which Lotus was the top F1 car (so that one is aghast to find Colin Chapman saying that he thinks racing may seriously damage the Lotus image when his intended entry into the luxury-car field matures) and in which Stewart and Tyrrell returned to form rather late in the afternoon. It was also the year in which Ian Breach chose the eve of the Motor Show to proclaim, via the Sunday Times Magazine, that motoring journalists are a nasty lot of bribed, biased and corruptible folk who drive about in borrowed cars with free cameras, vino bottles and other free gifts hung about them, but who destroyed his argument by quoting two instances in which well known writers published critical accounts of the Viva and Cortina in spite of the alleged hospitality they had enjoyed at the manufacturers’ expense … Surprising, though, that Breach’s body was not found in one of the Earls Court aisles with a Guild of Motoring Writers’ tie-pin through its gullet …! What did interest us about his piece was the alleged cost of promoting a new model, Rootes being quoted as spending £650,000 in parties alone when launching the Avenger.

What was significant about Showtime was the announcement that British Leyland had sold 26% more cars in France in the first nine months of this year, compared with 1971 sales, and that Leyland Innocenti in Milan and Leyland in Sydney, Australia, are doing very nicely, respectively with the Innocenti Mini Cooper 1300 and the Mini-Moke. Then there has been the advent of the splendid XJ12 in Jaguar’s Jubilee Year, and the announcement that Daimler (if you overlook the badge-cobbling) has a top-prestige car in the new Double-Six Vanden Plas limousine. There is also the good news that BL is not abandoning sports cars, for the MG-B and MG-B GT are being continued with minor changes and at Earls Court a Special Tuning Stage 1 MG Midget and an “exploded” Stage 7 MG B engine were on show and the SCC of America Championship-winning Triumph TR6 had been brought over from the States to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the TR (TR6 sales to the USA continue to increase). BL also exhibited their uprated Austin Maxi 1750 HL.

Also on the eve of Earls Court came BMW’s timely reply to the Consumer Association’s justifiable attack on the laxity of the Garage Industry, with Mazda saying that they, too, propose to change the character and reputation of car servicing in the UK and, a sign that design diversity is still wide, the news that Wartburg in Britain are confident of selling 5,000 two-stroke Wartburgs in the UK next year. So those associated with motoring, in whatever capacity, must surely be smiling as happily as Mr. Heath ?

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The missing Singers

The letters from readers who have expressed interest in buying the Singer cars described in last month’s issue as possibly for sale have been forwarded to the owner. The matter is now closed.

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Ford and water sport

We notified you some time ago about the advent of the ambitions 2,500-mile London-Monte Carlo Power Boat Race, so it is only right that we should record that it was won by “HTS”, a 32-ft. Souter cabin-racer powered with twin 250 h.p. Ford Turboplus marine diesels. This boat won for Ralph Hilton the 1972 National Powerboat Championship. In another sphere, during the early days of the London Motor Show, Ford were at Lake Windermere in pursuit of the World’s Diesel Water Speed Record with “HTS II”, driven by Ralph Bellamy and powered like “HTS” with Ford engines. He had to beat the Italian-held record of 68.2 m.p.h.

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Porsche 356 Register

The Porsche Club of Great Britain has published a register of the original Type 356 Porsches, which were in production from 1950 to 1955, and the register lists 23 of them, commencing with Betty Haig’s l.h.d. divided-windscreen 1,086-c.c. 1951 coupé. The Porsche Club expresses the hope that their register will encourage the unearthing of more of these 356s, the model which first interpreted the Porsche concept of motoring, so that they can be properly documented and, it is hoped, used “in a manner appropriate to the manner for which they were designed”. Data, if possible with a photograph, would be welcomed by the Club’s President, H. M. Goodman, Hillfield House, Elderstield, near Gloucester.

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ERA of Dunstable have issued a brochure about the research and development work they carry out for the Motor Industry. They have added some 11,000 sq. ft. to their premises, where facilities include 12-engine test-beds able to cope with up to 500 h.p. and 7,000 r.p.m., gas-analysis equipment, a cold room and controlled-atmosphere test cell, pollution check apparatus, a Crypton rolling-road dynamometer, and so on. Staff number 85 and much work is done for the Zenith Carburetter Co. Ltd. It is interesting that the initials ERA, which once stood for English Racing Automobiles, now imply Engineering Research and Application.

* * *

The ACOC has compiled a Register of AC Cobras numbering 71, from 1962 to 1967 models. The Secretary of the AC Club is P. Woolf, 1 North Drive, Ruislip, Middlesex and there are registers for all the AC variants, as well as a duplicated magazine.

* * *

Vauxhall Motors have issued a booklet about their Bedfordshire Proving Ground, which embraces a 2-mile five-lane high-speed track with 15 ft. bankings on which cars can be driven at 100 m.p.h. hands-off (at Brooklands there was a high banking and you could do 120 m.p.h. hands-off) and all the usual test facilities, on a private 700-acre site which cost over £3½-million to build, a task which took more than three years.

* * *>

The STA Register, which now caters for all Rootes’ Talbots, Sunbeam-Talbots and Sunbeam Alpines of the 1936-1957 period, has a new Secretary—R. Hardey, 18 Gilmore Crescent, Ashford, Middlesex.

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Sport at Earls Court

No, not that! We mean the competition cars—the Lotus 72 on the Lotus Stand, Duckham’s 1973 Suttees TS14, an ex-Stewart 1970 March 701 on the big National Motor Museum Stand, the Barclays Bank Lola T290 (with “driver” on a day’s stint!), the Gerry Marshall racing Firenza on Vauxhall’s Stand, and the Safari Rally RS 1600 on Ford’s Stand, the Maserati 250F GP car, etc. And what about the Wartburg veteran? Of normal sporting cars, top marks went to the BMW 3.0 CSL lightweight coupé. Meanwhile Lord Stokes was so impressed with the American Group 44 racing Triumph TR6, on show on one of his stands, that he saw fit to mention it on a late night television show.

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