Readers' letters, November 1983, November 1983

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Motorway speeds

From The Earl Howe, CBE, DL, JP

Sir,

I should like to give support to your editorial in September Motor Sport under your heading Matters of Moment “An Opportunity Lost?” I was asked in 1967 to take a petition with some 280,000 signatures to the Minister of Transport, Barbara Castle, in opposition to the then new 70 mph limit legislation; and together with some well known drivers, this we did. At the time Mrs Castle was unable to see us and we handed this enormous petition to the First Secretary. Months later I received an unsatisfactory reply which I raised at question time in the House of Lords — on behalf of the petition signatories.

Only recently I have driven down the M1 and M6 from Scotland and I am more than ever convinced that the speed limit on our motorways should be revised to 80 mph at least. I followed with others for mile after mile of bunched up traffic consisting of vans, five and four axle HGVs and private cars all travelling along in the slow and middle lanes while every so often other vehicles rushed past in the overtaking lanes at speeds of 90 to 100 mph in perfect safety. Even if the slow lane is devoid of traffic, the motorist drives straight on in the middle lane which is wrong. The correct procedure is to move slow lane to middle lane to overtake and then back to the slow lane again, a kind of motoring slalom which is to say the least potentially dangerous. I am sure that many motorists in powerful motor cars with superb brakes and road holding will overtake a bunch of traffic from sheer frustration and to avoid a pointless shunt. So often do we hear about unrealistic speed limits and the 70 mph on the motorway is one of them, as far as the private motorist is concerned. I will most certainly sign your petition.

High Wycombe, Howe

Sir,

With reference to the editorial in the October issue, I concur wholeheartedly with this and will be signing the petition accordingly.

I am worried, however, by the second question giving your opinions where the answer includes the phrase “overtaking lane”. As most motorways in this country are three lane, is this a reference to the outside lane? Surely on a three lane motorway both middle and outside lanes are for overtaking.

In my opinion, one of the biggest causes of bunching in the outside lane is due to people driving continuously in the middle lane when the inside is clear, so that there is only one lane available for overtaking, not two. HGV drivers have long been aware of this problem, and the screening of the latest road safety films on TV seem to indicate that the Ministry of Transport think as well. What about a minimum speed for the middle lane?

Bassaleg, G. E. Turner

The 115 mph coach

Sir,

In your comment on Mr Rollinson’s letter (October) you seem to query the fact that coaches are driven at 90 mph. Very early one May Monday morning this year I was driving through Leicestershire on the M1 on my CX500 motor bike, when I was suddenly passed by a coach that barely bothered to pull out to avoid me. I looked down at my speedo and was horrified to see it reading just over 100 mph; thinking it was broken I checked with the rev counter and found that the engine speed was right for that speed. I must confess that I was tired and had not been paying as much attention to my riding as I should have been, and had let speed build up considerably on a downhill stretch, but that coach — a turbo Volvo — was doing at least 15 mph more than I was.

I certainly find that if you stay at 70 mph on the motorway you find yourself playing tag with an endless stream of National coaches and their usually faster private counterparts.

For obvious reasons I would be grateful if you would not print my name. Long may Motor Sport continue.

Name and address supplied

Speeding coaches

Sir,

Anent your parenthetic doubt of F. G. Rollinson’s (October) reference to coach speeds on motorways, lean assure you that, on at least two occasions, members of the BDC Western Region Committee have been overtaken by coaches doing over 90 on the M5… nor were such speeds mere flashes in pans. I cannot say precisely how long they were maintained on an occasion when our Chairman and Treasurer experienced this phenomenon while travelling together; but I can vouch for another coach, on a regular London-Plymouth run, affording an unroped “tow” to a Metro (with a speedo apparently not abnormally optimistic) from seven-eight miles south of Taunton, as far m the Exeter exit-road, at speeds in excess of indicated-94 mph throughout.

I find it impossible to judge to what extent publicity now given to coach crashes may be disproportionate to the point of being unfair, butt suspect that it is very much so. I am quite certain that, on the fast runt had occasion to observe an closely, none of the 30-odd coach-passengers was at all disconcerted . . . indeed, so well was the driving done that I very much doubt if any of them was aware that anything unusual was going on. Perhaps tyre loadings / temperatures may have been getting towards the top-end of the permissible scale, but in all other respects that performance was patently quite comfortably within the coach’s capability.

To date, I have area or read nothing to alter my personal conviction, derived from a lifetime’s addiction to motoring in many forms, that almost all “accidents” and restrictive regulations could be abolished tomorrow if driving were made once again a continual application of conscious skills, demanding maintained concentration, and affording the pleasures and satisfactions of any worthwhile achievement. May I suggest, Sir, that you could help towards this restoration of vintage virtues by launching a campaign reviving the admonition, so familiar when you, I, and our contemporaries were young: “DON’T TALK TO THE DRIVER.” In the interests of present brevity, I refrain from detailing all the social and the engineering implications of this precept. . . but, unless I have been underestimating you during these last 50 years, you arrant without your own relevant ideas?

Chagford, Grant Fear

Coaches a dream

Sir,

I was appalled to read Mr Rollinson’s letter under .speeding coaches” last month. As a coach driver may I reply to his comments? Coaches have been involved in seven or eight major accidents not caused by speeding on motorway or other roads, only one or two being the driver’s fault. I do not know of any coach capable of 90 mph, including the “Setra”, the Rolls-Royce (or perhaps Mercedes as it is German) of coaches.

The standard of coach driving in this country is quite high as all have to pass a strict PSV driving test.

Perhaps Mr Rollinson is one of the many weekend car drivers who gained the licences by sending the tops off “corn flakes” boxes. It is these drivers, when on motorways, who fail to use mirrors or signals, stay in the middle lane always, or refuse to leave the overtaking lane when travelling at 60-65 mph (70 may bone their speedo) causing hold-ups and annoying coach and car drivers alike.

Lastly I doubt if Mr Rollinson has driven or travelled in a coach for many years. If he did he may find them far safer than his wildest dreams.

Llanwit Fadre, Nicholas Reason

Tracing old circuits

Sir,

Reference “Tracing Old Circuits” in the September issue; what a good idea. It has been my practice when touring to endeavour to visit circuits in the vicinity.

I too visited Rheims, including a visit to Gueux village to take a photograph from approximately the same spot as Klemantaski in his study of Chiron pictured in his book “Drivers in Action” (Bodley Head 1955). There is now a traffic island on his line. Stopping in the pit area, despite the sad decay, in closing my eyes the place seemed to come alive with a pleasant warmth.

I recently passed through Chimay but did not have the time to devote to finding the

circuit.

I would enjoy a series of this nature.

Emmer Green, David Granger

Arnoux’s race

Sir,

I was sorry to see that D.S.J .’s race report of the Dutch GP followed most of his fellow scribes to the conclusion that Arnoux’s win was somewhat lucky. Or was it?

He started from the fifth row, was seventh on lap one and when he passed Patrese for third place on lap 22 he was 17 seconds behind Piquet. By lap 39, when he stopped for tyres and fuel, (very quick at 10.5 sec) he was only five seconds behind the Piquet / Prost duel having set fastest lap of the race on lap 33.

By lap 37 or 38 it was obvious that Piquet was slowing with worn tyres. Prost, having caught the Brabham, was unable to pass because of inferior straight-line speed. With Arnoux back on fresh tyres and Piquet and Prost lapping slower and slower, I suggest the Ferrari may well have been the true race leader by the time they both went off at the start of lap 42.

On the basis of his pace in the first half, who is to say Arnoux would not have won anyway?

Piquet made a serious error by staying out too long. Prost likewise should have stopped immediately after catching Piquet. When two ‘thinking’ drivers drop clangers like that, who needs luck?

Horley, D. Ellis

Strobe lights

Sir,

I offer a suggestion for increasing the safety of Grand Prix starts and, in fact, all Formula car starts. One of the greatest hazards of Grand Prix starts is a stalled car on the starting grid.

By fitting a strobe light which activates automatically on engine failure to the highest component of the car, eg, the roll bar, back traffic will be warned of the impending danger. The strobe light should ideally be of a dissimilar colour, eg, blue, to those of ambulance, fire-fighting or starting lights. The light should also be manually controlled so that it may be used at the driver’s discretion when his car becomes an obstruction to oncoming traffic, for instance, after an accident or spin-out.

Pretoria I. P. Crisp

TV tips

Sir,

Watching BBC’s excellent coverage of the Grand Prix of Europe I became convinced that future broadcasts of this nature could be greatly improved if attention could be given to the following points:-

1. The balance of sound between car noise and commentary to be adjustable by the commentator. Clarity of commentary is much more important than car noise.
2. Adjustment of the microphones of the admirable Walker and Hunt so that the quieter voice of the latter can be heard as easily as the former’s.
3. Make the race position print outs easier to understand. For example:-
1st Brabham No 5 Piquet or
5th Warwick No 35 Toleman.

I see no particular point in mentioning the driver’s nationality.

If the numbers on the cars could be made plainer and more uniform, and if the Radio Times and the daily press could co-operate in showing these numbers against the cars concerned in their pre-race information, the armchair viewer would have almost as good a reference as the person on the spot with a programme on his lap. It would also put an end to the exhausting business of explaining to those who know even less than I do that Arnoux (Fra) is a Ferrari and also be a comforting re-assurance that a black car with Renault written down it’s side is a Lotus.

Wiltshire, Charles Lambton

Water injection

Sir,

Could I attempt to dispel the “mystique” of water injection in super / turbocharged engines, re D.S.J.’s notes on the cars at Zandvoort? To be effective, the water injected must enter the cylinders in liquid form so that during the combustion cycle evaporation takes place, the latent heat required being extracted from the charge air resulting in lower temperatures I pressures and hence lower stresses in the engine for a given power output.

Since detonation normally limits the power that can be extracted, as boost pressures are increased with a given fuel and since the higher the charge air temperature the nearer the onset of detonation, it follows that with water injection more power can be made available within, of course, the mechanical limits of the engine.

I’m afraid the thinking behind a “wet and soggy” day is rather woolly. I doubt very much that the engine would take much water in liquid form from the track, and to tweek up the boost on that hope would be risking a blow-up. In any case a wet and soggy day with high humidities is no help at all, the water already being evaporated (ie in gaseous form) and the oxygen content per cubic foot of air down, resulting in lower available power.

Spray-on evaporative cooling to the external matrix of the charge air intercoolers could be useful provided the race takes place in regions of low humidity, but it has to be borne in mind that for either external or internal cooling the water and associated equipment has to be carried by the car itself.

I suppose with electronic engine management systems (whatever that means) all things are possible, but the mind boggles particularly if, like mine, it has been brought up on mechanically driven Zoller blowers sucking through big SUs and getting all the evaporative cooling needed from the petrol itself.

Bournemouth, Dorset “Ageing engineer” (name supplied)

Horses for courses

Sir,

It was good to hear that Ford (USA) are making efforts to improve their sporting image with the new “Thunderbirds”, but I wonder if this will make any large difference to a firm used to production figures in the millions (especially after the cumulative addition of (UK) import duty at 11 %, car tax at 10%, VAT at 15% and a dealers mark up of up to 50%) thus effectively doubling the price for any potential British or most European buyers? The American car industry has never been very export minded, relying mostly on its huge domestic market. Roads are straight, surfaces good and distances great, so over the years the large comfortable vehicle has been preferred – ultra reliable with long service intervals.

The “Sports” market has always been a marginal one best left to European imports but, of course, with the large fuel price rises of late, the smaller car has had great success. But to talk of Educating American tastes is really too much! Has A.H. ever driven an MGB or Honda Coast to Coast? Perhaps you should send him to the USA more often and not just to Detroit! A transcontinental trip could widen his experience of the American motoring scene which appears to be limited to this roundabout infested Island. The American car is best suited to motoring in America. Its attractions are manifold in its own environment (air conditioning is a must in Arizona!). As for refinement, although I have not tried the new Ford, I imagine that the later version, at least, will be quieter and smoother than the three makes you mention and will have at least as good an auto transmission, at a price to the domestic buyer which will as you say “Considerably undercut its foreign rivals”.

Stevenage, Hans Edwards