Matters of Moment, October 1950

Whither the B.R.M.?

Since the unhappy racing debut of the B.R.M. at Silverstone on August 26th, our postbag has bulged with letters putting forth readers’ views on the subject. These range from the completely disparaging to those which take us to task for daring to refer to the matter as a “fiasco.”

On the latter score, we still maintain that, for a car which has enjoyed untold publicity, which has taken five years and £150,000 to bring into being, and the sponsors of which assured the race organisers a few days before the occasion in question that both entries were going splendidly, to fail both in engine and transmission so near to the race ranks as a “fiasco.”

On the former count, we are the last to want to see the doors closed on the B.R.M., which must make an effort to retrieve for our industry the prestige which it has already depreciated. Our remarks in the Silverstone race report were really a case of being cruel to be kind, for unless the fantastic muddle into which the Trust has got itself is not speedily put right the B.R.M. may remain in British racing history what the C.T.A. has become in France’s motor-racing record.

It is true that Mercedes-Benz, Auto-Union and Alfa-Romeo had greater finances to draw from, but they did get teams of cars through very full racing seasons in a comparatively short space of time and the 1 1/2-litre Mercedes-Benz were successful from the first.

The Press, particularly the big dailies, can make or mar the future of the B.R.M. Yet the Trust has been singularly casual in its relations with the Press since its Silverstone fiasco. The only official statement it had issued as we wrote this was to the B.R.D.C. and read:—

“It was known by the Trust since May last that the power available from the B.R.M. engine was insufficient in the lower and middle speed ranges. Effective steps were taken to remedy this, but the new parts were not available until early August.

Possibly as a result of the higher output obtained, a number of smaller troubles occurred such as oil pump failure, as late as Tuesday, August 22nd. The time taken to remedy these faults prevented full-scale track tests being made if the obligation to race one or two cars at Silverstone was to be met.

After the failure of the car to start, an emergency meeting of the Trust was held at Silverstone, and Mr. Walter Hill was appointed to investigate the cause of the failure of the car, and to report in detail. The report is as follows:—

(1) Transmission failure was due to the shearing of the inboard universal joint body at the roots of the spline; both sides had failed.

(2) From investigation it was apparent that the joint drive must have sheared either before or during practice laps. However, during the racing start, the whole of the power load was on one side only, hence the second failure.

The Trust is alive to the necessity of issuing a more comprehensive statement as soon as possible.

(Signed) Walter Hill”

We understand that Mr. A. W. Hill, of the Owen Organisation, has since been engaged on a detailed technical report for the Trust Directors but, in spite of several applications, no inkling of what this contains, or will contain, has reached us, in spite of the fact that Mr. Judson, the Trust’s Public Relations Officer, has gallantly stayed with them since “the trouble” although he resigned officially last summer.

Two courses seem open to the Trust. One is to call a proper Press conference at which questions can be put, so that reporters can give their readers the truth. The other is to appoint someone with supreme power to get matters into top-gear at Bourne. In spite of one reader’s remarks, the Editor of Motor Sport does not crave for this task, nor is he disgruntled “because he wasn’t consulted regarding the design and construction of the B.R.M. or asked to manage the Trust.” He merely seeks to make those concerned conscious of their responsibilities, for Motor Sport is as keen as anyone to see British cars supreme in Grand Prix racing.

At present so many questions cloud the issue. Some of them are:—

(1) How was the 4,000 miles’ testing of the B.R.M. at Folkingham carried out—at racing speeds or at a crawl?

(2) What further faults has the B.R.M. developed that prevent its early nomination for the Goodwood races on September 30th? [Or Castle Coombe on October 7th—remember Seaman’s Delage being tried out at a small Donington meeting?)

(3) Is it true that the possibility of a Government grant of £100,000 was discussed but that the Trust was not unanimously anxious to receive it?

(4) What is the true reason for appointing the late Raymond Sommer as driver and which British drivers were given a high-speed trial in a B.R.M.?

(5) Why were non-proprietary parts considered inferior to available proprietary parts in certain instances—i.e., transmission universal joints?

(6) Is is true that the B.R.M. has been the victim of too many “cooks,” that the situation was exploited by certain persons and that control has passed from the hands of Mays and Berthon?

If such matters can be discussed openly the air will clear and faith be kept with the many voluntary subscribers to the B.R.M.A. It is no secret that Alfa-Romeo were startled by the entry of two B.R.M.s in the B.R.D.C. race and sent over more equipment and a greater number of technicians than they had for the G.P. d’Europe. The laugh which they had at our expense as the flag fell must be countered. The Trust said early this year that the B.R.M. wouldn’t be raced until it was completely ready. Let this apply to the second appearance—and when will this be? The door hasn’t yet shut but the patience of thousands of patriotic supporters of and suppliers to the B.R.M. undertaking mustn’t be tried too far.

The size and ever increasing quantity of Motor Sport makes it necessary for certain sections to go to press early in the month, therefore it may be that some of our questions have already been answered.

We are more than delighted to hear from John Morgan of the B.A.R.C. that the B.R.M. will run in two races, the Woodcote Cup and the Richmond Trophy, at Goodwood on September 30th, and will be driven by Parnell. With the E-type E.R.A. still in our minds, we are sceptical, but if the good wishes of Motor Sport and its readers can get the B.R.M. round the track, then it has won!

It’s show time again

It has been such a busy racing season that we have hardly noticed the summer sliding by. And now the autumn is upon us, invigorating thoughts of driving-in, marshalling or “spectating” at trials prevail, and another S.M.M.T. Earls Court International Motor Exhibition has come round.

This annual Motor Show is a vital happening in this little country of ours. It attracts dollars and money of other designations to this needy island. It is a shop window of the utmost magnitude, wherein British cars build up prestige for us in the eyes and minds of the world’s motorists. And the latest American, French and Italian cars are on display for our designers and technicians to examine and digest.

Motor Sport is primarily addicted to cars of high performance and, while fully appreciating the excellence and capabilities of the Alfa-Romeo, Ferrari and Lago-Talbot, we can say without fear of contradiction that in the sphere of motor cars of high performance Britain is represented exceedingly competently. Jaguar, Aston-Martin, Allard, Frazer-Nash and Healey have proved themselves in various stern competition events this year. The Jaguar XK 120 offers the iron hand in velvet glove, if one can thus interpret a maximum well clear of 120 m.p.h., allied to supple suspension, docility and silent touring-car manners. The Aston-Martin DB II coupe isn’t very much, if any, slower, probably holds the road better, certainly taking its corners more like a racing car; albeit its acceleration may not be quite so brisk, due to a (sensible) affinity for high gear ratios. The J2 Allard is a 100-m.p.h.-plus machine, particularly in its o.h.v. Cadillac and Ardun forms, and, indeed, may in Cadillac form be the most potent sports car conceived in this country—its Le Mans and Brighton performances rather suggest so. The “Le Mans” Frazer-Nash represents, perhaps, the best all-rounder of them all, if price doesn’t concern one. The Healey in “Silverstone” form is a simple form of car with excellent road-holding and acceleration and a maximum speed of over 100 m.p.h. The Jupiter is a really promising newcomer in the 1 1/2-litre class, as Le Mans showed.

As a matter of fact, performance data for these cars is difficult to come by, for none of their manufacturers seem anxoius for the motoring Press to put them through their paces—a situation which Messrs. Rankin, Watt, Bullen, Aldington, Barker and Baldwin should rectify. Our respected contemporary, the Motor, timed an XK 120 Jaguar at 124.6 m.p.h., and from 0-60 m.p.h. in 10 sec., and we of Motor Sport published an exclusive road-test report on the Healey “Silverstone” (afterwards called “Donald’s hot-cake,” it sold so readily!) that proved it capable of a maximum of just over 100 m.p.h. and a 0-60 m.p.h. acceleration time of of 11 sec. But what the Allard, Aston-Martin, Jupiter and Frazer-Nash can do remains a matter for conjecture at the time of writing. These six cars, however, will stand comparison with any Continental high-performance super-sports cars that Earls Court may reveal. That one is a 1 1/2-litre, two of them have 2 1/2-litre engines, one is a 2-litre, another is a 3 1/2-litre, and the Allard a 4.4-litre, and that the basic prices of two of them are £988 and of the others, £999, £1,498 and £1,750, respectively, offers food for thought about other than the performance they offer.

Coming down the high-performance scale somewhat, Earls Court will no doubt field all the old favourites—4 1/2-litre Bentley, Citroen Six, 2 1/2-litre Daimler, Mk V Jaguar, the Austin-engined Jensen, of which I hear very good reports, the luxurious 2 1/2-litre Lagonda, the more sporting Lea-Francis of like capacity, that open three-seater, all-abreast Riley, likewise a 2 1/2-litre, the Bristol and the Alvis. Will there be anything new in this category, which perhaps I should have topped with the XK 100 1 1/2-litre Jaguar which so far the XK 120 has overshadowed? Well, Austin are being very hush-hush about their range of entirely new models and after all that rushing round Indianapolis and Montlhery nothing would surprise me. Below this class are cars which include the soft-sprung “TD” M.G.s, the very popular Jowett Javelin, the “4/4” Morgan, the new Sunbeam-Talbots the Singer Nine roadster.

That, I think, about exhausts the exhibits which Motor Sport‘s readers discuss and desire to own.

Technically there is unlikely to be anything especially startling at the Show, if we except various versions of automatic transmission that may have drifted in from the other side of the Atlantic, and the Lancia “Aurelia” from Italy. Design has stabilised very much during the last two decades, and some so-called manufacturers are really no more than assemblers of proprietory components, which in all cases figure so prominently in almost every modern car as to impart a “sameness” to individual aspects of their performance and manner of going. There is, however, the i.o.e. valve arrangement of the Bentley, Rolls-Royce and Rover models, the use of twin-overhead camshaft valve actuation by Aston-Martin, Jaguar and Lagonda, certain other ingenious valve gears, Jowett’s flat-four engines, the Allard de Dion back-axle and the various suspension variants to cheer us up. The accessory stands, too, bristle with ingenious ideas and useful new products.

The present heavy tax on petrol in this country in many cases forces even enthusiasts to turn to the economy car. The Morris Minor is outstanding in this field, although so high-geared that even that slowest of Austin Sevens, the pre-war Ruby saloon, is a match for it on acceleration in top and third gears between the velocities of 10 and 30 m.p.h. I shall, in consequence be disappointed if the Minor isn’t offered with an alternative size or conception of engine for 1951. I am already very disappointed that at least another year must elapse before Austin re-introduces a Seven, because I am convinced that the key to real economy lies in the employment of a really small, willing engine, even if consumption figures of around 40 m.p.g. can be wooed with high gearing of bigger units in lightweight ears. Fifty or even 60 m.p.g. with a not too unreasonable performance should be the aim of to-day’s planners of economy vehicles. There is no need to scorn the babies just because you can drive fast. Years ago Robert Benoist, when Champion of France, used a “7.5” Citroen to reach Montlhery from Paris and to do his shopping in, just as to-day Stirling Moss and Prince “Bira” use Morris Minors and drivers like Rosier and Nuvolari employ 4CV Renaults. Indeed, I think British manufacturers are being stupidly blind in neglecting the 60 m.p.g./50 m.p.h. market. The two smallest cars available to us are the 919-c.c. Morris and 933-c.c. Ford—we have nothing to compare with the 375-c.c. Citroen, 570-c.c. FIAT, 610 and 745-c.c. Dyna-Panhards and 760-c.c. rear-engined Renault—unless Earls Court reveals a big surprise when the doors open on October 18th.

I do not imagine that the World’s buyers will readily tolerate few cylinders, air-cooling and chain drives, but after what Austin did on 747 c.c. and FIAT with 570 c.c., the way seems paved for real four-cylinder economy cars with cylinders of not more than 125-c.c. apiece. Whether they should be developed by Formula III racing, or whether “500” racing should as a matter of policy be confined to one cylinder per car, is something you can thrash out in the Earls Court bars, after you have inspected the exhibits which are described for you elsewhere in this Special Show Number of Motor Sport—W. B.