Matters of Moment, October 1969

• Earls Court Trends

October is the month of fogs, frosts and Earls Court. This year’s London Motor Show is important, if only because the Industry has its back to the wall, fighting for sales, with the new models from our factories facing formidable competition. We have recently been heartened by some very good export figures, so all need not be gloom.

If Buy British is allied to Cry British, and we boost the excellent products we manufacture, better times could well lie ahead.

Technically, the trend is towards more efficient engines, designed with anti-smog laws in mind, a growing use of automatic transmissions, and more cylinders. The overhead camshaft is becoming commonplace for ordinary cars, and the advent of belt drive has made upstairs prodding of the poppets inexpensive and inaudible. You can cruise an engine such as the o.h.c. Fiat 130 at well over 5,500 r.p.m. with no valve-gear cacophony. When simple tappet adjustment, as cleverly devised by GM and Fiat, is allied to belt camshaft drive, the servicing and production anxieties of the Henri-era are seen to have been banished.

Automatic transmission must one day eliminate the manual gear-change, as o.h. valves have banished side valves. Meanwhile, five-speed gearboxes are found on cars as diverse as Alfa and Maxi. Perhaps, in spite of developments in transmissions, suspension and styling, Earls Court 1969 will be remembered as featuring the battle of the cylinders. For there are signs that multicylinder engines are on the increase.

S. F. Edge once campaigned for the Napier Six against rugged fours such as the De Dietrich, with Sunbeam and Spyker pressing the point. Even earlier, C. G. V., Winton and Maxwell had introduced the straight eight, with all its carburation and crankshaft complexities, which nevertheless became a luxury-car rage, Hillman and Wolseley joining in in the medium-price field. Rolls-Royce and de Dion Bouton pioneered the V8 (one historian says Packard copied the latter), which in America has-become all but universal, to the virtual elimination of the in-line six.

Now, in Europe, cylinders are multiplying again. Perhaps they are breeding in fear, of Wankel competition? BMW and Volvo have sixes, after long concentration on fours. Mercedes-Benz have announced a 3½-litre V8, which supplements their well-established “grosser” eight-cylinder engine. (Rolls-Royce and Daimler went V8 a considerable tune ago.) Rover stole a lead, with their American-inspired light-alloy V8 some time ago. B.M.C. are likely to be the first maker to have a transverse six-cylinder engine and Fiat have followed Ford with a V6 for their largest model. Aston Martin have a new light alloy, fuel-injection four o.h.c. 5.4-litre V8, developed by D. C. Gershon, making the DBS a 170-m.p.h. £6.897 sensation, whereas Jaguar seem to be fumbling with their new vee engine—or will an XJ12 be the surprise of the Show?

Despite safety requirements, anti-smog problems, devaluation of the £ and labour disputes, technical stagnation is not apparent, so the Motor Show should be worth a visit. Motor Sport will occupy Stand 4 on the Ground Floor, adjacent to the Ginetta exhibits.

• Gregor Grant

Gregor Grant, best known as the founder of a weekly motor sporting magazine, and without whom no race meeting will be the same, has died, after an illness, at the early age of 58. The Editor writes: Gregor was an institution, a character, part of the motor-racing stage. He began writing about cars in the dim ages, as I did, and was Assistant Editor of The Light Car before the war, when this excellent paper had that photographic front cover which no-one has had the good sense to copy—it’s all colour these days, anyway. Grant served in the Army before starting his own weekly in 1950. I remember calling at the poky offices in Paddington to wish it well, and I have read it ever since. It never looked back and the cheerful Scot stayed with it as Editor until a short time ago. He had a remarkable flair for writing a good topical Editorial, every week, year after year. He found time to travel to the important races and had competed in the Mille Miglia with an M.G. and in rallies, etc.

Gregor was ever friendly, enjoyed a party, was addicted to larger-than-life stories. When I used two pages of Motor Sport to unpick his book on British Sports Cars he never bore me a grudge, saying it was all good publicity and would help the next edition. He remained a friend, as he did of so many other rivals and critics. The urge to have a motor paper never left Gregor and that his last venture failed within the year was an unkind quirk of fate for one so industrious and dedicated. I prefer to remember Gregor in the heyday of his successful career, running a popular motoring weekly with apparent nonchalance, in spite of living in Press stands, pits, bars, aeroplanes, and hotels to an extent which would have made lesser Editors definite non-starters. Gregor, indeed, was unique and to his family go the condolences of the entire racing world.—W. B.