Matters of Moment, October 1975



Cars for Sport

At the present time, when motoring is excessively expensive and likely to become more so, fortunate indeed is he or she who can motor purely for the fun and pleasure of so doing. Most of us have to combine enjoyment of driving with other more utilitarian aspects of car-ownership, such as domestic and business transport. This being the case, it is significant that sufficient wealth remains in circulation in this impoverished country for the pursuit of veteran and vintage motoring to continue to flourish. Yet it shows little sign of diminishing, fortunately. We feel, however, that a peak has probably been reached. The cost of restoring and maintaining pre-war cars has become astronomical. This is reflected in the numbers of the older vehicles now being advertised in an incomplete state, or with overhauls not fully completed — the same thing is found in the model-engineering field, in which so many large steam-locomotives, etc., are offered for sale with a good deal of time, effort and materials required to complete them.

This being the case, it seems that while the upper ranks of the old-car movement are likely to thrive, the lesser ones may well slow down and those unable to cope with the growing cost and complexity of the hobby turn to modern equivalents — if die-hard vintage followers will accept that phrase in its general implication!

What we are implying is that, as expense and time-factors retard the vintage following, with restoration charges soaring and many parts obtainable only after long delays, even to the extent of special batches of rare replacements having to be obtained through specialist clubs, those impatient to enjoy some fun motoring, maybe before it is too late, may well not a substitute for vintage interests.

While we can understand that very costly pre-war cars will continue to command top prices, from the aspects of rarity value and the sheer enjoyment of owning and using a thoroughbred from that era, and because of the monetary insurance such vehicles represent in these days of a threatened wealth-tax and the continual depreciation of currency, especially as old motor vehicles continue to be exempt from Capital Gains tax, we do not think that the prices so often asked for lesser specimens are realistic.

As we remarked in our Golden Jubilee Editorial, a bad or mediocre car doesn’t become any nicer to drive the older it gets. So we feel justified in suggesting that those who contemplate paying, say, from £500 to £2,500 for non-sports Austin Sevens, around half the latter figure for things such as Singer Juniors or Clyno Nines, or spending upper-three-figure outlays on post-war bread-and-dripping closed cars, are either ill-advised or far more fanatical than we are. And we thought we were rather far-gone in terms of vintage enthusiasm. . . .

The foregoing remarks must be qualified by the observation that, having paid astronomical sums for dreary old machinery, there is absolutely no guarantee that the money won’t go down the drain with one unfortunate bang or splutter! While this is a risk worth accepting with a thoroughbred or uniquely rare and unusual car, it hardly seems so for much of the rubbish now masquerading as collectors’ pieces, unique opportunities or unrepeatable bargains. We are not saying such cars are worthless — nearly all are worth preserving and most are capable of giving pleasure in some degree, pace the success of the one-make clubs. Only that today the majority of the lesser specimens are being priced out of the market-place. Nor are we saying that high prices for aged vehicles are dishonest. Present wage-levels for skilled restoration and the inflated cost of even such essentials as tyres for vintage and veteran cars have to be met. What we are saying is that because of these inescapable facts those investing in such vehicles are likely to become more and more selective and many of the less worthwhile ancients remain unsold. (The Editor is aware that a reader has referred to him as “a traitor” for such views applied to Austin 7s, presumably because he indicated his pre-war appreciation of the immortal Seven by owning several and suggesting the formation of the 750 MC. But even in those days the enthusiast went for a Nippy or a Speedy and already regarded a Chummy simply as something to modify and an Austin 7 saloon as mere transport. So he is unrepentant in thinking that £2,500 for a touring Seven represents a poor investment, even by 1975 monetary standards.)

The alternative may well be the modern sports car, which provides fresh air, fun, and a degree of individuality for around the price asked for much of today’s pre-war used-car rubbish, with the bonus that it comes on new tyres, with some kind of a guarantee, and is ready to use immediately! We should be thankful, perhaps, that such cars continue to be made, with British Leyland prominent in this field. Anyone who read the report on the ex-Lotus Super Seven in last month’s Motor Sport would surely be unusually cold-blooded not to experience a burning desire to own one, especially during the Utopian summer we have been enjoying. Compare the price of a Super Seven new about £2,000 — with what is offered on the pre-war car market for a similar outlay. . . .

Another modern sports car available at around this figure with certain extras — otherwise for £1,833.39 — is the Triumph Spitfire 1500, described in Motor Sport last March. Not a top-exotic, agreed. But a very sound proposition with which to have fun and lift motoring out of the category of mundane transport. Last month we used just such a Dunlop-tyred Triumph Spitfire for 1,500 miles, for commuting to London, for keeping a luncheon date in the heart of that warden-infested Metropolis, and even for attending a funeral. We used this Spitfire for shopping errands, for an expedition from Mid-Wales to North Wales, a journey of some 80 miles of which only about eight were on A-roads and much of it was along very narrow minor roads, including climbing the once-notorious Pass of Belch-y-Groes, to Bala. We employed the Triumph on fast business journeys. Throughout, we found it more fun than a saloon. It rides smoothly, is notably quiet, has a passable gear-change and an exceedingly useful overdrive. The hood, when raised, doesn’t drum, rain is kept out, and the taut steering demands little more than flexing of the wrists. The boot, which locks, holds sufficient, at least for a week-end away. The dip-stick, awkward to withdraw and replace, showed no tendency to excessive Castrolism. With the afore-described cross-country work, fuel thirst was at the modest rate of 34.9 m.p.g. The equipment and appointments well suit the Spitfire’s purpose in life.

We know all the anti-sports-car arguments. We know that these days components are usually duplicated on assembly lines, so that, mechanically, saloons and sports cars are similar. We know that if you were to time a so-called sports car and a similar saloon through a fast corner there would probably be no difference in the times. Yet, expressing ourselves generally, because a sports two-seater has less “top hamper”, it corners “flatter” than a wheeled-lounge. Because its occupants are less critical, the suspension can be firmer, and because it is lighter, the steering can be more direct. Hood down, a sports car should be the safer vehicle, from the viewpoint of the driver being made more alert to the proximity of other vehicles. Whether or not it is actually faster — and performance figures for the less expensive 1970s sports cars based on saloon-car engineering are not necessarily so quick, to accelerate or in terms of top speed, as the better saloon cars (the Spitfire does 100 m.p.h. and the s.s. 1/4-mile in 19 sec.) — isn’t of much importance, outside competition circles. What is enjoyable is that a small sports car feels faster, is generally more fun to own and drive, on account of a modicum of individuality somehow not possessed by a closed vehicle, and offers a bonus which used to be one of the objects of going motoring, namely plenty of that so far free and untaxed commodity, fresh-air.

These arguments can be reduced in stature by those who regard open cars as pointless and primitive. Nevertheless, we maintain that sports cars are still great fun, and that they represent a substitute in some degree for the now often ridiculously-expensive pursuit of motoring historically. It is as commendable that British Leyland continue to offer MG and Triumph sports cars as it is deplorable that an open Jaguar is no longer listed (splendid as may be the onslaught of the new Jaguar XJ-S on foreign-car sales, so frowned-upon by certain persons in this European community), and good that the more expensive Morgans are still made at Malvern, even if a curious anonymity surrounds the prices asked for used examples of that traditionally sporting make.

In a World of increasing safety-first hysteria, and insurance ratings that conform to it, the sports car must be encouraged in survival, whether as a counter to inflationary vintagery or for its own enjoyable sake. A couple of thousand pounds or so spent on a brand-new Super Seven or Spitfire (depending, maybe, on age and intended usage), or £1,649 on a new MG Midget 1500, £2,251 on a 1975 MG-B, would seem a sensible expenditure for many Motor Sport readers, leaving those with at least £5,000 or thereabouts to spare to indulge in the proper and respected aspects of the veteran and vintage movement.


Peter Hampton tells us that the axle-ratio of his 36/220S Mercedes-Benz, which formed the subject of a special article last month, is 2.71 (14 x 38), which gives a speed of 110 m.p.h. at the maximum revs of 3,200, on 19 x 6.50 racing tyres, equal to 34 1/2 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m. We were incorrect in saying the car has hydraulic shock-absorbers; it has two normal friction Hartfords and two Telecontrol Hartfords per axle.