Letters from Readers, October 1975
N.B. — Opinions expressed are those of our Correspondents and Motor Sport does not necessarily associate itself with them. — ED.
The AA Replies
In your September issue Dr. John D. Schofield seems to have missed the point concerning the “Square Wheel” award.
The Drive readers who entered the competition (which was announced a year ago in the Summer ’74 issue) were people with legitimate complaints — people who had, indeed, already been battling on their own for anything between nine and fifteen months in an effort to gain redress.
The competition was not launched as a “fallacious parlour game”, as the good doctor seems to believe. The award, and the corresponding article in Drive, was to demonstrate that the man-in-the-street who buys a car which subsequently gives him a great deal of trouble can face a frustrating, expensive, time-consuming battle in his effort to have his vehicle put right. This state of affairs is damaging to the industry and to dealers, and is certainly not conducive to good relations with the buying public.
There is no doubt in our minds — following both the experiences of entrants for the “Square Wheel” award and our own investigations into the Pre-Delivery Inspection system some months ago — that this question of manufacturers’ responsibility in cases where there was clearly an inherent workmanship or manufacturing fault has got to be resolved. The present situation where a consumer with a legitimate complaint can be shunted for months on end between dealer — who has probably done all that he can possibly do — and manufacturer, clearly cannot be allowed to continue.
We feel that we have established a fair situation which does require some remedy. If, as a result of this competition, the relationship between manufacturer, distributor and customer is improved, then the AA will have done what it always sets out to do— help the motorist.
Dr. Schofield also asserts that members “certainly aren’t getting the roadside service any more”. A strange conclusion to reach when, in fact, the AA gives Free Breakdown assistance more than 2 1/4 million times a year, that is 43,000 times a week or four times every minute of every day and night.
C. J. Aked
Chief Press Officer
The Automobile Association, Basingstoke
Mr. Seth-Smith’s reply (September Motor Sport) to my complaint about non-availability of MG Midget special rear springs from British Leyland ST was interesting.
He may be happy to say I have by now received them but I am unhappy to say that to date (3rd September) they have not been received by my dealer.
I have now cancelled the order and been given my deposit back.
However, in spite of this complaint and the fact that my new MG Midget had 29 faults on delivery, all since corrected, I would not buy anything other than a British Leyland car.
M. S. Bentley
I am interested to know which P4 “Auntie” Rovers are fitted with 500/525 x 16, 550 x 16, 575/600 x 16, 600 x 16, or 820 x 15 tyres (Motor Sport, September, p. 1049). As all take 600/640 x 15 tyres, 16 in tyres tend to fall off the rim as fast as one puts them on and 820 x 15 tyres can only be fitted under the wings when completely deflated? The only Rover cars to use the above are the 1949 P3, which is not an “Auntie”, and “Uncle” SWB Land Rover.
R. M. Stenning
Dino Running Costs
Due to the fact that the price of the Ferrari Dino 246 GT has descended to a more reasonable level for us lesser mortals I have been considering buying a 1971/72 model.
My main worry is, will it be a lot of trouble and if so how expensive. Perhaps somebody who has had some experience with this car could help me.
I realise that, like most cars, their reliability depends on their early life, but are they unreliable and also are parts and servicing very expensive?
I would be grateful if anybody could give me any hints or guidance on buying a good secondhand model.
T. J. Handley
Enrichment of Life
For the directors, officers, and members of the Vintage Sports Car Club of America, may I offer hearty congratulations on Motor Sport’s fiftieth anniversary, together with our sincere wishes that its unique gift for evoking all the pleasures of motoring and its high standard of quality will continue to flourish through its second half-century and beyond.
For myself, I can only add that reading Motor Sport has enriched my life for many years, and that I am more grateful than I can say, to you and your staff, for making this so.
A. S. Carroll
Vintage Sports Car Club of America,
Service from Vanden Plas
After reading the interesting article concerning spares by BLMC Public Relations Officer Roger Armsden, I had to write to tell you of some of the experiences received in getting spares for my adorable 4-litre R. Vanden Plas. I have owned this car for four years, and a 3-litre one for three years before that, and times have often been tiring regarding parts. The service supplied by Kennings, Unipart, etc., leaves a lot to be desired for these still popular and generally well maintained cars. Having got that off my chest, I would like to mention the remarkable service supplied to me by Vanden Plas Cars (BLMC Kingsbury Ltd.).
During this lasting hot spell, my car started overheating, also using large amounts of coolant. The symptoms of the head gasket going were justified when water fired through the exhaust. After phoning Vanden Plas and explaining symptoms to their very helpful Manager, they arranged for the car to be taken in. After stripping down the head, inspection showed a cracked block between the water jacket holes and bore. Knowing how hard parts are to obtain, alarm crept irito my thinking in terms of getting an engine block. After talking with the Manager he relieved me by telling me that they had re-built a works engine with new parts and that they could fit it into my car. After considerable but well worthwhile cost they had my car ready to drive away in nine days. Inclusive in the bill is the 1,000-mile service and they also tightened, adjusted and fitted anything they discovered while replacing the engine.
This car, which is in remarkable condition bodywise, is now in excellent fettle engine wise. Mileage recorded for this two-owner car before engine replacement was 95,000.
Thanking all concerned at Vanden Pies (Kingsbury) for truly “British” workmanship and enthusiastic help to my cherishable 10-year-old, in giving her perhaps another 95,000 (Chancellor permitting).
Sorry for getting carried away, but in the times of the troubled British car industry, pride of job and service still survives.
Thanking you for, as always, an unequalled magazine and, as stated, price-wise cheaper than twenty cigarettes. After a couple of hours “no cigarettes”, but Motor Sport for ever!
A great article on the Wolseley 2200 and Citroen CX2000 in the September issue of Motor Sport.
But please stick to cars not comics — “Dan Dare” was on the front page of the Eagle not the Beano!
Alan C. Wells
[I’m expecting a deputation led by the Beano‘s Desperate Dan any time. To all those other ageing comic readers who’ve protested, sorry! — C.R.]
The V8 Aston Martin
Mr. Harold Pardoyl’s experience with a V8 Aston Martin (see August issue) are saddening but I would suggest, are not typical.
The early DB V8s admittedly did have troubles; it would be interesting to know what model Mr. Pardoyl bought. Company Developments Ltd. improved the car immensely but all the same, several members of the Aston Martin Owners’ Club are running DB V8s with satisfaction and at least one member races his with success in club events.
A friend of mine has had two new “Company Developments” V8s, both of which have given complete satisfaction. The first one, a fuel injection model, I went with him to collect from the retailer in Birmingham — and he got it home to Kent without incident! He used it daily in his profession, covering a lot of motorway miles besides navigating it around some pretty narrow lanes. We took it to Switzerland for a ski-ing holiday and it never missed a beat. It would idle quite happily in traffic without surge (it had the electronic ignition) and on the motorways it was a splendid car to drive, with terrific acceleration accompanied by a most satisfying growl!
In 1974 this was replaced by a carburetter model which has given equal satisfaction, both in everyday use and on a holiday trip to Spain last year, four up. The object of this exercise was an Aston Martin OC rendezvous in Barcelona; there were several V8s present, all performing properly.
Apart from routine servicing, my friend’s cars are not cosseted but are driven as hard as conditions will permit, As to how the V8 Aston compares with Ferraris etc. I cannot say, not having experienced these cars to any extent but I do know that it is a most satisfying car to drive, whether tooling through town or going hard on the “open road”.
The Reliant Sabre Six
Your piece “What Hath the Sabre Six?” in the July issue was obviously intended to elicit a response, and as I am one of the individuals named, I suppose that I should try to answer your question. The primary attraction of the Sabre must be financial. Less than 60 production models were made, and yet a reasonable example can (or could) be acquired for a fraction of the price of any other sports car acceptable to the HSCC. The other main advantages of the car may be briefly summarised as follows:
(i) An extremely robust chassis and non-rotting body.
(ii) An engine for which bolt-on goodies and tuning know-how are available, and which can be developed at modest cost.
(iii) A high proportion of components from mass-produced cars of the period which either are still available or can be found in the local breaker’s yard.
(iv) But not least, an active Club willing to assist with advice and spares, and keen to arrange special classes and team entries.
I suppose this list bears a strong resemblance to the reasons for which some of us purchased chain-driven ‘Nashes in the 50s, which may explain the high proportion of Sabres amongst members of the Frazer Nash Section.
The foregoing remarks do not, of course, take any account of the car’s performance on the road, and I have turned up your 1964 Road Test to see how my own 1964 car cornpares eleven years on. My first reaction is that the test report does not damn the car quite as comprehensively as you suggest, and there is in fact some praise, for the acceleration, ride at higher speeds, stiffness of the chassis, cornering, brakes, seats and external finish. I also get the impression that a more favourable report would have resulted if the test car had been fitted with a new throttle cable. You have mentioned some of the criticisms, and I will agree that the ride is harsh at lower speeds — but it doesn’t roll. I don’t agree that the cockpit is cramped, and I would say that there is a good deal more elbow room than there was in the Triumph GT6 which I had some years ago. I find the vision all round to be perfectly adequate. As regards the gearbox, the criticism in the test report referred to the Borg-Warner overdrive and not to the box itself which is described as “a quite respectable example”. My car happens to be one of the few not fitted with the overdrive unit, but I have driven a car with overdrive and can understand your tester’s complaint.
I have now used my car as everyday transport for a year, and competed in a few speed events, and it has proved to be reliable and rather more economical than the road test car I find it fun to drive, preferably on smooth roads, and, after re-hushing the Watt linkage at the rear, the handling is quite predictable; the tail breaks away fairly readily, but this is easily corrected. The brakes are excellent, and the car recorded one of the better times in the braking test on the VSCC Pomeroy Trophy. The standing quarter-mile took 19.79 sec. as against 18.1 for the road test car, but it should be pointed out that the Pomeroy course is uphill, and my engine has now done over 90,000 miles.
It is reasonably practical as family transport, and my wife and I recently completed a 500-mile round trip with two 11-year-olds in the back and week-end luggage for four without discomfort.
It is interesting to find that some of the minor annoyances mentioned in the test report are still apparent in my car, including the tendency to spit back until the engine is fully warm, bottoming of the rear suspension, weak synchromesh on third gear, and a steering tremor which wheel balancing will not entirely eliminate. On the other hand, none of these things seem to have got any worse after eleven unrestored years, and the only new one to develop has been a rattle due to wear in the badly designed bonnet hinges, which would seem to indicate that the car has stood the test of time rather better than most.
One final comment on your mention of beer stains. I will admit that I (and I suspect some of the other owners you have named) have been known to partake of this excellent beverage, but I should like to make it clear that it is the absence of rust spots rather than beer stains which commends the glassfibre body.
I am a great motoring enthusiast and have been an avid reader of Motor Sport for the past four years, and up until now have not written to you.
But, with this great “Buy British” campaign at the moment, now I think is a good time to outline one of the main reasons why I, if I was old enough, would buy a foreign car. That is that over a period of, say, two years recently some British cars have increased in price over ten times as much as a foreign competitor and so have gone out of the price range of many prospective buyers. I have taken, as an example, the price differences of ten cars between September 8th, 1973 and the present time. There are three British cars, two French, German and Japanese cars and one Italian car. All priced at around £2,000 at the former time.
The figures speak for themselves. No wonder Japanese cars sell so well!
Colin Evans (Age 15)
“Splendid Record — Splendidly Recorded!”
It’s a long time since I read any magazine with as much enjoyment as your Golden Jubilee issue; so many vigorous and evocative pages, unspoilt by the wistful distortions of nostalgia. A really splendid record of your splendid 50 years. The 3-litre Bentley story, and fine pictures, reminded me of travelling down the old Bath Road in a sister car, with Kensington-Moir at the wheel. Both the car and the driver set standards that were completely new to me. Roads, like cars, had real names and identities in those days.
When A. C. Armstrong interviewed me in 1923 as a possible assistant on The Motor (with the same misgivings about engineers that W. S. Braidwood recalls), my trump card as I thought, was a text-book on drawing-office practice for budding designers, written by Ted Merritt and myself and published by Bell in the previous year. After a quick look, his only question was “Is it selling?” Later on, it was Editor A.C.A. who invented the title “Grande Vitesse” against which Rodney Walkerley protested in vain. It was left to the enterprising Bob Paul to think up the new title of “Technical Editor,” to impress his advertisers, which he established so successfully on my behalf that A.C.A. and old Edmund Dangerfield had no choice but to accept it, but with no immediate change in my salary!
All good wishes to Motor Sport and the inimitable and indestructible W.B.
I would like to join the swelling ranks of the many throughout the world who are congratulating you on the 50th Anniversary of Motor Sport! Long may you both continue.
As a long-standing — unfortunately from a great distance — reader and admirer of your publication since my very early years, it came as a surprise that the 50th was about to be noted. The August Golden Jubilee issue, has, I hope, set the tone of future recollections by you and those who have contributed to your magazine through these many exciting years.
Along with my huzzahs I send thanks for serving as one of those fine British motoring journals that quickened my young mind to the sport when America was so bereft of any kind of automotive journalism and neglectful of its own history.
Certainly without your guide posts I never would have thought of creating Automobile Quarterly magazine and its books on automotive history. My sincerest thanks and congratulations on Motor Sport’s 50th.
L. Scott Bailey
Two aspects contained in recent editions of Motor Sort prompt me to write; as the owner of a 1949 Bristol 400 I was naturally delighted at the recent coverage given to the latest Filton product.
Secondly, the letters in your correspondence column regarding the poor spares availability of certain “recent” models of a major manufacturer and their subsequent “watery” PR-style reply are in stark contrast to the service offered by Bristol Cars.
On 26th June this year I wrote to Filton asking for a length of a special pattern rear window moulding (a rather obscure part, you may well think, especially on a car almost 30 years of age), I received a reply dated 1st July dictated and signed by Mr. Gibbens, the Spares Manager, offering immediate despatch on receipt of payment to the value.
Mr. Editor, in the light of all the moans and groans associated with present-day car ownership, doesn’t it do your heart good to hear of a British manufacturer who offers quality and value in his product and a spares service to match.
I have no connection with Bristol Cars other than the obvious and hope that I don’t get a “rocket” from Mr. Crook for attracting unnecessary publicity to his motor cars.
S. H. M. Brown
Bobbies, Nuts and Things
Having been following your letters concerning the Police and their unmarked cars I can add another bit of information that may help someone keep clear of the Blue Plague. The Shrewsbury Traffic Dept. are using at least one dark blue Rover 3500 with dark glass all round and one small notice in the rear window, which, due to the glass, is almost invisible. Reg. No. is YNP 835 M. I must add that my chest swells with pride to know that I am lucky enough to live in this great country of ours where the law overlooks such minor misdemeanours as multiple rape with a weapon in order that it may concentrate its full force against the real threat to civilised society.
I also think it’s a pity that Motor Sport seems to ignore one very exciting aspect of our sport. I am referring to Drag Racing and I have the feeling that you think it is a bit low class and not really the done thing to acknowledge that it exists. However, surely in this day and age of almost universal castigation of motoring we should all stick together. There really is no room for the motoring equivalent of the Classical v. Pop type of class war.
Finally, thanks for a very interesting magazine. I get a lot of laughs at the prices in the small ads. As someone who, five years ago, was thrashing an MG TC around Singapore and then sold it for £100 which was twice its cost, the thought of spending well over £2,000 for one to drive in this climate makes me realise that all the nuts are not behind bars yet.
J. P. Coop
Give Prominence to the Seat
At a time when the need for economy motoring is increasing, and the merits of small cars are being compared, may I make mention of the Fiat (now Seat) 850. In many ways it is broadly comparable with the Mini and Imp saloons; a simple two-door, nicely furnished and reasonably equipped small car, returning 45 m.p.g. and able to cruise at around 65-70 m.p.h. all day. It offers a fold down rear seat for luggage, a decent driving position, reclining seats and a proper through-ventilation system — even a “Sports” steering wheel. The point is, however that it offers these “mini” virtues for under a thousand pounds — indeed mine, bought new a few months ago, was on the road for £927. This represents about three-quarters of the cost of the Mini or Imp — surely a consideration when buying in the bread and butter end of the market. Admittedly, the body design is rather elderly, but so are those of its competitors and my previous model ran for 45,000 hard-driven miles all over Europe with only a replacement clutch as a major expense before it was sold to its present and well satisfied owner. It seems unfair that the Fiat 126 “baby” should be considered as the foreign equivalent of the economy models when this is only a few pounds cheaper than the Seat. Perhaps other readers of your excellent magazine have satisfactory or unsatisfactory tales of these, in my view, admirable small cars.
Michael J. Hopkinson
The Polski Fiat 125P
C.R. reports that the Polski-Fiat 125P is quite a fair motor-car, and he has a very good point: to be able to buy a 1,481 c.c. car for £1,159 is good value. However, when compared with current “real” Fiats, and other cars, it is clear that this is quite unrealistic. In the UK it is not possible to buy a Fiat 126 for £1,000, and a 1,500 c.c. Fiat (1975) would cost about £1,800/£1,900. I understand that Sig. Ing Angelli, the Fiat C-in-C, is so worried about the situation that he is going to stop it, and who can blame him? C.R. reports that these “Red Fiats” are made by men earning about £11-£12 per week. If that is so, then that figure is about 1/5th of the pay of a Leyland manual worker. So one is tempted to ask why the Polski-Fiat is SO expensive?
Why does the British Government, both Conservative, Labour (and perhaps Communists?) allow these cars to come from Eastern bloc countries at quite unrealistic prices? I understand from financial papers that, for example, the Moskvich 1500 saloon costs about £4,500 retail, in its country of manufacture, and yet here it is sold “under the counter” for £999. You have written up the Polski car, and there are many others. Members of the British public have a right to know why we give such stupid terms to the Eastern bloc countries. One has only to look at the prices of their watches, radios, and field-glasses etc. This is crazy. We are just giving the “Reds” pound notes. Why can the cars not be sold at full retail prices, then we would see how many they would sell? There would be no contest between an Opel Commodore or a Ford Granada Ghia at £4,000 and a Moskvich 1500 at £4,000.
On the other hand, why must the British Government kick its oldest, and most loyal, allies in the teeth and stomach, so hard?
What is the British Government’s answer to the fact that a car such as the AMC Pacer retails for £4,000 in the UK, when the same car only costs about $4,000.00 US on the American market? Why is there this bias towards the Communist countries? Is the British Civil Service, and the Customs and Excise Department so riddled with Communists that we cannot give our allies a fair deal?
This situation really is absurd: truthfully, one might say that it is just subsidising Communism, because what have these countries, of the Eastern bloc, ever done for our Motor Trade? The answer is almost nothing, as there is no retail motor trade, as we know it, East of the FDR borders. On the other hand, the US market has been the seed-bed of the British car manufacturer, particularly the sports/GT type, and it would be true to say that if these markets had not existed, BMC, British Leyland, Triumph, Jaguar, Austin (Healey) and MG, call it/them what you will, would have been broke 15-20 years ago, instead of today.
Perhaps the Department of Trade and Industry has some comments on the British Government’s policy of discriminating against friends of the UK, in matters of trade, friends, without whose financial help and productive capacity the UK would have been unable to win the last war.
That statement does not of course take into account the great loss of life suffered by our allies.
M. G. C. Potter