Letters from Readers, October 1979

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N.B. – Opinions expressed are those of our Correspondents and Motor Sport does not necessarily associate itself with them. – Ed.

The Closure of MG Abingdon

An open letter to Sir Michael Edwardes,

British Leyland Chairman,

From Stephen Dear, Hon. Chairman, MG Car Club, SW Centre.

Dear Sir Michael,

Whilst approving of your general policy of axing sections of BL which have a rotten performance, or which have a poor industrial relations record, I do share the general horror at your decision to axe the MG plant at Abingdon, and I am positively outraged at the idea of a Japanese car carrying the MG badge.

MG is as British as Rolls-Royce or Bentley, and the MG record-breaking and racing history, especially in the 1930s, is probably unequalled. Please consider:—

MG made the first 750 c.c. car to achieve 100 m.p.h. (1931)

MG made the first 750 c.c. car to achieve 120 m.p.h. (1932)

MG made the first 1,100 c.c. car to achieve 200 m.p.h. (1939).

They won the Ards TT race three times, and had class wins at Le Mans, the Mille Miglia, at Brooklands and all over the world.

And they all carried the Union Jack with pride, and every nut and bolt and casting was British, and the workforce at Abingdon was and is proud of them.

There is still a tremendous enthusiasm for MG in the USA, where MG were the first big-selling imported sports car, and what the Americans want is an updated MG sports car, not that awful Triumph TR7 thing that has no room for a carrycot!

MG at Abingdon have been manfully selling the out-dated MG-B now for 17 long years, whilst BL have poured tax-payers’ money into all kinds of dumb models carrying other badges, which the Yanks don’t want, and still the MGs have sold, despite the stupid way that the Leyland hierarchy have prevented the development of a new MG sports model.

If Fiat can sell the X/19 sports car in large numbers, why couldn’t Abingdon produce a small successor to the Midget and MG-B to compete with them?

Finally Sir, MG stands for Morris Garages, and it always will, and if you are daft enough to stick it on a BLOODY HONDA, then you are going to outrage thousands of patriots and MG lovers all over the world.

If Abingdon must close, and if there are to be no more MG sports cars, then please Sir, let us bury the octagon with full military honours, and let it lie in peace. This is at least a dignified way for a tradition to pass away.

A Japanese MG would be an intolerable insult to all we MG enthusiasts, and the man who made such a decision could fear for all kinds of uproar from great chunks of the community who would have otherwise been his supporters.

For certain, no real MG enthusiast would actually buy one!

Clewer, Somerset

Stephen Dear

* * *

Sir,

Senior officers of the MG Car Club which has 49 years close association with the Abingdon plant are currently making contact with their 53 overseas centres, 28 of which are in North America (and paradoxically one being in Japan), with a view to putting pressure on Leyland worldwide.

More importantly the club is currently holding “North American salvage operation” discussions with a party of hotly pro-MG, Leyland America J-R-T area sales managers who are desperately demanding to continue marketing the MG-B and Modern Midget and say that they can sell these models in far greater numbers than can be currently supplied. They also wish to ensure the future development of the marque. We sincerely hope the Abingdon association can continue.

Any like minded UK interested parties please contact MGCC, PO Box 126, Brentwood, Essex. We would also like to state that the recent MGOC emotional response is to be applauded.

Brentwood

The MG Car Club Ltd.

* * *

Sir,

I am writing to express through the columns of your magazine my anger and disgust at the decision to close the MG factory at Abingdon.

This plant has always enjoyed good industrial relations and has, as far as I am aware, nearly always been profitable. In addition the cars are always well made and presented. Yet they get closed while other plants at Leyland, unprofitable, strike-ridden and producing shoddy cars get retained. What a way to manage a company!

If the MG badge gets put on a Japanese rice-grinder, even one built in this country, I urge all your readers not to buy it.

At least let the MG die proud, a true British Sports Car. Personally I hope that MG goes it alone and hopefully attains the position of Morgan.

Banbury

D. F. Fletcher

* * *

Sir,

Having just heard of BL’s plans concerning the MG marque I feel compelled to write a letter criticising the MG-Honda project. I also must criticise the closure of the Abingdon plant, ancestral home of Morris Garage’s. What a way to celebrate 50 years!

A Cowley made MG is not a very welcome thought, but an MG born and bred in Japan is more of a nightmare.

Hartlepool

Aidan Phillipson, Age 12

A Whitney Straight Cameo

Sir,

I was sorry to read in your May issue of the death of Whitney Straight. Though I had heard of him and many of his exploits, I only met him once and, on that occasion, I had the job of briefing and later despatching him on a flight from Portreath in Cornwall to North Africa in a Beaufighter, in about 1943. Typically, though he was an Air Commodore, he had chosen to ferry out on an operational aircraft rather than fly as a passenger.

On the day he was to make the flight, take-off was delayed by early morning mist. When the sun appeared to be about to break through, Whitney Straight and the rest of the crews were taken out to their aircraft, which were dispersed on the far side of the airfield, with instructions not to start-up until I fired a green Verey signal from the control tower. Time dragged on and I decided to drive round the perimeter track to see if there was any sign of a clearance on the seaward side of the aerodrome. Suddenly, a Beaufighter loomed out of the mist, tearing towards me and I had to take pretty prompt avoiding action. The aircraft swung on to the end of a nearby runway and the pilot began to take-off, disappearing into a bank of mist. I listened and peered into the mist with my fingers crossed. To my horror, the aircraft appeared out of the top of the mist, climbing at an impossible angle and heading for certain disaster. Somehow, a stall was avoided and the aircraft flew away to complete its journey safely. The pilot was Whitney Straight.

Some weeks later, the regular ferry crew navigator who had accompanied him on this flight, came in to Portreath with his usual pilot. I asked what had happened on the take-off with the great man. I was told that the pilot’s seat, which had to be folded back to permit entry, had collapsed during the take-off and Whitney Straight had heaved himself back into position by pulling on the control column, with near disastrous results. How lucky he was to survive, only a Beaufighter pilot will know!

I hope that someone will write his biography — it would make interesting reading.

Wolverhampton

A. C. Powner, MBE

Flt./Lt. RAF, Ret’d.

Sopwith’s Sphinx Project

Sir,

As a regular reader of the best magazine in the business, I am writing to ask for your help in tracing the whereabouts of Tommy Sopwith’s Sphinx project.

During 1953 Armstrong Siddeley were seriously contemplating an entry into the Saloon Car Championship with a special Armstrong Siddeley 346 built of aluminium, to compete in 1954. This caused much worry at Jaguars. The car was entered at Silverstone in May 1954 to be driven by Goodacre. It did not appear and as far as I know was never built.

The Armstrong Siddeley Owners Club have stated in their magazine Sphinx No. 1979 on page 26 that among the club drawings are a special camshaft, a strengthened crankcase for a 346 engine, with a compression ratio of 9.5:1 giving 150 h.p. on 100 octane petrol with special high-lift cams (0.32″), with medium overlap. Pictured is a two-seater sports car No. 91 racing number registration No. OLT 101, bearing the legend “Sphinx” on the bonnet.

It is known that Allard chassis JR 3405 was delivered in 1953 to Tommy Sopwith for his six-cylinder Sphinx project. Only six Allard JR (Mark I) chassis were built: JR 3401 to JR 3406 (and only one Mark 2). It is therefore fairly certain that JR 3405 was a “one-off” job. Since the Sphinx project was a six-cylinder effort this precludes the use of AS engine 234 which I believe was another competition development which never materialised. The engine, I believe, developed 125 h.p. from its 2.3 litres. It was eventually used to drop into the 234 Sapphire, detuned, the so-called “Ugly Duckling”.

From the information set out above, I am assuming that OLT 101 is Tommy Sopwith’s Sphinx project, that when AS abandoned their 3440 c.c./346 Sapphire racing sports saloon, he obtained the engine. This he put into an Allard JR chassis and used for racing.

Do you think that through your columns you could discover whether the connections and assumptions made are accurate, and also whether the whereabouts of OLT 101 could be traced and the information passed on to me? As a regular AS Club member I am very keen to trace the vehicle and I would clearly like to see it.

Northampton

David Blackburn

[Can any reader help? — Ed.]

A Lancia Liked

Sir,

The last two issues of Motor Sport indicate that the Lancia knocking season is upon us (letters from Dr. M. J. Shackleton and P. Hatton refer) and I would like to say a word or two in defence.

As a mere oil company representative I cannot speak for the more exotic machinery but my experience of a Beta 1600 saloon over the last 15,000 miles shows that it is faster, quieter, more comfortable more reliable and generally much nicer to drive than my previous two cars, both Cortinas. It starts first time, every time — which the Fords were incapable of. To date there is no sign of rust which is not so surprising perhaps as my Fords were doing their best to corner the market in this commodity.

I am very satisfied and my next car will be another Lancia.

Tilton on the Hill, Leics.

James Henderson

Fairness with Fuel

Sir,

I was interested to read in the August Motor Sport that the RAC British Motor Sports Council has set up a committee to look into the effect of the fuel shortage on motoring sport.

One has only to listen to the great misinformed British Public to realise that there is a body of opinion that motoring sport wastes fuel and eventually it will have to be stopped.

This is of course rubbish as any careful thinking person will appreciate the quantities of fuel burnt in actual competition are nothing to the amounts burnt in transporting the participants and spectators to the event in question. If the fuel crisis does eventually become that serious, then it is reasonable to assume that all leisure activities may have to be restricted as the first logical step in fuel saving.

The message that our spokesmen in the RAC should take to the “Rule Makers” is that there is no commonsense reason to consider motoring sport any differently from any other non-essential activities, football, horse racing for example, involved in transporting people around the country.

Motor clubs should make this view strongly to their controlling bodies and the motoring press in general. To quote our own particular competition secretary – “We will follow along with any action taken by the football league!”

May all forms of motoring enjoyment (with particular reference to our own very special brand of course!) continue for as long as possible.

Bury, Lancs.

N. H. Lear, Morgan Three-Wheeler Club

Talbot Publicity

Sir,

How many races and rallies, you ask, did the Roesch Talbots win outright? What a funny question! Do you mean, in how many races and rallies were they the fastest cars to finish, or in how many were they awarded first prize for defeating the handicappers? It’s all in the Talbot Bible, but as that is undoubtedly the long answer, the short one, Sir, is that the 105s were the fastest cars to finish in the 1931 Double Twelve, the 1932 Brooklands 1,000 miles and the “500” later that year, and that they succeeded in defeating the handicappers in numerous other Brooklands events from two-lap sprints to the Dunlop Jubilee Cup, the 1938 50 miles Outer Circuit “ghost” of the old “500”, and the 1939 Locke King Trophy. All at Brooklands, you may say; and were they sports car races? Well, the entries were 90% sports cars, and I have yet to mention the most signal success: that of the 90s in winning Le Mans in 1930. Winning Le Mans? Yes, Sir! The main 24-hour competition there was the Index of Performance: the race on distance was a secondary affair. Ask the French, they ran it.

The Talbots were never the fastest cars in any race they entered: how could they be, with unblown engines of 2.3 and 3-litres, competing with equivalent blown engines and with unblown cars of up to twice the size? They could only figure at all on sheer speed if the races were long enough. They never quite were, but in many of the distance races it often began to look as if the Talbots were going to be the only cars to finish at all.

As regards “winning rallies outright”, the Talbot rally effort was restricted to three Alpine Trials which you, Sir, know better than anyone, could not by definition recognise an outright winner. It was just a question of how many marks competitors lost, determining whether or not they won Alpine Cups for team entries, or Glacier Cups for individual entries. The rules were very odd: in 1934 the Delahaye team won an Alpine Cup, despite only finishing two cars out of three! As to the 105s, they never lost a single car or a single mark in any of the Trials, so that one can say no more than that they were “Invincible”.

Callington, Cornwall

Anthony Blight

Remember Roesch

Sir,

I read with some feelings of disgust at the “cheap commercial gimmick” of the Chrysler-Peugeot nomination of “Talbot” with its pronounced French connotations from M. Clement to Rozier (at the tail end of the Talbot Lago) together with some references to Le Mans, Brooklands and Ireland of the racing history of the Thirties without any mention of the man who truly put Talbot on the map, my old friend, Georges Roesch (over 40 years).

Although Georges was naturally not displeased with Talbot racing history, he was at the same time more thrilled by its Alpine triumphs. Since he was more devoted to the development of a motoring vehicle than to a car tearing its guts out on the race track.

I worked under his guidance for some nine years and still correspond with his sister in Geneva (his only surviving blood relation) now around the mid-eighties and whose writing would put most of our modern scribes to shame.

If Chrysler-Peugeot produce a car (amid strikes) half as efficient as the Roesch-Talbot it will amount almost to a miracle.

Shepperton

V. N. L. Butler, BA(Eng.), TEng.(CEI), AMRAeS (Retired)

Saudi Royal Cars

Sir,

I have been following the correspondence in your readers’ column recently concerning the Rolls-Royce car owned by Ibn Saud. It may be of interest to some readers to bring things up to date with regard to Saudi royal cars.

When in Jedda with the Embassy a couple of years ago I was sent on business to Riyadh. My arrival at the airport coincided with the arrival of President Numairi of Sudan and I was fortunate to get very close to the road to see the convoy of cars departing. King Khaled and the President were seated in a magnificent Burgundy coloured Phantom Landaulette which appeared to be an exact copy of our Queen’s car, the back-up car being a black Phantom VI saloon. There are many Silver Shadows now gracing the desert Kingdom’s highways, but I did see three Camargues and one of the Pharaon brothers in Jedda has a nice white Corniche convertible. I might also add to correspondent F. H. Bothamley that alcohol is still proscribed in Saudi Arabia and beheadings and lashings still continue. Beit Philby is still there as is the old Legation building, both surrounded by multi-storied monsters.

A big thank you also to correspondent Elliot-Pyle for his support of the Kitten. I ran a Rebel (the Kitten’s predecessor) in Germany and UK for three years and have now purchased my wife a Kitten which purrs its way around Bedford and occasionally roars up the M1 to Yorkshire at the weekends loaded with children and other baggage all at a very satisfactory rate of knots and seems satisfied with the occasional whiff of petrol. Which incidentally, here costs 25p per gallon, just as well as my present mount is a 1978 Dodge Aspen R/T with 5.5-litre V8 engine!

One last little thing if I may hog your columns a bit longer, would someone like to explain to me personally or to everyone through your columns why Chevrolet Caprices are retailing in the UK at £12,000 plus? Their US and UAE price is around £4,000 fully loaded. Someone somewhere is making a killing.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

A. R. A. Dearing

The Metric System

Sir,

Here in New Zealand we have just received the May edition of Motor Sport, so I was most interested to read D.S.J.’s comments on the introduction of the SI (metric) system to Britain. We have been using this system in New Zealand and Australia for some time without difficulty as the conversion from miles per hour (m.p.h.) to kilometres per hour (km./h.) and brake horsepower (b.h.p.) to kilowatts (kW) is straightforward enough. What is more the SI system is based upon the laws of physics not the length of a Saxon king’s stride.

However there is one aspect of the SI system as introduced here that is quite absurd and you should resist NOW while you still have a chance to campaign against the bureaucrats. The unit of fuel consumption used here is the number of litres of fuel used per 100 kilometres. This reverses the obvious conversion from miles per gallon (m.p.g. ) to kilometres per litre (km./l.) which would seem natural, but by using litres per 100 kilometres (l./km.) the more “economical” the car, the SMALLER the consumption figure, which causes endless confusion amongst everyone.

Motor Sport readers should petition their Members of Parliament at once to prevent this nonsense from occurring in Britain.

Petone, New Zealand

J. Hurst

Gas Guzzlers

Sir,

How very much I agree with the letter from Mr. R. Sandbach on page 1358 of the September Motor Sport.

I have been on flights with less than 77 passengers he mentions, and more than a couple of times too (but on one occasion on the Friday night New York-Atlanta commuter flight they were standing in the aisle!!) — but if you think the 747 is a gas guzzler then Concorde must be the daddy of them all — one trip should keep the average motorist fuelled up for life.

And what about the damn great Army tanks playing futile games every day on the Lulworth ranges near here — plus Hercules transport planes droning seemingly every day dropping parachutists across the bay. When the powers-that-be start doing something about the real energy consumers — then — and only then — will I start believing we have a fuel crisis.

Name and address supplied

Fuel Consumption

Sir,

In the past half-dozen or so issues you have reviewed a number of small-engined, small-bodied vehicles; two of the Renault 5 range, Fiesta, Alfasud, and in your September volume a Fiat Strada.

What surprises me is how easily satisfied you are with the fuel consumptions. “I was pleased to get 36 m.p.g. . . .” (Fiesta), “I returned a commendable 34.2 m.p.g.” (Alfasud), “an excellent 37.1 m.p.g.” (Strada) and you regarded as “astonishing” the consumption figure for the Renault 5GTL (48 m.p.g. best figure).

In relation to the engine size, the body size and weight, and the b.h.p. output, I think these figures are nothing to shout about at all.

My BMW, all 3,000 lb. and 200 b.h.p. of it, returns fuel consumptions in the upper 20s, together with the accoutrements not usually associated with the types of vehicle I refer to above. Even a 1956 Morris Minor 1000 I owned some years ago would consistently return 46-48 m.p.g. on long, non-motorway type motoring journeys. So I do not feel that the motoring industry has done much at all towards improving the fuel consumptions of their bread and butter models.

Far more laudable are the efforts of Jaguar; to squeeze 15 miles from a gallon of petrol, when squirted into 12 cylinders displacing 5.3 litres, seems to me far more of an achievement than the pretence at fuel economy being offered on current smaller vehicles.

Solihull

J. Pullon

Franglais

Sir,

Following the Renault 5 “Le Car”, may we expect a response from Ford? A Fiesta “The Voiture” perhaps?

Sheffield

Peter Fawcett

Donald Campbell

Sir,

Recently a few avid fans of the very brave Donald Campbell went to Coniston and were amazed at the general lack of trumpet-blowing. A great, great man who bravely tried to keep the Jack-of-the-Union flying. Is there a D.C. Appreciation Society?! Our ‘bus stayed only 90 minutes and then wasted four hours at Windermere.

Incidentally, I met Tanya and Donald just previous to his very sad demise and he talked to me for ages and no affectations, how sad that he is treated now as he was while attempting the impossible — shabbily. He, like many sons of famous fathers, “dwelt in their shadow.”

Keep up the work. How about an L&WSR in Campbell’s name. I’d help form a society.

Leeds

George Archer

[When Donald Campbell was killed on his bid to raise the WSR we said in an Editorial that whatever had been, and was being, said of him, he, and he alone, was the brave man who had to get into “Bluebird” and drive her when the time came. — Ed].

How to Drive a Saab

Sir,

Apropos your comments on the Daimler Company booklet “Hints On Driving”, you may be interested to know that owners of two-stroke Saab 96 saloons and 95 estates were still being encouraged (via their driver’s handbook) to switch off the ignition on long descents — having first locked out the freewheel, of course — as late as 1964.

Thank you for the best motoring magazine, which I have read every month for the last 20 years.

Morpeth

David M. Landers

[Yes, I remember. — Ed.]

The Fisher Jaguar

Sir,

I write to ask for the assistance of Motor Sport in finding the whereabouts of a sister car to one I own.

This car is called the Fisher Jaguar and was built by Mr. J. Fisher of Canning Street, Edinburgh in the 1950s. He sold it in chassis form to a group of people who were going to race it. The partnership dissolved and the car vanished until eight years ago when the then owner contacted Mr. Fisher. The owner lived near Leicester and at that stage the car had a home-made body with cycle wings.

I hope that you may either publish this letter or make mention of this in Motor Sport as it would be of great interest to me to know if and where the Fisher Jaguar now is. My car is Riley-powered and was raced by Mr. Fisher himself. It is quite well known around Scotland.

I do hope that you may be able to help but of course after all this time the car may be just a little part of history. I am sure that if it exists the readership of Motor Sport will know of it!

Leuchars, Fife

John Foster

Mystery Driver

Sir,

On page 1132 of August Motor Sport you ask who the driver was of the “Shooting Star” experimental Renault turbine car which took four records at Bonneville in 1956

I kilo (f.s.) — 190.68 m.p.h.

1 mile (f.s.) — 191.30 m.p.h.

5 km. — 191.93 m.p.h.

5 miles — 186.50 m.p.h.

It was Jean Hebert.

He competed from 1954-59. He won the ’58 Liege-Rome-Liege Rally on an Alfa Romeo and the ’58 German Rally, both with Bernard Consten.

He also co-drove an Alfa Romeo in the ’58 Le Mans but retired after seven hours.

Farnham

Jim Wright

Economy Car

Sir,

I am very pleased to see in the August issue Dr. Elliot-Pyle’s letter in praise of the Reliant “Kitten”. This is the first small car I have owned since I raced Austin 7s before the last war and I am absolutely delighted with it.

Wanting a modern replacement which wouldn’t rust, would carry the odd vintage engine, and be really economical on fuel, one wasn’t left with much choice. Its economy on fuel is quite outstanding and the comfort of the seating could teach a thing or two to most of its contemporaries. It goes round corners like a tramcar and one seems to be able to average well over 60 m.p.g. over long journeys without overstressing the 848 c.c. aluminium engine. With the wall-to-wall carpeting and every little accessory including stereo sound, I cannot fault this little car. It is hardly to be wondered that one seldom sees a “Kitten” in the “For Sale” ads.

Beckenham

R. Wilson-Kitchen

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