Around and About, October 1979

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Town and Country sour grapes

A return to the annual Town and Country Festival over the August Bank Holiday proved a great success for our reporter’s family but a disappointment to our judge/journalist.

Once again there were a massive number of vehicles assembled for the concours d’elegance. There was much talk of how much prize money there was to be won in the Institute of British Carriage and Automobile Manufacturers contest. As the Editor commented last year this was bound to lead to some bad feeling amongst individuals who felt their machines’ merits were being overlooked, though it must be said that contestants had every right to feel aggrieved when kept waiting for a day before being judged. Those poor worthies acting as judges trudged the confusing avenues of the huge Stonleigh showground trying to track down those entered in both individual and club classes.

So the organisation was well below last year’s standard, hindered still further by the non-arrival of computer and crew on Sunday, the second of the show’s three days. Overall show attendance was said to be little below last year’s record 300,000, and that could be well believed: imagine plodding through at least twice the size of a modern British GP crowd in strong sunshine and you will understand why feelings of judged and judges ran high!.

In the individual classes the standard was much more uniform than last year for the Class 5 (1965-75) machines that J.W. again chose to inspect with a contemporary from Autosport. This year there was a very strong turn out of Volvos and they finished 2-3-4 behind P. D. Lawson’s blue Jaguar E-type coupe with another Jaguar and a Rover in hot pursuit.

Maurice A. Smith DEC co-ordinated the judges and his briefing was clear on the judging where — as frequently happens — you get an expensive restoration pitched against a clean, original car that is regularly used on the road. We were to favour the original car, a point that it seems many contestants either disagree with or are simply not aware of in the presentation of their cars.

We were also asked to look out for toolkits that had been employed and an efficient wheelbrace and jack. That was fine, but one of the smarter cars I saw (and another we were asked to look at out of context) had balding spare tyres. I must say one was beautifully blacked and shone so that one had to peek beyond the dazzle to see it was probably below the legal minimum.

By contrast judging the clubs was a pleasure. I had the company of five knowledgeable colleagues, though the variety was such that we all admired a Banbury drag racing club, whose tiny memberships had turned in such an impressive display that they eventually finished fourth overall.

We judged the inter-club winners too, much to the distress of a Jaguar stalwart in another group, for the J.D.C.’s undoubted strong turnout was just defeated by a very imaginative turn out from the Historic Commercial Vehicles people from the Chilterns section. The fact that they had a Greene King light lorry with half-pint samples attractively dispensed was seen as a straightforward and acceptable bribe.

The HCVC won with 925 points from a possible 1,000; JDC were second on 898; the Midland Vehicle Preservation Club third on 862; Banbury Drag & Custom Club had 855 and the Volvo Owners were finally fifth on 833.

How do you judge the clubs? The standard on this occasion was a 10 vehicle display with a theme that effectively presented the history of that marque or subject. Those without 10 vehicles immediately lost marks while those 30 plus machines on the stand could obviously select those which they felt should be judged to best present their history. Half of the marks were devoted to an appreciation of the standard of those vehicles included — which often meant you were almost rejudging the previous day’s individual entries.

Perhaps the most common mistake, and an avoidable one when you have a big membership — was to show a dazzling display of only two basic models when the marque history centred around many more.

The writer’s personal favourite was a club where we appeared just after lunch, and the period costumed inhabitants included a couple busy exploring the rear headroom of a sturdy Bullnose Morris!

Stoneleigh Town & Country Festival is a fascinating cross between Earls Court’s Royal Tournament, a county show and an outdoor motor show. A place where the ordinary spectator of almost any interest can find a day’s entertainment. I agreed with my son, when it came to judging cars individually. I was happiest in the fantastic model hall . . . they don’t answer back! — J.W.

Avon in action at Castle Combe

“A shrinking market in developing countries,” that is how Avon tyres marketing director Peter Wills described the tyre sales future to our reporter at the launch of the fourth generation of steel-braced Avon radial ply tyres.

However the situation is not one of gloom for the Avon Group. Approximately 45% of group activities are devoted to tyres, such has been the diversification into other fields in recent years. The market that Avon enjoys for its car and motorcycle covers is not the cut-throat one of fighting to become Original Equipment (OE in motor business jargon) either. Instead of slim margins and enormous production volumes, Avon have done what many originally recommended for British Leyland: a bias toward quality and a firm reduction in output.

The result is that the Avon tyre factories are working flat out on a two shift system, we were told, while other majors are forced into the misery of factory shutdowns in Britain.

Mr. Wills confirmed that the company had really become involved in motor sports “almost by accident”, and said with a wistful smile that there was absolutely no intention of rejoining the Grand Prix cars in the eighties. However, he confirmed that the company are currently considering extending their motorcycle racing championship sponsorship along with the launch of a new tyre (the Venom) upon which development has yet to be completed.

Reflecting the changing demand for tyres since the introduction of radial ply covers, Mr. Wills told us that crossplies now accounted for just 25% to 30% of all Avon production. That may seem rather high until you remember that Land Rovers are a significant part of that demand.

Of the new Avon Turbosteel itself we learned little in a short run around a dry Castle Combe circuit in a 1750 Maxi. To really test a tyre a kind of motorised torture session is needed with before and after comparisons.

From our experience the latest Turbosteel would seem to offer exceptionally light steering (no bad thing on a Maxi!) and the kind of quiet unobtrusive service that we expect of a modern tyre.

We asked one of the development team if any testing had yet been completed with low profile tyres of the type that Michelin (TRX) and Pirelli (P6/7) offer? It seems that this kind of development has yet to get to the testing stage at Avon. Possibly the company are a little shy after the example of following Dunlop down the safety wheel and tyre route?

The latest Avon is available in six sizes at present and another half-dozen are planned for gradual introduction.

On a day when the closure of MG at Abingdon was being formally declared it was pleasant to hear of an all-British company succeeding in the modern motor business.

The company also laid on a display of vehicles at a nearby hotel to demonstrate their tyre range at work, naturally including machines from Rolls-Royce (Silver Shadow II), Bristol (603/413 USA Convertible) and an Aston Martin V8. A Cadillac Seville was also displayed but the company stressed that they still don’t envisage going after prestige overseas manufacturer business, except in the more profitable replacement market. — J.W.

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