Criticism of Present-Day Races — and a Possible Solution
During the past six weeks the British Motoring Press has featured a number of letters and articles bemoaning the status and composition of present-day Club, National and International sports-car racing. The majority of these articles only superficially touch upon the crux of the matter. I am in no position to concern myself with criticism or appraisal of Mr. Donald Healey’s action at Le Mans. This event is on its own, its regulations are far too comprehensive and complicated to be applied in toto to national or international events staged in this country: rather they form a basis for such competitions.
I will concern myself with sport in this country, and a perfect example comes to mind. Recently a handicap trophy race was staged for sports cars of a certain make, of which there are two basic models: —
(a) A true sports car available to the general public which may be tuned along a recognised pattern (e.g., half-lift cams, axle ratios, modified exhausts, etc,).
(b) A competition version of “A,” available to the public in very limited numbers. Not many of these cars exist, but a team exists driving cars equipped with accessories far beyond the means of the private driver (indeed, I’m told the brakes are simply not available to the public).
For this race 25 cars were entered. Comes race day and only nine entrants are on the starting grid. There are five cars nominally Type “A” and four cars nominally Type “B,” the latter including one private owner and the very reputable team I mentioned above. The advantage given to all cars of Type “A” was equivalent to 8 seconds per lap over all cars of Type “B.” This was sufficient to scare away 16 out of the 25; drivers of bona fide, standard or standard-tuned sports cars.
The race came and went. Two cars of Type “A” won the first two places. The team cars of Type “B” finished third and fourth. The privately-owned Type “B” car came last. The driver of this car, in every way a standard-tuned car, could get nowhere when faced with triple double-choked carburetters, disc brakes, speeial aluminium bodies, etc., even when fitted to the “ordinary sports cars.”
I will point out another feature of the same race meeting. A certain “sports car” (in fact, a racing car fitted with cycle-type wings), driven by a racing driver of considerable repute, was matched against standard everyday sports machinery, driven by gentlemen who enjoy a club “dabble” on the track. The “sports car” was driven to the track on a lorry. I don’t doubt the owner hadn’t any alternative; the noise from the exhaust would have brought police from miles around if it had been driven on the highway. Now, let’s face it. This state of affairs, if allowed to continue, will kill a sport which is becoming as popular in this country as Association Football was when England was good at it. Letters in the Press have all touched on aspects of this grumble. I believe that the main race organisers in this country are faced with certain important issues, now that there is so much enthusiasm in sports-car racing: —
What constitutes a true sports car? Is it a car which is available to the public, or is it a car which is available to Mr. X if he is a well-known racing driver? Or is it a car which Mr. Y can buy and spend huge sums of money modifying it and increasing its power? Frankly, I believe that all these are sports cars, but should they all continue to compete against each other on unequal terms? If so, the majority of “club” races in this country will undoubtedly become processions. How can a private enthusiast shine? Granted the public attends the meetings to see the star drivers, but it prefers a close, well-matched race to one the result of which is a foregone conclusion.
(b) Assuming the pre-race tuning is to be accepted to some extent, is it to be limited in any way to qualify a car as a standard Sports car? Many manufacturers issue instructions for standard recognised modifications, but some driver/entrants don’t stop there. This high degree of tuning is most commendable and healthy for the Sport, but where do the cars fit into the race programme? Which all leads to a third point.
(c) Are highly tuned sports cars to be treated like formula racing cars? Their performance has of late certainly been comparable. But should a sports car be carried on a trailer to the race track? In the old days Le Mans regulations were made for very good reasons, concerning headlights, spare wheels, mudguards, etc. To my mind, nowadays, a racing car ceases to be a racing car as soon as cycle-type wings are fitted, or so it would seem. Spare tyres are removed, bumpers are stripped off, and so on. Carrying a car to the track may be necessary through lack of a second driver to bring the paraphernalia, but to me it suggests that it is necessary because the car is so highly tuned as to be unsuitable for road work. Is this car a sports car or a “special”? It is a car virtually prepared for track events only. Is this in keeping with the spirit of Club and National sports-car racing?
I can see two possible remedies which may be acceptable. Were they adopted I honestly believe that Club and National racing would be saved.
1. To adopt a new sports-car class of race. i.e.. a “Free Formula Sports Car” event at each race meeting (Club and National). This event to be split into capacity classes and be open to sports cars which:
(a) are of composite manufacture, i.e., Lotus-M.G., H.W.M-Jaguar, Cooper-Bristol. etc. ;
(b) are recognised marques, but which include definite basic non-standard modifications, such as disc-brakes, non-standard lightened bodies, non-standard axle ratios, non-standard carburetters, apart from the standard tuning advocated by the manufacturers;
(c) are brought to the track by means other than their own power. This obviously has its difficulties as there is nothing to stop the driver disembarking “a mile from the track.”
2. To leave the everyday sports car to race on equal terms. By doing this, the up-and-coming sports-car driver will shine. The car as shown to the public at race meetings will be such that a good indication of its normal maximum performance will be evident. In this suggestion I am not criticising nor advocating any form of racing or car. I have never enjoyed myself more than at this year’s meetings and I believe that the specially built and modified motor cars of today are the forerunners of the standard cars of tomorrow, but I do think that there is a considerable danger of swamping standard sports-car racing and hence forcing the exclusion of the driver who can only afford to race a perfectly standard sports-car. (And what a cost is racing.)
I am aware that this letter will start something of a heated argument, but perhaps out of the suggestions and counter-suggestions that might be forthcoming therefrom, the controlling body of motor racing in this country might find a suitable way of controlling an aspect of racing which might well get out of hand.
I am Yours, etc.,
Francis K. Mason.
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A dashboard is a dashboard. A facia is the board over a shop that says “Joe Bloggs and Son, Family Grocers.” I have examined very carefully the piece of wood in my car which carries the instruments but I cannot find a shop underneath it!
I am, Yours, etc.,
Geoffrey E. Barlow.
[Jolly good! But is a metal instrument panel a dashboard? In future I will endeavour to refer to the facia as a dash and Mr. Barlow can toast me every time I remember so to do. — Ed.]
* * *
The Lagonda Club
Your remarks in the August issue of your excellent journal under Club News have indeed proved that many Lagonda owners know nothing of the club, judging by the inquiring letters received since!
You say that the club caters for owners of types from 11.1 to V12, but I would hasten to add that post-war models are also well received and, in fact, there are several members with 2.6-litre cars.
I am, Yours, etc.,
M. H. Wilby.
London N. W. 3.
* * *
May I, through your excellent magazine, recommend the West End Garage, Brecon, Brecknockshire, to other enthusiasts.
On Bank Holiday Monday evening a valve rocker fractured in my M.G. Mr. Mainwaring had none in stock, so he promptly called in a mechanic who was at home, and the broken rocker was brazed together in a very short time.
For this service, performed at a very inconvenient time, he charged me only a few shillings.
I am, Yours, etc.,
G. W. Scott.
* * *
After reading an advertisement (No. 1,658) in your journal, I dropped a line to Ferguson Brothers of Darlington.
They were unable to supply the bit that I wanted, but without saying a word to me they forwarded my letter to somebody who could.
A small matter perhaps, but one that shows the right spirit, a spirit that I hope Motor Sport will continue to foster. I only wish I had written to them two years earlier.
I am, Yours, etc.,
J. B. Roscoe.
* * *
Again The Vale
I feel that as I am possibly the only one-time owner of a Vale Special who has driven it successfully, albeit, in the Monte Carlo Rally, as well as at Brooklands and in reliability trials, my observations and comments on what was, in many ways, a unique “sports” car in the smallest class may be of some further interest to your readers. The objects of achievement sought by its designers when the car was first put into production in the early ‘thirties appeared to be: —
(a) Much the same performance as that of the then current M.G. Midget at a little cheaper purchase price, coupled with the additional reliability of a side-valve engine (Triumph 7-h.p.) and a very great advantage over its rival as regards economy in petrol consumption, 40 m.p.g. plus, as against 30 m.p.g. plus.
(b) Advanced — to say the least of it — chassis design. As Mr. Gaspar stated in his letter to you, published in your May issue, the chassis was underslung front and rear and by this means brilliant, Old Etonian designer, Pellew, hoped to offset the comparatively better acceleration of the M.G. Midget’s o.h.v. engine by means of an absolutely phenomenal cornering potential. That he succeeded in this I was on many occasions able to prove to my own complete satisfaction, when dicing in friendly rivalry on the road, with M.G. Midgets and, later, Le Mans-type Singers.
(c) Production of a hand-made car which would not date, and which would look of comparatively modern design even 20 years after. In this connection I would confirm Mr. Gaspar’s statements as I was actually measured for my car, and I can personally verify the most amusing remarks made about the wind scoops and Miss Jane Russell — the two points mentioned being as effective as they were beautiful!
In my own experience, in the course of driving my own Vale Special 100,000 miles, I found that the designers had succeeded admirably in achieving these objectives, and can only deplore the fact that withdrawal of financial backing at a vital moment caused discontinuance of production of this successful little sports car in the middle ‘thirties.
I would finish with some concrete evidence of competitive achievement with the Vale Special: —
In 1934 I drove the car up to John O’Groats and then to Monte Carlo on the Rally without losing a mark on the road section. And in this 4,000 miles (from Rickmansworth back to Rickmansworth), with two average-sized persons and their luggage up, we averaged 41.5 m.p.h., coupled with 43.5 m.p.g., with no special prior tuning whatsoever.
In 1934 or 1935 — I forget which — I also raced my Vale Special, together with two others of the same make, in the Light Car Club’s Relay Race, and each of the three cars successfully completed a trouble-free 30 laps (100 miles approximately) at an average speed of 65/66 m.p.h., the team of Vales being the only team out of the 29 teams entered in which each individual car completed its 30 scheduled laps without mishap.
Before I had, perforce, to lay up this car in 1941, I had won gold and silver medals in reliability trials, such as the “Edinburgh” and the “Land’s End,” and had seen the 100,000 figures reached on the speedometer.
The car was sold in 1945 — very foolishly — when I came out of the Forces, and if any of your readers knows the present whereabouts of Vale Special AGX 173, last heard of seven or eight years ago in the Thames Valley area, I should dearly love to hear from him.
I am, Yours, etc.,
Cedric B. E. Morgan.
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Small Sports Cars
I am surprised that there has been no mention of the probable real cause of the decline of the small British sports car. Surely this is because the term “sports car” no longer means what it did before the war?
At one time it meant a car which could be at home on all sorts of terrain, with the minimum of projections from the car’s basic shape and a performance showing more emphasis on acceleration and general “nippiness” than on high maximum speeds. Nowadays, however, it has come to mean a car with the emphasis on very high speeds — at least the magic 100 m.p.h. if possible (the engine being chosen or designed with this as the deciding factor) — with large, flowing (and vulnerable) wings, built-in headlamps (these both necessitated by the magic 100) and sometimes even bumpers and/or over-riders; in other words, a car meant for arterial roads.
There is still the small “hard core” of enthusiasts who will have only the former type, but as most car manufacturers are in business to make money there can never again be much for them to chose from. Thousands of pre-war sports cars are still being used which provide the kind of motoring they were meant for — but what will today’s 100-m.p.h.-plus car be like in 17 or 20 years’ time?
I am, Yours, etc.,
Worcester Park, Surrey.
British G.P. Challenger Wanted
At the risk of appearing very lay and very trite may I, as an average but enthusiastic supporter of motoring sport and especially of Grand Prix racing in Britain, inquire how long we are going to wait for a concerted and war-like effort to be made (by interests involved) to produce a winning Formula 1 car and racing team for Britain?
No doubt the readers of yours and other excellent journals on the subject are by no means well informed of the inside story of developments — if there are any — but recent events such as the enfolding of our own Stirling Moss into the Italian stable and the failure of the expected British efforts to come up to scratch are not indicative of any seething enthusiasm in the quarters we all look to for inspiration for the future in this matter.
The effort by the late B.R.M.A. and the current O.R.M.A. may be bearing late fruit, but surely the time has come for an all-out effort to provide adequate funds for the project of a Grand Prix team and cars, and one to keep our best drivers retained against the time the world-beater appears. When you think of the ease with which money is raised for other causes sympathetically presented and the increasing support for all racing fixtures it seems that the organisation of a crusade is lying all too passively in the wrong gloves.
Perhaps I may be permitted to present an encouraging and practical suggestion for the organisation of the needed finance (which I have always been persuaded is the major hurdle). We motorists don’t miss pennies at the moment with petrol and indeed all motoring needs at such a high premium, and collecting boxes at strategic points may well yield more that any aristocratic approach seems to have done.
Why not appeal to the people who do care about this instead of leaving the last words (or even the first) to manufacturers who openly and patiently boast that they can “sell all they can make and more” without wasting money on racing.
If a country-wide publicity campaign (led by one newspaper at least which puts on a wonderful show once a year in Northants) were to be started and every worker who could afford it (and every business man who couldn’t) were asked to contribute just what they could spare at the aforementioned strategic points (I suggest your garage, your hairdresser, your local, and so on) it would not be long before the call would be not for funds but for enthusiasts in honorary capacities to look after them and to transmit them to where they could provide the donors with something tangible to see.
Remembering the tense expectancy of the crowds at Silverstone when the B.R.M.s appeared and roared it seems to my mind to be a duty to give the increasing crowds another and more effective roar so that eventually we shall not only be proud to have had even a little part in Grand Prix success but will be encouraged to see that never again is an even partially successful but enthusiastic venture deprived of the essential monetary backing. “A Penny for the Lion,” or “A Lets Show Them” fund or even a “Help David to Kill Goliath” (with a certain David in mind) fund are ideas which show perhaps more enthusiasm than is usual in this kind of project, but then you see what I mean. If there are a hundred thousand who hope as I do, then we can move mountains — and Maseratis!
I am, Yours, etc.,
[Congratulations are due to Connaught Engineering who have at least got out their F.1 design and completed three cars well in advance of other British concerns who have been telling us for a long time of their F.1 plans. — Ed.]
* * *
The London Talbot
Mr. Scott-Moncrieff errs in reporting that all of the Khirgiz Dwarfs perished. One at least survived, and although my fingers are worn down to a mere 10 in. I have just finished a complete overhaul from starting handle to exhaust pipe of my Talbot, literally by the roadside. The cause of the overhaul arose from a memorable occasion, commented on by Joan of Arc (Part I of Henry VI, not Henry V, as stated by D. S.-M.) in the words: “There goes the Talbot, with his colours spread,
And all the troops of English after him.”
During the overhaul I had frequent occasions to agree with the Bastard of Orleans:
“I think this Talbot be a fiend of hell.”
However the job now being done, my wife now joins in:
“Sal.: Talbot, my life, my joy, again return’d!”
I am, Yours, etc.,
* * *
Come Forward, You Cad!
On July 31st I attended the Bentley Drivers’ Club meeting at Silverstone. I advertised my car for sale on the public car park (10s.) and subsequently sold it to an enthusiast.
This enthusiast left his personal card on the driving seat and I was amazed to see that someone had added a little note on the back, worded thus, “Have some manners if you must bring this atrocity to a B.D.C. meeting.” The reasons for this letter are as follows: —
(a) I apologise for my lack of manners in not owning a Bentley but I manage to derive quite a lot of pleasure and some little business out of my “atrocity.”
(b) I had something to sell and someone has bought it. Not quite the thing, old boy, of course, but it makes the world go round.
(c) Lastly, I would like to find out if the note-writer has any sincerity in him/her or if it was the vapourings of some conceited adolescent far removed from the facts and figures of normal life. You see, it omitted to sign the note.
I understand that even the Aston Martin was booed by similar members of this strange cult.
I am, Yours, etc.,
[We are against the practice of advertising cars for sale at club race meetings, although we must say no one could grumble at the price of 10s. Has not Mr. Millington heard of Warren Street, where the world also goes round? — Ed.]
* * *
The Bishop Ban —
The following letter, selected at random from hundreds received on the same subject, was sent to Mr. Bishop informing him that we were printing it in the next issue and asking whether he would care to write a reply to accompany it. Here is the letter and the reply: —
As a most appreciative reader of Motor Sport, I must comment on that amazing statement (page 366), in the excellent article “The Decline of the Small British Sports Car,” that the General Publicity Manager of the Nuffield Organisation has banned all Nuffield products from test by Motor Sport. This attitude is infantile and insulting, and calculated only to harm the Nuffield company. Infantile, in so far as it would appear to be motivated by despicable and puerile motives of revenge. Insulting, in so far as it would seem that this large example of private “enterprise” has become afflicted with bureaucratic mania, and seeks to control public opinion by dictatorship methods of extreme dubiety. Calculated to harm the Nuffield Co. in so far as to make it appear that the Nuffield Organisation make cars which they are afraid to subject to fair and intelligent criticism.
Are Nuffield products so bad that Mr. Bishop fears what may be said of them? Seemingly so. Your not-so-recent test reports of the Austin A70 and A90 merely confirm what most knowledgeable readers of Motor Sport already know, that the aforementioned two products do not conform to the highest standards of handling. One has only to watch either vehicle on a bend to confirm this. In fact, I thought the article which apparently caused all the trouble was almost eulogistic. Watching A70s and A90s in my rear-view mirror as they attempt to follow me around the somewhat fearsome twists of our Devonshire lanes fills me with acute concern for the safety of their occupants.
So that now all we can do is to peruse the road-test reports of the weekly journals, who still bask in the warmth of Mr. Bishop’s affections, and long for the day when the Nuffield Organisation undergoes a change of heart (or Publicity Manager?). Or firmly put aside any thought of purchasing any product of a firm who show such lack of confidence in their products.
As the owner of a pre-war M.G. I cannot bring myself to comment upon the TF even if the ban on so doing were not in force.
I am, Yours, etc.,
* * *
— The Bishop Reply
Thank you for your letter of August 9th, enclosing a copy of one you have received from a reader, commenting upon the refusal of the Nuffield Organisation to make cars available to Motor Sport for road-test purposes.
It must have occurred to many of your readers that the Nuffield Organisation makes its cars freely available to such journals as The Autocar, The Motor and The Light Car, whose methods of road testing and reporting are surely beyond criticism from the reader’s point of view. Without descending to unfortunate recriminations, such readers will naturally ask not what is wrong with the Nuffield Organisation and its products, but what reason the organisation had for refusing to provide Motor Sport with the same facilities. The answer is in the columns of your own magazine, where, in our view, you seem to delight in criticising everything British and praising what is foreign. We do not agree with your editorial policy and we do not intend to be intimidated by any criticism which may be levelled against us either in your editorial or correspondence columns.
I am, Yours, etc.,
R. A. Bishop,
General Publicity Manager, The Nuffield Organisation.
[Our 200,000 readers will have little difficulty in forming their opinion as to whether they consider Mr. Shields’ letter justifiable or whether to forget Nuffield products until saner counsel prevails. We cannot, however, allow the statement that Motor Sport seems to criticise “everything British” to go unchallenged, for it is not only unjust, it is abject nonsense.
We believe that engineering, like the arts, should know no frontiers, and if we praise Continental cars more frequently than British the fact is that, whereas the former are made readily available to us, the latter, in spite of our frequent requests, usually are submitted for test for a very limited time, or not at all.
We would remind Mr. Bishop that after testing the Morris Minor in 1949 we called it “a credit to its makers.” We gave “full marks to the Nuffield Organisation” in respect of the 1 1/4-litre M.G. tested in 1950, and that same year Motor Sport referred to the new TD M.G. Midget as having “roadholding, steering and cornering exceptional by any standards.” The following year the Morris-Oxford was referred to as “exceptional,” and of the 1 1/2-litre Riley we said that it was “making mouths water on the export front.” Only last month we declared the Morris Minor Traveller’s Car (submitted by a private owner) to be a honey of a vehicle, with a multitude of uses. We shall continue to report fearlessly what we observe and discover and not what we are told is true or are encouraged to print.]
* * *
There is a small point in last month’s issue I should like to clarify. You stated that the Riley engine “literally fell out” of my Morris Minor; this is hardly correct. The car admittedly arrived in the paddock (coasting!) with various con.-rods and pistons trailing on the ground. This was caused by the crankshaft breaking at 6,000 r.p.m. (in top), not by any fault in our fitting as one might gather from your report.
While writing to you I should like to extol the wonderful handling qualities of the Minor. Fitted with the Riley Nine engine the car is capable of a genuine 100 m.p.h., and reasonably sharp bends (Woodcote on the G.P. circuit) can be taken under full control at this speed. The back end never has the slightest tendency to break away except in the wet, when it is quite uncontrollable owing to wheelspin. On the straight there is no wandering at all at really high speeds and the brakes can be applied hard at 100 with complete safety. If this car could only be produced with an engine like the 1,100-c.c. Riley it should be unbeatable in the touring class.
I am, Yours, etc.,
G. H. Williamson.
Miniatures news, May 1979
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