Letters from Readers, September 1970

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BLMH Service

Sir,

I always read with interest your series, “Fragments on Forgotten Makes”. If the standard of present-day BLMH spares service is anything to go by, then all post-1960 vehicles manufactured by this organisation should surely qualify, as it has been made increasingly obvious to me that once BLMH have sold one a vehicle, they choose to forget that perhaps one will require the odd spare part on some future occasion.

I own three BLMH motor cars. A Wolseley 16/60, an 850 Mini and a Jaguar 340. I now list the spare parts I have required since January of this year for each of these vehicles, and my experiences in trying to obtain them from no less than five separate main BLMH dealers.

Mini: Hinged rear registration number backing plate. Unobtainable from all five dealers. Rear Number Plate illuminating light. Obtained from fourth dealer approached, over 50 miles away. Wheel studs and nuts. Unobtainable from all dealers. Throttle and choke cables. Unobtainable for three weeks. In disgust, I modified motorcycle parts! Passenger side door hinges. Obtained after five weeks.

Wolseley: Rubber gear-lever cover. Unobtainable. New speedometer cable. Obtained from a Ford dealer (? ? ?) after all five BLMH dealers had failed to provide one. Heater-hose. Unobtainable. I had to purchase a used one from a breakers yard.

Jaguar: Air-cleaner element. Unobtainable from three Jaguar dealers. Bought from a motor-factors at considerable cost and inconvenience. Rubber rear-bumper mountings. Obtained after four weeks delay.

Some weeks ago, after a slight scratch had been made down the side of my Wolseley by a careless parker, I managed, much to my surprise, to obtain a small pot of Old English White touching-up paint from the first BLMH dealership I tried. When I compared the paint with the colour of the car I was quite horrified to find that it bore not the least resemblance to the original colour. Two more pots of paint were purchased from separate BLMH dealers with the same lamentable result. I finally obtained some Skoda paint from a friend, which proved ideal.

One of my previous cars was a Saab 96. This car had many shortcomings, but I can say with all truth (usual disclaimers) that I was always able to obtain any spare part I required for this car immediately.

Needless to say, I will never buy another BLMH vehicle, and I suggest that before BLMH introduce any more new models they make an earnest effort to improve the totally inadequate spares service they offer at present. Considering the very high prices one has to pay for any new vehicle from their range I would have thought that BLMH would have done something to improve matters in this direction. Indeed, from the point of view of price their range is hardly even competitive any longer with imported vehicles, and even British patriotism can wear thin. Sorry, BLMH, mine is threadbare!

Wisbech.

Edward Disley

* * *

Experiences with a Bristol

Sir,

In May, 1955, in an article entitled “A Little Motoring”, you described a journey from London to John O’Groats and back in a Bristol 404, in which you said : “The open road average for six hours came to nearly 55 1/2 m.p.h., not deducting the refuelling or shopping stops.” This was, of course, achieved before motorways, when the Great North Road was more aptly named the Little North Lane. The article created some correspondence in subsequent issues of Motor Sport, for at the conclusion of the article the Bristol 404 was compared to the 41-litre Bentley to the disadvantage of the latter.

Like many Bristol owners, I was, and still am, convinced that the Bristol is a better motor in many ways than the Bentley, and yet at the time the Bristol being a “new” car it was difficult to justify such an opinion or to provide convincing facts to compare with those of Mr. Arnold Lloyd, who wrote in the August Motor Sport of 1955 following your article : “I am left in no doubt whatever that the Bentley stands up incomparably better to a prolonged thrashing, and here I am thinking not only of engines but of steering joints and transmissions.”

I should now like to add a little data to keep the records straight. My 1956 Bristol 405, which has been in my possession for 11 years, has now completed 298,000 miles to my personal knowledge, and may well have done more as I cannot obtain accurate information on the distance recorded with the previous owner. During this tremendous mileage new bearings have been required in the gearbox four times, but the only other work so far carried out apart from normal maintenance is as follows :

. . .

The engine was stripped last week at Bristol Cars, and I enclose a copy letter detailing the wear on the main crankshaft journals which varies between and 1/2 and 1 1/2 thou. and the big-end journals from nil and 1/2 thou. and I quote “very good condition apart from slight scoring— will not require attention beyond polishing”. The above surely proves that the Bristol is one of the best motor cars built, and Mr. Lloyd when writing in 1955 need have had no fears that the Bristol would not last as well as his Bentley, although the 405 costs £3,586 against an “S”-type at £4,943.

May I take this opportunity of thanking all those good people at Bristol’s for making such a reliable car which has given me many years of wonderful motoring and also add a tribute to Duckhams who make the 20/50 oil that has served the engine so well in nearly 300,000 miles.

Coventry.

T. H. Wareham.

* * *

Long-Duration Testing

Sir,

Referring to your article on the 170 Alfa Romeo last month and on the insistance by Alfa that you kept the car to five figures, this duration testing is surely the only thorough way of assessing a car. When considering buying a car one always, having read road-tests and specification, asks oneself how long will that performance last, what life can be expected from tyres, brakes, clutch, etc., etc.?

Over the last six years I have owned three medium-capacity estate cars : VW Variant, Cortina 1200 and Volvo 121 and, having run each of them for more than 50,000 miles, I think I can make a fair assessment of their merits.

The VW was the only car bought new and suffered numerous faults and three breakdowns, the Cortina carried the biggest payload and was extremely good value for money. I still have the Volvo which, in spite of a poor service network, has such reliability, strength and economy that it is certainly my “best buy”.

Naturally, sir, it would be impossible for you to do extensive mileages in every car you road-test, but it would be interesting to hear from readers who can compare similarly classed cars over large mileages.

Steyning.

David Humphreys.

* * *

Camping at Brands Hatch

Sir,

Taking into consideration what traffic conditions are like before and after race meetings, the easiness of being able to inspect the actual cars in the paddock on practice days and the Formula Three races on the Friday, my wife and I decided to camp for the whole of the British Grand Prix weekend. We were surprised how many other enthusiasts had come to the same decision, for in the one field we were in there must have been at least 1,500/2,000 people all told. I would estimate there were about 3,500 campers at Brands over the
weekend, of which, using our site as guide, 45% were foreigners— mainly American.

The only facility near our site was a cold water tap next to the paddock entrance gate which reluctantly passed water at the rate of one gallon per ten minutes—nothing else! The circuit was closed and guarded after 7 p.m. so therefore we were not allowed to use its toilets; the alternative was to drive miles to the local pub, or, failing that, to wait for darkness and stick your backsides tentatively into a hedgerow and hope that there weren’t any stinging nettles around.

Apart from anything else, surely there was an opportunity here for the organisers to make some more money (they’ve tried everything else!) to pay for “the most expensive race ever staged in this country”— none of the campers, I am sure, would have minded paying, say, 2s. 6d. per tent, 5s. per caravan pitching fees, if each site had a “portaloo” with a couple of external taps and a cafe on wheels serving hot snacks (not just hot-dogs) even if you had to pay 2s. for a small cup of orange as you did on the circuit!

Just think, if you get these numbers of people staying for four days (and paying 10s. entrance fees for practice) without any facilities whatsoever, can you imagine how many would be prepared to come if these were provided for them?

William Andrews, CBE, Chairman of the RAC, said in an article printed in the race programme : “We welcome our overseas visitors today . .” I assume he included foreign race fans as well as foreign drivers in such a welcome! I had altogether about three hours’ sleep on Friday night due to the Americans, who camped next to us, arguing about who’s turn it was to queue up at the water tap.

Come on, organisers, wake up, this is 1970.

Wickford.

J. P. Leighton.

* * *

Is British Best?

Sir,

I think your excitement at the recent Conservative victory has upset your normally balanced views. Motor Sport has been the only British magazine capable of distinguishing between fact and fancy when comparing British and Continental cars. This balanced view has now been swept away in a wave of pro-British nationalism following the election. Just because a Conservative Government is now blundering along it does not make everything British good. After all, the two products you go overboard for were designed under the influence of a Labour Government. Also where did the great Rolls-Royce come in the World Cup Rally?

Let us calmly look at the two products you mention :

(1) The Range Rover

Merely an up-to-date Land Rover, in spite of what the advertisements say. The amazing thing is that it took Rover so long to cop on. The Jeep Wagoner, a similar type of vehicle, has been on the scene since the early fifties. International produce a similar type of vehicle as do both Datsun and Toyopet. If you knew Africa, East, South-East and South, at all you would know that the Land Rover has been losing customers to these other more advanced vehicles for a long time. True, it does have a permanent four-wheel-drive, which is an advance over the others, but then after so long in arriving it should have some outstanding features. The load platform on the Range Rover is also inferior in capacity to the main competitors. I don’t doubt that the Range Rover is an extremely well designed and built vehicle, but it is not a great British invention or breakthrough.

(2) The Triumph Stag

I personally have a great admiration for Triumph, especially since being taken over by Leyland. This admiration is based on the quality of their present range plus the respect engendered by the first Vanguard and early Triumph sports cars from the TR2 onwards. I cannot, however, go overboard for the new Stag as you appear to do. I have seen it briefly and read about it. I hope it will be a success, but will it be able to face Continental competition? The 2.5 P I saloon is no match for a BMW, for example, although both are in the same class. According to the figures the 3-litre V8 overhead-cam engine produces 145 b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m., yet Ford’s 3-litre V6 push-rod job can manage 144 b.h.p. at only 4,750 r.p.m., so the engine is nothing to write home about. Indeed, Daimler’s 2 1/2-litre V8 was producing 140 b.h.p. ten years ago! Will the Stag be a match for the BMW 2800, a Porsche 911 or the Alfa Romeo Montreal? How will it stand up to the new V6 Citroen? I sincerely hope it will be a worthy match for them, but why start the fanfare before it has proved itself?

Lord Stokes once said he wanted people to buy British for no other reason than that it was the best available. I agree with that sentiment. Let’s keep blind nationalistic pride out of it. Before you go rushing into a bout of British Pride again let me ask you to think of the disgrace that is British Ulster today!

Dublin

K. P. Fenix.

[We try, if not to keep politics out of this journal, because motoring and politics are today inseparable, to say as little as is expedient about them. The Conservatives may seem to Mr. Fenix to be blundering; they seem to be getting on well enough in an exceedingly difficult job, to us. What Mr. Fenix loses sight of is the fact that the Editorial praising Rover and Triumph for their new models was written before the result of the General Election was known. Moreover, we presume it is not out of place to praise Rover for trying to compete in a growing market with America and Japan, with a product that has obvious innovations and merits of its own? As to the Stag, we did remark that it remains to be seen whether it will beat Mercedes-Benz commercially . . .

Ulster used to be noted for more motor racing freedom than any place in Britain and we are only sorry that petrol in bombs instead of racing cars has been the recent preoccupation. Other than that, we know nothing of Ulster but will hope to take a look at it when war there terminates, as happily it appears to be doing,—Ed.]

* * *

Sad Briton in Canada

Sir,

Since my Motor Sport is affected by the vagaries of sea mail I have only just seen your road-test of the Maverick and the subsequent reply by Lancashire Cowboy.

W.B.’s attitude to Detroit tin ware is not typical of the average European and was, until recently, mine. I have lived in Canada for six years and during that time have owned a Chevrolet compact convertible, a Ford Mustang convertible and a vast Chevrolet Station wagon. In each case these cars have started and run happily at temperatures ranging between 30 below and 106° above. They have been driven on motorways endlessly at 80 m.p.h, or along unmade roads in a cloud of dust trying to maintain 60 m.p.h. so that the hopping from rut to rut (across the roads and caused by spring thawing) is smoothed out—you think Belgian pave something! All three of these cars have had the unfortunate suspension and brakes associated with American cars: even though the Chev. convertible and the Mustang had stiffened suspension.

Because of this and driven by my nostalgia for assorted MGs and TRs that I owned before leaving England I bought a TR4A with 12,000 miles on the clock from a friend. Basically the car is the same as my previous TR3A and so one is aware of all handling faults – your fulsome correspondence on the subject indicates that most owners are endeared to them. My criticism is of the ghastly, shoddy, rapidly deteriorating finish and engineering of the car. It certainly will not start readily in winter – even freezing point is nearly too much for it and the Lucas battery failed in 18 months, though the climate where I now live is similar to the Scilly Isles. The lights go on and off spontaneously due presumably to the cheapness and crudeness of the various connections. The car is a mass of rattles and the doors have to be forcibly prised open or slammed shut – having dropped. The hood cannot be closed without assistance due to skimping and the tonneau cover can’t be done up at all, again due to skimping.

When the silencer disintegrated at 20,000 miles the local agency thought this was normal for a car of this power. (My Mustang put out 225 horses but the silencer managed to survive it.) The clutch failed at 27,000 miles and had to be replaced. The only components I have admiration for are the ordinary Goodyear tyres fitted at the factory. These are just being replaced at 28,000 miles.

Being British and owning this rubbishy affair, I have asked other owners of English cars about their problems. They are manifold. Mostly the components failing the new ones, they simply don’t last: they leak, they rattle and so on. But the greatest grievance is the price of the spares. My silencer cost £12, my clutch unit £30, whereas a vast silencer for an American car can be bought for £5. I also have British newspapers and read the periodic eulogies to the motor industry, and the increases in export figures. Beware of delusion; certainly the figures go up – after all, total demand is increasing – but the Japanese are simply cleaning up the market in the USA. Their products are well made, easy and cheap to repair and, as in the case of the Datsun 240Z or Mazda 110, far superior to any European offering at the same price, and yet ten years ago the British motor trade had the entire market. In Canada they had preferential tariffs, and all over the Continent they had immense goodwill. All of this has been thrown away by cheap advertising, apathy, poor delivery and expensive spares.

Most of your readers will say that I am generalising from the particular. This is not the case; I am speaking of generalities and using my own car as a particular example – an example that, since I am English, saddens me. After all, every new Toyota, Mazda or Datsun I see here (and there are thousands of them) is presumably one week’s work less for someone in Coventry.

Gibbsons, B.C., Canada.

Terence Webb.

* * *

Letter from Europe

Sir,

In your “Letter from Europe” in the July issue of Motor Sport you mention the isolated stretch of motorway in Belgium, where Major Gardner drove the record-breaking MG. I happened to be there with Harry Herkuleyns at the same time when he broke some Belgian records with his MG K3.

The reason why the Belgians built this stretch of motorway starting and finishing in the fields, is a very typical one. During the war Belgium was, of course, occupied by the Germans – the Germans wanted a quick communication between the German Autobahnen and the coast; consequently they instructed the Belgians to build such a motorway all through Belgium, from the German border to the coast. Not having the intention to follow the German orders in the quickest way, the Belgians started to build the motorway in the fields, so that she would be of no use until completely finished. As the German occupation ended long before the motorway was finished, the stretch in the field was neglected during many years, being an ideal road for record-breaking.

Many years later the motorway was finished all the same, now being communication between Ostend and the German Autobahn near Aachen.

Hamm, Luxembourg.

A. F. Loyens.

* * *

What They Want

Sir,

I should like to congratulate you on keeping your magazine’s four wheels fairly and squarely on the road in the light of the nameless rags that have been “doing their things” with bugs, customising, back seat love play and how to make your 850 c.c. Mini look like a road racer for £5.

It is refreshing to find a magazine where one can read sensible (well, usually), conservative and yes – square articles written in English, healthy discussion and argument in readers’ letters and the best “For Sale” column I have seen.

However—here it comes—I should personally like to see more written about the vintage/veteran cars. Possibly something on the lines of the White Elephant series but on more well-known marques such as Riley, Rover, Healey, Austin, Morris. So often one reads that such and such is for sale, yet one does not know what it looks or performs like.

By the way, why do you have to be photographed standing next to a car you have just tested? You look like one of those “white hunters” with his kill. No offence but I can’t help but feel the car is usually pretty enough anyway.

Lower Tysoe.

Stephen Grimsley.

[If the Lotus 7 picture is intended, I can only say the car nearly killed me—not literally, of course, but I took some punishment. I will endeavour not to appear again for at least a month—and would assure this correspondent, and the many others, all of whose letters cannot be published, that we are always interested to learn which articles appeal and which are of lesser interest.—Ed.]

* * *

The Motorist’s Lot

Sir,

The correspondent in your July issue mentions irrelevant questions pursued by the police following breaking the speed limit whilst passing through a radar trap. He may be interested to know that these are not the only questions that may be demanded.

In December, 1969, my wife committed a similar offence. She was charged by the officers (she has never learned to smile nicely and wriggle in her mini-skirt at the most necessary moments) and in due course the summons arrived. She pleaded guilty (why push up the fine!) and later received the appropriate form requesting £7 for her first criminal offence, plus her licence for endorsement. However, with this was a tatty “nth” carbon copy addressed personally to my wife from the Clerk of the Court. This confirmed that she was now a criminal and also ordered (not requested) her to advise the court in writing of her age and, not occupation, but sex. Failure to do so would result in a fine not exceeding £50.

A rather pointed letter was received by the court requesting a reason for wishing to know my wife’s age (possibly she had wiggled well!) and demanding an apology within seven days for the demand to know her sex. By return of post I received a letter notably lacking in apologies and advising me that the Clerk was required to ask for my wife’s date of birth and sex under the provisions of the Vehicle and Driving Licences Act, 1969. The form sent was “in accordance with Rule 3 and the Schedule to the Magistrates’ Courts (Form’s) (Amendment) Rules, 1969”.

I wrote in return (being rather short of £50 at the time) advising the court of my wife’s age but glossing over the question of her sex.

We have now changed our car, drive in dark glasses no matter how dull the weather, cause traffic jams by always driving well within the speed limit, cringe back in our seats every time a policeman passes, and have requested the Editor to withhold our names and address.

We are going to name our first child after the Clerk to the Court and the second after our local Chief Inspector of Police. We’ve even thought about requesting the latter to be a godparent. Even criminals like us like to be at peace with the law sometimes.

Tunbridge Wells, Kent.

A. J. C.

[Name and address supplied—Ed.]

* * *

The Bug

Sir,

I share your disappointment with the layout of the Reliant Bug, and agree that the right place for the single wheel is at the back. I would, however, opt for front-wheel-drive and about two-thirds of the total weight carried on these wheels, which would do all the driving and most of the braking and cornering. Apart from the obvious Mini layout, numerous rear engine/gearbox units could simply be moved to the front end of the car. Likely units would be Imp, VW or even 2.2-litre Porsche!

Hillman Imps and Lotus 62s seem to corner fairly rapidly on three wheels so road-holding should be reasonable provided that the outside wheels on any corner can be kept vertical. This is not too hard at the front but presents problems when the rear wheel has to be the outside wheel on left- and right-hand corners. The camber change on a normally mounted wheel is equal to the body roll, but the use of two pairs of hydrolastic units would give two rear “springs” having a deflection differential proportioned to that at the front which is a measure of body roll. By mounting a rear axle beam on these units it would be possible to “sense” body roll through the front suspension and transmit an opposite roll to the rear axle beam, so keeping the rear wheel upright. The same results could be achieved using mechanical linkages between front and rear axles albeit at the expense of considerable complication.

If such a device could be made to look something like a Morgan of old then it would be the sort of vehicle to have appealed to me in the days when I was 17-25. I might even be seduced at the ripe old age of 35.

Marlow Bottom.

Gary Bristow.

* * *

A Gilbern Owner

Sir,

Whilst we are singing the praises of the MG-B let us not forget the Gilbern 1800 GT which, whilst enjoying the reliability and longevity of the MG, has a panache and charm all its own.

The later 1800 GTs employed the MG-B engine, gearbox and axle in a Gilbern-designed semi-space frame of square-section tube, with a four-seater glassfibre body. It was at one of the early Racing Car Shows that I first saw this little car and its workmanlike design and appearance immediately appealed to me.

It was not until November, 1967, however, that I was able to purchase a 1965 model from the Ace Motor Co. of Kensington, with 50,000 miles on the clock. Although obviously well used, its long-legged gait, quick steering and marvellous road-holding delighted me. It was noisy, however (the exhaust system was non-standard, I believe), and in August, 1968, it was exchanged for 1964 model with about 25,000 miles on the speedometer. This was the actual car road-tested by Motor Sport and when I bought it it had a balanced engine, high-lift camshaft, 10-to-1 compression and a refurbished interior to 1966 standards. It was also very silent.

During this winter I have had a close-ratio gearbox and low-ratio (4.2 : 1) axle fitted by the Ace Motor Co. It is now capable of speeds (corrected) of about 110 m.p.h. at about 5.500 r.p.m. in overdrive top, so there is obviously more to come. Before the axle ratio was lowered it would do 70 m.p.h. on the close-ratio second. It will also trickle quietly through traffic without fluffing or oiling a plug and will out-accelerate most things without effort. It returns 26 m.p.g. all the time and will carry three people in comfort, four on occasion. And it doesn’t corrode – and still has a fashionable and pleasing shape.

The enthusiasm engendered by these little cars, as well as by their bigger brethren the Genie and Invader, has led to the formation of a Gilbern Owners’ Club, which in about eight months has grown to a membership of over 50 and has a very active programme of social and soon, we hope, some minor sporting events.

Totteridge.

J. Classey.

* * *

Fiat Reliability

Sir,

The editor is clearly impressed that the Alfa Romeo 1750 should give him 7,000 trouble-free miles. But so it should. My Fiat 124 has now done 17,000 miles in ten months, including two 3,000-mile trips to the Continent – one of which came when it was a week old!

Trouble? Oh, yes – one puncture, blocked washers and spongy, but still effective, brakes. Oh, and Fiat at Brentford decided of their own accord to replace the clutch release bearing at 12,000 free of charge. I hadn’t noticed anything!

Add to its reliability and outstanding service, comfortable room for five, a boot big enough for the “Queen Mary” and a performance from its 1,197 engine better, quieter and smoother than most British 1600s and you have the reason why Fiat are selling so well. Still, before I buy a 124 Sport perhaps I had better try the Alfa on your recommendation.

Richmond.

C. Wilson-Brown.

* * *

Filling Up

Sir,

I am a long-time reader of Motor Sport and a long-time admirer of the Editor’s comprehensive and detailed knowledge of mechanical things.

I am writing to ask the Editor, or perhaps a reader knows, why it is so difficult for a motorist to receive a fill of petrol without having a spoutful poured over the paintwork of his car in England. All the petrol companies spend large sums of money promoting their products, but seem to care nothing about the standard of service on the petrol station forecourt.

I personally do not want my screen cleaned or my tyre pressures checked, but I would like all the petrol in the tank.

It is interesting to see the number of cars in London with great greasy streaks running down from the filler orifice.

I have motored in Europe on many occasions and I have never had a drop of fuel spilled on my car when refuelling there.

London, W8.

R. Pickering.

* * *

Think again, Lord Stokes

Sir,

A representative of the British Motor Industry recently proclaimed that the increasingly large chunk of the British market that goes to foreign manufacturers is due to the number of strikes that hold up production in this country.

Who does he think he’s kidding?

Far more relevant is the shoddy standard of finish of British cars and things like built-in water traps along the joints in the bodywork.

Owners of Triumph Heralds will know what I mean. Prospective owners beware! If you notice rust appearing when the car is not quite two years old but has done 23,000 miles, the Zone Correspondence Controller of Standard Triumph Sales Ltd. will reply, I quote: “Whilst we do sympathise with you over the rectifications that will now be necessary to the car, it is now two years old” (from manufacture possibly but not from purchase) “and has covered 23,000 miles, and as such is totally outside the terms of guarantee.”

I admit I have been lucky in that the car has been mechanically trouble-free.

Arundel.

P. D. Vickers (Miss)

* * *

Photo Coverage

Sir,

I feel I must write and complain about the lack of photographs of the British Grand Prix. This, I feel, would be your chance to cover the race to the full, with your excellent reports, and then back it up with plenty of photographs of the cars during the race. You even managed some pictures for the Formula One meetings at Brands and Silverstone earlier this year. So please let’s have some pictures of the Grand Prix. Also I would like to congratulate you on your American Comment and also Reflections.

Whitehaven, Cumberland.

David Steele

[The final copy date for the colour section is the 12th of the month, the British GP fell on the 18th.–Ed.]

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