(By means of which our roving European reporter keeps in touch with the Editor.)
I often receive letters from readers who query whether I ever read MOTOR SPORT, as I write things in my articles which are contradicted or confused in other parts of the magazine. The truth is that I do not read MOTOR SPORT until the same time as the readers, when it is published on the first of the month. The reason for this is quite simple. If I am going to read everything in the magazine as it is being produced I will have to be in the production offices almost every day, instead of once a month, and if I’m to keep attending the office my motoring would be a dull to-and-fro from Hampshire to London, with little enjoyment and not very much to write about. One week of that and I would be looking for another ‘way of life’ (I nearly said job!). Few readers probably realize that after writing a race report or an article, I never see it again until the magazine appears on the bookstalls. This is not due to a lack of interest on my part, more a sense of values and priorities. In consequence I am as keen and excited by the appearance of MOTOR SPORT on the first day of the month as the majority of readers, whereas the unfortunate people who produce the magazine are sick of the sight of it. Reading and checking the original writings of DSJ, reading and checking the first printers’ attempt at “setting” it, reading and checking the corrected “proofs”, fitting it all into pages, reading and checking the “pages” before the printing machine is finally set in motion, and then reading and checking the finished job usually leaves them very disenchanted by the magazine when it appears, and I can’t say I blame them. All this is by way of saying that the August issue had me interested and amused, as it did a number of readers, especially members of the Frazer Nash group who were on the Raid to the Alps. In my last European Letter to you I mentioned H.J. Aldington’s performances in the 1933 Alpine Trial and described them as impressive. Somehow this got printed as un-impressive. Whatever one’s feelings about Frazer Nashes and Alpine motoring H.J.’s performances could not be described as unimpressive, and some Nash section members had a new respect for the old boy, for they could not equal his times up some of the passes, even though the roads were in far better condition in 1973.
On our Rally pages I was amused by G.P.’s description of me sitting writing my letter to you in a variety of unlikely places. This is so true, and quite often while I am doing it a complete stranger will stop and say “Writing a letter to the Editor?” These people will often say how they are complete strangers to me but feel they know me and feel to be part of the “family”. It never ceases to fascinate me the way MOTOR SPORT readers appear in the most unlikely places and at the most unlikely times, and there is always this feeling of being one of a “family”. Having a copy of MOTOR SPORT with you is tantamount to having a passport to enthusiasm and the sport of motoring and motor cars.
All this non-active motoring writing is occasioned by the fact that I am sitting on a boat in mid-Channel heading for France, with the E-type down below, this trip being my return to the mainland after my “summer-holiday”. When the British Grand Prix is at Silverstone I am fortunate in being able to arrive a week early and take part at the VSCC Shelsley Walsh meeting, and stay on a week after and take part at the VSCC Silverstone race meeting, and what a joy it was to attend that Silverstone meeting and spend a whole day without being offered a “sticker” or “decal” or be asked to accept free hospitality by a PR man. It was a nice change to spend one’s own money on “messing about with old cars” and buy a friend a drink with no strings attached. I for one would not miss commercialism and sponsorship if it disappeared from Grand Prix racing, though there are many who would.
Returning to G.P.’s Rally Review last month I was interested and disturbed to read his description of the measures taken by the Austrians to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease in the area south of Vienna, for these disinfection pads were obviously what I mistakenly took to be anti-speed blocks at the entrances to villages. Not knowing about the cattle infection in that part of Europe I must say I was very puzzled by these “traps” across the roads, and equally puzzled by the fact that they were not universal throughout Austria. I had crossed Austria from the north west to Vienna, then south west to Zeltweg and finally left by a westerly route across the mountains to Innsbruck, so I covered Austria pretty thoroughly on that trip and only found these “pads” south of Vienna. I assumed that the idea had stemmed from the capital city, but was still uncertain about their function when I saw the one at the entrance to the Osterreichring, for it was very temporary, with boards and straw. I think we can rest assured that Austria is not anti-motoring, merely very pro-farming, and that these traps will disappear once the danger of the cattle disease is past. Thank you G. P., I should have read you sooner.
There was a certain amount of umbrage among some readers last month because MOTOR SPORT did not cover the Le Mans “Retrospective” at which there were two races, one for pre-war cars and one for post-war cars.
To my mind the pre-war or vintage and P.V.T. effort was rather a bad joke as regards being an historical re-enactment of the history of Le Mans, for that is surely what a “Retrospective” is supposed to be. If we are going to run races merely for old cars, then by all means build special old cars specifically to win the races, but if the event is supposed to be part of an historical pageant and a “looking back” at things as they used to be, then there is no place for “specials” that bear little resemblance to historical fact, and the first three cars to finish in the 1923-39 section of the Le Mans “Retrospective” were cars “built to win VSCC races”, all perfectly acceptable in a Vintage Sports Car Club free-for-all race, but not acceptable as representing the history of the Le Mans 24-hour race.
This interest in old car racing has been a British speciality for so long now that everyone looks to us for guidance and encouragement, therefore I feel that we should do our utmost to provide the right sort of guidance and encouragement. The French, the Italians and the Germans are interested in holding events for old cars, but do not necessarily know the scene like we do in Great Britain and too much enthusiasm from some of our competitors could easily frighten some organisers and put them off holding another event. Some European organisations are quite happy to have a miscellaneous collection of old cars at their event, even though they are not representative of anything specific, but I feel that it is up to us to guide their ideas the right way. If a Rally, a race or a gathering is organised to commemorate an event on its 25th or 50th anniversary then we should see to it that the cars we send are as honest and original as possible, and not a collection of “Silverstone VSCC Racers”, even if the organisers do think they are nice.
Earlier I mentioned that I was setting off for the mainland, writing this letter on the boat, which is where it started, though it is being finished off in an hotel in Germany. It had been my intention to cross the Channel on the Hovercraft, but it broke down so I was transferred to a good, steady old ship.
As there was some sort of strike going on at the Dover dock things were not flowing as smoothly as they should have been and I was very lucky to get on the boat at all. The Dover Harbour Board were very reasonable and were handing out an explanatory leaflet in English, French, German and Dutch. The leaflet told us we were being unavoidably delayed “due to industrial action”; I do wish they would use more simple words and say “the workers are on strike”, because to me the word “action” means that something is happening, which is the complete reverse of the truth, for when there is a strike, nothing happens and everything comes to a grinding halt. It is “action” that we need. However, the four-language explanation was most encouraging and raised my hopes for our off-shore island in its European outlook. It helped to pass the time reading the same thing in different languages and it was fascinating to try and pronounce Shipping Operators in Dutch, which is “schipvaart-maatschappij”.
Recently I have been re-reading that motoring classic “Ten Years of Motors and Motor Racing, 1896-1906” by Charles Jarrott and I would recommend it to anyone who is getting disenchanted with motor racing as they get older. They will find that little has changed, for Jarrott was getting disenchanted in those early days because the sport was going out of motor racing and commercial interests were becoming oppressive. As I motored off from Calais, using some small back-roads rather than the main routes I realised, like Jarrott explained all those years ago, that it was the open road ahead that was the real fascination of motoring; even if you know the way and have covered it many times before, the inviting road stretching ahead still fascinates and attracts and you have to drive on to see what lies ahead, which seems a good enough point at which to stop writing, otherwise I might miss something that lies ahead on the Open Road.