Letters from Readers, September 1979

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Healthy Formula one

Sir,

Have you noticed that the face of Grand Prix racing is changing? Only a couple of years or so ago, darkness was all that could be seen and, as we all remember only too well, power struggles, disagreement over petty rules, stagnation of design, inspiration, money and the pre-eminence of safety matters all combined to give the “sport” a distinctly sordid look – enough to send any racing veteran, whether competitor or spectator scuttling back to safety in the past. These things still go on, of course, but, to the average spectator, at least, they are far less in the limelight, and Formula One is now as healthy as it ever was. Where has the stimulus for all this come from? Not from the”old hands” at the (modern) game, for sure, but from two fairly new sources – at least to the 1970s: from the big commercial manufacturers, notably Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Renault, and also from the new young driving talent, mainly Italian and French, but also from South America, with the brightest star of all from Eastern Canada, the incredible young Gilles Villeneuve. [Not to mention Australia! – Ed.]

These two factors need to work together, of course, because, no matter what James Hunt says, a good car with a bad driver is no more likely to win races than a good driver with a bad car (and winning is now the name of the game again, is it not?). James Hunt was, of course, of the “political school”, whose colourful but controversial career cannot, even in the eyes of his supporters, be said to have exactly done the sport much good. Even in his retirement, he brings sourness to the circuits (the BBC should recognise that a successful sportsman does not necessarily make a good sports commentator) and even if he does think that Jean-Pierre Jarier is “a pig-ignorant idiot” or that Jacky Ickx is “suffering from old age” (BBC British Grand Prix commentary) he has no business to tell the whole of the television-watching public of his own personal dislikes.

As we all know, of course, the British Grand Prix itself was finally and – with condolences to Alan Jones – deservedly won by Clay Regazzoni (what did Hunt say, not long ago, about Regazzoni being “over the hill”, then?). This is a symbolic victory, which links the spirit of the past with that of the present, for Regazzoni is a man of a past era, who treats motor racing, business though it is, as fun, first and foremost, and the risks (while not being irresponsible in any way over the matter) are things one must learn to live with. In a way, perhaps, the new breed of Grand Prix driver is more professional than the likes of Regazzoni, but of the unpleasant and unsporting political buffeting which has recently been unfortunately predominant in the top echelons of the sport, they take no real part – their business is motor racing, and so they simply get on and do it, like the drivers of old. Regazzoni’s victory thus symbolises the return of top class motor racing from being a political business to being a real sport once again; there is a bright future once more, and Regazzoni himself, my own personal favourite, can do doubt expect to take some honours in the welcome renewal of Formula One motoring sport. Now then, what about taking out those nasty and dangerous chicanes at Monza . . ?

Many thanks for a traditionally excellent, always sane, and usually well-balanced magazine.

Shrewsbury

Peter M. Messenger

Arbitrary Measures

Sir,

With the petrol crisis growing in proportion, there is an issue which poses a real threat to owners of larger vehicles (I speak as the owner of a 4-litre Daimler DC27 and a 3 1/2-litre Armstrong Siddley Sapphire). A recent report in the press indicated that France is imposing a massive £600 supplementary road fund tax yearly on vehicles of above 17 h.p. capacity. There needs to be the strongest possible objection by all motoring organisations to arbitrary measures of this kind.

If I choose to drive 300 mile at 10 m.p.g. in my Daimler instead of 900 miles at 30 m.p.g. in a smaller car, that seems to me a matter for my own choice and preference. Rationing should be by quantity of fuel rather than by engine size. If you drive a large car, you may have to accept that your ration of fuel will take you less far. But it is not the Government’s duty, in a free society, to tell you what size of car you may or may not drive. We shall have to very careful that the EEC does not impose the French ruling on the rest of us. It could happen very suddenly, and the EEC has a cunning way of springing these things on you by stealth!

Port Erin, I of M

(Dr.) Martin Pulbrook

Pity the poor motorist

Sir,

I dare say that you will have noticed that in the great fuel panic of the last few months the “target for tonight” has been, as usual, the poor motorist.

Hardly anything has been said, certainly not in the Commons, about the greatest fuel-waster of all time, the scheduled air-liner. A few months ago I went to meet my wife at Manchester Airport and while I was waiting a Boeing 707 arrived from America. Twenty-six people alighted from the huge gas-gobbler.

A friend of mine recently flew back from Toronto on a 747 Jumbo on a scheduled flight. he told me he was astonished to find that he was one of only 77 passengers on this vast 350-seater aircraft. The stewardess told him that these flights were rarely more than half filled; and the Government has the cheek to suggest that we shouldn’t drive about alone in our four-seater cars! I suggest that the motoring organisations should get together and lobby Parliament to do something about this kind of lunacy, instead of meekly accepting all the stick we are given.

Look at it this way. How many people use scheduled air-liners compared with the number who drive cars?

A democracy is supposed to be governed for the benefit of the majority. The government should perhaps take a look at the figures and think of them as numbers of votes at the next election.

Stockport

R. Sandbach

P.S. On a double crossing of the Atlantic a Boeing 747 uses as much fuel as the average motorist uses in 20 years. That’s how bad it is.

The fastest road car

Sir,

Before my “entrant” Mr. R.R.C.Walker takes up his quill over your mention that his Delahaye finished “second in that contest in 1939 at the Track to decide which was the fastest road car” in your report of the Brooklands Reunion, may I scuttle in to try and put the record straight for your readers?

I am aware that Track chat would have said the Delahaye finished first but that Hugh Hunter’s Alfa Romeo was the moral winner in the contest to establish which was the fastest road car in Britain – a contest prompted by an earlier Autocar scribe, John Dugdale, now with British Leyland in the USA.

In fact, according to a tome open beside my IBM Selectric, (“This History of the Brooklands Motor Course” by the eminent William Boddy) Arthur Dobson in the Delahaye made the best of the start in the first of the two “heats” – one over 3 ½ laps of the Campbell circuit, the other over 5 laps of the Mountain circuit – but was beaten by Hunter’s 2.9 Alfa by just 0.8 sec. The race over the Mountain circuit started with excitement when the Delahaye caught fire and Dobson leapt out while extinguishers quelled the blaze which probably came from the carbs – according to Rob it still does that from time to time! Dobson stormed back into the race with a vengeance, catching and passing the leader (Ian Connell’s Darracq) and winning comfortably. The Alfa Romeo? It had stopped on the first lap with a gearbox problem. Dobson was judged winner on aggregate winning a prize of £50 and a painting of the car by F. Gordon Crosby.

I’m sure Mr. Walker you will want to know how you manage to class his car as second in that event 40 years ago, when, by your own pen in 1957, you describe the events as I have recounted them!

Don’t stop wielding the whip just because you inadvertently proved yourself to be in error . . . and remind the readers that old motoring books are still the least expensive form of vintage motoring enjoyment . . .

East Horsley

Eoin S. Young

“We will make a V8 engine”

Sir,

I was more than surprised to read David L. Ghandi reporting that the Ford V8 engine was always a harsh, rumbly unit, but the 33 h.p. V8 was economical and popular.

In 1929 no car manufacturer was making a medium-priced car with a V8 engine stuffed under the bonnet. Ford sales against Chrysler, GM and others were on the wane, Chevrolet were making splendid progress with the sixes which inspired Henry Ford to go from four cylinders to a V8.

Fred Thoms, Ford’s right-hand man, was told “Go and get what V8 engines you can of different makes and let’s see where we can beat ‘em.”

Ford had a reasoning that when a bolt was wanted to join two things together it could be made as one; so it was that the V8 engine block was cast as one piece. Ford’s cast alloy crankshaft was hailed as a masterpiece.

What a lovely engine the V8 became, what lessons were learnt in its manufacture.

In 1930 the first experimental engine was finished; in 1931 it was put into a model IB chassis or, more to the point, an A chassis which was called a B.

The engine had its troubles. First the water pumps were put in the heads. These were trying to pull hot water from the top of the engine instead of pumping cold water in from the bottom to assist the syphoning. The 90° V8 had flat cylinder heads, heat-treated aluminium alloy pistons, counterweight crankshaft running in three main bearings, con-rods running side by side on the crank pins, the usual type of well-tried Ford mushroom end valves, non-adjusting, heavy rubber engine mountings holding the cylinder block and flywheel housing, all cast in a single unit which resulted in a short compact crank.

This assembly produced about 65 b.h.p. It was light by comparison and took up little room, it would push the car along at 75 m.p.h. It had not been in production long before I tested a car in 1936 which would do a good 87 m.p.h.

The engine was quiet; walking past a car with its V8 running one had to listen hard to know if the engine was running or not. It more than anything “sold” the car, so much so that a Dr. Gandhi of Henley, who was something of a car enthusiast in those days, bought one after being inspired and introduced to it by Joe Hill, the manager of Chatfields in the Thirties. Now the V8 22 was a mess, it gulped up oil, plugs constantly oiled-up, it was forever wanting piston rings; all in all a flop, a mechanic’s nightmare.

Audley

A. H. J. Cyril Butters

Auntie at the British GP

Sir,

Some random thoughts on the TV coverage of the British Grand Prix, and especially the “high-powered commentary team” (the BBC’s phrase, not mine). At the outset, I would like to give credit where credit is due and recognise that we enjoy, with the current “Grand Prix” series on BBC-2, the widest pictorial coverage of Grand Prix racing world-wide, ever. However, back to the commentary service.

Since Raymond Baxter, who is the most knowledgeable and professional motor racing commentator that I have heard on TV and radio, is no longer used by the BBC (for what reason I know not), we have to learn to live with Murray Walker, who strews his path with an ever-increasing selection of superlatives. Anyone who even steps into a F1 car is “brilliant”, and it escalates from there –“incredible”, “amazing”, “fantastic” – which all serves to camouflage a lack of deep knowledge of F1 racing, and an inability to quickly size up what is happening out on the track, and on his commentary box monitors.

At the recent British GP I found the inclusion of Jackie Stewart in the commentary team an additional annoyance. Leaving aside the hysterical stridency of his delivery, which is very wearing, his obsession to include a commercial reference or “plug” in virtually every remark was quite nauseating. As the man “credited” with steering F1 racing in a commercial direction, he showed he had lost none of his touch.

He started off the way he meant to carry on: “Nice to be back on the BBC”. Quite unnecessary. People were already tuned to BBC, but it was clearly a station identification habit picked up in American commercial television, and thus an oblique reference to his connection with ABCTV’s “World of Sport” in the States. On the warm-up lap: “Giving their seat belts another tighten”. I find that really fatuous. I cannot believe any driver would use a warm-up lap to tighten his seat belts, but J.Y.S. is a self-appointed prophet of safety – and a director of Britax.

His extended comments on tyres skated over compound differences, but concentrated on comparing the performances of the two makes on the day, liberally sprinkled with the names of the manufacturers, and finishing up by saying “It’s a great day for Goodyear”. One could go on. “Another expensive Ford Cosworth V8 engine”; “under the Daily Express bridge” etc., etc.

By contrast, James Hunt’s comments were refreshing and, as one would expect from one so recently removed from a place on the grid, most knowledgeable. Right at the beginning he accurately forecast that the superiority of the Williams car on the Silverstone track was such that should Jones fail, then the experience and ability of Regazzoni would triumph. He discussed tyre compounds in a most interesting way, and his remarks on the baulking tactics of back-markers – especially his extremely frank comments about the behaviour of Jarier – were quite hilarious.

On Grand Prix racing generally, I realise one cannot turn for the clock back, but am I alone in longing for Grand Prix racing more as it used to be – an exciting sport with class drivers on Europe’s great circuits (Spa, Clermont Ferrand, Nürburgring) in all conditions? Today we have a commercial circus, dependent upon starting money, appearance money, performed on deadly dull circuits with such wide margins for driver error that the quality of the driver counts for little, and the victor is a combination of the talents of the aerodynamicist and the tyre manufacturer – all the driver has to do is to keep it on the track (which they still fail to do in a great many instances). In addition, the race must not last too long, and must be run in near perfect, dry conditions. All this is preceded by a totally artificial practice session, where cars run on “super sticky” tyres that only last a handful of laps. What’s next? A super-tuned 600+ h.p. engine for qualifying that expires after one flying lap?

It used to be said that Grand Prix racing was the test bed for the motor car of the road. It has now become quite artificial and divorced from all motoring reality, in the way that “Bond” films have strayed from the books of Ian Fleming. Only the name is the same.

Larkhall, Lanarks

J. L. M Cotter

Capt. G. E. T. Eyston and the MGCC

Sir,

Whilst reading the appreciation of Captain G. E. T. Eyston in your August edition I could not help but notice that no mention was made of a post held by Captain Eyston of which we know he was quite proud. That post being President of the MG Car Club. He was President until his recent death and until that time he was quite active in that post, giving speeches to our centres in the USA only last year.

We in the MG Car Club were proud that he should be our President. I never met him personally but others that have always speak of him in the best of terms. He will be missed.

Greenford

Paul W. Flint, S. E. Centre, MGCC

Mellowed Motor Cars

Sir,

Judging from the statements in the letters section of your paper it would appear the majority of your readers are, like myself, long term devotees of Motor Sport. Reading of this paper has become almost a religion as opposed to the “something to do on a bus, train or plane” function fulfilled by most other papers. In recent years I have felt an editorial move to increase the content aimed at those to whom something new is a necessary social crutch, done at the expense of the content for the real motoring enthusiast. Most of us, I am sure, are not really interested in the first six months’ teething troubles, but more in how a car identifies with its owner after it has “grown up”. I remember a series of used car test articles which were very interesting. They really showed how in some instances cars mellowed (P4 Rovers) whereas others broke up (Lotus Elans), very important to the enthusiasts who do not support the “till ashtrays full” ownership policy.

Up to a few years ago everybody adhered to the same yardsticks of measurements for the qualities of a motor car. However in recent years, due to advertising saturation and the fantastic amount of government money spent to convince everyone, regardless of personal effort and reasonability of just reward, that they should expect the best, people have become totally self-centred and full of excuses to prove that their choice is the best there is. Glossy brochures have replaced objective comparison of design and workmanship qualities whilst company expense accounts have removed the need to even consider accessibility, availability of parts and the cost effectiveness of after sales service. In many circles it is almost as though the shorter the time a car occupies one’s driveway and the more excessive the operating overhead, the better the personal status symbols.

One result of all this is a widening gap between the people who buy for the pleasure of driving and those like myself who buy for the pleasure of ownership.

At this point in time there are few, if any, new cars which satisfy the latter and with the advent of automatic transmission, often the only transmission offered, fewer and fewer satisfying the former.

My own yardsticks represent the majority of people but not the majority of money being spent with regard to cars. A car must be reasonably priced and must not suffer massive depreciation. Spares must be readily available but original workmanship must be exceptional. The car must bring a smile to my lips on all occasions and not just of 0.5% of the time when I am doing ton-up motoring in some foreign country. The interior must seat four people in as much opulence as possible and providing it can move from A to B in less than average time at 20+ m.p.g., I am prepared to forgive a lack of nimbleness on back country roads. It must be of classic line but not too large overall to park. The exterior must display the classically artistic use of plenty of good English chrome whilst the interior must have thick carpet, thick leather, wood trim and controls which are symmetrically not strategically designed. Above all my car and I must enter into a relationship of intimacy and understanding and not one where I have to be the master.

After 30 years, driving over 50 different models, the following are my, hopefully, objective findings:

American cars are still too big. Detroit have not yet learned to make a small car and their efforts still produce the most awesome flaws in design. They have really refined the art of building a product to “self-destruct” after a short pre-defined time, both my present Ford Granadas broke their timing chains between 29,000 and 30,000 miles despite totally different driving environments, and at 50,000 both are having exactly the same troubles.

Continental cars are mostly overpriced. Of the ones which are not, well I still hate uniquely shaped switches placed to “be in each reach”. Rubber mats belong in a baby’s cot and plastic with dull stainless steel does not turn me on – ever! I was recently treated to a drive in a friend’s new Audi. Its only saving grace might have been its front wheel drive but with that ghastly automatic, engine control through corners is not possible.

Though I work in Canada my home is just south of the Lake District and that is where my dream car resides, its odometer reads 50,000 and is climbing at 2,000 miles each year.

To satisfy my requirements my car must be British, though most people have probably forgotten what constitutes a British car. My choice narrowed to two makes, Jaguar and one other. I have owned nine Jags and whilst they were a joy to drive, especially the 3.8 mark II, the design, quality of materials and workmanship were atrocious, my last, a new 1973 V12 E-type roadster – was without doubt the worst car I have ever owned combining the worst of design, workmanship and materials, all at one time. That was a disastrous and very expensive six month relationship.

Well my dream car has a honey beige body, white roof, Ro-style wheels and a sumptuous leather interior. It exceeds the ton comfortably, betters 22 m.p.g. and draws looks from young and old alike. Presently she is near perfect and getting better every year. Even as I write this, 3,000 miles away I feel a surge of pride. She’s the most under-rated car of today. This probably because few owners sell them. After all what would they buy? She’s the last real British car priced to a build not built to a price.

Did you guess! She’s one of the last batch of 1973 3.5-litre Rover Coupes, and has now matured beyond the faults implanted by her maker.

Ontario, Canada

Bruce Heathcote

Facel Vegas

Sir,

I would like to appeal to your readers for help in establishing which of the Facel Vegas listed below are still in existence,

(a) 13 RHD Excellences (we know of only 7), where is 11SPF, chassis no. B120?

(b) 29 RHD Facel IIs. What happened to: – A111, A112, A117, A170 (ex-Rob Walker ROB 2, automatic) A172, B104, B105, B148, B151, B153 (G. Mitchell of Minstrels fame) B154, B158, B165 (Sir Derek Wheeler).

(c) 25 RHD Facellias (we know of 12). Where is 66 VPE? Where is JYF . . . N?

We are compiling a worldwide list of “extant” Facels (no, not fossils) and would appreciate any information however small. I think 11 SPF (red) belonged to a trainee dentist in Maida Vale. I would like to hear from him.

Carshalton

John Barton, Spares Secretary, FVOC

[Letters will be forwarded – Ed.]

Grand Prix Energy Saving

Sir,

Three items in our August issue prompt me to write to you concerning a possible fuel consumption formula for Grand Prix racing. The first is the announcement (p. 1136) that the RAC British Motor Sports Council is studying the possible implications of the energy crisis on motor sport. Secondly, your article on gas turbine cars raises both the problem of equating their power units to conventional ones, and also the improvement in fuel economy obtainable by fitting heat exchangers to the former. Finally D.S.J’s “Reflections” on the exhaust turbo-charged Renaults again emphasise the difficulty of equating different types of power unit.

I see the chief merit of a fuel consumption formula as the renewed sense of purpose it would engender in the sport by virtue of the highly relevant technical problems it would set. This should both help to dispel the showbiz image it currently presents and encourage increased participation by the motor industry. It would also, of course, permit an almost limitless variety of engine types. Other potential benefits include an increased emphasis on drag reduction as opposed to adhesion at almost all costs; the challenge to drivers to perfect techniques of fast economical driving; and the tactical possibilities it would offer.

Although such formulae have been attempted in the past, they have suffered from the disconcerting tendency for the faster cars to drop out though lack of fuel. Accordingly a flexible formula – consisting, say, of restrictions of fuel tank capacity and on method, or rate, of refuelling – would seem preferable to a fixed fuel allowance. In this way a new dimension would be added to the possibilities facing the designer – whether to opt for high or low power, with corresponding thirst. Finally, an incidental advantage of such flexibility is the freedom it would provide to modify regulations without automatically disqualifying existing machinery.

Enfield

I. J. G. Berry

Progress

Sir,

I continue to be amazed by the apparent progress in automotive engineering (and possibly the tooling for production) during the past 40 years. This thought is again prompted by reading “How Fast Did They Go?” on pages 304/305 of your March 1979 Number.

In May 1937 I acquired, new, a London Talbot 75. By that time the Company belonged to Rootes, but my car was a true Roesch design, one of the last, possibly, in production in that, in 1938, we had the 3-litre Snipe-engined Talbot (followed later by the 4-litre Pullman engine: which was a fine unit in its own right).

On a tour of Europe in 1938 with the Talbot OC, we had a paced run along a section of the Cologne-Munich autobahn. My 75, with a very accurate speedometer, held – flat out on the level – an indicated 75 m.p.h. for 2 km. This, from a skilfully-designed, well-built unit of 2 ¼ litres. It was a good performance at the time.

Today, by contrast, my wife’s 1975 Vauxhall Viva of 1,256 c.c. will no doubt exceed 80 and will hold an indicated 74/75 m.p.h. – probably a legal 70 – all the way up the M1 without distress. It makes my beloved Talbot seem rather cumbersome when a high-production small car can outpace it like this. Such is the tribute we pay to development, and of the excellence of Vauxhall production lines. Incidentally, the Viva must be one of the most economical cars on the road, judged by our experience. In 44,000 trouble-free miles it has returned an overall petrol consumption of exactly 40 m.p.g. and it is still running on its issue Pirelli Cinturatos, which still show plenty of tread.

I read, and have read for over 50 years, Motor Sport with so much pleasure. Good luck to you!

Old Windsor

C. Carter

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