Letters from readers, September 2004

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Star letter

Miller’s tale

Sir,

With reference to page 60 of the July issue, you have a photograph of a Bugatti Type 35 and a cornment that the wheel design is 80 years old, still looks modem and that Ettore would have loved that.

I am sure he would have loved it, especially as it was patented in early 1920 by Harry Miller, the great engine and racing car designer of the USA.

Cross-fertilisation is common in design. For example, a 1913 Peugeot twin-cam grand prix car was used in the USA and the owner Bob Burman blew the engine up during a race in January 1915. Burman asked Harry Miller to rebuild the engine, and this he did in conjunction with the great Fred Offenhauser. The engine then became known as a Burman, and was a successful racer. Is it possible the opportunity to work on the Peugeot gave Miller and Offenhauser the knowledge to subsequently design their own excellent twin-cam engines?

By return, in 1929, Leon Duray took two of Miller’s ‘122 1500cc cars’ to Europe where they demonstrated just how good Miller’s engines and cars were. On seeing them, Ettore Bugatti bought both cars and copied the top end of the engine for his Type 50. Incidentally, the Miller cars were supercharged running on petrol and ethyl complete with intercooler, and were front-wheel drive. These engines were designed by Leo Goossen with Harry Miller in 1924.

A Miller Type 91 1500cc car held the Indy lap record from 1928 to 1937 and also the world’s closed-course record from 1928 to 1934 at a speed of 148mph. The closed-course record was finally broken by a 5-litre supercharged Auto Union. Finally, Fred Duesenberg built a W24 six-cam engine for boat racing in the 1920s, so what’s new?

Roy Ireland, via e-mail

Wings and Lotus things

Sir,

Much as I enjoy Motor Sport, and have for 30 years, I find it necessary to make a couple of corrections to the August edition.

Firstly, Jenks’s piece on aerofoils was incorrect. The first Formula One car to use a movable ‘foil was the Ferrari of Jacky Ickx at Spa in 1968, shortly followed by Matra. Secondly, Team Lotus is not 50 — it has gone into the history books. Old cars running in historic races does not keep Team Lotus alive.

David J Coles, Melksham, Wiltshire

Performance figures

Sir,

Having spent last week absolutely enthralled by Miranda Seymour’s account of the life of Mademoiselle Hellé Nice, entitled The Bugatti Queen, I think I might have spotted what it is that today’s Formula One lacks…

Congratulations on the magnificent 80th anniversary issue. The worrying thing is that it was only 26 when I started taking it.

Martin Bourne, Wistaston, Cheshire

The legend of Arthur

Sir,

The August edition’s report on R7B brought back memories of a visit to Brooklands with my father to see the 1938 Campbell Trophy. It featured a wonderful scrap between B Bira and Arthur Dobson, which the former won. I left the circuit with Dobson as my hero and looked often for him after the war.

Some years ago I found myself competing at Prescott in the same event as Jenks and thought he might be able to tell me what happened to Dobson. Unfortunately, I was called for practice during our conversation and I never had a chance to speak with him again. But I believe Jenks said that he had been instrumental in having some plaque erected at Albi to commemorate Dobson’s drive there. I would be grateful if anyone could tell me more about this, as I live not far from Albi.

Keith Maddox, via e-mail

Prancing horse fell on the flat

Sir,

I noted with interest your remarks in August’s Goodwood Festival report that suggested I wanted more emphasis on the V8 at Ferrari in the mid1960s. It was nice to be reacquainted with an old friend, which I drove in both 1.5-litre V8 form and 2.4 V6 form in my convalescence period after my accident in 1965. It partly contributed to my leaving Ferrari in that I wasn’t allowed to drive it in the early 1966 races despite it being faster than the new, heavier and underpowered V12. But in fact I never thought that we should have continued with the V8 past 1964. There was far more potential with the flat-12 which sadly never got enough attention.

John Surtees, Edenbridge, Kent

The elusive Hawaiian

Sir,

Having corresponded with my colleague Preston Lerner during his research of his Danny Ongais article, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the finished product in the June issue.

I had the honour of successfully nominating Danny for induction into the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame in 2001, for which the selection committee (full of crusty old local scribes weaned entirely on stick-and-ball games, surfing and sumo wrestling) could not overlook the nominee’s diverse successes despite his widespread reputation of being “a reporter’s worst nightmare”.

Danny had prior commitments overseas and could not attend the induction ceremony that February, and when I brought his awards to Indianapolis for him that May, he picked them up and promptly disappeared when my back was turned! But we finally did meet on the eve of this year’s Indy 500, and it was well worth the effort

“Clever and genial”, as Preston describes, are indeed appropriate adjectives for the man.

Earl Ma, Honolulu, Hawaii

Factually speaking

Sir,

I greatly enjoyed the August edition of Motor Sport, but would appreciate the opportunity to make three comments on it.

Firstly, the specification of the Alfa Romeo offered in the Six of the Best competition refers to it producing 136bhp “at the back wheels”. This is surely a contradiction: by definition brake horse power is delivered to the engine flywheel excluding frictional losses in transmission to the road wheels.

Secondly, although it was good to see WB covering the low-chassis sports Invicta, he is surely in error in stating that about 1000 were produced. I understood that the figure was nearer 77, of which the vast majority survive.

Finally, and more seriously, You Were There… uses the description of “carefree days” in relation to the 1962 Monaco GP. Perhaps it is as well to remember that a marshal was killed by a flying wheel in the incident pictured. This again shows that rose-coloured spectacles should be used with care.

C N A Williams, Trowbridge, Wiltshire

Fanning the flames

Sir,

No, I’m sorry, I am afraid that Mr Galpin is wrong in his assertion that the “Brabham BT46B ‘fan car’ was not banned after the 1978 Swedish GP” (Letters, August 2004).

The compromise that Bernie Ecclestone negotiated with the other FOCA members was to withdraw the fan cars from racing from August 1. This would have allowed the Brabham team to run them in the French, British and German GPs.

Mr Galpin is right when he says that the FIA had declared that the BT46B was in fact legal, but a special meeting of the CSI Bureau would subsequently ban the cars on safety grounds. But why could they not simply go along with the FOCA compromise?

In its Swedish GP issue (June 22,1978) Autosport claimed: “We think — we know — that at least one other major British F1 team is currently engaged in the building of a ‘sucker’ .”

In his Lotus 79 feature (Motor Sport July 2004) Gordon Cruickshank refers to the twin-fan version of the car that Colin Chapman claimed would have been ready for the British GP. But back in 1978 Jean-Marie Baleste was justifying his decision to implement the ban because “he had been told that at least one other team planned to race one or two ‘fan cars’ at the French GP.”

Mike Lawrence, on the other hand, does not mention this proposed version of the 79 in Colin Chapman: Wayward Genius, but insists that McLaren did in fact test their own fan car’. Thanks to the FIA ban it never ran in public. There must be more to come from this story.

David Cole, Rutland

Chapman has the last word

Sir, I read with interest the various articles and correspondence on originality etc. Let the late, great Colin Chapman have the last word on the subject

At a meeting at Snetterton in 1976 he came as a spectator. We were all competing in a historic sportscar race and Bill Nicholson asked Colin if a certain indecently quick lightweight Elan was a genuine 26R. “Of course it is, and jolly nice to see it competing so successfully,” he said. Then with a twinkle he added: “However, it’s not one I made…”

Sir Aubrey Brocklebank, Titchmarsh, Northants

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