In a recently unearthed transcription, Simon A. Kearne matches wits with engineering legend, Sir Basil Milford-Vestible.
It has been long assumed that Sir Basil Milford-Vestible never gave interviews, but a moth-eaten copy of The Journal of Automotive Progress – Spring 1959 number recently came to light in Simon’s attic. In a World exclusive, the mercurial engineering genius gossips about rivals, takes issue with aero and heaps vitriol on the double chevron.
Simon A Kearne: Sir Basil, we have been hearing a good deal lately about the science of aerodynamics, especially from the world of motor racing. What is your view on the subject?
Sir Basil Milford-Vestibule: “It’s all rather silly, isn’t it really? Another smokescreen to keep the peasants amused. A good engineer doesn’t need some mathematician to tell him what he should be doing – he can see with his own eyes.”
“I was over at MIRA one time with Boothby and we bumped into that Sayer chap from Jaguar. Studious fellow. He had the prototype they were testing covered in tufts of wool, so I asked him whatever he was doing. He went into the most recondite mathematical explanation I’ve ever heard in my life – utter fabrication if you ask me. I was speechless with disgust, although Boothby assured me afterwards that it made sense to him. However, Boothby does get flashbacks from time to time and believes he’s still in Bletchley Park, so you never can tell…
But it did give me an idea to try to make a car out of wool. Boothby and I knitted the body over a three week period; Boothby’s lovely wife Violet helping at weekends. We used tent-frames and welded them up superleggera style. The result was very light and exceptionally warm during some unseasonably cold and windy weather. We did find it was rather affected by climatic conditions – it was terribly sluggish when it rained for example. In fact, Boothby was testing it one very blustery day when a particularly strong gust lifted it off the ground into some trees. Poor fellow was stuck there for hours before we could stop laughing and get him down with a broom handle. Boothby didn’t see the funny side I’m afraid – he takes life so seriously.”
SAK: Sir Basil, of your fellow engineers? Whose work do you admire?
BM-V: “Well, to be honest, none of them! Dear Alec at BMC is decent company over a Martini but I honestly wouldn’t trust him with a slide rule. The poor thing hasn’t done anything worthwhile for years anyway, apart from that silly Alvis that never got made. He has a very mediocre degree you know.”
SAK: Colin Chapman?
SBM-V: “Oh poor Colin! He means well I suppose, but he always gets it so dreadfully wrong. I’ve tried reasoning with him but he never listens. No formal training you see. But you should have seen his face when that frightful Leonard Brik suggested he add ballast to his Type 14 Elite at Olympia. I thought the poor fellow would have a seizure. Oh, it was terribly amusing Simon.
But you see, they’re all amateurs – ‘garagistas’ as dear old Enzo would say. Do you know Ferrari? Marvellous fellow, such a Rabelaisian wit! He has me in hysterics whenever I see him. His cars are dreadful without exception , but even he admits this, especially after a few glasses of Lambrusco. (He has such peasant’s tastes!) Won’t speak a word of English of course – I suspect he’s embarrassed by his accent. We converse in French, which I speak beautifully of course. I normally have no time for anyone without an Engineering Degree – although I make an exception in Enzo’s case since he’s so much fun – and in yours of course Simon dear!”
SAK: Hmmm, yes. Speaking of Italians, what’s your view of Dr. Fessia at Lancia? He’s doing some exceptional work I’m told.
SBM-V: “Oh Simon, these questions are tiresome in the extreme! Can’t we move on?”
SAK: Very well, which of your designs are you most satisfied with?
SBM-V: “As you know dear fellow, I’m never satisfied. Boothby’s always complaining I’m never happy with anything, but how can one be happy with something, when it can always be improved? I’ve altered designs quite radically in the past, in many cases well after tooling has been finalised.”
SAK: But isn’t that terribly expensive, Sir Basil?
SBM-V: “Well of course it is my dear, but if something isn’t right, you just have to change it whatever the expense. I simply refuse to settle for a compromise.”
SAK: But surely Sir Basil, Lord Rimms [Chairman of Empire Motors] must have been less than pleased about such changes?
SBM-V: (Airily) “I have no idea, Boothby deals with all that. Lord Rimms has total confidence in my decisions and my abilities. I’m challenged on nothing. I insist upon it.”
SAK: How would you describe your relationship with Lord Rimms?
SBM-V: “Excellent! I never speak to him.”
SAK: So are you saying that everything you’ve done has reached production unaltered?
SBM-V: (Shaking his head in evident distress) “Simon, please don’t torture me so. Almost everything I’ve done has been ruined because of what those dolts in marketing have foisted upon us. What do I care for what some ‘marketing expert’ thinks the public wants? It’s our job to enlighten them. The centrally mounted radial engine, cable actuated steering, five wheel drive, the one litre V12, the stillborn E16, which you entered via the roof. The litany just goes on and on. All cancelled thanks to those nitwits in marketing. It’s a shameful profession – I wonder they all don‘t just do the honourable thing and hang themselves!”
SAK: Do you think your staff find you demanding to work for?
SBM-V: “Absolutely! (chuckles) My people adore me however, there’s nothing they wouldn’t do, no hours they won’t work because they believe in me. I choose my team very carefully. They might have home lives, spouses, children even for all I know. I am indifferent to their needs. They must dedicate themselves to me absolutely. Nothing else matters.”
SAK: Sir Basil, your views on conventional steel suspension are well documented. What innovations do you see occurring in suspension design over the next couple of years?
SBM-V: “Ah now my lad, as you know I could expound on this topic for hours and hours, but I’ll put it in terms that even you can understand – I mean your readers of course! We are at last beginning to see a move from the basic forms of suspension that date back to the donkey and cart to various forms of independence. This is of course sound practice, but it is the medium of suspension that is entirely wrong, as nobody but myself appears to understand.”
SAK: So you mean springs?
SBM-V: “Yes of course I mean springs, you foolish boy! Dreadful things – I long to be free of them!”
SAK: So what is the alternative Sir Basil? I have heard rumours Issigonis and Alex Moulton have been experimenting with Rubber.
SBM-V: “Issigonis can experiment with whatever he likes – he won’t find answers there! Dear heavens! I’ve tried them all – rubber, synthetics, nylons, just about every man-made fibre. All rubbish. And as for Gas! Those craven idolaters at Citroën – oh yes it’s all terribly clever – anyone can be clever! But you see it’s the wrong type of clever. I loath the DS. I wish they could ban them from these Islands, so I don’t have to look at them.”
SAK: But according to LJK Setright, a compressed gas is the finest form of damper… (Sir Basil holds up an elegant hand in defiance)
SBM-V: “Pray do not mention that precocious imposter to me! Why am I tormented by people called Leonard? I believe you do it on purpose to upset me.”
SAK: I have no wish to upset you Sir Basil, I was merely pointing out something he said in an article we published recently.
SBM-V: “I’ve been meaning to take you up on that Simon, but yes, just like the fellow to push himself forward like that. What he’ll be like in a few years time, heaven only knows?”
SAK: But to return to the point, where is the suspension of the future going to evolve from, if not from these alternatives?
SBM-V: “Look Simon dear, I cannot divulge much to you at this point, but I am working on something quite splendid and if my results are borne out and I feel increasingly confident they will be, conventional suspension will become as redundant as steam trains. But it’s all terribly secret right now. You know I’d love to tell you, but it’s too sensitive. But it’s natural – all the best ideas come from nature. Suffice to say, I believe we can learn a great deal from the marine world.”
SAK: Do you mean liquid suspension, Sir Basil?
SBM-V: “Oh for heaven sake Simon, you’re such a dolt sometimes. Allow me to explain…”
Editor’s note: Unfortunately the moths appear to have eaten the remainder of the magazine, so the interview transcript ends somewhat abruptly here.