Is the sports car doomed?



 [The case against the present style sports car is clearly stated in the article which follows by R. C. S. Strachan. We do not agree with the author’s views and we certainly do not share his pessimism as to the fate of the sports-type car. We merely publish his opinions as being of general interest and no doubt readers will be only too pleased to save us the trouble of writing a Leading Article in reply.—Ed.]

THE trend of events for some time before the advent of the war led me to expect the eventual disappearance of the sports car breed, except for small numbers of highly expensive high-performance makes.

In my opinion, there will always be a market for those cars which are now in existence, whilst they hold together. But somehow the whole “essence” of the sports car is becoming obscured, and that bodes ill for the future.

My active interest in sporting vehicles started about 1929. In those days sports cars WERE what they set out to be. They were faster, better braked, had better steering and in every way could out-perform their contemporary utility models. To-day this does not apply to anything like the same extent. Can one say that the T type M.G., the Talbot Ten, the Morgan 4/4, etc., out-perform the Hillman Minx, the Ford 10 and one or two other mass-produced vehicles?

Admittedly the sports models are faster, but only by a little. Acceleration and hill-climbing show a superiority, and, of course road-holding is more sure; but, excepting the Morgan 4/4, there is little mechanical difference between sports and utility types. A determined driver in a modern mass-produced saloon can push his vehicle along at very nearly the same average speed as the pilot of the modern sports car. I am well aware of several really fast cars which certainly “do their stuff “; but they are all expensive. To exist successfully the sports car, as a type, must be represented in the cheaper price classes in order to sell in sufficient numbers to remain on the market. It is no disgrace if a man cannot afford £500 for a car; it is no measure of his enthusiasm that £250 may be his financial limit. If one wants a car for this sum that can show a clean pair of heels to the all-enclosed “buzz-box,” then one must buy second hand. A second hand Frazer Nash, Aston-Martin or Alfa-Romeo—to name but three—will do the trick, but what is going to happen when all these motors are worn out? What is going to replace them in the affections of enthusiasts? There are not enough 4½ Bentleys, V12 Lagondas or 328 B.M.W.s to go round! At present the second-hand market offers a wide variety of cheap cars in which the youngster can learn to appreciate “real motoring”; and I think that the vast majority of sporting motorists acquired the urge in their youth—when their pockets wouldn’t stretch too far! The second-hand buyer of to-day is the new car owner of to-morrow. Why this dearth of small character-cars? Small sports cars have not progressed to anything like the same extent as their touring prototypes. As an example, one might venture to quote a famous British marque. In 1929 it was produced as a small 2-seater that was faster than the average car of its size and it sold remarkably well. In 1933 it was much improved and sold better still. Since then progress has been infinitesimal. The next model was smoother but no faster; the next only a little faster because of its larger engine, and now an engine is used that is basically another make, the chassis is Mark II, and the body lacks the lines of the early cars and is just as inefficient from a streamline point of view. In other words, seven years have passed and little has been done to evolve this car into something better and faster.

It seems that the sales success of the British sports cars of this era has led to stagnation of design. Except for more generous mudguarding, the present examples seem to be almost replicas of the 1930-35 period. From 1925 to 1930 most sporting cars had streamline tails—and we thought them grand. I like the appearance of the “pur sang” machine, with its radiator set well back and headlamps cross-braced in front; mudguards somewhat skimpy, but light and well away from the wheels; the petrol tank snuggling between the rear springs and partly hidden by the spare wheel.

I also like that beautiful machine, the 2/3 Bugatti, but I think anyone will agree that the streamlined 3-litre G.P. Mercedes is an even more businesslike-looking job. The point that I am trying to make is that the ideal of the British sports car we cherish is out of date! That were we to replace existing lines by an efficient body of aero-dynamic design the result would look just as “pure-blooded” as our old loves—that is, if the design be correctly worked out. I was very intrigued by the body on Gordini’s Fiat which came over for the last T.T.; whilst it was completely unconventional, it appealed by the very fact that it looked right. There is a well-known saying in engineering circles, “If it looks right—it IS right.”

Unfortunately, British manufacturers seem unable to pluck up courage to produce a really modern machine. There are a whole host of improvements waiting to be adopted, from rotary valves to independent suspension, but I can’t help feeling that the first thing is to get the extra 10 to 15 free m.p.h. which are offered in exchange for cutting down wind-resistance.

According to Major Gardner, the new body on the record-breaking M.G. was responsible for most of his increased speed; and his old body was quite a good example of advanced practice in its time.

John Cobb’s 356 m.p.h. Railton and the G.P. Auto-Unions and Mercedes have been hammering the lesson home; even the little 500 c.c. Fiat has produced quite phenomenal speeds when aero-dynamically clad.

There is supposed to be a natural law which ordains that a species must either progress or disappear. That, I think, is the lesson to be learned by British sports car makers.

W. O. Bentley has forsaken his large-cylindered designs for the V12, but in the small-car field—from which I think the greater number of enthusiasts are recruited—there is precious little to choose from that really appeals.

Unless this state of affairs can be remedied the younger generation will not find anything sufficiently outstanding in character to divert it from the dependable and weatherproof saloon.