Motor Sport Road Test (Post-war Series) No. 3
A very refined small car with lively performance. Smooth-handling qualities allied to effortless running.
The first car which the present writer road-tested for Motor Sport was an open Talbot Ten and, on taking over a 1947 saloon of the same type for test, the improvements incorporated in the latest model were at once apparent, good as this car was when first introduced. The Sunbeam-Talbot which forms the subject of this test was taken over under conditions which served to quicken one’s immediate liking and appreciation of it. After motoring all through the night of the recent freak gale, we arrived late the following afternoon at Coventry, unshaven and hungry, to collect the “Ten.” Very emphatically, few cars could be more acceptable under such circumstances. Perfectly straightforward to drive, the modern Sunbeam-Talbot is so reasonably silent, so smooth-running, so light to control, and so generally refined in its manner of motoring, as to make possible high average speeds in the safest, most restful way possible.
The fact that both front wings are visible to the driver — the central mirror and screen defroster somewhat in the vision-line, however — and the presence of said defroster, twin, independent screen wipers, double sun-visors, and really powerful 36-watt Lucas lamps, at once convey a feeling of confidence, even under the bad weather conditions prevailing. Had we but known it, mechanical matters are likewise well schemed, as a very accessible dip-stick and sensible petrol pump hand-primer later served to emphasise.
As one sets off on a long drive, the aforementioned lightness of control and responsive acceleration stand out as most acceptable characteristics of this surprising “Ten.”
This car was one of the first to have very smooth, “cutting-through-butter” steering, and this feature is evident on the latest model. Asking 2 1/2 turns from lock to lock, the 17-in, diameter flexible steering wheel is well placed in one’s lap (the column rake is adjustable), and steers the car accurately with an entire absence of effort. No wheel motion is conveyed through it, only slight judder over bad surfaces, and there is slow castor action. This is steering which allows the car to be wound through a succession of open bends, put into tight turns, or parked at a kerb with smooth movement of the wheel, very pleasing to experience. During fast cornering there is a degree of oversteer, but normally the car exhibits neither over nor under-steer, and no more than the expected amount of roll. Experiment showed that the back-end broke away first; actually, hurried driving over wet roads entirely failed to provoke a skid or slide of any kind, nor could we evoke any appreciable sound from the Dunlops. The running of the engine is well in keeping with the other refined qualities of the Sunbeam-Talbot Ten. It shows no sign of vibration throughout its speed range, no trace of flat-spot, and runs almost as silently as the power units of the most expensive cars — indeed, it could give many of them best in this direction. So silent is it that at tick-over it is difficult to decide whether it is running and, bar an almost imperceptible power-roar, it is just as well-behaved as the speedometer needle swings up to a reading of 55 or 60 m.p.h., which it does very readily indeed. The natural cruising speed of this unexpectedly lively little saloon is between 50 and 55 m.p.h., and with equal lack of effort does the speed run up to an indicated 32 m.p.h. in second gear, or 54 m.p.h. in third gear, after which valve-bounce comes in.
This ability to run without hesitation or sound makes a driver reluctant to forgo the pleasure of handling the Sunbeam-Talbot, which is literally so quiet that the slight creaking of the bodywork on rough roads, or the tinkle of the spare ignition key dangling against the dashboard, seem quite obtrusive noises. To achieve such a notable degree of effortless, lively running in a car of this size and price class is a most creditable feat, of which the Rootes organisation may well be proud.
Leaving a driver new to the car to cruise delightedly at 50 m.p.h., easily regaining his speed after checks by reason of responsive acceleration, and swinging in balanced, smooth fashion through bends, powerful brakes ever at the ready and grand beams of light showing the way ahead, let us make a more detailed examination of “Britain’s most exclusive light car.”
The controls are very nicely placed. A long, H-section gear-lever with a large knob replaces the former short, remote lever, and the propeller-shaft tunnel is less obtrusive than in the earlier cars. This gear-lever extends to near the steering wheel and is rigid and very handily located. It transmits some vibration, and moves with the engine-unit if a sudden change from drive to over-run occurs. The synchromesh on second, third and top works well if not unduly hurried, and any complaint that it goes in with a “clank” under rapid gear-shifting is countered by the ease with which double-declutching can be carried out, for the engine responds well to the accelerator. It was not very easy to find the reverse gear position, for which the lever is pressed to the left and downwards against a strong spring. There is some whine on the lower gears, particularly in bottom, but the action of the change is that of a high-grade car.
The clutch works in a positive manner under moderate foot pressure, and gives that admirable impression that it will never slip. The throttle pedal is rather heavy to operate and the brake lever also calls for fair effort, having a “hard” feel. However, the brakes, if not particularly progressive until one is absolutely used to them, are extremely powerful and make not a sound. They give every confidence and only under “exhibition” crash-stops did the wheels lock, causing the car to divert somewhat from straightahead running. After negotiating long sections of badly-flooded road no undue “drying-out” was necessary. The car had only run 1,300 miles, which probably explains why the brakes struck us as rather fierce. It was pleasing to find a conventional-type hand-brake on the right of the driver’s seat. It holds the car very effectively and is released by pressing down a button. It tends slightly to obstruct the driver’s entry and exit when his seat is in the fully forward position, and it may be remarked that the window winding handles in the front doors are also placed so low as to be very near the seat cushions when the seats are set thus, the right-hand one sometimes needing a turn to give space between it and the hand-brake.
The pedals are well located, and the adjustable, bucket-type front seats are beautifully made and deserve full marks on the score of comfort. Absence of cramp is evident after long spells behind the wheel of a Sunbeam-Talbot, while the silent running and easy handling, which deserve frequent emphasis, make the car one of the least tiring in which to hurry over long distances. Moreover, fumes and heat are entirely absent within the body, albeit this is a warm car, commendably free from draughts.
There are useful shelf-like cubby holes each side of the moulded “Cellustra” finished instrument panel. Reading from left to right the latter contains: cigar lighter, combined ammeter, oil gauge and fuel gauge, starter button, ignition light below, lamp switch and ignition key below again, and 85 m.p.h. speedometer with trip and total readings. The ashtrays for the front passengers are over each cubby-hole, and above them are the control knobs for the effective, silent screen-wipers, which park properly. The steering wheel centre carries the direction-indicator control and headlamp dipper control, these being in the form of small plated knobs, and a big horn-push. It is necessary to take a hand from the wheel to dip the lamps. The indicators have an excellent self-cancelling action, and the starter button is a pleasing small refinement in keeping with the car’s whole demeanour (we dislike pull-out starter controls). The normal oil pressure is 40 lb./sq. in. The speedometer, and also the fuel gauge, have markings for use when driving on the Continent; the former, when tested, was found to be 3.8 m.p.h. fast at an indicated 50 m.p.h., and 2.4 m.p.h. fast at an indicated 30 m.p.h. To start or park the wipers it is necessary to dive ones hand through or behind the steering wheel and, although there is excellent rheostat-controlled concealed instrument lighting, the tiny control is under the dash, very easily confused with the clock-winder or trip zero control.
The car starts promptly from stone cold, and, although there is no choke, it is ready for work straight away. Abnormal weather conditions had no effect on it and, despite its low build, it negotiated floods without trouble.
The suspension gives, generally, a very comfortable ride, but a good deal of pitching is experienced, and there is a rather “dead” feel about the way the car rides. Under hard braking the nose dips slightly, but the suspension is far stiffer than the majority of i.f.s. systems.
In normal motoring, second gear is adequate for starting on the level, and top gear gives reasonable pick-up above about 25 m.p.h. For such driving it is usual to change from 1st to 2nd at 15 m.p.h., from 2nd to 3rd at 21 m.p.h., and into top at 33 m.p.h. — these speeds are corrected for speedometer error. The absolute maxima on the gears, before valve-bounce intrudes, are: In 1st, 21.2 m.p.h.; in 2nd, 29.5 m.p.h., and in 3rd, 49.8 m.p.h.
The bodywork is well appointed and planned, and the doors shut in a manner fitting to a car of this class. It is free from excessive wind noise, although a curious hum after a burst of speed was eventually traced to vibration of the radiator shell slats, caused by air-flow. The rear seat is very comfortable, each door has its own pocket, and there is a well-placed roof light, the switch for which is on the front near-side door pillar. The leather upholstery is of good quality and the car has a definite air of refinement enhanced by the finish and detail fitting. Points which deserve special mention are a really good reversing light automatically switched on when in reverse gear, sponge-rubber-lined cubbyholes, a folding central armrest for the rear seat, very clever pillarless rear doors to provide clear vision for the rear seat occupants, a special sealing arrangement for the sliding roof when in the shut position, separate sidelamps visible from the driving seat, with both “tell-tales” likewise visible, and ashtrays for each of the four occupants. The driver’s door is lockable with the Yale ignition key, all windows are of safety glass, and the central mirror gives reasonable vision, although it could be higher with advantage. Elbow recesses are provided for the rear seat passengers’ outer elbows; the rear seat is rather too close to the roof for tall persons.
There is a very useful luggage boot, the lid of which can be used for additional carrying space, and the spare wheel is in its own locker beneath. Twin rear lamps are fitted, and there are two horns which give a loud “let-me-by” note. The wheels, incidentally, are “special steel panel fitted with exclusive disc,” to quote from the manufacturer’s literature. The fuel tank holds 8 1/2 gallons and under hard-driving conditions, including the timed test, consumption came out at approximately 25 m.p.g. No oil or water was needed in 350 hard miles. Under the bonnet the Champion “N8” 14-mm. plugs, Lucas “B12” coil, Lucas 12-volt battery and tool storage are easily accessible, and the bonnet fasteners — one each side — function well. There is reasonable steering lock.
We conducted the usual Motor Sport timed tests for purposes of comparison. The results are given in the accompanying table. A very strong wind was blowing across the course and there were pools of water on the track. Four runs, two in each direction, over the timed 1/4-mile, gave exactly the same pairs of readings, peak speed in third gear, about 5,100 r.p.m., being attained about 1/8-mile before entering the measured stretch. The speed came out at a mean of 52.95 m.p.h., the two faster runs being at 53.57 m.p.h. The standing 1/4-mile was covered on two separate occasions in 26.6 sec., the best 0-30 m.p.h. took 8.6 sec., and 0-50 m.p.h. occupied 29 sec. on three occasions. On the road a speedometer reading of 75 m.p.h. was attained momentarily.
These performance figures do not really emphasise the splendid manner in which the Sunbeam-Talbot gets on with the job, and it equalled the timed speed on the road on any slightly downhill section. Without embellishing all that has been written, it can be said that few cars are so untiring to drive for long periods without respite, and that for a saloon “Ten” the acceleration and cruising speed are definitely surprising, and refreshing to a degree. In top gear the pick-up is excellent from about 25 m.p.h., and the hill from Dorking up to Newland’s Corner was climbed easily without coming off this ratio. At night the normal high cruising speed can be held by reason of the very effective lighting, with those immensely powerful brakes as a contributory safety factor. From 30 m.p.h. the car stopped in 40 feet on a slightly wet surface. The improved s.v., aluminium head, 1,185-c.c. engine of the “Ten” now develops 41 b.h.p. The wheelbase is 7 ft. 10 in., front track 3 ft. 11 1/2 in., rear track 4 ft. 0 1/2 in., and the car occupies 13 ft. by 5 ft. of garage space. Full details are available from Rootes Ltd. Devonshire House, Piccadilly, London, W.1, and the sports saloon, as tested, costs £684 75. 1d. with purchase tax.
In conclusion, the Sunbeam-Talbot is a highly commendable small car, providing very refined economy motoring with no mean performance, and presenting a modern, but smartly restrained, exterior to the world at large. — W. B.
Sunbeam-Talbot Ten Sports Saloon.
Engine: Four cylinders, 63 by 95 mm. (1,184.5 c.c.), 9.8. R.A.C. h.p.
Gear ratios: 1st, 18.63 to 1; 2nd, 12.91 to 1; 3rd, 7.79 to 1; top, 5.22 to 1.
Tyres: 5.25 by 16 in. Dunlop.
Weight: 19 cwt. 3 qr. (in road trim with approx. 5 gall, of fuel but less occupants).
Steering ratio: 2 1/3 turns lock to lock.
Fuel capacity: 8 1/2 gallons.
Acceleration:(mean of two-way runs.)
0-30 m.p.h.: 8.6 sec.
0-50 m.p.h.: 29 sec.
s.s. 1/4-mile: 26.7 sec. (mean).
26.0 sec. (best run).
Speed: f.s. 1/4-mile: 52.95 m.p.h. (mean).
53.57 m.p.h. (best run).
Maximum in indirect gears (corrected for speedometer error):
1st: 21.2 m.p.h.
2nd: 29.5 m.p.h.
3rd: 49.8 m.p.h.
Approximately 25 m.p.g.