The Editor of “Motor Sport’s” Open Letter
The British Motor Industry, which made such an immense contribution to this country’s war effort, is passing through a very trying period. I sometimes wonder whether we hyper-enthusiasts for motoring are sufficiently appreciative of what British manufacturers are achieving in these unhappy times. We tend to go into raptures over Alfas, Bugattis, Maseratis, Ferraris and new rear-engined Isotta-Fraschini and to pass off the cars made in our own factories as stodgy, over-burdened and cart-sprung.
The fact, easily overlooked, is that our bigger manufacturers are trying to attain an ambitious export target and to do this many of them wisely concentrate on improved versions of existing cars — cars, moreover, intended to appeal to bread-and-margarine motorists all over the world. It is not opportune for the big-output factories to waste effort on experimentation and a many-models programme. And, enthusiasts that we are, we must admit that the oft-despised family saloon does constitute a very valuable means of personal transport — the family’s seven-league boots, as a certain talented American engineer sees it. Most of us, at some time or another, have preferred to borrow such a car for a journey, perhaps to a dance or theatre with the girl friend, and to leave our own car in its garage.
In the field of less-exciting but more-exportable cars the British Industry does remarkably well. Good, economic, dependable transport is being turned out in quantity by Austin in the City of Birmingham, Ford at Dagenham, Morris at Cowley and Hillman outside much-bombed Coventry. These are purely utility cars, yet, at a time when we are agreed that technical progress must be subservient to quantity production, Austin has contrived to bring out the entirely new o.h.v., i.f.s. A40 that has apparently taken America in its short-wheelbase stride. The aforementioned useful makes are backed up by that astonishing little long-stroke Standard Eight which cruises surprisingly fast for its size and, moreover, goes from 0-50 m.p.h. faster than many “Tens.” Nor must we overlook the Singers, Wolseleys and Vauxhalls. Maurice Olley is behind Vauxhall, and anyone who has read his papers to the I.A.E. or heard him speak at the recent “Rembrandt” Brains Trust, cannot help feeling that any car with which he is associated must be entirely satisfactory. Moreover, the Vauxhall Company is not afraid to look back, as witness the help and interest they have shown in the “30/98” feature in this issue of Motor Sport.
There isn’t space to spare to mention all the good cars which emanate from Britain, but we have only to consider a few of them to see that, over and above sound utility transport, our designers can still offer the world initiative and technical brilliance in other spheres.
p>I remember, more moons ago than I care to tell, an uncle’s brand-new four-cylinder Austin Twenty landaulette. It was considered a very dignified, luxurious carriage, yet it wasn’t by any means the most expensive, and its owner thought nothing harsh of its uncomfortable “occasional” seats and windows that soon required little screw-clamps to stop them rattling like those of a taxi. Today, in the new A.125 and A.135, Austin offers something of the same sort of car — a modern, high-performance luxury vehicle, yet one that comes about mid-way up the price scale. Either in “Sheerline” or “Princess” form, this Austin is a splendid achievement in what may be termed the economy-luxury category. The Armstrong-Siddeley is another.
To the M.G. Car Company, Ltd. must go unstinted praise for still offering an out-and-out small sports 2-seater in the present day and age. Big sales in the States are a convincing testimony to the excellence of this TC M.G. Sydney Allard, too, sponsors a car that is invaluable as an export commodity and which will sell strongly in this country when waiting-lists and permits are abolished. For people who spend much of their business life in their motor-cars — and in spite of austerity, many still do — it is not an extravagance to crave the extra performance and effortless travel which an Allard gives. I wistfully recall a run in one of these cars, and particularly its acceleration from rest, making even a drive along London’s congested Oxford Street a grand experience. Leslie Johnson, who understands these things, ordered a coupe Allard quite recently.
Donald Healey, too, is placing an up-to-the-minute really high-performance car within the reach of more enthusiasts than seems possible under prevailing conditions — really high-performance is correct, for the Healey saloon has the enviable distinction of having proved the fastest production-car on any market in the world.
Lea-Francis offer one of those altogether excellent British cars which give performance very much above the ordinary while remaining entirely practical and hard-wearing. I have not yet had an opportunity of trying the latest sports model, but from the manner in which Bob Cowell’s prototype sports Lea-Francis, with a quite standard single-carburetter engine, both motored and handled, I judge that driving the production sports car would be a most pleasant experience.
If anyone has any doubts about the ability of this country to forget “vintage” traditions, I commend him or her to beg a ride in a Jowett “Javelin.” Taking over this newcomer, and motoring it from the first derestriction sign in a manner that made it necessary to remind the passenger that it was not a V8 and that its flat-four engine is of a mere 1,486 c.c. capacity, is one of my happiest of last year’s memories. The Javelin looks rather like the American cars that have made big inroads into markets Jowett soon hopes to invade, but it is actually of cleaner outline. It handles like a good Continental, yet in its ingenious design and construction is essentially British, and it possesses performance that is remarkably refreshing from a 1 1/2-litre 5-seater saloon. For these reasons, I say that apart from bringing the dollars home, it will be an extremely popular car here, when restrictions are lifted.
Another pleasant memory is that of a very refined “Ten” — the Lanchester with fluid flywheel, pre-selector gearbox, good performance and a praiseworthy ability to go fast round corners on an even keel, helped by Luvax shock-absorbers that really did their job.
If anyone wants further proof that British design is not stagnating, there are the Standard “Vanguard” — I confess I have not yet tried or seen one — the Frazer-Nash, which must surely rank high on the dreamer’s list of the world’s better cars, the Aerodynamic H.R.G., which combines the best of the ancient and modern worlds, the two-stroke 654-c.c. Lloyd, the “1800” Triumph, the Riley, the Bristol and that technical jig-saw, successfully solved, the Invicta “Black Prince.”
Britain has no rivals in the quality market. As a purely personal aside I think the “luxury” car has lost something of its old-time dignity. In the nineteen-twenties you swept up to the Society red carpet, appropriately, in a Big Six or Silver Ghost, but today’s “luxury” cars hide quality beneath an exterior shape and construction similar to that of other cars; gone is the six-foot bonnet and coachbuilt carriagework. Engine exteriors, too, are not what they were. Daimler alone, as befits the manufacturer who supplies the British Royal Family, offers in the magnificent 5 1/2-litre, straight-eight Daimler Thirty-Six a really dignified car. With the famous Daimler transmission, a cruising speed of 70 m.p.h., and splendid handling qualities, this big Daimler ranks as one of the world’s great cars — of any era. The Mk. VI Bentley is encountered surprisingly frequently on our roads in spite of austerity and petrol rationing and that is because no other car can get about quite so rapidly with so little apparent effort and such a high factor of safety and durability — so that V.I.P.s, to use a useful but horrid tag, need these cars now as they needed the Mk. V and earlier 4 1/2-litres during the war, to save them travelling time on work of national importance. Incidentally, a car able to cruise at 50 m.p.h. is not too tedious as transport, but a cruising speed of around 66 m.p.h., with a maximum in keeping, is necessary before you can apply the term “sports car.” When it comes to cruising at 70 to 80 m.p.h., with such speed attainable in third gear, and a maximum of around 100 m.p.h., you have real motoring, and a safe motoring, too, if brakes, road-holding and like qualities are of the same standard — although only fit and experienced drivers can habitually use such performance to the best advantage. It is this latter type of motoring which the Mk. VI offers, allied to Rolls-Royce silence and refinement, and nothing else in the world can equal such a combination of desirabilities. Britain certainly has nothing to fear in the millionaires’ market.
If these good British cars exist in all these various categories, why is it that the enthusiast is restless for cars he cannot have, even for such as the little Dyna-Panhard or Renault Juvaquartre? Having driven B.M.W., Lancia, F.I.A.T., Citroen, D.K.W. and the like for appreciable distances, I know the answer to that one! It is a question of the superior cornering and handling qualities of Continental cars. I have always said that the main criticism I have of the Lancia “Aprilia” — an Italian touring car dating back over ten years, yet giving 75-80 m.p.h. and better than 30 m.p.g. as a 1,352-c.c. saloon — is that it handles so well that you hardly realise how rapidly you are motoring it, and any skill you possess appears to be negatived. It does rather seem that all the world’s ordinary drivers, and not merely Mr. Brown of Balham, fail to appreciate good “feel” in a car — otherwise American and other cars presumably wouldn’t sell so well in export markets. But the chassis qualities which are so dear to British enthusiasts and which are taken for granted by the French and Italians could be developed into a very big sales-promoting factor. Some British cars are certainly beyond reproach in this respect and some of our utility cars now handle really well. But certain of our manufacturers should accept the fact that, unlike the late Ettore Bugatti, they do not understand rigid-axle suspension, and must rid themselves of cart-springs at the earliest opportunity.
May I be permitted one more criticism? It is that British cars are still far too heavy. A recently-introduced model, with valve gear like something out of an animated sewing-machine to make its engine efficient, still has a power/weight ratio inferior to that of the similar-sized “12/50” Alvis of nearly a quarter of a century ago. Why cannot Cisitalia-like chassis and light-alloy construction become a reality in this country? Apart from these two grumbles I have nothing but praise for what our Industry is producing. It will be able to play a very big part in putting Britain back on the map during the next few years, particularly if the Government offers reasonable co-operation. To allocate steel only to the “Big Six” and so cause cars of the Bentley type to go out of production might well jeopardise our export drive, because it is the high-performance and high-quality Britishers that achieve prestige overseas so beneficial to the sales of our technically less brilliant bread-and margarine types.
It behoves our manufacturers to do all they can for the British shop-window, Our national policy of self-condemnation and modesty MUST take a back seat; our cars MUST be popularised by every means at our disposal — competition successes, road-tests and advertising in those journals read by technically-proficient large-scale buyers of motor-cars. Our leading accessory makers, Lucas, Lodge, Ferodo, Dunlop and Lockheed in particular, are very willing to encourage the competition driver.
It behoves the Government to encourage an Industry which, in 1938, exported £12,922,000-worth of vehicles and employed some 415,000 workers. Such encouragement must take the form not only of allocations of materials and shipping facilities to exports, but of unrationed petrol so that the home market can be re-established and our cars enabled to provide, with the State Railways and State Airlines, efficient and pleasant transport for the peoples of these islands. W. B.