Rumblings, April 1957



British Designers Are Not (We Hope) April Fools

On this April Fool’s Day we would like to place on record that British automobile designers and engineers are not fools. If the Industry will give them a free hand we are confident that they are fully capable — even  though their ranks have been decimated by the drift of skilled personnel to the Aircraft Industry — of meeting the menace of foreign competition which formed the subject of a recent debate in the House of Commons, to which we refer in this month’s Editorial.

In the experimental departments up and down the country British engineers are perfecting long-overdue i.r.s. systems. Let us not lose sight of the fact that there are also factories on the Continent — Alfa-Romeo, B.M.W., Simca, Opel, Peugeot, Volvo, etc. — where the rigid back axle has to be banished before their cars can be considered fully up to date.

It is to be hoped that our technicians will be encouraged to experiment with front-wheel drive when engines are at the front, or with rear engines with rear-wheel drive, to eliminate the propeller-shaft, and that air-cooling, the two-stroke cycle, petrol injection and gas-suspension will not be overlooked. Austin-Healey, Triumph and M.G. have shown how inexpensive sports cars can be built from the main components of family saloons and it remains for them to emulate A.C. in the adoption of i.r.s. There is scope for a simplified sports car of competitive price that will exceed 100 m.p.h., by reason of bodywork giving a suitably low head-resistance, not necessarily fully aerodynamic.

The Morris Minor was a brilliant little car when it was introduced just after the war and the splendid handling qualities with which torsion-bar i.f.s. and a small road wheel “at each corner” endowed it, together with smooth rack-and-pinion steering, were quickly recognised by enthusiasts. However, although its performance has recently been boosted by a h.c. engine, this fine little motor car never got the flat-four engine its designer had hoped to provide for it. It would be nice to see a miniature version, using a flat-four engine of about 500 c.c. That should compete with the armies of new mini-cars which march along the autostrada, autobahn and autoroads better than some of the British mini-cars which, with primary chains and motor-cycle engines, have rather too close an affinity with those cyclecars from the dim and distant past.

At the last Earls Court Show Britain proved to be well ahead with automatic clutches and fully-automatic transmission and no doubt progress in this direction will continue. We are also following Citroen’s lead in using disc brakes, which are found on Triumph TR3, Lotus and Jensen 541, and this is another development which should bring British cars to the front, for three leading brake manufacturers have suitable disc brakes ready, as we showed last month.

In the matter of family transport we need a small car possessing sufficient novel but not un-tested items of technical specification to give it sales-appeal, which also calls for modern styling. There seems no reason why the quick and pleasant gear-change and finger-light steering of the VW cannot be emulated in this country, or why British body designers shouldn’t be able to make dust-proof doors and lasting finishes. Given such ability, and a development engineer who is determined that the production model will be at least 1 cwt. lighter, not heavier, than the prototype, World sales should come flooding back to us, especially if we can design a small car as handsome as the Dauphine, or the Simca Plein Ciel or VW Karmann-Ghia in a rather more expensive category.

So far as after-sales service is concerned, the motto must be that the customer may be a nuisance but he is always right. The goodwill gained by free replacement of faulty parts during the first year’s ownership (longer in the case of a quality car) surely offsets the comparatively microscopic cost of such parts and labour in a vast motor-car empire !

When it comes to sports cars we should try for more speed, so that British models can at least keep the Continentals in sight.

We have the know-how amongst men like Colin Chapman, Rodney Clark, W. Heynes and others, and it is about time the Industry gave such fine engineers a chance to set their sights on Continental opposition.

In the matter of publicity, too, we must aim high. When Regie Renault wanted to lay the bogy that excessive over-steer is inevitable with rear-engine location they flew a party of International journalists to Corsica and let them thrash the then-new Dauphine over hundreds of miles of wild mountainous roads. Quite a few cars developed dents in spite of their tenacious roadholding, but there cannot be a journalist from that party who any longer condemns rear-engine location out of hand as provoking bad handling in a car.

More recently Renault invited total strangers to take away a Fregate and drive it, not round-the-block or for an afternoon, but for a week. Then, although no one was asked to complete a questionnaire, comments under various headings, when made, were noted and the proportion of favourable to unfavourable findings as to comfort, handling, economy and brakes, etc., published in the catalogue. Both these “stunts” could only be instituted by a manufacturer who has great confidence in his products.

More than ever is successful participation in important rallies and races essential. In the recent Sestriere Rally, won by a 750-c.c. air-cooled Dyna-Panhard, British drivers discovered that their cars were mostly too slow to compete successfully in speed tests against Continental cars of equivalent and sometimes smaller capacity. But we must go on trying to use this medium to publicise our cars. It is excellent that works teams of Aston Martins and Lotus will run at Le Mans but other manufacturers are sadly backward in coming forward. And where are the British works entries for Sebring and the Mille Miglia? In the latter race, especially, we ought to do something about the Fiats and Renaults that dominate the small-car classes; success in the 750-c.c., 1,100-c.c. and 1,500-c.c. categories is all-important at the present time and if a Berkeley could win the 500-c.c. class . . .

Get Out Those Shooting Sticks!

The English speed season opens with a vengeance on April 6th — may the weather be spring-like. On that day the B.R.D.C. will hold the National British Empire Trophy Sports-Car Race at Oulton Park, Cheshire, run as three separate races, for 1.200-c.c., 2,000-c.c., and unlimited capacity cars, respectively. 1956 as well as 1957 models are eligible, running on petrol, and the Trophy goes to the fastest car. The bigger the gate the greater will be the reward to competitors, which may be a further incentive for you to attend. Admission will cost 5s., grandstand seats 20s., transfer to Paddock 10s., car park 8s. Details from 29, Eastgate Row North, Chester (‘phone: 26828).

On the same day there is the V.S.C.C. Silverstone Race Meeting (see page 178) and the Bugatti O.C. has its Testing Week-end at Prescott Hill, near Cheltenham, where many improvements are being made for this season.

The B.A.R.C. is going ahead with its published programme of Southern events, but the Aintree International Race Meeting billed for April 13th and the experimental evening meeting on May 24th will not be held. Goodwood on Easter Monday promises intense excitement, because an excellent entry has been promised, including two each of B.R.M., Connaught and Vanwall in the 75-mile Richmond F.I Race, many new F.II cars and the usual sports cars, including the Ecurie Ecosse Jaguars. Racing commences at 1 p.m. and admission will cost 7s. 6d. each to the public enclosure, with 22s. 6d. transfer to grandstands or Paddock, car parking costing 5s. or 10s.

Good spectating—and may your petrol tanks never run dry!