Across the Mill Pond
America is an ally of ours and, indeed, her armed forces occupy our island. So it is necessary that a conscientious motoring journalist should keep a watchful eye on the automobiles that emanate from the U.S.A. More than ever before are Americans small foreign-car conscious. While their own products seem to be standing unsold in the showrooms to some extent small imported cars are in great demand, following the lead given to motor-car import sales in the U.S.A. by British M.G., Jaguar and other sports cars.
There is no doubt about it, Americans know far more about motoring, fast motoring and motor cars than they did a mere decade back—W. O. Bentley predicts that one day they will win at Le Mans. Their specialised journals nowadays publish technical road-test reports on their own and foreign automobiles, whereas at one time very little was available to American readers about comparative car performance so far as their own publications were concerned. Of these reports, those in Motor Trend are perhaps the most technical and complete accounts, England, of course, led the way in publishing technical road-test reports and the writer will continue to compile outspoken analyses ol interesting cars, although it is unlikely that he will wear overalls when driving test cars, and if he does wear overalls they certainly will not be inscribed Motor Sport across the shoulders, as is the practice in the States!
One interesting piece of information which has emerged from California recently is that the California Highway Patrol, which uses more than 800 police cars, buying 200 to 300 at a time, has conducted exhaustive tests at Riverside International Motor Raceway, near Los Angeles, to decide on its next order for patrol automobiles.
In the first place the California Highway Patrol engineers draw up a basic specification of their requirements, submitting these to automobile manufacturers anxious to secure the contract—which spells not merely much money but, perhaps even more valuable, high-pressure publicity. The car required is a two-door saloon with a wheelbase of not less than 10 ft. 2 in.. with ample head and legroom, automatic transmission (interesting, this !), heavy-duty springs, shock-absorbers and brake fluid, no trace of fuel vapour lock, adequate speed, acceleration and braking and good roadholding. It has to be an o.h.v, single-carburetter V8 of not below 350 cu. in. and a compression-ratio of at least 10 to 1, and bigger tyres than are usual on modern U.S. vehicles, 15-in, heavy-duty nylon, are specified. Weight must be less than approximately 34 cwt. unladen.
To this tender Buick, Dodge, Mercury, Oldsmobile and Pontiac submitted automobiles. These the California police technicians put through a series of exacting tests. Not unnaturally, the results are not disclosed to the public but—we quote from Motor Trend— it is significant that, on average, the cars tested exceeded police minimum requirements by 7.26 m.p.h., 7.65 m.p.h. and 11.94 m.p.h. in a series of three acceleration tests. These tests comprised, respectively, a s.s. 1/4-mile, 1/4-mile from a 50-m.p.h. f.s., and speed at the end of a s.s. 3/4-mile. Patrol drivers handled each of the five cars in these tests, under the supervision of the Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol, with a police inspector as assistant. So it is significant that the speed average in the third of these tests was no less than 111.94 m.p.h.
In addition, braking was tested for power, deviation from straightline stopping and fade, and the patrol drivers each drove five laps of the 3.3-mile race circuit, which has 11 corners per lap, while the roadholding qualities of the cars were assessed. During the tests the Oldsmobile seems to have rolled too much and when braking the Buick actually shed a front wheel!
It seems that the American automobile industry takes this police testing very seriously, sending to the track their technical representatives, who record and photograph the happenings and then return post haste to Detroit to report to their company's engineers, designers and testers.
Intrigued at the thought of the head of Scotland Yard's buying department putting prospective police cars through similar tests at Silverstone or Goodwood, we asked the Metropolitan Police how they choose their Wolseleys, Morris Oxfords, Humbers and Jaguars. They replied that their cars are chosen after tests by their Engineering Section but that the nature of these tests cannot be disclosed to the press.
Reverting to Los Angeles and Detroit, which car did the California Highway Patrol choose as a result of their tests? They decided on a specially-equipped Dodge Custom Coronet two-door saloon with D-500 engine. These cars have safety belts, extra long and strong back springs, non-power steering requiring 5.2 turns lock-to-lock. non-power brakes, torsion-bar Torsion-Aire i.f.s., Torque Flite three-speed automatic transmission and twin four-choke carburetters. The power claimed for the police Dodge Custom Coronet is 320 b.h.p. and it goes from 0-60 m.p.h. in 9.3 sec., covering the s.s. 1/4-mile in 17.3 sec. (84 m.p.h.). The single-carburetter version is claimed to give 305 b.h.p. and acceleration of the four-door Dodge Custom Royal D500, which will no doubt receive a big sales-boost on account of police acceptance of the very similar two-door version, is within mere fractions of a second of those of the hotted-up police job.
* * *
Taking the three top-horsepower cars of the three top-selling U.S.A. makes and studying the road-test reports in the aforesaid painstaking journal, it seems that the Chevrolet Bel Air Impala two-door saloon, with 348 cu. in. oversquare 280-b.h.p. engine and Turboglide two-speed automatic transmission, puts it across its rivals well and truly on most counts. Its rivals being, in order of merit, the Plymouth Belvedere Fury two-door saloon with 350 cu. in. engine and Torque Flite three-speed push-button automatic transmission, which scores on acceleration, and the Ford Fairlane 500 two-dour saloon with 352 cu. in., 300-b.h.p. engine and Cruise-o-Matic three-speed automatic transmission. All are good cars of their kind but the Chevrolet Impala seems almost twice as good as the Plymouth and is described as "the car to capture those interested in an American Gran Turismo." Last thought—these big American V8s turn over pretty rapidly—the Plymouth Belvedere Fury V-800 engine peaks at no less than 5,200 r.p.m. in "hot" tune.
It is pleasing to learn, in connection with the 1,000-mile Glasgow Herald Highland Rally to be held at Easter, that the Dumbartonshire police have promised that "arrangements will be put in hand to facilitate competitors," the police of Renfrewshire have advised the organisers of co-operation, and "all reasonable assistance" has been guaranteed by the Argyll police.
XVth Scottish Rally
The next Scottish Rally of the R.S.A.C. takes place from May 26th-30th. The route returns to the Highlands, with Grantown-on Spey as its centre. The event, of international status, takes in historic and beautiful districts in the North and West Highlands. The prize list is deseribed as generous and there will be a special class for four-wheelers with reverse gear and an engine capacity not exceeding 350 c.c. Entries close on April 28th. Details from A. K. Stevenson. R.A.S.C., Blythswood Square, Glasgow, C.2.
For the record, the R.A.C. has awarded the Dunlop Rubber Co. the Dewar Trophy for their disc-brake development work and tyre development, Stirling Moss has won the Segrave Trophy for 1957 in recognition of his racing and record-breaking activities in British cars, Tony Vandervell was deservedly presented with the Ferodo Trophy for building the G.P.-winning Vanwalls, and The Autocar Formula II Championship Trophy for 1957 was won by Tony Marsh—runners-up, Salvadori and Brabham.