A Car for Fresh-Air Motoring
I have to thank Rootes for providing the best possible weather —”June in March”—during the time when I had a Singer Gazelle Series IIIB convertible for road-test, the first Singer I had driven since I sampled a Hunter in 1956—I am glad it was a Singer; had it been a Hillman it might have been full of grinning bouncing babies, telling me they were Hillman men and that I was about to drive the most elegant automobile ever to please the eye of a seasoned motorist, to experience such comfort, such luxury, such finish and style (etc.), whereas I prefer to listen to more mature judgment or, better still, form my own opinions . . .
Concerning convertibles, many Motor Sport readers will agree that to go from a static, heated room to a mobile heated ditto isn’t motoring and that the genuine motorist, as distant from a commuter, drives an open or openable car. All owners of sports cars subscribe to this theory and as taking great gulps of fresh air is one of the very few free pleasures left to the human race, there is a great deal to be said for open or convertible bodywork.
Remembering how I remained immune from colds and ‘flu when I was driving daily a Morgan Plus Four, which had its hood erected only in tropical downpours or when swirling snowflakes threatened to reduce visibility, I am an advocate of open-air motoring, especially for other people. Seriously, however, the convertible is a very attractive proposition for those who motor for pleasure and enjoyment, particularly remembering the sort of summer we experienced in 1959. After all, when you go for a walk you do so to take exercise and get in close contact with scenery, countryside scents and fresh air; if it looks like rain you don’t don a space-helmet but you may take an umbrella with you. A convertible can be described as a motor car with inbuilt umbrella—albeit the hood isn’t always as easy to erect as any self-respecting umbrella is to open! Incidentally, with the hood down a driver feels in closer contact with traffic around him, and drives better in consequence.
Hoping, then, for a summer punctuated with nothing worse than showers, it seemed a good idea to contemplate a return to open-air motoring, for which a convertible is just the job. And when I think of convertibles I think of the Rootes Group, who list excellent bodies of this sort with Hillman, Singer and Sunbeam labels.
Contemplating a family convertible, I accepted for road-test a very eyeable, two-tone Singer Gazelle. This has a very good arrangement of folding hood and wind-up glass windows, providing a fully-open, a coupe de ville or a snug closed car to choice. In the fully-open position the hood folds completely out of sight behind the back seat and is concealed by a leather cover secured with press-studs. To achieve the handsome coupe de ville position this cover is removed, the centre pillars pulled forward until they lock in the vertical position (interior handles are provided for unlocking the pillars) and the front part of the hood is rolled up and secured to the centre pillar with two press-button straps. After which, if it turns cold or wet (or both!) the forward part of the hood which covers the front seats can be unrolled, the hinged side struts are then pushed outwards in line with the tops of the front windows, the pegs in the front rail are lined up with holes in the screen rail and the side struts are then fully extended so that the pegs engage and are secured by tightening by hand a knob on each side. Erecting or lowering the hood of a Rootes convertible is a simple, satisfactory operation and certainly the three hood positions provided constitute an attraction that an open touring car lacks.
With the side windows up and the heater on fresh air can be enjoyed without recourse to Arctic clothing, and even with a front window lowered very little draught enters; the same applies with the hood in the coupe de ville position, rear-seat occupants having no reason to complain of a draught.
The only penalties which have to be paid for having the convertible (apart from a price increase of £109 over that of the saloon) are considerable body and scuttle shake over bad road surfaces, when the absence of stiffening which the body shell derives from a metal roof, is very conspicuous, causing a driver who has any feeling for his car to reduce speed materially until smoother roads prevail, and slight curtailment of rearward vision when the hood is erect. The Singer Gazelle convertible is one of the best of its kind and has that air of quality for which Rootes Group cars are notable.
Upholstery is in Vynide, the facia and fillets are of burr walnut, and an efficient Smiths heater/demister/defroster and H.M.V. radio were included in the test car’s equipment and its appearance was enhanced by whitewall Dunlop Gold Seal tubeless tyres. The front seat is of bench-type with divided squab, each section of which folds forward at an angle, a la Borgward, to give easy access to the back seat of the two-door body. The body is rather narrow and a floor gear-lever and transmission tunnel divide the front compartment, but three slim people can occupy the front seat without becoming unduly intimate. Forward visibility is good and there are quarter-lights in the front doors so that, hood up, ventilation is as on the saloon; a separate fresh-air ventilator (duplicated for North American countries) is provided, controlled by an under-facia control with three settings.
I like the Singer instrumentation, which consists of a central 100-m.p.h. Jaeger (i.e., Smiths) speedometer, flanked by separate dials indicating oil pressure, water temperature, fuel contents and dynamo charge, and, as an extra, a Smiths clock. Lettered knobs look after lights, choke and wipers, right-hand stalk levers control flashers and the overdrive (the latter inoperative on the test car), an under-facia switch puts on instrument lighting (which, however, fails to illuminate the heater controls), and a switch for the efficient Lumax fog-lamp and the screen-washers button are convenient to the driver’s right hand. The handbrake is out of the way yet admirably placed on the right and the short central gear-lever operates a very pleasing, if harsh gear-change. The steering wheel carries a horn ring and although a roof lamp is not possible on a convertible there is a useful side-mounted interior lamp in the back compartment, with courtesy action.
A very big lockable cubby-hole with drop lid to act as a shelf and a shallow facia ledge before the driver provide for stowage of motoring oddments, and the luggage boot, with lockable, self-propping lid, is of generous dimensions, the spare wheel being carried on the off side. There are sill door-locks, good vizors, and quick-action petrol filler cap.
The four-cylinder 79 x 76.2 mm. (1,494-c.c.) o.h.v. engine develops 60 b.h.p. at 4,500 r.p.m. and provides indicated maxima in the gears of 27, 45 and 72 m.p.h., and had overdrive been available I should have expected an easy top speed of 85 m.p.h.
The ride is comfortable, but somewhat “dead” and old-fashioned, as one expects from a car with a cart-sprung rigid back axle, but roll is not excessive at the speeds Gazelle drivers use and the cornering characteristic is mild understeer.
I never gave a thought to the Lockheed brakes, which is the finest praise I can bestow on them.
The steering could be lighter and the action is too spongy; it is geared three turns, lock-to-lock. The Singer returned a petrol consumption of 24.8 m.p.g., which gives an absolute range of 248 miles; had the overdrive solenoid not packed up a better m.p.g. figure would no doubt have been recorded. In a distance of nearly 800 miles a pint of oil was consumed. No other trouble was experienced, apart from the lamps-dimmer shedding its rubber.
For those seeking a handsome, quality-finished and equipped 1½-litre family convertible the Singer Gazelle is a very good proposition. It costs £957 7s. 6d. inclusive of purchase tax without heater and radio, etc. With extras, as tested, it costs £1,075 2s. 11d.—W. B.