Having missed various road-test BMWs last year, Mr. Anton Hille, Marketing Director of BMW Concessionaires (GB) Ltd., suggested that I might like to assess one of the fine cars he sells, over a bigger mileage than usual. I readily concurred—who wouldn’t?—but when asked which BMW I would like to test, left the matter in his hands. The car eventually submitted turned out to be a Bristol grey 2500 with manual gearbox, upholstered in skai p.v.c. because, said Mr. Raymond Playfoot, who was looking after the transaction, “I know the Motoring Dog(s) travel with you.” (As a matter of fact they don’t ride in many road-test cars these days, because their degree of Moult defeats most vacuum-cleaners, but Mr. Playfoot’s thoughtfulness was nevertheless appreciated . . . .)
This elegant and spacious BMW arrived at an opportune moment in my motoring life, inasmuch as the faithful and much-liked leather upholstered Editorial Rover 2000 TC, in which both dogs did ride, had become somewhat long-in-the-tooth, sluggish, with a boot-lid all too ready to fly open even when locked, a loose hand-brake grip, undependable starting, and front suspension which all too rapidly wore illegal flats on the outer extremities of the front tyres. It was due for replacement anyway and I favoured a Rover 3500 V8 but due to the inability of Solihull to let me try a manual-transmission version, either for road-test or as a potential customer, over a period of five months, the matter is in abeyance. So I was all set to become BMW-minded …
I think Mr. Playfoot suggested a 2500 for appraisal because this BMW has the merit of putting a six-cylinder car from the famous Bavarian Motor Works within reach of those who (or whose companies) have £3,000 to spend. It costs, in fact, one pound-sterling under this sum, in round figures, although in the case of “my” BMW the price would be £3,037.50, due to extras comprising power steering and front-seat headrests. Anyone contemplating a Mercedes-Benz at this price-ceiling is restricted to a plain 250 saloon, and even this costs £67 more than the BMW 2500. I have suggested previously that the V8 Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5 is a superior car, but so it should be, for it exceeds the cost of a BMW 2500 by no less than £2,159.
So the purchaser of a BMW 2500 is likely to compare this car with the Jaguar XJ6 (£2,937 in 4.2 de luxe form), the Rover 3500S (£2,096) or the Rover 3 1/2-litre (£2,627). Unless absolute economy were the watchword, I would refuse the Jaguar, in spite of its larger engine, because I cannot abide its clutch and gearbox and do not want an automatic, although, to be fair, an Automatic XJ6 is available for £90 more than the BMW in question—on the performance front, however, the Jaguar with 1.7 more litres is not a noticeable advance on the BMW, but its fuel bill would he appreciably higher. The V8 Rover with 2000-type gearbox I haven’t driven and both XJ6 and Rover 3 1/2-litre I would eschew anyway as likely soon to be obsolescent—the XJ6 supplemented or replaced by an XJ12, the big Rover probably quietly faded-out.
Thus, all in all, the BMW 2500 seems an excellent proposition for those buying the lower echelon of luxury motor car—a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, which I readily admit is in a most worthy niche of its own, is £6,878 more costly, just to provide a sense of proportion . . .
There is, of course, the BMW 2800, and if you want to know how very highly I rate this car, I can but refer you to what I wrote about it in Motor Sport for October 1969. It is, however, at £3,347, well outside the convenient £3,000 spending price, and the spendthrift 2500 owner is, in fact, sacrificing only 12 (SAE) b.h.p., which represents a loss of only about 3 m.p.h. in top speed and about half-a-second on that telling 0-60 m.p.h. acceleration. There are also the magnificent BMW 3.0 S and 3.0 CS models, but these lift the customer into the £3,700 and £5,300 cost brackets, respectively. Let us look, then, at the more practical proposition of a £3,000 BMW 2500.
I put this 2500 to an immediate test for restful motoring, inasmuch as I drove to the office from Wales for the last time in the Rover 2000 TC (rather sad, after its 54,000 miles of service!), did half-a-day’s work in the half-light and chill dictated by the Miners’ Union, and, never having sat in it previously, drove 180 miles home in the new German car—and it was all most comfortable and effortless.
The BMW had just 143 miles on its total odometer, having presumably been driven up from the Brighton depot, and for a short distance by the receiving member of our staff, who enthusiastically reported a nice gear-change and much urge. The Managing Director of Motor Sport, who knows about BMWs, although his present allegiance is to a V8 Mercedes-Benz and an Alfa Romeo 2000GTV, reminded me about running-in the new machine from Munchen. This is no hardship, involving as it does not exceeding (in round figures, converting from k.p.h. to m.p.h.) 56 in third, 78 in top for the initial 625 miles, 66 and 90 respectively, for the next 625—what you might call academic loosening-up, in this speed-limit-ridden land.
Remembering Parry Thomas’ edict that it is better to break-in a stiff engine by letting it run freely but never labour, I kept the five-bearing six, which, incidentally, has the old-fangled dimensions of a stroke longer than its bore, 71.6 x 86 mm., at between 2,000 and 4,000 r.p.m., whereas its peak-power pace is 6,000 r.p.m., and launched myself into the stop-start of London commuter traffic, made worse because offices were closing early due to the blackout. While intermittent rain was falling I revelled in the effective intermittent five seconds screen wiping obtainable by pressing a button on the extremity of the right-hand stalk control, which also serves for turn-signalling, washers and parking lights, the horn being sounded by depressing controls set conveniently in the steering-wheel spokes. As the rain became heavier I was defeated in getting continuous wiper action until I discovered an unlabelled knob, farther away than the cigarette-lighter, which brought in the two-speed wipers. But the overall system is excellent, because when this knob is used it is possible to stop or start the wipers from the aforesaid button; when the knob is set to “off” this stalk-button reverts to intermittent wiper action and pulling up the stalk powerfully washes the screen at all times.
The lamps are set to side or head from another, well-placed knob and dipped by moving downwards the precision left-hand stalk, which also works the flasher. I was disappointed in the illumination given by the Hella headlamps—the four mean-looking little Lucas lamps of the Rover, although I have heard them criticised, always gave me an excellent light, even when dipped, whereas the BMW’s dipped beams are pathetic. The facia lighting dims or can be extinguished by turning the lamps’ knob and the fuel-filler lives beneath the hinged rear numberplate, which seems like borrowing ideas from General Motors. The heater is adequate if the quiet fan is used in winter conditions. The gears are notably unobtrusive.
I had not gone far in “my” fine new 150-b.h.p. motor-car, enjoying the hard but extremely comfortable driving seat, easily adjustable for squab angle and with adjustable head-rest, when the gear-lever grip came off in my hand. It is a long rubber sleeve like a bicycle handlebar grip, which ever since has resolutely refused to stay on the threaded end of the gear-lever. Normally, a wooden gear-lever knob is fitted, this sleeve grip being by way of a luxury, which BMW have promised to glue on properly. This set-back marred the pleasure of using what is normally a very nice gearbox, although with long lever movements compared to the Rover, reverse quite easily engaged by poking the lever outboard of first gear. The central hand-brake, which operates separate dual servo self-centering shoes in rear-wheel 160-mm. diameter drums, has an excellent action and although the dual, servo-operated, all-disc 272-mm. diameter brakes have a hard feel and at first seem unconvincing, when some Welsh sheep strayed in my path beyond New Radnor I experienced what very effective anchors they are when stamped on—this just after I had been reflecting that disc brakes, like reciprocating engines, should be run-in! Sheep are usually very sensible in avoiding cars and it is the tourists from the wens who give themselves away by getting in a flap about those they think are going to cross the road, but the couple I encountered that night were probably pre-occupied with how the Common Market vote was likely to go . . .
It is too early at this stage to write at length about the BMW 2500, except to say that I am already enamoured of its forgiving ability to corner fast without any anxieties, in spite of quite supple all-round coil-spring independent suspension, its ZF power steering, with a taxi lock, and the smooth urge, even under breaking-in limitations, which enables it to out-accelerate lesser cars out of bends, having gained yards on them by the tenacity of grip of its Michelin-shod wheels going through them. I am not sure that I quite like the balance of the car on sudden corners and I shall need time to get used to the power steering, again a distinct contrast to the Rover’s not altogether distinguished manual steering gear. That gear-lever sleeve continues to come off at every gear-change, enabling me to wave it at young bloods when (and if) they go past in their Elans and Mexicos, and I was disappointed at the ineffectiveness of the rear-window demister, after I had discovered its under-facia button which flanks one for operating the panic-flashers and another which brings in an extra rear lamp (if the headlamps are on) for motoring on Motorways in fog—in this cautious age the BMW is well equipped with emergency lighting! The Vdo Kienzle clock before the front-seat passenger is commendably accurate. The release handle for the front-hinged bonnet lives inside the illuminated drop-stowage-well on the near side and as it has to be used to work the bonnet grips while someone outside shuts the lid, this is inconvenient on a r.h.d. car. There are at times too many reflections in the windscreen, as I found on the 2.8, and the safety-belt anchorages are embarrassingly intimate with the hand-brake, so that one of them got caught beneath it, preventing the parking brake from releasing fully. The Blaupunkt Blue Spot radio suffered a bit from blanketing in the Brecons, in spite of the abnormally tall, tail-mounted aerial, which really requires automatic retraction to prevent it getting damaged on trees and bushes—and surely a BMW is likely to be driven through higher mountains with the radio playing Wagner, in its native country? Otherwise, no complaints in this initial 1,630 miles, apart from a tiny facia button, the purpose of which I haven’t discovered, “coming off in me ‘and”—the handbook, you see, appears to omit it and in any case calls for a knowledge of technical German—and rather low-geared window winders. There is already a very slight dent on the off-side rear wing, caused by the visiting chauffeur of a Silver Shadow who reversed vigorously down the office car-park approach, brushing me against the stationery BMW before rubbing the R-R along its side. Remonstrated with, he immediately paid a compliment to my virility—a sad reminder that times have changed and vulgarity comes readily to the tongue even of R-R chauffeurs, although I hope this one isn’t typical of the fraternity—the car, even while being abused, was so much more dignified than its surprisingly incompetent driver . . . .
Comparing the BMW 2500 with the Rover 3500 V8 I was so keen to try, the latter has an out-dated, cramped body shell, seating four only, and over-complicated suspension, and in spite of having 1,000-c.c. more swept-volume in its Buick-crib engine than the German car, is not all that much of a better performer—equal perhaps on speed, but more accelerative by only one-fifth sec. or so in the 0-60 m.p.h. bracket, they tell me. The BMW, while not being an over-big car to park or drive in traffic, is much more spacious, with an almost unlimited amount of useful internal stowage and a very big boot. I will tell you more, as the miles mount up. (To date I have to confess that the 600-mile first-service check has been passed without an opportunity to have it carried out; indeed, the BMW became fully run-in going along Marylebone High Street en-route on its second round-trip of 360 miles to the office and home again in a day, a journey of which it makes very light work). — W. B.
It is interesting, in view of recent correspondence, to find references, in Unofficial History, by Field-Marshal Sir William Slim, KG, GCB, GCMG, GCVO, GBE, DSO, MC (Cassell, 1959, Corgi paperback, 1970), recommended by a reader, to find that the leader of the Fourteenth Army refers to “a mustard-yellow Rolls with the most sportive of sporting bodies” which he encountered in Piccadilly Circus in 1920. He goes on to explain how it was “imported” as the spoils of war by Tony Ayrton, who had it brought back from Mesopotamia, an engine salvaged from one shot-up armoured car having been installed in it from an even more badly-damaged one. An Army carpenter made a box body of wood salvaged from the Inland Water Department, the resultant Silver Ghost being shipped from Aden to Southampton in 1919, where an old Ford was put in its place in the ship, with prior arrangement with Ayrton’s brother, and the Rolls-Royce driven away, to be subsequently re-bodied, which is something R-R enthusiasts may like to ponder. The Field-Marshal noticed the size of a General omnibus of 1920, compared to those he had last seen in 1915, which may interest the HCVC, and he refers to “a great Mercedes, certainly the biggest car I had ever seen in Mesopotamia”, which blew up in the desert on a campaign with the aforesaid Rolls-Royce armoured cars. He also mentions armoured cars in Iraq in 1941, armed only with Vickers machine-guns, describing one as a high ugly machine, the body of which dated from 1921, the engine from 1936, a museum piece, using large wheels with tyres of a size used by no modern vehicle”—which is one for the military-vehicle experts.— W. B.
Congratulations, Lofty !
Last month Sir William Lyons retired after 50 years of piloting Jaguar Cars Ltd. to this company’s present eminent position and 60-year-old F. R. W. England took over as Chairman and Chief Executive. From time to time we receive notices of new business appointments and promotions but we ignore the majority of them as more appropriate to the Financial Times and Money than to motoring.
With “Lofty” England (“Lofty” because he stands 6.5 ft. in his socks—being essentially British, Jaguar do not quote his height in metres in their hand-out) it is different, because all his life he has been keen on motorcycles and cars and so is one of us. An apprentice at “The Daimler” from 1927 to 1932, he then became a racing mechanic successively to Birkin, Seaman, “Bira” and ERA. He also competed in the 1932 RAC Rally in a Daimler Double-Six, rode a 250-cc. Python into second place in the 1936 Lightweight Manx GP (pictured above), had a works Cotton-JAP for the 1937 Lightweight TT, and raced Dunham’s 12/70 Alvis while Assistant Service Manager at Alvis Ltd. During the war England flew Lancasters on daylight radar raids. So he understands the practical side of the game.
In 1946 England left Alvis for Jaguar, where he rose from Service Manager to Service Director, Assistant Managing Director, Deputy Managing Director, Joint Managing Director and Deputy Chairman, to his present lofty position—but we wonder at which he was the happier, controlling racing machines or controlling Jaguar?
England was responsible for Jaguar’s competition activities in the great days of the C- and D-types and the Le Mans victories. He is President of the British Racing Mechanics Club, a BRDC member, and President of the Jaguar Apprentices’ MC. Sir William says he has great faith in him. To his credit “Lofty” uses as regular transport, not a Daimler Sovereign or limousine, but a V12 E-type, Our congratulations — W. B.