ON PERFORMANCE FOR SALE
AT which period in motoring history reliability or, if you prefer it, dependability, could be taken for granted so far as the general run of cars was concerned, is a puzzle which quite often obsesses us. Not, perhaps, in prewar times. And yet, even before the European dispute of 1914-18 there were a lot of extremely reliable touring cars, some of them quite inexpensive. After all, I imagine that the 1913 Mors and 1913 Enfield-Alldays which Shakespeare uses for vintage events would constitute quite reasonably reliable touring vehicles, and I know that Col. Clutton.’s old Fafnir and Forrest Lycett’s ” Alphonso ” Hispano-Suiza are used in this way, to good purpose. We once accompanied Marcus Chambers to Shelsley and home again to London on the 1907 42 b.p. Renault which Lavender drove in the Vintage Cup Race at Crystal Palace last month, without serious disabilities arising. So it would be unfair to write down all pre-war cars as unhappily lacking in reliability. Perhaps, however, it will be granted that in those times, and for a long time after 1918, attempts to inbuild extremely interesting performance into ordinary cars very often, if not always„ undermined the reliability and ease-of-servicing factors. For, even some time after the Armistice, the sports-car was one thing and the touring car quite another animal. As a small, but thus early a very dyed-in-the-wool motoring enthusiast, I used to ride at times in luxury cars of the immediate post-war period, such as the Austin Twenty, the Armstrong Siddeley Thirty, the big six-cylinder Wolseleys and the 40/50 Napier and so on, and. believe me, mostly if such cars ran at 50 m.p.h. you were doing very nicely. Consider what is expected of a modern Rolls-Royce, Daimler, Packard, Armstrong or any other luxury closed carriage in the matter of speed and acceleration and you see how things have altered. I grant you that potent performance and joyful urge could be had when you and I were mainly concerned with smuggling copies of the ” Autocar ” into our school-desks, without dire disaster following in their wake, as the 3-litre Bentley and 30/98 Vauxhall and 12/50 Alvis and other good cars testified. But most certainly this wasn’t always the case. There was, and not so long ago either, a certain quite desirable motor-car which performed very outstandingly indeed, but which, in so doing, would melt the copper rings incorporated in its cylinder head with dire results. There was another sports job, from a very famous house, in which the cooling water went funny places and corroded the head and another car with urge that captivated the sportsmen and the clutch of which refused to disengage if it became at all wet. Back axles used to give up the struggle quite frequently in the nineteentwenties with engines proudly boasting Brooklands’ urge and there was one small car, quite iamiliar in trials, which had a delightfully simple lubrication system so that you could profitsbly bet on tin likelihood of No. 1 big end going after climbing any hill steeper than about 1 in 6. Apart from actual unreliability,
many of these early cars, which seemed so desirable judged on road-test figures, could prove appallingly expensive to service, due to eccentricacies of design and construction. Do not imagine that we are ” anti
vintage.” Very much the contrary And if you know anything of the Vintage S.C.C. you will know that these enthusiasts who rave over old sports-cars, understand just which were, and which were not, good cars when they were new. Nowadays, with a very few exceptions, motor-cars are largely taken for granted when it comes to matters of reliability, ease-of-servicing, and completeness of equipment. No matter how rapid your 1939 car, you never contemplate failing to complete a given journey, on account of mechanical mis-adventure. So far as servicing is concerned, in spite of all
that is said and written about sheets of tin concealing vital things, and generally rendering the works inaccessible, automatic chassis lubrication and built-in jacks help quite a lot and the car goes for tens of thousands of miles without going sick, and, when it does, it is ministered to quite effectively by the modern service station. Nearly every modern sports-car has reasonable bodywork and decent equipment—indeed, it is remarkable how spartan a car priced at four figures ten years ago looks beside a j;300 sports-car of to-day. And specialist coachwork is a so much cheaper proposition than it used to be, so that you can always suit your own, individual requirements when you have come upon a chassis which performs just as you wish—the Allan’s of D. G. Silcock and V. S. A. Biggs are truly excellent examples of the specialist coachbuilders’ abilities. In short, cars are sold to-day chiefly on performance comparisons. Happily, in this direction this country has little to fear ; always admitting the apparently greater point-to-point Speed of Continental babies
which is mainly attributable to better road-clinging, and the excellent performance charts of French sports-cars falling within the L600-1,000 costcatagory.
Alvis, with their 4.3-litre sports job, offer a car that is essentially modern, possessed of a very easily manipulated all-synchro four-speed gearbox and which the acceleration figures are really immense, notwithstanding a maximum speed of some 103 m.p.h. The 41-litre Bentley is every bit what we wished our so-called luxury cars and town-carriages of an earlier decade to be, yet it contrives to comfortably better 93 m.p.h. and to leave the best American tin-ware on acceleration. And, talking, of cars built primarily as luxury vehicles and certainly not as sports jobs, the 41litre Daimler touring limousine, by contriv
ing to do over 70 m.p.h. and 0-50 m.p.h. in under 18 sees., shows just how far we have progressed with this type, especially as the price is about 1,000 down on many of the back braked and backbreaking equivalents of the early nineteen twenties. Incidentally, the recently introduced Daimler ” Dolphin ” 2 A -1 itre manages 82 m.p.h. and 0-50 in under 12 secs. ” 0-50 ” by the way, is a good test, if it doesn’t tell the whole story, and any car which records around 17 secs, is going to get along Very nicely, particularly on congested roads, other factors being of a like standard, while if your particular bolide does this test in 12 secs. of less, you should try your luck at Lewes.
The I t-litre H.R.G. has become quite a standard by which other small sportscars are discussed, having a maximum of over 85 m.p.h. besides extreme accelerat ion. The big Humber Snipe and Humber Imperial and the Wolseley Special Drophead coupe are ordinary cars encroaching into the realm of true sports-car per formance, and the remarkable V12 Lagonda can claim to be at once both a very formidable sportstvagen and the finest of luxury carriages, at one and the same time. I rather think its 44-litre engine, by running safely up to 5,500 r.p.m., has upset many old-timers and It has certainly resulted in a maximum of 100 m.p.h. even in 11 ft. wheelbase saloon form, allied to a maximum of over 80 m.p.h. in third gear, and. acceleration which rivals that of the fiercest small sports cars. Space prohibits mention of all our outstanding high-performance cars, but one cannot over look the presentday S.S. which has grown out of being an ideal Jewish promenade-car and now combines really excellent appearance with performance which is astonishing in this price class. The 3i-litre S.S. 100 two-seater must be the lowest-priced 100 m.p.h. car ever offered to the public as a production line and even the 21-litre
S.S. saloon knocks up a cool 87 m.p.h. and does 0-50 m.p.h. in just over 10i secs. -all at 0395. So far as Continentals are concerned, the ever-amazing 2-litre Type 328 FrazerNash-B.M.W. stands right out with a maximum of over 100 m.p.h. and stamina, control and getaway which win for it race after race, rally upon rally. The 16 h.p. Type 327 B.M.W. becomes a most irresistahle proposition when you reflect that, sedate as it outwardly appears, it does nearly 97 m.p.h. flat-out, and shames such a lot of really quick stuff on
getaway. Bugatti offers almost unapproachable performance with the Type 57SC, and Delahaye, Darracq, Delage and Hotchkiss are all pretty astounding. Where purchase of a secondhand car is involved the factors mentioned at the opening of this outpouring become of importance and unfortunately it is not
nearly so easy toiearn of snags and shortcomings peculiar to a given, obsolete, type or make as it is to register with a stop watch the performance of a good modern, quite apart from the problem of discovering how well the particular specimen under consideration has weathered the passing years. Even so, performance cannot be entirely neglected and figures given in past road-test reports can be very informative ; which is one reason why we publish an Index to the tests which this paper has conducted since 1924.
On this subject of performance for sale, praise must be given for the Ford V8, which goes astonishingly well in itself and which has formed the basis of many a specialised sports-car. Even in its somewhat swollen 1939 form, the 30 h.p. saloon does almost 85 m.p.h. and 0-50 in under 11 secs.-and costs a mere £280.