Those Bread-and-Butter Continentals
Mr. A. E. Frost’s letter regarding small British cars versus Continental appears to be based on numerous fearful misconceptions.
To take these in order:
1. The Lancia “Ardea” probably does cost double the Standard Eight price, but there is no comparison in the class of car; the “Ardea” does definitely come into a more costly class of vehicle in terms of engineering quality, just as a Rolls-Royce cannot be compared with a Buick. To the uninitiated the Rolls appears poor value, but to those who understand quality of material and workmanship this is not so.
2. The “Ardea” of about 990 c.c. cannot be compared with the 1,250-c.c. M.G., and surely the R.A.C. rating is exploded once and for all, capacity now being regarded as a fairer way of comparing production automobiles for private use as against sports and racing vehicles, the engine speed of such cars being limited to 4,000 to 4,400 r.p.m.
The fact that the “Ardea,” offers 8-h.p. accommodation for 10.5-h.p. R.A.C. rating is surely immaterial as this rating is no longer used as a basis of taxation and in any case pre-war the fault was with the taxation system and not with the car. More relevant is that it offers 8-h.p. accommodation for 8-h.p. running costs and expenditure of fuel.
3. No doubt the Morris Minor could give the “Ardea” a run for its money having a similar power-to-weight ratio, but here again the “Ardea” is worth its extra price as an engine mileage of 70,000 can be expected between overhauls as against, say, 40,000. This is no reflection on the Morris Minor which is in a different price class.
4. The advantage of a short-stroke engine is not problematical but is a fact and produces the great benefit of reduced power-loss in the engine due to reduced piston friction which assumes serious proportions at, say, 3,000 r.p.m., quite apart from reduced bore wear.
5. Regarding gear ratios, efficiency in a car engine can best be attained by high gearing, enabling it to cruise at a given speed on a big throttle opening when engine efficiency is at maximum; by efficiency I mean conversion of fuel into power with the minimum of loss.
6. The need on small cars is not for three-speed gearboxes but five-speed ones for reasons already given, providing lowish ratios for town use with a very high top for open, flat road work, giving reduced engine wear and reduced fuel consumption. There need be no extra gear-changing if the box is correctly used or negligible extra changing. Surely it is a lazy man who wants a car with such negligible reduction of gear-changing needs.
7. My F.I.A.T. “1,100” (1,089-c.c.) pulls a 4.6-to-1 top gear very nicely although it weighs 16 1/2 cwt.; it gives 44 m.p.g. average over-all running and not leaned down excessively at that. Gear-changing is not excessive and a gear can frequently be missed out when going through the box, depending on conditions.
8. The F.I.A.T. “1,100” can be described as a typical Continental small car, being now made in three countries and being very popular. As regards performance it would be utterly unfair to compare it with any English Eight, a better comparison being obtained by comparing it with a 1 1/2-litre car. A maximum of 72 m.p.h. and 0-50 m.p.h. in 17 sec. cannot be despised and gives very real performance. One of these cars did 72 miles in one hour at Brooklands before the war (F. Morrish) and this car was standard in all respects apart from very careful fitting and port polishing; I should like to see a British “1,100” which could match this, apart from specialised sports cars with light open bodies.
Mr. Frost implies that all he wants is a car that will steer without wander and brake without swerve; he is easily satisfied. Handling qualities are more important to the enthusiast and connoisseur than all-out speed and make the difference between driving being enjoyable and safe or being purgatory. Handling qualities are not too easy to define, but the driver of perception will soon know when he has them.
Having just tried out a certain “bouncing tennis ball,” a 1949 11-h.p. car with extraordinarily low gearing where in top gear at 44 m.p.h. the engine seems to be revving excessively, I say give me my 10-year-old F.I.A.T. “1,100,” which has now done 60,000 miles with only a rebore and front-suspension overhaul.
Regarding front suspension reliability it will be interesting to see what happens when the fat rubber bushes used as “bearings” on certain English small cars start to deteriorate, passing on heavy stresses to parts not meant to take them! No Continental car uses such makeshifts in its front suspension.
Finally, regarding the “amusingness” of four-speed gearboxes, it is also amusing to note how the speed of a three-speed small car is killed when it reaches a hill too steep for its top gear and has to drop into middle; also amusing to have a 20 per cent. greater fuel consumption on long runs due to its unusually low top gear.
I am, Yours, etc.,
F. W. Champion