Rumblings, August 1956

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Sorting out the Yanks

One of the pleasures of being in the Editorial Chair of Motor Sport concerns the various absorbing cuttings, magazines and photographs which we receive from thoughtful readers. Not only are these of interest but they enable us to keep in close touch with motoring the world over. Amongst recently received publications, one by the title of “Consumer Reports1956 Auto Ratings” stands out. This is the annual automobile issue of the great Consumers’ Union of US Inc. It was published in America last April and contains an exceedingly detailed, critical analysis of the current US automobiles.

Few people in England can buy such machines, so we will refrain from attempting to summarise the findings of the Consumers’ Union, which in any case would probably infringe their copyright. Those who are interested and can negotiate in dollars can buy a copy of this unique publication and all the forthcoming issues for a year (each of which contains road-test reports on two or more new cars besides test-reports on many other products) from the Consumers’ Union, Mount Vernon, New York, for five dollars.

Even if you cannot purchase an American car, it is of value to study these vehicles, which point the future trend of design more accurately than some people comprehend. It is significant to discover how basic models are doubled-up by even the more exclusive US manufacturers, seemingly a necessity where quantity-production is involved. The present set-up “across the pond” is something like this :—

If you can memorise this table you will be able to “place” the cars that your friends from the American airfields and army camps drive. It would seem that General Motors make the best all-round American cars (Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Cadillac), closely followed by the Chrysler Corporation with Plymouth, Dodge, De Soto and Chrysler cars.

In addition to the US cars in the table, there are specialised models comprising the Continental Mk II Ford Thunderbird, Chevrolet Corvette, Studebaker Flight Hawk, Power Hawk V8, Sky Hawk and Golden Hawk, De Soto Adventurer, Plymouth Fury, Dodge 500D and Chrysler 300B—but you are not likely to encounter many of these, especially not the last-named 18-ft long, 2-ton, 340-bhp monstrosity.

V8 engines predominate in the best of these automobiles and power varies from 101 bhp (Studebaker Champion Six) to 405 bhp (Packard V8). Automatic transmission and power steering are common. But, returning to our earlier theme, things are not always quite what they seem. Thus General Motors make three four-door saloon body-shells suffice for its five makes, the junior shell being used for the Chevrolets and Pontiacs, and for the Pontiac Star Chief with the trunk extended. The medium body-shell suffices for the Buick Special and Century and all the Oldsmobile models, but to meet the longer wheelbase of the Oldsmobile 98 the trick of stretching the trunk is again employed. The Buick Century uses a new four-door-hard-top body, the shell of which is that of the Special. The biggest body-shell is reserved for the Buick Super and Roadmaster and the Cadillac 62 and 60S, the latter using the rear-stretch (11 in of it) treatment. However, GM use six basic but different engines. Chevrolet employing interchangeable ohv Six and lightweight V8, Pontiac a larger, rather different V8, Buick a third V8 for four models, while Oldsmobile has the Rocket V8 for all three models and Cadillac has a recently-redesigned V8 for both 62 and 60S versions. Of transmissions, Chevrolet and Buick use different torque-converters, while Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Cadillac all have the “dual-range” Hydra-Matic drive with four forward speeds and no torque-converter.

The Chrysler Corporation follow somewhat similar tactics, but with greater variation in body styles and more variety as to engines. Studebaker-Packard use three different engines but a common bodyshell for all Studebaker sedans, and Ford has two basic body-shells shared by Ford and Mercury, with a large shell for the Lincoln. 

Take note that all these concerns use separate body/chassis construction, in spite of this doubling-up of body-shells, only the American Motors Corporation employing unit-construction, so universal in Europe, two basic one-piece designs serving the entire Nash, Hudson, Rambler range of cars.

They say . . .

“As a piece of prestige merchandise, the Continental is handsome and impressive, but it’s actually less exciting than the peanut-sized German Porsche, which at about 3,500 dollars also costs two dollars a pound.”— From a chapter on “Special Cars” in the “1956 Auto Ratings” edition of “Consumer Reports” . . .

 “A notice from England says that MG is currently exporting 60 per cent of their production, with about half of these (30 per cent) coming to the USA. Frankly, we don’t believe it and it’s a sad state of affairs when a new model has been announced for almost nine months and still only a handful of cars have been delivered. It’s no wonder the Germans are licking the pants off the British in the battle for world trade.” From “Where Are The MGs ?” in Road and Track, July, 1956.

“I was the first to ring the alarm bells when I reported in February that many people in the industry believed the Morris-Austin merger of four-and-a-half years ago to have been a tragic mistake and that internal friction at executive level was not helping at a time when competition between the big car makers was getting ever keener … the whole set-up of this vast, sprawling company, with its litany models and widely-separated factories, should be reviewed. It is significant that among the major British car factories Austins was the first to go on extensive short-time working, and that BMC now becomes the focal point of angry debate.” — Edward Westropp writing under the heading “I say British Motors Require a Major Operation.” in the Sunday Express of July 1st 1956.

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