One of the outstanding aspects of the S.M.M.T. Earls Court Motor Exhibition which concluded on the first day of last month was the entirely new sports models which made their debut thereat.
I mean sports models; open two-seater fast cars for you and I to enjoy, as distinct from high-performance cars offering quick travel facilities for jaded businessmen plus intended competition in dollar markets against American gin-palaces.
If the best and most exciting sports cars emanate from the Continent I do not propose to include any, for the simple reason that few fresh examples appeared at the London Show with the exception of the breath-taking, eyebrow-lifting Pegaso, which is beyond the reach of most purchasers anyway unless they are seeking to add a plaything to a 10,000-acre estate as a change from sailing a couple of ocean-going yachts. Indeed, you need lots of money, preferably hard money, to motor in the Continental manner. I should say you would need to take nearly £9,000 to Barcelona if bent on collecting a personal Pegaso, about £4,000-£5,000 to Modena should you fancy a Ferrari, and not much less if the Gran Turismo Aurelia by Lancia could satisfy. Come down to the more acceptable “upper-limit” and you are free to decide between a D.B.2 and a “1,900” Alfa-Romeo. Even the so-covetable V8 Fiat 8V coupe at Earls Court was unpriced.
So let us leave the Continentals to pipe-dreamers and consider the exciting fact that, within the last few months, Britain has unleashed four exciting new sports models.
Allard has the Palm Beach, an open, rather placid-looking, all-enveloping 2/3-seater for which you can specify either a normal or a tuned Ford Consul or untuned Ford Zephyr engine. The name of this new model does not exactly imply that the new car has won fame at the American sports-car race venue suggested by it, although that may follow.
At Earls Court people seemed to be in two minds about the Palm Beach—either they accepted it as “just the job” or they seemed a trifle dubious that there could be an Allard of such modest dimensions and were prepared to take the idea cautiously. The “proof of the pudding,” of course, but I think the sales gentlemen are optimists in stating that an easy 100 m.p.h will be obtainable with the normal Zephyr motor. I am prepared to eat these galley proofs if I’m being unjust; but 100 m.p.h. is still a very high maximum speed.
Allard uses the now-classic double-tier tubular frame, an 8-ft. wheelbase, divided axle coil-spring i.f.s. and a normal Ford back axle sprung on coil springs. The impression I got from driving the prototype round Goodwood was that weight reduction has been carried to a point where a certain flimsiness is evident—certainly the bonnet “ripples” like a field of ripe wheat—and that it is asking a lot of the tiny central gear-lever to select positively the three wide-spaced Ford ratios through a cross-shaft and linkage. But I await “the eating” with pleasurable anticipation.
Frazer-Nash have adopted the Austin A90 engine as optional for their Targa Florio model in their exhilarating range of pure-bred fast cars, but Donald Healey has gone considerably farther, in persuading the British Motor Corporation, Longbridge branch, to build his new sports car. And this Austin-Healey Hundred was the sensation of the Show. It has already been timed at 111.7 m.p.h. over a kilometre on the Jabberke motor road, and the specification must act for the enthusiast as those feeding-time bells did on Freud’s well-known clinical dogs. Many people are of the opinion that the best part of the present-day Austin is its engine and the versatile Donald, who has cast his line amongst Alfa-Romeo, Riley, Alvis, and American Nash, when fishing for power units, has built a very light, astonishingly compact sports two-seater around an Austin A90, 80.5-mm. bore. four-cylinder, 2.6-litre engine. The new Austin-Healey Hundred has a wheelbase of only 7 ft. 6 in., a chassis of platform type to which the body is welded, a very rigid scuttle structure, and a pleasing, all-enveloping shell which should cut the wind effectively, especially with its screen folded back on its cunning system of hinges, while the general appearance is very pleasing (although the grille is rather horrid). Front suspension is no longer by substantial trailing-links as on the Riley-Healeys but uses coil springs with conventional wishbones, the normal back axle being carried on ½-elliptic leaf springs inclined slightly upwards at the back to induce the fashionable understeer, as found on the new sports Triumph (to which we are coming) and the Bentley Continental. This new Healey has a short central gear-lever, uses a sensibly high top gear of 3.62 to 1 (or 3.12 in top, 4.125 in third if the optional Laycock de Normanville over-drive is fitted) and there are, of course, four speeds, the box being Austin. Steering is Burman, which experience suggests to us as very satisfactory, if prone to fairly rapid development of “free movement.” The normal A90 engine gives 88 b.h.p. at 4,000 r.p.m. and Healey has won another couple of horses, probably in the silencing arrangements. One wonders, will the 10-in. dia. brakes prove adequate; possibly they will with the centre-lock wire wheels seen on the Earls Court car.
This is the Sports-Car-of-the-Year in the opinion of many and no doubt it will soon be winning high honours in competition. Quite how the B.M.C. propose to market such an attractive car for a basic price of £850 is it mystery only slightly less abstruse than that posed by Mr. William Lyons when he started selling the XK120 Jaguar for £998.
Another Show surprise was the new Triumph sports model, for here was a stark open fast car, with provision for carrying only limited luggage behind the seats and with no elaborate weather protection, listed by one of the “Big Five.” This Triumph 20 TS is rather smaller than the usual run of our sports cars, rather like a dodgem-car, with its 15-in. tyres and 7 ft. 4 in. wheelbase. But if this spells a weight of 15¼ cwt. with 12 gallons of fuel, as is claimed, the performance on the 75 b.h.p. available is likely to be “quite something” and we shall be disappointed if the 20 TS is not very soon carving a name for itself in the hands of well-known competition drivers.
The body is all-enveloping but, not quite decided between looking like the old-style classic sports car or the sleeker modern, an impression heightened by the sidelamps sticking up from the front wings whereas the headlamps are sunk in out of the air-stream. So short is the car that the floor behind the two bucket-seats kicks up over the back axle, preventing even a child from squatting there. The frontal treatment is refreshingly revolutionary.
Obviously the Triumph is intended to be a “goer.” It uses the rugged Vanguard engine but this is linered-down to 1,991 c..c. with competition work in mind, and has double springs to close each valve, while twin S.U. carburetters are fitted and the compression ratio is 7 to 1. In contrast, the Morgan Plus Four, in which the same engine is used, is content to retain the standard valve gear in which small inner springs alone close the valves, the outer springs being there to return the rockers, while it has the embarrassing engine capacity, to the competition driver, of 2.088 c.c. and, with normal compression ratio and single carburetter, gives away some six horses to the smaller and lighter Triumph. It is possible that the Triumph may find itself somewhat undergeared, with a 3.89 to axle ratio and 15-in. tyres, for the heavier, less powerful Morgal Plus Four is transformed by a 3.73 to 1 top gear in place of its former 4.1 to 1 axle and that car has 16-in. tyres. On the other hand a, gearing of 19¼ m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m. in top sounds good to me.
The Triumph uses a braced box-section frame, has coil-spring and wishbone front suspension and ½-elliptic back suspension. The basic price of £555 is indeed competitive. We shall be very interested in the performance capabilities of this car and even at Earls Court were consoled with the thought that from the driving-seat of a car you are unaware of what it looks like.
It is interesting that these four new British sports cars employ normal proprietary engines instead of specialised power units. There is considerable departure from stagnation in the design of their chassis and suspension but all-enveloping bodies are the rule, with wheels unspatted, and in each instance, except that of the four cylinder Frazer-Nash, a short central gear-lever is employed. One wonders how Ford and Vauxhall regard the adoption of out-and-out sports models by the B.M.C. and Standard-Triumph (the Rootes Group already have the Rally-proven Sunbeam-Talbot 90) and whether they contemplate coming into line with the rest of the “Big Five” in this respect?
This survey is intended to cover the now open sports models, but before closing tribute must be paid to the 4½-litre Bentley Continental, new as to bodywork if well-tried in respect of its mechanical specification. Rolls-Royce’s clever adaptation of the American Hydramatic transmission is available if required (which it is less likely to be for this model). The speed of 115 m.p.h. from this silent sports car makes it the fastest British four-seater. Fairness, however, compels me to remark that the allure of this maximum is somewhat diminished by Fiat’s claim of over 120 m.p.h. for their very covetable 8V coupe of a mere two litres capacity, which was another car new to Earls Court. —W. B.
Sports Cars on the British Market Classified by Price (Purchase Tax not included)
Up to £600:
Dellow Mk. II £497
M.G. TD £530
Dellow Mk. III £540
Triumph TS20 £555
Morgan Plus Four £565
Morgan Plus Four (four-seater) £580
M.G. TD Mk. II £585
Austin A40 £586
Allard Palm Beach (Consul engine) £800
H. R.G. 1,100 £820
Jowett Jupiter £825
Austin-Healey Hundred £850
Allard Palm Beach (Zephyr engine) £865
H.R.G. 1,500 £895
Allard J2X £1,100
Jaguar XK120 £1,130
Jaguar XK120 coupe £1,140
A.C. Buckland £1,154
Allard J2X Le Mans £1,200
Jaguar XK120C £1,495
Frazer-Nash Targa Florio (2.6-litre) £1,500
Aston-Martin D.B.2 £1,750
Aston-Martin D.B.2 coupe £1,850
Frazer-Nash Targa Florio Turismo £1,950
Frazer-Nash Le Mans Replica £2,000
Frazer-Nash Targa Florio Gran Sport £2,250
Frazer-Nash Mille Miglia £2,250
Bentley Continental coupe £4,890
Sports Cars on the British Market Classified by Engine Size
Up to 1,100 c.c.:
H.R.G. 1,074 c.c.
Dellow 1,172 c.c.
Austin A40 1,200 c.c.
M.G. TD 1,200 c.c.
Jowett Jupiter 1,486 c.c.
H.R.G. 1,496 c.c.
Singer Roadster 1,497 c.c.
Allard Palm Beach 1,508 c.c.
Frazer-Nash 1,971 c.c.
A.C. Buckland 1,991 c.c.
Triumph TS20 1,991 c.c.
Morgan Plus Four 2,088 c.c.
Allard Palm Beach 2,262 c.c.
Lea-Francis 2,496 c.c.
Aston-Martin D.B.2 2,580 c.c.
Frazer-Nash 2,660 c.c.
Healey 2,660 c.c.
Alvis-Healey 2,993 c.c.
Jaguar XK120 3,442 c.c.
Jaguar XK120C. 3,442 c.c.
Allard J2X and Le Mans 3,917 c.c.
Nash-Healey 4,138 c.c.
Bentley Continental 4,556 c.c.
Over 5,000 c.c.:
Allard 5,400 c.c.