Matters of Moment, December 1953


Last October witnessed the finest Motor Show in respect of entirely new models, ever staged at Earls Court.

At one end of the scale, new economy cars  were displayed to the largest potential of buyers; at the opposite extreme, 100 m.p.h cars were shown in comparative profusion.

Not so very long ago 100 m.p.h. was a staggering speed to attain in a road-equipped car. It was a rare, exciting experience associated with leather coat, flying helmet and the tang of castor oil. Journalists were encouraged to write of “attaining the ton for the first time in their careers” or of describing the handful of marketable sports cars able to achieve this magic figure. Now, if we are to believe manufacturers’ claims, 100 m.p.h. is commonplace.

Taking British cars only, what do we find ? This three-figure speed is claimed for the A.C. Ace, Allard K3, TC21-100 Alvis saloon. Armstrong-Siddeley Sapphire two-carburetter saloon, DB2-4 Aston Martin saloon, Austin-Healey 100, Bentley Continental, Bristol 403 and 404, Daimler Conquest Roadster, Frazer-Nash in all forms, all the Jaguar models, Jensen Interceptor and 541, Jewett Jupiter R4, Riley Pathfinder saloon (“under ideal conditions”), Sunbeam Alpine, and Triumph TR2 Sports. This is an imposing list of really fast cars, amongst which the sports models are distinguishable by being able to approach or exceed 110 m.p.h. Future road-test reports will reveal whether any of these exotic machines has unwittingly gate-crashed into the “ton” preserve, but certainly all of them are capable of about that speed.

Although a 100 m.p.h label is a good sales factor, what is of greater import on our out-of-date and congested roads is the latent power, expressed in vivid acceleration, which 100 m.p.h cars posess. For only great accelerative ability, matched by safe handling qualities at advanced cruising speeds and powerful and consistent brakes can spell good averages under the prevailing under the prevailing chaotic traffic conditions.

We are fully aware that over a short journey of, say, 50 miles or so the time saved by driving a fast car fast and a far slower car fast is apt to be negligible. This gives rise to cracks about fast cars of the order, “What will you do with the time you save?” This one came up recently in the B.B.C’s “Twenty Questions” programme and suggests that the broadcasters concerned never motor very great distances at a single sitting. Because on a long journey of upwards of 200 miles the difference between driving a fast car and a family car is that of being able to wash and change before keeping a luncheon or dinner appointment or of having to apologise for arriving with the soup.

For those of us who use our cars for serious business travel as well as for the pleasure of pottering must give thanks to designers and technicians for producing these new 100 m.p.h. vehicles. Like the Bristol Company they realise the need for Businessmen’s Expresses.

Wether some note of caution is called for when discussing these very rapid conveyances is a matter which concerns us. In the past the price of speed and the very demeanour of those few cars in which 100 m.p.h. could be attained automatically confined their use, generally speaking, to experienced or skilled drivers. As good performance becomes available to those of lesser means, as it did when Ford introduced the famous V8, there must be a tendency for drivers of small experience to go quickly without realising it particularly when speeds approaching 100 m.p.h. are attained in comparative silence and with an absence of fuss.

This being the case it is incumbent on those who own such cars not to lend them indiscriminately to friends who are inexperienced and unaccustomed to motoring at three-figure speeds. It is also vital for designers, even if they are hampered by the absence of Brooklands Track, to make certain their new chassis steer and hold the road correctly at maximum velocity, and for dealers to do their conscientious best to ensure that the importance of correctly servicing such cars is clearly emphasised to the owners.

With those few words of warning, let us cross our fingers and rejoice in these new motor cars.

The different methods of engineering approach to achieve the desired speed are interesting, as the following résumé serves to show:-

There is obviously no stagnation of design with flat-four, four-in-line, six, and V8 cylinder arrangements; almost every practical form of valve actuation, stroke/bore ratios varied, but generally on the long-stroke side, and top-gear ratios (by overdrive in some cases) ranging from 3.1 to 4.1 to 1.

The excellent speeds attainable from these modern British high performance cars, six of them with closed bodywork, is a fine tribute to the skill and knowledge of our designers and technicians. They had reached the state when 100 m.p.h. could be extracted from docile, reliable, quiet production cars with engines as small as 1 1/2, and 2 litres some appreciable time ago. The poor quality of post-war “Pool” petrol stayed their hands, but with the re-introduction of very fine Premium-grade fuels the high-performance car really comes into its own, as we saw at Earls Court this autumn. Of the 100-m.p.h. cars listed in the table (several attain 110, 115, even 120 m.p.h.), the compression ratios average 7.71 to 1.

Tribute must be paid to Jowett, for offering the R4 Jupiter with Automold laminated plastic body for £545, the lowest-priced 100-m.p.h. plus car on the market, although the Triumph TR2 Sports, which looks like comfortably exceeding 100 m.p.h. in the hands of ordinary users, costs only ten pounds more.

These and the splendid Austin-Healey 100, which is capable of 106-110 m.p.h. for a basic outlay of £750, indicate the truly excellent value available today in the sports-car market.

Most of these cars were dealt with in last month’s Motor Show issue. It only remains to remark on the Alvis Grey Lady saloon as attaining over 100 m.p.h. without recourse to aerodynamic outline, and to add a good mark to Riley for using a right-hand gear-lever on the Pathfinder, which is the former 2 1/2-litre in new, inflated guise with coil-spring rear suspension. The A.C. Ace, Jensen 541 and Jupiter R4 have new chassis frames differing from the chassis of former models of the same makes, the first two tubular, the latter a box-section structure in place of the tubular frame of the Mk. 1A. Plastic bodywork on the Jupiter R4 and for the boot lid of the Jensen 541 strikes a futuristic note.

Knowledgeable enthusiasts should ask themselves (purchase-tax apart) how many secondhand cars capable of consistently, safely and reliably exceeding 100 m.p.h. can be bought for equivalent sums of money! How durable these inexpensive and very fast cars will prove to be time alone can tell but we have every reason to expect that they will add this desirable attribute to their other qualities.

With such fast cars available in compact open two-seater, Gran Turismo and luxurious closed forms, the future highways of Britain should certainly be fraught with excitement ! – W. B.