Rumblings, December 1956

End-of-the year thoughts

Looking back to our Motor Show issue, some additional points occur to us. Some persons seem cross that we outlined the disadvantages of automatic transmission… seeing  in this an attack on British manufacturers. This was not our intention. American motorists expect the car to change gear by itself and British firms seeking sales in the dollar market must provide such transmissions. All credit to Ford, Morris, Austin, Wolseley, Armstrong-Siddeley, Humber, Daimler, Jaguar, Bentley, Rolls-Royce and Rover for providing such transmissions and particularly to Rover for using an all-British gearbox. However, the enthusiast prefers to change gear for himself, especially as the new automatic transmissions are heavy, costly, absorb power and are sometimes jerky in action. As home sales are an essential adjunct to success in the export market it behoves our manufacturers to provide us with decent gearboxes of the old sort ;but it is bad luck that they should have to meet these two diverse requirements, necessitating extra tooling-up and assembly-operations.

The automatic clutch, retaining a gear-lever, is but an interim measure, and as such, something of a waste of effort, although our congested cities give it real value and Standard are to be commended on offering such a clutch on their smallest cars.

Probably the reason why Vauxhall turn their back on automatic transmission is because this is a General Motors’ company and there is thus no sense in equipping these cars to compete in America against other GM products. However, when English family motorists tire of the gear-lever, no doubt Vauxhall will line up with other GM products in this matter, especially as GM pioneered the automatic gearbox in the States, and Standard will then have to adopt such automation for their bigger models in order to return to the vanguard of progress.

In a leading article recently we paid tribute to the prestige earned for this country in racing by the Jaguar Company, so it is with regret that we learn that, like Mercedes-Benz they are giving up racing for the time being. However. the 1956 team-Jaguars will be raced next year by Ecurie Ecosse which is good news indeed.

In our Show Impressions we deseribeil the Karmann-Ghia Volkswagen as the best-proportioned car at Earls Court. A second thought here is that perhaps the Alfa-Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce coupe’ deserved that distinction, but amongst cars that the ordinary visitor could contemplate buying our verdict, stands and this handsome Volkswagen should be something of a best-seller and of enormous appeal to those who find the Porsche beyond their reach. Right-hand-drive examples are expected in England about next April.

Writing of the Giulietta, the only demonstrations we had from Earls Court were a 1909 Renault van owned by James Neale & Co, and an Alfa-Romeo Sprint Veloce, thus providing a happy contrast ! The Alfa-Romeo was driven with great elan by its Italian driver but, even so, our congested “autobahn” from Putney to Esher never gave him a chance to get this delightful little car fully wound up. Nevertheless, the acceleration from the 90 bhp twin-cam 1,290 cc engine proved quite astounding, going up to very nearly 7,000 rpm, and the equally-remarkable English brakes with their bi-metal, air-cooled drums made high-speed weaving in and out of the traffic a perfectly safe if exhilarating pursut. The driver was a very skilful demonstrator, because just as you were hoping you wouldn’t be impaled on an approaching ‘bus or lorry in this 113 mph, lhd motor car, and he was braking heavily, he would take both hands from the wood-rimmed steering wheel to show that the car is fully controllable under these conditions ! Incidentally it was on the Kingston By-Pass, at some traffic lights that a gentleman with a red face and a round brown hat took the trouble to lean from his bulky Rootmobile to tell us that he considered our rapid overtaking little short of criminal. Perhaps it is partly because the controllability of cars like this Alfa-Romeo is quite beyond the comprehension of persons of this sort that Britain lags behind in the Gran Turismo field. Arriving back in the Earls Court car park what should we see but Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang II, beautifully repainted—and no doubt that would not be understood, either !

The Giulietta Sprint Veloce possesses remarkable performance for its size and economy and should out-corner the Porsche Carrera; those who have £2.800 or so to spend would be foolish not to consider buying one. Although the car is mainly a two-seater, with a splendid driving position and a gear-lever reminiscent of that of a Lancia Aprilia, there are rear seats for occasional occupation, these looking like normal seats tipped onto their backs; in fact you sit on the horizontal “back” and what seems to be the “cushion” supports the legs.

One error which crept into our Show report, probably because the Editor had done more proof-reading on the eve of the Show than was good for his eyes, was the statement that the ID19 Citroen was displayed as well as the DS19. In fact, the simplified version of the new Citroen is not at Earls Court and is unlikely to be seen in this country for a couple of years—a pity, because it could be many enthusiasts’ idea of a “next car” and now we cannot even quote a price for it. But the DS19 is going into production at Slough. Many people feel it is high time this revolutionary motor car was submitted to the British Technical Press for full road-test and we emphatically agree with them.

Tilt at the sports-car driver

In certain parts of the country coloured “safety-poser” pictures by Roland Davies are being issued with driving licences. We believe these were originally issued by one of the big petrol companies. One picture is captioned “Crossing road junctions without due care causes 14,000 accidents a year.” It shows a saloon and an open two-seater sports car approaching a crossroads from different directions, a balloon from the saloon exclaiming, for no apparent reason, “It’s my road.” The motorist is invited to find the hidden fault, which turns out to be : “Not only is the driver crossing a road without due care, but he is also speeding in a built-up area.”

The reader who sent, us this picture, an experienced driver, asks which car is meant to be speeding, especially as the scarf worn by the sports-car driver is shown blown backwards, suggesting pretty conclusively that, with the back-draught from the big windscreen which at speed would suck the scarf forward, he is going below 30 mph. However, in view of the comment the saloon-car driver is making it is pretty certain the artist intends to show the sports car as “speeding,” presumably because it is a sports car. Shame on you, Mr Davies ! You are prompting, the lay public to unfair conclusions, as no doubt you are aware.

Publicity that slipped

William Hickey, in his daily gossip column, records that HRH the Duke of Kent has had his Sunbeam Rapier “souped-up.” “He has had,” wrote Hickey, “a new engine put in . . . the same type that racing driver Peter Collins has in his Mille Miglia class-winning Rapier. It has twin carburetters and special heat-resisting exhaust valves. And it can raise the car’s speed to well over 100 mph.” The reader who sent us the clipping remarks : “It would be amusing to know where Hickey got his information from. Per Ardua ad PROs !” We would add that a little knowledge can be dangerous, but that Motor Sport readers know that the class in which the Rapiers ran in the Mille Miglia (Special Series Touring Cars up to 1,600 cc) was won by a Porsche Super, which was nearly an hour ahead (41st in general classification) of the fastest Sunbeam (which was 72nd in general classification). Peter Collins, of course, finished second in the race as a whole, driving a 3.5-litre Ferrari.