Is Britain Lagging Behind in Small Car Design?

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This was the subject of a discussion by Graduates of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London on October 22nd. Although two speakers endeavoured to put the students on the right track, listing a number of controversial points which could be considered when relating the subject to non-sports cars of 800-1,200 c.c., and although films showing the testing and manufacture of Renault Dauphine, Ford and Volkswagen were shown prior to the discussion (of which the Renault colour-film was by far the best), the speakers nearly all strayed far from the subject.

The tendency was to excuse British conservative design on economic and political grounds, these young engineers refusing to be drawn over technical points and some of them having only a vague idea of motor-car design. It was left to one speaker to condenm the British as too conservative; he cited the Volkswagen as the most successful small car in the world today. Amongst points in its favour this speaker referred to effective dust-sealing of the body that is effective even after 100,000 miles. This drew forth praise for the Morris Minor from the other side of the hall, this speaker being of the opinion that the torsion-bar front suspension was what made this (and he included the VW) such a good car. He said he was satisfied with the action of his front wheels— [but didn’t refer to the back ones. — Ed.]

There was general criticism of cart-spring rear suspension and a feeling that side-valve Fords are not sufficiently economical and that their engines are merely improved pre-war power units. Safety was placed top of the list of important items to be discussed — [presumably from a roadholding angle, as if people worried about what happens when car strikes car we should all wear crash-hats! — Ed.] — but came in for very little comment, although the Volkswagen enthusiast remarked that when a Morris Minor is crashed the occupants risk cracking their knee-caps on the low-set parcels-shelf.

The question of plastics construction was raised but was disposed of in reply as being a process that takes too long and occupies too much factory-space to be practical for the bodies of series-production cars, although one speaker suggested that absence of painting should conserve space [and absence of welding! — Ed.]. The Berkeley was quoted as an example of glass-fibre construction suitably reinforced but no-one had apparently heard of the Lotus Elite.

In general, the Graduates showed a surprising lack of technical knowledge of modern small-car design but had obviously absorbed propaganda about the cost of re-tooling, labour costs, political and economic influences, etc.

In summing up the Chairman ventured to suggest that while the meeting was of the opinion that Britain hadn’t done at all badly, there was a feeling that she should build more advanced small cars. After which we went out into the night and drove away in a Volkswagen, deep in thought.

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