Rumblings, December 1961

Guild Day at Goodwood
Rather belatedly we present the Editor’s impressions of the 14 cars he drove round Goodwood at the Guild of Motoring Writers’ Motor Show Test Day on October 22nd, between talking to friends and enjoying the hospitality in the big refreshment marquee. Fourteen was an appropriate number of cars to try because this was the 14th of these annual Test Days, which form one of the more valuable institutions of the London Motor Show period, apart from constituting a significant social occasion. The Editor writes:

I did not try for the fastest of the 100 so British cars submitted for test, because these are always in the greatest demand, and waiting for them wastes time—indeed, I best enjoy Test Day by asking for any number that comes to mind and going off to see which car I have picked. This year it worked out as follows.

I started with a Morris Mini Minor, much the same as I had come down in. It is great fun and certainly by no means the slowest round Goodwood and Issigonis has endowed it with so much in-built safety that my wife and I eschewed the safety belts. Next I went out in an Austin-Cooper which was even greater fun, very quick for a tiny saloon, of course, but feeling just the faintest degree softly sprung round the almost continual right-hand curves.

A Ford Anglia felt nothing like as safe, nor did its tuned engine impress me. The new M.G. Midget hard-top was a trim little sports carriage but after the glued-to-the-road Minis I found 7 1/2 miles only just enough to accustom me to the high-geared steering, the strong wind contributing to the weaving, while the gear-change is spoilt by the lever being set up in the air. Next, a Sunbeam Rapier, very fully equipped but somehow harsh and fussy. I disliked the feel of sponge in the steering but, thinking to keep ahead of George Phillips in a Ford Consul Classic through Woodcote—only to find he was coming in—I found it didn’t really hamper rapid cornering, though the action felt extremely unstable.

A Vauxhall Cresta with automatic transmission ran with highly commendable silence, changed its gears smoothly, and although it took on a good deal of list on the corners there was nothing vicious about its handling. I had no occasion to try the new disc front brakes. The steering was so light I thought, wrongly, that it was power operated. I then went in the new Vauxhall Victor estate car, and the 4-speed floor gear-change is truly delightful, silky like a VW’s, not “mechanical” like an M.G.’s or Jaguar’s, and with synchromesh you can’t “beat.” The seats are comfortable, visibility fine, steering good—in short, a most exciting new car, of which the VX 4/90, not present, should be in great demand. The normal version went to an indicated 65 m.p.h. in 3rd gear in commendable overall silence.

I now had lunch and cannot remember the subsequent sequence but I recall a Jaguar Mk. II saloon of superb acceleration and braking but rather indecisive seat adjustment, a Hillman Minx de luxe saloon which was mediocre in comparison with the Hillman Super Minx that handled extremely well and was nicely equipped, although I did spot a minor fault developing in the trim of one of the new pull-out interior door handles.

An Austin Super Seven was pleasantly luxurious but not readily distinguishable from the Wolseley Hornet. The Morgan 4/4 Series H went very well, taut as usual, and the push-pull gear-change seemed easier than on the former smaller-engined 4/4, although I couldn’t find reverse. Finally, I had my annual very enjoyable “dice” in a Morgan Plus Four, a rather claustrophobic coupé that fitted like a hip-bath but gave the securest ride of all, its Weber-carburetted engine thinking nothing of 6,000 r.p.m. in the gears, the disc brakes working splendidly and 95 or so coming up along the straight, while it “took” a Sunbeam Harrington Le Mans round the outside of Lavant Corner. Great stuff, these Morgans.

Well, that was it; only 35 test miles so no chance really to analyse the cars but a most enjoyable experience all the same. This year’s “incidents” unfortunately involved a Jaguar E-type which went backwards into a sandbank at Woodcote and Buick-engined Warwick which shed a rear wheel through breakage of the hub, as Lord Strathcarron was drifting it through Fordwater at over 100 m.p.h. The Lotus Elite and Lotus 7 were conveyed, respectively, on a trailer and a small transporter, which is hardly a convincing way of presenting road-worthy cars to the visiting journalists….

The VW 1500
Having to go North in a hurry during the period of the Earls Court Show we were able to borrow a very new l.h.d. VW 1500 saloon. You don’t need to run-in a Volkswagen engine—a good publicity gimmick would be to have some of these cars continually running fast up and down M 1 with a notice on their roofs to this effect—but along the No. 1 motor-road we held the cruising speed to 75 m.p.h. more in deference to the very new engine than to a fierce crosswind, which, however, made keeping a straight course somewhat tiring.

During this two-day 450-mile jaunt the high quality finish and lavish equipment of the new VW was ever a pleasant accompaniment to the feather-light steering and gear-change. Press-button minor controls, internal pull-out door handles with locks incorporated, door pockets, paint finish, front seat-back and concealed boot-lid locks and so on live up to the standards for which Wolfsburg is famous. Visibility is excellent, the running quiet and comfortable, cornering improved, heating and demisting very effective. The big seats make for lack of fatigue and the new black-finished facia sill offsets a beautifully appointed car. The back luggage compartment is shallow but “never-endingly” deep; the front luggage boot quite adequate but the cubby-hole is disappointingly shallow. Outwardly the car is unobtrusive but quietly exciting. In spite of its price of over £1,000 in England, VW enthusiasts will surely form queues….

This initial experience of one of the most eagerly-awaited new models of recent times was not quite trouble-free, for we were delayed by a faulty front bonnet catch and the clutch thrust race became noisy, so that fuel consumption and performance figures had to go by the board. But we look forward to doing a full test of a r.h.d. VW 1500 as soon as possible.