You were good enough to publish my comments on my Mini in your July issue, and your road-test of the Herald 1200 prompts me to write again, for just about the time I was writing my letter, a 1200 was joining the stable for my mother’s use. It replaced a Series II 1958 Minx concerning which I shall only say: (i) that the steering box would have done to keep a tennis-net up, (ii) that Durabands are an expensive investment when they entail rebuilding the i.f.s. every 10,000 miles; and (iii) that the piston rings should be replaced at 20,000 miles, and not at 25,000, by when our car was using a pint of oil every 50 miles.
Before touching on the 1200 I should mention that the Mini hard-driven over 20,000. miles, is using little oil and has, since my last letter, suffered few faults:
(i) Exhaust bracket under floor failed.
(ii) Door lock, previously jammed locked, wouldn’t lock at all.
(iii) Carpet-wetting again. Without detailing investigations, this is a mystery.
I have grown to love the little brute and wouldn’t be parted from it, but it is not a cheap car to run. Depreciation is £10 per 1,000 miles at first, and one must bargain for one set of brake linings and, say, seven tyres in a 15,000-mile year, or £45. If I sold it now, it would have cost very nearly 5d. a mile to run, with no garaging costs.
Taking the Mini and the 1200 together I can comment on design merely to say that we will not be having another car which lacks any of the following:
1. Bucket seats
2. Floor gear-lever.
3. Rack-and-pinion steering.
4. Independent suspension to all four.
5. Aerodynamic stability (which seems to mean, inevitably, a front engine)
6. Pedals with which heel-and-toe is automatic.
Apropos the rack-and-pinion, I know that Bristol and A.C. gave it up, and Bugatti, Alfa, R.-R., Alvis, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and many others have done without it, but it remains the only layout which gives accuracy and freedom from sponge and play however badly it is designed. (Not so much a triumph of design over workmanship as a triumph of fundamental simplicity over both.)
And now the 1200. It is, if anything, worse assembled than my Mini was. The bright trim strip along the bottom of the rear side windows is what hits the eye as much as anything, but then one looks at the rubber surrounds, the alignment of panels and so on and may marvel that the passengers don’t get drowned in a rainstorm. Removal of the carpets for cleaning (or the insertion of “Interior Silent Travel” felt) takes (a) the removal of both seats (four bolts each), (b) the removal of the door rubbing strips (umpteen screws each), (c) a lot of skin off the fingers, and (d) about half an hour. Putting them back is somewhat harder.
So what? It has been reliable. The driving seat is excellent. The entire driving position is the best that a friend of mine had ever tried; and his family have a Bristol 406, an MG.-A, a Sunbeam Rapier, a T.V.R. and a Riley 1.5. Once the rear leaf-spring has settled the road-holding, while not in the Mini class (what else is?), will leave almost any other saloon I know cold. The gear-change is as good as any, ditto the pedal positions. Engine accessibility is at last back to the vintage ease which should never have been lost. The car is (pace the above, concerning assembly) waterproof.
Perhaps the greatest attraction to those drivers who are, like myself, over 6 ft., is the leg room, which puts the Herald in a class of its own far in advance of such cars as the 3.8-litre 120-m.p.h. Mk. II Jaguar which I simply dare not drive owing to a total inability to get my right leg pushing down the brake pedal in a straight line from the hip.
On the debit side, there is a lot of shake in the body, scuttle and steering column. “Interior Silent Travel” has not altogether banished an oppressive exhaust resonance. The flasher and lamp control levers on the steering column have dangerously imprecise movements (cost-cutting, I suppose, and in a very stupid way). Most of the much-vaunted 48 (or was it 72?) seat positions are unusable by anyone, of any shape, and seem to have arisen (at negligible cost, as it happens) for advertising value. The speedometer exaggerates wildly. The fuel tank is just enough for one day’s gentle holiday pottering. (A man I know, with a coupé Herald obtained a second identical tank to put in the other side of the boot where it, naturally, fits very neatly. He can now just make London from here on one filling. Anyone who reads this and sends the idea to The Motor will kindly split the fiver with me.) With the driving seat where I have it there is literally a 3/4-in. gap left for the legs of the rear-seat passengers, so you can’t have your legs and eat them. The styling is too pretentious; in my view, for a car of that size, the muzzle being particularly gross.
Again, so what? If you are my size, and need a boot bigger than that on the ADO 15s (even on the Gnome and the Gnat, if I’ve got the names of the Riley and Wolseley versions correctly) the Herald 1200 is the best this sorry world has to offer and you had better get used to the idea, until such time as Leylands really start in and teach that we are not in this world for pleasure alone, when things will get even better.
More strength to your Editorial arm, Sir.
Kenneth H. Ross.