Matters of moment, December 1963

The quality of cars

Motor Sport has repeatedly exposed unreliability in cars for, however fast, controllable and comfortable a car is, it is worthless if it refuses to start promptly, or, having started, grinds to a halt, runs fitfully or sheds vital parts. [Not that domestic appliances set any better standard than cars, although from this accusation I exempt our English Electric refrigerator, Pye and Ultra portable radios, and our Bardic BM electric torches.—Ed.]

Although our readers aspire to cars in the Ferrari, Jaguar, Maserati, and Mercedes-Benz category, the majority of them have to shop in the market catered for by Britain’s Big Five and smaller concerns. It is, therefore, depressing to find a gloomy view of the quality to be expected from volume-production vehicles in a clever new book, “The Car Makers,” by Graham Turner. “Many manufacturers,” says the author after investigation of the Motor Industry, “have demonstrated quite clearly that they have accelerated the process of mass-production rather than spent sufficient time and money in the fight for quality”; car workers concerned only with the pay-packet “gold-rush” wage “total war for the sake of higher earnings . . . and for the moment it is motor cars which have to suffer.”

All praise, therefore, to Vauxhall for building prototypes on a line simulating mass-production assembly and to Jaguar for having a “paint-hospital” in which rejected bodies can be rebaked at suitably low temperatures.

Having earned a reputation for publicising the high quality of foreign cars, it is nice to see our views endorsed in the aforesaid book. Turner remarks that he did not see signs reading “Quality is Your Life” at the VW plant at Wolfsburg—signs which when displayed in British factories are regarded cynically by the “bash ’em out” boys. “Sheer carelessness is the thing which appals VW workers most when they see what goes on in British plants. . . . The West Germans are polite when they discuss our assembly methods, but just beneath the surface is a certainty that their standards are higher,” says Turner. Cramped conditions, even in factories built quite recently, are blamed, compared to “the soaring vaults of the VW plant.” [And I have such respect for the reliability and accuracy of MotoMeter clocks that I would almost buy a Rover 2000 for this item alone!—Ed.]

Nevertheless, we have not lost faith in British cars, and, providing quality as well as quantity remains the aim, we believe that never before has this country had cars better suited to compete with the giants from the Continent, of which George Harriman, B.M.C.’s Chairman, has said “If VW has all the reputation, don’t lose sight of Fiat,” while Ford’s Chief Engineer, Victor Raviolo, has an equally healthy respect for the Italians.

Motor Sport recognises the excellent design of certain British volume-production cars and especially of our inexpensive sports cars. The impeccable road-holding of the B.M.C. f.w.d. small cars emanating from the brain of Alec Issigonis has been continually emphasised in our columns. We have paid tribute to Ford’s policy of offering Weber-carburetted high-output engines in its race-winning GT versions of the Cortina and Corsair saloons, which develop far more power than any other 1 1/2-litre mass-produced engine and give performance normally obtainable only by the use of proprietary tuning-kits, without any guarantee-invalidity, high insurance rates or loss of dependability that these kits often entail. We published the first full road-tests of the M.G. 1100 and Vauxhall Viva and have accorded warm praise to the Rover 2000. We have commended Standard-Triumph for ridding its family cars of back axle beams.

The criterion on which the new British cars will be judged is, primarily, quality and reliability. We feel sure the two biggest volume-producers in Britain, B.M.C. whose small cars lead in respect of road-holding, ride-comfort and compactness, Ford whose automobiles have good engines and gearboxes and who offer effective sporting versions of its ordinary family saloons, both have this foremost in their minds.

It is, incidentally, interesting that the author of the book from which we have quoted summarises Issigonis as:—

“…the archetype at the artist in Industry. lie is donnish in his humour, Oxford in his accent, superficially diffident and nervous in manner, tense and jerky in his movements and gestures…. he wore a casual green suit as uncomfortably as it is possible to wear a casual suit, his high, square shoulders sticking out at it as if he had once shrugged them and then forgotten to relax again. In repose he looks for all the world like an eagle sitting on its haunches…. Yet this is the man who leads Britain in the field of car design…. He is not a plagiarist cannibalizing other people’s ideas and his ‘revolutionary’ cars are genuine revolutionary. Harriman has developed a remarkable production machine: Issigonis has matched it with brilliant innovations in design: will B.M.C.’s salesmen be as successful?

Of Raviolo, “The Car Makers” says:—

“His dress is neat, self-effacing, standard American pattern. His office is vast and luxurious, but bare of individuality, vast enough indeed to swallow individuality altogether, a room intended for a committee rather than one man. Raviolo himself is stocky, solid and easy going, with a square, wide humorous face and thinning blond hair which his hands whimsically explore…. This is the engineer as a servant, not the engineer as artist. In Raviolo’s mind, the engineer is an impeccable, but faceless, technician, to whom the observable demand of the market is the guide to design.”

These are the engineers who head our biggest car-producers, Companies which are expected to survive even if the European Common Market materialises, which one Ford director thinks will eliminate the smaller firms—”Ford and General Motors will continue, B.M.C. is big enough to hold its own, though it doesn’t make much money and will have to improve its efficiency. Rootes?—I would only give it a few years.”

However accurate this dismal forecast, quality is essential to sustained car sales in the future.

Motor Sport has called the modem Mercedes-Benz the best car in the World. This is judging by the standards formerly applied to the Rolls-Royce—when the Continental Phantom II justifiably held this title it wasn’t necessarily faster, more economical, or possessed of better road-holding or steering than its rivals, but popular opinion labelled it the World’s best car. On the same terms today, Daimler-Benz surely leads; so far as our oft-expressed praise of their organisation is concerned, this, too, is endorsed by Stirling Moss who, writing in “The Design and Construction of the Racing Car,” says: “…better than anything I had known or even imagined up until then; better than anything I have experienced since.”

Indeed, just lately, there has been so much endorsement of opinions held by this journal that we might almost say “That was the month, that was was!”—the superiority of Mercedes-Benz was emphasised by their walkover in the tough Argentine road-race, Ford’s interest in competition motoring paid off with records broken at Daytona by a team of 4.7-litre V8 Lincoln-Mercury Comet saloons, culminating in a run of 100,000 miles at over 105 m.p.h. (not so long ago Jaguar became excited and claimed erroneous World’s records, after doing 107 m.p.h. for a mere 10,000 miles), and in the R.A.C. Rally Carlsson’s Saab was outperformed by a Volvo 544 and the new 1500S Volkswagen, with the Team Prize going to the Ford Consul Cortinas.

V.S.C.C. Eastern Rally (Nov. 10th)
Eastern Trophy: P. A. Boulton (1926 Sunbeam).

First Class Awards: D. Dew-Hughes (1927 Austin), D. T. R. Dighton (1928 Humber), J. C. Woollard (1927 Lagonda), F. E. Day (1937 Alvis) and J. R. Hamilton (1937 Riley).

Second Class Awards: M. J. Cole (1930 Lancia), J. K. Milner (1926 A.C.), A. D. Jones (1923 Vauxhall), A. C. M. Millar (1927 Vauxhall), J. Whymant (1932 Rolls-Royce) and I. S. Willars (1935 Riley).

Third Class Awards: S. E. Charity (1923 Fiat), R. J. L. McCowen (1929 Austin), N. Arnold-Forster (1925 Frazer Nash), J. W. Rowley (1927 Vauxhall), P. M. G. Perrow (1934 Rolls-Royce) and T. R. W. Burke (1937 Frazer Nash).

Light Car Award: D. T. R. Dighton (1928 Humber).

Team Award: South-West—I. R. Cardy (1923 Alvis), J. K. Milner 1926 A.C.) and N. Arnold-Forster (1925 Frazer Nash).

1964 R.A.C. Hill-Climb Championship
Below are listed the dates for the 1964 R.A.C. Hill-Climb Championship qualifying events:—
April 25/26th – Severn Valley M.C. – Loton Park
May 2nd/3rd – Bugatti O.C. – Prescott
May 17/18th – W. Hants & Dorset C.C. – Wiscombe Park
May 23rd – Westmorland M.C. – Barbon Manor
June 13/14th – Midland A.C. – Shelsley Walsh
June 20th – Lothian C.C. – Bo’ness
June 27th – R. Scottish A.C. – Rest-and-Be-Thankful
July 23rd – Jersey M.C. & L.C.C. – Bouley Bay
Aug 8th – Hants & Berks M.C. – Great Auclum
Aug 15th – Ulster A.C. – Craigantlet
Aug 29/30th – Midland A.C. – Shelsley Walsh
Sept 5/6th – Bugatti O.C. – Prescott
Sept. 12/13th – B.A.R.C. (Yorks) – Harewood
Sept 19th – Bristol M.C. & L.C.C. – Dyrham Park

R.A.C. Rally finishers table
(See Report opposite)

B.M.C. Mini 40/21
Ford Cortina 19/11
Sunbeam Rapier 12/5
Saab 11/8
Rover 3-litre 5/5
VW 1500S 5/5
Triumph TR4 5/2
Austin Healey 3000 5/2
VW 1200 5/2
Reliant Sabre 4/2
Vauxhall VX 4/90 4/2
Simca 1000 4/2
Triumph Vitesse 4/2
Ford Anglia 4/2
Volvo 544 B18 3/2
M.G. 1100 3/2
Volvo 122S 3/1
Ford Falcon V8 3/0
Ford Allardette 2/1
Renault R8 2/1
Hillman Imp 2/1
Ford Zodiac 1/1
M.G. Midget 1/1
Renault Dauphine 1/1
Morgan Plus Four 1/1
Standard Ensign 1/1
Humber Sceptre 1/1
Hillman Minx 1/1
Fiat 1500 1/1
M.G.-B 1/1
Morris 1100 1/1
Peugeot 404 1/1
Vauxhall Velox 1/1
Austin Healey Sprite 1/0
Citroen DS19 1/0
Humber Super Snipe 1/0
Sunbeam Alpine 1/0
Jaguar 3.8 1/0
Tornado Talisman 1/0

Total 163/91