The annual “busman’s holiday” of the Guild of Motoring Writers took place at Goodwood during the Motor Show as usual, where no less than 105 different cars were available for the assembled scribes to sample, although the Assistant Editor only managed to try a dozen of them.
First on my list was the new Ford Cortina GT, which looks and feels much the same as before. The facia is much more pleasant and the fresh air vents on the facia really work, pouring out a welcome draught of cool air; naturally with this simple system the temperature of the incoming air depends on the outside temperature, so that on a hot summer’s day they may not be quite so effective. The new seats are more comfortable but the driving position is still far from ideal It is still fairly easy to lift rear wheels on the Cortina and Goodwood’s smooth surface gave no indication of the improvement to be expected on normal roads from the new rear radius arms.
I thought I’d try a Triumph Spitfire but received a surprise when I went to pick it up, for it was a modified car with the Syd Hurrell conversion, as supplied by Triumph dealers, which brings power output up to 85 b.h.p. in Stage II form. This little bomb did 90 m.p.h. in 3rd and showed over too m.p.h. on Lavant Straight in top. Two degrees of negative camber on the rear wheels make all the difference to the handling of this swingaxle car and it can be thrown around in an entertaining way. All the same the idling was a little rough and it probably isn’t much fun in town, but I can well see why the Spitfire is all the rage on the Continent just now.
Jaguar had brought along no less than eight cars, so there was little difficulty in obtaining one of the new 4.2-litre E-type coupes. On the track the 4.2 confirmed our previous good impression gained on the road, and with new seats, more powerful brake servo, greater engine torque and a superb gearbox, the E-type undoubtedly becomes one of the World’s top five cars, for it now has virtually everything one could desire in a GT car.
I’m rather partial to “tweaked” cars, so I soon picked out the Hillman Imp tuned by George Hartwell, and loved every minute of my three laps. Fully balanced and with modified head, high-lift cams, twin Stromberg carbs., 4-branch exhaust, etc., this engine was the smoothest I sampled all day and whistled straight up to 7,000 r.p.m. in 3rd (80 m.p.h.), and was touching 90 m.p.h. in top on the straight. Lowered suspension and a brake booster make this Group III car a potential Mini-beater, for it cornered and stopped very safely.
Vauxhall’s restyled VX 4/90 came along next and I found myself approving of the new looks, although some journalists were a bit doubtful. Mechanically the car is not altered greatly and the 4/90 remains a pleasant if not exciting car to drive. It doesn’t want to do much more than 70 m.p.h. in 3rd but was approaching 90 m.p.h. on the straight in top. Roll seems to have been cut down by the new suspension mods and the exhaust is less “rorty” than on the old model.
In distinct contrast to the E-type came the Austin Healey 3000, which sounded twice as noisy, felt half as fast and cornered rather raggedly. Part of the trouble was that the telescopic steering wouldn’t telescope and the seat wouldn’t budge on its runners, so that I was hunched up very uncomfortably. However, when I remembered that the Healey costs little more than half the price of the E-type I softened a little and felt that, like the E-type, it was good value for money.
Another B.M.C. product came next, this time one of the Hydrolastic Minis. The programme said it was an “S”-type but it proved to be an ordinary Cooper-Mini, if any Mini can be ordinary. The ride is of Course much softer, which should make the car more acceptable to dowagers and district nurses, but when I essayed some fast passes at Woodcote I was not all that certain that I was going to be pointing in the right direction when I emerged from the corner—nor were the normally imperturbable photographers, who took two paces backwards rather smartly. Rather twitchier than before, I would say.
Still feeling majestic, I strolled over to the Daimler Majestic Major Limousine, only to be rather deflated when I was offered the chauffeurs cap. I donned this, pressed the button to wind up the electric division, and set off to see how a chauffeur must feel. If he drives a Daimler he must have a lot of fun, for this enormous barouche, which has room in the back for half a dozen coffins or six live people, can he hurled around a circuit at ridiculous speeds. Naturally there is some roll but the sheer weight of the car makes it difficult to lose control and the intermediate hold switch on the Borg-Warner automatic transmission gives some engine braking effect when slowing for corners, although the brakes seem perfectly adequate.
Daniel Richmond can always be relied upon to extract phenomenal power from B.M.C. engines with his Downton conversions and we were not disappointed with his Morris two, although he said that this was quite tame compared with his 1,275-c.c. Mini-Cooper, which apparently does too m.p.h. in 3rd gear! In fact, the Downton 1100 was in just about the right state of tune for a quick road car, being capable of over 90 m.p.h., with almost unimpaired tractability at the lower end of the speed scale.
After lunch I felt in my “Managing Director” mood and made for the Bentley Continental which Rolls-Royce had bravely brought along, together with a Silver Cloud III. This car is frankly out of place on a racing circuit and hard cornering brought on pronounced roll and most un-Bentley-like judder through the steering. With very little lateral support I had difficulty holding myself in the seat on corners, but having got over my exuberance I slowed down a little and the Bentley once More resumed the stately style of progress to which it is more accustomed. Fine for motoring from London to Monte Carlo in a day but the Minis murdered it in Sussex!
The Rover 2000 seems to be taking a long while to get a foothold in the market and it seems that people, whilst admiring its technical novelties, are buying the more conventional Triumph 2000. The car at Goodwood impressed me as much as ever with its sure-footed, roll-free cornering, pleasant acceleration and the high degree of interior luxury. The only discordant note was struck by very heavy steering, explained by the fact that previous enthusiastic drivers had worn away most of the tread of the Pirelli tyres!
The final car in my selection was the Ford Cortina GT modified by Alexander to take the Tecalemit fuel injection system. This one had obviously got a little out of tune, for the engine would not idle and there was a considerable fiat spot low down in the rev. range. However, once it was revving the engine sounded smoother than the standard unit and as Alexander claim a 3-sec. improvement from 0-70 m.p.h. over the normal carburetter car, the fuel injection may be worth considering, although normal engine tuning would undoubtedly give more impressive results for less outlay.
That concluded my tally for the day. Unfortunately I was forced to miss such new cars as the Austin 1800, Vauxhall Cresta, Vanden Plas Princess “R,” Singer Chamois, Sunbeam Tiger, Humber Imperial. Bond Equipe GT 4S and Elva Courier Mk. IV, either through lack of time or great demand by other eager scribes. With this splendid display of new cars it was difficult to feel despondent about the future of the British Industry, especially when the motor industries of so many other countries are in serious trouble.—M. L. T.