THE TOP TEN — and the Ten Worst, British Cars
THE 100th Anniversary of the birth of the motor car, even though there is a divergence of opinion as to when this comes up, will undoubtedly concentrate motoring history in a spate of articles, books, rallies and gimmicks. It has already caused a famous Sunday newspaper supplement to embark on an ingenious interpretation.
The paper involved was the Sunday Telegraph which got its Telegraph Sunday Magazine to assemble a panel of experts and ask them to vote on which were the 10 best and 10 worst British cars made during the past century, the outcome to he revealed in its issue of October 21st, at Motor Show time. An ingenious idea, if a very difficult nut to crack. The task was put in the hands of freelance journalist William Foster, a writer more at home with wine and food than motor cars, who was prepared to travel all the way from Surrey to Hereford by train to interview me. A girl with the delightful and appropriate name of Genevieve Clarke masterminded this rather improbable ploy, which took some time to assemble, having been mooted late in 1983. The panel chosen consisted of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, John Langley of The Daily Telegraph, Courtenay Edwards, late of The Sunday Telegraph, Anthony Curtis, Editor of Motor, Ray Hutton, BSc, then Editor of Autocar, and Rob Lowthian, Editor of Drive, and myself, as Editor of MOTOR SPORT, of the motoring writers, and Stirling Moss, of whom it was stated that he had won 222 of the 494 races, rallies, etc he drove in, between 1947 and 1962. In the published findings we were quoted as driving, respectively, the following cars: a Daimler, a Rover 2600S, an MG Metro, a Rover 3500SE, a Jaguar XJS, a Citroen BX16RS and an Alfa Romeo-6. This panel was asked to draw up lists of what it regarded as the 10 best and worst British cars, and later a luncheon was held at which these lists could be discussed. The choices were somewhat surprising, in my view, and it would be invidious to publish the individual lists. I never saw Lord Montagu’s list, but I understand that he was in favour of the later Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts an historical inexactitude), would have put the Daitnler in the “best 10”, and admitted a romantic attachment to the Jowett Javelin, which, however, was berated for its big-end failures by another panel member. One of the panel thought the Mini one of the most innovative cars ever made but another saw the Morris Minor 1000 as rather ordinary. Moss thought the Lotus Elite an absolute stunner even if it leaked and its doors tell off. He also thought the Range-Royer greatly over-rated but put many sports cars in his list, the Marendaz Special no doubt because of the trials successes his mother
had with one. Incidentally, Stirling described the MG-C as “quite simply the worst car I ever drove”, which may well cause some surprise. This is how’ the preliminary voting went, not including my choice. The 10 hest: BMC Mini, 5; 1922-32 Austin, 7; Ford Cortina. 4; Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, Range-Rover, MG TC, E-type Jaguar, 3; blower 41/2 Bentley, Squire, 2; Ford Y 8 hp, Jowett Javelin, 41/2-litre Bentley, Model-T Ford, Austin-Healey, Healey Sprite, Frog-eye Sprite, Jaguar XJ6, MG Metro, HRG, Mk7 Jaguar, Lotus Elite, Mini Cooper, Jaguar XK120, Jensen Interceptor, V12 Lagonda, Marendaz Special, 1901/4 twin-cylinder Lanchester, Speed Six Bentley, 16 hp Riley Kestrel, Lotus Elan, Rover 2000, VI2
Jaguar, Lanchester 40, 30/98 Vauxhall, Bristol, Rolls-Royce P2, one for each. The 10 worst: Early Ford Zephyr, various, 5; Lea-Francis Lynx, Ford Consul Classic, Vauxhall Victor Mkl, Nash-Metropolitan, Austin Allegro, Austin Princess R, 3; Farina-bodied Austin and MG BAIC saloons, Burney streamline, early Bond 3-wheeler, Triumph TR7, Maxi, Austin Princess 2200, Morris Marina, MG-C, Fairthorpe Atom, SSII, 1930s Hillman Minx, Rodley, Fined Cortina Mk111„V2 Invalid car, Austin A35, Vauxhall Wyvern, reverse-rear-window Ford Anglia. Bond Equipe, Bond Bug, Hillman Imp, Trojan, 1928 10..25 hp Rover, Rolls-Royce limousine, Bentley Continental, one !Or each. Well, there’s no accounting for tastes. The last two were considered had in the opinion of a very famous driver. . ! The problem as I saw it, if the thing could ever be resolved, was being asked to name individual cars, presumably for purposes of ultimately illustrating the piece with definites. At first I had gone for companies, unwell as cars, with my reasons for selection appended, as follows:
Rolls-Royce. Because it has retained the accolade of “The World’s Best Car” from 1907 to the present day.
Bentley. For its great racing successes at Le Mans and elsewhere up to 1930, the 8-litre that troubled Rolls-Royce, and the present Mulsanne Turbo. Sunbeam. Because the Wolverhamptonbuilt models had Rolls-Royce quality’ and on behalf of the many competition successes, first British car to win the French GP, first to achieve 150 and 200 mph, successes carried on by the Rootes’ Sunbeams. Lanchester. Far in advance of other horseless-carriages at the dawn of motoring and a post-Armistice rival to the 40/50 hp
Rolls-Royce, with the overhead-camshaft Forty and straight-eight.
Daimler. For spreading the message of automobilism in Britain from the pre-1900 days, and because for so many years it was the Royal Car. Also for perfecting the vee-twelve-cylinder sleeve-valve engine and introducing the fluid-flywheel pre-selector transmission.
Jaguar. For the sheer value-firpleasure given by models like the XK 120 and E-type, the excellence of its twiti-cam six-cylinder and modern VI2 power units, and its succession of Le Mans victories. Morris. As supplier of sound cars. mostly, for the British motoring masses, a.nd for Sir Alec Issigonis’ Mini Atnor that changed the whole small car concept the World over. AlViS. For excellent sporting motor-cars down the years and not being afraid to innovate with front-wheel-drive, all
synchromesh gearboxes and independent front suspension.
MG. For bringing sporting cars within the reach of the less well off and cocking-a-snoot at foreign opposition in important races, like the IT and Mille Miglia, etc.
Rover. For the satisfaction this value-for-money make represented in Betjeman land for many years, the successful gas-turbine cars, and the fact that the modern Rover 3500 represents the thrifty executive’s Silver Spirit.
Areal-Johnston Victory Model. Intended to represent a brave new post-Armistice car it was an unmitigated failure, even the one lent to HRH The Prince of Wales for a tour having to be ignominiously recalled. Nomad (or Gnome). For the audacity of perpetrating a badly-cooled two-stroke single-cylinder engine, a dummy radiator that fell off, friction-drive and absence of any springs, all in one car as late as 1926/7. Seaton-Petter. In respect of general crudeness and an endearing habit of shooting backwards without warning, due to its self-reversible two-stroke engine. Trojan Mastra. For failing to live up to the successful utility-car qualities of its Trojan forebears.
MG Twin-Cam. Because it proved such a disappointment from so promising a specification and the Abingdon engineers really should have been able to get it right. . . .
Burney-Streamline. Because it was a car that tried to be too clever.
Early Bond Three-Wheeler. One got so tired of shaving whiskers from the only spark plug and of its steering pulleys falling off.
Stoneleigh. Because even the skilled Armstrong Siddelcy engineers soon sneered at it and who wants to drive sitting centrally with the passengers behind one? Lea-Francis Lynx. A dreadful parody of a famous make.
Pennington. There were better autos, even in 1898! Required to list specific cars, I named the ten best as Rolls-Royce Ghost, Shadow or Spirit, 8-litre Bentley, 20160 sir 25 hp
Sunbeam, straight-eight Lanchester, 351120 hp or 50 hp Double-Six Daimler or any vintage Royal Daimler, 0-type Jaguar, Morris Mini Minor, 4.3 Alvis. 18,80 hp or supercharged K3 MG Magnetic, and Rover V8 3500, giving as my ten worst cars the 1919 Arrol-Johnston Victoq model, the Gnome or Nomad cyclecar, the Seaton-Petter, the Trojan Mastra, the twin-cam MG, the Burney Streamline, the Bond 3-vvhceler as first made, the Stoneleigh. the Lea-Francis Lynx and the 1896 Pennington 3-wheeler, for reasons given in my “companies” list. Clearly Foster was in for a rough ride. I was unable to attend the luncheon discussion and understand the tape ot it to
be unintelligible, but see I am quoted “as far preferring a Land-Rover to a Range-Rover”, whereas what I actually remarked was that the Land-Rover should be linked with the Range-Rover. It would be ungrateful if I did. because it was a Rangc-Rcwer that once got me to the very summit of Coder Idris!. The difficulty of the task was perhaps best emphasised when the vintage Lanchester motor-carriages “won” against the Lotus Elite .. . Anyway, you should find the piece well worth reading, and by courtesy of the Telegraph Sunday Magazine, I am able to give the final placings:
1959 BMC Mini 1956 Morris Minor 1000 1922-32 Austin 7 1970 Range-Rover 1961 Jaguar 0-type 1930 Bentley 41/2-litre supercharged 1907 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost 1947 lowest Javelin 1973 Jaguar XJ6 1928-29 Lanchester
1960 Lea-Francis Lynx 1957 Vauxhall Victor Mk I 1951 Bond 3-wheeler 1966 Ford Zephyr Mk 4 1964-68 BMC Princess R 1931 Burney Streamliner 1962-63 Ford Consul Classic 1967 MG-C 1922 Trojan 1925 Nomad cyclecar As I have said, you should read the text of their article to understand better some of these decisions, but it seemed very surprising to me that the Daimler is not included as one of Britain’s ten hest cars, in a survey covering the last 100 years of the automobile. The omission of Napier, Sunbeam and MG is odd, too. remembering the valuable motor-racing prestige these makes gave this country. 01 the worst ten, I would not have thought these Farina-styled Austins and MGs, eta, of the BMC era, which one person would have included, were all that had but I am glad I got a cyclecar in the list, although it is a pity they illustrated a Tamplin but captioned it as a Nomad without springs — the Tamplin did have road springs of sorts, whereas the Nomad relied on its Dunlop balloon tyres for shock absorption. I certainly would not
THE PICTURE OF THE NOA1AD or (mnome, Lyda-dr which the TSM should have used— W.B.’s reasons for including it as one of Britain’s worst are given 1,1 the text.
have put the caner Trojans among the worst ten and think this came about because Courtenay Edwards played the old game of describing this make as “a boxy little saloon (there was no saloon model in 1922, Courtenay) with chain drive and solid tyres that took you, screaming with rage, all the way to the depot if your wheels got caught in the tramlines.” Which must have sounded the death-knell for it to those unfamiliar with these admittedly unconventional cars. Incidentally, the one illustrated was a pneumatic-treed tourer … And the Burney streamline shown is more correctly a Burney-Crossley.
But what a brave and clever feature for Fleet Street to have thought up, and to be fair, the TSM admits it is likely “to stir up a hornets’ nest”, as every motorist has his or her own idea on the subject. It should provide much discussion throughout the celebrations of the birth of the motor car which we shall soon have to suffer. — W.B.