On developing a sense of proportion

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MY good friend “Bunny” Tubbs has a not inconsiderable bee in his bonnet. In saying that, I am referring to a line of thought he has been letting off at me lately on the subject of American automobiles, and not to what goes on in the engine compartment of his D.K.W. . . . It seems that he spent some time motoring a V8 Ford cab about the States and returned to find all of us over here suffering from a distorted sense of proportion, or so it seems to him. He says that we will argue until the black-out lifts on the respective merits of vintage versus modern cars, whereas everyone in his right mind knows that a 4¼-litre Bentley is better than a 4½-litre, a “12/70” Alvis superior to a “12/50,” and a V12 Lagonda nicer than a 3-litre, and so on. Yet what we will not do is recognise that our modern sports-cars, some of which even the vintagents admit to be the best yet built, are just low-performance toys in comparison with the Yanks. Well, I will leave the former theme severely alone, thank you very much, but I would like to scribble a bit against friend Tubbs on the latter score. First, he talks about maximum speeds. His “30/98” Vauxhall, it seems, came of an era when touring cars were fast if they did over 65, albeit racing cars were attaining 120-130 m.p.h. It could do its 95 m.p.h., untuned. To-day, Tubbs observes, any Yank will do its 80 m.p.h., and is faster than our so-called British “sports-cars.” The late Frank Lockhart got 164 m.p.h. out of a litre and a half thirteen years ago and Caracciola got 245 m.p.h. from the Mercedes Renn-limousine. The modern Bentley and Lagonda Tubbs considers to be beautiful carriages, gentle to drive or ride in, but they only go at 110 m.p.h. at the most. He remembers that the S.S.K. Mercedes-Benz, the Blower Bentley, the multivalve Duesenberg, the “2.9” blown Alfa-Romeo, and the Type 57SC Bugatti exceed 120 m.p.h., that Lycett’s Bentley does 130 m.p.h. But then, he remarks, Mr. Wyer told us that the 2-litre G.P. Sunbeam could touch 130 m.p.h. on the road on 70 octane fuel seventeen years back. He considers that with the lessons racing has taught us during the intervening years, and with the improvement in pre-“Pool” fuels, it should be possible to buy, to-day, a comfortable, tractable, reliable sports-car of 3-litre capacity, capable of taking two persons away on a tour and hitting 125 m.p.h. on the straight bits (we had better have the m.p.h. in, Mr. Printer). His complaint is that, instead, if he wishes to buy a British car that will exceed the old-fashioned hundred-miles-an-hour he has to have a carriage suitable for taking a revue actress to the Ritz in, weighing, in its splendour, more than 1½ tons. Well, up to this point, I have no reason to quarrel very much with what Tubbs puts over, because the answers are all very clear. The public likes these Ritz-carriages and surely it is all to the credit of British sports-car vendors that their products will exceed 100 m.p.h. in spite of box bodies and heavy construction? They have quite brilliant acceleration, good fuel consumption, are essentially dependable and cost less rather than over £1,000, though may-be the speed-god will disfavour me for bringing that up. Anyway, Tubbs must know the great difference which such bodywork makes, and invariably the 125 m.p.h. cars he mentions (not that he has timed one of them at that figure, I suspect), are open, very high-efficiency jobs, if one excepts the closed Bugatti coupe in which you can scarcely wear a cap, let alone a shapely hat, and which is about the most, fabulously expensive means of motoring fast that is imaginable, considering comfort and accommodation in return for expenditure. Incidentally, my personal estimation of the maximum speeds of the cars listed would be : 110 m.p.h., 97 m.p.h., 100 m.p.h., 115 m.p.h., and 125 m.p.h.; one in five, as it were—of course, I’ve no quarrel about Lycett’s Bentley. So far as records go, our little M.G., with out-of-date supercharger, pent-roof head, and normal suspension, has reached over 200 m.p.h. in 1,100 c.c. and 1,500 c.c. forms, and that, for me, is enough to be going on with. Production car speed just cannot be considered in relation to record speeds, the speed of road-racing cars or the speeds attained by purely racing-cars of any period, and that is all there is to it.