Matters of Moment, February 1950

Britain Can Make It.

For some years the term “sports cars” has been less appropriate than it was formerly. When the motor car was a less-specialised production manufacturers could so easily tack a “sports model” on to a range composed of sober tourer, coupé and saloon. Bodies were merely structures on channel-section chassis frames, the one separate from the other and, with a few exceptions, factories were not tooled-up for such big-scale output that an axle ratio could not be raised, springs flattened or the bore of an engine enlarged if the chief engineer felt that this was the way to increased sales. So “sports models” figured in many catalogues.

But as the mass-production and semi-mass-production firms began to put the more specialised concerns out of business the typical motor car changed its character. Bodywork and chassis became one, or closely united, suspension units were expressly designed to suit the resultant ensemble, and the scope for modifying axles, engines, gearboxes, lessened appreciably. The “sports car” in the form we had once known it became the concern of purely specialised manufacturers, but this paper retained its interest and faith in them, while perceiving that in the high-performance car, be it open or closed, was to be found, by reason of was to reason its superiority in performance, roadholding, cornering and controllability over conveyor-belt products, a vehicle likewise removed from the mundane.

The high-performance car fulfils many important functions. It provides the business executive with the safest form of fast transport available to him. It offers to the discerning driver who must have a closed car for business or family reasons (often both) much of the satisfaction that the true sports car afforded him. For the same reason it is appropriate to enthusiasts no longer so young or so single-minded as to crave an out-and-out sports car. This type of car, seen at its highest conception in the 4½-litre Bentley and 2½-litre Lagonda, has largely replaced the “sports car” in popular esteem and has established itself definitely in the motoring scheme of things.

The point we wish to make, however, is that, with the war behind us, the sports car, in the best interpretation of that frequently misused term, is taking on a new lease of life.

It can be argued that those who derive enjoyment from the accurate handling of fast cars and of speed, under the right conditions, for its own sake, need not look beyond the high-performance saloon to satisfy their whims. But with motor-racing and competitions of all kinds at their present level of popularity—not only in England, but in America, Australia, New Zealand, the Argentine, Siam, France, Belgium, Germany, where you will—isn’t it logical that enthusiasts of both sexes, young and not so young, should experience delight from driving, if not racing cars, at all events open, well-handling motor cars of really good performance and high speed, cars unhampered by closed bodywork, and responding to skilful pilotage, along twisting roads in the good fresh air—in short, sports cars?

The modern sports car—we will define the term as applying to an open two/three-seater of more than normal performance—is reliable, free from temperament, and comfortable and consequently can be used satisfactorily by anyone not of necessity restricted, in spite of personal preferences, to the merely high-performance car.

Britain, fortunately, is in a strong position so far as the sports-car market is concerned, fortunately, because the demand for sports-cars is likely to expand. Secondhand cars generally are now getting rather long-in-the-tooth, so that to-day even the mechanically-minded enthusiast, who before the war derived almost as much pleasure from rebuilding a used sports-car as from owning a new one, sees the common sense of at least ordering a new car, more particularly as the safety of a fast car is closely allied to its condition.

With these thoughts in mind it is pleasing to know that more than a dozen genuine sports-cars are made in this country. In the 3½-litre XK 120 twin-cam Jaguar we have the modern counterpart of the most exciting sports-cars of the past, albeit one offering great refinement and representing remarkable value for money. In the J-type Allard, the “Silverstone” Healey, and the Frazer-Nash we have cars eminently suited to entry in competitions, besides being just the kind of cars that motorists who attend races and thrive on technicalities wish to drive. In America such cars have the added enthusiast-appeal of being the very antithesis of the normal mode of automotive transport, although likely to be most appreciated around Indianapolis at the end of May. Aston-Martin, its stamina proved at Spa, its stability a revelation, Alvis, Lea-Francis, Riley and E.R.A.-Javelin offer compact two/three-seater cars less extreme in bodywork and performance, but very definitely sports-cars. In the famous and proven M.G. Midget, now offered with independent front suspension, the Morgan “4/4,” low-looking yet able to win “silvers” in the recent Exeter Trial, and the Singer Nine roadster we have sports-cars for the less affluent, and coupon-laden. The H.R.G. persists as a real he-enthusiasts’ car, frill-free, hard-sprung and able to go round corners very fast indeed. If there is a gap to be filled it is for the ultra-stable two-seater which one wears rather than rides in, a sort of trainer-car for the would-be racing driver, for which a journalist other than the present writer has oft put in a plea—and which the road Cooper may well meet.

The production of these sports-cars is going to bring us dollars and help in pulling this old country round, because, unless political or economic developments bring private motoring to a full stop, races will continue to be held all about the globe with increasing support and enthusiasm and people will require cars worthy of their association with motor-racing. Britain, Vauxhall and Bentley-loving country in the past, is assured of a very fair share of this virile, growing market, especially if she will use the Tourist Trophy race as her shop-window.