The Least-Expensive Car On The Market

Author

W.B.

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The £275 Ford Popular Proves its Worth

I have just driven 140 miles in a Ford Popular, Dagenham’s strategic model in the low-price field, and before returning it I shall drive it many more miles. For the Popular, in spite of its competitive basic selling price of £275, which makes it the least-expensive car on the British market at the present time, is a willing, solid, and satisfactory means of motoring.

There are two distinct lines of approach to the provision of “motoring for the masses.” You can either build a techniclly-specialised vehicle such as the 2-c.v. Citroën or you can mass-produce a more conventional vehicle, keeping its price down by eliminating luxury accessories.

Ford, with the Popular, have chosen the latter course and, by incorporating a water-cooled four-cylinder engine of 1,172 c.c., they avoid criticism on the grounds that their cheapest model is so lacking in acceleration and speed as to contribute to the congestion on Britain’s out-dated roads.

All the components of the Popular are well known, having proved themselves over a number of years and in all parts of the globe in the former Anglia 8-h.p., Prefect 10-h.p. and Export-Anglia 10-h.p. cars. Consequently, the purchaser has nothing of which to be suspicious, and nothing new to learn when it comes to driving and servicing the Popular.

What Ford have done is to offer a simple, substantial two-door, four-seater Saloon capable of cruising all day long at a speedometer 50 m.p.h., of reaching 60 m.p.h. if occasion merits, giving acceleration of quite brilliant quality in relation to its engine size, given full use of the synchromesh three-speed gearbox, of giving seldom loss than 32 m.p.g. with the cheapest grade of petrol and 35 or more m.p.g. if purposely driven to obtain it, all for a basic price of £275, or under £400 in this country, purchase tax paid.

To do this they have skimped nothing in the specification and quality of materials in this somewhat out-dated car but they have been courageous enough to eliminate direction indicators, door pockets, armrests, cubby-holes, anti-dazzle vizors, second screen-wiper, and and all instruments except for a good speedometer (with the 30-m.p.h. mark clearly indicated), ammeter and petrol gauge. They have even eschewed constant-voltage dynamo charge in favour of the three-brush system, so that the battery on the test car seemed to be receiving rather a generous flow of amps, during the daylight hours. The bumpers are unplated, and the tool kit consists merely of a screwdriver, box-spanner and “shifter” in a roll of sackcloth.

What is left is not only sheer sound value as basic all-weather transport, but a very enjoyable little car withal. There is something extremely reassuring, particularly to those for whom this is likely to be their first car, in the prompt manner in which the simple side-valve engine starts on a frosty morning, given a little choke, in the positive action of clutch and gear-change (the former calling for some care, the latter having a particularly nice action and lever location), and in the healthy power-roar from under the bonnet as the Popular cruises at 40-50 m.p.h. The Girling mechanical brakes, too, are first class, killing speed surely under light pedal pressure, while the central pull-out hand-brake holds the car securely and is not difficult to use.

The small combined head and side lamps, which are not sunk into the wings, give an excellent light in both full and foot-dimmed positions. The body, if a thought “tinny,” is essentially substantial, very nicely finished and free from all but superficial rattles. The seats, bucket-style at the front, are comfortable without being luxurious, and visibility is good, although the normal driver cannot see the front-wings. The rear windows extend right back for full visibility, the rear window is large and there are scuttle ventilators. The marked speedometer and large rear-view mirror should obviate an increase in running expenses due to fines for speeding! An excellent instruction book (replacement, 2s.) is provided and the bonnet sides open to give generous access to major components. Only the passenger’s seat hinges to give access to the back compartment and luggage has to lie on the spare wheel in the boot, which calls for a carriage key to unlock it. But the lid, held by webbing straps, can be let down horizontally, when, at the expense of considerable overhang, a mountain of suitcases can be accommodated. The lack of door pockets and facia cubby-hole is not adequately met by a shallow rear-seat parcels-shelf and the absence of any form of interior illumination can be a nuisance. When the sidelamps are “on” the instruments are lit and cannot be separately extinguished but the glow does not really trouble the driver.

No one would pretend that the Popular boasts outstanding steering and roadholding, but our impression was that this latest version of small Ford is an improvement on its forebears, particularly in respect of directional control, and experience of this latter aspect of controllability included driving the car in the gale-force gusts of mid-January. The steering is positive and high-geared and there is distinct pleasure to be derived by a skilled driver in taking the Popular through traffic gaps and round corners at speed, in spite of, rather than with the aid of, a centre of gravity perched high on transverse springs. Driving thus, middle gear will be held to 35 m.p.h. or beyond, when very useful acceleration results. Such a driver will soon acquire the knack of revving-up just sufficiently to drop into bottom gear for a smart getaway from rest, of remembering that reverse is opposite first with no safety-stop, and of avoiding catching the reverse cogs in whipping the rigid lever, with its pleasantly businesslike knob, from first to second-gear position.

Ford display religious faith in the dependability of their engine in not providing any indication at all as to whether the oil is circulating. We can but remark that in a mileage of 753 no oil or water was called for. Tested over 623 miles of a 750-mile week’s motoring consumption of fuel, both grade-one and grade-two, came out at 31.2 m.p.g., including taking part in a trial and much winter-starting and “pottering about.” Tests with separate gallons, under conditions not at all favourable to the car, gave 34.6 m.p.g. on National Benzole and 32.1 m.p.g. on grade-two Esso. Mechanical noise was confined to the aforesaid power-roar and a low-speed metallic rattle from the region of the clutch.

One aspect of the Popular which has to be faced is a high-pitched up-and-down motion imparted by certain road surfaces, particularly at low speed, with the form of suspension employed. This, worse in the back than in the front seats, is not so serious that those approaching basic motoring in the right spirit would not be prepared to tolerate it, and no doubt it is as good for the liver as horseback riding. We can only say that the Editorial liver could not have been in very good condition when out test was made!

Yet, what are the alternatives? Let us resort to “Popular mathematics.” To woo a more modern specification and higher cruising speed offered by, for example, the Austin A30, will cost £85 more in purchase price, equivalent to paying the Popular’s tax for 6.8 years or buying it petrol sufficient for 14.000 miles. To purchase superior comfort and roadholding such as, for instance, the Morris Minor provides, entails a layout £139 greater, equal to taxing the Popular for 11.12 years or fuelling it for more than 23,000 miles.

Such economics count for a lot these days and add up to the Popular’s reason for existence and its ready sale since its sensational introduction at Earls Court last year.

The impecunious enthusiast limited to one car may prefer to put the equivalent of the Popular’s purchase tax towards a secondhand car, but the less knowledgeable, to whom only a new car spells reliability; the enthusiasts’ parents; the affluent enthusiast seeking a second, runabout vehicle; and commercial firms buying fleets of cars for their representatives; all are potential customers for whom the Popular; and perhaps the Popular only, completely “fills the bill.” Certainly Ford contrive to offer, in the least expensive of all our cars, normal accommodation for four full-size adults on conventional seats, ordinary wind-up windows, and doors and minor controls, etc., which do not differ from those of other conventional cars. Moreover, its dependability is a watchword and Ford service facilities, at declared charges, are global.

Reflect that this dependable, lively, economical and conventional-looking Ten sells today for a pre-war value of about £92 and you must surely agree that Dagenham is entitled to chalk up another most praiseworthy achievement. – W. B.