Rumblings, February 1963




One Friday in January the Editor was the recipient of a mysterious telephone call from Longbridge, Reg Bishop of B.M.C. Publicity requesting his company at the Austin works by 12 noon on the Monday. We agreed to go, imagining that a B.M.C. Rolls or a new Cheshunt-challenging rally car was to be released.

It seemed rather tactless to visit the makers of front-engined f.w.d. mini cars in a rear-engined vehicle, but the Morris 1100 being sick of a stiff gear-change we had to go in a Renault R8, which took us comfortably, warmly and in safety over the slippery snow-covered roads to Birmingham.

We left at 8.30 a.m., stopped for petrol, got lost as we do inevitably when trying to find the Austin factory from Redditch, but arrived soon after the appointed time, to find fellow journalists waiting about in the famous reception-cum-showroom for the main party to arrive. The latter had left Paddington around 9 a.m. and although snow had not fallen for some days, their train was running late. A photographer who had left London in his Ford at to a.m, arrived, but still we awaited the train party—which doesn’t say much for Dr. Beeching’s Railway Reformation.

Eventually, lunch was taken and we were told that we had been summoned hastily, while snow still remained, to see and sample B.M.C.’s latest baby, weaned by Alec Issigonis, their twin-engined 4 x 4 Moke.

This is a simple open-bodied vehicle with a normal 848-c.c. Mini unit at the front and a similar-engined sub-frame at the back but with the steering locked. Clutches and throttles are interconnected but each engine has its own ignition switch and gearlever; thus there are two gear-levers, the normal central one and a r.h. one for the rear engine. This means that different ratios can be selected front and back, but on slippery ground no ill-effects result; what happens on dry roads or if the rear box alone is put into reverse we didn’t discover.

Citroen, who have led in so many things, did this with two 2 c.v. power units long ago but they had less power to play with; the 1,696-c.c. twin-engined B.M.C. Moke totals 72 b.h.p which should be impressive on the road, and. B.M.C. tell us, enables a 1 in 2 gradient to he vanquished.

The assembled journalists were provided with gum-boots and drove the thing on the Longbridge lawn, which was many inches deep in snow, but will never be the same again after the thaw! With straw bales on the back, a Snow plough in front, the Dunlop Weathermaster-shod Moke got through deep snow in a continual under-steer on bends, and when it bogged down it could be reversed out. We were sorry., however, not to see it perform up slippery hills. (But must confess that when the engine of our new Morris 1100 packed up the other day we would have been very glad of another one in the boot …. And how pleasant to read in the hand book that when one engine breaks or wears out another is there for instant employment!) Some development to make gear selection easier seems desirable, but this vehicle had been completed in a week or so, to try it on virgin snows. It should be useful for military purposes, in undeveloped countries and on farms, etc., and Mr. Harriman told us that it will sell for about £475.

The publicity boys are already thinking of 1,100 c.c. power units giving a total of 110 b.h.p. but Issigonis says this is entirely unnecessary, the Moke has such admirable traction as it is. ‘There was also speculation about a four-wheel-drive rally or racing car (why not for autocross?) on these lines but clearly the B.M.C. Moke’s purpose in life is as a cross-country vehicle.


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A week after we had sampled the B.M.C. Moke on the Longbridge lawn we drove to Slough, appropriately, this time in our inter-connected special suspension, front-drive Morris 1100 (now in good health again after the maladies recounted in “My Year’s Motoring”—its stiff gearchange was explained as a remote control made to too-close tolerances) to drive the twin-engined 850-c.c. Citroën 2 c.v.

“This was developed for Sahara pipe-line reconnaissance and announced four years ago. Outwardly, only the bonnet-mounted spare wheel, side fuel fillers and fan aperture in the boot-lid suggest the presence of a duplicate power unit in the tail. The gearboxes, throttles and clutches are all inter-coupled, but there are separate ignition switches. Normally this 4-wheel-drive Citroën runs normally on its front engine, when its extra weight (14½, cwt., tanks full) renders it somewhat sluggish. But both engines can be used on the road, releasing a total of 28 b.h.p., when considerable additional performance is achieved. In this 4 x 4 form we experimented at Burnham Beeches and found adhesion up extremely steep snow-packed hills, quite phenomenal. Without anyone or any load in the back to aid wheelgrip the Citroën climbed gradients from rest that a normal car wouldn’t look at after a fast run-in, and which were too slippery to walk up. It re-started effortlessly in 7 in.-deep frozen snow.

There is a new central floor gear-lever working in delightfully vintage fashion with verv small movements, and a smaller lever which engages 4-wheel-drive. For single-engined motoring the front engine is used but if this fails the rear one can be brought into action after the front clutch has been permanently disengaged by means of a special hook-rod supplied in the tool-kit. The tyres are oversize Michelin “X,” to give a good area of contact.

With its conventional closed 4-seater body, heater, and proper coupling of front and rear 4-speed all-synchromesh gearboxes, this Citroën is an advance on the B.M.C. Moke. It costs £912 17s. 1d. here, after import duty, sales and purchase-tax have been paid, but in France it costs the equivalent of £740. A top speed of 62 m.p.h. is claimed, with normal 2 c.v. economy when Mono-motored, some 31½ m.p.g. using both 425 c.c. engines. Each has its own ignition light, fuel pump and 31-gallon fuel tank. Air-cooling, supple suspension, comfortable seats and high ground clearance are amongst its assets, and the low total power and properly synchronised road-wheel speed eliminates wheelspin.

The abnormal English snows have certainly focused attention on cross-country cars.  We understand that limes Ireland has developed another, using a VW engine.


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Cleaning up the office after Christmas we came upon a variety of “goodies” sent in for comment. These can be listed as:

(1) A Charleson Components’ “Fros-Free” jute-hessian cover for keeping frost off the windscreen, giving wheels a grip on slippery surfaces, protecting clothing when dealing with motoring predicaments, etc. Price, 12s. 6d.

(2) An Eolopress CO2-charged tyre-inflator which also acts as a fire-extinguisher. Model 105 costs £6 10s. and will, they spy, seal the beads of tubeless tyres. It works at 1,000 lb/sq. in. to start with but you have to weigh the cylinder accurately to discover whether it wants re-charging, which can only be done at approved agents. When full the bigger models will, they claim, inflate 16 5.00/5.20 x 14 tyres from flat.

(3) A big jar of United Lubricants’ “Forlife” new anti-freeze claimed to be anti-corrosive but which changes colour if there is corrosion in the system. We offered this to a friend with an aluminium engine but he preferred to drain off. Ourselves, we use Castrol.

(4) A 100% Terylene tie incorporating a tiny head-on racing car in silver woven thread. Well, we met a gentleman in Germany who had looked everywhere for one—you get them from Les Leston Ltd, for 14s. 6d.

So far as the winter motoring aids go, we got by with a nylon tow-rope, a spade and our Dunlop tyre-pump.