The Editor Looks Back on the Cars he Drove in 1962
Another year is over and I can look back on 21,744 miles covered in 38 different cars road-tested for Motor Sport and three business visits to the Continent, all, I am delighted to be able to report sans accident and sans any kind of prosecution in this age of increasing persecution of motorists by the police. This was an appreciably higher mileage than I accomplished in 1961, there were numerous long journeys as a passenger, and the enjoyment was, as ever, intense.
This annual assessment of the road-tests of the past twelve months is an attempt to compress the lengthy findings of the full reports into a convenient comparison of the highlights and shortcomings of each car, cars which have ranged from little fellows like the D.A.F., Citroën Ami 6, B.M.W. 700, Renault 4L and Fiat 600D to fast cars of the calibre of the Jaguar E-type, Porsche Super 75 and Triumph TR4. I was glad, too, to be given the opportunity during 1962 to sample such interesting newcomers as the Vauxhall VX 4/90, the Renault R8, the Ford Taunus 12M, the B.M.W. 1500, the Simca 1000 and the Morris 1100 and M.G. 1100, apart from brief acquaintance with other intriguing cars like the Ogle SX1000, M.G.-B, Fiat 2300, the latest 3-litre Rover and the Volvo P.1800.
Remembering that when a friend on a weekly motor paper comes to this annual summing-up of the cars he has tested he takes them in order of their ground clearance, height, length or other irrelevant measurements, I contemplated taking mine in the sequence of diminishing windscreen area, exhaust-pipe diameter or distance of the sidelamps from the centre of the headlamp filaments. On second thoughts, however, I decided to write of the cars roughly in the order of mileage covered, and therefore experience gained.
Before doing this, perhaps I may say a few words about the three occasions on which I crossed the English Channel to pursue testing exploits abroad. The first of these 1962 occasions was laid on by Renault in order that we could appreciate the comfort of the R8’s seats over bad Spanish roads and the efficacy of its four-wheel disc brakes on rough, steeply-downhill Spanish roads.
Under the watchful eye of Alan Dakers, who looks after Renault public relations in Britain, and as a host of Robert Sicot once we were installed at a delightful country hotel outside Madrid, this was a useful experience, during which the spectre of excessive oversteer from rear-engined Renault products was driven from the mind.
We were flown out in a D.H. Comet, which proved less quiet than I had expected, although I have not so far flown in a Caravelle, and we came back in a delightful “real aeroplane,” in the form of Consolidated Convair with two Pratt and Whitney radial engines, although the elapsed time in the air between Madrid and London was all in the Comet’s favour. I had only been a few minutes on English soil before being whisked off to Acton and sent on my way in a Renault 4L about which I will comment in due course. This trip, in which we wandered about the shopping centres and arcades of Madrid, looked at local ruins, drove through some Spanish “back o’ beyond,” saw flamenco dancing in a night-club and were driven at speeds along the Spanish motor roads in Renault Estafette ‘buses which belie the modest engine size of these roomy vehicles, was certainly something to remember with pleasure.
For the visit to Monte Carlo to watch MeLaren’s Cooper Coventry-Climax win the Monaco Grand Prix we extracted a Jaguar E-type 2-seater from Bob Berry. Again I experienced a “real aeroplane,” for the car was flown from Southend to Basle on the initial leg of the journey in a 4-engined Carvair. Apart from some initial difficulty in closing the door between the hold and the cabin, this converted Douglas DC-4 flew us uneventfully, and less noisily than the more familiar Bristol Freighters, to our Swiss destination. It may be a long time before a tunnel or bridge challenges the super-efficient Channel Air Bridge, and even then I suspect that if a toll is charged, a strict speed-limit imposed, or if the new popularity of Continental travel thus encouraged causes traffic congestion near the points of entry and exit, discerning people will continue to patronise the Air Bridge. Nevertheless, the opening of longer car-ferrying services is a sensible move, putting British United Airways Corporation beyond under or overseas competition in the future.
The rest of this trip can be summarised as a mixture of misery and sheer enjoyment, enjoyment in winding the Jaguar over littleknown French passes, misery while getting drenched to the skin at the first 5 a.m. race practice, but compensating pleasure watching this last of the great round-the-houses Grands Prix, and coming home across France in the E-type at an overall average of 61.4 m.p.h. At Calais the fabulous Air Bridge people, with their usual politeness and calm efficiency, let us finish our last steak and chips “dinner” before embarking for the swift lift over to England.
I had taken to the Jaguar from the moment I had driven it, hood-up in teeming rain, from the office, down to the Bank and out along the Embankment clear of the Metropolis—an essentially safe, sure-footed, superbly-braked car that is as impressive in traffic as it is on a motorway. It is the docility, tractability and good manners of this astonishingly low-priced 150-m.p.h. car that impress, as much as its ability to get amongst the ton-up chums in 16 seconds from rest and go on to quite fantastically high open-road speeds. It is fun to have anything from 92 to 113 m.p.h. on tap in third cog, depending on whether you take the beautifully-finished twin-cam 3.8-litre engine to 5,000 or 6,000 r.p.m., nor can our overall petrol consumption of 17.6 m.p.g. be regarded as anything but economical, considering the leadfooted manner in which we drove the car. Admittedly, the sump was holed on rough ground, disturbing but apparently harmless noises developed in the valve gear, the boot-lid flew open on more than one occasion, and we had to stop with distressing frequency fi)r fuel in a day’s motoring across the Continent. It is things like that, and an unpleasant gear-change, that leave room in this World for Ferraris, Maseratis and 300SLs, but you do not buy them for anything like the £1,828 15s. 2d. which is all Sir William Lyons and Mr. Maudling combined charge you for an E-type. The effortless pick up and light steering defeat fatigue when driving the E-type in the mountains and it is as free from temperament as my bank manager.
My third trip to the Continent was described in some detail last month and so needs no further embellishment, except to reflect on what a good car is the new B.M.W. 1500, what an interesting car we discovered the Ford Taunus 12M to be, and to remark on the diverse pleasures of driving round the Spa circuit and through Luxembourg in snow, being nobly entertained by various German P.R.O.s, looking at the vastness of the Rhine and the dignified spaciousness of the Munich and Daimler-Benz Museums, seeing how determined N.S.U. are over Wankel rotary-engine development and how dedicated is the N.S.U. Museum at Neckarsulm, using the Nurburgring for testing with no fuss at all, and yet again being flown quickly and efficiently out and home by the Channel Air Bridge Bristol Freighters, in spite of sea-fog at Ostend and ice everywhere but at Calais.
The bulk of the land mileage on this run was done in a Mercedes-Benz 220S, which excels in no one particular but combines those qualities essential to the well-being, comfort, safety and sense of superiority of the long-distance motorist in a hurry. This makes the modern Mercedes-Benz, in my considered opinion, the Best Car in the World.
Having expressed this opinion, may I digress to remark, before letters of protest arrive bearing the postmarks of Bath and Cheltenham, Oxford and Mayfair, that I am not anti-British; but I am a motoring writer, not a political journalist, and I have yet to see a 2.2-litre Rolls-Royce capable of out-accelerating or out-speeding a modern Mercedes-Benz, nor have the cars from Crewe yet adopted overhead camshafts, petrol injection, disc brakes, all-round independent suspension or air-springing, all of which Daimler-Benz understand, and which, to my mind, represent progress and ability in the automobile field of engineering.
Of cars tested in this country, the largest mileage was covered in a Porsche Super 75, which had suspension modifications that have changed the traditional oversteer cornering to understeer. That this was a beautifully-appointed, highly-individual, essentially comfortable small coupe goes without saying, and although a mysterious hesitation held back the willing acceleration, it still proved a very last car from commencement to termination of long journeys that would otherwise have been tedious. I was, however, disappointed that steering and gear-change had lost the silky lightness of earlier Porsches I have known, and which I used to so enjoy, less the performance, in my old Volkswagen. That is, perhaps, being hyper-critical, but you have to pay more than £2,000 for a Porsche, so such criticism is surely justified. I concede the magnificent construction and finish of the Reutter body, the comfort of its seats, the acceleration and the speed provided by the air-cooled “boxer” engine, but having proclaimed these I feel free to class a Porsche as appealing only to those with acquired and rather expensive tastes.
I couldn’t exceed 95 m.p.h. in the test car, and its engine condition didn’t justify taking acceleration figures, but I gather this constipation was easily cured; only lack of time prevented resumption of this test. but while I had it I went to Upavon for the R.A.F. Anniversary Celebrations, entered the car to make up the numbers in the Fleet Motor Rally which my wife organises as one of her less serious duties as a local councillor, drove it in London and Brighton, and finally went in this Porsche to Oulton Park and back for V.S.C.C. day.
I did, altogether, a four-figure mileage in the Porsche, which I accomplished personally on only two other test cars last year, a Vauxhall Victor de luxe saloon and a Ford Taunus 17M TS saloon. The Vauxhall Victor was willingly accepted as I was soon to sample the keenly-anticipated new Vauxhall VX 4/90 and this would enable me to compare the bread and margarine with the bread and butter products of Luton. Michael Marr, Vauxhall’s experienced P.R.O., assisted by Mr. Goatman, contrives to blend an English welcome with American-style publicity methods and when writing of Vauxhalls I have to take firm hold of myself to keep bias at bay!
Not that they have much to fear for, in a practical sense, modern Vauxhalls are excellent cars. In any case, the Victor was not laid on by the manufacturers but was a car I drove in the Press Section of the Mobil Economy Run, thereby making re-acquaintance with this useful family car, enjoying Mobilgas hospitality, and presenting my wife with a free tour of a very beautiful and cleverly contrived back-route through Scotland and the Lake District at one and the same time, at the expense of having to remain behind the wheel for the entire 1,115 miles. In a contest that had snow and ice associated with it and wasn’t exactly crash-proof, this Avon-shod 4-speed floor-change Vauxhall Victor came through unscathed, recording 31.98 m.p.g., or 33.3 m.p.g. if the many additional miles, occasioned by my wife’s tendency to chat happily about her daughters with the young student-observer in the back seat when I hoped she was reading the route card, are taken into account. In places it was quite a dice, so such economy is highly creditable. The only anxieties were a fuel gauge that registered empty when four gallons remained, and a rear-view mirror that fell off—now why should I want a rear-view mirror on a gentle economy contest?
It was fun to start from and finish at Harrogate, in the very Hotel to which I had been posted during the war. Perhaps the most embarrassing thing about this splendidly-organised and widely-publicised Mobil Economy Run are the refreshment stops, at which the younger observers get together and you can hear your man discussing the prowess or otherwise of “his” driver over the stickier sections….!
I am always glad when Mr. Sergeant, Sales Manager at Lincoln Cars, telephones to say there is a German or American Ford for me to test, because the cars are always handed over on time, with a minimum of fuss. The first one he arranged for me to try last year was a Taunus 17M TS 4-door saloon. The Cologne-built Taunus 17M is one of the best family cars to the conservative formula of front-engine and rear-wheel drive. It has an air of German quality about it, one of the best steering-column gearshifts there is, and performance that comes as quite a surprise. Now that disc front brakes are available to kill effectively the 92-m.p.h. top speed of the more powerful TS, this is indeed a fine family saloon, and when I discovered that this spacious motor-car gave almost 33 m.p.g. under by no means favourable conditions, superlatives flowed unchecked.
It was this thoroughly satisfactory Ford Taunus that I used as tender to a vintage car at a V.S.C.C. Silverstone Meeting and in which, on an appallingly cold day. I drove to Debden to see Sydney Allard unleash his Allard Dragster on its meteoric takeoffs, later penetrating into the wilds of the East Coast that April evening. The Ford made easy work of a horrid run home in the London-bound traffic, it reassured me when I had to travel from Hampshire to the Alexandra Palace in a hurry for my first, and up to now only, appearance on TV, and this quick 77-b.h.p. version of the 17M brought me home from Goodwood on Easter Monday when we were all thoughtful and subdued after Stirling Moss’ crash.
I drove my next longest personal mileage in another Ford, a new Zodiac III. I had gone to Silverstone earlier in the year to try these new confections and felt disappointment that conventional specifications persist at Dagenham and that the styling couldn’t seem to make up its mind which of several cars it wished to ape. A Zodiac III later came along for full test, for a generous timespan, just before I left for Spain. I went, amongst other places, to a model-T Ford Rally in it. I would sum up this big, revised, restyled 6-cylinder Ford as useful rather than impressive, although the 4-speed gearbox is an improvement, there is plenty of space within even if luggage takes precedence over rear-compartment knee-room, and, given space and courage, the latest Zodiac will reach 100 m.p.h. Excellent value this Ford unquestionably is, for big people who think big. It has an excellent heater, too, fuel consumption is reasonable, but the test car had too great a thirst for oil.
By way of contrast I went nearly as far in a Fiat 600D. I have always enjoyed enormously the smallest of the 4-cylinder Fiats from Turin and the new 767-c.c. engine endows the 600 with better acceleration than before while having no adverse effect on its quiet running. The little saloon is quite surprisingly comfortable for a small car, although the test version didn’t have reclining front-seat squabs. The rear-placed, water-cooled engine really will run on “cooking” gas, which it consumed at the economical rate of 44 m.p.g. This is such a handy little car, and so I found it no hardship to motor in it to Goodwood, to the V.S.C.C. Beaulieu Meeting, to the party at Woburn Abbey when the Simca 1000 was unveiled, and to do many local chores in it. May it continue long in production, to keep British baby-cars on their mettle.
Next biggest mileage was achieved at the wheel of that controversial car, the VW 1500. If, after more than 770 miles of analytical driving I was mildly disappointed, this was probably because anything new and different from Wolfsburg is going to be approached head-in-the-clouds in wild anticipation. Yet let me say this—if the performance, as measured, wasn’t exciting, this unobtrusive-looking, impeccably-finished Volkswagen covered the ground from A to B and from Y to Z astonishingly quickly, with astonishingly little effort. The handling qualities are infinitely better than those of a normal “beetle,” the controls simple but effective, the seats excellent. There is that most enjoyable of gear-changes, but the pedal position is rather horrid. The steering is good and high-geared but not as light as that on my late-lamented 1955 VW. The brakes are better than they appear at first; the clutch action difficult, so that starting from rest is apt to be jerky, Fuel consumption was disappointing. I like aircooling, I love the “unburstable” feel of the flat-four 1,493-c.c. engine pulling a 3.67-to-1 top gear at its modestly-stated top-cam-cruising gait of 78 m.p.h., I like the comfort, the effortlessness, the finish. Indeed, I nearly fell for a VW 1500. But the Morris 1100 was in the offing and hasn’t Mr. Graydon himself said that two years hence the 1500 will be a very much better VW? My advice to avid Volkswageners would be to hang onto the existing beetle meanwhile, which in view of its mechanical longevity, modest tyre wear, and availability of spares and service, shouldn’t be difficult. Perhaps in 1965 I shall join you in ordering the latest VW 1500…. And those who know not the delights of VW ownership and require real value-for-money and complete dependability need wait no longer, and should go for a VW 1500 today.
The Fiat 1500 comes next and is another car very close indeed to the top of my “short list” of highly desirable personal transport. It gives performance in terms of top speed (93 m.p.h.) and acceleration (0-60 m.p.h., for instance, in 14.6 sec.) that is quite phenomenal from a family saloon. It is very fully equipped in a rather “pin-table,” flashing-lights manner, is comfortable, and exceedingly well (disc) braked. Only its tail-happiness on wet roads puts me off. Road-holding has, perhaps, never been Fiat’s strongest feature but as an all-round family car of compact and smart appearance, with a Lampredi-devised 72-b.h.p. engine pulling a 4.1-to-1 top gear, this is a car well worth the £949 it now costs in England.
The Renault 4L proved an admirable maid-of-all-work, lacking, however, the quaint charm of the Citroën 2 c.v. from which it has quite obviously cribbed front-wheel-drive, very supple suspension, a push-pull facia gear-change, ingenious webbing seats, and headlamps that adjust to give a level beam under varying loads. It would be nicer with a 4-speed gearbox.
When it comes to another utility car, the Citroën Ami 6, which I used for exactly 700 miles, I can only think that those colleagues who deride this amusing Frenchman do so because they are so stuffily conventional they automatically oppose anything that is “different.” The Ami 6 may not be the ideal small car, and its sumptuous seats do give something of the sensation of rolling in a very deep feather-bed, but it is quiet, comfortable and superbly sprung, has the fool-proof push-pull gear-change that Renault were so happy to “borrow” for their 4L, and its air-cooled flat twin engine propels it at -a 6o-m.p.h. cruising speed, while returning nearly 57 m.p.g. This speed/economy factor alone merits the highest praise, and you get inter-connected suspension and other practicalities as well.
By a coincidence, my next longest test stint was shared between three diverse vehicles, a Ford Galaxie 500, a Vauxhall VX 4/90, and a Volvo 122S B18. Having taken a young American girl, a friend of my eldest daughter, out in the Citroën Ami 6 without her expressing more than an incredulous smile, I was relieved to get her into the more familiar Ford, in which we embarked on a long day-trek to Wales. I took this dazzling car to Goodwood on August 25th, for I felt a Galaxie was appropriate to a Jubilee. There are more powerful and exciting American cars than this impressive-looking 4-door sedan with the 5.7-litre 220-b.h.p. Thunderbird 352 motor, but for use on our roads and lanes I found the Galaxie plentifully powerful. Not that any Canadian Ford I have tried has ever exhibited much of the wallow, vague steering and lack of control attributed by the uninitiated to vast transatlantic automobiles. Suffice it to say that if I could follow my star I’d have a Galaxie in my coachhouse. Its power steering is vague but good of its kind, its “Cruise-o-Matic” transmission notably smooth, and its power brakes powerful if sudden, at all events from 90 m.p.h. downwards.
I looked forward greatly to finding out about the twin-carburetter 81-b.h.p. VX 4/90, first sporting Vauxhall since the 30/98, if we omit the Hurlingham. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite come up to expectations, which is a pity, because I had almost decided I needed one as a personal car. Performance is good, very good, until you compare its figures with those for a Fiat 1500; and remember, whereas Luton sells you a VX 4/90 as a fast version of the new Victor, Turin cannot understand why you rave about how well the 1500 goes—its our family model, they tell you…. The VX 4/90 also has suspension that is too lively and a body shell that introduces a shimmy-shake into its repertoire unless roads are of the smoothest. The floor gear-change is fairly pleasant but the controls are somewhat shoddy. It is nice to have a 73-m.p.h. 5.29-to-1 3rd gear but the 8.3 t-to-1 2nd gear is quite a space (and 23 m.p.h.) away from it. On the whole an attractive proposition, the Vauxhall VX 4/90 needs only a few changes to place it close to the top of its class.
The Volvo 122S is beginning to date a little, hence its rather lively ride (which they tell me Konis will curb), a high scuttle intruding on forward visibility, and a long willowy gear-lever looking like something out of an ancient Buick, although functioning far more precisely. For all that, this is a very good motor-car indeed, appealing to discerning drivers of long experience, like Tim Carson, Gerry Crozier, Douglas Hull, Dudley Gahagan and many others. The twin-carburetter 90-b.h.p. B18 engine gives the heavy, generously-dimensioned, conscientiously-constructed Volvo saloon a new lease of life—0-60 in 16.4 sec., 99 m.p.h. without petrol consumption falling below 24-27 m.p.g. depending on conditions. As I have said—and I needn’t say more—a very good motor-car indeed.
The M.G. Magnette Mk. IV saloon shares its Farina lines with Austin, Morris, Riley and Wolseley derivatives, so that it isn’t surprising that it has largely submerged its M.G. characteristics. 1 rate it a rather dated vehicle, but ideal for sporting family men, its performance and running noticeably enhanced by the larger 1,622-c.c. twin-S.U. engine. But it is rather overshadowed by the brilliant new M.G. 1100, about which Motor Sport was privileged to publish the first full road-test report. This appeared last December, so not much qualification is needed except to praise the clever suspension, the nice gear-change and the better-than-Morris-1100 performance, while abhorring the cheap facia and funny speedometer. This M.G. 1100 is a most likeable small sports saloon. Curious—it retains the high driving position that has been a feature of M.G. saloons, including the Mk. IV, from the days of the ZB Magnetic.
That old-fashioned but supremely dignified and comfortable car the Rover 80 carried me nearly as far as the M.G. 1100 but did not impress as much as the 6-cylinder Rover 100 and ended the test under a cloud—of steam. No more need be said, as both these Rovers have since been uplifted in power even though the ancient body-style, so dear to maiden aunts and retired Colonels, is with us still. Incidentally, in very brief experience of the newest 3-litre Rover it impressed as a very luxurious and restful car but a very bulky one, so that its last year’s Rally successes are all the more impressive.
The Volvo P.1800 coupé was an interesting experience. I covered more than 600 miles in this Anglo-Swedish car, including a day’s run from Hampshire to Radnorshire and back. It suffered from a number of faults, used a lot of oil, let in some rain, and generally suggested that the great Swedish Company would do well to send some of its very thorough inspectors over here to supervise British assembly of this distinctly attractive car. Built solidly like all Volvos, the performance isn’t sensational, but the P.1800 is an individualistic, sure-footed and forgiving car that grows on one the further it is driven.
Next in order of mileage driven comes the Triumph TR4, for which I waited over a year before one came my way; I am still waiting for the Vitesse and Spitfire. It was fully reported on last month, so can be dismissed as a typical British sports car with an ingenious hard-top. A Volvo 121 was virtually the same as the aforesaid B18 except for a single-carburetter engine and drum brakes—in other words, a fine, useful car, with comfortable seats and a willing 5-bearing 1.8-litre engine. Since the welcome reduction in purchase tax you save only £84 over the more powerful B18 version, so, unless a fuel thirst lower by approximately 4½ m.p.g. is the criterion, no doubt you will order the latter model.
The Ford Consul Classic, which disappointed me when tried as a much-publicised new model in 1961, I thought to be vastly improved in 1½-litre form with 4-speed all-synchromesh gearbox—a family conveyance possessing little “character” but of infinite usefulness, and very pleasant to drive. An Austin A40 Countryman Mk. II fell into much the same category. Useful, rather narrow, handling well (with its new front anti-roll bar) for a car of this kind, and with a nice remote gear-lever, it was sampled last January twelve-month and has been superseded since by the larger-engined model. People, I find with some surprise, are still buying A40s….
The Skoda Octavia was another interesting if not very inspiring experience of 1962. Rugged build, a complete tool-kit, and very full equipment for a modestly-priced 1,100-c.c. saloon are its merits, for it is out of date in many ways and not particularly attractive to the eye. Do not overlook the fact, however, that its price is now down to £521.
The Hillman Super Minx I tried in Alexander-tuned form with twin carburetters, overdrive and Lockheed power brakes. A good comfortable family car but one that had soggy steering, in which “power roar” intruded when accelerating, was heavy to drive and “dead “-riding, while the “tuning goodies” hadn’t improved the urge as much as Michael Christie thought they should have done. He invited me to try again but so far neither time nor inclination has arisen.
I had waited literally years to test the unique little D.A.F. and when the opportunity arose it proved no disappointment, for its automatically-variable belt-drive gives foolproof 2-pedal control and functions impeccably. It amused the entire family (including the dog), none of whom, myself excepted, hold a driving licence. This little air-cooled flat-twin car runs quietly and is well-finished, and when purchase tax and import duty are both abolished we shall all want D.A.F.s as tenders to our limousines and sports cars….
Needing spacious transport to take my youngest daughter and a friend on a riding holiday, a Peugeot 403 estate-car provided it and, like the 403B saloon we used to cover last year’s R.A.C. Rally (after a Citroën Safari failed to materialise), behaved in the manner that endears this long-established make to so many discriminating drivers. It was high, wide and vary spacious, yet handled in a manner that bred confidence (“a sports omnibus,” as Mr. Graham of the Peugeot concessionaires said), was interesting to drive, typically French, and notably modest in its consumption of petrol. I await the Peugeot 404 estate-car with inherited enthusiasm.
A Mercedes-Benz 190 saloon used over a long week-end early in the year left me in no doubt that here is a car that would meet most of my daily motoring requirements. It is the 220S in economical guise in all but interior dimensions, built, finished and equipped in the Daimler-Benz tradition. More than that I do not propose to say!
I have used the term ” acquired taste ” before but it applies very particularly to the Panhard-Levassor PL17 Tigre, that high-performance version of this Citroën-sponsored 850-c.c. saloon. It has an air-cooled horizontally-opposed twin-cylinder engine that asks for full use to be made of the gearbox, the manner in which this 60-b.h.p. twin revs. being astonishing. Driven thus, there is speed in the order of 75 in 3rd and 86 m.p.h. in top gear from this entirely individual 6-seater small-capacity saloon. The front-wheel-drive judders it violent starts are indulged in, there are countless other things that would drive Mr. Average Motorist to distraction, but if individual cars are of interest, you will get your fill from a Tigre.
The Wolseley 6/110 I have little time for. In certain moods I appreciate leather upholstered, wooden facia-ed big saloons as much as anyone but this 6/110 hasn’t been developed away from the shortcomings that spoilt the 6/99, and it has a most unfortunate 3-speed-cum-overdrive transmission. I’ll bet Issigonis hasn’t yet got round to dealing with this one…. However, automatic transmission is possibly an improvement.
What’s left? A B.M.W. 700 sports coupé that proved no sluggard, even if one paid for its performance in mechanical noise at low engine speed, so that multi-cylindered British Minis were superior, although the little German car can see off normal 848-c.c. B.M.C. babies up to 60 m.p.h.; a Simca that can really be analysed only in a full road-test report and which is remembered as pleasant when it was going but as the only test car of 1962 that had to be abandoned by the road-side; and a day’s sampling of the revolutionary new Morris 1100 that pleased me very greatly in some aspects and disappointed me in others, the discovery that the promised lunch-hamper was missing coming into the latter category! The Ogle SX1000 was great fun on a run to Silverstone and down to Beaulieu for the Swift Rally which I helped to judge, but some of the detail arrangements seemed a bit casual in a car which, on the basis of size and origin related to price, should have set very high standards indeed.
The Fiat 2300 was reported on last month, so may be dismissed as a very beautifully appointed car for families that like luxury with fast travel; it is disc-braked on all four wheels but handles like a Fiat. In drawing sharp attention to the excellent value-for-money offered by this Fiat I wondered afterwards if I had done Britain an injustice, remembering that the Austin A110 “Westminster” sells for £1,051. But as repeated applications to the Austin Motor Company have failed to produce one for test, I can make no comparisons.
I drove a Jaguar Mk. X, an M.G.-B, a hybrid 2-litre Porsche Carrera, and an Elva Courier Mk. 3 too briefly to comment upon them, and in any case I prefer to try to forget the last-named. I also did a few miles behind the wheel of Henry Manney’s Giulietta TI, the only modern Alfa Romeo I have ever driven— T. & T. please note!
The Ford Consul Cortina which a colleague and I took up to some stately home in the middle of England genuinely disappointed me, for I had at last expected something really worth while from the Dagenham branch of the great Ford Motor Company. I still haven’t recovered from this initial disappointment and the performance figures I have seen, related to the views of others I have questioned after they have tried this mediocre Cortina, together with this short trial run, have governed what I have felt compelled to write about “this small car with a big difference.” I am, however, fully appreciative of the active interest displayed by Ford in motoring competition of many kinds and I am excited at the prospect of a twin-cam version of the Cortina, providing they button up its springs and stop the back axle from acting like a tramp.
That ends a survey of road-testing in 1962 and, with tests on private ground, organised by Ford at Silverstone, Simca at Woburn, Pirelli at Chobham (where I drove an M.G.-A 1600) and the Guild of Motoring Writers at Goodwood, my test-mileage comes up to around 22,000.
At other times I continued to use the Editorial Morris Mini Minor, driving it 9,788 miles in the year. A car of this price becomes somewhat the worse for wear after 35,000 miles and not only did it require a replacement dynamo and have other electrical troubles, but all the instruments (it has extras in the form of fuel and temperature gauges) failed, the heater never recovered from its summer hibernation, and the battery failed to hold its charge, while there is aural evidence of a wheel bearing about to fail. I also had to replace two of the Pirelli tyres with Dunlop C41s. Consequently it became anyone’s baby and was driven a further 2,596 miles between January and December by others. This led to the Production Manager’s wife being “arrested” for driving without a licence, for the licence disc had been stolen without me noticing that it had gone. The police subsequently recovered it.
Towards the end of the year I was able to take over a Morris 1100 4-door saloon for extended test. It came to me with 519 miles on the odometer and I commenced to run-in the engine very carefully for a further 1,560 miles. At 849 miles, while on the way home from the Earls Court Show, the Smiths petrol gauge and thermometer both packed up simultaneously. Otherwise. all went well until I left the car in my garage and went to Germany. On returning I started to drive to London and very soon the cooling water was boiling and the Smiths heater became inoperative. The cooling system is described by B.M.C. as: “Sealed with an anti-freeze liquid which can expand into an overflow tank, or retract therefrom, as requisite. By thus ensuring that anti-freeze is always present oil danger from frost is eliminated” (my italics!). They had, however, sent the car out with water only in its radiator…. It had to go back for repairs and the addition of Bluecol. (In contrast, the Mini Minor survived with last winter’s anti-freeze before being stiffly laced with fresh Castrol anti-freeze. Incidentally, I continue to use Castrol oil in all my personal cars.) After it was returned the engine leaked oil, necessitating another visit to the works…. Some 400 miles later the engine began to hesitate and stall and a third visit to B.M.C.’s cheerfully-staffed and efficiently-run service depot at Holland Park was necessary, the oil in the carburetter dashpot being of the wrong grade. I could forgive the Morris 1100 that after its safe handling over ice and snow but disappointment changed to disillusionment when the engine began stalling again two days later and the gear-change stiffened-up so much that it was getting impossible to move it. That takes us into 1963, however, for by January 2nd I had arrived yet again at Holland Park with an 1100 which had suffered, to my mind, an abnormal number of teething troubles. So this new Morris was in the hands of factory drivers for several hundred miles.
But, I drove it from Hampshire to the office without difficulty on the last day of 1962, when the helpful advice from the R.A.C. was “If you intend to motor—don’t !”
I did contrive to cover 1,758 miles in the 1100 up to New Year’s Eve, and when it contrives to cut its teeth, this piece of Issigonis/Moulton design genius looks like being a very pleasant little car. I like the suspension characteristics and the gearchange, the real leather upholstery I specified is well worthwhile for the sense and aroma of luxury it imparts, and the car is as safe over winding roads and non-adhesive surfaces as the Mini. Indeed, it is the obvious step-up from Mini ownership and should make a great many firm friends in the years ahead. The steering is all that rack-and-pinion steering should be, although there is very little castor-return action, the handling is superb, four doors a boon, and the driving position, in spite of an unexpectedly high seat. satisfactory. Checked just after it was run-in, fuel consurnption of Esso Extra came out at nearly 34 m.p.g. in London traffic, local running about, and much stopping and restarting, and as the engine commences so readily without choke in very cold weather the S.U. carburetter may well be on the rich side. As the tank holds 8½ gallons a useful range of 280 miles can be anticipated. Remembering that there are discs on the front wheels, I am disappointed in the feel of the Lockheed brakes, but there is an efficient and easy-to-regulate heater that demists the screen and windows effectively. A minor criticism is that as delivered the screen-wiper blades were not up to their task. I hope to write more later of my experiences with this Morris 1100, but I have, as explained, been forced for the time being to revert to the Mini Minor I have so greatly enjoyed but which, towards its 50,000th mile looks like dying soon from maladies of hard work and old age.
So concluded a full year of road-testing. Apart from the cars I drove, a colleague who specialises in one-off, small production machines, contributed full road-test reports on the Sunbeam Harrington Alpine, Fiat Abarth 850 TC, Ginetta G4, and the Hobbs Lotus Elite, and did the bulk of the testing of the Ogle SX1000.
Last year, too, we were able to publish the findings of the much-discussed Motor Sport Readers’ Survey, which those who are in touch with these things tell me brought in a record response that was the envy of other journals and organisers of such polls. It certainly enabled a very frank discussion of modern cars and their components to take place and in most cases the manufacturers and concessionaires co-operated very willingly. It also demonstrated our readers’ marked preference for Castrol oil and Esso petrol. It, too, proved that collectively they own far more B.M.C. products than other makes but that the highest proportion of those who would buy the same car again as they already own are Volkswagen owners!
During the year we also published a survey of Continental Car Concessionaires, against the possibility of Britain entering the European Common Market.
Reverting to my personal motoring, vintage-car matters were not entirely neglected. In the 1924 12/20 Calthorpe which I had taken on the previous “Boxing Night Exeter” I drove one foggy January evening with my wife and the Continental Correspondent to attend the party thrown by Ronald Barker to celebrate acquisition of his great (I use this word in two senses) Edwardian 6-cylinder Napier. The Calthorpe was used for marshalling on the V.S.C.C. Pomeroy Trophy event, and driven to Silverstone to report a V.S.C.C. race meeting. It also took me to several V.S.C.C. “Phoenix evenings” and was pressed into service one day when the Mini’s electrics failed, so as not to disappoint the dog of its walk. Eventually, the oil-pump drive sheared and the bearings ran, which is one reason why there was no “Informal” last Boxing Night. I also had a number of stately excursions in a Siddeley Special sports saloon owned jointly with “D. S. J.”, and by getting up very early two days after my return from Spain I was able to take part in the very first H.C.V.C. Brighton Run, having a rattling good ride from Clapham to the seaside in Rootes’ 1909 25-h.p. solid-tyred Commer ‘bus. I came home by train and the only other occasion in the whole year when I used this form of transport, incidentally over the same metals, was after returning the B.M.W. 700 to its concessionaires in Brighton.
Through the generosity of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu I drove his 1903 model-Q de Dion Bouton successfully on the R.A.C. Veteran Car Run to Brighton, there were brief encounters with such “white elephants” as a 1930 32/34-h.p. Minerva and a 1930/ 31 V16 Cadillac, and I spent a September Sunday following traction engines. There was, too, a soaking wet ride as passenger in Dudley Gahagan’s 1926 Type 37 G.P. Bugatti.
Altogether a full and satisfactory year! Now another has commenced, with the first road-test directed to the Renault R8, which I have at last been able to try on English roads. Fuel consumption figures have been referred to here and there throughout this account but the accompanying table sorts them out, and also gives details of how much oil each road-test car consumed. In general, not only do modern cars withstand very nobly much abuse, such as driving away with cold oil, continual use of clutch and brakes in traffic, and high-speed driving on our new roads (such as they are) but their thirst for lubricating oil is moderate. There are still a few black-sheep in this latter respect and they stand out a mile in the table.—W.B.