My Year's Motoring
The Editor Looks Back on the Cars he Drove in 1963
“The practice of summing up the year’s activities in films, plays, books, and public affairs has become so much a habit of modern journalism that I suppose we should do it if we were to wake up one year’s end in Heaven or Hawaii, superfluous though such a summary might be to the inhabitants of either place.” – C. A. Lejeune, writing in the Observer. many years ago.
I have been re-reading these annual summaries of my MOTOR SPORT road-test tasks, the first of which appeared in 1952, with no little pleasure, for he would be a dishonest writer indeed who would not admit that he enjoys his own writings. In this instance it is not so much the writing as the scores of motor cars, good, bad and indifferent, which these articles recall, that have made looking back so pleasant. Whether or not my readers share my enthusiasm is another matter but the quotation which heads this discourse will, I hope, be excuse enough for another of these annual summaries.
Before embarking on it, let me remark sadly that remembering all the many different cars I have driven doesn’t make me feel any younger. Especially when the considerable changes that have taken place in these modes of transport are taken into consideration. For example, throughout 1951 I was a fresh-air fanatic, and thereby kept very fit, using a Morgan Plus Four as the Editorial car – there were no hard-tops in those days. I see that this motor car obligingly notched up its 10,000th-mile – that useful journalistic landmark – as it was crossing Staines Bridge on New Year’s Day, 1952. Later it was written-off, due to a skid on black ice. I suppose between the “Morgan era” and the present-day I have driven over a quarter-of-a-million miles in road-test cars for MOTOR SPORT, apart from those covered in my own and in staff cars, I am glad to say without another crash, and with only one conviction, for driving down a straight, deserted road at a furious 40 m.p.h. – the endorsement was entirely my fault, because for once I wasn’t looking in the mirror!
However, enough of nostalgia and self-praise! Let me review the road-tests of 1963. Consultation of my Letts Motor Racing Diary indicates that I tried 41 cars, driving them a distance of 26,650 miles.
In addition, the Morris 1100 which was on extended road-test from B.M.C. completed 10,390 miles during 1963, all but about 900 of them in my hands. (It was reported on in the “Floating on Fluid for 10,000 Miles” article, last October.) So, together with some miscellaneous testing and driving of vintage cars, the personal mileage score for the year was 38,306. This includes the beginning of further investigation into the reliability and behaviour of a Ford Consul Cortina GT 4-door (or should I write Fordor ?).saloon, which the Ford Motor Company, in spite of my pessimistic reaction to the normal 1,198-c.c. Cortina when it was first announced, has submitted for the purpose.
To December 31st this Cortina GT had covered less than 2,000 miles, so detailed comment must wait until later this year. But, as I have remarked before, it represents a marked improvement in handling over the ordinary Cortina, although it is still too tail-happy and rigid-axle-conscious. Acceleration is quite outstanding, the willingness that comes from a good power/weight ratio being a characteristic that has delighted enthusiasts ever since high-performance cars were invented. The brakes, although heavier than those of a Corsair GT, which are servo-assisted, cannot be criticised; it isn’t that they are not good brakes, merely that those of the Corsair are better.
Another aspect of the Cortina GT is its excellent Weber carburation. After standing outside the Rover factory for a week covered in frost while I was away in a Rover 2000, the engine commenced second turn of the key and choke could be taken off almost at once, this choke control having a very convenient friction lock so that it can be used as a hand-throttle. Pick-up is extremely smooth, the two-stage throttle action only just perceptible. The easy starting must be a great relief to the Ford’s battery, and the clean carburation has resulted in a fuel consumption of just better than 30 m.p.g., in spite of a lot of winter driving, over ice, in fog, calling for much low-gear work, and more local running than any of the other test cars have been subjected to, interspersed with traffic and fast main-road motoring. The engine appears to consume very little oil and although it is early days as yet, in nearly 2,000 miles there has been no trouble except for the interior door handles coming loose, which is just a matter of tightening their centre retaining screws, a squeaking clutch pedal characteristic of the Cortina when it requires greasing, and a rattle from the n/s. front door. As the Morris Mini Minor and Morris 1100, two cars also submitted for extensive testing, both gave some anxiety in that distance – and they were virtually new ears, whereas the Cortina had done an appreciable mileage before I took it over – it looks as if Ford is going to show up better than B.M.C. under the dependability heading. But then Ford always has been noted for providing practical, if rather basic, transport, ever since the days of the model-T, which means, in effect, since 1909. I am not going back on previous Ford findings. I still regard them as Cars of the People – when I resumed the Cortina after a week in a Rover 2000, it felt – well, if not like a model-T, certainly, like a Ford…. But the performance of the GT version, allied to a nice gear-change, lots of room, an effective, easy-to-set heater/demister, and tractability that has suffered little from a power increase of 19 h.p., makes this a very satisfactory car.
The 5,000.-mile interval between recommended servicing; good screen-wipers and reliable screen-washers, and the economical fuel and oil consumption I have been experiencing are all part of the practical transport theme, allied, in the Cortina GT, with useful speed and acceleration.
The mileage covered on shorter-duration road-tests has been up in the four-figure mark in the case of a Ford Anglia Super, VW 1500 Estate Car, Ford Zephyr 4 and Wolseley 16/60, and I nearly reached that mileage in a Chrysler Valiant V200 and a Fiat 1500. Nevertheless, I will take the cars in the order in which they were tested, rather than in diminishing miles run. Incidentally, these are personal mileages but some of the cars have been driven by other members of the staff, so that the total test mileage is often even greater; the figures quoted in the accompanying m.p.g. table do not, therefore, tally with the year’s mileage quoted above. Nineteen sixty-three opened with the Renault R8 test, this rear-engine, sealed-coolant French small car coming along at an opportune time, for the Morris 1100 was unserviceable with a stiff gear-lever. The Renault proved to be amply heated and surprisingly stable for a swing-axle rear-engined car in the worst of the 1963 winter, had outstandingly comfortable seats, took rutted frozen snow in its quite considerable stride – it outperforms most of the cars in its class, against the stop-watch – and the presence of disc brakes all round rendered it a quick traffic negotiator – in its element in Paris, no doubt. Stowage space is distinctly reasonable in spite of the absence of a conventional back boot. Altogether, I rate highly this Renault R8;
Two more small cars came along next, in the form of a rear-engined air-cooled N.S.U. Prinz 4 and a front-drive, watercooled, two-stroke D.K.W. 800S. I have enthused previously over the little o.h.c. vertical-twin N.S.U. and this one proved as much fun as ever, a splendid “modern cyelecar ” – long may they survive. The excellence of the gear-change and prompt starting will help to endear the N.S.U. Prinz to keen and serious motorists. I suppose a 2-cylinder naturally-cooled engine of less than 600 c.c. swept volume seems potty to people brought up on hulking great water-cooled fours, until they can be made to realise that the ordinary chunky-shaped Prinz saloon winds up to 60 in third and well over 70 in top gear. These little cars are nicely made, by a friendly and enthusiastic firm, and the N.S.U. feels dependable and very willing. The handling does, I admit, hint at a swing-axle under a rear-placed engine. (the former abandoned by N.S.U. for their new transverse-four 1000) but there is no denying the comfort of the ride. I like N.S.U. products.
The D.K.W. 800S, or Junior de Luxe, was taken over with awe, as a product of Daimler-Benz. It didn’t take many minutes of examination of the interior appointments for disappointment to set in, nor did subsequent failure of the clutch cable, an erratic horn and a door handle that “came off in me ‘and,” inspire confidence. And looking at the D.K.W. from without did nothing to retrieve waning enthusiasm! An inoperative heater about clinched the initial depression. However, the D.K.W. owner gets plenty of unusual items for his money – a 3-cylinder 2-cycle engine, front-drive, torsion-bar suspension, turbo-finned drum brakes, inboard at the front, triple-coil ignition and so on. He also has to put up with some tremors from bodyshell and steering, roll when cornering quickly, a steering-column gear-lever that has excessively long movements, and a top speed of 74 m.p.h., from 796 cc., which, however, is also the cruising gait. But the small D.K.W. has plenty of traction up slippery surfaces, as I discovered when clawing my way up onto the snowbound plateau of Blackbushe for the February V.S.C.C. Driving Tests, good brakes, and a notably smooth and quiet engine, the near-silent running and generous interior dimensions being the best features of this German small car. It has automatic lubrication of its two-stroke engine, which Saab should surely copy. Both N.S.U. and D.K.W. thrive on “cooking” petrol but the latter’s thirst for fuel and oil must damn it forever in the eyes of the thrifty.
A sports car was tried next, in the guise of the new Triumph Spitfire, and memory recalls a very pleasant little car, admired for its looks and having the advantage of wind-up glass windows while remaining a true “1,100” sports car (1,147 c.c. to be precise). It gave an excellent fuel-range of 263 miles, did the s.s. 1/4-mile on the test track in 19 1/2 sec., bottom gear was easy to engage although not having synchromesh assistance, and genuine speeds of 70 in 3rd, 93 in top cog were encouraging. The Spitfire should be a hit! It has the small turning circle and engine accessibility associated with the Herald.
A Vauxhall Velox PB 3-speed saloon provided a complete contrast to the sports Spitfire, but astonished me by the contempt it showed for snow-covered Welsh lanes, on a winter journey of rally aspect. The modern big Vauxhall saloons are very good cars. It was nice to be behind a 6-cylinder engine, even if it ran a bit lumpily at idling speed, the performance from this 113-b.h.p. power unit is matched by servo-assisted Lockheed (disc front) brakes, the lines of today’s Velox are smart yet unobtrusive, and a comfortable driving seat and long periods between servicing are further Vauxhall attributes. The steering could be nicer, and higher-geared, and a 3-speed transmission is rather odd, but these are the only concessions the Luton product makes to General Motors,’ sponsorship.
At first the M.G. Midget, which was the next sports car to be sampled in 1963, seemed cramped and a bit old-fashioned, after the Spitfire. But soon I was enjoying this cheeky little sports car, the long-stroke 1,098-c.c. engine of which will rev. safely to 6,000 r.p.m., because it is very quick from place to place while living up to the maker’s slogan “Safety Fast.” Agreed, it is noisy and rough, gear whine and gear-lever rattle adding to the cacaphony, the hood drums and those sliding Perspex side windows are a bind. But for two-car families, for 50-year-olds who pretend they are 40, and for any young sportsmen or sportswomen who can get it insured, this latest version of an M.G. model which was weaned way back around 1929 is an excellent £600 worth (actually £598 13s. 7d.).
Pushing the tachometer needle well into the red we got a genuine 74 m.p.h. in 3rd and on a Motorway over 90 should come up, yet it gives nearly 40 m.p.g., preferably of 100-octane grades. The rack-and-pinion steering and the disc front brakes are fully in keeping with the car’s performance and character, but the Midget isn’t quite as accelerative as the Spitfire above 50 m.p.h. And a fuel range of under 170 miles is rather frustrating.
Continuing with small sports cars, we prized a 4/4 Series II out of Morgan but, although rather fun in a stark sort of way, it let in water, bounced about, and in other ways upset the colleague whom I asked to write about it. So I will not dwell further on it, except to remark that it went fairly swiftly up A1 in search of a Coupe de l’Auto Calthorpe (which remains elusive), and that the 4/4 will comfortably out-accelerate the smaller-engined Triumph and M.G.
A long, hurried journey proved the Humber Sceptre to be quite a pleasing car, but it retained the “dead” ride, somewhat harsh action of the gear-change and spongy steering that, collectively, have turned me against the Hillman/Rapier Rootes products. But I admit this small so-called Humber hurried as no Humber has before, yet ran quietly except for some rattles, and covered the ground so unobtrusively that my solicitor, who accompanied me on a day’s motoring of 350 miles between breakfast and tea, didn’t realise how quickly we were going, nor did I suffer the slightest fatigue. The Sceptre shows spirit and is competitively priced – good luck to it. It is, by the way, very nearly a 100-m.p.h. car, in o/d. top.
I used a Ford Anglia Super for over 1,000 miles. It is convenient and entirely reliable rather than pleasant, back-axle tramp being all too evident when it is pushed hard. Yet it has to be conceded that this Anglia Super is as fast as a Cooper-Mini, is geared to cruise at 70 m.p.h., and possesses a very acceptable all-synchrorncsh 4-speed gearbox. A People’s Car, yes, but one which does 71 m.p.h. in 3rd at 6,270 r.p.m. The heavy brakes and road-holding are not in keeping. . . .
Perhaps the Renault Estafette is hardly MOTOR SPORTS’s normal diet, but this little forward-control, low-loader high-roof 15-cwt. van proved extremely useful for some personal furniture shifting. It has side and rear doors that render loading and unloading easy and it gallops along well, the front-drive pulling it round corners on wet roads. I could have sold one easily to the person from whom we bought two emergency beds in a country town at Easter, taking delivery on the spot(!), if he hadn’t just purchased a rather unsatisfactory British van. . . .
The Triumph Vitesse, as the smallest six on the market, was eagerly awaited and I was able to drive a saloon and a convertible. The latter coincided with some of the few fine days in a miserable summer and the alacrity with which the hood could be put up and down was warmly appreciated. More or less a 2-seater, the Vitesse suffers from offset pedals, has a nice gearchange, rather antiquated “chassis features,” but a delightful 1 1/2-litre engine. It is a car of some individuality and a good power/weight ratio, and a lot more should be heard of it. The test car was rather fond of engine oil.
Here I must digress to remark that at the time when the Vitesse was booked to us, Standard-Triumph Press arrangements were so chaotic that we had to be dispatched from the fine new premises at Hanger Lane in a TR4, because no Vitesse could be found! I am not grumbling – I was able to enjoy more than 500 rugged sports-car miles without taking performance figures or writing a word. . . .
Having pronounced the original, small-engined Ford Consul Cortina a mediocre car for the great Ford organisation to foist on the car buyers of 1962, I had to admit that in estate-car form, with stiffened rear suspension, it was an admirable load-carrier, materially improved by the 1,500-c.c. power unit. Oversteer there is, and up-and-down bouncing, and back axle thump, too when lightly loaded. But this very roomy 1 1/2-litre vehicle gets on with getting along, sensible petrol tankage obviating refuelling pauses that spell havoc to good average speeds. But this load-carrier needs disc front anchors. Mercifully, the (Di-Noc) wood that trims the sides of the Super 1500 version with vulgarity remains on the trees, or wherever it grows, if you order the Cortina estate-car in de luxe form….
The road-test curriculum having embraced sports cars (as it should); estate-cars, saloons and a van, in the summer I was sent a couple of luxury cars to assess. The 4 1/2-litre Daimler V8 Majestic Major is such a fine all-round sumptuous fast motor carriage that I need not discuss it further, except to congratulate Jaguar Ltd., inquire of them whether its outstanding roadholding was designed-in or happened by accident (?), and add that in case the sheer size and comfort of this big but comparatively quite inexpensive Daimler had deceived me, I let the Continental Correspondent and the photographer drive it; both, in their different ways, confirmed my unrestrained enthusiasm for this dignified car. The C.C. has since told me that he came up with one when hurrying along in his Porsche and that he had to work hard to pass this chauffeur-driven saloon, so fast and acceleratively was it weaving through the traffic. One of the World’s great cars – when will Sir William Lyons install a “hotter” version of this turbine-smooth Edward Turner conceived V8 power unit in, say, an E-type Jaguar coupé, so that he can claim to have in his range of products a GT car as well as exceedingly fast saloons and sports cars and Britain’s best luxury car?
The automatic gearbox, well contrived, and servo Dunlop disc brakes on all four wheels, are appropriate to this Majestic Daimler, and my only disappointment came when the dip-stick was regarded after a modest mileage. . . , In mitigation, the Daimler had covered a much bigger mileage than most Press cars.
The other luxury car I drove last year was the Jaguar Mk.10 We had waited since October 1961 to try it and, impressive as it is, it did not appeal to me as had the 3.8 Jaguar Mk.2 tested in September 1960, which I liked very much indeed. Perhaps the soggy front suspension and bulk of the Mk.10 to were against it, or perhaps the fact that the standards by which cars are judged are changing all the time, affected one’s views. Maybe it is a Jaguar to enjoy from the roomy, well-appointed back compartment. The fact remains that the big Daimler is slightly faster, considerably more accelerative and more economical. We had the Mk.10 in automatic gearbox form – in fact, we had two, Bob Berry, Jaguar’s P.R.O., asking us to swap cars in mid-test, as it were, before our performance figures were taken. These cars had the 8-to-1 c.r. engine, and the second one went over our s.s. 1/4-mile in 17.4 sec. So these big saloons, that will take a great deal of luggage, are no sluggards. But they are not for me. Later in the year the i.r.s. Jaguar-S escaped me, but I am apt to regard both models as interim Jaguars, eventually to be replaced by something really exciting from the Coventry home of well-established twin-cam engines.
Some of the so-called summer was occupied with trying a Ford Cortina GT 2-door saloon. I have already written plenty about this likable high-performance, inexpensive family car from Dagenham out of Cheshunt. Suffice it to say that the example I am now driving has three neat instrument dials grouped on a slightly-hooded facia panel, whereas the earlier test car had its electric-tachometer clipped to the steering column and oil-gauge and ammeter (the latter now deleted) on the console. In describing the many differences between the bread-and-dripping Cortina and GT Cortina in the road impressions published in MOTOR SPORT for July 1963 I omitted to mention the higher geared steering of the latter, 13.4 to 1 against 16.5 to 1 of the ordinary Cortina. I wish, in spite of its much-increased urge and appeal, that Ford would call it not a GT but a TI, however.
Next on the test-list was a much-improved Chrysler Valiant V-200 “compact” saloon, re-styled, but retaining Chrysler’s notably smooth “Torqueflite” 3-speed automatic transmission, with push-button override; neat instrumentation, and light if low-geared steering. On a journey from Hampshire to Radnorshire this eyeable Valiant proved a notably restful automobile, but in this country it is too costly to achieve the popularity it deserves. Chrysler’s driver enlivened a short trip from Mortlake to Holland Park to retrieve “my” Morris 1100 by telling me he used to work for Col. Sorel at Bugatti’s Brixton depot and drove Bugatti cars to Brooklands in days long ago. . . .
It is ever a delight to re-new acquaintance with that very advanced technical masterpiece, the Citroen DS19, and in its latest, better faired, more powerful form, it was very acceptable, especially for long, fast main-road runs. I remarked at the time that either you like this clever French car or you loathe it. I like it! Complementary to the Michelin “X.” tyres with which it is shod, the DS19 is one of the safest, most comfortable and most complicated 100-m.p.h. saloons ever conceived. Later I tried Connaught Engineering’s idea of how this Citroen should be turned out; of this I also approve, but prefer the Citroen driving seat and steering wheel.
A Ford Capri GT, mechanically similar to the Cortina GT, proved disappointing, for reasons explained last July. This one is even less TI than a tuned Cortina is GT! Inappropriately, I took it to a marshalling engagement on the V.S.C.C. Light Car Trial. It proved weatherproof in a thunderstorm, and unexpectedly light on fuel.
A car I can praise, with the reservation only that it is too tail-happy, is the well-equipped, high-performance Fiat 1500 saloon. Up to 60 m.p.h. it will just about keep a Ford Cortina GT in sight and the facia layout is of the most modern – lots of different colour warning lights! Clever valve gear and a very acceptable driving position are notable features of this Fiat, which is a most covetable medium-size family car. Indeed, I enjoyed the Fiat so much that when B.B.C. TV confused Llandrindod Wells with Llanwrtyd Wells I drove all the way to Wales to photograph the latter, so-called “ghost town.” And then the Production Manager had to get the captions reversed! Ah well!
When I went up to Longbridge to collect the then-new Morris Mini-Cooper the initial miles produced a surprise – that this high performance version of the ubiquitous “minibric ” was so tractable and that its brakes, seemingly unimpressive, could in fact be slammed on hard on wet roads without anxiety. The Morris Mini-Cooper-S continued this theme, being a far more docile road car than I expected this competition multum in parvo to be. On the other hand, it is noisy, essentially a “fun” car away from the circuits. More so, I think, than the Ford Lotus-Cortina, which also makes itself heard to its occupants. Moreover, I didn’t like the handling characteristics of the Mini Cooper-S. This was confirmed by two other experienced drivers. We tried different pressures in the Dunlop SP tyres, but back-end roll and incipient oversteer remained. It never felt right. The gear-change wasn’t nice, lots of oil was used, but no-one can deny that a s.s. 1/4-mile in 18.6 sec. and a maximum speed of 92 m.p.h. is pretty hot from 1,071 c.c. There has, alas, been a revision to B.M.C.’s niggardly fuel-range.
Another sports car, the 1.8-litre M.G.-B, proved to be the best yet of this type of Abingdon product, old-fashioned yet up-to-date in essentials like brakes and rigidity, with “pansyfied” weather protection (wind-up glass windows) and the usual, rather low, seating position. But it motors – 18 1/2 sec. from clutch bite to end of a 1/4-mile and a top velocity of 106 m.p.h. or more.
Three more commodious cars came conveniently to me for the holiday season – not that I ever take a holiday. The Peugeot 404 Family Saloon was an old friend in a new guise, a most attractive 7/8-seater “three-tier” saloon with a tail-gate like that of an estate car. It combined all the honesty of Peugeot engineering and character with tremendous practicability, a sort of very sporting small omnibus. Fast cornering in this long, lean vehicle presented no problems, the Lockheed braking system no alarms. The unusual steering-column gear-change is entirely logical on this model, the gear ratios well-spaced, the 11-gallon fuel tank suffices for getting on for 300 miles’ non-stop driving, and there is nothing shoddy about this sensible vehicle. The other load-carrier, but not so obtrusively so, was a VW1500 Estate Car, in which I did my biggest test-mileage, of the shorter duration, for the year – 2,012 miles. This controversial car suffers from the enormous promise with which it is approached. following the titanic success of the beetle – I nearly wrote beatles. In a few items I was disappointed, yet the fact is inescapable that this is a conscientiously made, completely unfiamboyant vehicle that instils confidence in its owners and lives to inspire them. The gear-change is in a class of its own, the steering outstanding, the pedals too high-set, the clutch less acceptable. All in all, however, the VW1500 is a remarkable car, restful on long hauls, which it accomplishes faster than is apparent from its specification and “paper” performance. I long to get my hands On a VW1500-S saloon. Incidentally, the VW designers have gone out of their way to make checking the oil-level no hardship in spite of the compactly buried fiat-four engine, but they need scarcely have troubled – the air-cooled power unit doesn’t use any!
The third load or personnel-carrier was a Saab 95B station wagon with the usual fold-away seat and a third facing-rearwards seat for additional passengers. My comments on the car aroused the wrath of the Saab O.C. and caused the Proprietor to comment that although I disliked the 95B, one day I would test the Saab 96 and then everyone would know my views on that. His memory is short, for my full road-rest report on the Saab 96 appeared in November 1960! While I wait to try a Saab 60, whatever that is, I can only plead that in spite of appreciating the ruggedness, quick step-off, individuality and rally-reputation (until the last R.A.C. Rally) of this Swedish 3-pot f.w.d. two-stroke, I consider there are cars with better brakes, visibility, gear-change, torque, ride, appearance and engine oiling arrangements. A Ford Zephyr 4 Automatic saloon was willingly provided when I expressed a desire to drive a medium-capacity British (or Anglo-American ?) car with 2-pedal control. It is a most useful vehicle with no unnecessary frills but the Ford range is so extensive that I wonder how long it, and the Capri, will remain in production. The Borg Warner gremlins, willing slaves would be a better term, function very reasonably remembering that there is only a 1.7-litre engine to energise them, but kick-down changes were heavy to effect. Once in its stride this big-bodied 4-cylinder Ford goes along very well indeed, there are excellent brakes, disc on the front wheels, but as usual in Ford products the softly suspended beam back axle makes its presence felt. I rate this a truly useful car, economical, with a really long-range fuel tank; it is purchasable for less than £870.
The next diversion was going up and down to a hide-out in Central Wales to do the first full road-test report in any motor paper on the much-discussed Vauxhall Viva. This new General Motors’ small car closely resembles the Opel Kadet, and although there are ingenious details about its rear leaf-spring suspension, it rolls and wallows not all that less noticeably than other cars in its class. The Viva excels in having very light controls, particularly acceptable to a learner-driver or a lady, the gear-change, with its tiny central lever, clutch and brakes being notably effortless to use. In addition to which the 1,057-c.c. 50-b.h.p. engine with clever details in its push-rod-and-rocker o.h. valve gear, provides relatively good performance. As usual, this Press release and trial of an important new Vauxhall model was staged very nicely indeed, not only with bags of hospitality but bags of useful “gen” as well. In fact, I was able to drive both a disc-braked and a drum-braked Viva and undertake a fuel-economy exercise (49 m.p.g.) in another of these nice little Vauxhalls.
Around Show Time the opportunity arose to drive the latest N.S.U. Sport Prinz II with 598-c.c. engine. It was fun, but not really, I think, worth the extra price, compared to the well-liked Prinz 4. In Germany, of course, taxation dictates the use of diminutive engines but here this GT-styled coupé is rather put upon by the Mini brigade.
For following part of the R.A.C. Rally I had a Ford Consul Corsair GT 4-door saloon, which is the logical development of the Cortina, there was an inspiring week-end covering the V.S.C.C. Welsh Rally in an Alfa Romeo 2600 Sprint coupé, and the year ended with a selection of B.M.C. models and the long-awaited Ford Lotus-Cortina twin-cam saloon. I was also able to form my own opinion of the Rover 2000. The Alfa Romeo was a long-awaited pleasure. It was not quite so fast on the road as anticipated but a combination of good works made it an eminently satisfactory and safe motor car, wet roads or dry, and it was nice to discover that all ratios of the 5-speed gearbox were intended to be used.
All these cars have been written-up too recently to require comment here, except to say that the larger B.M.C. saloons seemed to get slower in succession, although the enlarged-engine 998-c.c Riley Elf Mk. II and Wolseley Hornet buzzed along well enough. Those 1.6-litre Farina-styled B.M.C. cars—16/60 Wolseley and diesel-engined Morris-Oxford Series VI are outdated yet essentially practical, staid but very comfortable, the generous area and high squabs of the leather-upholstered front seats contributing to the by-no-means costly luxury travel they purvey. A Riley 4/72 Automatic just escaped the collective report and was the last road-test car of 1963. If the others of its family had been pedestrian, I was almost afraid to open the quarter-lights on this one, in case it refused to take-off at all. However, by kicking-down lustily on an accelerator which carried the necessary switch visibly, some sort of acceleration was possible; in fact, the Riley didn’t get along at all badly. It had the very light steering that to varying degrees characterises these 1.6-litre B.M.C. saloons. It was odd to have a tachometer with an automatic transmission that justifiably changed-up just before “the red” was reached, the Jaeger clock could almost be seen losing time, and whether it was the Borg-Warner gearbox or the extra seven horses which the Riley and M.G. somehow contrive to develop compared with their so-similar Austin, Morris-Oxford and Wolseley counterparts, I can only express concern over the heavy petrol thirst, especially as the likeable Wolseley 16/60 was surprisingly economical. The facia possesses five dials and a double-action flick-switch brings in illumination of just the speedometer and tachometer, or lights up all of them. 3,600 r.p.m. in high gear equals a speedometer 60 m.p.h.
The Ford Lotus-Cortina and Rover 2000 were written about only last month, so there is no need for me to say anything more here, except that the former proved better than I had expected, the latter, with a very high Earls Court reputation to keep up, a trifle disappointing.
That concludes last year’s test schedule, the remaining tests being made up of some snow-storming in a Citroen 2 c.v. 4×4 and B.M.C. Mini-Moke, brief experience of the latest Vauxhall VX 4/90, a car I have always felt has nearly got there and which now has noticeably increased perfqrmance, and brief-acquaintance with the new Triumph 2000 which, in its pre-production form, I found sadly uninspiring. There was also a disappointingly attenuated run in a Hillman Imp which served to emphasise mainly the “English VW”s” rather serious shortcomings.
Then one of the highlights of 1963 was driving, albeit for only a few miles, the Chrysler gas-turbine saloon, which first entailed going over the test route near Dorking in a spacious, power-steering l.h.d. Chrysler Newport and a Plymouth Fury. This Press party oozed confidence, and was well-staged by Chrysler’s publicity agents – within minutes of each driver’s return to the Bridge Hotel he was handed a wallet containing a photograph of himself and the revolutionary automobile he had just been driving.
I missed for the first time the Guild of Motoring Writers’ Test Day at Goodwood because my ticket did not arrive in time, but, although suffering from a TV interview and influenza, I was able to drive a few Continental cars round Silverstone on Total’s Foreign Car Test Day.
A few road-tests, such as that of the new Jaguar-S, Austin Healey Sprite Mk. II, Austin Healey 3000, and normal Ford Corsair had to be conducted by a colleague, so many cars came along for trial, and this driver also conducted the road-tests of “hot” or small-production models, so that during the year we were able to publish impressions or full reports on Lotus Super 7, Nerus Austin-Mini, Willment Ford Cortina GT, Ford Cortina with a Hobbs automatic transmission, Speedwell Riley Elf and Nerus Austin Healey Sprite Mk. II. I did far less vintage motoring than I would have wished but I was able to go through the H.C.V.C. Brighton Run in a Foden steam wagon and get nearly halfway on the R.A.C. Veteran Car Run before the Midland Motor Museum’s 1898 3 1/2-h.p. Decauville expired. I went to a few V.S.C.C. meetings as passenger in the Continental Correspondent’s pre-war B.M.W. 328 and through the co-operation of the Ford Motor Company and Kirby’s of Wrexham was able to take a 1919 model-T Ford tourer on the Henry Ford Anniversary Brighton Run. Excessive castor-action in the steering made control of this model-T a pretty full-time occupation but we got there intact, in time to judge a very impressive Concours d’Elegance of a multitude of those immortal automobiles. And Anthony Blight generously allowed me to conduct the famous 1931 Talbot 105, GO 52, on an S.T.D. Wolverhampton Rally, in which I was accompanied on the outward journey by a charming young lady from Finland, on the return journey by my wife….
Altogether a busy year, which opened with the extended-test of a Morris 1100 and was occupied as the New Year came in with a long-duration trial of a Ford Cortina GT. At the risk of reiterating what I, and others, have said before. I will remark that I prefer the engine, gear-change and performance of the Ford, but infinitely prefer the road-holding and ride of the front-drive, Moulton-sprung Morris. On slippery going the Ford is pretty exciting and I feel I want to continually touch wood (how safe one must feel in a Marcos!), so perhaps it is a case of taking the Cortina on fine days but a B.M.C. small car if the Weather Forecast predicts rain, or, particularly, ice! – W. B.