My year's motoring
The Editor looks back on the cars he drove in 1964
Road-testing is one of the more pleasurable aspects of a motoring writer’s life, the only snag being that after driving a manufacturer’s press car there follows the chore of writing about it. As a matter of fact, a conscientious motoring journalist probably gets less enjoyment out of driving road-test cars than his friends and acquaintances imagine, because the brain is active along with eyes, arms and feet for nearly every mile driven, in an endeavour to form a fair analysis of the manufacturer’s precious piece of machinery.
If this sounds like exaggeration, at least the technical journals take road-testing very seriously. Although I was allowed to open a “Choice” programme on B.B.C. Television last year with the observation that this road-testing business is pure unalloyed joy, the lucky scribe being frequently blessed with new cars, each one taxed and insured, full of fuel, and his to go in where he will, so that it only remains to fit an appropriate girl-friend to the car currently on test, may I qualify this by saying that in my case this is how I viewed it a long time ago? Since then road-testing has become far more competitive, the motoring public (your customers) expect the truth clearly expressed, and thus the pleasure of getting early access to new models and a fresh car to try almost every week is tempered by having to endeavour to write an honest and accurate appraisal of them.
There are various ways of producing a road-test report. A number of staff writers can sit round a table and thrash the matter out; but as few committees of which I have had experience ever reached a precise or quick decision, this method must be tedious in the extreme, and apt to be influenced by the loudest voice.
An easier way would be to write from the hand-outs generously supplied by the manufacturer or his publicity agent, without actually driving the car. They also supply excellent illustrations. . . . The technical bods prefer to spend days on end in hush-hush conclave at closed tracks, peering at all manner of scientific aids to performance measuring. I respect their findings enormously. Of them, Winthrop Mackworth Praed (you don’t know him?) might well have been thinking when he wrote:––
Of science and logic he chatters
As fine and as fast as he can;Though I am not judge of such matters,
I’m sure he’s a talented man.
It is a measure of how difficult performance assessment is, however, that acceleration and other figures for the same make and model tend to vary in the road-test reports published by the leading weekly contemporaries.
Motor Sport‘s road-test reports, since I wrote my first one about a Talbot Ten a few years before the war, adopt a middle course. We use what measuring apparatus we deem to be necessary but each test is mainly the opinion of the tester concerned, long experienced in motoring, and thus capable of knowing what is good, not so good, or bad about the many different aspects of a motor car.
This annual discourse sets out to recall briefly my personal findings about the cars I drove between January and December in 1964. It has become a habit, indulged in at the New Year, for my own amusement and the possible edification of the readers.
Last year was about as good as any I have experienced—I nearly wrote “enjoyed,” which would detract somewhat from the sentiments previously expressed! I find that I drove a total of 50 different vehicles a distance of 21,170 miles. In addition I had the use of a Ford Cortina GT for extended test, the result of which was published last November, and in which I drove rather more than 10,000 miles during the twelve months.
In between road-test cars and a taste of old-car motoring I went on using the Editorial Morris 1100, although this was off the road for nearly three months after it had been savaged on a blind bend by a couple of teenage motorcyclists while my eldest daughter was returning from a speed trial in it.*
[*This accident happened on a railway bridge with a dangerous blind turning on its apex. Many other accidents have occurred there, including a fatality. The side road has no houses on it and could easily be closed. After my daughter’s accident the local Council said it would be. Eight months later, nothing has been done.—Ed.].
The Ford went on serving me faithfully for another 1,148 miles after passing its 12,000th mile in my hands, but did give some starting trouble towards the end. This was primarily due to gross neglect of battery levels, points-adjustment, plug cleaning and so on, but does suggest that an export-size Enfo battery might be a good investment, to replace the rather niggardly 12-volt accumulator fitted as standard to Fords destined for the home market—the same battery platform suffices.
Incidentally, some readers with long memories have queried my statement that this Ford Cortina GT proved more reliable than any of the previous cars I had used as Editorial transport. What, they ask, of that VW I used to praise so warmly? The fact is that although, over many years and a prodigious mileage, this 1955 German car proved supremely reliable and predictable, it suffered from a split oil-cooler, a faulty front-wheel bearing and a wiper-motor failure while still a fairly new car. The Ford, hard used before it came to me, gave no serious mechanical trembles in 12,000 miles, apart from one run-down battery. So, on the whole, I think the praise bestowed on it was justifiable.
The Morris 1100 was, as I have said, out of commission for some time, but nevertheless gave me some very pleasant, smooth-riding, unobtrusive motoring. It was always a pleasure to return to after being away for considerable periods testing other cars. It is the most “swervable” of all the Issigonis/Moulton compacts, which makes it a very safe car to drive in competitive traffic, and it remains glued to the road over the most non-adhesive surfaces, the more so after a set of those truly excellent Dunlop SP41 tyres replaced a not-entirely-spent set of C41s at 18,000 miles. Shared with other drivers, from “learner” to “dicer,” I suppose I drove this useful little 4-door saloon 5,000 miles last year, and its shortcomings were confined to frail door locks and direction indicator control, a broken quarter-light catch, a noisy tappet, worn brake pads, and ingress of water to the floor, the last-named probably the result of driving over a pile of frozen gravel in a fog.
Now two years and two months old, this Morris remains free from gadgetitis, but has leather upholstery, of which I strongly approve. The Lucas battery, neglected, I fear, like the Ford’s, is now getting a bit tired, so that early-morning starts are dubious, although erratic mixture from the S.U. carburetter seems as much to blame as the battery.
After its prang the car was taken to a B.M.C. agent whose name recalls one of the more pleasant English country towns. I cannot say that they put up a very good performance. Although these repairs were an insurance job, on which there was presumably no need to skimp, this agent displayed small enthusiasm, kept the car standing out in a back-yard for weeks because no-one ensured that I was told it was ready for collection, handed it over in a filthy condition, and charged for a gallon of petrol although the gauge read zero; and judging by the manner in which the engine protested, what remained in the tank was akin to paraffin. Two of the doors still failed to lock and soon afterwards the car had to go back to the ever-obliging service people at Cowley for £35’s worth of further attention. It hardly inspires confidence. . . .
Apart from that, the Morris has served well, giving around 40 m.p.g. under favourable circumstances, closer to 37 m.p.g. in winter, when it then runs too cool. After the extra 6d. on petrol I put it on a diet of “mixture,” which it can just about digest, although indicating when pressed that it is no more in favour of Mr. Callaghan than its owner. . . . The engine is just beginning to thirst for Castrol (with which all my cars are lubricated and almost all the road-test cars that call for it are topped-up) but the consumption isn’t excessive.
I am glad to say that in all those 36,000 miles (plus many more as a stoic passenger) accidents and incidents were avoided, and those police-traps and radar-beams which catch so many of my fellow motorists did not apprehend my passage.
Turning to the road-tests themselves, I see from my Britax diary that I exceeded a four-figure mileage in four cars. (I must explain that other members of the staff besides myself drive the test cars, so that the total mileage is sometimes double or treble that of my personal distances, and therefore is usually greater than the figures quoted in the table on page 119, oil checks not necessarily being taken at the conclusion of a test.)
The biggest mileage of all was logged in the Austin 1800, which I drove for 1,800 miles. I was able to cram in 500 miles in this exciting newcomer before its debut at the Earls Court Exhibition. This included a fast thrash over a tortuous and little-used Welsh mountain road but was not altogether a happy experience, because fumes of some sort were entering the car and made driver and crew feel ill. I recovered just sufficiently to get to B.M.C.’s press luncheon on the eve of the Show. This was embarrassing, because I was put on Issigonis’ right, Stirling Moss being on his left, and somehow it had leaked out that the brave new 1800 had been leaking poisonous gases at me.
Alec was quite charming about it and had the car whipped back to Longbridge, where they apparently found a faulty boot seal, although at a previous check in London the valve of the crankcase breather was suspect. In due time I was asked whether I would try the car again. I accepted with alacrity, but first borrowed a beautifully-made piece of German scientific apparatus used for detecting carbon-monoxide in aircraft cockpits, which gave the Austin complete clearance, as a car in which you breathe only pure air.
Thereafter I enjoyed the solid, rather sluggish but very safe mode of progression of this latest Austin. It gave no trouble, except for a detached carpet in the front compartment, a tendency for the door locks to stick, and loss of the tip of its crude direction indicator stalk. It was written up last month and in the November 1964 issue, so I need say no more here, except that this new 1800 promises to be one of the world’s great cars. The overall petrol thirst of 26-1/2 m.p.g. was rather disappointing when related to the performance, but less so in terms of the spaciousness of the passenger, luggage and oddments accommodation.
The other cars in which I exceeded a personal four-figure mileage were a Citroën DW, a Hillman Imp, and a Jensen C-V8.
The Citroën DW is still one of the most individualistic, safe, comfortable and intriguing cars you can buy. Its upright seating must give a perfect anatomical driving position, as conducive to long life as the safety factors built into this remarkable automobile.
Although the Austin 1800 can just about leave the Citroën DW in an acceleration match, the latter is more effortless, its power-steering is the best there is, the floor button that applies the brakes is typical of French logic, and the appearance of the Citroën is as aerodynamic as it is functional—or do you call it ugly? Because I want to save some superlatives for other cars I will leave this covetable DW, which is a cross between the fully-automatic DS and the detuned ID Citroën models. But before I do so, isn’t it rather a pity that an idle rumour many moons ago about a forthcoming air-cooled flat-six engine has focused attention on the supposedly agricultural and pedestrian qualities of the existing Citroën 4-cylinder 78 x 100-mm. 1.9-litre power unit? After all, it gives you speeds of 30, 55, 90 and 101 m.p.h. in the gears and a standing-start 1/4-mile in 20 seconds dead. Don’t be deceived by the speedometer, which is pessimistic!
Not having an appropriate car, my wife and I went to the Fiat Register dinner in the Citroën. During the evening George Liston-Young propounded his brave idea of emulating the 1,000-mile publicity run of 1934 in a sports Fiat Balilla, at Goodwood, alas not round the Brooklands Mountain circuit. which he and Ian Smith subsequently pulled off at the second attempt. I was able to attend tor a few hours, clinching the nostalgia by sampling for a few miles the H.R.G. 1100 rebuilt by my friend of long-standing, Monica Whincop, a pleasantly taut sports car with suspension less detrimental to the appendix than memory suggested. Apropos the Fiat Register dinner, it is, I think, no secret that at this annual function later this month a suggestion of mine is to be acted upon, namely, that as many pre-war BaliIla drivers as possible be assembled, to toast the aforesaid Liston-Young/Smith 55-m.p.h. Goodwood lappery.
The Hillman Imp road-test had been delayed for various reasons and I was extremely interested when this little light-alloy rear-engined British small car finally became available. Very soon after driving away from the Barlby Road premises of the Rootes Group, where once Georges Roesch presided over the production and perfecting of his Talbots, and where press cars are so efficiently and courteously handed over, I became enthusiastic over the Imp’s excellent gear-change and the almost “forward control” visibility afforded by its brief bonnet. Further acquaintance showed the Imp to be a small car with the quality and foresight that is built into the larger Rootes models. The rear suspension design has killed the oversteer which the engine-in-the-tail would otherwise have promoted, the performance is excellent for the car’s cubic capacity, cornering approaches but perhaps does not quite equal that of the f.w.d. Minis, and the quiet running of what is really a very small car is most acceptable.
We took the Imp, very heavily laden, down to Wales and over some rather terrifying “back o’ beyond” lanes, hills and tracks, and it refused to break or become flurried. The worst feature was the heavy feel of the brakes, in contrast to a very light clutch and throttle, the latter pneumatically-operated, although I note that this feature has since been abandoned. Vibration through the bodyshell intruded towards maximum velocity but, on the whole, Easter with an Imp passed very satisfactorily and I am anxious to try the new de luxe version, catalogued as a Singer Chamois, which should, I feel, approach very close to the ideal specification for a luxury small car.
The Jensen C-V8, combination of 6.3-litre V8 Chrysler power unit and British chassis engineering clothed in one of the better glass-fibre bodies, was most interesting, coming as it did soon after a visit to the Jensen factory. I took the car up to Manchester in something of a hurry, to see a vintage 10/23 Talbot that had come on the market and to deputise for the G.P. boys, who were in America, in driving as far as possible on one gallon of petrol a new Austin 1100, in connection with a competition to aid the Society for the Aid of Thalidomide Children, the Austin being the first prize. This latter exercise entailed rising at 4 a.m, to have a fairly traffic-free run. They produced a fifth-wheel and a carefully-measured gallon of fuel, and even a tape-measure, to record fuel consumption to the nearest inch! I managed just short of 50 m.p.g., two-up, including a stop at some un-cooperative traffic lights, or some 6 m.p.g. better than they recorded with a Morris 1100 in a later stage of this deserving contest. But I never did know who won the Austin, nor have I heard a word since from the advertising agency which organised the thing, although publicity pictures were taken at the time.
Finding myself north of Manchester at breakfast-time, the Jensen came into its own, devouring M6 and M1 to return me to more familiar country “south of Oxford.” This impressive car would accelerate from 100 plus so effortlessly that it felt supremely safe on a Motorway, accelerator rather than brake pedal being used when slower vehicles began to encroach into the fast lane. An output of 330 American horses at a modest 4,800 r.p.m., delivered through the notably smooth Chrysler automatic transmission, is not to be scorned, and the silent progression at 130 m.p.h. was likewise most acceptable. The suspension ride-control was effective and altogether this nicely-appointed Jensen made a very favourable impression. It seemed a pity, however, that a car of such effortless performance should be marred by the need for so much muscular effort to steer and stop it. At £3-1/2-thousand this Jensen C-V8 is an interesting proposition for serious motorists but to its purchase price must be added fuel at a gallon per 16-1/2 miles, a fair liking for engine oil, and somewhat drastic tyre wear if the impressive step-off (s.s. 1/4-mile in approx. 15 sec.) is frequently indulged in.
Two other cars in which I covered appreciable mileages were the Lancia Flavia coupé and M.G. Magnette saloon.
The Lancia Flavia was a 1.8-litre Pininfarina coupé, costing £2-1/2-thousand in England. Expensive, but it gave me more satisfaction than any other test car of 1964. The low-geared but quick and precise steering, the power of the Dunlop disc brakes, the splendid driving position, the practical controls, the efficiently damped level-ride suspension and the typically Lancia gear-change combine to make the most blasé drivers advocates for the Turin product.
I had to penetrate into darkest Essex through the thick and dilatory traffic abounding on the notorious North Circular Road one August Sunday; even in these conditions the Flavia remained fun to drive. Like any car, it has faults, but they are unimportant compared to the general excellence of this front-drive flat-four, which can do 77 m.p.h. in 3rd gear and gave nearly 28 m.p.g.
The M.G. Magnette belongs to that solid, staunch breed of B.M.C. family cars which must sooner or later be replaced by a new range based on the ADO17 format. The one I used had Borg-Warner automatic transmission with a heavy kick-down, comfortable seats, plenty of breathing space in its Farina-finned body, and was one of those thoroughly useful, undistinguished cars for which most families have many uses. This particular M.G. had been hard driven to the Pau G.P. and back by colleagues just before my family and I put another 1,800 miles behind it but it never faltered. Staunch is the word. . . .
The big Austin A110 Westminster saloon, also with Borg-Warner automatic transmission, having a toggle-control to hold in the lower gears, was less impressive, although there was more than adequate performance from the revamped 3-litre six-cylinder engine developed from that of the Austin Healey 3000. The B.M.C. direction-indicator stalk broke, as it usually does sooner or later. The steering wheel, as on the M.G., was too high, but the minor controls were well done. This was a useful rather than an enjoyable mode of transport, although before dismissing it the competitive price of £1,112 must be thought about.
I drove up to Birmingham in a Fiat 2300 to hear divided opinions expressed about the Lucas Dipped-Headlights Campaign and to interview the designer of the pre-war Autovia V8. A station wagon that can do nearly “the ton” is an interesting possession but the “square” 2.3-litre engine was disappointingly rough for a six, and although the finish was of high quality, the equipment comprehensive, the detail appointments full of character and the petrol economy notable, the steering-column gear change, the road-holding and ride failed to match up to my idea of what a Fiat should be, while a fuel system that refused to prime nearly made me late for an appointment.
The Volkswagen 1500S saloon, eagerly anticipated, proved a disappointment but as the car I tried was apparently sub-normal, and I am to renew acquaintance later this month, it would be unfair to refer back to the road-test report at this stage. During last year I drove a couple of VW 1200 transporters and a VW 1500 Microbus. I know of no more-useful medium-capacity, small-engined transport vehicles, the area of flat floor of the transporters being truly enormous, supplemented by a huge underbelly locker, while the manner in which the little air-cooled flat-four engine propels them is quite fantastic. Moreover, the power unit being at the back, the cab is both spacious enough for three people and commendably quiet, the running of the 1200 version being reminiscent of an electric vehicle, while the gearchange is as impeccable as that of a VW car, although the lever could be longer. Moreover, something like 30 m.p.g. or better is the normal thing. The Microbus is as useful for passenger transport as the transporter is for the conveyance of goods, but not everyone will like the governed 1500 engine, the noise level is higher because the ‘bus body acts as a sound amplifier, and the test vehicle had very sticky steering, in comparison with the finger-light control of the transporters, presumably through faulty adjustment.
A colleague did the test report on the Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray sports coupe, but I drove it far enough to appreciate the very real performance which a 360 b.h.p. engine in a car weighing less than 30 cwt. provides, and although externally the Sting Ray seemed flamboyant to English eyes, it had a very likable gear-change, a business-like driving position, and light but not entirely satisfactory steering. Handling and braking were only passable but the electrically-operated windows and retractable headlamps are practical rather than gimmicky. The lasting impression of this exciting General Motors’ product was that it won’t be long before America builds highly-competitive GT cars to challenge the best from Britain and Europe.
A Ford Corsair saloon was used for a marshalling job on the mud-plug V.S.C.C. Pomeroy Trophy Trial while the Cortina GT was being serviced, and is remembered for its smooth Borg-Warner automatic transmission and comfortable seats, but some minor details were less acceptable than those of the Cortina GT. It would also have been improved by lighter brakes. The 1,100 c.c. Renault R8 gave an indicated 70 m.p.h. in 3rd gear, 41 m.p.g. of the cheaper petrol, but had less comfortable seats and certainly less effective all-round disc braking than earlier R8s I have enthused over, which, as I am something of a Renault fan, left me bitterly disillusioned.
A series V Hillman Minx provided undistinguished but comfortable commuting, the notchy gear-change and harsh engine, which spoils Rootes cars from a personal viewpoint, being evident, although the steering had improved, and this old-fashioned family car was commendably equipped, gave over 30 m.p.g., was quiet-running and is free from frequent servicing chores.
A car full of individuality which I drove for exactly the same distance I had the Renault R8 was the smart little flat-twin, air-cooled, f.w.d. Panhard Levassor 24CT. I found myself liking it a lot on long runs, hating it in traffic. It is fascinating, and excellent for main-road journeys. But good looks and loads of character hardly justify the high price which has to be paid for a r.h.d. 24CT.
Two Jaguar products, the Jaguar 3.8S and 2-1/2-litre Daimler V8, came along adjacently as it were, and I covered one hundred more miles in the latter than I did in the former. Both are beautifully-made, lavishly-equipped cars, offering as much, or more, performance than many people require. The Jaguar had the better, more sensitive power-steering, its performance could be put to good use by reason of i.r.s., and its six-cylinder twin-cam engine was certainly as smooth as the less-powerful push-rod V8. power unit in the Daimler. The dual 7-gallons-apiece fuel tanks are a useful item of this Jaguar’s specification, its disc brakes excellent, the value-for-money something I can never refrain from praising—well under £1,900 for one of the fastest luxury saloon cars on the road. Because the Daimler engine in a Jaguar body shell always seems to me a silly bit of sham snobbery, because the V8 engine was less smooth and got hotter in traffic than I liked, and because it is definitely under-geared, the 2-1/2-litre Daimler was less inspiring than I had anticipated. It suffers with the Austin 1800 in having very low-geared steering, although this is power-operated and almost too light on the Coventry-built car. Both these high-performance saloons are nevertheless fine vehicles, with typically well-arranged, impressive rows of switches and controls; of the two, I preferred the Jaguar, although it used too much oil, the Daimler none, and was more thirsty by 1.6 m.p.g. In the Jaguar I went to Brighton one Sunday to help judge the well-supported Ford Model-T Run, a more-comfortable outing than that of the previous year, when I drove one of the Model-Ts, but far less adventurous.
The controversial Triumph 2000 struck me as a good but not outstanding car, which has already improved materially since the prototype stage and should in time become a really good 2-litre family conveyance. The slightly “rubbery” steering is too low-geared but the Triumph handles well, rides comfortably in a “dead” uninspiring manner, the fuel-range of approx. 370 miles is commendable, the action of clutch and throttle too heavy, and the gearbox is not one I can commend. The 2-litre six-cylinder engine is as economical as B.M.C.’s AD017 “four” and the equipment lacks very little; the ladies will no doubt force husbands who would prefer a Rover 2000 to buy a Triumph 2000 on account of the glove-locker opening to confront them with a vanity mirror. . . .
The 944 c.c. 5-bearing Simca 1000 Grand Luxe is something of an acquired taste. But it is one of those cars that suggests dependability after very brief acquaintance, it is quiet for a small car, only a strong cross wind or very ambitious cornering betrays it as rear-engined, it is “different,” inexpensive, economical and the gear-change is good. Moreover, 39 m.p.g. and more, achieved without inadequate performance, is an asset these days. Another French car which came along at this period was the 845 c.c. Renault 4L estate car. This is one of those maid-of-all-work utility vehicles that is adaptable, useful in the extreme, and yet not unduly tedious to drive. Some drivers even find it fun. Either you love it or loathe it, as people did, and do, the clever little Citroen 2 c.v., of which it is virtually a more sophisticated four-cylinder water-cooled edition.
The additional 98 c.c. of the latest version has improved what urge the 4L possesses, although this is still a very small engine to mate to a 3-speed gearbox, even when quick changes of ratio are facilitated by the Citroën-crib push-pull gear lever.
Petrol consumption was heavier than I had expected but the versatility and load-carrying capacity of this ingenious Renault 4L should ensure its continued popularity in the face of the raised Import Duty.
If the 4L proved practical, the Renault Caravelle, also with bigger engine, in which, on British Grand Prix day, I drove to Bath to help judge a Concours d’Élegance in aid of the Cheshire Homes, was captivating. Good appearance, a nice gear-change in spite of long travel on the lever, fairly effective retardation, and enough cheeky performance to please, added up to irresistible chic. The pitch-free ride was another good feature of the handsome, somewhat noisy Caravelle.
At the risk of re-opening old controversies, I will say that one of the most enjoyable experiences last year was driving a Mercedes-Benz 300SE to Oulton Park for the V.S.C.C. Race Meeting. The test car had a very good automatic gearbox, with “hold” obtainable by using the slender control lever like an ordinary steering-column gear lever. It had excellent power steering. The all-round independent pneumatic self-levelling suspension combined comfort with road-holding which enabled this bulky saloon to embarrass sports-car drivers who tried to keep up with it on twisty roads. The squeak-free Dunlop disc brakes made 100 m.p.h. along ordinary roads entirely undramatic. Refinements abounded, the minor controls were sensibly located, the petrol-injection 3-litre engine ran up to 6,000 r.p.m. and I got better than 19 m.p.g.
The Mercedes-Benz 300SE isn’t perfect; it does represent my idea of the best all-round touring saloon available at the £4,000 it cost in this country when we were governed by Conservatives.
A few week-ends later I found myself experiencing motoring of a more sporting order, in a Mk. IV Sunbeam Alpine. A good if not quite outstanding sports car, the latest Sunbeam possessed a good driving position and excellent brakes, but rather oddly spaced gear ratios. It felt taut and dependable, and, abetted by one of Mr. Alex Moulton’s so-useful folding bicycles, provided transport for D.S.J. while he was covering the European G.P. at Brands Hatch for Motor Sport.
In complete contrast was a Rambler Classic 770, which some people regard as an inferior Canadian confection but which did everything I wanted of it, cruising at 85 m.p.h. at nearly 20 m.p.g. with all the lolling room imaginable and brakes no worse than those of most transatlantic automobiles, and better than some. A similar car came along for appraisal later, in the guise of a Ford Galaxie 500, intriguing because it had the 300 b.h.p. power pack. I have admired the by-no-means bad road-holding, silken power flow and near-perfect Cruise-O-Matic transmission of these big Galaxies ever since I first sampled one. Although the car tested in 1964 would do something like 120 m.p.h. and dispose of a 1/4-mile from rest in about 16-1/2 seconds, it was as easy to control, and as unobtrusive, apart from its size, as any of the other Galaxies I have handled.
Willment’s told me, and I believe them, that they can improve materially the road-clinging qualities, but in standard form it was quite acceptable. I do not know why more people do not avail themselves of £2,000-worth of the effortless travel, long life and staggering performance provided by these big Fords.
In between these two sizable cars from across the water I put in several hundreds of miles in the two latest Simcas, the Simca 1300 and Simca 1500. I know that many people rave about them but I disliked the gear-change, wasn’t impressed by the road-holding, nearly got stuck to the plastic-covered seats, and found the low-geared steering inclined to be sticky and lifeless. The fact that the Simca 1300’s drum brakes were more reassuring than the disc/drum combination of the bigger car was disconcerting, nor was the road-holding of either inspiring. I concede that these cars are stylish and that the 5-bearing engines endow them with plenty of “go “; but I prefer the rear-engined Simca 1000.
A Mk. II M.G. Midget brought back that youthful feeling but perhaps I am not yet in second childhood, because I kept asking myself what the M.G. could do that a “hot” Mini couldn’t do better. Now that the Midget has wind-up side windows you don’t need to dress-up to drive it and need not inhale gales of fresh air while riding in it. So some of the point of a sports car has been lost—but in firm ride, quick steering, not very comfortable seats, noise, and general handiness it is still a sports car. Nor can I see why any sane insurance broker should regard it as dangerous. And I have to admit it will see off a normal Mini-Cooper, while costing only £52 more and being decidedly sparing of fuel.
I had looked forward with genuine enthusiasm to riding behind a Rolls-Royce engine, even if it wasn’t a V8, in the Vanden Plas Princess 4-litre R. I set out from Cowley (not Crewe) in it and only a few miles sufficed to show that the power steering was horrid. I drove rather self-consciously to the 30/98 Vauxhall party at Luton and on with my wife to an S.T.D. Register A.G.M. in this loudly-acclaimed R.-R./B.M.C. hybrid. Longer acquaintance merely confirmed that it is a mediocre car; this was embarrassing, because of my reputation for being critical of Rolls-Royce affairs! Long-lasting, maybe, but not very likable, this particular Princess. The final disillusionment came in Windsor Park, when the ill-adjusted lamps of the “R” upset a (self-confessed) young communist in a little Ford saloon. He pushed me into the kerb and, hammering on the driver’s window, asked scathingly whether I was using a company car. When this was denied he said, even more scathingly, “Well then, I suppose it’s a b— hire car.” I don’t imagine owners of Silver Clouds are singled out for such comment.
Towards the end of the year there were a couple of days of very impressive motoring in that excellent British sports car, the Jaguar E-type in its latest 4.2-litre form, which I also used to attend that very wet V.S.C.C. Driving Test meeting at Silverstone last December. The particular E-type which came to us had a number of faults peculiar to itself but the all-round excellence of this very fast yet docile Jaguar shone through. However, as the full story appeared only last month, there is no need to recapitulate.
Christmas was rendered convenient and pleasant from the mobile aspect because I had a Fiat 850 saloon and the latest 3.3-litre Series PB Vauxhall Cresta saloon over the holiday. The Fiat is written-up elsewhere in this issue, so I need say no more here except to praise again its prompt starting, “surefootedness,” especially up slippery ice-coated inclines, and the general feeling of “staunchness” that characterises this “enlarged bambino.” Totally different in purpose and character, the Firestone-shod Vauxhall, with automatic choke, also fired-up instantly in zero temperatures. I regard the big Vauxhalls as admirable family cars of conventional type, and I was glad to find that the enlarged 92 x 83mm. (3,293 c.c.) engine of the Cresta, which develops 115 (net) b.h.p. at 4,200 r.p.m., produces a very worthwhile increase in acceleration, while being, I thought, smoother all up the range than the earlier power unit. It is inaudible at idling speeds, would pull down to about 12 m.p.h. in top gear and makes this well-contrived six-seater saloon a notably fast car.
Conditions of snow and ice somewhat restricted my experience of this worthy Lutonian and no performance figures were taken, but I noted with approval that the previous “to-hand” location of the multi-purpose lights and wipers/washers knobs is retained, that wing mirrors and seat-belts front and back contributed to safety, and that this six-cylinder Cresta was a very easy, willing car to drive. It falls into the category of a scaled-down American automobile, a “compact” if you like, but with brakes to European standards. The handling is not outstanding but traction on snow and ice which caused us to abandon at Birdlip a New Year’s Eve expedition to Wales, was better than I had dared to hope. Minor items like the sensibly high-set front number plate were appreciated and under far from favourable conditions the sizable six-cylinder engine gave 22 m.p.g. and was well suited to the 3-speed gearbox controlled by a steering-column lever. The engine warmed to its work with no hesitation at all and heater and demister (including rear-window demisting) functioned admirably. An excellent all-rounder, this £962 Vauxhall Cresta. It was the last car I drove last year, although in November a Vauxhall Velox had rendered yeoman service trailing the Brighton Run Panhard from Beaulieu to Hyde Park and back to the Museum in the fog of that winter Sunday evening.
Perhaps the greatest fun of the year came on Christmas afternoon, when D.S.J. and I went for a run over deserted roads in a Lotus Elan S2. Delivered behind schedule, I had to let the Assistant Editor do the road-test on it. We returned from our brief encounter somewhat deaf but exhilarated by the fantastically good road-holding and cornering of this race-bred car. The visibility, the quick “mechanical” gear-change, the excellent seats, the brakes and the noise are definitely “sports car,” so a very heavy, sudden clutch and other shortcomings were readily forgiven. However, when the twin-cam Ford engine went into the red at 6,700 r.p.m. in top gear with the speedometer at 120 we did wonder how long this very enjoyable Elan would hold together. . . .
Apart from tests on the road, the motoring scribe is sometimes invited to turn racing driver and test new cars round closed circuits. Last year I did the 750 M.C.’s Anniversary Run instead of the Guild of Motoring Writers’ Goodwood Test Day, which was covered by a colleague, I missed the useful Continental Car Test Day at Silverstone put on by Total, and didn’t get to any of those exotic parties at which new models were released on the continent. However, I was able to drive an N.S.U. Wankel round Goodwood, at the same time renewing acquaintance with the jolly little N.S.U. Sport Prinz and sampling the attractive N.S.U. 1000, which went so well, apart from severe front-wheel kick-back, that I am eager to drive it on the road. It is difficult to assess the performance of the N.S.U. Wankel while the makers rate it as 500 c.c., its opponents as 1,000 c.c. or more, but I would say it goes as well as the reciprocating-engined N.S.U. 1000. Whether the Wankel’s claims to long life and exceptional smooth running will make it a serious competitor of the piston engine won’t be known until it is in regular use by ordinary motorists. I gather that at present the life of the seals is still a critical factor, and I thought I noticed some concern about the life of the Wankel’s single sparking plug during the Goodwood demonstration. What this demonstration was intended to do, as with the Chrysler gas-turbine car preview in 1963, was to prove not that this unconventional power unit is practical but that it is certainly no more complicated for the driver to control than the older form of i.c. engine.
I also spent a chilly clay at Chilgrove airfield, where I did a few laps in the 970-c.c. and 1,275-c.c. Mini-Coopers and the Monte Carlo Rally-winning Mini-Cooper-S, the last-named surprisingly tractable and all of them enjoyable because of the “stiction” they display on corners. John Cooper took me round in the “big Min.” and, surprisingly, was keener to demonstrate its top-gear flexibility than its high speed.
And, although I couldn’t spare time to drive in the press section of the Mobil Economy Run, my wife and I were able to get down to Bournemouth for the merry luncheon party at which the awards in this unique event were presented.
Apart from the cars I drove myself, during last year Motor Sport conducted road-tests on the Phase II Rochdale Olympic, the Viking Hornet Sport, the aforesaid Monte Carlo Rally-winning Mini-Cooper-S, a Monte Carlo Rally Ford Falcon, the Ginetta G4 1500, the Reliant Sabre Six GT, the Ruddspeed Volvo 122, a Tour de France Ford Mustang 289, a Speedwell Mini and a Gilbern GT—so there has been plenty of variety.
It only remains for me to add that my Breitling wrist-stopwatch, so useful for impromptu timing of cars and races, has settled down to keep exceedingly accurate time, that muscle-power transport for the family has been provided by a couple of those estimable rubber-sprung Moulton bicycles and that night motoring has been simplified by my Bardie BM torches, which refuse to wear out. I would like to conclude by thanking all the readers who find time to write to Motor Sport—although it is only possible to publish a small cross-section of this prolific correspondence each month, every letter is read and by this means I am kept in close contact with opinions and trends on many different aspects of motoring.
During the year there was a small amount of vintage motoring (far smaller than I would have wished) sandwiched between driving the aforesaid modern cars. It started with a rousing night drive on the V.S.C.C. Measham Rally as passenger in the tonneau of John Rowley’s very healthy 30/98 Vauxhall.
Later I drove a 1935 Rolls-Royce PhantomII for an interesting week-end, using it to attend events as diverse in purpose as the Hants & Berks M.C. “Floggin’ and Clatter,” the Brooklands Re-Union, when it led a cavalcade of cars through the grounds of the once-flourishing Motor Course, and a Bean C.C. Concours d’Élegance. This particular Phantom was a funeral black but since the release of a certain film I imagine there is another fortune awaiting those vendors of used cars of this make who have had the foresight to install a paint-spray and a supply of yellow paint. . . .
There were a few miles in a car which is something of a poor relation to this long, high, thirsty but satisfying Rolls-Royce, in the form of a 1934 Armstrong Siddeley Long-15 saloon. It is a car in which the atmosphere of limousine travel lingered on into the middle-‘thirties and although, with its “iron” side-valve engine, it is pedestrian in the extreme, it has certain endearing foibles, such as an air-cleaner that whistles when it requires cleaning, a combined oil gauge and water thermometer dial sagely labelled “Safety Gauge,” automatic restarting of the engine should it stall (now fortunately disconnected!), a hand-throttle, built-in jacks, Enots one-shot chassis lubrication, a timing covet labelled “Use AS Filtrate oil,” and all the lofty arm-chair comfort of the chauffeur/footman regime. The steering connections are of Singer Junior crudity, but control is finger-light, and the ingenious pre-selector gearbox quite foolproof unless the clutch pedal is misused, when it exerts its influence by rising up with startling force. And I defy a pre-war Rolls-Royce to better the manner in which the cubby-hole lids and doors shut.
I went to certain vintage events as passenger in D.S.J.’s 328 B.M.W., rode through the Historic Commercial Vehicle Club’s Brighton Run in the company of some eyeable (but very cold) show girls in Lord Montagu’s 1922 Maxwell charabanc, and had a fine and trouble-free journey in the R.A.C. Veteran Car Run, likewise to Brighton, at the wheel of the Montagu Motor Museum’s 1903 7-h.p. 2-cylinder Panhard-Levassor. Honoured by being asked to lead the 750 M.C.’s 25th Anniversary Run, I borrowed a 1937 Austin Seven Ruby saloon for the occasion, which fanned the memory. Further ancient Austin miles were dependably accomplished in a 1934 Austin 10/4 saloon acquired so that my second daughter could try her hand (or hands) at conducting a mechanically-propelled vehicle. This Austin 10/4 was bought from a co-operative breaker’s, where it had been abandoned because a seized king-pin, soon freed by the application of some grease, had convinced its owner that the steering-box was done for. Its M.O.T. test certificate was renewed without difficulty, it possesses good tyres, instruments (and direction-indicator arms) that work, a splendid battery, and was even full of anti-freeze, not to mention some petrol, all for a sum many people spend on a round of drinks. These staunch British cars are still as prolific on our roads as old Citroëns and Peugeots were in France, aged Fiats in Italy, up to a few years ago. Long may they survive. . . .W. B.
Petrol and oil consumption of cars tested by the Editor in 1964
Citroën DW saloon 26.4 m.p.g. (1/3rd of a pint in 1,180 miles.
Austin A105 automatic saloon 16.6 m.p.g. (Hardly any, in 540 miles)
Fiat 2300 station wagon 24.4 m.p.g. (None, in 620 miles)
VW 1500S saloon 26.6 m.p.g. ( –––––––––)
Hillman Imp saloon 33.0 m.p.g. (1-1/3 pints, in 1,160 miles)
Renault RS1100 saloon 41.0 m.p.g. (1/3 of a pint, in 470 miles)
Hillman Minx Series V saloon 30.3 m.p.g. (1 pint, in 900 miles)
Panhard 24CT coupé 32.7 m.p.g. (None, in 480 miles)
Daimler 2-1/2 litre V8 automatic saloon 18.2 m.p.g. (None, in 900 miles)
Jaguar 3.8-litre S automatic saloon 16.6 m.p.g. (3 pints, in 630 miles)
Triumph 2000 saloon 26.7 m.p.g. (1 pint, in 900 miles)
Renault 4L estate car 35.2 m.p.g. (Hardly any, in 1,000 miles
Mercedes-Benz 300SE automatic saloon 19.2 m.p.g. (None, in 850 miles
Renault Caravell coupé 36.0 m.p.g. (1/2 a pint, in 650 miles)
Rambler Classic 770 automatic saloon 19.7 m.p.g. (None, in 670 miles)
Sunbeam Alpine Series IV 2-str. 25.7 m.p.g. (None, in 750 miles)
Ford Galaxie 500 automatic saloon 14.2 m.p.g. (2 pints, in 600 miles)
Lancia Flavia coupé 27.7 m.p.g. (2 pints, in 1,000 miles
M.G. Midget Mk II 2-seater 35.6 m.p.g. (1-1/2 pints, in 670 miles)
Vanden Plas Princess R 4-litre auto. saloon 18.1 m.p.g. (1 pint, in 650 miles
Austin 1800 saloon 26.5 m.p.g. (2 pints, in 720 miles)
Jensen CV-8 automatic saloon 16.5 m.p.g. (3 pints, in 1,000 miles)
Ford Cortina GT 30.1 m.p.g. (1 pint in 700 miles)
Jaguar 4.2-litre E-type coupé 18.7 m.p.g. (6 pints, in 1,300 miles)
Fiat 850 saloon 37.8 m.p.g. (1 pint, in 800 miles)
Vauxhall Cresta 3.3-litre saloon 22.0 m.p.g. (None, in 550 miles)