My Year's Motoring
The Editor looks back on the cars he drove in 1965
This annual review is intended as a refresher course for those readers who are interested in the good, bad, and indifferent aspects of the cars that came to us for road-test during the past twelve months. Consequently, it will not be a resume of the Good Life, as provided by D.S.J. last month. Nor do I claim to have toiled so hard at my motoring last year that I flaked out, although compiling road-test reports can be quite tedious work, if a car is analysed conscientiously all the time it is being driven and an honest appraisal is written in reasonable detail. (In fact, I didn’t have time to have influenza until November, when it coincided with the Veteran Car Run and was cured speedily by a dose of fresh-air and rain-water taken on the exposed driving seat of Lord Montagu’s 1904 Brushmobile.)
These observations behind me, let it be said that I found 1965 very satisfying and all this motoring as enjoyable as ever. I see from my Dunlop diary that I drove a total of 36,900 miles in sixty different cars. This varied motoring embraced cars with 2-stroke, 4-stroke and rotary engines, with from one to eight cylinders or no cylinders at all, possessing carburetters or injection pumps for petrol or diesel oil, having engines of from half-a-litre to 6 1/4-litres, and valued at from £410 to £8,926. I did not have a single clash with the police (fingers crossed), a fact I should not have thought worth comment, had I not read in a courageous and revealing article by Robert Glenton in the Sunday Express, that in 1964 over a million convictions against drivers were registered, amongst a total of 8-million motorists (who paid something like 1,000-million in duty and taxes-and over 5-million in fines)! Obviously, I was one of the lucky seven out of every eight drivers using our congested roads.
It was a significant year because at last I was able to road-test a modern Rolls-Royce and I also gained experience of that other fabulous motor car, the Mercedes-Benz 600, while the revolutionary N.S.U. Wankel Spider came along for trial, as well as such sports or sporting cars as the Sunbeam Tiger 260, a couple of Mercedes-Benz 230SL, the B.M.W. 1800 Ti, Sunbeam Alpine Series V GT, Morris Mini-Cooper S, Fiat 2300S, Austin Mini-Cooper, Alfa Romeo Giulia Ti and Giulia SS, Ford Cortina GT, and 1926 30/98 Vauxhall.
Although, judging by the overall 70 m.p.h. speed-limit, suggested spot-checks for supposedly drunken drivers, the attempt to ban private cars from London, increased motor taxes and a slowing down of the road development programme, the Labour Government wants to discourage motoring, the British Motor Industry is doing its best to sell its products and maintain prosperity and full employment. This being the case, and the motor car being a universal topic for discussion by both sexes, great importance is placed on road-test reports in reputable motoring journals. A little Editorial publicity is worth a great many costly column inches of paid-for space. Sales (and reputations) are undoubtedly made and lost from what the technical Press writes about the automobiles submitted to it for test. So it isn’t surprising that the Big Five in this country are well geared-up in Press and Public Relations and that each organisation runs an efficiently conducted Road-Test Department.
The British Motor Corporation has its central publicity offices at Longbridge, where the able and popular Brian Turner is Director of Publicity, but Press cars are allocated by Ken Revis, B.M.C. Press Executive, Cowley, and can be collected conveniently, by London-based scribes, from B.M.C.’s Holland Park depot, Where cheerful and ever-obliging Vic Gorge, helped by George Edwards, is in charge of this side of things. Although Revis was blinded in a war-time bomb-disposal misadventure, and therefore cannot himself read the pungent criticism or flowing praise we may bestow on the cars he provides for us, I am sure that his charming secretary keeps him fully informed as to what each report contains ! Ken Revis is a remarkable person, who has driven an M.G. at 100 m.p.h. on an airfield runway, steered verbally by his wife, pilots a glider after someone has got it aloft (and down) for him, and was telling me the other day how much he enjoyed going to the Daimler-Benz Museum at Stuttgart, to the Le Mans for the period of the 24-hour race and to another museum in Paris to “see” the Cugnot steam-carriage. After a brief’ conversation with him I always feel that my insignificant day-to-day afflictions cannot decently be griped about ! Before the war he drove a Riley 9 Monaco saloon, of which the splendid scale model in his office is a reminder. . . .
The Ford Motor Company’s Public Relations Department is housed in the very modern new building at Warley in Essex, presided over by Sid Wheelhouse, tests being arranged by Harry Calton. Writers based in the Metropolis may, if they wish, collect Press vehicles from Lincoln Cars, on the Gt. West Road, where there is enough space, since the Competition Department moved to Boreham, for the never flustered, calmly-efficient Alf Belson, to whom nothing is too much trouble, to look after the demanding requirements of those Gentlemen of the Press who are due to hammer unmercifully the latest products of Dagenham.
The Rootes Group runs its publicity from palatial premises at Devonshire House, Piccadilly, overlooking Green Park. Due to frequent staff movements, who is in control at any given time Is a subject for speculation, but the Press fleet is garaged when necessary in the old Talbot factory at Ladbroke Grove, where Georges Roesch once held court, and here it is always pleasant to be welcomed by Mr. Boness, and to receive cars immaculately turned out by that enthusiastic head-mechanic Ron Moye.
Standard-Triumph publicity is looked after by Keith Hopkins, who can be contacted in Coventry or Berkeley Square, on the firm’s direct ‘phone-line and whose Press cars can be collected from the conveniently-situated S-T Service Station on Western Avenue.
Vauxhall Motors have the experienced and perennially-patient Michael Marr at Luton to govern their overall publicity and an excellent arrangement whereby Press cars can be picked up at the Wardour Street premises in London, formerly Shaw & Kilburn’s, adjacent to the strip-tease clubs and film-premises. Here conscientious Derek Goatman extends a warm welcome and unrivalled hospitality to us whenever there is a new Vauxhall to sample.
General Motors, operating from their own building in Buckingham Gate, off Victoria Street, have their Press affairs in the hands of a very helpful American executive, Robert Johnson, who lives in a delightful flat overlooking Marble Arch, far above the traffic, so that from his windows a study can easily be made of the cornering power of different cars.
Thus do the biggest producer of automobiles in the World and our Big Five possess machinery which ensures that the publishing world in this country is well served. Most of the smaller manufacturers and the concessionaires of the great European and American companies have similar set-ups, although there is increasing employment of advertising agents and publicity consultants for this task.
Aided by these helpful people I was able to enjoy another full year of road-testing and when it commenced it did not seem pointless; as it does at present, to think in terms of 150 m.p.h. in an E-type or 0 to 100 m.p.h. in the space of 15 seconds in a DB6.
I covered the greatest distance, 5,864 miles from late September onwards, in a Ford Cortina GT, but as this excellent car was dealt with last month, I need not recap here, except to remark that the efficiency of the Weber carburation and Ford “KwikFil” battery was confirmed when, on mornings so cold that the windows were frozen arid refused to be wound down, the engine never failed to start with reassuring promptitude. A few days from the end of 1965 the boot lock, stressed when it froze, came out in its entirety (but was put back and still worked) and the number-plate light failed, but otherwise this was a truly trouble-free GT. A Mercedes-Benz 220SEb and the latest Sunbeam Alpine GT were also dealt with too recently to merit further mention. Besides the aforementioned Ford, another car I—or rather “we,” because my driving daughters tended to monopolise it—had for long duration test was a ,strong>Fiat 500D, an admirable little vehicle which served us with commendable reliability and gave over 55 m.p.g. on long runs, burning “cooking” fuel, in spite of being habitually driven flat-out and often heavily laden. It was the greatest possible fun to have around, and had the advantage of being fitted with an easily-openable and just-as-easily-closed sun-roof. Incidentally, among 32 test cars of which I kept a note, 11 were on Dunlop, six on Michelin, six on Pirelli, three on Firestone, two on Dominion and one each on Avon, Goodyear, Metzeler and Fuldo tyres.
I enjoyed a four-figure mileage in a 1,275-c.c. Morris-Cooper S. It was naturally enormously enjoyable and a splendid traffic-killer, if noise, vibration and choppy road-holding were not objected to. In more than 1,200 miles this incredible little high-performance package gave no anxieties, was decently economical of lubricant and petrol, but would have been even more enjoyable in traffic had the throttles not opened too suddenly at the commencement of each private dragfest. . . . In the right hands no car, certainly of comparable price, is more safety-fast and I have no particular feelings about Hydrolastic suspension having been applied to this fastest of the Minibric family. The remote gearchange suits the car, the test version of which was on Dunlop SP41s and had those excellent B.M.C. reel-type safety-belts.
Another car in which I exceeded 1,200 miles was a perfectly normal Vauxhall Viva, in which I went twice to Wales and back, down into Kent, up to Silverstone for the Eight Clubs Race Meeting, and to Goodwood on Whit-Monday. This small Vauxhall served me very well over the Whitsun holiday, at a time when the Motor Sport Morris 1100, about which more anon, was in dire need of new parts for its front-drive internals, which B.M.C. in London couldn’t procure for some three weeks. I came to regard the Viva as of convenient size for a commuting car, it was decidedly sparing on petrol, and I liked its gear change and the lightness of its steering, clutch and brakes. But if I were ordering one for permanent use I would want sound-damping, better seats and I would ask Ian Walker to stiffen up the springing. Perhaps all this has been done on the newer Viva SL90 ?
Coming to something more sporting, I covered almost a four-figure mileage in the handsome and beautifully-equipped Fiat 2300S Ghia coupe, leaving the office one Thursday afternoon in the usual downpour bound for Oulton Park and the always enjoyable V.S.C.C. Race Meeting. Trying to be clever and avoid a monumental evening traffic jam in Banbury after leaving the M1, I got lost in country lanes. But in this sort of motor car such set-backs are of small moment on a run of this length. Comfortable, well-appointed, and providing a top speed of around 120 m.p.h. without the driver deceived by the “fast” speedometer, this Ghia coupe comes somewhere between the genuine sports car and a GT car, and effectively puts the miles, or kilometres, behind it. With an engine which will go up to 6,000 r.p.m. but doesn’t normally need to be pushed beyond 5,000 r.p.m., over 80 m.p.h. is available in third gear, and cornering and braking are well in line with such performance, which is delivered to the accompaniment of a satisfactory “hard” engine note. Hailing from a land where men are built on the willowy pattern, it was a surprise to find quite a lot of effort needed to steer, stop, de-clutch and change gear. But that is really no criticism of this individualistic Fiat from my point of view. Indeed, I found it a very acceptable car, better finished and furnished than a Jaguar E-type, somehow more of a “possession,” if less exciting. Fully-reclining seats, a rigid man-sized gear lever, woodrim steering wheel, etc., enhance the car’s luxurious demeanour but I could have done without the “alarm clock” which rang loudly whenever I committed a minor driving indiscretion, like leaving the choke-knob slightly out or the hand-brake ever so slightly on, etc. Electric window lifts, which didn’t always, were a more major irritation.
Another car in which the electrically-operated windows failed, so that as rain came on my eldest daughter had to rush it back to the metropolis, where it was met, by those who had loaned it, armed with blotting paper with which to dry the seats, was a Pontiac Parisienne. I do not consider my motoring education complete unless I drive an American automobile occasionally but I confess I approach these monsters with some unease, not because they poke out many hundreds of horses and go very swiftly, but due to their vague steering when their very bulk demands precision of control, their soggy suspension, and their sudden braking, which is, conversely, liable to extreme fade. However, they improve every time I try one and after initial misgivings I came to regard this ratner flambouyant and bouyant, Pontiac as reasonably acceptable, and undeniably extremely roomy, transport. It took me up to Silverstone and later in the year I was to make its acquaintance again, when a Chevrolet Chevelle due for test was found to have a faulty windscreen wiper motor and, General Motors being unable to rustle up a spare one in this country, Bob Johnson generously had the familiar Pontiac brought round to his office so that I need not have recourse to trains and taxis.
This time nothing went amiss and I had a delightful journey to Wales, which commenced well by blast-off down the excellent M4. although I felt conscious of lacking the cigar and chewing gum of the typical Pontiac driver, who contrives to chew both together. On this occasion I had to bring hack more people and luggage than I had driven down there a fortnight before in a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III, which had only just swallowed the load. So I was glad to be in this all-automatic, Fisher-bodied Parisienne, which is lower but wider and more spacious than the Silver Cloud, and the boot of which certainly held more luggage.
When the Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu did come along for appraisal it could hardly have been more different, haying a simple o.h.v. 6-cylinder engine, and manual steering, brakes and window-lifts—the least-developed of these massive American automobiles. But as this antiquated engine, when idling, and the automatic transmission were smoother than those of the Rolls-Royce, General Motors came out of the comparison very favourably.
I had, in fact, got to know their 1965 products earlier in the year through experience of the Chevrolet Impala Sport, “sport” in this instance centring on the body styling and not on performance or handling characteristics. The car slightly sullied its reputation when a loose wire came adrift and all those muffled Detroit-horses silenced themselves as dusk was settling over one of the remoter sections of the Hereford-Ross-on-Wye road. Luckily the Continental Correspondent was with me and he has a knack of making faulty components and connections confess their weaknesses, so we were soon on our way. The load of vintage car spares we were carrying in the boot resulted in a distinctly nose-up attitude which, when this coincided with ice-covered roads, hardly enhanced my opinion of the road-clinging, finger-tip steering and crash-braking typical of cars from the U.S.A. Nevertheless, nothing untoward occurred and such vehicles are unbeatable as effortless prime-movers of multiples of humanity and enormous quantities of chattels. This Impala gave 13-14 m.p.g. and although it had the modest 5.3-litre, 250-b.h.p. Type 327 engine, on the test track a s.s. 1/4-mile was covered in 18 sec. and 90 m.p.h. was reached from rest in fractionally over half-a-minute. And there were such sensible items of specification as an alternator, coat-hooks, anti-freeze washers, a free-wheeling coolant fan and dual guide headlamps.
A car in which I covered an appreciable mileage, which does not necessarily mean that I had it for a long period, was a Vauxhall VX 4/90. When the VX 4/90 was first mooted I felt that I might want one as a regular means of transport. The earlier models did not quite add up, but I found the 1965 version a much improved car, capable of 96 m.p.h. and a s.s. 1/4-mile in 59.6 sec. Vauxhalls are noted for practical, well-contrived vehicles and have a happy knack of imparting an air of well-being at a modest price. The sporting VX 4/90 is no exception and its engine goes very readily beyond 5,500.r.p.m., equal to a genuine 68 m.p.h. in third gear, the penalty being some mechanical cacophony. It is in the steering and road-holding departments that some further improvement is overdue; the gear change is pleasant, the vacuum-servo disc front brakes effective. The engine of the test car was 1 deg. under, developing a falter at low speeds, quickly cured at Wardour Street, and calling for the most expensive fuel, which it consumed at the rate of 28.1 m.p.g. It should, of course, be borne in mind that these remarks apply to 1965 models and Vauxhall have since introduced improved versions of the Viva and other models.
Nineteen-sixty-five was a personal red-letter year because Rolls-Royce Ltd. at last made me welcome at Crewe and allowed me to road-test their Silver Cloud Ill. It might be thought that I regretted having embarked on a description of how this old-fashioned motor carriage was made and how it motored when it was soon to be superseded by the technically far more-advanced Silver Shadow. This is not the case, because the Silver Cloud will retain its unique niche in the world for at least the next decade, and some people may even come to regard it as the last of the
At first the audible idling of the 6 1/4-litre light-alloy V8 engine, the roll when cornering, the jerkiness, under certain circumstances, of the automatic transmission, and the comparatively narrow body and restricted luggage capacity marred appreciation of this legendary motor car. Obviously these were definite shortcomings, for Harry Grylls and his team of modest, almost self-effacing engineers have since eradicated them (as far as the paper specification and a 9-mile drive have convinced met from the Silver Shadow and Model-T Bentley. Yet I am sorry in a way that this had to be. Because, sitting high in the dignified Rolls Royce Silver Cloud III and travelling with a sense of complete. security imparted by good power-steering and those very powerful mechanical-servo drum brakes, in uncanny overall silence at very impressive cruising speeds, in a motor-car impeceably equipped and so sensibly-contrived, is to be presented with a motoring experience no other car can provide. I was still of the opinion that the Silver Lady belonged to the past and that she paid lip-service to the three-pointed star of Stuttgart. Yet the feeling of comfortable isolation and dignified insulation from the cares lesser traveller’s may be assumed to suffer was very tangible from behind the wheel of this remarkable, inimitable Rolls-Royce. Mere technical considerations are a different matter altogether.
I was disappointed that higher speeds were not possible unless there was a Motorway on which to work up to them, but I was impressed by road-holding, unaffected by a very heavy load, even if the ride-control is nothing like as sensitive as those on the Bentleys I drove before the war. I was troubled about the notchy action of the gear lever when trying to get maximum performance by using the “hold” positions of the automatic gearbox, and by the metallic noise the doors make when you shut them. But almost everything else about the Silver Cloud was impressive, its magic irresistible. The reliability was a solid, inbuilt factor you could almost feel and the pleasure I could derive were I able to own a Silver Cloud would have made its price of £6,000 seem insignificant. The Magic of this particular Name is no myth, and I hope that in due course I shall be persuaded that the more complicated Silver Shadow is fully compatible with the very high standards of upper-class travel set by the Silver Cloud and is, in fact, its logical successor.
Even more automated than this much-discussed Rolls-Royce Silver-Shadow (which in Bentley T-Series guise I drove briefly last year) is the Mercedes-Benz 600. A day’s drive in the saloon version of this great car proved to me that it is no freak, that items like the hydraulically-actuated door-locks, etc., which on paper sound just too fantastic; couldn’t be more practical when one comes to use them; also that its road-holding and cornering are of a very high order—and I drove the 600 on a very wet night in London as well as at high speeds on deserted roads in winter sunshine. The “handiness”—I use the term in a comparative sense—of this 2 1/2-ton, 10 ft. 6 in. wheelbase monster endeared it to me but it is really motoring of a different kind from that provided by the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud. As with those controversial 2000s, the Rover and the Triumph (neither of which came my way in 1965) I am not sure these cars can be fairly compared, albeit both represent land travel on the highest plane. If I were spending £15,000 on land travel it is possible that I would like to have both these prestige cars in my motor house. …
Before leaving these treasured memories of Rolls-Royce affairs I feel inclined to recount how, leaving my place in Radnorshire in the Ford Cortina GT to attend the auspicious dinner given in Crewe to celebrate the release to the Press of details of the new Silver Shadow, the first entirely new Rolls-Royce for ten years, I remembered that my wife had forgotten to put any braces in my luggage. I was too far behind schedule to turn back and the only hope lay in driving as fast as possible over the notoriously winding road that links Cross Gates with Knighton, in the hope of catching the shops still open in the latter town. Behind me was an Alfa Romeo Spider and by the way it was being cornered, observed in the mirror, I assumed its driver was trying as hard as I was along this desolate road on that dull October evening. The Ford managed to keep ahead and. although this was a “little” Alfa, as the least-expensive open model costs £1,448, the.Cortina GT comes off well, I think, in the matter of value for money against average-speed performance. The other driver probably thought I was enjoying myself. I was, but uppermost in my mind was the urgent need for a pair of braces…
A quite small car which came my way last year was the Singer Chamois, or in effect a de-luxe Hillman Imp. I have a very good opinion of the later Imps, which are pleasant to drive, with good road-clinging qualities and a delightful gear-change. They are very handy to load through that lift-up back window, which Issigonis apparently didn’t think of for the Mini—a pity, for Peter Ware and his design team didn’t hesitate to borrow the Issigonis door-pockets for their Imp! The brakes of the Chamois were less tiring to prod than those of the Imps I drove in 1964 and this rear-engined small car understeered on its Dunlop SP41s, but this didn’t unfortunately prevent it from wandering about alarmingly when caught in a cross-gale on the A5, when coming fast from the Pomeroy Trophy frolics at Silverstone to a party for his Press friends that Bob Johnson of G.M. was giving at his aforesaid delightful apartment overlooking Hyde Park. There was also a troublesome hold-up to the test when a bolt fell out of one of the rear universal-joints. The local Routes dealer didn’t have the correct replacement in stock but Ladbroke Grove went into action and I drove away four hours later, the alarming clunking and Chamois leaps cured—but would a customer have fared as well ?
What should have been one of the highlights of the 1965 test programme was at last, after much patient waiting, being able to try an Alfa Romeo—in fact, not one, but two of them. The first to arrive was the Alfa Romeo Giulia Ti saloon. I was beginning to be delighted with the urge and sense of wanting to get on with the job of motoring in a thoroughbred manner which the lively twin-cam 5-bearing engine conveys, providing the 5-speed gearbox with the nicely spaced ratios is freely used, and was getting used to the considerable degree of roll during ambitious cornering, reassured by deceptively excellent brakes and light, accurate steering, while following D.S.J. on a run across the downs near Upavon„ when the Marcos 1800 he was driving expired. “Ha, I thought, “that is the penalty you pay for using specials from small factories,” as I took our Continental Correspondent aboard the Giulia TI little did I know! For I had hardly decided that the high driving seat was not to my liking and that the facia of this otherwise-very-desirable Alfa Romeo possessed too many winking warning lights, when the clutch pedal went to the floor and staved there, perhaps startled by a Meteor 7 which had just crashed in a near-by field, unfortunately killing its pilot.
I got the car home by that age-old dodge used by those afflicted with absence of a clutch—sticking the gear lever (heavily spring loaded, I recall, and rather tiring to use on this r.h.d. car) into gear and rolling the car off with the starter-motor. I offered to drive it thus to T & T.s. Instead, they came and took it away. I have not seen it from that day to this…. A pity, because the other Milanese model I had for test, an Alfa Romeo Giulia Sports Speciale, was not at all impressive to anyone wanting to use it for other than impressing their girl-friends. The handling at anything over 80 m.p.h. was terrible, there was an unpleasant deflection of the steering even on quite good surfaces, and oversteer under power changed disconcertingly to understeer with power off, impressions confirmed by a colleague and others. The springing was too supple, the brakes were heavy and therefore fatigue-making, the syneromesh had disappeared from the lower gears, the clutch pedal travel was excessive and the pedal too close to the transmission tunnel; moreover the clutch slipped when taking acceleration figures (0-60 m.p.h. in 10 sec., s.s. 1/4-mile in 18.1 sec., nevertheless).
Twin Weber carburetters make the racket within the car very tiresome but there is no denying the effective manner in which this 120-m.p.h.-plus, Sprint Speciale covers the ground. But to me it seemed not worth the £2,394 it costs in this country, except to avid Alfa fanatics, and I said so. Nor did I like its bulbous lines…. This called forth a correspondence-raspberry from my old friend and sportsman Reggie Tongue, Chairman of Thomson Taylor (Brooklands) Ltd., which I was astonished to find contained the accusation that I was jaundiced, biased, infused with rancour and ill-tempered, inaccurate and distorted, when expressing my opinion of Alfa Romeos—which Mr. Tongue sells! In fact, I liked the Giulia TI so much I had thought of asking Motor Sport to buy one for me and was only sorry I was not able to obtain performance and fuel consumption figures for it. The outcome was that readers wrote in, taking sides, as readers do, and it did appear that not all of them were happy with their cars or with Alfa Romeo servicing in this country. This has naturally put me off this illustrious make—but I was not the chap who flung that Earls Court ashtray … !
A car which appealed to me very much indeed and one which stood up to getting into it immediately after driving down from Crewe in the then-current Rolls-Royce, was the Vanden Plas Princess 1100, in which I went along the congested Bournemouth road to Weymouth (on business, not to bathe), amongst other journeys. It has been endowed with sufficient creature comforts to disguise the fact that basically it is a B.M.C. 1100, although the splendid ride and handling derived from the engineering aspects of the car enhance its very definite appeal. There could well be more performance, but speed is no longer a criterion in this out-moded little Island and what there is of it is quietly delivered, although sonic engine noise and gear-train hum regrettably intrude. Yes I like this well-contrived small car, although it is expensive when compared with an M.G. 1100, for example, which many people find sufficiently luxurious for their needs, as well as a bit faster about the place.
My first encounter, favourable. with Moulton Hydrolastic suspension on the miniature B.M.C. cars came when I drove a jolly little Riley Elf Mk. II, always a useful and acceptable little saloon.
Experience of Routes’ intelligent blending of Ford V8 engine and Sunbeam Alpine to form the Sunbeam Tiger was eagerly awaited. Being busy, I let the Continental Correspondent conduct the first test, but a fast run to Goodwood and back, including storming S. Harting hill (where the J.C.C. once let racing cars loose ) in top gear showed what sheer fun owning this near conception of compact sporting car would provide. D.S.J. contrived to time it over a s.s. 1/4-mile in under 17 sec., and expressed some disappointment over the Tiger’s top speed only because he thought it had a 4.8-litre Ford engine and not the very “cooking,” but completely-unstressed push-rod 4.2-litre power unit. Later I was able to do a full road-test in another of these highly desirable cars. Although the Sunbeam Tiger has bad features, such as back-axle tramp if accelerated hard, rather small brakes, steering kick-back, and the need to be fairly feather-footed when driving on slippery surfaces, its effortless pick-up in the pre-war Ford V8 tradition (only more so!), its silent running with 90 m.p.h. coming up in 3rd gear of the nice Borg-Warner gearbox and quite effortless 100 m.p.h. cruising speed on the 2.88 to 1 top gear, with a good deal more speed to come, make it one of the best propositions I encountered in 1965 and a tempting “buy” at less than £1,500. It is a typical, even somewhat old-fashioned British sports car with a flavour of America about it—I liked it enormously!
During last year I took another look at Volkswagen and although all the old fascination remains, the more so since I have invested in an exceptionally well-preserved “Beetle” as a family hack, and remembering the ability of D.S.J.’s even more hack-like VW transporter to pull big loads quietly and quite astonishingly quickly considering its 1,131-cc. engine, the current VW 1500S didn’t come up to scratch, performance-wise. It is a vehicle possessing all the good features that have made the VW Europe’s best-seller, and some less desirable ones, such as handling that left me in no need of a reminder that the i.r.s. was by swing-axle, rather bouncy torsion-bar suspension. and disappointing fuel consumption. The latest VW 1200, however, proved very enjoyable, regarded as practical, down-to-earth transport. and gave 33.6 m.p.g. of the least expensive petrol. It had many improvements over the 1955 VW I once drove daily but used more oil, possessed heavier steering, and had an engine that I am sure was much noisier. Perhaps 1955 was the vintage-year of the “Beetle” ? Certainly there is no denying.the irresistible charm of VWs of all-ages—they are everywhere and all my friends seem to have one. I hope that when the VW 1300 and VW 1600TL, come along for appraisal they will demonstrate useful performance to match those other qualities which have made VW the World’s universal car. The “Beetle” doing today what the Austin 7 did pre-war (now, of course, pre-1931 Austin 7s are historic machines, which should be preserved instead of used as hacks, as members of the Vintage Austin Register and the Austin Seven Register of the 750 M.C. well know).
A nice touch of luxury, which would have cost only £1,796 had I been buying it, was provided by a Humber Imperial, a very fully-equipped Thrupp & Maberly saloon, the clock of which was noisier than the 3-litre 6-cylinder engine when the latter was idling. Spoilt for me by soggy suspension and that awful “Hydrosteer” power-steering; until I resigned myself to being a Humber driver and not hurrying, this palatial carriage conveyed me from Wales to Cheshire and back to dine with Maurice Falkner, and represented notable value-for-outlay.
A definite milestone in the year’s motoring was that of getting 760 rapid miles behind me in a Mercedes-Benz 230SL.—in fact I tried two of them, one Automatic, the other with a normal gearbox. I like all the products of Daimler-Benz and these were truly beautiful cars, yet I admit to some disappointment, but not in the road adhesion, which wet or dry is fantastic, nor with the finish or top speed of 120 m.p.h. I expected more acceleration, found the very powerful brakes spongy and a bit indecisive, and did not like either the Automatic or the change-’em-yourself transmissions. I also found the manual steering of the second car altogether too heavy. I preferred the greater charm and individuality of the Fiat 2300S coupe, although had I to choose I would probably decide in favour of the rugged dependability and handsome lines of the very safe and squat Stuttgart product.
Nineteen-Sixty-Five was a good Peugeot year and these endearing French saloons are always possessed of character and sound common-sense. So I was very pleased with the long-legged stride of the fuel-injection Peugeot 404KF2, which displayed the usual Peugeot qualities of quiet-running, remarkable petrol economy and a roomy interior, although the servo brakes were not commendable, having a disconcerting lag. This is a sensible family saloon, very well ventilated and warmed (Peugeot dispensed with quarter-lights long ago), able to exceed 100, m.p.h. and capable of 75 m.p.h. in 3rd gear—yet no-one bothers to call it a GT, or even a TI !
To compare it with the KF2 I drove a normal Peugeot 404 again and this was enjoyable, too, as all Peugeots are, and only 3 1/2-m.p.g. heavier on fuel. Later there was the Peugeot 404D to try and while I am aware that private cars digesting heavy-oil have, with development, become more and more compatible, this Peugeot was quite one of the most acceptable that I have tried. It had enough performance, delivered with not too much harshness, which became apparent in the course of discovering that the journey from Silverstone (where we had been for V.S.C.C. Race Meeting) to my place in Wales is quite painless (on the map it looks frightful), this first occasion being memorable because a gracious hotel in unchanging Chipping Camden produced a light meal when we didn’t require a full-course dinner, pleasantly, quickly, and in the nicest of surroundings. Returning to Hampshire on the Monday we encountered considerable floods and it was comforting to know that the Peugeot’s engine did not rely on electrical sparks or other components adverse to the ingress of dirty water! To be honest, however, I would only want to keep this car if I owned a diesel-fuel supply as well, so that I could really benefit from its 41-m.p.g.
A couple of two-stroke cars which came my way in 1965 were a Saab and a D.K.W. I tried hard to enthuse over the Saab Sport but felt only lukewarm enthusiasm for it at the end of a long test. There is no denying that a Saab is rugged, well-appointed, planned with serious motoring in mind, and that it is rapid indeed round corners and on those unavoidable runs from A to B. It is just that I don’t like its manner of being rapid. I grew tired of continually engaging a lower gear with the steering-column lever in order to make the vociferous if ultra-smooth 3-cylinder engine poke out a bit of power. The Auto-Union D.K.W. F102 wasn’t much more to my liking. I drove it an almost identical mileage to the Saab, using it to attend the Daimler-Lanchester O.C. Rally at Beaulieu, amongst other things, and ended up thinking the steering and braking quite mediocre, the suspension poor. Again there was a steering-column gear-change you had to be continually snatching at, otherwise the triple cylinders felt as if they had swallowed cold semolina pudding. And again there was that terrible craving for petrol, 26.2 m.p.g. compared with 20.9 from the more sporting Saab…. I hope two-stroke fans will understand—after all, if we all had the same preferences we should all marry the same girl!
The N.S.U. Wankel Spider was interesting, mainly because this revolutionary engine proved entirely reliable. It could be set spinning and then forgotten and its solitary sparking plug never had to be changed. The gear lever has to be pumped to get any sort of performance, although if this is done the car— regard it as 1,000 c.c.—is of trite sports-car order, for 99 m.p.h. from a car of this capacity is excellent indeed. In fact, apart from heavy consumption of a grade of lubricating oil it was difficult to buy, the Wankel part of the car earned as much praise as it attracted curiosity. The rest of the car, good finish apart, didn’t do justice to an outstanding power plant innovation, in which I now have every confidence.
Another recent model from the German factory was the N.S.U. 1000L, a 1-litre car with lots of room inside its 2-door body but not much for luggage. This air-cooled transverse-rear-engined o.h.c: 4-cylinder small car from Neckarsulm had a delightful gear change, the expected high-class paint-job and finish, but became too noisy when cruising at over 65mph. (I concede that Fraser, before he resigned, had made this acceptable!) and at anything over that speed developed front-wheel shake if the surface was not absolutely smooth. The fuel economy was good but I had hoped for better, the suspension shock-absorbing but too lively, and side winds caused oversteer. I was not so impressed as I had hoped to be with this ”grown-up” N.S.U.
Apart from the Ford Cortina GT which regular readers will know has served me very well, I drove two other Fords last year, a Ford Corsair Crayford convertible which was sufficiently rare to ovate some favourable interest when I took it to the Castle Combe V.S.C.C. Race Meeting, but which went out of production when it became impossible for the makers to get any more 2-door bodies, and the new Ford Corsair V4 of which my impressions, as yet not very favourable, were published in Motor Sport last November.
When not driving road-test cars I continued to use-the Editorial Morris 1100 or 6,800 miles, until it finally expired with an exhausted battery and faulty starter after 28,332 miles. It had emerged from a pretty thorough overhaul, following misfiring and weak brakes, 4,000 miles earlier, only to develop drive-shaft failure. After this had been rectified, and notoriously-frail turn control broke and the doors still couldn’t be locked. Not very satisfactory, but it is difficult to resist the famous lssigonis concept, for the combination of f.w.d. and Hrydrolastic rubber independent suspension gives cornering power (enhanced in this case by Dunlop SP41 tyres) and comfort which are outstanding among lightweight cars, while the interior space in relation to parking size still impresses me after half-a-dozen years’ continuous experience of B.M.C. small cars. Indeed, last year, apart from the B.M.C. products already referred to, I extended this experience by driving Minis at both ends of the spectrum, a Morris Mini de luxe and a 998-c.c. Austin Mini-Cooper, the former with that unpleasant gear change that calls for “under arm bowling” to throw the ratios in, but which gave really excellent petrol economy, while the Cooper had a quite intolerable driving seat, a heavy thirst for fuel, and vibrated as furiously as an Edwardian monster when idling. Just before the year ran out I made re-acquaintance with the M.G. 1100, which went a considerable way towards re-establishing my faith in B.M.C. small cars, albeit I still think the twin-carburetter engine should poke out more power, and when the driver’s door refused to be locked in the first week of “ownership” it was apparent that it was following the Morris 1100 as a car-snatcher’s delight. In fact, this M.G. was the first car I drove in 1966, when going to fetch my youngest daughter from a New Year’s Eve party—tempus, confound it, fugit.
That’s about it, except for limited experience of the new f.w.d. Triumph 1300 over Welsh gradients during its coming-out party (a car of considerable ingenuity in basic specification and interior details, I didn’t drive it long enough to form a true opinion), an old model 3-speed Vauxhall Cresta which overlapped from the 1964 test programme, and a Vauxhall Velox, also a 1964 3-speeder, which performed yeoman service towing a vintage Leon Bollee commercial vehicle (generously given to me by the L.C.C. Parks Committee) from Surrey to mid-Wales, on a very useful trailer lent by Rootes.
There was also an Ian Walker-modified Vauxhall Viva and, although D.S. J. has remarked that I did not respond well to “going down on my hands and knees” to drive real GT cars, I did try the flat-six Porsche 911, in pouring rain on indifferent roads, while he was testing it—and who better, with his previous experience of Porsche cars ? Even in this restricted run the 911 convinced me it was a very real motor-car, exceptionally good window area, heavy but precise steering, the splendidly solid “one-piece” feel of a Porsche and road-holding unperturbed by rough roads, being items especially in its favour. D.S.J.’s impressions of this very fast Porsche will be found on pages 109 to 112, and last year he also reported on the Marcos 1800 and took a Lotus Elan to Sicily and back. Other specialised cars road-tested by Motor Sport in 1965 included an Alan Fraser racing Hillman Imp and another Lotus Elan. I missed trying an Elan myself while such cars were still worthwhile on British roads, which I regret deeply; it seems there may yet be plenty of time, however, for when driving the Sunbeam Alpine GT I caught up with an elderly gentleman in overcoat, scarf and bowler hat, smoking a pipe, in one of Colin Chapman’s very fast, glued-to-the-road sports cars !
Vintage and Veteran affairs were not entirely neglected last year. I took the 1904 Brighton Museum Brushmobile through the Brighton Run, rode With Louis Giron in a 1914 model-A14 Albion lorry on the Commercial Vehicle Brighton Run, grappled with a monstrous Renault 45 tourer, spent a warm and entertaining day sampling Vauxhall Motors’ Vauxhalls of 1905-1926, had a fleeting encounter with a tired 1931 Sunbeam Sixteen Tickford saloon and investigated a number of pre-war Rolls-Royce cars. (The last-named made me curious to know whether, say, a contemporary straight-eight Daimler might not possess, if not the magic, at least much of the merit of the better-known R.-R. cars ?) There was, too, an unforgettable drive through the streets of Wolverhampton in Rootes’ throaty 1924 GT. Sunbeam, with John Rowe as pilote, heading the cavalcade which forms part of the annual S.T.D. Rally, an occasion when I saw the mobile police in a very enthusiastic and human frame of mind, and a successful 160-mile journey in my middle-daughter’s 1934 £7 Austin 10/4 (no inflated prices here!) which seems to have been considerably more reliable than a later and larger pre-war Austin used by a contemporary weekly for its Christmas road-test. I also found time to judge a few (car) beauty shows and marshal a number of vintage-car events, to show I am an enthusiast at heart!
So there it is, or was—another full year of driving and reporting on a diverse selection of motor-cars. Motoring represents for many of us a way of life; indeed, I would have said it was man’s most popular and engrossing pastime; we must fight strenuously for our right to enjoy the freedom of the road.—W. B.