My Year's Motoring
The Editor looks back on the cars he drove in 1967
Once again it is time for me to summarise the road-tests I did for Motor Sport last year and to look back generally at motoring in 1967. It was in some ways a less satisfactory year for me than others, but that was true of the outlook in general, apart from personal recollections. I drove fewer cars than I did in 1966, over a rather lesser mileage. I was committed to matters here which kept me from going abroad and getting off the ground in a flying machine, for the entire period. I did not get for test purposes quite all the cars I had wanted to try, nor many truly exciting ones.
I did, however, contrive to cover 29,514 miles in 36 different vehicles, and a good many more as a passenger, without accident, conviction or any kind of brush with our friends the Police, maybe more by luck than good judgment. This surely proves to some extent that it is possible to motor far and fast without inviting dire disaster and calamity? If the horrors of the roads, as depicted in expensive Government propaganda and on wayside posters, were real, half of Motor Sport's readership, which is composed of keen drivers who like powerful and rapid motor cars, would presumably long ago have disabled or liquidated itself. Yet this is far from being the case. Indeed, our circulation continues to rise at a very healthy rate, so that we can go on claiming, vide the 1967 Earls Court Motor Show Official catalogue, "the highest net sale of any motoring journal in the country, certified by the Audit Bureau of Circulations"—a fact which I trust will not be overlooked by those manufacturers whose products are not mentioned hereafter, for the very simple reason that they were not submitted to us for test.
Indeed, before I begin to write about the cars I did drive in 1967, let me think about those I didn't. Although Motor Sport's new-look embraces the American scene, the only example of those vast, mostly-casually-braked and softly suspended, but very powerful, Yankie sedans I sampled was a Chevrolet Camaro, which, however, is quite one of the best-handling of its enormous kind. The new overhead-camshaft Vauxhalls never came my way; on the day of Luton's Press preview I was lunching with a Public Relations Manager from the great General Motors organisation, which sponsors Vauxhall. Then there was only one Alfa Romeo, and that not by any means the most exciting of the range, but now that my old friend Barrington-Needham, who used to look alter Citroën publicity, is in charge of Alfa's public affair's. I am sure this will soon be rectified. The only Fiat I got my hands on was a tiny Giardiniera, at the very end of the year, although I am avid for twin-cam 124S and the 125. However, D.S.J. did report very favourably on the 2-litre Fiat Dino, tried while he was in Italy. It has been a great disappointment to other writers besides myself that the four-wheel-drive Maxaret-braked Jensen FE has not been made available for test. The Daimler Sovereign, alias Jaguar 420, and the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow were both missed, but this was no fault of the impeccable Jaguar or R-R Press offices, because a special task I had reserved for the Daimler evaporated, while, having decided that the Silver Shadow is not the kind of car one should attempt to analyse in this speed-restricted country, I was waiting to take it to Spain when printing deadlines made this impossible, although I did have a few smooth miles in the latest Rolls-Royce, in this country.
Now let me consult my Dunlop diary and Ferodo scribbling pads and recap. on those cars I did try in 1967. For three months I had the use of one of the latest twin-cam Ford Cortina-Lotus saloons, as well as doing a normal-duration test of this car earlier in the year. In a matter of just under 4,000 miles neither of these cars gave any anxiety, except that a faulty constant-voltage regulator had to be changed on the second of them. They provide exceptionally good performance, delivered with notable smoothness from an engine which is commendably quiet for a high-output twin-cam unit. The fuel economy is remarkable, too, unless a lot of wide-open throttle is indulged in, when the m.p.g. figure moves from around 27 to much nearer 20. The oil smoke from the exhaust, after starting-up causes one to anticipate a rather heavier oil thirst than that of a push-rod Cortina GT. But this is not excessive and the fun provided by the Lotus-powered version of the splendidly-utilitarian Cortina, with its excellent means of ventilating its interior and the capacity of its body and boot make this a car I would be very happy to own. The road-holding, ruggedness and reliability of this family-type car are a tribute to development-through-rallying, as we tried to emphasise in a special article in the May issue.
Another car of which I had extended experience was a B.M.C. Austin-Healey Sprite Mk. IV, with the 1,275 c.c. engine, and a revised hood in conjunction with wind-up windows. I drove far fewer miles than I would have wished in this happy and handy little car, because it was always being snatched away by one or other of three daughters. It does not handle quite like a thoroughbred, had rather stiff steering, it is very noisy within, and the gear change, controlled by a high-set lever, is notchy. But it is fun, it is safe, and it enables one to enjoy a lot of fresh air without getting chilled, which was really the object of the exercise. The hood, very easy to erect and stow, was down even on November days; with it up visibility remains good, thanks to the transparent panels in the rear quarters. We ran this Sprite for 5,112 miles and I would still be using it, if it had not skidded on the pre-Christmas sheet-ice into a lamp post and clobbered a wing when someone else was driving it. Driven hard, serviced only once, this Sprite gave well in excess of 30 m.p.g., and no trouble apart from a leaking oil-filter. It always started promptly from cold after standing out for days on end. It was a very acceptable additional car, in a family embracing young and enthusiastic drivers.
The biggest mileage I did in a single car was nearly 8,800, in the editorial Rover 2000 TC. It is a car which never fails to please me, on account of its comfort, its dignity, its so-sensibly-arranged controls (even if it takes a few minutes to locate some of them if the car has not been used for a week or so), its unfailing ability to commence after thus standing idle, and its good braking, handling and accelerative qualities. I am told by some owners that I shall run into horrible troubles as the mileage mounts, by others that they have had completely trouble-free service from these individualistic British cars. I can only remark that, serviced once, at the 5,000-mile interval, this Rover, apart from tending to stall, and momentarily to lose a plug, has failed me only twice—when the fuel reserve supply didn't function and when the bonnet-release toggle "came off in me 'and." The brakes make a rubbing noise for the first few applications after the car has been standing overnight but the discs thereafter remain absolutely free from squeal, the gear change is still stiff but on long acquaintance, less unpleasant than I expected, the seats and the ride are superbly comfortable (my wife emphatically confirms this) and the o.h.c. engine has an easy time on account of high gearing, which causes third and second gears to be used frequently, while acceleration is so unobtrusive that one tends to be surprised at how rapidly the Rover gets through the traffic gaps, while always confident that it will do so.
The reserve fuel supply, those external sidelamp indicators, the so convenient storage bins before driver and passenger, the dependable self-winding Kienzle clock, the choke-light which comes on when mixture enrichment is not required, the precision with which the bootlid shuts, the friction adjustment of the front-seat reclining squabs, and other small items have considerable appeal and emphasise the depth of character with which the Rover 2000 is endowed. The editorial car is in standard form except for a chromium MRA "Nevarust" exhaust pipe extension and "Cannon" removable foot-mats in the front compartment. I have not yet got around to having Cibié fog and spot lamps fitted.
Faster than it looks, quiet-running, supremely sure-footed and safe on those Cinturato tyres (which in spite of plastic valve caps, hold constant pressures for long periods), giving 27 m.p.g. of 5-star on long runs, and using no Castrolite between sump drainings at 5.000-mile intervals, I have never had a better inmate of the garage than this Rover 2000 TC. The Smiths Radiomobile radio has an excellent tone and gives considerable pleasure.
The only road-test car on loan for a normal period in which I achieved a four-figure mileage was a Mercedes-Benz 250SE saloon. It charmed me, as always, to be riding again behind the triple-pointed star, in a very comfortable driving seat adjustable exactly as required, with the controls nicely placed and a very fine automatic gearbox having effective over-ride control. This 7-bearing 6-cylinder fuel-injection saloon is not cheap, but it gives 118 m.p.h. and 19½ m.p.g., and dignity and comfort in full measure. But, having for so long quoted these cars as the finest all-round automobiles in the World, I was disappointed that the prop.-shaft worked loose after a mere 800 miles. . . .
I covered almost 1,000 miles in that newcomer to post-war Britain, the Opel Rekord saloon, this one with the 1.9-litre high-camshaft engine. It did not altogether meet with approval in respect of handling and steering but is very adequately endowed with amenities, gave good fuel economy, and has a nice 4-speed gearbox, apart from heavy spring-loading of the gear lever. This Opel took me comfortably and willingly from my Welsh hideout to the vast tyre-manufactury at Fort Dunlop, of which all Britishers can be justifiably proud, a run during which its 350-mile fuel-range was appreciated but its badly adjusted Bosch headlamps were not.
Another car in which I completed quite a distance was a Ford Corsair 2000E, in which mechanical changes to the V4 engine, including Weber carburation, have effected worthwhile improvements, although all roughness has not been eliminated. Very fast on a cross-country journey on account of its good acceleration, this Corsair gave 26.7 m.p.g. of premium petrol, is lavishly equipped for a car of this price, and proved generally acceptable, apart from a squeak from a steering-column bush and a horrid handbrake. I tried a Vauxhall Viscount and a Citroen DS21 over virtually identical distances. They are poles apart, of course, the former making its appeal through the medium of leather upholstery, electric window-lifts and a vinyl covered roof, the latter on account of its glued-to-the-road cornering, extremely high level of ride (no pun intended) and seating comfort, and highly unconventional controls. I see that I summed-up the 100+ m.p.h. Viscount by saying it may not appeal to enthusiasts but is a fine proposition for those who wish to combine spaciousness and comfort with the status symbol, and who have less than £1,500 to spend. I concluded the Citroën report with the words: ". . . Citroën enthusiasts need no convincing and indeed are likely to criticise me for daring to suggest that this 'legendary dream car' (I quote from the catalogue) has any shortcomings or that any car is superior to it." I still feel uncertain how much praise or criticism should be bestowed on this remarkable car in 1968; I do not entirely like it, yet a hurried run from Radnorshire almost to the Home Counties one summer evening, after we had been held up by water pump failure (estate, not car), left me with a very warm respect for this unique f.w.d. car. However you regard it, the DS is a magnificent piece of engineering.
I began 1967 with a Ford Cortina GT, about which I need not add any further praise to that which I have bestowed so often on this car since I first made its acquaintance, except to say that it went on and on without developing any shortcomings, and was truly thrifty of fuel, so that I forgave it a choppy ride, vague steering, and a somewhat "Model-T" interior—cornering was assisted materially by the wide-base rims shod with Cinturatos. Now, of course, the best of both worlds, Corsair Executive and Cortina GT, have been blended in the excellent Ford 1600E, distinguished by its distinctive if deceptive wheels. As a page was devoted to this new 1600E last month there is no need to add anything here.
Writing of Fords, I was able to gain belated experience of the big V6 Ford Executive in January last year, going down to Bath in it to talk about G.W.K.s. I said at the time that it seemed better to regard this 3-litre de luxe version of the Zodiac Mk. IV as a scaled-down American-type automobile with brakes and interior decor to British standards, rather than as a rival of established luxury cars. Regarded thus, its rather too supple suspension—Ford's i.r.s. has not quite done the trick, in a cornering sense—slightly odd power steering and adequate rather than powerful servo disc brakes are acceptable. I thought the rest of the car quite well contrived; it had a sliding roof and D1/D2 positions for the 3-speed Cruise-o-Matic transmission. Quite why these largest of the Dagenham Fords have not made the sales-chart grade is difficult to decide (they got off to a slippery start on the original Goodyear G8 tyres but road-clinging is fairly satisfactory on radial-ply G800s—and 440 miles was all too short an experience of one for me to find out). The only other Ford of 1967 was the V6 Savage but the one I was lent never got going on all six and tended to part at the seams, which was a great disappointment.
A car I was extremely fond of, but which was really at the tail-end of a long-duration 1966 test, was the M.G. 1100 saloon. It brings a touch of dignity and quality into the small-car orbit and I think it will be extremely difficult for new cars of this swept-volume to match it under the headings of comfortable-ride, safe-handling and that elusive but so valuable performance characteristic, "dodgeability." And, note, B.M.C. fitted disc front brakes to all their 1100s, long ago. . . .
The Chevrolet Camaro was borrowed at the beginning of the year so that a colleague who has since left us could compare it with the Ford Mustang. But I had nearly 500 miles in this 350SS with 350 Cu. in. 290 b.h.p. Turbo-Fire "general street engine." I don't like the size of American cars. I don't usually like their interior decor or external styling. I didn't like lots of things this Camaro. In a £3,000 car the uncomfortable non-reclining driving seat, the body rattles, the minimal grip from the Firestone Super Sports tyres on wet roads, the too-high facia crash-padding and electrically-closed windows that functioned only when you had the ignition on, were very unsatisfactory, and I was astonished to be told I had over-revved when doing only 112 m.p.h. The power steering was vague and the instrument styling awful. Yet, after all that, I still admire the ultra-smooth Powerglide transmission and the tremendous acceleration, and road-holding and disc front brakes are a big advance of these items as I have experienced them on other cars from across the Atlantic.
A Vauxhall Viva SL90 behaved nicely—the very light controls are remembered (although a very light clutch is less exceptional if you have driven the newest Cortinas). The vast improvement in road-holding and fast cornering of this Avon-shod Brabham-inspired SL90 was fully appreciated. Alas, though the road clinging is "B.M.C. excellent", the new coil rear springing is terribly harsh, nor was fuel economy anything but a cause for anxiety—or would have been had I bought this car. Another, larger family conveyance I enjoyed "exploring" because it was a new model was the Hillman Hunter. I was sad that the once-individualistic and luxury-flavoured Rootes Group cars have been replaced by "Coventry Cortinas" but I attempted a comparison in the April issue. Performancewise, the Hunter was about mid-way between a Cortina 1500 and a Cortina GT (Ford have since brought out the crossflow engine) and on the whole I was favourably impressed with this newcomer. It handled well of its kind, on Dunlop SP41s, whereas a Humber Sceptre which was taken over after Christmas as the first test car of 1968 had a very lurchy ride and poor road-holding, perhaps because it is on C41s. This luxury Humber, which must be for executives because its roof is covered in vinyl, will be dealt with next month. Interesting that Rootes cribbed Ford's "Aeroflow" air vents, whereupon Ford altered their vent controls to the (inferior) Rootes pattern. . . .
I wasn't able to shake off family cars last year, so it was in a Simca 1501GLS that we went swiftly by the back-doubles from Hampshire to Brands Hatch for the Passion Sunday Meeting and I discovered that nice Mr. Webb had kept a front-row seat in the Press box for me, after all these years when I have not attended a single meeting. So I enjoyed the racing, but not the Simca, which seemed out-dated, supple and spongy, with a nasty rubbery gear change and a top speed of 75 m.p.h. against the collar, although it is very spacious and fairly comfortable. But having published these views, Simca fans were up and at me, reminder that what is a nice car to one man, will seem mediocre to another. It was the same with the Volvo 144S. I have great respect for the older Volvos, having been to Sweden and seen how they are made, but I just do not think the present 144 has kept pace with advances made by other manufacturers. The engine is noisy, the ride too lively, the body and steering shake over bad roads, the car rolls on corners, there is transmission snatch, the gear change is notchy, and the steering is vague and too low-geared. An experienced Volvo owner agreed with me but the make's staunch supporters would have nothing of it, although most of them were basing their arguments on the earlier models, which I had not discussed.
One of the highlights of the year was the Frazer Nash-B.M.W. 2000TI, a really roomy family car of very real performance and impeccable road manners. It is a bit difficult to discover where B.M.W. ends and Frazer Nash takes over (final drive wasn't by chains), but what a nice car this is! It will go to 85 m.p.h. in third and they tell me that the smooth 5-bearing engine can be cruised at 110 m.p.h. once you are out of Barbara Castle's clutches; it tends to become noisy as the revs. rise and the ride is more lively than I like, but this is an excellent car costing well below £2,000 at the time of our test. Another Continental saloon I tried was the Audi Super 90, of which the 10.6 to 1 c.r., Heron-head engine is the best part. This efficient 27 m.p.g. power unit puts 62½% of the weight over the driven front wheels, which causes strong understeer, which four-turns-lock-to-lock steering and howling Metzeler tyres make a bore. The light-grained wood of the facia and surround is, said my passenger, reminiscent of sitting in a coffin (although I do not think he speaks from actual experience) and the steering-column gear stalk is not pleasant to use. Individual, nicely finished, no doubt very durable, yes. But a Rover 2000TC is almost as economical, and a much nicer proposition to drive. . . .
On the subject of Rovers, whose factory I visited during the year, I find the quantities of "auntie Rovers," the old P4 models, still in service quite overwhelming, and a fine tribute to Rover longevity. Which is why I ran a special article about them, last May; incidentally, the Continental Correspondent has a Rover 90, a "Universal Aunt" he keeps as a standby for the Jaguar E-type.
The new 3.5-litre Rover V8 was tested rather hurriedly at Motor Show time, too recently for it to merit any further mention now, except to say that I liked it very much, found its urge and road manners much improved over those of the former "Great Aunts," and feel that people who would like a Rolls-Royce Cloud but never buy used cars will find much of the character and dignity they seek in this "Buick-powered" car from Solihull.
On an occasion when I was short of transport the ever-obliging and efficiently-operated Rootes Group Press service came to my aid, providing a well-appointed and willing Singer Gazelle as a tender car when I went on the H.C.V.C. Brighton Run in a 1914/18 Wolseley WD lorry. And before the editorial Rover materialised, Renault coughed up a Renault 10, which appeals in that special way Renaults have, is lively, nice to handle, and conveys a sense of dependability, so that I regret that the Gordini version has not yet come my way.
I drove more than 500 miles in an Alfa Romeo Giulia 1300TI. There is something about an Alfa. . . . Actually, this one, claimed to be "the most powerful 1360 saloon in volume production," proved boringly slow on the highest gear of its 5-speed box, its pedals are awkwardly hung, the all-disc brakes were apt to rub or squeal, while the seats and instruments are nothing to enthuse over. The wonderful sound of the twin-cam engine and the fine controllability alone make me anxious to get to grips with the faster cars of this breed. The 1300TI asks too much of its driver and the agents ask too much money for it, in my opinion.
What else? Well, the little Honda S800 was interesting for the ability of its 791 c.c. roller-bearing twin-cam engine to go to 9,000 r.p.m., so that it was about the equal of an M.G.-B on acceleration, but was otherwise just a rather nice well-finished small sports car, with very limited luggage space and heavy on fuel, but which my daughters loved to be seen in. An Austin 1800 Crayford estate-car made light of great loads on its low-loading floor and gave me a reminder of what a splendid car the biggest model to the Issigonis formula would be if it had not just missed the sales-boat, primarily because of low-geared steering, and poor detail work. I want to try a power-steered Wolseley 18/85, even though a colleague had the steering convert itself from power to manual under awkward circumstances, during the Press preview! I was pleased to have further experience of the Peugeot 404 estate-car, because this is truly a sports station-wagon, which handles extremely well, is very nice to drive and is outstandingly economical, while blending practicability with individuality, from the gear-gate layout onwards, as only Peugeot knows how. I rate it the best of the bigger estate cars. I did a few exhilarating miles in a Morris Mini Cooper S with special seats and its suspension set up to perfection by hydrolastic-wizard Alex Moulton himself (whose ingenious bicycles continue to serve us well), which unfortunately made both D.S.J. and W.B. feel sick. . . . We were placated by driving briefly a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, which Moulton had thought of buying. We found the ride to be the finest we had ever experienced, at the expense of much roll when cornering—he decided to keep his S-type Bentley. . . .
And that's about it. I went to enough race meetings to be able to claim that I am conversant with the job in hand (rather as C. G. Grey, the inimitable Editor of The Aeroplane before the war, used to go up once a year, so that he could spend the remaining 364 days preaching how dangerous it was to fly), of which I enjoyed those organised by the V.S.C.C. Right at the end of last year I made good use of that most excellent of economy cars, the Fiat 500 Giardiniera folding-roof bijou estate-car, the sort of thing we shall all need soon, if the £ goes on getting itself devalued. Able to buzz along at an indicated 58 m.p.h., the tiny Fiat kept us very warm in spite of air-cooling, and nursed a bit, ran 51 miles on a gallon of 55. petrol, while its coggy gear change and quick steering are fun, and fine for competing in traffic drag-races. But how owners who are not dwarfs can tolerate the blind-spot left by the wipers on r.h.d. models I cannot understand, nor is general vision from within this Fiat at all good. I did a bit of vintage motoring in 1967, driving the 1930 Sunbeam "glasshouse" I share with D.S.J. more than 1,300 miles, partly through attending various S.T.D. rallies. I used the 1953 VW when there was nothing else around, and rode the 1912 492 c.c. Sunbeam "combo" for fun and fresh-air on Boxing Day.
Lord Montagu took me on the Brighton Run in the 1903 F.I.A.T., I attended an excellent Air Display at Old Warden, and followed D.S.J.'s Big-Load in the Sprite, which proved amply handy and accelerative for this specialised task.
There were a few other bright lights. We presented that Petition to Mrs. Castle, who has ignored it. I protested in print about public money being wasted on unnecessary road-signs, and received a rocket from a reader who thought I had parked the Rover unwisely while taking a photograph; in fact, I was far from the bend in question and the road was blocked at the time by a lorry; the significant thing is that when I went that way months later, no signs had been attached to the new poles—what a waste of money. . . . ! We had the traditional Stand at Earls Court and met many friends, we moved into brand new offices, and we prepared for printing Motor Sport with a colour section. Now it is starting all over again, with the road-tests, race meetings, vintage outings and hours of typewriter tapping of 1968. . . .
As tyres are in the news these days I will conclude by stating that of the test-cars I drove, 11 were on Dunlop, five on Pirelli, five on Michelin, four on Goodyear, two on Avon and one each was on Firestone Phoenix, Kleber Colombes, Firestone, Continental and India tyres. I am using Pirelli on the Rover, India Autoband on the VW and Dunlops on the vintage Sunbeam. For driving and walking I find "Jim Clark Autostrada" shoes very comfortable but effeminate looking (did Clark, I wonder, wear a pair while winning the S. African G.P. so convincingly for Lotus-Cosworth?). I have kept warm in a Castrol coat and dry, in Castrol oilskins, while my Bardic torches and Breitling Navitimet wrist-chronograph have continued to function reliably as they have done for many years, and my Ritepoint ball points never fall apart and seem in exhaustable. All my cars, and any test cars that have needed topping-up, have been run on Castrol oil. And that, I think, disposes of my journalistic responsibilities for another twelve months and enables me to resume my more natural role of motoring enthusiast!