My Year's Motoring
The Editor looks back on the cars he drove during 1968
According to Gilbert and Sullivan the policeman’s lot is not a happy one. Which I can believe, in this age of riot and siege. Conversely, a motoring writer’s life is generally believed to be a continual jolly, with a continual stream of exciting new cars to drive, frequently to the more delectable places on the Continent of Europe, punctuated by gastronomic orgies every few hours. This, from personal experience, I must sadly refute. Last year, what with editing Motor Sport, dealing with its correspondence, driving approximately one different car per week, and visiting such race meetings as I was able to fit in, I did not once leave this country or go aloft in a flying machine. And when race meetings and other competitions were attended it was mainly a question of holding a notebook in one hand, a Biro in the other, and seeing the event as a succession of racing numbers going by! Nevertheless, in spite of living in an age of financial burdens imposed by bad Government, strikes, riots, violence and crime of all kinds, not to mention floods and sit-ins, and accidents on the roads, on the railways and to air liners, which has again been our lot as another Year started, I remain an avid motoring enthusiast, especially for the older cars, and find driving road-test cars a remarkably stimulating way of spending time when not at the Office.
Because a considerable portion of our readership (and I see from the 1968 Earls Court Motor Exhibition Catalogue that this journal has the highest net sale of any motoring paper in the country, figures certified by the A.B.C.) is kind enough to tell us that they follow closely what we write about new cars, because quite a number of them purchase cars directly as a result of our findings, and because many of them write letters to us agreeing or disagreeing with the comments in Motor Sport road-test reports, I think it worthwhile to provide this annual summing up of cars driven in the previous twelve months, as a quick re-cap of the motoring I did in 1968.
So, consulting my personal Dunlop diary, thoughtfully provided by Mr. Dick Jeffrey, I see that I did reasonably well, driving 52 different motor cars last year, and covering a total mileage of 32,880, without any clash with our friends the police. Not all the cars I would have liked to try came to us, by any means. For example, although I have long held the view that Daimler-Benz of Stuttgart make the best engineered automobiles in the World, an opinion I have frequently expressed in print without, apparently, offending my good friends at Crewe and Conduit Street, not a single Mercedes-Benz was offered to me for test in 1968, nor was I invited to send anyone to the preview of what the great German Company called “its New Generation of Models”, when these were released to the Press many months ago. So memory of this make remains that of a 250SE, sampled in 1967, which tried to shed its propeller shaft after a mere 800 miles. All the Citroën range, likewise, remained elusive, and Peugeot, when they were ready to announce their keenly-anticipated 504, made a fine nonsense of the Press arrangements, with a result that Motor Sport, not able to rush off at the eleventh hour, with a pause to buy our own ticket at the airline ticket-office, has yet to drive this new French car, of which glowing reports have appeared in one or two places. As a one-time Issigonis follower, willing to bow down before the gods of f.w.d. and East-West power-packs. It was disappointing, too, that nearly a year went by before I was able to try the B.M.C. 1800 in its latest form with power steering. Another car which escaped us until it has almost ceased to be topical, is the N.S.U. RO80, the test of which was first “on” and then “off”, as messages came in from N.S.U.’s publicity people in this country. The latest I have heard is that all RO80s have been recalled until right-hand-drive models are available, so a personal opinion still cannot be given; from being a 1967 “Car of the Year” in certain quarters, this twin-Wankel-powered N.S.U. is now regarded by critics as still a good car but one not deserving of quite such high laurels.
Nineteen-sixty-eight went by without a Lotus Elan corning to me, but this was entirely my own fault, because Colin Chapman’s publicity department not only offered a 2 + 2 to the Editor, but said that if he had difficulty in keeping the Continental Correspondent away from it they would be willing to provide two of these cars, so that we could drive away in opposite directions. It was merely a matter of time and finding a suitable journey on which to enjoy the renowned Lotus performance and road-holding that prevented this test from taking place. I tried only two Fords last year, no cars from Standard-Triumph, while some of the much-raved-about Japanese products also escaped us. Nevertheless, the test programme did not go too badly and was enormous fun, with cars from the humble noisy Honda N360 and useful Reliant Rebel to the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow and Jensen FF to drive, experience of the twin-Wankel rotary poppet-valveless engine provided by the very excellent Mazda 110S, fresh air in the old sports-car tradition inhaled in good measure in a Morgan Plus-8, and the chance coming at last to form an opinion of the much discussed Reliant Scimitar and the Gilbert Genie. It was pleasing also to be able to form personal ideas about the twin-cam Fiat 125 saloon, the Vauxhall Victor 2000 with its belt-driven overhead camshaft, and a Rover almost exactly like the one I use as Editorial transport, but endowed with the light-alloy ex-General Motors V8 power unit. Writing “General Motors” reminds me, however, that no vast American automobiles were offered for test last year and although these may not be at their best in the overcrowded, narrow and sinuous roads of this little country, for smoothness in automatic transmission, quiet running, traditional dependability, and comfort, particularly in the sense of spacious interiors, these vehicles are virtually unbeatable; especially as their road-holding improves year by year, and when they get disc brakes some of them should compete quite seriously with the sporting products of Britain and Europe. Moreover, one gathers that they last a very long time, a quality stemming perhaps from the durable Chevrolet “Cast-Iron Wonder Stove Bolt Six” of four or more decades ago.
If I were asked, as I am asked, which is the most commendable car I tried in 1968 I would reply, without much hesitation, the B.M.W. 2002. After my appetite had been whetted at a B.M.W. party at the Wendover Club (and subsequently satisfied, but that is another story), where I discovered that I disliked the clutch action and the rubber gear-lever knob of a B.M.W. 1600, I was able, later in the year, to drive more than 1,100 miles in a 2002. I have almost nothing but praise for this car and it did not have the 135-b.h.p. TI engine, either! But the one hundred horses it did have got this compact two-door saloon along effortlessly and endowed it with ample performance, if 93 m.p.h. in third gear merits such comment. It handles pretty impeccably, like all the more recent B.M.W.s, is functionally equipped, and accelerates in a hard purposeful manner. If one must criticise, the all-round independent suspension has a rather lively action over rough roads.
I see that the greatest mileage I covered last year in a road-test car was done in a Mazda 1500 de-luxe saloon which turned out to be somewhat disappointing, because the twin-Wankel-engined sports Mazda had set such high standards previously. The “square” o.h.c. 1,490-c.c. 4-cylinder engine was both smooth and flexible, but lacked power. Vibrations were transmitted through the bodyshell and gear lever and the car was badly in need of discs to replace its drum brakes. High-revving engines are chicken-feed to Japanese designers and the five-bearing engine ran smoothly to an excess of 6,000 r.p.m. It was also notably economical, giving 34 m.p.g. on a long run. But it didn’t start all that easily and, eventually expired, sans sparks.
The type L10A Mazda 110S sports-coupé was quite a different matter. This Elan of Japan, with its De Dion back axle, admittedly on leaf springs, good rack-and-pinion steering. and disc/drum brakes, belied its rather “boulevard” appearance. It could be flung through corners, possessed a high degree of “dodgeability”, and providing one was prepared to keep its twin-Wankel rotary engine at between 5,000 and 7,000 r.p.m. it went extremely well. Moreover, the revolutionary engine gave no trouble whatsoever, in spite of hard driving. So I am sorry that you can no longer buy Mazdas in Britain.
Another car that gave me a four-figure mileage was a Fiat 125. Here is a big family carriage with a “square” 1.6-litre 90-b.h.p. 4-cylinder engine having belt-driven twin-overhead camshafts. This isn’t intended to be a sports car or even a sports saloon, it rides in a rather lurchy, lively manner, and neither the steering nor the gearchange are outstanding. But a genuine 100 m.p.h., a standing quartermile in 18½ sec., 28 m.p.g., and a distinctly competitive price make this a family car to enthuse over. It has all the generous equipment for which these Turin cars are noted, full and precise seat adjustment, although unpleasantly slippy upholstery, and the usual Fiat multiplicity of stalks and warning lamps. The engine is smooth up to 7,000 r.p.m., and this was definitely a car I would be happy to have seen a good deal more of.
Single o.h.c, engines are being increasingly used in modern cars, and this made the new Vauxhall Victor 2000 of more than passing interest. Its camshaft is driven by an uncovered notched belt. Unfortunately this 2-litre Vauxhall was disappointing. I did not like its handling characteristics, and it was noisy, both in respect of wind sounds and cacophony from the valve gear. The very low-geared steering was heavy, the ride lurchy and squidgy, and this 1,975-c.c. 5-bearing “four”, which looked so good on paper and which at the time cost less than £1,000, was not, as tested, a car I would wish to have in the home garage. I am sorry to have to report this, because I have a happy relationship with Vauxhall’s publicity staff. I rather think that the Luton company was not at its best during 1968, the Vauxhall Viva having gained much improved cornering at the expense of a very harsh ride, the Ventora I tried suffering from excessive wind noise above 50 m.p.h., although both it and the Victor 2000 Press cars may have been individual defaulters in this respect, and the Viva GT, which I have not yet driven, being rather too gaudy for some tastes. I expect that Vauxhall products will improve greatly in the near future, and I hope that Mr. Marr and Mr. Goatman will give me ample opportunity to discover that this is so, in 1969. The Vauxhall Ventora follows a present and pleasant trend of putting a large lazy power unit (the 3.3-litre push-rod Cresta) into a comparatively small bodyshell. This is an approach to higher performance which is quite acceptable and the Ventora certainly motored effortlessly. Alas, it possessed that all too frequently encountered suspension rate which makes even a laden vehicle emulate a small boat on a choppy sea, switches awkwardly placed on the central console, a surprising lack of interior storage space, not all the amenities expected in a car of this class, a vague gearchange, inadequate ventilation and other shortcomings. But, as I said at the time, those who like this kind of car will like the Ventora, especially as they will get lining along the body sides and a matt-black, vinyl-covered roof for their £1,184.
Chrysler/Rootes are another Company which is fortunate in having an excellently organised Press and Publicity department. When it provided a Humber Sceptre Mk. III saloon for test I was not to know that a Hillman Hunter would wipe everyone’s eye in the Daily Express London/Sydney Marathon. The Sceptre is near enough an executive’s Hunter and as such was palatially equipped for a car of this price class, which has been the hallmark of Rootes products hit a very long time. Not all these luxury touches are to my taste, but this, the only surviving Humber, I see I described as “nicely contrived”. By this I intended to pay tribute to a square-rigged Rootes saloon which will accelerate almost as well as an M.G.-B, do not far short of “the ton” and the twin Stromberg 4-cylinder engine of which was commendably sparing of fuel. Road-holding on cross-ply tyres was nothing to write home about, the spongy steering was rather tiring, the ride soggy, but for the purposes for which it is intended this is a good one, and like many Rootes products had overdrive on third and top gears.
Another Rootes product, the Sunbeam Rapier fastback, made me feel rather foolish, like motoring to the Mansion House pretending to be a Le Mans winner. Non-racing fastbacks have this effect on me, but various people told me how smart and how handsome the Rapier looked and it gives ample headroom for four people. This £1,352 Sunbeam certainly occupies a niche of its own, and offers considerable comfort and very full equipment, although steering geared 4½ turns, lock-to-lock, and a rigid back axle which reminds one of its presence, hardly put it in the sports-racing category. Speaking as its driver, I found the Sunbeam Stiletto a very pleasing, individualistic and quick little car, for it is the Californian bodyshell, propelled by a twin-carburetter Imp Sport light-alloy o.h.c. engine, endowed with vacuum-servo drum brakes and generous “Status” fittings. As a hot little 875-c.c. motor car, its performance and its noise level, with a maximum of 88 m.p.h. from its rear-mounted engine, and that nice gear-change, could not be faulted, and it was comfortable for a vehicle which gave 37 m.p.g. But you just don’t ask your friends to travel in the back of the Stiletto if you wish to keep them, and it is far too expensive, even at the recently-reduced price of £812.
Mr. Barrington-Needham, late of Citroën, now looks after Alfa Romeo publicity in this country, and simply floods us with these splendid cars. Only lack of time prevented me from trying all those he wished me to try, but colleagues got hold of some of them. The Alfa Romeo Giulia Super four-door saloon, which I did road test, provided some memorable motoring. It commenced just before Easter, and once I had shaken off the London traffic congestion which extended as far as Cheltenham, proved the eagerness which any Alfa Romeo, even when endowed with a saloon bodyshell, exudes. It was as happy at 100 m.p.h. as at 70, and had a very useful live-speed gearbox, and glued-to-the-road cornering in spite of quite supple, even faintly-lurchy suspension. The steering was also splendidly accurate, and the styling neat, if hardly elegant. Here is another car following the prevailing cult of putting a big power-unit into a comparatively small vehicle. The 78 x 82 mm. (1,570 c.c.) 112(S.A.E.) b.h.p. engine powers what is virtually the 1309 TI. This adds up to 108 m.p.h., and 0-50 m.p.h. in 8.2 sec. Of all the small capacity Alfa Romeos this one is, as I have said, full of life and the joy of fast travel, yet it conveyed four of us to my place in Radnorshire through the Easter traffic, and back again to Hampshire after the holiday, in as much comfort and security as any good family car, one of the passengers, a lady over 80 years old, being particularly enthusiastic.
From Alfa Romeo to Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow may be going away from the sublime, but most certainly does not verge on the ridiculous, in spite of snide remarks passed about the latest Crewe product by certain writers. I would have liked to have stepped into the latest Rolls-Royce motor carriage at Conduit Street and have driven it virtually non-stop to have a look at Sitges’ banked circuit in Spain.
This proving out of the question, I was content to step into it in London, straight out of a Sunbeam Rapier, and take it down to Monmouthshire, up into the dreary English Midlands, and spend a Sunday morning motoring it as silently and as fast as I could make it go over the deserted roads of the Fen country, on my way back to Hampshire via Essex and London’s East and West Ends. Rather than attempt to summarise what is a complicated and very up-to-date piece of automobile engineering. I prefer to refer those interested to the full Motor Sport report which covered five pages in the issue of May 1968. To my knowledge, at least one person approved of what we said, and bought one. The numbers now on the road confirm that the Silver Shadow will be as popular in its time as the Silver Ghost and Silver Cloud before it. Perhaps the outstanding memory of the car is the very steady and restful ride which the self-levelling suspension provides. The silent running was expected, the suspension had been somewhat stiffened up since the car was first introduced, but the power steering is still extremely light and only after long acquaintance is one likely to approve of it. Moreover, I must be honest and recall that this Rolls-Royce made two lapses from grace, unfortunately, both times under the noses of drivers in aged Fords. The engine stalled when idling, when the power steering was on full lock, and one stop-light failed without the indicator on the facia informing us that this had happened, confusing a Consul driver who thought, that, it was a “turn” signal. The fact is that so close to motoring perfection is the latest Rolls-Royce that these are the kind of insignificant criticisms a tester finds himself making. For instance, I was quite distressed to discover that the speedometer needle was a fraction less steady than those I encountered in Silver Clouds and other Derby- and Crewe-built motor cars in earlier times. . .
Going from the magnificent to something rather more mundane, a Volkswagen 1600TL fastback was sent to us so that we could get to know about its new automatic transmission. For this reason I also drove a Volkswagen 1500 Beetle with semi-automatic transmission. It is getting on for 20 years since I was a rabid VW fanatic although I find it difficult to live this down. (Since those days the insects from Wolfsburg have tended to become rather out of date. I am just about to drive a 411 and may revise my opinion.) But this modern VW 1500 is an extremely flexible town car, and both it and the 1600TL have much improved cornering consequent upon changing from swing axle to trailing-arm i.r.s. The Beetle harboured some of the original shortcomings, which are boldly faced-up-to in VW’s recent clever advertising, this make has not discarded the excellent exterior finish, austere but practical interior, and the sense of being a big car on big long-life tyres. The pedals are still ridiculously situated, but a Beetle that will do 80 m.p.h. and has disc brakes is not to be denied even in this day and age—and the World’s car-buying population still does not show any sign of denying itself ownership of the miracle car from Germany. The fully-automatic 1600TL was another very commendable traffic car, apart from some transmission frenzy at around 35-40 m.p.h., but I would be just as happy with VW’s renowned Porsche synchromesh and 26.2 m.p.g. appears to be a penalty of substituting the fool-proof gearbox for the older transmission which only abject fools could object to.
Cars from Zuffenhausen have eluded the for a very long time and last year I only managed to snatch a brief, but quick, ride in a Porsche 911L Sportomatic, the report on which was done by D. S. L. All the old magic was there, solid construction, safe road-holding, impeccable creature comforts, and that indefinable feel of quality which, for true believers, these air-cooled rear-engined, boxer-motor sports coupés exude. These remarks do not extend to the Sportomatic transmission, which I disliked as much as the Continental Correspondent.
What can I say about an Opel Kadett Rallye coupé, sampled in the snows of winter? Like the egg of the curate, it was good in parts, but as General Motors have introduced a rather confusing run of Opels in recent times and as a rather promising later model coupé was shown at Earls Court, I will pass this one by, except to remember it as a pleasant and unusual little car.
Having had a very good service from the Editorial Rover 2000TC I was naturally very keen to try the new Rover Three-Thousand-Five as soon as it was announced. Indeed, this rich relation of the 2000 range was sent to me before the announcement date. I thrashed it over familiar Welsh roads and was both disappointed and pleased, in about equal proportions. Disappointed because the performance was not quite what I had expected from the 3½-litre V8 light-alloy ex-General Motors power unit; pleased with the improved smoothness and the quieter running. It was difficult to decide whether or not Rover’s notorious understeer was greater in the V8 version but certainly the car was very fast from one point to another and the miles went by very quickly and effortlessly. The Borg Warner automatic transmission was not what I wanted, and as I have promised myself to go on changing gear with my own hand, until old age or arthritis makes this unpalatable, I do not want an automatic Rover, but most emphatically, when Peter Wilks is able to offer the Rover 3000-5 with a four or five-speed manual gear-change, and perhaps with the larger S.U.s used for that splendid experimental Rover mid-engined coupé, I will have no hesitation about changing over from 2000TC to 3000-5. As for the Rover coupé, we devoted considerable space to this last month and the only reason I refrain from saying more about it here is that to harp on the unobtainable is a waste of words.
Last year was also notable for the introduction of a new Ford. Allergy to vaccination, not fear of flying machines, and the aforesaid sparsity of time, stopped me from going to Morocco with my friends from the Press, to try the first of the Escorts, just as this year I have missed going to Cyprus to sample a Capri. However, Fords’ always obliging Public Affairs Department at Watley very soon had me motoring on English roads in a Ford Escort GT. This small saloon from Dagenham proved to have the expected excellent engine and gearchange, but it was noisy from atmospheric as well as from mechanical sources. I thought the ride atrocious, I didn’t like the clutch action or the snatch of the transmission, and the seats could have been more comfortable. Forget, however, that this is a family car, regard it as something sporting; and one has to admit that Ford of Britain’s newest baby corners very well and has steering in keeping with the performance available from its cross-flow, Weber-fed, 71 b.h.p., push-rod engine. This Ford, like a great many before it, was aided in its road-clinging by Pirelli Cinturatos—sensible Ford! The driving position was good, the heating and Aerollow ventilation fully up to the expected standards, but its fuel thirst, driven hard, was about the same as that, of the larger, and in my case better-liked, Cortina GT. Nor did I fall for the placing of the switches controlling lamps and wipers. I now await with impatience the opportunity to road-test the Ford Capri, and I think I would prefer this with the push-rod GT engine rather than with the Lotus-devised twin-cam engine, which seems to have given a great deal of trouble in the London-Sydney Marathon.
Personal experience of a Jaguar 420T convinced me that I didn’t want one, and I feel much the same about the much-publicised, loudly-proclaimed Jaguar XJ6 (which I have not yet driven), at all events until such time as this car has twice as many cylinders as at present. Then, one wonders, will it retain twin o.h.c. above each head? Because if it doesn’t, it will seem just as odd as would a push-rod Alfa Romeo. I am able to commend a VW Combie as a comfortable as well as a very roomy load-shifter, but I only covered a few miles in a Triumph TR5, on which a colleague commented fully and favourably.
The individuality, and honesty, of the Renault 16 proved captivating, and later I was able to try a Renault 16TS, this splendid combination of saloon and station wagon with most comfortable seats and roll-promoting but comfortable suspension having acceleration and speed which the 16 lacks. The biggest of the Renault saloons is certainly a thoroughly individualistic and worthwhile car, although to get at the handbrake and put things into the cubby-hole one needs arms like those of an ape. Incidentally, I was delighted to see that the Assistant Sports Editor of a weekly contemporary reads my road-test reports, for, commenting on a Renault 16TS which he used for covering the R.A.C. Rally, this writer, as enthusiastic as I am about this splendid car from Billancourt, commented that he supposed I was joking when I said that I found the Renault 16TS indistinguishable from the 16 until it was wound up. I fully agree with him that motoring is safer and more relaxed if there is plenty of power in reserve for any situation but I am still trying to understand why he thought I was joking, for I was merely trying to convey that in spite of much enhanced performance the 16TS is no less refined when driven sedately, or even when driven quickly, than the considerably less powerful 16. Surely this experienced writer knows that in many cases where a car is tuned for increased performance it can become rough, unpleasant, and distinctly untractable, low down?
So many people have told me that I was missing a great motoring treat through not having driven the Reliant Scimitar GT in its latest 3-litre form, that this was another one into which I climbed eagerly when it came along for test. My opinions about it were expressed too recently to merit recapitulation, apart from recalling that the gear lever was not where I would have liked to have found it, the minor controls were also in funny places, the seats not comfortable, the ride (here we go again) too lively, but that for economical high performance one cannot fail to be impressed with some aspects of this 120 m.p.h., £1,611 components-car built of plastics. Another Ford V6-powered car which I drove last year was the Gilbern Genie P.1.130. Overlooking a dismal run down through the industrial legion of South Wales to collect it from the pocket-sized factory where it is made with great enthusiasm and care, and a rather sick Tecalemit-Jackson fuel-injection system which made it not worth while to record acceleration figures, this rugged Welsh product was found to have a commendable tendency not to let go of the road when corners were taken quickly, but an unpleasant gear-change similar to that of the Scimitar. I tended to enthuse over this Genie but there are those who say that I was too kind to it! Prom high-performance cars to modern cyclecars, I usually like air-cooled miniatures and can put up with quite a lot of noise and discomfort in return for the sort of fuel consumption that pleases my miserly outlook. Unhappily, the twin-cylinder f.w.d. Honda N360 kicked up such an awful din which I endured for one hot summer’s day when keeping a rendezvous with a 1922 G.N. that I was glad to give it back, especially when the economy was not as good as expected, at 44.5 m.p.g. Indeed, the far more conventional and restful Reliant Rebel estate-car, with a fibreglass body which will not rust, whether or not it cracks, gave a better fuel consumption figure, 47.3 m.p.g., and seemed to me the present-day equivalent of the Austin Sevens which impecunious enthusiasts endured before the war. I am disappointed that nobody has given us a 60/60 small car, i.e., one with a top speed of 60 m.p.h., giving 60 m.p.g. in general driving (any Citroën 2 c.v. enthusiasts who write in will be required to prove their claims!).
A rather unusual Ford tried in 1968 was a Ford 1600 Cortina GT with estate-car body, a quite excellent wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing which lived up to all the praise I have bestowed on the Cortina GT in the past, although any body less entitled to the initials GT it is hard to visualise. Real sports-car motoring returned with the advent of the Morgan Plus-8, which combines dragster-like straight-line acceleration with the crudest road-holding and suspension in the game. It even retains the harsh Moss gearbox of the Morgan Plus-4 and earlier Jaguars. It accelerates and goes on accelerating like nobody’s business but Peter Wilks’. The long awaited Jensen FF was reported on last month, and it is difficult in a few words to convey the feeling of safety which its quite uncanny road-holding and anti-lock braking provides. Perhaps I should have driven the Jensen Interceptor before and not after I had tried the FF, but I certainly did not approve of its handling characteristics on the Dunlop cross-ply tyres with which Jensen Motors turn it out. The road test of the Datsun 1600 de-luxe appeared too recently to require further comment here, except to say that in the disappearance of corrected page proofs made us give it twin-carburetters, whereas its very reasonable performance is achieved with only a single carburetter. A car which I rather enjoyed, in spite of its horrible ride, high noise level, unpredictable steering and not the best of controls, was the N.S.U. 1200 TT. If full use was made of the power available from its rear-mounted air-cooled 4-cylinder o.h.c. engine it went very well, although the extra weight in the tail seems to have caused road-holding and straight-line running to deteriorate. The last cars submitted for road test in 1968 both came from B.M.C., or should I say from British Leyland? The first was a Morris 1800 Mk. II. The original B.M.C. 1800s sounded very promising but fell down in respect of a driving position like that of a “dodge-ems” car, allied to steering geared more for developing the biceps than getting the car smoothly round corners. The latest model has power steering geared 3½ turns lock-to-lock against 3.8 turns of the manual version and 4 1/3 turns of the 1800 I drove in 1964. This considerably improves matters but the road-clinging qualities for which this Issigonis design is noted cannot be exploited to the full until one becomes accustomed to the very light feel of the steering. Some people like Hydralastic suspension, others consider it gives a lurchy, even sick-making ride. I think it is less effective on the 1800s than on the smaller B.M.C. cars and as this Morris was quite noisy, had only a mediocre gear-change, and rather inconvenient push-buttons for the lamps and 2-speed wipers, I only hope it will not be long before the B.M.C. 1500 arrives, to instill new life into this slice of the great Leyland Corporation.
This Morris had a rather flat top-gear performance and a weak pull-out handbrake which Colonel Rixon-Bucknall has shown us to be quite unnecessary, but which the engineers at B.M.C. seem unable to eradicate. Moreover this Morris gave me one of the worst drives I have had for many a year, for at times it tended to stall and run very erratically, which in heavy London traffic around Christmas time is not at all pleasant. As B.M.C.’s Holland Park depot were unable to send out to rectify this, I set off to drive home in it and it died on the level crossing at Sunningdale. Letting it coast into a parking bay just beyond the rails, I walked back to Halfway Garage on the other side of the crossing, where Father Christmas was in the showroom window trying to persuade people to buy new B.M.C. cars. The proprietor kindly came out in a van to assist me, as the mechanics had gone home, but glancing at the pessimistic petrol gauge, he told me it was a disgrace to drive such a fine car with so little petrol in it, and that he would be reporting me to B.M.C. in spite of the fact that I told him I had put a gallon in it at Staines, about eight miles further back. I was left to my fate. The car subsequently re-started and I was able to coax it to Cowley, where it was changed for an M.G. 1300 Mk. II. Clearly the carburation, or the condenser, or more probably the new mechanical under-bonnet fuel pump, were playing up; I was unable to complete my fuel consumption check, although this miserable Morris was giving better than 23 m.p.g.
When the M.G. stalled at the factory gates, and again at the first roundabout, I felt black despair, but this trouble never recurred, although the throttle linkage gave the usual jerky take-off. The fact that B.M.C. small cars are now considerably behind the times was confirmed by the M.G., although the larger engine gives excellent pick-up from 70 to 90 m.p.h., if you do not mind a good deal of noise. Low-speed acceleration is not particularly impressive, the gear-change is knotchy and controlled by a not very inspiring lever, and the driving position with offset pedals not very nice. But the Issigonis cornering power is still there, although the test car had steering, using a small leather-bound wheel, geared 3¼ turns lock-to-lock, which stiffened up alarmingly towards full lock. However, on the whole this M.G. offered useful Christmas transportation, returned 36.9 m.p.g. of 4-star fuel, and started readily in near-Arctic conditions, its cooling system adequately protected by Smith’s Bluecol. I was rather disappointed, however, to find that although this is the latest in the long line of Abingdon products, the push-button control for wipers and lamps are badly planned, for the washers’ button is below the lamps-switch, the choke knob underneath the wipers’ switch. Surely it is not beyond B.M.C.’s capabilities to reverse the locations of these two controls?
I had not been in a B.M.C. Mini for some long time, but last year I drove up to Oulton Park for the V.S.C.C. Race Meeting in a Morris Mini Mk. II 1000. This merely confirmed what I was afraid of, that I had grown out of Mini motoring, not physically, for they are very roomy, but by inclination. The excessive noise, the sliding windows, the crude door-pulls, the stiff steering, the rather uncomfortable seats, the heavy clutch, a tedious gear-change, and brakes that needed pumping, were some of the things which contributed to this outlook. I grant that the tiny car got along quite well, cruising at around 65 m.p.h., and the Mini is still a good proposition for those who want a roomy, lively, baby car which will give over 42 m.p.g.
That concludes the main road-test programme of last season. There were a number of other cars driven, either at circuit demonstrations, or when friends lent them to me, or for restricted mileages when ether people were doing the main test. I find that out of these cars, 15 were on Dunlop tyres, six on Pirelli, six on Michelin, four on Continental, three on Goodyear, two on Avon, and two on Firestone, while one each were shod with Uni-Royal, Englebert and Bridgestone. This gives some idea which tyres British manufacturers and Concessionaires favour for road-test vehicles. Apart from road tests a certain amount of vintage motoring was enjoyed last year. For example, I was able to travel as passenger through the H.C.V.C. Brighton Run in a very interesting vehicle, the Best Brothers’ sleevevalve Daimler lorry, even if we did arrive at the wrong end of a towrope. I took the 1930 Sunbeam “glasshouse”, on its new Dunlop rubbers, to the S.T.D. Register Wolverhampton Rally, and although it was past mid-season when I purchased a 1930 Riley Nine which had been raced previously at V.S.C.C. events, this gave the Continental Correspondent and myself a pleasant run to Prescott and back for the V.S.C.C. hill-climb. A spot of big-end trouble caused the car to non-start in races at Silverstone and Thruxton but D. S. J. cured this in due time and I enjoyed some pleasant spells of fresh-air motoring behind aero-screens in this amusing little car, which does for me what others apparently obtain from a round of golf.
There were two other cars which served well in 1968—the Editorial Rover 2000 TC went on to tot-up more than 20,000 miles since it was delivered and, regularly serviced at Rover’s long-established service depot at Seagrave Road near Earls-Court (which Lord Stokes preserve!), gave no trouble until the very end of the year, apart from too-rapid wear of the n/s front tyre, probably due to faulty tracking. The occasion when it departed front its normally dependable habits was just after Christmas. I was praising it for starting promptly after standing all night in a temperature which had frozen boot and door locks, and the Cinturatos literally to the ground, when I discovered that the wipers and heater were inoperative and the engine on the boil. It was the Saturday after Christmas, but by driving the car slowly I got it to the Automobile Palace at Llandrindod Wells, Rover agents. They promptly went into action so that, in spite of having to send out for a spare, they had me back on the road in 1½ hours—excellent service! The electrics had failed because they were protected by a fuse of too-low rating, the anti-freeze had run out because a gasket on-a water plate at the very back of the engine had failed. Apart from this the Rover has given no trouble and continues to please me, having all those characteristics which suit my temperament and requirements. It was given its second set of those excellent Pirelli Cinturatos at 14,700 miles, uses practically no Castrol between the 5,000-mile service intervals, and gives a fuel consumption of between 24 and 28 m.p.g. according to conditions. It has proved adept at towing broken-down cars, a tow-bar having been fitted for the Riley’s trailer, and although it is infrequently cleaned, the bodywork inside and out looks as it did when the car was new, rust which forms along the top of the rear number-plate surround being easily wiped off, such is the merit of stainless steel.
My 1953 Volkswagen 1200 has given equally good service considering it was bought many years ago for quite a modest sum of money and has done some 20,000 miles in my ownership, including a run to the South of France, considerably overladen. With 17,325 miles showing on the odometer the timing gears stripped but an Autocavan replacement 1,131-c.c. engine was installed and this has performed satisfactorily for 2,675 miles at the time of writing, giving roughly 1,400 m.p.g. of Castrol GTX. India Autoband tyres, put on 13,000 miles ago, not only transformed such cornering ability as the insect has, but they still show plenty of tread. So, although it has required a new oil-cooler, odd new electrical pans, fresh plugs and stainless-steel brake pipes, the old VW continues to be a useful hack, and one which runs on the least-expensive grade of petrol. When the Rover, as aforesaid, ran a temperature, it was the VW which took two Christmas guests to catch a train. This caused me to think what a boon an air-cooled car is as a hack, particularly in abnormally cold climes. Anti-freeze is fine—until someone forgets to put it in, lets it out and re-fills with plain water, or it evaporates, or seeps out. The air-cooled car is immune from such habits and so I am glad that VW, Fiat, N.S.U., Citroën, DAF, Honda and Steyr-Puch continue to market cars cooled directly by Nature’s free fresh air.
That concludes my re-cap of 1968 road-testing. Already I have tested the Triumph Vitesse Mk. II as the first test car of 1969 and have just donned a Peugeot tie to sally forth and see what I think of a Peugeot 204 coupé. (It would, I suppose, be fun to wear the appropriate tie for each road test, but my wardrobe at the moment will not run to this.) But whether you test cars in overalls and crash-hats or bare-headed and in a lounge suit, the whole thing is the greatest possible fun and whatever the policeman’s lot may be, I would not willingly give up the opportunity of assessing in some detail the merits and de-merits or the World’s production motor cars.—W. B.