The Editor looks back on the cars he drove during 1970
Another year is over, a year of interesting motoring by courtesy of the Press departments of our motor manufacturers and the agents for foreign cars. That Press road-test reports are still regarded as the best form of paper publicity a car can have is evident from the concern Lord Stokes of British Leyland showed when Motor Sport complained last year of the paucity of BLMC products coming to us for appraisal and the efficient level at which so many manufactures and concessionaires maintain Press fleets, and publicity staff to keep these in profitable circulation.
Ford of Britain continue to regard the availability of cars from their diverse model range to journalists and motoring writers willing to test them as an important part of their PR activities. Their separate Press depot operates from Brentford under Alf Belson’s watchful eye, and Harry Calton calmly allocates the vehicles—no easy task with so many newspapers and magazines of all kinds anxious to enjoy this alluring prospect of free transport, fully taxed, fuelled and insured, in return for free column inches or pages.
Chrysler International offer a similar excellent service to the Press, from the Ladbroke Grove premises in West London where once the late Georges Roesch presided over the building of his Invincible Talbots. Telephone numbers have changed since the Rootes Group became dollarised but cheerful John Rowe and Mr. Moy still offer the same prompt delivery of Press cars as they did in former times.
Vauxhall Motors out at Luton have an equally alive and well organised Press Department, with Michael Marr in control and Derek Goatman his very able Man-Friday. The same can be said of most of the makes currently sold in any numbers in this country, for every page of paid-for advertising is worth but a small part of a good editorial write-up.
As a result, being one of the fortunate race of motoring writers, I have enjoyed another good year, driving an accident, incident-free 37,800 miles. In this mileage the only mechanical misbehaviours which impeded mobility were the rupturing of the bellows in a Zenith-Stromberg carburettor of a Hillman Avenger 1500 Super, seizure of an exhaust camshaft on the BDA engine of a Ford Escort RS1600 (at a mileage just outside the warranty!), demise of a Lotus Seven’s clutch, and dislodging of the choke-wires on a Hillman Avenger GT, the last-named causing inconvenience but only very temporary incapacitation of the car. Thus modern engines proved decently reliable. I would not like to be in the lubricants business, for, following greaseless running-gear, engines now use very little oil. This may well lead on to power units which will run vast mileages without need of any attention. The British Leyland o.h.c. four adopted by Saab has a good reputation for ruggedness and Citroën with their exciting new GS air-cooled flat-four have apparently designed for at least 100,000 miles sans overhaul, both these being cars I have not yet driven, but look forward to trying this year. The same claim is being made for the new alloy-block Chevrolet Vega engine.
I hope I have not severed too many friendships in the Motor Industry by pursuing Motor Sport’s long-established policy of outspoken reporting. I believe 100% praise, without fair criticism, to be suspect in the minds of readers who must be well aware that no motor car is perfect, not even those emanating from the lofty eminence of Crewe. The ability to lift a telephone and lay-on the road-test car of one’s choice is one of the pleasures of working for a motor journal, and I confess I enjoy enormously this particular, and perhaps to some peculiar, way of life. But, if one is conscientious, there is the irksome necessity of attempting to analyse every aspect of the test car one is driving, and later the report has to be prepared—driving road-test cars would be pure bliss if the car alone had to be driven and not, as an essential adjunct, the typewriter. Also, it is now very many years since I matched road-test cars to girl-friends, although not always then able to afford the price of the petrol that such a pleasant occupation entailed.
The writer of road-test reports has to be able to keep in mind the purpose and price-class of the vehicle he or she is driving. Inevitably we tend to cover in detail the characteristics, performance individualities, control arrangements and facia layout, etc., of the cars submitted for test. But, correct as this is, and fascinating reading as it may make, I sometimes think that, by doing this, we could be accused of being hyper-critical—it wasn’t all that long ago in terms of human endeavour that any horseless-carriage that had the merest whiff of dependability about it was loudly acclaimed, whereas, in 1971, a single misplaced switch or a slightly uncomfortable seat brings forth the black marks. The keen competition for sales and the enhanced appreciation of character and value in personal possessions makes this inevitable. But let us not forget that reliability is still the most important quality any piece of machinery on which homo sapiens relies for daily use and support can display. In other words, a Silver Shadow with a flat battery (not that this has ever happened!) would, in 99 cases out of 100, be regarded as less useful than a humble Rebel rarin’ to go…
Unfortunately, brief road-tests, habitually of ten days’ or so duration, cannot provide useful data in respect of long-term reliability, but I see that the Consumer Association’s findings show that, dependability-wise, and taking account of not only the latest models but those spanning the past four years, the Volkswagen is still “top of the pops” for reliability, out of the eleven leading makes, seven British, four foreign, which from 1967 constituted 85% of home sales, with Vauxhall at the black bottom-end of the list. These findings seem to follow the sales figures of the big-output manufacturers. They certainly explain the continuing World-popularity of the uncrushable beetles from Wolfsburg. The need for frequent adjustments, inconvenient details, may be tolerable in cars which possess as compensation outstanding performance and/or other qualities, but repeated breakdowns—never!
On this note, in sorting out the cars I road-tested for Motor Sport in 1970, I want first to look at those which were in my possession for longer-than-average periods.
The Editorial Rover 2000TC, for example. It ran another 7,400 miles last year, although not all of these were in my hands, and while I hear that the Rover reliability factor is now regarded unfavourably in some quarters, especially in America, our particular Rover has continued to serve us very well, although it has been serviced more and more infrequently in recent times. During the summer it became due for an MoT test, expeditiously arranged by Rover’s Seagrave Road depot, where London-based owners are received with Olde Worlde courtesy—Lord Stokes has axed his house journal High Road and the irreplaceable Peter Browning and works participation in rallies, but if he closes Seagrave Road I shall think of that last straw which snapped even the camel’s back…
The need for a test certificate reminded me that this faithful and comfortable Rover had entered its fourth year, during which the heater controls became disconnected, a tubeless tyre developed a very slow puncture, the radiator a pin-point leak, and the Exide battery required a tickle up after the car had been left standing in the open for some weeks. The drive shafts proclaimed considerable wear as the clutch, also worn down, took up the torque, and the brakes needed an overhaul, but otherwise the 2000TC remained a much-liked work-horse, its safety enhanced by a Triplex “Hotline” back window, which I regard as much more essential to a driver’s safety and sense of well-being than compulsory safety-harness. I will not labour the factors which render these Rovers such acceptable cars, but will sum-up by saying that I never regret returning to my pauper’s-Rolls-Royce from Solihull and that I wait with avid anticipation Engineering Director Peter Wilks’ next new Rover model. The Dunlop SP tyres, by the way, show a most commendable amount of gripping tread after having been on the car for more than 16,000 miles, and in spite of considerable neglect and spending its life largely out of doors, the bodywork and bright work still look quite presentable when cleaned, and the equally-neglected o.h.c. engine consumes very little oil between 5,000-mile inspections. The Connolly leather upholstery has also stood up incredibly to nearly four years of use and abuse. Lots of people say they prefer cloth, or can tolerate p.v.c., but in our case the dogs enjoy motoring as much as we do, and the Rover’s leather has stood up to mud and claws in a way no other upholstery material can do, and allows the driver freedom to shift his position without the clinging discomfort of cloth seats, or the perspiration of p.v.c.
Another car of which I was fortunate to enjoy extended experience was the Ford RS1600. So anxious were others to try it that the car allocated to me went astray for several months before I so much as saw it, having been commandeered by the staff of a weekly motor newspaper which shares the same office-block as Motor Sport! They even used it for a quick thrash to Zandvoort before I located it.
Since then, personal “rally-sporting” has shown what a splendid fun-car the twin-cam sixteen-valve Cosworth BDA-powered Escort is. Its impressive and usable acceleration and crude but tenacious road-clinging are its best qualities, for its maximum speed of 114 m.p.h. is seldom seen, away from Motorways. Noise has to be tolerated but 0 to 60 m.p.h. in under 8 1/2 seconds is more than adequate compensation—before the war I regarded 0 to 50 m.p.h. in just under ten seconds from the Meadows HRG as real sports-car get-up-and-go; now we expect to get a further ten m.p.h. or so on the “clock” from a standstill in souped small saloons or true high-performance cars in not much over this elapse of time, before getting enthusiastic.
Unfortunately, although the complex Cosworth motive power commenced promptly and the India Autoband tyres on wide-base rims provided good grip on slippery surfaces, the expensive and complex engine seized an exhaust camshaft and stripped its timing belt before I had really got to know the car. (Incidentally, this camshaft drive has enabled me to tell vintagents that I have arrived amongst them in a car with belt-drive, which causes some amusing moments of speculation before the truth dawns!). I gather that the valve gear oil-feed has since been improved and Alf Belson eventually got me motoring again in jolly BDA fashion, but this incident makes me feel that I would rather put my money on an Escort Mexico…
The disaster caused comment to be made about my lack of interest in the Ford’s dipstick; in fact, the sump was full of Duckhatns Q20/50 at the time and the revs. were very moderate, as I was trickling down the drive in second gear when the Cosworth part locked solid. The re-assembled engine gave no further trouble and Mr. Belson now appeases it with Castrol GTX, an oil which is becoming ever more widely appreciated in high-performance circles. In interim reports on the RS1600 I referred to an apparently loose window-winder, secured with Sellotape. This brought a letter from a completely unknown young lady, to say the Sellotape was there to stop her tights from laddering on the rough boss of the handle, not to keep it in place. I replied promptly, offering supplies of free Sellotape, or even tights, if she would demonstrate this to me, but have never heard from her again, nor did I discover what she was doing in “my” car!
The only trouble, apart from the seized camshaft, which this expensive but exciting Ford developed was a jammed boot-lid lock, which my youngest daughter released so proficiently, using a hammer and screwdriver, that I feel she has missed her real vocation…. (She works for Hertz, whose own Escorts apparently suffer frequently from jammed boots.) Until, that is, the starter packed-up last month.
The other car which I had for long-duration test last year, an Alfa Romeo 1750 saloon or Berlinetta, provided the highlight of my 1970 motoring. I miss it still, after a personal, very enjoyable 9,200 miles in this sober-looking but refined, twin-cam, live-speed family car from Milan, which is capable of putting up sports-car average speeds without seeming to be in any way extended.* It proved the point of this long-term loan by Barry Needham of Alfa Romeo (GB) Ltd., namely, that, correctly serviced, these irresistible cars are 100% reliable (in the context in which any piece of complex thermo-dynamic, electric-mechanical piece of apparatus is reliable) in spite of their racing ancestry, pedigree and specification. I took this white Alfa Romeo over in January while still weak from the pernicious 1969/70 ‘flu bug and I returned it in September, doing some of the running-in myself. Serviced (irregularly, I’m afraid) by Alfa Romeo’s Edgware Road Centre, this splendid car never let me down and suffered from little more than small electrical faults. I am not surprised at the increasing popularity of this famous make in this country.
These generous long-mileage tests apart (they show confidence in the product!), I covered my next greatest mileage in a Fiat 128 saloon. At the time Motor Sport was experiencing that lethargy on the part of British Leyland and its test cars, and the Fiat consequently had to serve for part of the period of the London Motor Show, in lieu of a promised Triumph. I grew to appreciate this little transverse-engined front-drive saloon more and more the further I drove it. It was refined, for a small car, but it was the surprisingly good acceleration, even in top gear, that remains in the mind. I think its intermediate acceleration times, both in top and through the gears, would show up well against those of many larger cars. This splendid liveliness, coupled with roomy yet compact dimensions, made the 128 a very useful traffic car, yet it was by no means tedious on less-congested roads. There was, admittedly, a Fiat 850 coupé driven by a girl, about which I could do nothing, along the High Wycombe Motorway, but I assume it to have been a “hot” 850. Gear selection on the 128 was very baulky from rest in 1st and 2nd, but I have since heard that this is only so in r.h.d. cars, and some of the warning lights were apt to dazzle. Nevertheless, the smallest of Fiat’s recent new models is the best little car I have tried—perhaps the Citroën GS will displace it, although I believe the Turin product may run away from the more expensive French car.
Next, in point of distance run, was a DAF 55 coupé. I have never ceased to enthuse over the Dutch manufacturer’s ability to make use of a “cyclecar transmission” to provide lady drivers and novices with the best possible, most efficient, fully-automatic transmission. Apart from a rather irritating hum, the Variomatic had no vices, which applied also to the car as a whole. It was not exciting, of course, but was less tedious than I expected, and the only disappointment was a heavier fuel thirst than anticipated.
A Vauxhall VX 4/90 showed mixed potential. The idea of a 2-litre o.h.c. Victor engine in a compact saloon shell appealed, and gave just over 100 m.p.h., with useful acceleration in direct 3rd gear, added to which overdrive enabled one to cruise at 70 m.p.h. with the engine lazing at not much over 1,000 r.p.m. But some expected items of equipment were missing and the handling could not match that of our old gentlemen’s Rover 2000TC. I nevertheless used this acceptable Vauxhall for just short of a four-figure mileage, with none of the trouble which is now said by CA Ltd. to be spoiling the reputation of the Luton branch of the GM family. I drove a Triumph Spitfire Mk. IV nearly as much but as this was reported on last month, it can be dismissed here as a well-contrived, pleasant-to-drive little sports car, which makes good avail of out-dated mechanicals.
Next in the personal mileage stakes came a Peugeot 504 FI saloon. I had waited perhaps too long before trying this oft-praised model of a make for which I have had a profound respect since its 203 days.
For, in spite of its sensible and advanced engineering, even to Kugelfischer petrol-injection, I could not generate the old enthusiasm. That terrible thick-rimmed steering wheel, the odd styling, a precise but by no means outstanding central gcar-change, and badly placed hand-brake and seat-squab adjuster, etc., detracted front a car which offered effortless long-stride motoring (after the engine had smoothed out as the revs. mounted), good handling and braking, and Peugeot’s noted quietness of running. Maybe it was “Alfa comparison” again, but the 504 felt nose-heavy and its gear-shift cumbersome, against which it swept quickly past slower cars, took much luggage, and was notably economical of fluids. Incidentally, it was this Peugeot’s defective, flashing brake lights which put into the mouth of a friendly young Lotus Elan driver what should become the standard Elan owner’s retort to nervous motorists when they chase and out-dice on winding roads: “Did you know your brake lights are winking?”. I present the idea to the Lotus Club, with no strings attached!
A Hillman Avenger Grand Luxe covered over 900 miles in my hands, pleasant miles on account of its smooth controls; a good family car, this, which I took to AP’s coming-of-age party, as it has some of their components in its Rootes/Chrysler make-up. Indeed, driving this car after a hastily-offered earlier Super 1500, Avenger affection was up-rated, except that I wanted more urge. This was provided by the Hillman Avenger GT, which, to quote out of sequence, became my Christmas car. It was nice to find that the manufacturer, not the “soup-kitchens”, had devised the desired twin-carburetter engine which provided the required extra performance. Snow traction, too, on Dunlop SP68s, was unexpectedly good. But when the odd two-cable choke control came out at the roots, thus making under-bonnet enrichment of the Zenith-Strombergs the only means of getting the engine to start in zero temperatures, my enthusiasm diminished. However, this quicker Avenger is a good, honest offering, a Chrysler International model which Ford of Britain may well come to fear. On the run across the Plain the day before Christmas Eve, to spend the holiday near Salisbury, the Avenger GT had to be extended to pass an auntie Rover 100, reminder of the excellence of the older Rover cars.
An Alfa Romeo 1300 GT Junior, used while the aforesaid Alfa Romeo 1750 was being serviced, possessed all the charm of these fine motor cars and, I thought, even better cornering than the more commodious saloon. Certainly I did one of the fastest-to-date runs in it from my country home in Wales to my Hampshire abode, admittedly over roads I now know intimately. Another sporting car, in different context, was the Triumph Stag, long-awaited. I have been so often in the hot seat over Stag that I don’t wish to say more about it here, except that it could so easily be a good car, in a modern multi-pot Daimler SP250 sort of idiom. Mark you, memory of a very quick night run from the office to beyond the Welsh border still flavours my 1970 road-test memories. And Stag served to clear the air between Motor Sport and the BLMC, whose Press service has since been second to none…. Indeed, towards the end of the year we were almost snowed under with Stokesmobiles!
This brings me to the Lotus Elan Plus 2S but, as it and the Triumph GT6 Mk. 3 are the subject of reports elsewhere in this issue, there is no need to do more here than append personal comments. Neither was in my possession as long as I would have liked, because I can only drive one car at a time and other schedules unfortunately intervened. But the Lotus gave me a magnificent night run over deserted roads from Leamington Spa to Radnorshire after the Frazer Nash Christmas Party—until drizzle rain defeated its inefficient wipers. (Indeed, I was plagued for much of the mileage by a screen which ignored all my efforts to keep it clean, as I was again later in the year by frozen washers on the Avenger GT and as D. S. J. had been the previous winter for the same reason, when we were trying a Porsche 911S. Anyone who turns out a car in which the washers’ fluid is either not warmed by engine-heat or is not provided with anti-freeze fluid knows little of winter motoring; Chrysler should do better than this, but I did notice that the Avenger’s engine was protected with Rootes’ anti-freeze!)
The Lotus was delivered in person by Malcolm Ginsberg and positively exuded luxury. The clinging, comfortable seats, an instrument panel like those in the lesser private aeroplanes (the equipment included an outside-temperature recorder to sense for ice and a Pye Master 70 radio), the high performance from the still-excellent Lotus-Ford twin-cam engine, the true race-bred handling qualities—all added up to keen anticipation of the driving to be done, of which I managed nearly 800 miles in a long week-end. The Rolls-Royce method of presentation was marred only by a trip recorder which had not been zero-ed and a clock reading incorrectly; I soon discovered why, for the adjustment bezels were set too close to the facia to be easily operated. Otherwise, here was the epitome of modern sports motoring and although I was sorry to miss a special exhibition by Freddie Giles of the acrobatic Archie Frazer-Nash armchair trick, by sneaking away from the FN party before midnight (We made the dogs our excuse), the fast run home more than compensated.
I could fault the latest, more commodious Elan only on points of detail, such as the surging take-off occasioned, for the clumsy, by those drive-shaft doughnuts and the lag involved in flashing the headlamps because these have first to unbury themselves from the car’s nose. Some of the switches were “fumbly”, the wipers being difficult to find in a hurry, but I sometimes wonder whether road-test reports do not make too much of such things, on the grounds that an owner should get quickly acclimatised to his own car? (Such detail is merited, and is avidly re-read years later, judging by the demand for back numbers containing old Motor Sport road-tests by those restoring or just enjoying the older cars and anxious to check up on their originality, but criticism can be overdone in this respect. But not, I hasten to add, over the Ford Escort’s badly-placed wipers/lamps switches, which I am sorry to see retained for the RS1600 and the Mexico.)
Reverting to Elan impressions, the lamps’ flasher knob “came off in me ‘and”, signifying, perhaps, frustration on Ginsberg’s part in trying to get the lamps out quickly enough, distortion in the rear-view mirror, which makes following vehicles seem abnormally wide, caused me to let a perfectly normal Rover 3500 V8 overtake in the hope that I would see a secret Solihull prototype, and I am not sure whether I like a polished-wood facia in a car made of fibre-glass. Otherwise, I rate an Elan as an expensive but very desirable luxury.
The Triumph GT6, in which I covered only 275 miles, impressed as an old-style sports car disguised by handsome GT-style bodywork. The six-cylinder engine was extremely smooth and showed an indicated 100 m.p.h. at 5,000 r.p.m., but there was no oil-gauge. The Herald-type lift-forward bonnet neatly exposed the power department, my right arm was restricted by the narrow body, and the gearchange was as notchy as I have come to expect from a Triumph. I thought the instrumentation sensible and wasn’t conscious that the steering wheel went four turns, lock-to-lock, until I measured it. The car was driven to Beaulieu to see Lord Montagu unveil, or tap with a pummeller, the foundation stone of his great new Museum Complex; to extract finance from the British Motor Industry at the present time for this development must also be complex…
What else? Well, I sampled that acquired taste, the modern Porsche, during last year, but D. S. J. wrote the report on the Porsche 911S. I was enormously impressed with the road-clinging of a mid-engined VW Porsche 914 and the elevated individuality of some of its features, but it badly needed the extra two cylinders of the Porsche-powered version to complement its outstanding road clinging. The British selling price is so high that I doubt whether further comment is merited, except to remark that the mid-engined layout is bound to advance in time, so it is fortunate for Britain that Lotus with the obtainable Europa, and Rover with the unobtainable V8 coupé, and Ford with the promising new GT 70 which we may be able to buy one day, have experimented along these lines. Motor Sport reported on the Lotus Europa and the Rover in 1969—very favourably!
There was fun in one of the few genuine sports cars still made, a Lotus Seven, Mk. IV, which I drove home from the Wymondham factory after being flown there, in fog, from Blackbushe, in a Piper Twin Commanche, for a Lotus Open Day, by Production Manager Michael Tee, who likes to be an aviator when not driving his Alfa Romeo 1750 GTV. The fun ended with the demise of the Lotus clutch, which made it quite impossible to shift the gears.
A Reliant Scimitar GTE, that bread-van sporting estate-car, came in Borg-Warner automatic transmission form, more acceptable than the manual Scimitar on which the gear-lever comes too far back for me. This useful car had excellent handling characteristics, less pleasant steering, and its Ford V6 engine got it to 120 m.p.h., and from a standstill to the mile-a-minute mark in 10.7 seconds, which is fast motoring in a an estate-car. The lines evoked enthusiasm and the GTE is unique, fulfilling the day-to-day requirements of a growing number of users, including my editorial assistant. But I preferred to give it its head on clear roads rather than let it snatch its way through traffic to the accompaniment of a rumble from the engine and horribly sticky steering.
The new Triumph 1500 appealed, to one who didn’t have to find its elevated purchase price, but was dealt with too recently to call for further embellishment, and a Ford Mexico showed great promise but was only driven round a test track. But the boxer-motor Lancia 2000 Flavia Pininfarina coupé was disappointing—I heard later that it was a hard-used demonstrator, but poor low-speed torque, ineffective brakes, mediocre handling, etc., are not good enough when the price tag is £3,111. The Opel Rekord 1900L coupé offered a pleasant way of travelling, haying light controls, a smooth instant-response cam-in-head four-cylinder engine of 1,897 c.c., the good new GM Strasbourg automatic gearbox, and plenty of room—American-type comfort blended with European amenities. However, haying expected to find a 1900 GT coupé in the office car park, this car had to be good to overcome my disappointment—and when the deservedly highly-praised Opel 1900 GT did arrive, D. S. J. got it…. Incidentally, Opels are much improved cars and for those who do not care to be seen in a Capri there is the promising new Manta.
The Vauxhall Viva GT, now divorced from its one-time flamboyancy, had many faults, obvious within the first few miles, but the 2-litre o.h.c. engine was economical and gave adequate performance for a vehicle of this class which, of course, isn’t a Grand Tourer at all. The steering was a bad aspect of a generally nice confection and last summer, before the CA report sullied Vauxhall’s reputation, I was referring to this Viva GT as the nicest of the then-current Lutonians. The third road-test car of this make was the Vauxhall Ventora II, which provided sound Easter transport, including use at the wedding of another daughter. It was quieter than the example I had sampled previously, so the concept of an unstressed six-cylinder 3.3-litre engine in a very spacious 23.2-cwt. saloon pulling a 3.09-to-1 top gear was welcomed, even if this Goodwood Green Starmist Ventora was more suited to easy main routes than twisting roads. It was, nevertheless, a better-liked car than the Ford Maverick, which I was persuaded by Lincoln Cars to borrow, as an example of what non-Dagenham Fords are like. The back-axle steering, lurchy ride, sudden brakes, much noise, and uninspired interior decor are the memories that remain. But a greater mistake than this inflated Capri from the States was my own request to try the Opel Kadett KE saloon, which, for my misjudgement, I suffered for more than 600 miles, and which could explain why Opel was the only major import make to suffer a sales decline in America for the 1970 model year.
Finally, so far as the formal 1970 road-tests go, there was a Simca 1000 GLS saloon, with five doors and front-wheel-drive, which seemed to be snubbing its nose at the Austin Maxi and which impressed me not only by the level ride from its torsion-bar all-independent suspension and the eagerness with which its 1,118-c.c. engine went up towards 6,000 r.p.m., giving worthwhile traffic-coping acceleration, but by the practical bodywork. A very “good buy” at £899, I thought, as I said goodbye to it in Oxgate Lane, where proper Bentleys used to be made. That is, if you can stand its unfortunately high zizz-level. The much-publicised Bond Bug three-wheeler, I felt, was not for the ancient so my youngest daughter deputised, testing it for me. Although she has a predilection for Beach Buggies and psychedelic car-paint jobs and has had her VW sprayed bright orange, she did not seem wildly impressed, although saying she wouldn’t refuse one as a gift. I am concerned about the safety of these new Reliant-made tricycles in the hands of over-exuberant young things—he who is now my assistant (he wasn’t then) contrived to get one up on to two wheels within a quarter-of-a-mile of leaving the office, damaging its fibreglass front-end….
Incidentally, 14 of the road-test cars shared equally Dunlop and Michelin tyres, a tribute to the excellence of SP and XAS (Stag was on the latter), five were on Goodyear, four on Pirelli, with only a couple of cars on Firestones and one on Indias.
These cars apart, I made reacquaintance with a Mini-Cooper Mk. II, a more “dodgeable” car than the Simca 1000, drove very briefly another Peugeot 504, and was so astonished to find that my youngest daughter’s 1953 VW was still functioning that I tried that as well.
The rest was old-car stuff. I used the 1930 Sunbeam Sixteen “glasshouse” for nearly 900 miles, its 100,000th mile coming up during the summer. It went twice to Wolverhampton, for the STD Register Re-Union and to enable my wife to pull the first pint at the new Sunbeam Hotel in that town, led the VSCC Light Car Section on a scenic tour of the Elan Valley, and I returned it to DSJ, its joint owner, just before the December snows came—not that the old Sunbeam minds snow, but road salt is bad for it. On that final 1970 run in it, just before Christmas, the roughness of the going between Hereford and Ledbury caused the silencer to fall off. Not wishing to sound like a racer in this sedate and sober-looking old car, I swung it into Gittings Bros. Motors, whose Parkway Garage on the Gloucester side of Ledbury immediately set about finding a temporary replacement silencer and welding it on, a job which occupied two men for about an hour. This 26s. 6d. repair lasted for the remainder of the journey and I am happy to put it on record in the face of recent heavy criticism of the Garage Industry….
I drove the controversial Triplex Co.’s 1924 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost tourer, tried two sleeve-valve Panhard-Levassors, a 1926 2.3-litre and a fine 1928 5.3-litre, sampled the MMM Prince Henry Vauxhall, was permitted by the Hon. Patrick Lindsay to see what the Napier-Railton, all 24-litres of it, must have felt like to John Cobb (at his return-to-Paddock speed!); and had a spin in that award-winning 1930 Austin 7 Chummy of Tony Griffiths. Through the courtesy of Roger Collings I drove some of the way to Brighton in November at the controls of his delightful 1899 3 1/2 h.p. Benz. My 1930 Riley “Thruxton” didn’t go out on the road last year because its engine was being rebuilt to enable DSJ to exercise it in the Riley event at the closing VSCC race Meeting. I attended all those so-enjoyable VSCC race meetings, received much hospitality from Ken Day on the occasion of the Alvis Jubilee Tour of Britain, watched the start of the VCC 1,000-Mile Trial, had that memorable ride in Philip Mann’s resuscitated 1914 GP Mercedes, passengered in the HCVC Brighton Run on a 1916 Foden steam waggon, was invited to Jimmy Skinner’s delightful birthday party for his 1910 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, got to the Bishops Castle Traction Engine Rally, the Beaulieu “Lost Causes” Rally and the Booker Show, had the Light Car Section of the VSCC and the Western Austin 7 Register to play in my fields, and generally indulged in old-time happenings. (There were also parties devoted to more up-to-date things, like that at the Savoy Hotel to greet Mr. Hegland of Vauxhall Motors, later to be sacked.)
Major Charles Lambton got me out in his open touring Mk. VI Bentley, and I drove a 1954 Riley RMA. On the former occasion we should have been joined by the Ruger, which a weekly contemporary refers to as “that great American spoof-Bentley”, only it apparently got stuck on the garage ramp of the London Hilton. I was relieved that it didn’t arrive, and amused that apparently it had to be left in England so that a well-known vintage Bentley specialist could sort out its dangerous handling. I dislike imitation-ancient cars made from modern bits and pieces to give present-day amenities. If a person isn’t prepared to go along with the difficulties, hardships and anxieties of vintage motoring in return for the very special pleasures such cars provide, then that person should surely be content with a modern car!
For this reason bogus 17/50 Alfa Romeos, mock Mercedes-Benz, Ford-powered sham-Bugattis and the like leave me cold; old Ford Populars (in themselves not bad hacks) masquerading as plastic veterans or glass-fibre Edwardian Race-a-Bouts and 300-b.h.p. Rodders pretending to fake Model-T ancestry make me positively sick. And developing an older car into something quicker or more modern is only that much better than turning current engines and chassis into parodies of vintage vehicles; making specials or replicas from proper pre-war parts (which the VSCC in its wisdom has said it does not encourage) or rebodying vintage chassis is an entirely different pursuit.
With these sentiments in mind, I praised the VSCC for its control over the fast-deteriorating definition of what constitutes a true vintage or p.v.t. vehicle when I spoke at the S. Wales Section Dinner in Swansea last December. How was I to know that when my wife came to present the season’s prizes, many of them would go to drivers of non-p.v.t. 30/40s cars?!
I usually commence this annual article by proclaiming my continuing luck in having driven so many cars quite quickly about this country without a brush with the Police. Last year, not so! But the brush could not have been more diplomatically handled. I was glad to be back again behind the wheel of the Alla Romeo 1750 after trying that rather staid Riley RMA and drove at my usual pace along the Gloucester-Cirencester road. I saw a motorcyclist ahead and overtook him, passing close, with the accustomed accuracy of Alfa Romeo steering. Alas, the rider was a Policeman! He told me I had nearly blown him off his machine and had overtaken by partially crossing a solid (single not double) white line. He also thought my speed rather high.
He said, however, that he appreciated the boredom engendered of this particular piece of straight road but bade me be more patient in future, and, remarking he didn’t intend to take the matter further, rode off. I reflected that such treatment has increased my respect for the Police and that, years ago, after I had crashed a Morgan Plus Four on black ice, I had received very friendly treatment from a foot-policeman, also of the Gloucestershire Constabulary. There is no need to say more, except that this Mobile Cop understood good public relations. And while I am handing out praise, a good word for the snow-ploughs, which so effectively cleared thousands of miles of main roads after the Boxing Day snowstorms, enabling two branches of the family to drive 150 miles in opposite directions with no trouble at all, on that slippery Sunday after Christmas when the Sunday Express and the motoring organisations told all drivers to stay at home. This conscientious snow clearance makes road travel so much more certain than going by train, with points or signals hopelessly frozen at the first sign of winter. But then, I never did believe in the slogan “It’s Quicker by Rail!”.
On that note I will conclude this survey of last year’s motoring, an interesting year in which Lord Stokes, Chairman of British Leyland, granted us an audience, but the Rt. Hon. John Peyton, MP, did not.
Petrol and oil consumption data of cars tested by the Editor in 1970
Car – Petrol consumption – Approximate oil thirst
Alfa Romeo 1750 saloon .. 25.6 m.p.g. .. 1,200 m.p.p.
DAF 55 coupé .. 30.3 m.p.g. .. None, in 500 miles.
Fiat 128 saloon .. 34.7 m.p.g. .. 1,400 m.p.p.
Ford RS1600 saloon .. 24.1 m.p.g. .. 540 m.p.p.
Ford Maverick saloon .. 19.9 m.p.g. .. None, in 300 miles.
Hillman Avenger Super 1500 saloon .. 27.7 m.p.g. .. None, in 800 miles.
Hillman Avenger GL saloon .. Nearly 32 m.p.g. .. 2,800 m.p.p.
Hillman Avenger GT saloon .. 32 m.p.g. .. 900 m.p.p.
Lancia 2000 Pininfarina coupé .. 21.0 m.p.g. .. Almost none, in 700 miles.
Lotus Seven, Mk. IV two-seater .. Approx. 30 m.p.g. .. –
Opel Rekord 1900L coupé .. 29.0 m.p.g. .. None, in 500 miles.
Opel Kadett KE saloon .. 32.5 m.p.g.* .. Almost none, in 600 miles.
Peugeot 504 FI saloon .. 28.0 m.p.g. .. None, in 950 miles.
Reliant Schimitar GTE estate-car .. 20.8 m.p.g. .. None, in 650 miles.
Simca 1100 GLS saloon .. 35.6 m.p.g. .. None, in nearly 600 miles.
Triumph Stag convertible .. 21.4 m.p.g. .. None, in more than 1,100 miles.
Triumph 1500 saloon .. 26.9 m.p.g. .. 500 m.p.p.
Triumph Spitfire Mk. IV two-seater .. 35.9 m.p.g. .. Slightly better than 500 m.p.p.
Vauxhall VX 4.90 saloon .. 25.4 m.p.g. .. 500 m.p.p.
Vauxhall Viva GT saloon .. 28.1 m.p.g. .. 400 m.p.p.
Vauxhall Ventora II saloon .. 21.2 m.p.g. .. None, in 600 miles.
VW Porsche 914 coupé .. approx. 26 1/2 m.p.g. .. –
*[I was encouraged by the Alfa Romeo’s ability to average better than 50 m.p.h. in adverse summer traffic conditions to compare it with the much lower average speed which was apparently the best the Motor’s Editor could manage in a lesser car on an easier journey over Motorways. This brought a letter from my old friend Charles Bulmer, B.SC., saying that the reporter had got the wires crossed on this run, checked by Ford’s elaborate computers: the journey was made in snow, and not on any Motorways. Which goes to show how too much science can be blinding, for although the computers no doubt counted the gear-changes, the brake applications, the clutch movements and so on with electronic accuracy, they apparently ignored those outside factors which have so much Influence on average speeds.—Ed.)