A Genuine 80-m.p.h. Sports Two-seater. Excellent Performance and Vivacity combined with Economy. Practicability and Adequate Weather Protection.
We renewed acquaintance with the 1 1/2-litre H.R.G., which we knew intimately in its pre-war Meadows-engined form, under conditions calculated to bring out the very best or worst in a car. Although the Great Fog had lifted, we had not gone many miles from the H.R.G. works when darkness, dense patches of drifting mist and frosty roads were encountered. With screen lowered, we made for home without giving much thought to the car. But, after we had thawed-out, it occurred to us that, considering the hazards, we had made a very reasonable journey-time and had held, and eventually passed, a very racy-looking solo motor-cycle whose rider was obviously trying hard along the twisting parts of the route. Not only did the H.R.G. stick nicely to the none too adhesive surfaces, but its acceleration was clearly of a very useful order. We were impressed, too, by the lightness of the steering in view of its ability to take the car round corners with little more than wrist-movements, and by the ability of this out-and-out sports car to idle along happily on a 4-to-1 top gear when the fog really closed in.
The next day these preliminary good impressions strengthened. Using the car for a domestic journey involving much London traffic, it proved entirely practicable for the job in hand. Everyone and everything stowed away nicely with hood and side curtains erect, and the interior was then sufficiently snug to occasionally mist the inside of the windscreen. The off-side rear-view mirror provided an adequate view under these all-enclosed conditions, while signals could be given easily through the side-curtain flaps, these afterwards being held shut by pushbutton fasteners. Later, this weather protection proved able to keep out heavy rain.
Pottering about London we had no reason to give a thought to such sports car maladies as oiled plugs or overheating, while the vivacity and light steering made the H.R.G. a rapid means of negotiating West End traffic. When we parked the H.R.G., pavement users, sensing something different, would pause to join us in admiring it. Certainly the appearance of the car cannot fail to warm the cockles of enthusiastic hearts. The radiator is set really well back, the long bonnet, high-set Lucas headlamps and clean grey finish are imposing, and the body shape, hood up or down, blends well with the car as a whole. Moreover, the frontal aspect, with massive tie-bar bracing the wing supports, central Lucas fog-lamp and tubular axle, is really satisfying to true believers. The lines of the car are practical as well as aesthetic, for both front wings are visible to the driver and the headlamp beams really do light up the rapidly unfolding scenery — factors the stream-stylers conveniently overlook.
Other good features noticed in closely examining the H.R.G. are: Rigidly mounted wings; cut-aways for the doors; interior door catches, easily reached through the side-curtain flaps; trailing doors; effective twin Lucas screen-wipers with motor box set unobtrusively before the passenger; an excellent full-length “tonneau”-cover, zip-fastened down the middle, which enables the car to face life in the open without getting wet seats; indicator windows on the side lamps, both easily visible; a screen that can be folded flat and re-erected while you are driving; a large luggage platform behind the seats intended for luggage but offering seating to persons who fold up and who have insensitive posteriors. At the back of the car the spare wheel is held by a strap incorporating the “1,500-H.R.G.” insignia, the nine-gallon fuel tank no longer being exposed so that its filler now protrudes from the near side of the body.
The bonnet has simple press-and-turn fasteners and opens to reveal not only the engine, but a neat bulkhead carrying the coil, a spare set of L 105 Champion plugs, fuse-box and S.U. electric fuel pump. On a shelf behind this are the two Lucas 6v. 50 amp.-hr. batteries, tyre pump, jack, tools, grease-gun, hub nut hammer, oil-can, etc., with plug spanner and handle for the excellent hydraulic jack held to the sides of the shelf by clips. The side curtains and starting handle are stowed in a compartment beneath the aforementioned luggage platform, and the hood folds on to this, out of sight below the “tonneau” cover. The body was built by Automarine Coachbuilders, Ltd., of St. Leonards.
Contemplating the engine, which is a four-cylinder overhead-camshaft Singer unit adapted to H.R.G.’s specialised requirements, on the near side one finds the two S.U. carburetters, neat Bugatti-pattern four-branch exhaust manifold, shielded from possible petrol drips by a metal guard, and a water-pump driven by a rather small belt. This belt jockeys over a pulley carrying an extension to accommodate a fan, if such is required. On the off side are the Lucas dynamo and distributor, an A.C. by-pass oil filter and, fairly accessible between, the dipstick. On this side, too, the Marles steering box is mounted, a thought flexibly, on the chassis side-member. The oil filler is in the valve cover. It is all delightfully accessible.
We may as well continue with the “interior story,” for it is just as satisfactory. The bucket seats, upholstered in red leather, have a rather stiff adjustment, but are well placed and comfortable, although the driver’s seat might have come further forward, while it was rather too long in the cushion and shallow in the base of the squab for personal comfort. The big spring-spoke steering wheel has a finger-grip rim and a neat button in its centre actuated a mellow, if subdued, horn. The facia is refreshing in this octagonal age. It carries eight Jaeger dials and five high-grade pull-out controls, besides the “usual offices.” Speedometer and rev.-counter have 5-in, dials, the former reading to 100 m.p.h., and incorporating trip and total mileage readings, the latter going to 6,000 r.p.m., being free from coloured divisions and incorporating an electric clock. The 2-in. dials comprise oil gauge reading to 100 lb./sq. in., oil and water thermometers, a properly calibrated but not very accurate fuel gauge, ammeter, and vacuum gauge. All are in decent view, rev.-counter before the driver, have white hands on black faces, and speedometer and rev.-counter read absolutely steadily. Unfortunately, although two dash lamps are provided, they do not illuminate the smaller dials. The pull-out controls, each of which is labelled, work nicely and actuate the mixture control, starter, dash lamps and fog lamp, one being a spare switch. The remaining facia appointments are the usual ignition-cum-lamps switch and ignition warning lamp. There are no cubby holes, but each door has a really useful pocket. The door catches are none too easy to operate when seated, and the doors tended to stick, although they shut with a nice action. The pedals, of which the accelerator is right-hand, are rather small, which tires the foot, and close-set, although not embarrassingly so. There is room for one’s clutch foot between the pedal and the conveniently-located foot dipper. Ingress and exit call for no more of a contortion than is expected with a small sports car, but the rear mudguards and base of the body do accumulate a lot of road dirt, detrimental to coats and stockings. Mud flaps on the front wings would probably effect a cure. The passenger has ample leg room and driver visibility is very good.
On the road the H.R.G. proves very fast and very safe while being driven fast and is a vastly satisfying car to handle. Essentially alive, it admirably suits its owner’s whims. In a hurry 4,000 and 4,500 r.p.m. come up as a regular thing on the indirect ratios, giving speeds of 36-40 and 58-60 m.p.h., respectively, in second and third gears, while it settles to a cruising speed of 70 m.p.h., with a genuine maximum of 80 m.p.h. in hand. The engine is completely free from vibration periods or flat-spots and thoroughly enjoys turning over fast, emitting a happy power roar from 50 m.p.h. onwards and burbling pleasantly in a mild way when cut before corners. It is safe up to 5,000 r.p.m., although mechanical noise, doubtless harmless but disturbing to the sensitive, commences at 4,000 r.p.m. and becomes fairly pronounced by 4,500 r.p.m. On the gears we attained normal maxima of 26 m.p.h. (5,200 r.p.m.) in 1st; 48 m.p.h. (4,800 r.p.m.) in 2nd and 66 m.p.h. (5,000 r.p.m.) in 3rd gear, although mindful that piston speed was still below 2,500 f.p.m., we reached nearly 70 m.p.h. in 3rd gear on one occasion. Such performance is enlivened by the sense of life imparted by the hard suspension and by the impeccable cornering qualities, making fast motoring in the H.R.G. a very enjoyable experience. The car is notorious so far as hoarding the coupons is concerned, it is such fun to drive.
On the other hand, the H.R.G. can be perfectly docile and quiet, running down to 500 r.p.m. in top gear and pulling away from 10 m.p.h. in that ratio, so that in normal driving one changes up at around 18 m.p.h. in 1st, 30 m.p.h in 2nd and 42 m.p.h. in 3rd, keeping the revs. between 3,200 and 3,600. In top the engine pulls away strongly above 30 m.p.h.
Acceleration is of a really high order and we did 0-50 m.p.h. as a mean of a two-way run, two up and screen erect, in 11.25 seconds, while 0-60 m.p.h. occupied 17 seconds. On the road, again with screen erect and against a considerable wind, the highest speedometer reading was 82 m.p.h. (over 4,000 r.p.m.); the speedometer is accurate almost throughout its range, being one mile-an-hour optimistic at 70. At night, in the wet, down a not very long straight, 78 m.p.h. was recorded.
Engine speed goes up most willingly, encouraging a drop to third at high road speed. The gear change embodies synchromesh, but this operates properly only with slow movements and normally double-declutch or clutchless changes will be made, rendering the selection of lower ratios on the approach to corners a joyous feature of driving the car. The change, it must be confessed, was not entirely to our liking. The rigid, remote lever is rather too far forward, especially for the 1st to 2nd movement, which is longer than that between 3rd and top, while it tended to catch up at times, the nuts securing the ball-gate worked loose and insufficient depression of the clutch adversely affected gear-changing. The lever moved very slightly with the flexibly-mounted engine but this was not evident to the hand. Reverse position is protected by spring-action beyond the second gear position, adequate safety measure normally, but not entirely foolproof if very hurried, brutal racing-changes are being made. It is not possible to “heel and toe.” Normally rapid changes go through very nicely and it is only when ultra-rapid action is sought that our criticisms apply. Actually the lever can be positioned farther back if desired and it is possible to effect a rapid change direct from top to 2nd when required. There is very little gear noise. The clutch is very smooth and positive, but heavy to operate, which the small pedal area emphasises.
Roadholding is of a very high order, materially assisting the driver to maintain high cruising speeds. The car is sprung very solidly, on 1/4-elliptic springs damped by friction shock-absorbers at the front and by underslung 1/2-elliptic friction and hydraulic damped springs at the back. Indeed, the tyres, at 16 lb./sq. in. pressure, seemed to do most of the work at the front, resulting in some bouncing on bad surfaces and giving rise to the thought that slightly softer springs or smaller section tyres might be an improvement. There is no denying that the ride is a hard one, particularly at low speeds over bad roads, but the car takes this punishment well, and there is not a trace of roll however fast the car is put round corners. Because of this lack of rolling and an almost complete absence of tyre protest, a driver accustomed to modern supple suspension takes some time to appreciate the cornering capabilities of the H.R.G., simply because he eases up, awaiting some sign that the car is approaching its limit of adhesion. In this way he misses the best of the fun. The fact is that the H.R.G. gives no indication, unless it is the mildest rear-end breakaway on a wet, leaf-strewn surface, that it is nearing the limit of its cornering abilities. It just goes round unbelievably fast with no sliding, no roll, no protest. Wet or dry roads make little difference, and once faith has been gained, one flings the car into bends with complete confidence. Very few modern cars can corner as fast. Technicians may argue that soft suspension, permitting considerable wheel deflection, is productive of even faster cornering, other factors being equal, but usually these elusive additional provisos are not equal and, in any ease, we prefer to corner on a level keel without tyre howl, which, after all, is a characteristic that has endowed the vintage car with one of its greatest charms. Besides /its ability to corner so very fast, the H.R.G. is one of those rare cars in which you can flick the steering from side to side without producing the slightest suggestion of canting or disaster.
The steering is high-geared by all but the starkest standards, asking 1 3/4 turns lock to lock, with a moderate turning circle. Nevertheless, at speed it is remarkably smooth, light steering, with just the right degree of castor action, which, by the way, is adjustable as required. No return motion is transmitted, save when the car is being held round a rough-surfaced fast bend, nor does the column move about to any extent. And, so far as the controversial overand under-steer is concerned, neither is discernible — the H.R.G. just goes round corners with the minimum of conscious steering. So light is the action that wandering is set up along the straight unless the wheel is gripped very lightly and accurate placing is not fully attained until the driver becomes accustomed to this light action. It is “spongy”steering in the modern manner, but only about quarter of an inch of free movement at the wheel was evident after 4,000 miles’ wear. The suspension and roadholding characteristics can be summed up by remarking that the sense of “life” imparted by the solid springing is not unpleasant and is entirely excused by the complete lack of rolling and the fine roadholding qualities.
The brakes, with 11-in. drums and Bowdenex cable operation, have always called for fairly heavy application, but while this was true of those on the car presented for test, they were also disappointing when crash-stops were tried, retardation fading noticeably when speed had been reduced to about 15 m.p.h. The heavy pressure required proved tiring and detracted from progressive braking and, although attention to the cockpit adjuster, rather inaccessibly placed in front of the driver’s seat, made some improvement, the brakes, although adequate for normal main-road motoring, were never really good. A pleasing hiss accompanied light application, but this deteriorated into a squeal under heavier pressure on the pedal. In contrast, the racing-type fly-off hand-brake, if a trifle near the passenger, had a very nice action, held effectively, and proved efficient on gradients.
To the foregoing analytical account of the H.R.G.’s performance and layout characteristics must be added a few miscellaneous observations. The engine starts fairly promptly from stone-cold with use of the mixture control, which can be locked fully-out, or held against a spring, as required, and the car soon pulls away strongly. It never gets very warm, however, water temperature being normally only 60-65 degrees C., rising to 85 degrees C. in prolonged traffic driving, and oil temperature 40-45 degrees C. Oil pressure varies with engine speed, normally showing 40-60 lb/sq. in. The vacuum gauge sits on zero at just over 80 m.p.h. in top gear. Dynamo charge is very reassuring, while at night the lamps are very good, and the rear number plate is well illuminated. The front-works are reasonably rigid and the bonnet does not flex. The engine dislikes present-day fuel and “pinks” vigorously at quite high throttle openings when accelerating, but as there is no hand-throttle control, the driver can do little to combat it. A hand-throttle would be appreciated. The engine “runs-on” viciously for a while after being switched off.
Apart from such aspects of its specification as hard suspension, centre-lock wheels and set-back radiator, the high gear ratios of the H.R.G. must appeal to the die-hard enthusiast. Top gear is 4.0 to 1, third gear 5.86 to 1, and this must contribute materially, together with the car’s modest avoirdupois, to the really excellent fuel economy. Driving either really hard or in spirited fashion through traffic, for a total of 600 miles, we attained 28.9 m.p.g., with no attempt to achieve a warmer engine and hardly any coasting down hills. Driving more quietly 35 m.p.g. is attainable, and with special needles in the S.U.s this figure can be attained even with liberal use of the throttle. Indeed, driving carefully, but still using adequate acceleration, we covered 18 miles on half a gallon, bringing the overall consumption to 32.3 m.p.g. In the course of this 600-mile test no water and one quart of oil was required, nothing was done save to tighten the ball joint of the rear-view mirror, which had worked loose over South-East London’s appalling roads, and the only defect was failure of the ignition warning light, and the breakage, through crystallisation of a hood-securing peg.
Regarding the H.R.G. as a whole, its many good features blend to make it a very pleasing car indeed and one equally at home on a shopping expedition as when averaging 50 m.p.h. on a long journey. As an enthusiast s car, able to get through towns unobtrusively in a smooth willing manner and to cruise at 70 m.p.h. or more on the open road on 1 1/2 litres, it is an irresistible proposition. But when you consider that it is suitable for all forms of competition work, has, indeed, a fine record in trials, sprints, races and rallies, and is an eminently practical car for town work, business travel, or for the wife to use as the daily hack, the modern H.R.G. commands respect over and above its role of exhilarating sports car. Its economy is not the least of its charms, and it is not surprising that this car, made to a good, sound, and in some respects old-fashioned formula, has such an enthusiastic clientele. This H.R.G. is an ideal proposition for those fortunate people who still derive enjoyment from motoring providing the car they drive embodies certain well-defined items of specification and is free from the stigma of noise and temperament. In those countries where a strong cult for British sports cars exists, the H.R.G. merits careful consideration, constituting as it does about the only “real motor car,” in rather the vintage sense of that complimentary term, made in this country to-day. The 1 1/2-litre two-seater costs £850, which purchase tax increases to £1,086 17s. 3d. A 1,100-c.c. version of this individualistic car is also available, at a basic price of £785. — W. B.
The 1 1/2-Litre H.R.G.
Engine: Four cylinders, 68 by 103 mm. (1,496 c.c.), R.A.C.-h.p. 12; 61 b.h.p. at 4,800 r.p.m. Compression ratio 7.2 to 1.
Gear ratios: 1st, 14.36; 2nd, 9.08; 3rd, 5.87; top, 4.0 to 1.
Tyres: Dunlop 5.50 by 16 on centre-lock wire wheels.
Weight: Without occupants, but ready for the road with approx. 2 gallons of petrol, 15 cwt. 2 qr.
Steering ratio: 1 3/4 turns lock to lock.
Fuel capacity: 9 gallons (range approx. 270 miles).
Wheelbase: 8 ft. 7 1/2 in.
Track: Front, 4 ft., Rear, 8 ft. 9 in.
Overall dimensions: 12 ft. 2 in. by 4 ft. 11 in. by 4 ft. 4 in. Ground clearance: 6 1/2 in.
Makers: H.R.G. Engineering Co., Ltd., Oakcroft Road, Kingston By-Pass, Surbiton, Surrey.