My Year's Motoring
The Editor Looks Back on the Cars He Drove During 1954
When I concluded an article under this heading relating to 1953 I stated that I had been loaned nine test-cars that year and in them had covered over 5,000 miles. And I made so b
The Editor Looks Back on the Cars He Drove During 1954
When I concluded an article under this heading relating to 1953 I stated that I had been loaned nine test-cars that year and in them had covered over 5,000 miles. And I made so bold as to express the hope that in 1954 I should do considerably better.
The cars I am about to recall may strike some of you as somewhat sober for Motor Sport to have tested and you will notice some obvious omissions from the road-test curriculum of a paper of this title which is justifiably able to claim the largest certified net sales. I confess to being disappointed myself but the saying is that you cannot have your cake and eat it, “cake” in this instance being the privilege Motor Sport enjoys of freedom of expression and the presentation to its readers of absolutely unbiased reports and observations.
The fact that I have only driven such cars as the Austin-Healey 100, Triumph TR2, Jaguar XK140 and M.G. Midget by grace of the Guild of Motoring Writers, and then only for less than 7 ½-miles round the Goodwood circuit, is galling, but that’s the way it is, so perhaps I should console myself that apparently the “cake” has been consumed by others besides myself.
Let me, here and now, express my thanks and appreciation to those readers who have generously offered to loan for road-test their own personal sports cars. Let me also explain, here and now, that our policy is against accepting these kind offers, for the straightforward reason that if a manufacturer does not see fit to release to us his test-car there is no reason why he should gain free publicity at the expense of a private-owner, whose car, moreover, will prove an embarrassment if it happens, for any one of the driver’s reasons, to be above or below average performance and constitute a minor tragedy for us should we promote a “blow-up” or a “wizard prang” with it.
Of course, in the case of one-off Specials, obviously-modified standard cars and the like, no objections prevail, but I would like to assure our very large readership that application is made to the proper quarters for cars for road-test by this journal and that if the test-reports they wish to read are not forthcoming, perhaps it is best if they will draw their own conclusions!
May I now climb down from the pulpit and amuse myself — and, I hope, my readers — with a little light reminiscence?
The cars I tried ranged in size from 375 c.c. of the Citroën 2 c.v. to 2,262 c.c. of the Ford Zephyr Zodiac, and in price from the £275 of the Ford Popular to £1,950 of the Targa Florio Turismo Frazer-Nash.
The innings opened, as it were, with hurried arrangements to take over the Phase II Standard Vanguard saloon for the purpose of covering the V.S.C.C. Measham Rally in January. The photographer and I set off in this spacious, comfortable conveyance and as we drove across the downs beyond Newbury under a sombre winter sky towards Swindon, where the picture-man had been posted for part of the war years, I had formed no particular likes or dislikes. In the next twelve hours we were to get to know the Vanguard much better, because after a most fortifying dinner at the “Feathers” in Ludlow, in a restful room of crisp tablecloths and gleaming copperware, we pressed on to the start at remarkable Longmead perched up in the sky above Church Stretton. We then drove about the rally route for what seemed an interminable night, the Vanguard’s indicated cruising speed of 75 m.p.h. dispelling the miles. I remember that the photographer, who didn’t really understand vintage cars, was most impressed when we rolled round corners at sixty without making up any ground on the 1925 boat-bodied 14/40 Delage we were following. His eyes opened even wider when the vintage cars began to out-corner us, but at least we had a heater and wind-up windows . . .
We duly arrived at the hill re-start test, but from the wrong direction, with no marshal to warn us, so that for a while it seemed that we should block the entire entry in the valley below. However, the Vanguard’s bulk was parked off the road at an astonishing angle, faith thus proclaimed in its hand-brake, and as the official in charge found the rear lamps useful for reading his score card, all was forgiven.
Afterwards there were many dreary miles to the check at Ternhill, the only sign of civilisation for the remainder of that night having been the flashing pedestrian-crossing lights in deserted Wolverhampton. Yet, having disposed of Mr. Hill’s Measham breakfast, we were in sufficiently good shape, thanks to the comfort of this Standard, to watch all the final tests, linger to discuss vintage Salmsons with the owner of one of these rare cars, forgo lunch, and not breakfast again until dusk found us in Banbury.
If our means of conveyance attracted no attention at all amongst the assembled cognoscenti of the V.S.C.C., in spite of the fact that a similar car won the Visitors’ Award in the Rally, at least it did all that was required of it in a brisk “I can manage” dependable sort of manner. I will confess that we didn’t discover the overdrive, engaged on this car by movement of the gear lever, which I should have tumbled to after experience of a Jensen Interceptor, until the homeward journey. Even so, it accomplished 24 m.p.g. of National Benzole over this not unhurried journey.
The Vanguard was waterproof, snug and well-upholstered and if some of the minor controls brought a frown, the presence of dial-type oil gauge, water thermometer and ammeter were favourably commented upon.
Next I did a spell of “tight-rope walking” in a very staunch Ford Popular. Perhaps it is a shocking admission for the Editor of Motor Sport to make, but I really and truly enjoyed every one of the 750 miles I drove this inexpensive little saloon. The transverse suspension does give a “tight-rope balancing” impression, but the Popular can still be whisked round corners, although to strike a kerb would court disaster. It also promotes a good deal of up-and-down motion, distressing for less-hardy back-seat passengers. In the front the motion isn’t too bad and as the driver I had no cause to complain. But I do recall, some years ago, being taken by one of the Technical Editors of the Motor for a long run as back-seat occupant in the Popular’s predecessor, the Anglia, which included negotiation of much all-but-defaced Olde Roman Way. I was astonished then that any modern car could be sold with such crude suspension, yet previously I hadn’t objected to discomfort in Anglias and Prefects — because, I then realised, I had never occupied their back-parlours.
This suspension-liveliness apart, what a great little companion the Ford Popular is! It will cruise at 50, reach 60 m.p.h., and at all times betters 30 m.p.g. I know of no more reassuring sound and feel in motoring than the sudden firing from cold of the Ford Ten power unit, the willing roar from its carburetter when it is working against the collar and the easy, sure action of the lever controlling its simple three-speed gearbox. Re-acquaintance with Ford’s most modest model — still the least expensive four-wheeler on the British market — recalled all those similar Fords of other years which have conveyed me uncomplainingly and economically along main roads, secondary roads, by-ways and field paths, up muddy hills and through swollen fords, never faltering, always finishing the job in hand and not caring a damn for what the neighbours think.
During the time in which Dagenham placed a Popular at my disposal I did pretty well with it. Flicking the pages of my now dog-eared Stanley Blake Reece diary I see I entered it for a 750 M.C. All-Comers’ Trial, spent the hours following until midnight seeking the sea and then exploring the back lanes of Hampshire, took it through rain-swept, cheerless suburbs to visit long-lost relatives while my wife was at a dance where, I had ascertained, there were no motoring types, and let it act as school-‘bus, light delivery van and general maid-of-all-work. It served admirably and was sufficiently brisk and well-braked not to be a bore.
As a distinct contrast, I next took out the prototype Frazer-Nash Targa Florio Turismo two-seater, which proved, as Frazer-Nash cars have been apt to do for many decades of road-testing by the motoring journalists, to have the most vivid performance of any car tried during the year. I think that had Bill Aldington known that I was about to write a critical full-scale report on the car he would have scrounged round and found me a later model, because some of the detail work wasn’t so hot and we arrived under critical observation at Oulton Park, where we were to inspect the then new circuit, on about two cylinders, due to dirt in the fuel system. But these shortcomings I could afford to overlook, having experienced the very excellent performance of this very real sports car. Endowed with only one-hundred Bristol horses in this instance, this all-enveloping two-seater was smooth and contented at 90 m.p.h. and reached the same velocity without bursting itself in the high third gear. We got in a thoroughly “motorised” day by going up to Derby to prod the mysteries and the accelerator of the remarkable V8 Harker-Special, an interesting contrast to the modern 2-litre in which we had arrived. The next day we kept our appointment at Oulton Park, committed lappery and were royally entertained to tea by M. S. L. Faulkner, Chairman of the Cheshire Car Circuit Ltd., who takes a most realistic interest in all that happens at this very fine course and who in his younger days drove a Bugatti at Brooklands and an Aston Martin in the classic road races, including the Mille Miglia.
I recall that we roared away into the dark — and could that F.N. roar! — in very high spirits, which became more and more subdued as we encountered the disinterestedness of British hotels in tourists late on a winter Sabbath evening. That is, until the “Crown” at Stone made adequate amends.
The next morning I occupied taking a look at the bewildering complexity of plans Cyril Kieft had for the 1954 racing season and, leaving before lunch, which I have trained myself to forgo. I headed the ‘Nash for the Welsh Border. We crossed it, as we thought, at the Croeso Cymru sign near Clyro and photographed the car with its back wheels in Wales and its other pair of Michelin “X” in England. A correspondent has since suggested that the border no doubt lay a few miles behind us; never mind, it made a nice picture.
I had wired my wife from a tiny village store to tell her at what time I should arrive home for dinner, so we pulled out the stops and did the run to Hampshire (Aldershot area) at a 52 m.p.h. average in spite of heavy traffic, a refuelling pause and the onset of the winter night.
The Frazer-Nash is that sort of car, very fast about the country (we had previously averaged 56 m.p.h. in the wet during our apprenticeship), thanks to its light, high-geared rack-and-pinion steering, oversteer, stiff suspension and powerful, almost too powerful, Girling brakes, coupled to the gallop of the triple-carburetter Bristol engine above 3,200 r.p.m.
It is a matter of opinion, but personally I think I prefer my really potent sports-car to have visible mudguards and fold-flat screen, so if I were a Frazer-Nash customer it would be to a Le Mans Replica model they would lead me. The Continental Correspondent, who was hibernating in Hampshire waiting for the Grand Prix season to restart, drove a few miles in the Targa Florio Turismo and thought it a splendid car spoiled by having a bad driving position and rather too much weight — but then he likes to see people sit, and drive, like Farina. Personally, I returned XMC 2 to Isleworth with regret, and surprise that I had escaped a summons for excessive noise. The car was by no means the “warmest” of the Frazer-Nash range, but it reached about 105 m.p.h. in my hands — and I have grown out of wanting to take ordinary cars to ten-mile straights there to hold the accelerator hard on the floor through thick and thin merely to see what terminal velocity I can attain.
Switching happily from the sublime to the at-first-sight ridiculous, my turn arrived to sample the Citroën 2c.v. I do not propose to write much about the 2c.v. here because the space I have devoted to it in past issues should have proved to my readers that it is anything but ridiculous, ugly though it may be.
Freddie Ridout of Citroëns has such faith in this unconventional and modest-capacity car that he left it with use for eleven weeks and 7,693 miles — surely a road-test record? In that mileage, apart from very occasional greasing of the front-drive machinery, nothing was done to the mechanism and nothing serious went wrong with it. As a matter of fact, during last year I covered a bigger mileage than that in these astonishing and stout-hearted little cars, because I borrowed one to enter for the Cheltenham M.C.’s informative Fuel Economy Trial (in which, instructed by Holland Birkett in the art of Grand Prix driving in neutral, we finished second in our class at 83.7 m.p.g.), another to cover the Anglo-American Vintage-Car Rally, and yet another to try some West Country trials hills and cover the London M.C. Gloucester Trial, and V.S.C.C. Lasham Rally. My total 2c.v.-motoring consequently became a matter of 10,680 miles, during which the only serious mechanical malady was breakage of a clutch-actuating cable — and even that didn’t prevent this incredible People’s Car from homing on Slough without real difficulty, even in London traffic, so lenient is the gearbox.
My memories of the 2 c.v. include its powerful progressive brakes, surprisingly good roadholding (especially when we blew up its Michelins to 28 lb./sq. in. for the Economy Run), its extreme comfort, roominess and practicability, the technical achievement of low oil consumption and cleanliness in the tiny horizontally-opposed air-cooled engine, and the manner in which it grinds up single-figure gradients without overheating and gets itself unaided out of slimy predicaments with equal facility. It may look like an animated chicken-coop, it is expensive in this country because p.t. and import duty are imposed, and it can render calm men insane if they must drive as if the devil were pursuing them; but that the 2c.v. Citroën causes traffic congestion is, I consider, invalid criticism while two-abreast cyclists, gigantic lorries and horse-drawn drays are still permitted in our cities.
The same day as I wrote this article I noticed a lady driving a 2c.v. van* through my own village, so the merits of M. Boulanger’s ingenious and brilliant design are no doubt spreading; in France, they say, sales of these air-cooled flat-twins rival those of the Renault 4c.v. Apart from the events already referred to, I took the 2c.v. to a V.S.C.C. Slough Rally, to Goodwood for the R.A.C. Rally tests, to race meetings at Goodwood (twice), Oulton Park, New Cross (!), Snetterton, Silverstone and Ibsley. Thus I proved my genuine liking for it, at the risk of being considered insane by my friends . . .
During this extended experience of minimum motoring I broke off for a week-end to try another air-cooled boxer-motor car (this time with a rear-engine and rear-wheel-drive instead of a front-mounted engine driving the front wheels, and with twice the number of cylinders) in the form of the now firmly-established 1,192-c.c.Volkswagen. As in the case of the 2c.v., so with the VW, I have accorded it so much praise in so many issues of Motor Sport that I now graciously back-pedal, although its liveliness, “unburstableness,” wizard gear-change, excellent finish, and 36 m.p.g.-plus fuel economy, together with its inborn contempt of hot or cold climates, will live long in my memory. I concede that its brakes can be fierce and that it oversteers considerably but a car with no vices at all would probably prove as exasperating a companion as a girl friend of the same quality!
As I have been accused in some quarters of giving the VW publicity out of all proportion to my readers’ interest in it I will confine myself to remarking that I have been gratified to receive many letters, and personal calls at the Motor Sport Stand at the Earls Court Show, from enthusiasts who have changed older cars, in several cases far faster vehicles, for the unorthodox little fellow from Wolfsburg and who agreed 100 per cent, with all that we have published on the subject.+ Further, I will defend myself by stating that I have not been provided free of charge, at half-price, or even at a 10 per cent. reduction with a shining new VW on account of what I have written; indeed I have not even succeeded in persuading the London showroom to find me a VW for hard cash in part-exchange for my three-year-old sports car . . .
Later I was able to try a specially hotted-up VW prepared by the West Essex Engineering Company, with twin carburetters, special heads and the usual means of realising increased performance. It was not in quite the best of health when it came to me, but in the course of a summer day’s journey across the Berkshire Downs to visit Nigel Arnold-Forster, who now edits the V.S.C.C. Bulletin, we discovered it to be an excellent poor man’s Porsche, likely to give great enjoyment to those who derive pleasure from unexpectedly quick and accelerative ears of normal outward demeanour.
To attend the first big race meeting at Silverstone I was able to borrow at short notice a Simca Aronde, which French family saloon I had fully road-tested in 1953. The Aronde is essentially chic in appearance, comfortable and brisk about the place, and if it has a rather transatlantic gear-shift and facia planning it is both faster and surer on the road than a VW, albeit the fuel consumption is some 6 m.p.g. higher. I must confess I luxuriated in this little 1,221-c.c. saloon after exposure to the English summer in the Editorial Morgan Plus Four, and when its screen wipers went on strike on a wet evening not only did I find a tiny crank-handle in the cubby hole with which to actuate them but a charming young lady actually thumbed me for a lift and volunteered to do the cranking. Yes, the Aronde is a memorable car!
The present version has even better roadholding due to the employment of smaller wheels, as was demonstrated to us after an excellent luncheon in “The Ball” at Gerrard’s Cross by Fiat Ltd. last September — and heaven knows, the earlier Simca felt an exceedingly safe car, even in the wet. Quite why a slight reduction in tyre size improves matters I do not know; lower unsprung weight I suppose. This modification gave Laurence Pomeroy an opportunity, when replying to the toast of “The Guests” at the aforesaid luncheon, to feign similar mystification for, as he remarked, his Prince Henry Vauxhall has wheels of 34 in. overall diameter, so he could hardly be expected to appreciate the subtle difference between 15-in. and 14-in. wheels!
In June I was able to sample, over a long weekend, the much-discussed Ford New Anglia, which I took to a Silverstone Club Meeting and to Goodwood for the Whitsun Meeting of the B.A.R.C. I had been told, by the P.R.O. Department of the Ford Motor Company, that the New Anglia was indeed a goer, and able to rival the Consul in performance, and that it had very good roadholding. Certainly I was in no way disappointed. The little side-valve saloon had a truly vivid manner of running and, except for some skittishness at the tail-end, took bends and corners very well indeed.
I soon came to appreciate that this newest Dagenham product represents minimum motoring in a form acceptable to the greatest number of present-day purchasers. If, personally, I raised my eyebrows a fraction at a fuel consumption higher than 30 m.p.g. from 1,172 c.c., I have to admit that this country is not so impoverished that any more economical consumption of the savagely-taxed spirit is sought by the majority of its motorists. Especially when this near-30 m.p.g. is coupled to such spirit in a four-seater saloon — a little car capable of better than 70 m.p.h. and 0-50 m.p.h. acceleration appreciably brisker than that offered by cars of similar engine size but greater price, and this with a three-speed gearbox.
The Ford Anglia is a most fascinating small car to drive and I could use one not unhappily for my daily perambulations. There is a suggestion about the car of performance achieved by lightweight construction, reflected in some floor, side-panel and bonnet judder and minor body rattles, and the engine hesitated for a mile or two in a manner suggestive of fuel starvation or a choked jet, but all in all I rate the New Anglia as a staunch companion for any journey and worth every pound of its modest purchase price. It is a clever scaling-down of bigger cars, so that only when you encounter it side-on, with a big-boned, bowler-hatted business-man ensconced within, does it strike you that this is a small car, on wheels of but 13 in. diameter.
My introduction to the Anglia was followed by re-acquaintance with the Renault 750. I liked this little rear-engined Frenchman very much indeed, can almost say that I loved it, and it is a love I try to resist, otherwise I would find most of this year’s journeys for Motor Sport performed in one of these charming babies — and they are not quite quick enough for that, at all events in standard trim. But on a crowded or twisting road not so many vehicles can live with the little Renault 4c.v., its seemingly delicate gear-change is a delight which encourages the so-willing o.h.v. engine to give of its best, and all the while the car returns at least 42 m.p.g. as it scuttles along.
(To be continued)
*This Citroen 2 ay. van, economical and fool-proof, must be a boon to farmers and small traders; it costs £478 5s. 5d. inclusive of pt.
+ Two letters of this nature are to hand as I write this article. The first is from Helen Rayne, of California, who says that her husband and she have owned such cars as TC, TD and Y-type M.G.s, 2 ½-litre Riley, and Austin A40, and now have a 1954 XK120 Jaguar modified convertible, and consequently she expected the VW they have just purchased to be somewhat boring. On the contrary, she continues, it has turned out to be “the most fun and safest car I have ever driven.” Mrs. Rayne finds it completely dependable under all weather conditions and free from mechanical troubles over rough, mountainous terrain. Moreover, whereas all her previous cars had to go through a tedious “breaking-in” period, this did not apply to the VW. She praises the quick pick-up, “overdrive” fourth gear, lack of sluggishness, and criticises only the awkward placing of the accelerator. As she is an American of English, French and Irish ancestry, married to an Englishman, I guess she is no more biased than I am.
The other letter, in the in-post as I close this article, comes from a reader living at Trowbridge who disliked his S.S.II. in contrast to Mrs. Black, whose views appeared in the November issue: he inquires how to cure squealing brakes on his 1939 Series E Morris Eight, and concludes: “Having seen Volkswagen soaring non-stop over Swiss passes last summer, I am eagerly awaiting the day when I, too, become a VW owner and enthusiast.” — Ed.