Rumblings, January 1958

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60

More Power for Austin-Healey

The Austin Motor Company announces that a new cylinder head, developed from experience gained in the record-breaking runs at Utah, is now available for the Austin-Healey100-Six. This six-port head is used in conjunction with a separate light-alloy inlet manifold carrying twin 1¾-in. S.U. HD6 35-deg. semi-downdraught carburetters, larger inlet and exhaust valves, the latter of KE965 steel, and two separate exhaust pipes. Using flat-topped pistons with solid skirts, the compression-ratio has been increased from 8.25 to 8.5 to 1 and, with the distributor altered to provide a suitable ignition-advance curve, these modifications add up to an output of 117 b.h.p. at 4,750 r.p.m. from the C-type B.M.C. engine, the maximum torque of which has increased to 149 lb./ft. at 3,000 r.p.m.

***

Selling Used Cars

We never realised what a subtle art the selling of used cars has become until we discovered on the Editorial desk a vast, shiny manual entitled “Increase Your Used-Car Sales.” Before this we had thought that those with a used car to sell put a small advertisement in Motor Sport and that those who wanted to buy this sort of car spent an enthralling time scanning our back pages before setting off to inspect such vehicles as sounded delectable. Nothing very subtle about it, except for the customary haggle over the price, which can often, we understand, be almost halved if the correct technique, backed up by a wad of banknotes in one hand, is employed.

After perusing “Increase Your Used-Car Sales,” we ceased to wonder just how unsubtle we had become. This great, expensively-produced, copiously colour-illustrated book cannot be bought. It is the manual of the B.M.C. used-car warranty scheme, intended to vitalise the used-car business of B.M.C. dealers.

Used-car sales are pretty vital to dealers and the Motor Industry alike. The latter is always impressing on Mr. Macmillan that, good as our exports sales now are, future security depends on good home sales, which are hampered by purchase tax, inadequate roads, the high cost of petrol, restricted hire-purchase loans, parking problems and so on. New car sales also depend on dealers being able to offer good prices for used vehicles taken in part exchange for new ones, and this is possible only if the dealers can dispose quickly of cars they have traded in. The B.M.C. states that before the war 90 per cent. of used-car sales involved part exchange and that the used-car side of the motor trade has never been so important as it is today, used cars representing the 50 per cent, deposit required in almost every deal.

The B.M.C. warranty applies to cars not more than three years old, with a reasonable mileage; so isn’t applicable to that soiled 1921 de Dion Bouton that languishes in the barn and which you really ought to dispose of. These near-new used cars are guaranteed by the B.M.C. for four mouths from the date of purchase, as with a new car. This, the B.M.C. considers, enables the purchaser to be sure of getting an attractive price for his car at any time during the three years following the sale. Obviously, their desire to sell only used cars that are in good condition is as commendable as is their advice to dealers “that it pays over and over again to be generous in interpretation of after-sales service for warranted used cars.”

It is in the suggestions for putting the B.M.C. used-car plan into operation that the mind boggles a bit—at all events if that mind has never concerned itself with trying to sell anything more valuable (in the cash sense) than a 1926 Delaunay-Belleville. For instance:—

We agree that there is no reason why used-car trading should be on a lower note than the selling of new cars—how much nicer to choose your future transport in a warm, clean showroom (decorated with B.M.C. rosettes–available in four sizes: 7-in., 9-in., 12-in. and 15-in.) than in a water-logged sales-yard open to the four winds. But we had never realised previously that a Happy Birthday card sent to everyone who has bought a used car twelve months earlier is a good “follow-up,” or that sale of a slightly knock-kneed 1956 Austley could, perhaps, be better effected by presenting the prospective client with an Austin or Nuffield Atlas (5s. 8d. each at bulk cost), or, if the client seems likely to waver, a B.M.C. key-fob or duster.

The thought of showroom-window displays to meet the seasons seems a happy one, although we cannot quite imagine the B.M.C. theme for these applied to a specimen 1935 Rolls-Royce or Red Label Bentley, particularly that for Spring, which goes: ” In the Spring… Everyone loves Motoring—in a Warranted Used Car,” and the-display for which, we are told, can be “simply lettered or cut out of red paper with white backing and must include confetti on floor, ‘Just Married’ notice, top hat, bridal veil, camera on stand, ribbon and silver bells.” All, we note, described as “easily borrowed” (including the camera?).

The theme for a Beach display might work, for all the dealer needs is “sand, shells, beach tent and umbrella, towels, wraps, sandals, swim-suits, goggles, flippers, deck-chairs with basket, stall beach table with long drinks and straws”—and a used car, of course. Disappointed that no beauty was suggested in the swim-suits, we passed to the theme labelled “Racing,” thinking this might be usable with something like a TR3 or a G.P. Bugatti. Wrong, however. The props required are: “Finishing post, short length of rails, bookmaker’s blackboard, saddlery, race cards and field-glass case on roof, enclosure buttons.” (All “easily borrowed”?)

Leaving the thought of the Blog Bros. (Used) Autos Co. or Sydney Swindle & Co. (Motors) Ltd. adopting any of these methods of hastening the departure of their used models; we searched elsewhere.

The equipment available to the ambitious used-car dealer is quite bewildering to the layman—flags, roof signs, painted signs, map cards, labels, posters, warranty forms, windscreen stickers, inquiry cards, sale advice cards, delivery cheek cards, follow-up letters, mailing lists, etc., in great profusion, as well as showroom stands (in natural grained timber, double-sided, horizontal or vertical, price 37s. 6d. and 45s., from Austin or Nuffield, including packing and carriage). It seems all a bit elaborate, especially when there are rich Americans waiting to pay big money for British vintage and classic cars…!

Another sales-promoter is the Seven-Day Free Trial, although for the life of us we cannot see how this isn’t abused by penniless Angry Young Men and others in need of a week’s free transport. Incidentally, if you are inspecting a used car and notice the salesman glance at the windscreen label just after you have asked him what is the lowest price he will accept, you can bet your bottom bob that he is refreshing his memory from a private code which the label carries—the B.M.C. publication gives some examples, such as LNSS/FPR, which, decoded, implies that you are enquiring about a 1955 car for which the minimum acceptable figure is £467.

Joking apart, it is obvious that 1958 is going to be a difficult year for those engaged in the used-car business. With unusual cars, like the vintage, Edwardian, “p.v.t.” or classic vehicles so frequently advertised in our back pages, there should be little difficulty, apart from complying with the Order made by the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, pursuant to the Road Traffic Act of 1956, which makes it an offence to sell a motor vehicle if the brakes, steering gear, tyres or lighting are in such a condition that it could not lawfully be used upon the road—which renders rather tricky the legal disposal, for instance, of a “G.N., complete except for front axle,” or similar. But for those who deal in used cars of comparatively recent manufacture, compulsory examinations for mechanical fitness are likely to drop prices and render sales difficult on all normal cars built in 1947 or earlier. So it is not surprising that the big combines, which see new-car sales strangled if used cars stick in the showrooms, should attempt to ease the path of the used-car salesman. The B.M.C. states that “very soon 100 per cent. action on used cars will soon be necessary.” They regard the classified columns of the local and weekly newspapers as offering the best advertising medium for the type of cars their dealers hope to sell.