You could have knocked me down with the proverbial feather when, on purchasing my regular copy of Motor Sport in November, I discovered your road test report on the Alfa Romeo 2600 Sprint. We owners are, I imagine, a relatively small band, and I, for one, scarcely expected to read any road-test report anywhere, particularly since I don’t read Italian. To find one in the best of magazines is a tribute to you, and to Richard Shepherd Barron (with or without haircut), and I’ve even learnt something from it!
I thought you might be interested in an owner’s comments. I bought my car in Kuwait in April 1963, for little more than half its cost in the U.K., and it was immediately preceded by an Alfa 2000 Spyder, a Mercedes 220 and a Jaguar 2.4SE as my regular forms of transport. The car has now covered just over 20,000 km., over some of the world’s worst and best roads, and in all sorts of weather except sub-40˚F or snow/ice. It lives outside, through lack of a garage. It is cream, l.h.d. with red leather upholstery, which still smells new every time I get in. It is certainly the finest all-round car that I have driven, or been driven in, and that includes both rivals for the Best Car in the World! The only real snag is where does one go from here, if anywhere? Comments as follows, in order of your report’s comments:–
Steering wheel – mine has never felt slippery, even when excessively hot with sweaty hands. I don’t use gloves.
Gears – a delight to use, and the change from fifth to fourth I find slickness personified. Mild snag is occasional female embarrassment when finding reverse. I frequently change from third through to fifth and back without declutching – it’s so easy.
Door locks – I wish the passenger door could be locked from outside without the use of the key.
Instruments (mine are k.p.h., kg. per cm2, etc.) in the most comfortable driving position – I find the top of the lit instruments reflected in the windscreen, but then one can always turn the panel lights off. Pity it doesn’t have a rheostat. Also, I’d prefer a proper ammeter instead of the red light, which gives the indication of rate of change – perhaps in place of the oil temperature gauge, and I’d like to have a clock. However. the agents tried to solve this by giving me a key ring with a watch attached!
Radio – mine is an Italian automatic Autovox. I can’t recommend it, as it has given some trouble and never gives good reception. My car is fitted with an electric aerial (near-side rear) operated from a knob under the facia to the right of the steering wheel.
Lights – my car has courtesy action on the interior lights on both doors, acting on a very small door opening. I find it hard to believe the test car didn’t.
Ashtray – my car has another pull-down ashtray in the centre of the facia in place of the motif, and it is cunningly set in and covered in matching red leather.
Wipers – the same screen wash/wiper is also found on Mercedes. A Continental practice we could well try in English cars, I think.
Bonnet – I can’t understand why it lacks self-support, as the similarly bodied 2000 Sprint had a simple, but effective, self-support. One under-bonnet snag in this part of the world is that sand tends to collect in the vee of the twin o.h.c. head. making it inadvisable to remove the plugs without a compressed air-hose handy. These don’t grow on trees here; neither do the trees!
Boot – opens easily, yes, but needs both hands – one to push the button, other to lift. Awkward if you don’t want to put the parcel down in the wet and dirty road. The battery is neatly located, but very awkward to get at for checking and/or filling. Did you find the most efficient jack strapped under the tool-kit?
Front grille – very handsome, I think, but a devil to clean, particularly round the lamps, as also round the inset tail lamp clusters.
Petrol tank – doesn’t really hold enough to my mind. I think that all genuine G.T. cars (of Ken Purdy) capable of high averages in comfort over long distances ought to cover at least 300 miles without refill; preferably more. However, they can’t very well make the tank any deeper – it is already a little exposed and I’ve managed to hole mine twice. Consequently, I always carry a piece of soap!
Your ‘criticisms – I disagree, except for the impeded map pockets (you can’t have it both ways!) and the hand throttle. I can always read my instruments. the door keeps are even effective in high winds, and last, but by no means least, after 20,000 km. and seven months of excessive heat and humidity, permanent exposure and travel over very rough roads, my car shows no sign of rust, only mild sand-blasting, and no door-dropping or other signs of poor workmanship have appeared. I think you must have had a hastily prepared car, or been unlucky.
Use of gearbox – I. get a mild aircraft-type whine in fifth gear only. I get no vibration or oscillation of the lever at all.
Steering – I, too, find a little heaviness at low,sharp-corner speeds, and am still experimenting with pressures. I find that a 1 lb. differential at 31/32 gives slightly lighter low speed steering without loss of directional stability at high speed, and sometimes run with no differential where all my driving is in town. I wish the steering column was telescopic, à la Jaguar, or alternatively that my arms were an inch longer. However, I’ve never actually felt any discomfort or been tired after long journeys, so there can’t be much wrong!
Suspension – incredibly-good, coping with desert tracks, or the badly-maintained Lebanese roads with mild axle thumping and no passenger discomfort. The roof-line is perhaps a little close to the head over hump-backed bridges! My car produces some scuttle shake over poor surfaces, but then so has every other car I’ve been in over the same surface.
Own Service record – apart from nominal servicing and oil filter changes, the car has, required one new front shock-absorber and two plugs, a new windscreen fitted at the Insurance company’s expense when cracked by a flying stone, attention to another shock-absorber coming loose, a “short” in one electric window circuit, and just recently a new headlamp glass unit, thanks to some inefficient but unnamed parker. New parts are directly obtainable from the excellent agency in Beirut – just see if they have a spare windscreen in London! The car has never failed to start, or to get myself and my passengers to our destination in the lap of luxury at high speed. I shall need two new from Cinturato’s in another 1,000 km., but the rear two have several more thousand left. I entirely agree with your comment on the subtle fascination of driving the car. It is a successful blend of the need to drive the car. The reciprocal “feel” and response from the car, the nonchalant air with which the car achieves one’s purpose, and the comfort of the well-appointed interior, all in exactly right proportions.
I hope you find my comments of some interest. I much prefer the Alfa to your choice of the World’s best car. The latter is more mechanically advanced in some ways, but after driving the 220 for rather more miles than I have driven the Alfa, I disliked it. Without going into detail, I found it Teutonic and uninteresting to drive, uncomfortable over quite short journeys, having alarmingly poor lighting not improved by the sand-blasting, and a disconcerting tendency to fling rainwater straight into its very exposed H.T. circuit, bringing one to an abrupt halt in most awkward places. However, I will admit that. although it disliked ripple-surfaces which abound in the desert, in general Mercedes are about 15-20 m.p.h. quicker as a means of transport than any other on rough desert tracks – hence their extensive use in the Middle East. They are also used by about half of the celebrated Lebanese taxi drivers! They’re certainly tough.
Qator, Arabian Gulf. J. M. B. Harford.