So much is heard these days about badly-made and casually inspected cars that it was interesting, while browsing through some old motor journals, to come upon a yardstick by which the quality of pre-war cars compared to post-war products could be measured.
In a 1938 copy of The Motor the late Laurence Pomeroy had an article called ” 20,000 First class Miles,” which was an account of his experiences of the car he had used after he had returned from an engineering appointment in Germany to become Technical Editor of that journal. The car chosen was a 2-litre M.G. Tickford openable coupé. Pomeroy, in characteristic style, told his readers why he had let Temple Press buy him this particular vehicle. The reasons were four-fold—pleasant personal relations with its makers, general layout in accordance with his needs, a stiff chassis to cope with the convertible body, and the paramount necessity of such bodywork for the enjoyment of motoring in our ever-changing climate. Considering an all-black car completely indefensible, Pomeroy specified a cream body with black wings, wheels and top.
The interesting thing is that, in spite of road-testing commitments, the initial 20,000 miles came up in a mere ten months. The choice of car is interesting, too. To many M.G. enthusiasts the 2-litre was a dull and stodgy car compared to the traditional Abingdon sports-models. But it was the M.G. Car Company’s entry into the semi-luxury field, the 2-litre costing £415 at a time when an Austin Cambridge saloon could be bought for £195, a Ford V8 ” 22 ” for £240 and a Lanchester Fourteen for £330. The big six-cylinder M.G. was almost in the Alvis or 2-1/2-litre Jaguar class and obviously Pomeroy was extremely satisfied with it. He stated that even when returning to it after driving test cars worth £1,500 or even £2,500, by which he presumably meant 4-1/4-litre Bentleys and V12 Lagondas, “with one’s critical faculties thoroughly sharpened,” for sheer pleasure in driving he had come across nothing which pleased him more than the M.G. He enlarged on this by remarking that he did not think this was a personal idiosyncrasy explicable on the grounds of some queer complex in a mis-spent youth, as passengers who rode in the M.G. and the test cars were of like mind. (It could have been that familiarity breeds affection and his passengers were too polite to disagree!)
Be that as it may, from this critical report it is apparent that remarkably little went wrong with the car. Indeed, it is stated that no mechanical attention was received in this 20,000 miles, except for two tappet adjustments and three brake adjustments. Two lamp bulbs had to be replaced in the Lucas lamps. Oil consumption of Shell and Castrol remained at 1,200 m.p.g. and fuel consumption was 16 to 18 m.p.g., with a top speed of rather over 80 m.p.h. Admittedly at the end of ten months’ usage the clutch, road springs and shock-absorbers were worn and, with re-touching of the paintwork, re-chroming and a new set of tyres, repairs cost about £35, or rather more than £100 in terms of existing currency. Tyre wear on this heavy four-seater M.G. was modest. Pomeroy tells us that the Dunlops on the rear wheels were due to be renewed but that those on the front were good for a further 5,000 miles. A mileage of 25,000 seems excellent, but was, presumably, conditioned by normal cruising speeds of between 50 and 70 m.p.h. and 18 in. covers. Now that B. Castle has put motoring back into this 30-year-old category similar tyre mileages may again be realised.
Laurence Pomeroy concluded this account of the first car he used in his capacity of Technical Editor of The Motor by remarking that greasing and oiling costs added £10 to the 2-litre M.G.’s maintenance bill, so that the overall running costs were under 2d. per mile and the maintenance charges over the entire 20,000 miles a matter of approximately 1/2d. per mile.
To decide whether pre-war cars were more dependable and durable than those of today it would be necessary to study further articles of this kind, written before the war. But so far as this Editorial M.G. was concerned, it seems to have been a paragon of an octagon, compared to reports of modern cars after only 10,000 or 12,000 miles.
To express it another way, would any manufacturer guarantee similar reliability with like lack of attention from the next car I might specify to serve me in the capacity of Editor of Motor Sport ? I think it likely that today’s clutches and road springs would last more than 20,000 miles without needing replacement. I am not so sure about shock-absorbers. Radial-ply tyres would put up these sort of mileages. Oil consumption would probably be better. But would 6d. a mile cover all repairs and running costs, with repair charges standing at a modest 1-1/2d. a mile, which are approximately Pomeroy’s figures by 1967 values? From a car which we could buy for about £1,300? With a four-seater convertible body?—W.B.