Matters of moment

Design trends

As another year commences, it is satisfactory to be able to record that motor-car design ts as fluid as ever and that so many interesting cars are available to ordinary users. Stagnation in automotive technology seems as far distant as it always has been, and if advances in terms of all-ceramic power-plants, practical steam and electric propulsion, and the like are perhaps not for our generation and only Mazda has mastered the art of the rotary engine for a catalogue model, ills indisputable that the bulk of the 1983 cars are commendably efficient.

Although the fuel-shortage scare has receded, as we predicted it would, the price of petrol at the pump has risen recently, making a nonsense of the drop in inflation. To counter this heavy charge on vehicle users, cars are gradually becoming lighter, their power units more efficient in a number of ways, their aerodynamic drag lower, their gearing higher, all of which is giving valuable gains in reduced fuel consumption. If minor troubles still niggle, and if the dreaded rust-problem has by no means been solved. in the face of all the salt that is put down on our roads eve, winter, it has to be said that the modern production car, even in the smaller sizes, is an acceptably efficient, pleasant-do-drive, transport-medium — some more so than others, of course...

Design-wise, the in-line multi-cylinder engine is as dead as the side-by-side valve power-unit and the two-stroke car engine, but the vee-six or vee-eight configuration admirably replaces it in the luxury-car field, and the vee-twelve, today's ultimate in cylinder multiples, is made excellent use of by Ferrari, Lamborghini and Jaguar. In spite of the cost of motoring, the really exciting, top-powerful super-cars have not diminished in appeal, with Lamborghini making the 165 m.p.h. V12 mid-engined Countach LP500S, Ferrari using four-valves-per-cylinder on the 8,000 r.p.m. Mondial Quattrovalvole, Maserati adopting twin-turbochargers for the 2-litre V6 Biturbo, and Jaguar doing very nicely with the quiet, smooth-running 5.3-litre V12 XJ-S. There was a time, before the war, when supercharging was almost universal for Grand Prix cars, after pioneering by Mercedes, Fiat, Sunbeam, and Alfa Romeo, and consequently the sports-car enthusiast wanted supercharging on his road-going car, hence the blown Ulster Austin, Hyper Lea-Francis, FWD Alvin, blower-4-1/2 Bentley and the like, with bolt-on blowers for those who aspired to forced-induction on more ordinary cars. The trend has run full-circle, with turbocharging now found on many production cars, and with proprietary turbo-sets available. Even Rolls-Royce have successfully resorted to this easy path to increased power and torque for the Bentley Mulsanne Turbo.

Another technical breakthrough has been four-wheel-drive for private cars, as distinct from Jeep-pattern vehicles. Audi have done it effectively for the Quattro, as their winning of the 1982 Rally Championship endorses, and if this January is as wintry as last year, there should be as many converts to the Subaru-style of grippy traction. On two-wheel-drive cars, which means through the front wheels in so many instances, there have been suspension improvements. Ford surprised us by retaining rear-wheel-drive for the new Sierra, with its advanced, low-drag styling, and by using for it a fairly sophisticated form of trailing-arm independent-rear-suspension, a layout with which BMW had not had a very happy experience, earlier on. Somewhere recently we read a learned discourse on the De Dion method of rear-wheel location, which praised this layout in general but also Rover's Spen. King for doing as well, or better, for the Rover SDI with his beam back-axle than he had in De Dioning the Rover 2000, and giving great acclaim to the De Dion system on the modem Aston Martin/Lagonda cars; but it should be remembered that the De Dion back-axle is also used by Alfa Romeo and Volvo.

Perhaps the biggest single contribution to an advance in engine construction has been the toothed-belt drive, which now renders the overhead-camshaft (or camshafts) such a simple benefit to use. We have come far from the elaborate con.-rod and eccentric o.h.c.-drives of the Leyland Eight, Bentley Big-Six and twin-cam Maudslay, and in later days the little NSU, in achieving this objective without objectionable cacophony, so that it is difficult to justify the continued use of push-rods to prod overhead valves and one feels that they may soon follow the L-head into oblivion... Today's tyres are as efficient as the cars they carry and might be said robe more reliable — and the tyre-manufacturers are making their contribution to reduced fuel consumption with new low-drag tyre profiles, etc., while Michelin's latest TRX MI tyre was used by Audi to win the RAC Rally.

The most notable trend, however, has been that of turbocharging, pioneered for production cars by Saab and now available on all the Colt range, on the well-behaved Renault 18, and now on the MG Metro, etc., with turbo-lag and other problems fast being overcome. It remains to be seen how long-term durability works out. There is little doubt that the emergence of turbocharging in racing, with further advances on these lines expected this year, about which D.S.J. and A.H. will keep you informed, has led to growing interest in this form of power-boost, for ordinary engines used by ordinary drivers.

For older cars

With seat-belt compulsion less than a month away we do not wish to labour the fact, but as some owners of the older, exempted cars may wish to belt-up we append the finding by Anders Clausager for the Classic Vehicle Clubs' Committee, a body that does so much for old-vehicle users, on the subject:—

The renewed proposals for legislation for compulsory wearing of seat-belts has unfortunately given rise to some misunderstanding in classic car circles. The new proposals are only aimed at

cars registered on or after January 1st, 1965, vans registered on or after April 1st, 1967 and three-wheelers registered on or after September 1st 1970.

Under current legislation these groups of vehicles have to have seat-belts fitted; the new proposals will make wearing of these belts compulsory; but for owners of older cars there is no change at all. Cars registered (or built) prior to January 1st, 1965 will not have to have seat-belts fitted; if such older cars have seat-belts fitted the belts do not have to comply with the legal requirements for seat-belt standards, and if you drive a pre-1965 car you do not have to wear seat-belts, even if these are fitted. — W.B.

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Daily Mail Motorsports Show

Organised by the British Racing and Sports Car Club, this major exhibition features every facet of motorsport. Held at the Cunard International Exhibition Centre, West London, the show runs from January 7th-16th and opening hours are as follows: Friday, January 7th — 16.00-21.00; Weekdays: 11.00-21.00; Saturdays: 09.30-21.00; Sundays: 11.00-19.00. Admission is £2.00 for adults and 50p for children.

CCH Sprint

To celebrate 25 years of organising the only sprint at Brands Hatch the Harrow Car Club and Circle Car Club are holding a Silver Jubilee Sprint at the Kent circuit on Sunday February 6th, 1983. There are classes for saloons and sports cars, and practice starts at 10.30 a.m. Secretary of the meeting is Derek Sizeland — tel. 01-346 8670 (eves).