Yesterday's 'Cars of Today'

By 15, I was reading all the motor mags when I discovered that ‘Auntie’ Times,/em>, one of the world’s most respected newspapers, published Cars of Today, a book reproducing its road test reports, which included descriptions of design and construction, and information about maintenance, such as whether you could replace water pump glands without removing the pump, or how the valve gear was lubricated, etc.

The road tests were by The Times’ anonymous Motoring Correspondent. He always used a short route, taking in Amersham (1-in-9) and Dashwood (1-in-11) hills, on which speeds were observed.

This 1928 book cost 2/-(10p) and covered 104 tests. It opened with the 7hp Austin, “comfortable and has nothing of the cyclecar about it”, minimum speed on Dashwood being about 20mph. Sportscars included 3-litre Bentley, 22-90 Alfa Romeo (“Winning the last European GP means efficiency throughout”), a 15-45 OM, a supercharged 33-180 Mercedes, 3-litre twin-cam Sunbeam saloon, 31-100 super-sports Excelsior, and OE 30/98 Vauxhall.

Confusingly, these reports were undated, but footnotes outlined later changes. The Dashwood speeds are difficult to quote as ascents were made in different circumstances. But the Mercedes was doing 60mph at the summit, in spite of a plug-lead coming off, the 30/98, believed to have duralumin pushrods and rockers, attained 56, and the Sunbeam, hampered by bouncing back wheels, 50.

These and a touring 12/50 Alvis (42mph) were mixed with all the American cars, several versions of Ansaldo, Bianchi and Donnet-Zedel, and rarities such as Brocklebank, Franklin, Imperia, Steyr, Voisin, Vulcan and Waverley. It is surprising that, with a 20mph speed limit, The Times published these speeds, as Dashwood was a public-road hill.

The tester described a long-wheelbase open Bentley as “running as a whole, truly delightfully”; it cleared Dashwood at 39mph in third gear. A Speed Model 3-litre Bentley topped the hill at 45 in second gear. The 7.3litre Isotta-Fraschini was described as “not without faults” but “did 80mph without unpleasantness”, and 57 in the hill test. The Renault 45 just made it up Dashwood in top gear. The new Daimler Double-Six impressed the tester, who by his expressions “under the collar” and “road sticky”, etc, may have been a pioneer motorist. It could be started in top and would soon reach a speedometer 80mph. It was “delightfully easy to handle even on narrow, twisty roads.”

The Cadillac V8 was said to do 20, 40 and 75mph “before noise”. Rolls-Royce got off lightly, the new four-speed Twenty described as “highly refined, silence its greatest merit; on top at about 60mph one hears only the tyres, and at over 40 in the gears there is the least possible hum, and the engine makes no sort of complaint”.

Of the R-R Phantom I The Times wrote: “When I am not travelling in a Phantom Rolls-Royce I seldom feel it worth the money; when I am driving one I invariably feel that it is. This Hooper tourer did 35 and 55 in second and third before any marked valve clatter was heard, and 75 on top gear should not push the car too hard.” The engine did not pick up so smoothly as on the previous Phantom tried, but would no doubt improve.

Later I got back numbers of Cars of Today, to 1935, and the first (1923). Does anyone remember it, and who its industrious tester was?