MOTORING IN THE UNITED STATES
[Some time ago Douglas Tubbs praised American cars and a first-rate controversy followed. In publishing this article from his pen we have no wish to re-open this discussion. But America is so very much our friend these times that gr.mt interest attaches to all she does, and it is fitting that we should know something of how she motors.—Ed.I
IN recent but happier times there used to be a dictum that ” Fifty million Frenchmen can’t be wrong.” According to the average sporting British motorist, this was most easily discredited by reference to the one hundred and thirty million Americans and the ears they make. Vet it is interesting to look at Americium ears and Anterivan roads from the point of view of tlw travelling English sports car enthusiast. The present writer had the good luck a year or two ago to spend some fifteen months driving about in the U.S.A., covering :10,000 miles and tialehing forty out. of the forty-eight State’s. Looking nostalgically back across the ocean towards the garage where his Lancia was laid away, his first action was to set about buying a suitable car for the projected tour. Rejecting the very good offer of a 2-seater Rolls going for thirty quid as being at once too specialised arid too “welldressed ” for the Great Open Spaces, lie finally bought a Ford V.8 drophead coupe, or as the salesman called it, Convertible Cab., It gave magnificent service.
Even before buying a car and learning the language, it was found to be necessary to pass a driving-test, before being allowed to cireulate on tlw roads of Massachuset Is. The test was a lot of fun. Convincing the cop tester that. all Limeys are crazy anyway, by by running out of juice during the trial, the thing very soon became a sort of love-feast and discussion of English driving methods. This was largely brought about by the mad English gesture of shifting direct from ” high ” to ” low ” :it 20 m.p.h. to get away from a rather pestilen I s t reet-car, Ity t lie quite outmoded feat ,,f double-declutching •’ a practice IRM cflildt)yed oolv by truck-drivers and the very ‘Hair, v% In have no sYn(hromesh, ” miracle shift ” mechanism or what have you.
Ilast ily denying that use of the gearbox (or ” t ransmission,” as it is called, to distinguish it from the transmissi)n) would inevitably lead to the “rear-end ” falling out, the crazy Britisher dared to dislike the American brand of steering. ” \ ell, I guess it does take P lot of winding,” said the cop, ” bat you have to admit that it’s safer.” You don’t argue with an Ameriean cop, but it is allowed to raise the enquiring eyebrow. Stain’s to reason,he explained kindly. ” Look at all the old hens who drive automobiles these days. Give them an imported job with what you call direct steering ; O.K. The foist time they see a buddy on the sidewalk they look around, wind the wheel without
thir king and it’s ` eur`ains.’ No, you’ve gotta admit that .nzaiern steerit g is safer !” Which explains those nauseous little round growths you find on sonic of the accessory stands. However, the friendly policeman had not got the whole story. Besides catering for the feeble-minded and
those suffering from St. Vitus dance or ” Motorist’s Tic, •• the U.S. system of steering is not all stupid, :es i t li a iks at first. It does make for light liandling, in a country where every street is lined vith cars and baeking into a narrow space is not just a. gymkhana trick; and beAtIcs this. in many of the States heavy winds blow steadily across the prairies rind make the mot,’trst (Hi the straight road bless the lowness of his gearing. High-geared steering makes driving in the wind very hard and dangerous, as more than one Grand Prix driver has found out.
In America the class of young man who craves for a ” sports car ” is scarcely catered for. Almost any oar you buy, whether a de luxe Cadillac or just one of the Big Three (Ford, Chevrolet or Plymouth) goes as fast as ell Ind the best of the European sport ing cars. You eau do 80 miles an hour in Aunt Et hel’s saloon, so speed is not the possession only of the very Helm 4. the clever tuner of Vintage ears. Practically any new car you buy will put in a eross-eountry average speed of .60 miles an hour, thanks to its high cruising-speed. brisk :week rtt lion and general comfort. In the word comfort k. to be found the key it neatly all the Transatlantic chortleAillat is the good, asks the average American, of a Irst car that is only comfortable over forty miles an hour, when a lot of his driving is done in town any way ? ” Furthermore,” he enquires, why all this talk about cornering? NVIa..n I’m in a hurry, I drive fast on the straights, slow imp for the colliers as much as I have to, then accelerate It.vt ay like smoke. I don’t tike fast cornering, and my passeogers like it still less.” There is no denying the justice of this peint of view . . as far as it goes, and it is a product of the U.S. road conditions. AnN one who sets out to reach his destination a thousand miles away inside the twenty-four hours, and still geton hour or V (is sleet), is going to have to drive along fairly briskly. It is not at all an unusual feat, and nothing like as tough as it sounds. The great thing is, if’ one is not to arrivc a jaded wreck to drive as calmly and as unhurriedly as maybe. Which means adopting the American technique. Almost any 1,090 wile stretch of road in the world is going to show a pretty diversified route. Even in the States, ii’ ml of muelt-boosted concrete notional highways, there is a .greet deal of road that from English standards is very had indeed. In some parts of the country it is the habit to make, say, :300 Miles of magnificent concrete ar d then, while the next stretch is under construet ion, to send the unhappy driver off on a ti fty-mile detour ovet almost unmade farm roads until the highway is once more -willing to resume business. All hough the immoral Continental habit of placing ” cassis ” in the road does not, as far as the writer knows, exist hi the United States, it is not uncommon to run out Of good m’a’d suddenly, and fall anumg potholes (locally ” chuck-hol(‘s • ‘), and one of this species broke the faithful Ford’s frout spring one dark and stormy night at a place called Masten*, Arizona, precipitatirg a night in the car, because, as if a burst spring was 1101 elli)tigh, a tyre (” tire “) picked up ” flat ” and’ tlw jack had been
From the purely driving point of View a trip to tle, States is an ctliatation. The roads, in the main, erv out for fast driving, and the point-to-point distances call in the car as a rival to the expreSs train. ‘the result of these eircumstances is, surprisiligly, to teach the sporting driver toleranee, of all things. Anyone worthy of the name of ” mob wrist ” immediately nequires a feeling of loyalty to his inachiue. Ile is the first to excuse his sports model Nt.hen it oils a. plug in trafliC, and defends to the last Hartford an charge that the motor-car is not a miracle of comfort, gentle alike to ride or drive. A drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco on the fourth of July taught the writer a great deal about this kind of tolerance. In a rash moment he had handed over the wheel to a French friend, whose usual mount Was :t blown ” two-three ” Bugmitti. Tolerance ‘‘ mm mu it Ii is /Orle. Where a Bugatti will go, there will go a Ford . . . or else.” One lived, none the less. • • • The answer and the cure is evident. You don’t expect a Grand Prix type car to behave like a Ford hack in think. . . . so why expect a Ford family outfit to
corner like a 13ugatti ? inc c you get used to the highish cruising speeds possible on the other side (and the only limiting factor with the modern and expensive American car is tyres) corners can be taken quite fast, thanks to the wellknown relative-speed effect, that has caused racing mechanics to leave the car at sixty under the impression that it had stopped. Although the average American may have slightly eccentric .ideas of safety, like the Boston cop, in the main the authorities are only too insistent On the general condition of the car being as good as possible. A number of States insist upon steering and brake tests every year or every six months, and at the same time they test the head-lamps for dazzle.. All long-distance trucks have to have lights interspaced along the sides to show their
length, and a light at each corner at the front, so that traffic will see it in good time on switchback roads.
Let’s hope that when this annoyinp business is finished with, the pc,wers thic be will ghe Us the benefit of America’s experience in making fast roads, and will relax the absurd horse-power tax, and allow our people to copy at any rate the good points in American design.