BRITAIN’S SPORTS CARS
A special article in this issue reviews the sports cars made in Britain – and by sports cars we do not mean necessarily the fastest cars on the market, but genuine open 2/3-seater sports cars of good performance which enable the maximum enjoyment of fresh air and skilful driving to be derived. There are thirteen makes of sports car available, not counting the products of small-output specialist concerns, and these are in considerable, we might optimistically we write growing, demand throughout the world.
Sports cars have been listed by British manufacturers from the earliest days and, in particular, we have specialised in light sports cars since the 1918 Armistice. In this field notable progress has been made; engine power, in spite of enhanced silence, reliability and durability, having been increased from the 20 or so b.h.p.per-litre of the early ‘twenties and the 30 b.h.p.-per-litre or less which was considered an achievement a few years later, to the 45 b.h.p.-per-litre from today’s more powerful engines.
Along with development in engine technique has gone a notable improvement in chassis and suspension design. The old conception of a sports car, hard sprung, frame-wracking, with high-geared steering, has given way to comfortable fast cars possessing smooth, light controls. Suspension ideals differ, it is true, amongst present-day designers. The H.R.G. is still very hard sprung, the Morgan Plus Four gives a stiffish ride, but at the other extreme you have the very soft springing of sports cars like the TD M.G. and Jaguar XK120. This supple suspension is skilfully conceived so that it offers comfortable riding with a minimum of roll during cornering. If oversteer is promoted, it is kept within reasonable limits, while some modern Sports cars, such as the J2 Allard and DB2 Aston Martin, contrive to combine the desirable understeer cornering with extremely comfortable springing.
British sports cars today range in basic price from £448 to £2,250, and in engine capacity from 1,172 c.c. to 5,400 c.c. Four, six and eight-cylinder engines are found, including flat-four and V8 formations, all forms of valve actuation from side valves to twin o.h.c. above hemispherical heads are used, and fifteen out of eighteen of our sports cars have independent front suspension of divided axle, vertical slide, trailing link and wishbone formation. Overdrives are beginning to appear, better petrols are being complemented by higher compression ratios, the big Allard has a de Dion back axle – sure sign that stagnation of specification is far distant.
Speeds are truly remarkable in view of the lack of skimping of bodywork and equipment, indication that wind-deflecting shapes are becoming better understood. The recent 124-m.p.h. run by the new 2-litre Triumph, using an engine that originated for tractor and saloon propulsion, is particularly significant. The durability of modern British sports cars is strikingly emphasised by successful one-hour high-speed runs at Montlhéry track, where, for instance, the new Sunbeam Alpine has achieved over 110 miles, a Le Mans Replica Frazer-Nash nearly 120 miles and a Jaguar XK120 over 131 miles in that time. Moreover, a Jaguar XK120 coupé has kept up over 100 m.p.h. continuously for a week !
We find three of the Big Five – the Rootes Group, the British Motor Corporation and the Standard-Triumph Company – listing true sports models. Allard, Dellow, Frazer-Nash, Healey, H.R.G., Morgan and Triumph employ proprietary engines for their sports models, but Aston Martin, Jaguar, Jowett and Lea-Francis use specially developed power units to which much experimental work has been devoted.
In short, Britain still makes a very representative range of sports models and their excellence of design and construction and vivid, safe performance is acclaimed throughout the world.
The Le Mans 24-Hour Sports-Car Race is the most keenly contested event in the International Calendar. By winning it at the phenomenal average speed of over 105 in the face of competition which before the start appeared to be overwhelmingly formidable, Jaguar has added another laurel to British prestige and proved that we make the finest all-round production sports cars in the world.
Four XK120C Jaguars started and four finished, whereas the teams of exotic Continental cars built specifically to win races such as this – Alfa-Romeo, Ferrari, Lancia, Pegaso, Talbot – melted away when the time came; Le Mans this year was a battle fought mercilessly, and it is only fair to note that our own teams of Aston Martin, Allard and Bristol did not have a single car running at the finish. Under these circumstances, the Jaguar victory is the more creditable. The XK120C, in 1951 form but with reformation of power curve obtained by a change to Weber carburetters and other modifications. is, we venture to suggest, more closely related to Jaguar’s other productions than are the sports/racing cars they beat so convincingly. So Britain is in the desirable position of having won the most important sports-car race of the year with cars closely related to the Jaguar sports two-seater, coupé and saloon models which are in regular production at Coventry.
Contribution to the Jaguar victory was made by the Dunlop disc brakes effectively actuated by Girling boosters, and lined with Mintex. Lucas electrical equipment stood up to this stern test in which lamps as well as “sparks.” must be 100 per cent., and the cars ran on Dunlop tyres. The plugs were Champion, the shock absorbers Girling. To Tony Rolt’s polished driving and Duncan Hamilton’s more vivid style, suitably restrained on this occasion no doubt by the responsibility that rested on his shoulders, goes the biggest proportion of credit. They were ably backed up by Jaguar’s excellent team of drivers – Stirling Moss, previous Le Mans-winners Peter Walker and Peter Whitehead, and the new driver, Ian Stewart.
So well had “Mort” Morris-Goodall organised his team that he was able to relax “off duty” an hour before the race, leaving the experienced “Lofty” England in control in the pits. Managing Director “Bill” Lyons watched the race amongst his workers in the pits, spending the night there hatless and coatless as his cars made their positions more and more secure – and not every Managing Director inspires his equips with his keenness to this extent. It is our sincere hope that this great victory will not breed complacency. Next year, and in future races, Jaguar will meet stern opposition indeed. The intriguing cars which retired this time are little less than passenger-space racing cars, able to reach much the same performance as today’s Formula II machines, and with such will the famous Continental firms seek to avenge defeat. May Britain be ready to meet this attack, as we think she will be – Jaguar already has a new version of the XK120C in hand. If they had not had overheating trouble last year through running untried cars, they could well have won Le Mans for the third time this year. As it is they have effectively replied to the query “But what if Mercedes-Benz had run?” by beating last year’s winning average speed by 9.18 m.p.h. – the winning Jaguar covering over 2,500 miles at 105.85 m.p.h. We hope sincerely that in 1954 Jaguar will score the hat-trick.
Credit lines are most certainly due to the steady high-speed demonstration of the Austin-Healeys and the lone works Frazer-Nash coupé, France had successes in the Index of Performance and the Biennial Cup, both won by P. Chancel and R. Chancel with 611-c.c. Panhard. Germany took the 1 1/2-litre class, won by Frankenberg and Paul Frère with a Porsche, this class-win being deemed more useful to the Fatherland than victory OR handicap.
America, after trying so hard, was rewarded with third place with the new CR-5 Cunningham.
Le Mans 1953 was a great British occasion, as befits Coronation year. Better, it was – Le Mans, with all that that implies, made exceedingly pleasant for English visitors by reason of the generous hospitality dispensed by Girling, Lucas, Ferodo, K.L.G., Solex, Marchal and other accessory firms who had the initiative to rent pits at the circuit.
B.R.D.C. I.O.M. SPORTS CAR RACE (June 18th)
Reg. Parnell made amends for crashing at Le Mans by winning the I.O.M. Sports Car Race.
M.C.C. SILVERSTONE MEETING (June 20th)
The usual One-Hour High-Speed Trials and races were enlivened by a chicane before Woodcote Corner, but in the MOTOR SPORT race this was demolished by a Bentley, this shifting of the straw bales all but closing the course to following cars. This immensely exciting race was won by Gammon’s fast M.G. J. Moore did some very neat “chicanery” in his Morgan Plus Four and L. J. Spiller cornered bravely in an apparently undamped early Hillman Minx saloon.
“MOTOR SPORT” CLUBS TROPHY The leaders on points in this contest after the M.C.C. Silverstone Meeting on June 20th were :—
W. F. Moss (Alfa-Romeo) 11 points; Major Bailey (Bentley) 8 points ; Messrs. Campbell (Invicta) and N. Allen (Lotus) 6 points each.
This does not take account of the race at the M.M.E.C. Silverstone Meeting of June 27th. The next MOTOR SPORT race will be run off at the Nottingham S.C.C. Meeting on August 8th.