Matters Of Moment, July 1954

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Ancient versus Modern
The M.C.C.’s Commemoration Edinburgh Run which started from the G.P.O., London, on May 21st, resulted in only three retirements out of 48 starters. Those who retired consisted of R. K. N. Clarkson’s 1902 Panhard et Levassor, J. E. Ford’s 1907 Lanchester and W. G. Gibson’s 1954 TF M.G. Midget — one each of veteran, Edwardian and modern car! This could be fuel for the old controversy of whether any real progress has been made during the past 50 years and certainly must be an occasion for rejoicing in Vintage-car circles, far the 1927 Invicta of J. H. Ahern, which he has owned since it was new, the 1929 Rover of S. W. Facks (and also R. Gore’s early Le Zebre and G. F. Simpson and H. Alexander in their 1910 Model-T Ford) finished intact and on time.

General versus The Imported Sports Car
Last February Motor Sport devoted considerable space to a description of General Motors new Chevrolet Corvette sports car, in the belief that British and European manufacturers should be aware of this American challenge to the imported sports-car market. Since then the jovial American engineer Maurice Olley (whose learned papers we so enjoyed hearing him read in this country before the war at the meetings of the Institute of Automobile Engineers before this body became a mere branch of the I.Mech.E.) has addressed the S.A.E. at Detroit on the subject of the Corvette, and our American contemporary Road and Track has published a road-test report on it.

Maurice Olley might be called the daddy of today’s learned fraternity who know all the answers to the over and under-steer posers. He was a pioneer in opening our eyes to why cars behave as they do when deflected from a straight path; surprise has been expressed in some quarters that, knowing so many of the answers, the General Motors and Vauxhall cars which came within Olley’s compass were not outstandingly stable as we in Britain understand stability in motor cars. Now, however, Olley has out-lived such criticism, for in his paper on the development of the sports Chevrolet Corvette, a car he roughed out in mid-I952 as “Project Opel,” Maurice Olley shows a proper appreciation of sports-car drivers’ requirements to European standards.

For example, he states that a sports car must have a cruising speed of over 70 m.p.h., a weight/power ratio of better than 25 to 1, ample brakes, light handling, a low c. of g., minimum overhang with a low moment of inertia relative to wheelbase, smooth yet firm suspension and quick steering response with no oversteer. Olley showed that he is aware that some drivers deem rack-and-pinion steering another “must ” (but he uses modified Chevrolet steering, with a ratio of 16 to 1 (3.7 turns, lock to lock), considering anything higher to be too quick) and we are gratified that he even recognises that the exhaust note of a sports car is important, having attempted a compromise in the Corvette of the “foo-blap” preferred by some and the “foo-gobble” which is music to others.

The road-test published in the June issue of Road and Track contains some significant figures. To sumniarise, top speed, with a car only 500 miles old, top and sidescreens erect, was 106.4 m.p.h. for the two-way run, acceleration figures of 0-50 m.p.h. in 7.7 sec., 0-70 in. 14.8 sec. and 0-80 in 19.5 sec. were obtained, the best standing start 1/4-mile was accomplished in 17.9 sec. (average 18 sec.) and fuel consumption was 16/20 American m.p.g. We shall naturally await the results of tests in this country — it seems we may have to wait a long time — before, going mad about these figures, but certainly they are extremely good, beating those for our Austin-Healey Hundred, for example. Road and Track criticises the Chevrolet Corvette for its use of modified power glide automatic transmission, in spite of the very fine acceleration figures they obtained. Olley is equal to this, remarking: “The use of automatic transmission has been criticised by those who believe that sports-car enthusiasts want nothing but a four-speed crash shift. The answer is that the typical sports-car enthusiast, like the “average man,” or the square root of minus one, is an imaginary quantity. Also, as the sports-car appeals to a wider and wider section of the public, the centre of gravity of this theoretical individual is shifting front the austerity of the pioneer towards the luxury of modern ideas . . . there is no need to apologise for the performance of this car with its automatic transmission.”

British sports cars have a big lead over the Chevrolet Corvette and until the latter wins at Le Mans we need not necessarily fear its impact on the sales of the sports cars we import to America. But this should not render our manufacturers complacent. The Corvette is already in big demand, as a handsome, comfortable 4.1-litre 150-b.h.p., 100 +-m.p.h. sporting car which with its glass-fibre body is being produced at the rate of about 250 a week and sold at only a little more than a fully-equipped Chevrolet convertible. And American enthusiasts, although their road conditions and competition standards differ from ours, have, since taking up sports-car racing, very decided ideas on how fast motor cars should handle and perform, which will quicken the continued development of General Motors new sports model. General Motors have ample test facilities including their own private Mira with banked circuit.

Let Britain, in good time, look after her sports-car market.

Gaps To Fill
At this mid-summer season far removed from the Earls Court Motor Exhibition and the Brighton Run, a weekly contemporary has had a sort of motor show of its own, confined to British cars, which formed an excellent reminder of the excellence and wide range of British productions — although appealing, perhaps, to far fewer prospective purchasers than the small advertisements for used, purchase-tax-free vehicles which Motor Sport publishes monthly.

We are reminded that current British cars range in price from £275 to £4,895, in cylinder capacity from 803 c.c. to 5.460 c.c., in width from 4 ft. 5 in. to 6 ft. 6 1/2 in. and in length from 11 ft. 4 in. to 18 ft. 6 in. Almost every sort of taste is catered for, including 43-m.p.g. economy saloon, 143-m.p.h. sports car, and the finest luxury cars. The medium-size sports car and economical and briskly-performing family saloon are well represented and the large car looking like a director’s limousine, but of moderate price, such as the Austin Twenty provided in 1919, is today supplied from amongst the Humber range.

Yet there are gaps. A leading article in this issue enlarges on the almost total absence of small sports cars in International Classes H and G (750 c.c. and up to 1,100 c.c.) which are so well liked and motoring so very fast on the Continent. No British manufacturer lists a true economy car, by which we mean one which will run at least sixty miles to each gallon of 4s. 1d. petrol, as the wonderful little air-cooled 375-c.c. Citroën 2 c.v. does.

In the small saloon-car field, of up to 1,300-c.c. engine capacity, our designers seem unable to come up to the performance/stability/ economy standards of French, German and Italian manufacturers, although British prices are competitive. Nor do we have fast luxury small saloons to compete with those from the Alfa-Romeo, Lancia, Fiat, D.K.W., and Porsche factories.

It is rather startling that such gaps as exist in the generally very complete and excellent range of cars built in Britain should be in the small-capacity classes, inasmuch as until recently our taxation penalised the large engine and, indeed, still does while half-a-dollar tax is added to each gallon of petrol.

Perhaps these gaps will have been closed by Earls Court time?

Ridiculous In Retrospect
A correspondent in our May issue drew attention to a statement in a well-known British daily newspaper disparaging the VW., which is now selling in large numbers throughout the world. Since then we have come across a report on a Military Type V.W.-8-2 Volkswagen which was captured in the Middle East and sent to Humber Limited for examination in January, 1943.

We extract the following from the Humber engineers’ report: “The design is particularly interesting because it is quite uninfluenced by any previous traditions, and it is doubtful if the question of whether the public would or would not like a car with an air-cooled engine positioned at the rear was considered by the designer. This model has departed almost entirely from the conventional motor car. In spiteof the assumed freedom of the designer and the unconventional vehicle produced, little or no special advantage has been obtained in production cost, neither does it appear that any improvement in performance or weight compared with the more conventional type of vehicle known in this country has been achieved.

” A study of the engine indicated that the unit was, in certain details, most inefficient. The design of the inlet manifold makes it clear that the designer did not intend the unit to produce power proportionate to its capacity, and from a studv of both design and condition of the crank hearings it is very doubtful whether it was even capable of giving reliable service had it produced a performance commensurate with its size.

“Looking at the general picture, we do not consider that the design represents any special brilliance, apart from certain of the detail points, and it is suggested that it is not to be regarded as an example of first-class modern design to be copied by the British industry.” Emphasis was placed on the fact that these views were purely those of Humber Engineering.

Racing Over Public Roads
History was made in more ways than one when the new circuit was used at Aintree. During the Friday and Saturday a public right-of-way, the Melling Road, which the track crosses at two points, was closed to allow motor-racing to take place. Previously we have been told that only an Act of Parliament could accomplish this.

Certainly speed hill-climbs were held over English public roads until early in 1925, when an accident at Kop Hill on the part of a friend of Raymond Mays, Francis Giveen, driving an ex-Mays’ Bugatti, caused the R.A.C. to ban all such competitions, to the politely-concealed delight of the Brooklands and Shelsley Walsh authorities. But these events never had official sanction, being possible, in remote places, only with the unofficial co-operation of the local police. Later an inter-‘varsity speed trial took place over a road on a building estate near Oxford, but only because that road had not been declared a public one; and although traffic was halted at a cross-roads by a sympathetic police constable, this was only while each run was timed, not permanently by the use of barriers.

Let us hope that the Aintree road-closing prefaces the day when racing over English roads closed for the purpose will be possible. Certainly we badly lack proper road circuits, the only one resembling the real thing being Oulton Park. This year’s T.T. will be held at Dundrod, its post-war home, in an island where racing over closed public roads isn’t a crime.

Le Mans
This year’s Le Mans race turned out to be very exciting for the hundreds of thousands of spectators, while those at home will wish to commend the B.B.C. for its excellent sound and television commentaries.

Although one commiserates with Jaguar for losing, the reports in some dailies that they lost because of dirt in the fuel is misleading. Only momentarily during the opening stages did the winning Ferrari fall from the leading place; thereafter it was in the lead and it had -sufficient in hand to stay there even when the starter gave trouble after a refuelling stop. Enzo Ferrari is deserving of the warmest praise for winning with a car of the complexity of Gonzalez’ 4.9-litre VI2 Ferrari, which was able to average such a prodigious speed for 24 difficult, trying hours — some daily papers wrote this off as “not so fast as the winning Jaguar last year, but it was only 0.75 m.p.h. slower and remember the rain this time! — and to set -a lap record of nearly 118 m.p.h.

France has some compensation for not-winning in that Trintignant drove some of the way and that the Bonnet/Bayol Panhard won the Index of Performance and the Final of the 20th Biennial Cup; Britain is proud of the way her Jaguar, Bristols, Fraser-Nash and TR2 Triumph performed.

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