In defence of the small sports car

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[A contributor recently suggested that American automobiles and Vintage motors were superior to our small sports cars. V. H. Tuson disagrees and here states the small car’s case. How entitled he is to do so all will know who read his recent article on “Tuning the Fiat.”—Ed.]

A GREAT deal of head-hanging seems to have occurred during the last two years on the part of sports car owners because they feel they are being done down by some of their larger brethren in touring trim or saloon form. Therefore, let us consider the facts in their true light.

First of all, consider the asset side. The average sports car in the under-1500 c.c. class provides good road-holding, braking, steering, comfort, smoothness and very reasonable weather-protection. The first three qualities will be superior to those of touring versions taken on the average. So far so good, but we now come to the main question and root of all the trouble —performance.

Performance is dependent on three factors: weight, wind-resistance and b.h.p., and we will consider the last-named first. Now in this country the average owner wants reasonable upkeep costs, in which I include tax (and, therefore, insurance), petrol consumption and general items, or in other words he craves an engine-capacity of under 1,500 c.c.

In order to enjoy this economy we must be content with around 34 b.h.p. per litre. You will probably ask why, when we hear of figures like 130 per litre being obtained, and the answer is covered by two reasons: (a) you want your car to have a reasonable first-cost and (b) you want it to be reliable.

The sports car manufacturer is in business, one may reasonably assume, with the idea of making money, and you who purchase his car want some sort of guarantee. It would not cost in production very much more to provide 45 b.h.p. per litre, but that output in wrong hands (not yours or mine, of course!) would ruin the company’s finances in a very short time.

I know a good deal of the inner workings of two sports car firms and you would be astonished at what some people can do. Unfortunately, a car must have gears, and whilst third gear gives a deal of scope, the more resourceful owners find that an engine can be ruined in a much shorter time by employing second or even first gear unwisely! If an attempt is made to cater for the “7,500 in second, old boy” type of driver, then the cost is going sky-high, and unfortunately the manufacturer has got to consider the worst.

We must therefore be content with our 34 b.h.p.-per-litre standard, which, incidentally, keeps petrol consumption within reason.

Next we come to the question of weight, and now I am on your side 100 per cent. We must have something around 10 cwt. per-litre. Morgan 4/4 and H.R.G. approach this figure and the “1100” Fiat chassis weighs under 9 cwt. A 10 cwt. car of 38-51 b.h.p. will have decidedly useful acceleration and, coupled with a useful gearbox, will deal very satisfactorily with any big Yank or other large h.p. utility vehicle.

Finally, we come to the question of wind-resistance, or in other words, speed. Here I will quote that rather remarkable car, the streamlined “1100” Fiat saloon (owner forward, please). These cars, with under 40 b.h.p. output, can get very, very close to 90 m.p.h. and the bodies, although streamlined, are not nearly as small as the equivalent size sports two or four-seater. They were not produced in any large quantity and as a result, cost some £170 more than the standard article.

A two-seater having a similar performance would also have come over except for the war (very fractionally slower, if anything, strangely enough, but having very good equipment and comfort and being in no sense a “racer”).

In production, I cannot see that it should cost very much more than those bodies we are more accustomed to. There are no reasonably-priced utility cars that will do 90 m.p.h. in production form, and I will back this statement on the fact that I know of a big Yank on which pounds and pounds were spent trying to get 100 m.p.h. and which finally produced about 94 m.p.h. In another instance there was a very small racing two-seater produced which cost, I believe, over £800 and did about 110 m.p.h.

Perhaps I have wandered into the future, but it will all help to explain the latter part of this article.

We will, therefore, return to the present and consider why now and again you find a large Yank on your tail. You have both spent £250. The owner of the Yank has bought about 4 litres of engine, giving about 85 b.h.p., together with 32 cwt. of motor-car and possibly twice as much wind-resistance.

You have, say, 1,100 c.c. and 88 b.h.p. and 17 to 18 cwt. of car with half the wind-resistance.

The “1100” is, therefore, at a disadvantage on a power-weight basis, but you can manage to keep the Yank off with a more useful gearbox. On maximum speed there is not much in it. On the swerves you have him cold, and if you both have to stop very quickly I would sooner be in the “1100.”

Still, you say, he can do very nearly all I can in more comfort at the same cost and in something that is not a sports car. But can he?

 

30 h.p. Yank

 

“1100” Sports Car

 

£

s

d

 

£

s

d

 

30 h.p.

 

9 h.p.

Tax at 15s

22

10

0

 

6

15

0

Insurance

18

0

0

 

11

0

0

Petrol at 1s 6d per gallon

80

0

0

 

50

0

0

Tyres

30

0

0

 

12

10

0

 

£150

10

0

 

£80

5

0

You have £70 to play with in 20,000 miles, so you can either buy a supercharger or do some fairly healthy tuning, sufficient to deal with Mr. U.S.A. Yank owners will then say that repairs will be high, but so will theirs if they try and keep up with you on British roads.

When you try to compare our under 1,500 c.c. cars with what may be termed a veteran sports car, the whole issue becomes very complicated, on the score of cost and upkeep. If you are lucky it is possible to get all the performance and reliability desired at a comparatively low figure, but one cannot draw a comparison between a £1,000 car and a £250 car that are both brought to same market-value by age.

The veteran will undoubtedly have assets given it by first cost, but it is almost sure to have some drawbacks as well, so the decision becomes a matter of personal choice. Comparisons are so often made between two cars of vastly different price, which is, of course, absurd, and in very many cases it would be found that if the cheaper of the two were purchased and the difference in price expended on it a superior all-round performance could be eventually obtained, coupled with other refinements which the more expensive but out-of-date car never possessed.

Finally, getting down to size for size and the question of sports cars versus touring cars of the same make, it seems that it is on the question of speed that one most nearly approaches the other, and it would not surprise me if wind-tunnel tests did not in some cases favour even the saloon version. In view of the considerable increase in power required in proportion to greater speed obtained, the reason for what may be the small difference immediately becomes apparent.

If comparisons are made on my first cost plus running cost against performance basis, I think the small sports car has it every time.

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