Those Bread-and-Butter Continentals

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Is Theirs the Prerogative of Impeccable Roadholding and Controllability?
Some Impartial Evidence from Road Tests undertaken by the Editor of “Motor Sport.”

The article, published last month, which compared seemingly so ordinary a car as the Standard Eight with the bread-and-butter Continentals, has caused considerable eyebrow raising, as we expected. We feel, indeed, that the matter is one which should, perhaps, be enlarged upon. Performance, as such, hardly merits detailed discussion where bread-and-butter rather than high-performance, far less “sports” cars, are concerned and while there are innumerable factors as a basis for comparing one car with another, we think it is generally agreed that it is in respect of roadholding and controllability that the Continental family-cars are compared with British cars of like class and purpose. At present we have no intention of taking sides in any argument as to whether Britain’s utility-type cars are or are not as rapid and safe round corners, as stable or as pleasant to handle as cars of the same sort made across the Channel. But we have decided to present some evidence which may be of interest to those who take sides when this subject is broached. Below we quote extracts from Motor Sport’s road tests of Continental cars, covering the steering, cornering, handling and roadholding aspects of well-known Continental “bread-and butter” vehicles. We have purposely taken these extracts from road-test reports written by the same pen — that of W. Boddy, the present Editor of Motor Sport. As he has been responsible for all our post-war test-reports, and is known to adopt a particularly impartial and analytical approach to detail characteristics and features of the cars he tests, his findings in respect of these Continental cars may be directly compared with those relating to British cars reported on at the same time or since the war. It is thought that such comparison may be enlightening to those seeking to reach a decisive view on the subject under consideration. It may be remarked that, whereas facts gleaned from test-reports published in the past are, generally speaking, apt to lose something of their value on account of the standards by which performance and characteristics are judged changing with the passage of time and consequent improvement in design, in the case of the findings republished below, the break in active motoring and design-development during the war has largely closed the gap of ten years between the tests we published pre-war and those appearing in Motor Sport at the present time. Indeed, under the more hectic, long-distance testing of pre-1939, compared with what is possible to-day, the tester was likely to have been, if anything, even more critical of how cars handled and went round corners than he is now. With these few prefacing remarks we present the following test-report extracts: —

Type 45 Frazer Nash saloon (February 197 issue)
” . . . the steering is the most wonderful we have ever handled. It is so high-geared that wrist movement alone steers the car round all normal corners, and yet it is absurdly light in action . . . there is not a trace of lost motion, it is absolutely accurate, and endowed with a remarkable smoothness which is the most pleasant action we have ever experienced . . . There is full castor action, two-turns take the wheel from lock to lock, and that lock makes a taxi blush. Only extreme surfaces result in slight return action through the steering wheel, which is occasionally emphasised by column vibration. Open acute corners were taken at 45 m.p.h., and the near-side curb was hugged round long bends up to 70 m.p.h., the tyres sometimes protested, the car canted over a trifle and the tail would slide a few inches, but always the B.M.W. was under full control and felt completely stable.”

F.I.A.T. “500” coupé (March 1937 issue)
“The i.f.s. and low build allow one to take liberties on corners, tail slides being instantly brought under control . . . The steering is curious — fairly light, fairly high-geared, with no return action of any sort and very responsive. There is no castor action at all, yet no effort is required to hold a straight course.

“Opel” Super Six” drophead (November 1937 issue)
“The suspension is definitely of the soft variety. . . yet roadholding is entirely adequate. Some roll takes place when cornering fast, but the car as a whole merely leans over rather than rolls outwards . . . Wet tramlines give rise to minor deviations . . . and there was a slight tendency to slide at the front. The steering is fairly light. . . we found it rather too low-geared for our personal requirements . . . with some lost motion . . . approximately 3 1/4 turns lock to lock. There is no real castor action, a feature also of the “Cadet,” no return motion is conveyed through the wheel, but on ripply surfaces some vibratory movement is transmitted from the facia board to which the column is attached.”

D.K.W. saloon (February 1938 issue)
“The road-holding is excellent. Only when purposely ‘thrown round’ acute bends does the D.K.W. roll and emit momentary slight tyre squeal, and this rolling is merely a spragging outwards of the rear wheels, the body remaining level. It can be put into a slide on wet surfaces, but controls well, with a slight suggestion thatit is more stable when the front wheels are driving than on the overrun . . . The steering is stiff when manoeuvring but fairly light under way, though it stiffens up when the engine is pulling. . . it is pleasantly high-geared, asking about two turns lock to lock . . . while the action is pleasantly smooth.”

F.I.A.T. “Balilla” saloon (March 1938 issue)
“We have come to expect admirable road-holding from the Continentals, but at first the “Balilla” F.I.A.T. rather disappointed in this respect, for, while it was far ahead of the majority of utility vehicles, it rolled excessively at low speeds, allied to which the Airflex Pirelli covers made themselves extremely audible . . . later we found that tailsliding could be adequately controlled at very high speeds . . . it really steered admirably in ordinary road-motoring. The steering asked 3 1/2 turns, lock to lock but felt ‘quick’ . . . it is light and smooth and had rapid castor action. It is very passably accurate, although the road wheels cannot be ‘felt’ . . . only slight tremors reach the wheel over bad surfaces . . . we would recommend slightly higher gearing. . .”

Lancia “Aprilia” saloon (June 1938 issue)
“As to road-holding, it comes so very definitely into the sports-car category that it is difficult to regard the Lancia as a touring car. The “Aprilia” is stable always. It can be pulled down into the gutter and held close to the kerb round long, acute bends at speed. Indeed, the car hardly rolls land the tail slides first . . . Tail slides almost correct themselves, by reason of vigorous castor action in the steering. Such road-clinging ability makes a vast difference both to one’s average speed and to the pleasure and comfort of all the occupants. The steering teams up extremely well with these excellent suspension characteristics. It is literally finger-light . . . requires about 2 5/8 turns, lock to lock, and . . . there is very good castor action, varying from a vigorous action from full lock . . . to steady return after normal cornering. Essentially is the Lancia steering accurate . . . There is no trace of column vibration, but definitely wheel movements are returned to the driver. They take the form of steering wheel kick-back which varies with the road surface, but is never more than a light movement and is never of a disconcerting order. It had, however, the rather curious effect of making the car swerve slightly over tramlines . . .”

F.W.D. Citroen Twelve saloon (July 1938 issue) ” . . . no roll occurs even under really quick cornering, and the only time the suspension displays any trace of suppleness is after taking hump-back bridges at speed. . . The Citroen Twelve is one of the most controllable cars we know. On wet roads. . . it will naturally slide if encouraged, but so effectively does it respond to the steering that . . . one can literally sling it about on greasy roads without restraint. Round long lower-speed curves there was a less pronounced feeling of stability . . . but always the car was under control. . . there is hardly any trace of roll, and the car goes round as on rails, with a fair amount of protest from the Michelin “Stop” Real Low Pressure tyres. . . . under load the steering became stiffer than on the over-run . . . but it remained smooth in action and was moderately high-geared . . . There was sufficient castor action. . . and hardly a trace of return motion came back through the wheel, nor was there any column vibration.”

760-c.c. rear-engined Renault saloon (November 1948 issue)
“Rolling is virtually absent, if one discounts a certain canting-over under very abnormal conditions. The suspension is definitely soft, yet the tyres never protest and tail slides even on wet surfaces, are very difficult to promote. The Renault certainly oversteers, particularly when held round long curves, and tends to need “correction” on the straight after sudden swerves, but, once the driver has become used to providing this correction, the sense of accurate control is delightful . . . The steering has a “dead” feel and is somewhat heavy on the straight but becomes lighter and livens-up round corners. There is lazy, but sufficient, castor action . . . the wheel asks 4 1/2 turns lock to lock. No return motion or column judder is experienced

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