A NEW BRITISH SMALL SPORTS CAR

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B.M.C. Introduce the 948-c.c. Austin-Healey Sprite—To Sell for £678 17s. 0d.

LAST month we drove to Birmingham for a preview of Britain latest sports car, the Austin-Healey Sprite. This new small sports model was evolved from designs laid down about two years ago by Donald Healey to meet the British Motor Corporation’s craving to add a low-capacity sports car to its existing range of products. Whether the Austin-Healey Sprite should be called a sports model or a fast runabout is open to debate. We consider that the smallest sports models should be capable of 90 m.p.h., that 1½-litre sports cars should be capable of around 100 m.p.h. and that those over that size should comfortably exceed the ” ton.” The Austin Motor Company claim 80-82 m.p.h. for the Sprite, but there isn’t the slightest doubt that it will be possible to modify its A-series B.M.C. power unit, as Austin A35 saloons are modified, to bring the maximum speed up to 90 or more m.p.h.

Right away we wish to emphasise the competitive price of the Austin-Healey Sprite—£455, which purchase tax brings to £678 17s. It is necessary to bear this low price in mind when considering the specification of B.M.C.’s new car. Obviously any hope of such revolutionary design factors such as independent rear suspension, a rear engine location, front-drive or air-cooling, etc., could not be envisaged at a price below £679, and, in fact, the Austin-Healey Sprite is another computation of well-tried B.M.C. components. The result is a brisk, compact two-seater selling for only £109 more than the Austin A35 saloon. The Sprite has an exceedingly rigid box-section chassis in unit with the rear part of the body, the bonnet hinging from the scuttle to provide very free access to the engine, front suspension, and steering, etc. When hinged up the front wheels are seen to have mudguards formed as part of the chassis structure. An undershield runs beneath the chassis, and the structure is immersed in rust-inhibiting compound during manufacture and finished in high-lustre enamel. This compact chassis, the wheelbase of which is only 6 ft. 8 in. (and track 3 ft. 94 in. at the front., 3 ft. 8¾ in. at the back), has coil-spring and wishbone front suspension borrowed from the A35 but with softer springs because the weight is lower. Steering is rack-and-pinion, as on the Morris Minor, but with longer arms, the two-spoke 16-in. ateering wheel requiring 2 1/3 turns, lock-to-lock, for a turning circle of about 31½ ft.

The rear suspension is entirely new. It consists of multi-leaf ¼-elliptic springs (about 17 leaves, with three clips per spring)— which will give joy to Georges Roesch !—anchored below the back axle, and located by a fabricated radius-arm above each spring. The springs extend to brackets so that the anchorage points are behind the axle, the radii’s-arms being attached to the upper part of the brackets, the tops of which carry rubber buffers which provide additional damping at full bump. Lever-type hydraulic shock-absorbers are used.

The power unit is a four-cylinder water-cooled B.M.C. A-type engine of 62.9 by 76.2 mm. bore and stroke (948 c.c.) as used in the Morris Minor and Austin A35 saloons. It is tuned only in respect of stronger valve springs and twin 1¼-in. Hl semi-downdraught S.U. carburetters, which have small Coopers pancake-type air-cleaners. This engine gives 42½ b.h.p. (48 S.A.E. h.p.) at 5,000 r.p.m., on a compression-ratio of 8.3 to I. Maximum torque is 52 lb./ft. at 3,300 r.p.m. In unit with it is a B.M.C. gearbox with well-placed central gear-lever, the gear ratios being 15.31, 10.02, 5.96 and 4.22 to 1. Strong clutch springs are provided. A ¾-floating hypoid A35 back axle is used. Austin A35 front brakes and Morris Minor back brakes are employed, so that braking is hydraulic all round, the drum size being 7 in. by 1¼ in. and the area 67.2 sq. in. The front brakes are 2 L.S. and there is a central pull-up hand-brake. The bolt-on pressed-steel ventilated disc wheels have tubeless Dunlop Gold Seal 5.20-13 tyres.

Reverting to the under-bonnet arrangements, revealed by lifting the entire scuttle—which props up automatically but has, in addition, a safety-prop—the battery and Smiths heater (an optional extra) are located up against the bulkhead. The heater fan is on the off side, a big-bore pipe running to the air intake on the radiator grille. The radiator off-take is a cranked rubber tube delivering to the off side of the cylinder head, the cooling system being pressurised at 7 lb./sq. in., and incorporating fan, pump and thermostatic flow, control. The water capacity is about 10 pints.

The lubrication system uses a camshaft-driven oil pump, the oil capacity of which is six pints, plus one pint in the filter. The Lucas ignition coil is mounted on the dynamo, the plugs are Champion, and the sump dip-stick is accessible, through the h.t. leads.

When the Austin-Healey Sprite was wheeled out of its locked garage at Longbridge—it was still on the secret list when we went to see it—our first impression was that this is a cheerful, smiling Sprite, an impression conveyed by the shape of the radiator grille and the headlamps, which stick up out of the bonnet top like eyes. This headlamp location is unusual, and scarcely handsome. It is, we were told, necessary in order to comply with legal requirements in America, which seems odd when you think how many Porsche and Volkswagen cars surely with lower headlamps, are in use there ! Originally retractable headlamps, a la Lotus, were envisaged, but difficulties arose when Austin tried to work out a foolproof system or cable and lever operation. So the headlamps stick up, stalk-like, over dished recesses in the bonnet in which are the holes to provide screwdriver access for lamp adjustment.

The occupants have bucket seats one each side of the propeller shaft tunnel, the passenger’s fixed, the driver’s adjustable to give an excellent driving
“stance” for all except, possibly, very tall owners.

Hood, luggage and spare wheel are stowed in the boot. As this has no lid these have to be withdrawn forward through the passenger compartment. This is rather primitive, redolent of minicar practice, but is the penalty of price-cutting, for the Austin-Healey Sprite is the poor man’s sports car. For the same reason, although called a sports car, the rev.-counter is listed as an extra. Other extras are heater and demister, screen-washer, tonneau cover, radio and laminated instead of toughened safety glass for the windscreen.

The speedometer is on the facia (Austin spell it ” fascia “) before the driver but seems to be blanked by the steering-wheel spokes. Hood and sidescreens are of P.V.C.-coated fabric, the seams being laminated and the sidescreens curling up to provide access for signalling. Pendant pedals are used, and the doors possess pockets— which we hope will not fill with water in a rainstorm when the hood is up, as those did on the Austin-Healey 100S in which we drove away from Longbridge ! The rigid central gear-lever falls very nicely to hand.

The Austin-Healy Sprite is available in choice of colours from cherry red to primrose—the latter just the job for a ” boy’s racer.”

During our visit to the Austin Company we were not able to drive a Sprite but hope to publish a full road-test report in an early issue. The little car shows promise. The dry weight is quoted as 11¾ cwt. with over 40 h.p. to propel the little car, the overall dimensions of which are 11ft. 5¼ in. by 4 ft. 5 in. by 4 ft. 1¾ in. (high, hood up). This suggests satisfactory if not sensational performance. An early car has done 80 m.p.h. and 0-50 m.p.h. in 14.1 sec. Handling should be good, weight and distribution being virtually 50/50 front and back. By May this year several hundred Sprites had been built. Production is undertaken at Abingdon, the Pressed Steel Co. supplying the bodies.

Before we left Longbridge we were able to chat with Mr. G. Jones, Chief Experimental Engineer of the B.M.C., who, with Mr. A. H. Moore, the Chief Car Designer, was responsible for the ultimate form of the junior Austin-Healey. He confirmed that Donald Healey built the prototype two years ago and that the body was finalised twelve months back, Austin’s doing the final development work. The Sprite has been tested in the Welsh mountains but has not been tried out abroad, because ” our hills are as severe as any in the world.” Very little development was necessary after the prototype was handed over, this being confined mainly to reinforcing chassis members after testing at the M.I.R.A. proving ground. The roll axis at the rear was found to be virtually on the ground and Austin deemed it desirable to use flexible bushes where the suspension radius-arms are attached to the frame, to slightly raise the roll axis and reduce strain on the suspension members. The roll axis now falls at the base of the hack springs, giving the driver prior warning of a tail slide. The Sprite, Mr. Jones remarked, now corners fast without lifting a back wheel and no anti-roll bar is required. Quarter-elliptic back springs are used to reduce unsprung weight, as on pre-war Talbots, etc.

Asked if, had a price limit not been set, he would have contemplated independent rear suspension, Mr. Jones said no, because this involves the rear wheels in changes of camber angle. Fibre-glass bodies were ruled out by production arrangements. Mr. Jones put the maximum speed of his new baby at 82 m.p.h. Fuel consumption is quoted as 30-45 m.p.g. The tank holds Six gallons, feed being by Y-type A.C. pump.

We reserve judgment on this latest B.M.C. product until we have driven it. It may not enhance our roads and parking lots but it will bring a brisk, handleable little vehicle within the reach of many who have previously been confined to boxed-in motoring. The operative item of the Sprite’s specification is the price—below £679.—W. B.

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SUNBEAMS AT WOLVERHAMPTON

As announced last month, this year’s Sunbeam S.T.D. Register Wolverhampton (” Back to their birthplace “) Rally is to take place on June 22nd, with driving tests at Pendeford Aerodrome in the morning, counting towards the Sunbeam-Alvis-Humber-Fiat Inter-Register Team Contest, and the usual Concours d’Elegance at West Park during the afternoon. The Rootes Cup will be awarded for the tests, the Express and Star Trophy for the afternoon event. A member is also offering a prize for the best Wolverhampton-built car other than a Sunbeam to turn up for the Concours d’Elegance. The usual parade through Wolverhampton will precede the Concours d’Elegance–this usually attracts a big crowd anxious to see the ears built in their town go by, and it is hoped to have programmes available describing the Cars that will form this nostalgic cavalcade.

Originally it was intended to abandon the social on the Saturday but so many requests have been received for this to be repeated that it will take place on the evening of June 21st at Guy Motors’ canteen. Sunbeam and Talbot owners will mingle with ex-employees of the old Sunbeam Company and W. L. Drummond, Sales Director of Guy Motors, and probably Sidney Guy and Robin Guy, Design Director, will be present. Anyone with old Sunbeam associations who would like to be there is asked to contact either the Hon. Registrar or Ross Giles of the Express and Star. S.T.D. members are requested to apply promptly for entry forms (driving tests 10s., concours 10s., combined entry 15s.) to the Hon. Registrar, Mrs W. Boddy, Carmel Wood Lane. Fleet, Hampshire.

ADVERSE PUBLICITY?

Recently Lord Nuffield’s picture has been appearing in various newspapers showing this great and respected multi-millionaire posing with his Wolseley. Of this little saloon Lord Nuffield is quoted as saying that be prefers it to any of the more expensive luxury cars which he could have. Many readers have suspected that this is a bit of a back-handed compliment as it could influence purchasers in deciding whether to acquire a new or a used B.M.C. product. The 8-h.p. Wolseley which Lord Nuffield drives was introduced just before the war and had a decidedly narrow track, so that consternation rather than surprise was caused when one of these cars rolled over during some rally driving tests. One correspondent suggests that the car ” looks like one of the first attempts of the Nuffield Group to produce permutations of one basic car, the general assembly being redolent of the Morris Eight of the period, except for four doors in place of two.” Yet Lord Nuffield prefers it to present-day B.M.C. products ! Will this start a frantic search of the used-car lots for Wolseleys of this particular age and model ? Indeed, have any others survived ?

VISIT TO BRITISH TIMKEN

One of the largest factories in Northamptonshire is that of British Timken. Ltd., situated at Duston on the outskirts of Northampton.

Wheel bearings are perhaps things that most motorists take for granted, since they seldom give trouble and are hidden away in inaccessible spots. Their production is far from simple, however, and it is certain that the accuracy of their manufacture is conductive to their trouble free performance in the wheels of not only cars but of a great many railway rolling stock units, marine engines and heavy industrial machinery.

British Timken Limited, recently invited members of the Press to inspect their latest factory for manufacturing different, types of bearings for car wheels and axle shafts. The floor area of the new building is 33,000 sq. ft. and it is divided into three parts an automatic machine shop for producing machined components from tube, a hardening shop for heat treating the machined pieces and, finally, a grinding shop for the final finishings. The building is equipped with its own boiler-house, water-storage and compressor houses, with electrical sub-stations air-conditioning plants and extraction units.

Before the actual components are assembled into complete bearings all the parts are size checked and visually inspected. The tolerances before final assembly are plus 6/10ths of a thou. and minus nothing—a stringent test indeed but one which inspires confidence in the free running of one’s car wheels. Visits were made to the extensive research and testing laboratories, where numerous tests were being made on many components such as axles and wheel hubs of small cars and giant lorries, and many other applications of these tapered roller bearings.

After having inspected the production lines we were conveyed to the Motor Industry Research Association headquarters at Lindley, near Nuneaton, where a number of demonstration cars were laid out just to prove that Timken bearings really worked after all. High-speed tests, pave, rough country, dust and watersplash conditions were all available. A drive in a Rover 105S round the steep banking at over 100 m.p.h., a trip in an Austin 105 over the pave, and some circuits over the rough country course in Land Rovers and au Austin Gipsy proved that the facilities now afforded to the British Motor Industry are more than adequate for extensive research and development of our cars.—I. G.

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