On the road in 1951

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56

Many years ago CA Lejeune wrote in the Observer : “The practice of summing up the year’s activities in films, plays, books and public affairs has become so much a habit of modern journalism that I suppose we should do it if we were to wake up one year’s end in Heaven or Hawaii, superfluous though such a summary might be to the inhabitants of either place.”

Well, we are not yet in Heaven and we have been unable to escape to Hawaii, and as motoring follows other pursuits in this annual summing-up, we have since January published our contributions to such analysis. The race results of 1951 have been tabulated for you, speeds being expressed in the universal kilometres per hour, which the Editor must try to remember to continue with this season. We have had a shot at getting the 1951 sports-car races into perspective for you, although some readers say we aimed wide of the mark. We have elsewhere in this issue looked at American sports-car races collectively. And now it is time to cast back at those cars we road-tested last year.

We have ceased to review technical progress in high-performance car design annually, because there is far less originality in even this field than before the war. And this year we have not summed up the trend of racing-car design, because the creeping-up of the unblown 41/2-litre Ferrari on the highly-supercharged 11/2-litre Alfa-Romeo was evident for all to see, and some space must be saved for this feature next year when the Shape-of-Things-to-Come. in respect of the 1954 Formula, will need to be discussed. Indeed, paper is scarce and the Editor has been forced to leave undone many things he had hoped to do.

But let us look at the cars we tested. Road-testing has long been a popular pursuit of every motoring writer able to scrounge the necessary letter-heading on which to make his passionate appeal for the loan, entirely without obligation, of a brand-new car full of brand-new petrol. Before the war, when competition for home sales was razor-edged, the manufacturers pretty well threw Press cars at you. I recall the great Austin Motor Co telephoning from their Oxford Street showrooms to Longbridge on the Thursday evening before Easter, and a driver bringing a car down through Good Friday so that I could play with it, for the remainder of that Easter Holiday—and as a matter of fact it was a car not at all appropriate to Motor Sport but very pleasant for wrapping round a brand new girl friend.

Nowadays even the big motor writers of Fleet Street, who used to borrow a car for several weeks and write a quarter-column about it at most, no doubt making some lifelong friendships in the process, now have to queue and say “please.” During petrol rationing things became even more difficult (no doubt some of the aforesaid beautiful friendships became quite luke-warm) but the technical  Press went on doing the road-test job conscientiously, and the motor writers of the popular Press according to their lights—one such test, I knew, got no further than the nearest public park and ended there, after the gates had been locked. But it, is encouraging that the industry still sets very high store by Press road-test reports.

Very early in the year we tried the DBII Aston-Martin and found it a first-class vehicle, although as snow and ice prevailed all the time we had it, confirming its performance capabilities was somewhat hazardous. I see we put the true maximum speed of the drophead coupe at 109 mph, persuaded it to easily reach 90 in under 30 seconds, and liked very much indeed its steering and road-clinging qualities. This was with 6,5 to 1 cr, and I now very much want to sample the DBII with “Vantage” engine and real gear-lever, and to see if rain is now fully exeluded by the coupe top.

A rather ragged, very noisy, 1.7-litre Connaught next provided a lot of fun and some very real acceleration, although the gear-change was a thought tricky and this wasn’t the car on which to take Aunt Agatha for a spin alas, mother-in-law eluded me. But it did make us wonder whether ifs is really necessary for the roadholding and control with a beam axle and cart springs was, like a certain suitcase, a revelation.

About this time a Morgan 4/4 proved quite an endearing little vehicle, quick yet economical, until it broke and there were no new bits with which to mend it. The long-awaited Jaguar XK120 came along at last and confused by divers opinions before I drove it, I found, out of deep water, that I liked and respected it very much indeed. Too fast a car for boy-racers, it nevertheless allowed the semi-skilled to play Fangio, and the smooth, briskly unfolding acceleration will long be remembered as a stimulating tonic. Roll the Jaguar did, but this impaired safe handling less than we expected, although holding it off the grass round Brands Hatch Stadium proved quite tiring. Glamour girls would have been ours for the beckoning in this beautiful car but the brakes could certainly be made to emulate old soldiers: I see we put the top gait at 120 mph (again, this was the low-compression version) and reached “the ton” in under 26 seconds. We felt quite wistful when the car was whisked away from us for Stirling Moss to demonstrate four-wheel-drifts to the Shell Film Unit, a most interesting documentary many of you will since have enjoyed.

Next, the Austin A40 Sports. I approached this car in a completely unbiased frame of mind ; indeed, I rather felt it was a car I wanted for business journeys—fast, reliable, economical. It was all those all right but the noise of engine, gears and convertible top depressed me, and the roll factor was greater than I had expected, although the car was pleasant to take fast through bends or round roundabouts. The fittings, too, were a bit pathetic, and have caused another, eminent, motor scribe to write : “The finish and fittings are also somewhat disappointingly crude, and in one’s memory of the car one is somewhat torn between the two thoughts of how genuinely good it was and how, with certain small (but probably uneconomic) changes, it could be a good deal better.”

Later on we had the Austin A90 Atlantic Sports saloon and the Austin A70 Hereford. The former is a big, comfortable, easy to drive car, which accelerateit very nicely indeed but wasn’t quite so fast as I had expected. Moreover, like the A40 Sports, it rolled more than I liked, and so did the A70, so that the colleague who tried that car wrote that while excellent value for the Gentlemen-of-England, it left something to be desired from the viewpoint of enthusiasts. 

 In contrast, experience of the latest Morris Oxford, and renewed experience of the Morris Minor, emphasised that the engineers of the Nuffield Organisation thoroughly understand how to get good roadholding, the rack-and-pinion steering and torsion-bar ifs endearing these Morris cars with very fine handling qualities.

One of the latest Sunbeam-Talbot 90s proved in most respects a very fine allround fast car and we liked its appearance as much as Stirling Moss must have liked finishing second in one in the Monte Carlo Rally.

A few days with “old No 1” bull-nose MG proved thoroughly worth while and then, reverting to high-performance, the 21/2-litre Lagonda, if it was not quite as fast as its speedometer, endeared itself to us by its truly high cruising speed, excellent roadholding, the comfort of its all-round-independent suspension and the quality of its fittings and equipment. Its steering-column gear-lever worked so well we almost liked this, too.

A Morgan Plus Four, least expensive of sports cars, has had more teething troubles than it should have had but provides stimulating A to B transport of the fresh–air, jog-liver 85 plus mph, 22 mpg sort, and the acceleration from rest to the mile-each-minute gait keeps you awake better than benzedrine.

The J2 Allard eluded us and the J2X came along with performance below par from its single-carbaretter Chrysler V8 engine and its throttle linkage which stuck and made negotiation of London on Lord Mayor’s Procession day such that we shed a year of our life, we shouldn’t wonder. But there was no question about the effectiveness of the de Dion-style back axle in killing wheel-spin and keeping the car straight on wet roads when using to the full the very great acceleration. This Allard went exactly where you steered it, too, had good brakes and a fine top-gear performance, but a rather tiller-twirling steering-box ratio.

It has been all most interesting. Now for 1952 . . .—WB.

 

 

 

 

 

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