It has been said that as the car owner spends a very considerable part of his life in the driving-seat the layout of the instruments he looks at and the controls he has to operate are of the greatest importance. In respect of controls this is true, hence the pearls of wisdom which follow. So far as the instruments are concerned, these are surely of exaggerated importance in the artistic sense, for a driver’s eyes are more often on the blinding lights, concealed signposts, zebra crossings and signal lamps than on the dashboard. In any case, this is an age when even costly cars are endowed with warning lights instead of gauges, and perhaps the less said about this the better ! So we will leave the instruments to degenerate at the hands of interior-stylists and design economists, with the exception that a few words must be written about the speedometer. Our opinion is that a speedometer should be in clear view of the driver and that one without separate trip and total mileage recorders is a pretty poor affair. That speedometer-flatter is still an unconquered disease is unfortunate, and it is significant that the American monthly Road and Track has taken to publishing figures for speedometer error in the cars it tests. An inset clock is a good addition to the speed indicator and better here than in the rear-view mirror. But an electric inset clock like that on the Editorial car, which has on error factor that would make the “fastest” speedometer blush, is irritating and gives rise to the thought that if the same maker’s watches and alarm-clocks exhibit a similar flatter no Briton should ever be late for work !
Turning to minor controls, it is entertaining for the writer to return to this subject, having written about it at length in Motor Sport a dozen years ago, his first shock is finding that two once-thought-vital minor controls have vanished almost completely. We refer to the hand-throttle–as distinct from a control which speeds up the engine only at the expense of choking it—and the ignition advance and retard control. Taking a census of thirteen high-performance cars, in which minor controls should be of greater moment than on utility vehicles and not so likely to be governed by the expense-factor, only the Mk VI Bentley and the Allard saloon have hand-throttles–praise therefore. to Derby’s discerning engineers and the driver-designer who won the Monte Carlo Rally ! Not one of these cars has hand ignition timing control, which implies congratulation of the scientifically-minded bellows and bobweights which do this job for as—until something sticks or the capillary-size air-pipe snaps.
Coming to the lamps-switch, the more expensive cars have the foolproof twist-to-operate control with the ignition key at its centre. The pull-out control, which we dislike as delicate to work, especially in gloves, is found on the Austin A40 Sports however. Not on all fast cars, by any means, can sidelamp indicators be seen by the driver, alas. The Marauder has the luxury of separate switches for side and headlamps.
The position of the headlamp dipper is a bone of contention with us. The floor-located switch is tiring to use frequently and most drivers have at some time or other surely used it to change gear with or have dipped with the clutch ! Yet this location is almost universal, although a flick-switch by the steering wheel is preferable. Lucas used to make a very nice little switch for this purpose, found on pre-war Morris Minors and Austin Sevens, for instance. We have no grumble with the dipper switch found on the steering-wheel centre of the Sunbeam-Talbot 90, which Stirling Moss no doubt appreciated during the Monte Carlo Rally, and in the same location on the Allard saloon. The TD MG has a flick-switch in the centre of the dash, rather far from the driver, the Ferrari 212 a lever-control extending from under the steering wheel, and the Singer Roadster a switch on the dash for the driver’s right hand. Otherwise the floor location is universal, although backed on the Marauder by a headlamps flick-switch by the wheel. The indicators switch should also be at the wheel centre, in our opinion. But of the cars under review, only the Allard, Sunbeam-Talbot 90, Austin A40 Sports, and Marauder, the latter with an extension switch-mounting, employ this sensible location. On the other cars you have to reach out for a switch in the centre of the windscreen sill or dashboard. The starter button is always found on the dashboard these days, usually as a foolproof push-button and not the, often-flimsy, pull-out affair as on the Austin A40 Sports.
Hand-brakes, gear-levers and cubby-holes may not come strictly under the heading of minor controls, but are of interest nevertheless. On the cars we looked over, six had those “umbrella handle” abortions for use by the right hand—the Jupiter’s set more nearly central, however–two these “gamp-grips” arranged for left-hand operation (with right-hand control that is), two had levers lying horizontally between the seats and one horizontally on the right, which is not a bad location, and the remainder had the best hand-brake of all, the original central lever, although the Mk VI Bentley had the very nice R-R right-hand lever. Of gear sticks, three had unfortunately crawled up the steering column, but it was very encouraging to find that amongst these picked high-performance cars the remainder had normal central levers, with the exception of the Mk VI Bentley with that inimitable gear-change controlled by the right hand.
Lockers or cubby-holes show great variation. The sensible arrangement would seem to be one with a lid for the front-seat passenger and another, without a lid, from which the driver can pluck sustenance and oddments with the minimum of fumbling. The designers of the Mk VI Bentley and 21/2-litre Lagonda think so too ! The DBII Aston-Martin has two cubbies but no lids, Allard prefers a shelf to cubby holes, and of the remainder the essentially-sporting Ferrari 212 and Jaguar XK120 lack such storage space, the Sunbeam-Talbot 90, Jupiter, Austin A40 Sports and TD MG have each one hole, lidded, while the Morgan Plus Four, Marauder and Singer Roadster have the hole but not the lid. Lids, of course, can be a mixed blessing, some being delightful wooden doors which lock, others tin flaps which do their best to hide what is within when not snapping violently down on the knuckles !
This subject of minor controls and dashboard layout is a considerable one, which might be debated during club nights. Dash lighting, for instance, is a matter over which the keen driver usually holds strong views. Some cars have rheostat-control of the lighting intensity, which seemed sheer luxury when first encountered, pre-war, on a BMW. The Morgan Plus Four shines a red glow downwards, so that you can see if the well-placed gear-lever is still present, but, in common with many another offender, requires nail varnish or a piece of sticky tape over the otherwise dazzling light which tells you your headlamps are undipped. Safety-glass has been in the news recently and the toughened variety has received very black marks, so we are disturbed to find it in the windscreen of the Editorial transport, although, should the glass ever go opaque the screen folds flat—assuming we escape the “black out” and survive to drive on. The Press is not alone in condemning toughened glass, for Dave Price, keen trials competitor, who can renew the glass in your yellowing windscreen in a reasonably short space of time and for a modest charge, has pronounced laminated glass as the only safe wear for fast cars.
With these few observations on a fascinating aspect of detail design we leave you to your own thoughts. It has been encouraging to discover so much variety amongst a handful of cars, only one Continental and no Americans amongst them, in an age when even minor controls and instrument panels have proprietary origin. Frankly, we hadn’t expected this.